This volume continues Palgrave’s impressive Handbooks in German Idealism series, already comprising significant collections of essays on the topics of German Idealism in general, Kant, Fichte, and German Romanticism. At the time of writing, volumes on Schelling and on the relation between German Idealism and Existentialism are also on the way.
A book of this kind, collecting up-to-date critical contributions across all of the major areas addressed in Hegel’s systematic philosophy, might be thought to stand in competition with a number of similar recent volumes, perhaps most obviously Baur and Houlgate’s A Companion to Hegel (2011) from Blackwell, de Laurentiis and Edwards’ Bloomsbury Companion to Hegel (2013), and Moyar’s The Oxford Handbook of Hegel (2017). The reality of the situation, however, in the light of the richness of Hegel’s work, is that these collections complement one another. They do so by assembling investigations of Hegel’s work on phenomenology, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of history, and so on, that are frequently interestingly different in emphasis, evaluation, or interpretation. The essays included in such volumes can be read in isolation, so that somebody interested in, say, topics in Hegel’s philosophy of religion, would benefit from consulting the relevant essays in all four works, without having to engage with each in its entirety. At the same time, due to their scope and size, all four share the virtue of offering readers the opportunity to consider the various topics addressed within them in a systematic context (valuable in the case of Hegel).
The fact that such “competitors” exist also has consequences for how one evaluates the coverage of this volume. The Palgrave Hegel Handbook, to provide one example, has comparatively little in the way of entries which focus upon engagement with Hegel’s work in the twentieth century. Notably, it has no entries which focus upon the reception of Hegel among phenomenologists, critical theorists, or twentieth century French philosophers. This is a particular strength of the Blackwell Companion. It also has comparatively less to say about specific metaphysical topics treated in the Science of Logic; the Oxford Handbook is stronger here. To provide one more example, however, The Palgrave Hegel Handbook clearly offers more than the other collections when it comes to topics in Hegel’s epistemology and philosophy of mind. All four of the volumes that I have mentioned address all of the major aspects of Hegel’s systematic philosophy, but differences in focus such as those in the examples just provided demonstrate another way in which a reader with access to all of them will find that they complement one another. From this point on I will focus this review upon The Palgrave Hegel Handbook alone.
Before discussing the content of the volume, I will make one further remark concerning coverage. It would be unreasonable to expect such a volume to be truly exhaustive in term of the material with which it engages, and the editors make no such claim. Given, however, that the final section of the volume comprises entries on “Hegelianism and Post-Hegelian Thought”, and the editors’ commitment to assessing ‘contemporary controversies concerning his philosophy’ (l), one might think that this would be a good opportunity to include a substantive entry engaging with the already-sizeable and growing body of work concerning Hegel’s colonialism, sexism, and racism, not only in terms of the nature of the implications of his prejudices for the evaluation of his philosophical work, but also in terms of the positive uses made of the resources of Hegel’s thought over the last seventy or so years by those seeking to oppose and overcome such prejudices. Unfortunately, such topics are not treated here. In light of recent collections such as Monahan’s Creolizing Hegel (2017), some engagement with work of this kind would have made a valuable addition to the volume.
The volume opens with a helpful analytical table of contents which roughly indicates the content of each essay. Interesting material is also included in the form of appendices; I particularly enjoyed the schematic presentation of Hegel’s major works as they correspond to the various parts of his mature philosophical system. Importantly, the editors have included Hegel’s various lecture courses in Jena, Heidelberg, and Berlin in this context. Given the richness of many of the transcripts from these lectures, this amounts to a very useful pointer for further reading on the various topics covered in the volume. I was less sure of the editors’ “Agenda for Future Research”. Although the suggestions are certainly valid (and, in my opinion, interesting), and the editors note that this material is ‘suggestive, not exhaustive’ (581), there is no clear criterion according to which some possible projects have been included and others excluded. Why emphasise, for example, the possibility of distinctively Hegelian contributions to contemporary cognitive science (583), but say nothing of the possibility of introducing Hegel to contemporary metaphysical discussions of natural kinds, or of monism, as suggested by Kreines (2015), or of the possible value of Hegelian insights in considering contemporary social pathologies, as explored by Bunyard (2019)? Certainly, there is a multitude of avenues for further research available to those interested in Hegel’s philosophy, but I am not sure how valuable it is for the editors to pick just some and list them.
I also think that the short editors’ introduction to the volume is perhaps not as helpful as it could have been. It aims to provide a sketch of contents and significant goals of the various parts of Hegel’s system, but while this breadth of scope is appropriate here, the brevity of the introduction means that the key claims being singled out are often not explained in sufficient detail. Instead, one gets the impression that the introduction is rather hurriedly emphasizing those elements of Hegel’s philosophy which the editors, perhaps especially Westphal, take to be most significant for contemporary thought (the majority of the references to chapters in the volume are to those by Westphal). I was left feeling that it would have been better simply to indicate the themes of the chapters and let the reader get on with reading them, since there these technical claims receive more adequate and clearer treatment. One valuable addition, however, is a brief run-down of various senses in which Hegel deploys the term “dialectic”. It would have been even better if this account could have been extended with references to analyses of Hegel’s various dialectical arguments, conceptual explications, and the like, as they occur among some of the chapters in the book.
There are twenty-eight essays in this volume. It is impossible within the confines of even a reasonably long review to adequately address even the majority of them. I shall endeavour to say something about seven chapters, composing two of the volume’s eight parts. I will focus my attention on the material concerning Hegel’s engagement with his immediate forbears, his epistemology, and his Science of Logic. This emphasis reflects the interests and expertise of the reviewer and I acknowledge that a case could be made for arguing that some of the most noteworthy essays in the volume are not those which fall into these categories. I will briefly draw attention to what I considered to be some of the most worthwhile essays addressing other topics in the volume at the end of the review.
Part I considers Hegel’s intellectual background and the nature of his philosophical project. There is a short sketch of Hegel’s intellectual life by Bykova which covers more or less what one would expect it to. Particularly good is Bykova’s treatment of the evolution of Hegel’s philosophical aspirations, from an early enthusiasm for popular philosophy and the moral education of the people to his later, considered belief that the practical benefits of philosophy would be better accomplished on the back of a more thorough-going revision of its more abstract, theoretical underpinnings.
Also featured here is an essay by Baur which carries out the task, crucial in a volume which treats the key themes of Hegel’s epistemology and metaphysics, of reconstructing the major philosophical developments which took place in Germany between the publication of Kant’s first Critique and Hegel’s Phenomenology. This is important because many of the major disputes in the interpretation of Hegel’s work (especially his metaphysics) since at least as far back as the 1970s have turned on how to understand his relation to his forbears, especially Kant. This is a lot to address in one essay and there are elements of the account that could have been made clearer: Baur spends some time, quite properly, explaining Kant’s rejection of the possibility of intellectual intuition for human cognition, but then does not explicitly mention intellectual intuition in his treatment of Fichte or Schelling, despite its crucial importance for their projects. More problematically, he suggests that Schelling and Hegel’s idealisms move away from the more subjective idealisms of Kant and Fichte because the former two come endorse the Spinozistic claim that ‘mind and world are fully co-extensive’ (37), but provides no clear argument as to why they might have been justified in endorsing such a claim. This risks giving the impression that Schelling’s and Hegel’s projects amount to a reversion to pre-critical dogmatism, despite the fact that Baur wants to claim that they do not (23). Still, it is necessary to paint with broad brushstrokes in an essay of this kind, and I think that Baur largely succeeds in characterising the idea of Hegel’s project in the Phenomenology as a series of determinate negations intended to persuade his opponents of the validity of metaphysics which can ‘combine the pre-Kantian thought of Spinoza with the post-Kantian thought of Fichte’ (23).
Westphal also includes an article of his own here which distils some of the key points of the interpretation of Hegel’s epistemology that he has been developing for some decades, most recently and thoroughly presented in his (2018). Westphal’s impressive scholarship is on display here as he relates the project of Hegel’s Phenomenology to key philosophical developments both before and after its publication. I shall not discuss the contents of the essay here: a critical engagement with Westphal’s account of Hegel’s project demands more space than a book review of this kind can accommodate. I will say, however, that although Westphal’s writing is clear, this article is something of a whirlwind of references to various works and topics, and at times demands a not insignificant amount of relevant knowledge on behalf of the reader (although, to be fair, it also provides plenty of references for further reading). While there are articles in this volume that would be useful for students with an interest in Hegel’s work, I would not be quick to direct a student towards this one.
Somewhat oddly also placed here is a piece by Varnier on Hegel’s epistemology. The immediate value of this essay is that it encourages those looking to identify Hegel’s epistemological positions to direct their gaze beyond the 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit, and particularly towards the section of Hegel’s Logic on cognition and the material on theoretical spirit in the Philosophy of Spirit. In fact, Varnier does not go far enough concerning this crucial point; it should be remembered that the primary function of Hegel’s argument in the Phenomenology is to provide (immanent) criticism of the various positions of “natural consciousness” opposed in various ways to Hegel’s own idealist position. Identifying distinctive Hegelian epistemological positions in the arguments of the Phenomenology, therefore, is at the very least a rather murky procedure, as what is identified as an internal problem for a particular shape of consciousness in that work need not automatically imply clear positions that we can take Hegel to endorse. It seems to me that Westphal, in the previous essay in this volume, does not do enough to address concerns of this kind.
Varnier’s article concerns itself principally with two topics. Firstly, he seems to accept something like the metaphysics-first metaphilosophy attributed to Hegel in (Kreines 2015) when he suggests that relevance to epistemology of Hegel’s Logic is that it provides a ‘theory of all ontological structures of science and of common knowledge, which make knowledge possible and certain’ (67). In this context, by asking about how Hegel defends this metaphysical project itself against scepticism Varnier seems to be engaging with important questions about Hegel’s views on the epistemology of metaphysics. Secondly, Varnier also treats Hegel’s views on traditional epistemological matters such as the justification of everyday beliefs and the definition of knowledge. Regarding the first topic – the epistemology of Hegel’s metaphysics – Varnier appeals to various “introductions” Hegel provided to his systematic philosophy, the arguments of which are presumably intended to go some way towards securing the metaphysical claims made in the latter (67). This is not an unusual view, and nor is Varnier’s suggestion that the various determinate negations of natural consciousness carried out in the Phenomenology vindicate thought’s claims about the nature of objective reality (71). Given that this essay is preceded by two others which also address the introductory function of Hegel’s Phenomenology, I would suggest that less time could have been spent on this aspect of the epistemology of Hegel’s metaphysics, in favour of topics that have received less attention, perhaps concerning the matter of how to evaluate the claims to knowledge made in the context of Hegel’s Logic itself, or in his Realphilosophie, for example.
Varnier’s treatment of the second topic is briefer that his treatment of the first, which is a shame. He provides a lengthy passage on the nature of knowledge from the Philosophy of Spirit but decides not to ‘dissect’ it (74). Instead he suggests rather briefly, and in a manner that was not clear to me, that Hegel is arguing both for the strong claim that our use of concepts tracks reality in a manner constitutive of knowledge as a matter of ‘necessity’ (74), and for the ‘irreality… of any and every finite standpoint’ (76). In order for these two claims not to be in tension with one another, it seems that the knowing subject in the former case must not be any individual, finite knower, but somehow the historically developing community of interdependent, human, knowing subjects that might be labelled ‘absolute spirit’ in Hegelian language. Indeed, Varnier suggests that, for the collective subject of absolute spirit, ‘the knower and the known are fully adequate to each other’ (75). Peculiarly, however, he then goes on to suggest that absolute spirit itself is also just another finite perspective, adherence to which invites scepticism (76). It is not obvious to me how to reconcile these two claims. Varnier also suggests that the transition from “essence” to “concept” in the Logic might constitute an argument against the sceptical suggestion that our knowledge might be restricted to appearances, and therefore that we might not know how reality really is, but again he refuses to explore that argument (76). He concludes with some highly interesting remarks on the connection between knowledge and practical reason in Hegel’s work, and suggests a possible connection to be drawn with contemporary virtue epistemology (78), but these promising ideas are, frustratingly, left undeveloped here.
I pass over Part II, which focuses on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, to consider Part III, which focuses mostly on Hegel’s Science of Logic. As I mentioned earlier, this volume does not include dedicated contributions on Hegel’s specific treatment of various historically significant logical or metaphysical topics. Instead this section includes helpful and interesting essays by Nuzzo and Burbidge, on the method of Hegel’s logical investigations and on his infamous use of Aufhebung, respectively, followed by a rather informal essay by Southgate which attempts to provide a big-picture overview of an account of metaphysical holism developed in the Doctrine of Essence and to connect it to Hegel’s account of freedom.
Southgate’s piece is a curious addition to this volume. Unlike the other chapters, it does not really represent an intervention either into debates in the secondary literature concerning Hegel’s position or argument on some philosophical issue, or into philosophical work on some topic along Hegelian lines. As such, although its principal topics are metaphysical holism, human freedom, and the connection between the former and the latter in Hegel’s thought, there is no real discussion of debates between those who consider Hegel to be a holist in the relevant sense and those who do not, for example. The major focus of the chapter, instead, seems to be to sketch a way in to Hegel’s thought, aimed at illustrating its importance for those uncertain as to whether or not to spend the time working their way through his famously difficult prose. As such, this chapter, more than any other in the volume, appears to be aimed at students approaching Hegel for the first time, or, possibly, academics considering how to introduce Hegel to such students.
With this goal in mind, I think that Southgate does quite a good job here, although some may find his style a little grating. There is a helpful discussion of Hegel’s account of freedom, aimed at defusing the tendency to suppose that Hegel is arguing naively that it is in fact possible to peacefully view all tragic events as merely the outcome of our own development and to assume responsibility for them (187-88). Southgate redirects the reader towards Hegel’s treatment of those relations which seem to actualise and illuminate freedom in the sense of “being with oneself in the other” and provides a helpful discussion of this vital notion (188-89). One might express the concern, however, that, in his attempt to emphasise to the reader the existential significance of Hegel’s notion of freedom, Southgate’s presentation can come across as rather too heavily focused on the individual’s own attitude towards freedom, at the cost of playing down Hegel’s emphasis on the objective social structures required for such attitudes. I should add that I think that few readers will find his attempt to reverse engineer an account of metaphysical holism from this account of freedom, or to try to provide a sense of it by appeal to the experience of running an ultramarathon to be successful (Southgate seems to think that Hegel’s position is in some important sense ineffable, but I do not know why).
Nuzzo’s chapter on the method of Hegel’s logical science is a valuable addition to this volume, drawing as it does on her sustained work on this topic over several years. Nuzzo helpfully situates the discussion of Hegel’s dialectical logic in relation to both Kant’s transcendental logic and to traditional, Aristotelian logic. Of especial value here is her account of Hegel’s critique of the formality of transcendental logic in terms of what he judges to be a ‘failed relation to the object’ (156) because of Kant’s separation of sensibility and understanding. Here Nuzzo’s account helpfully explains that Hegel is not simply ignoring or conflating Kant’s distinction between general and transcendental logic (as it might appear, at times).
Interestingly, on the basis of Hegel’s claim that Kant’s transcendental logic, dependent as it is on the input of sensibility for its objects, is unable to deliver the truth about those objects, Nuzzo moves to suggest that Hegel’s dialectical logic is in fact closer to general logic, precisely because it does not involve transcendental logic’s necessary reliance upon an object given to it from elsewhere (Incidentally, the claim Hegel’s new logical method is prompted by what he sees as the failure of Kant’s transcendental logical method does not seem to fit with Nuzzo’s stated rejection of readings of Hegel which have him construct an ‘path alternative to the generally accepted Kantian one’ (154), but I think that it is the former claim which is more important to her argument). In the case of general logic, of course, this is simply because it can be carried out completely abstractly, without reference to real objects, while Hegel sets for dialectical logic the ambitious task of a thinking that, like general logic, is pure in that it requires no input from externally given real objects, but at the same time delivers the truth about real objects nevertheless.
Nuzzo’s account of the method of such a dialectical logic accurately captures the Hegelian claim that the content of logic should not be separate from its form, and that logical thinking can generate its own content. Of course, even if one accepts Nuzzo’s characterisation of Hegel’s method in terms of the generation of logical content from the dynamic movement of thought itself, the question remains, particularly after the treatment of Hegel’s criticism of Kant, as to why one should suppose that this immanently generated logical content accurately tracks reality. Nuzzo rightly points out that Hegel takes his logical science to amount to an ‘objective thinking’ (161), but the reader may well wonder why this does not amount to anything more than an interesting new style of pre-critical dogmatism. To be fair to Nuzzo though, her chapter is concerned with the method of Hegel’s logic, and not with the question of how that logic also amounts to a metaphysics. This latter question has received plenty of attention in recent work on Hegel, and I think that Nuzzo’s essay succeeds admirably in shedding some light on its chosen subject-matter.
I should point out that there is a slightly misleading slip in the language of this paper. Nuzzo describes the relation between the question of the relation between Hegel’s dialectical logic and his attitude to Kant’s transcendental logic and the question of the relation between the conclusion of the Phenomenology of Spirit and the idea of logic present in the Science of Logic as ‘all but self-explanatory’ (155), where she means “anything but self-explanatory” (She does go on to provide an excellent explanation later in the chapter). Unfortunately, although no one paper in the volume exhibits a high volume of typos, mistakes, or awkward phrasings, there is quite a number of such things spread across the book as a whole. In general, the Palgrave Hegel Handbook would have benefitted from more careful editing on this score.
Burbidge, in his contribution, provides an illuminating discussion of Hegel’s use of the term Aufhebung, which describes the kind of transitions or inferences key to every part of Hegel’s mature philosophy. Burbidge’s chapter compliments Nuzzo’s. Whereas she focused on Hegel’s attempt to present a logical science that generates its own content, his attention is on the nature of the development of that content. In particular, he is concerned to explain how it is that Hegel is able to argue that more complex thought determinations emerge out of simpler and less determinate ones, without surreptitiously assuming those more complex determinations as a goal in advance. Of course, this has always been a common complaint made against Hegel’s procedure, and Burbidge makes quite a good case for thinking that it is unfounded. He shows, particularly by appealing to remarks Hegel makes towards the end of his treatment of quantitative concepts, and in his account of the absolute idea, that the basic parts of a move that can be described as an Aufhebung, the movement, that is, through which more complex determinations are generated from simpler ones, are firstly the immanent negation of some determination, followed in turn by the negation of the determination to which the first negation gave rise. This ‘doubled transition’ (171) amounts to a slippage between the two determinations in question, with each implying but excluding the other. Finally, this slippage between determinations can be grasped as a single unity, in which the one-sided conceptions of the previous determinations have been replaced with a conception that grasps them as belonging to this new determination in such a way that they have been both “annulled” and “preserved”, as the verb aufheben can suggest.
Burbidge’s account of the dialectical transitions which make up the argument of Hegel’s Logic does not require Hegel to assume in advance the outcome of those transitions, but there are other worries that might be expressed about it. It is not obvious what it is that gives rise to the moment at which the continual slippage between opposing thought-determinations is grasped as a whole. Burbidge invokes the unifying function that Kant attributes to the categories in the transcendental deduction, but it is not clear how helpful this is. Burbidge himself acknowledges that Kant’s discussion of how the categories unify sensible intuitions that have been synthesised by the imagination is somewhat removed from Hegel’s focus on the relations between concepts alone. What Burbidge seems to want from Kant is a discussion of the understanding, since it is the unifying activity that Kant attributes to the understanding that Burbidge sees in Hegel’s Aufhebung. But even then it is not clear exactly what or who is responsible for this unifying activity in Hegel’s case. What is more, Burbidge seems to slip rather too quickly between Kant’s account of the understanding as a faculty for unifying the deliverances of sensibility under concepts and Hegel’s insistence that the understanding is (primarily) a kind of thinking that separates and statically opposes thought determinations, risking giving the impression that Kant and Hegel are talking about the same thing. This cannot be right, but Burbidge’s suggestion that it is ‘understanding’s “power of the negative”, which collapses the double transition with its inherent contradiction and infinite progress into a simple, unified concept’ (172) is mystifying because it gives precisely this impression. What this account seems to require is a discussion of the kind of thinking Hegel describes as “reason”, but this is strangely absent.
Burbidge goes on to provide a useful overview of some of dialectical transitions which occur early in the first book of Hegel’s Logic. In fact, I think that it would have been better still if he had spent a little more time spelling some of these out, rather than focusing on the account of the concepts of being, nothing, and becoming as his most detailed example of an instance of a logical Aufhebung. In the case of this first dialectical transition it is uniquely difficult to see how the original, one-sided determinations of being and nothing are opposed at all, and thus to get the transition on the move. Things become much clearer in the case of, for example, the treatment of the (qualitative) finite and infinite, which Burbidge treats only briefly.
Turning from the Logic to the metaphysics of nature, Burbidge proceeds to provide a whistle-stop tour through some notable features of contemporary particle physics, biochemisty, and biology (which I am not competent to assess), suggesting that these provide evidence for thinking that the kind of dialectical transitions that Hegel explores in his Logic may appear in the activity and development of nature in ways that Hegel did not anticipate. Burbidge thinks that this amounts to a challenge to Hegel’s view that ‘the universe is grounded in a rational structure that is prior to, and independent of nature’ (180). It is not clear to me that such developments need push Hegel to abandon the idea that logic can be treated as an a priori science, independent of the study of nature, but one whose metaphysical implications might be expected to govern nature. Certainly, we might concede to Burbidge that if nature does indeed appear to run on Aufhebung-like processes, then a thinking which takes its cue from the presence of such dialectical transitions in nature and reflects upon them in an abstract context might come to resemble Hegel’s Logic, but this does not guarantee his conclusion that ‘there is no a priori logical structure, but human thought is affected by what it discovers in the changes and transformations of nature’ (181). Aside from the challenges mounted by Kant, Hegel, and others to conceiving of logic on such an empirical basis, it remains the case that if (and admittedly it is a big “if”) Hegel can make a case for the development of such a logic a priori and show that it has metaphysical implications, then he should not be too troubled by the discovery of natural processes which conform to the structures of thought. Burbidge is right to draw attention to outdated claims and failings in Hegel’s own philosophy of nature, but I do not think that these need to cause problems for Hegel’s big picture concerning the relation between thought and reality and the way that Burbidge seems to think that they might.
With that, I draw my discussion of just some of the essays assembled in this volume to a close. As additional highlights not addressed here, I would direct the reader’s attention to an essay by Collins which considers the role of Hegel’s account of religion in the context of the argument of the Phenomenology (85-108), an essay by Testa on Hegel’s treatment of embodied cognition and agency (269-95), an essay by Yeomans on the relation between Hegel’s logic and his political thought (373-88), and Motroshilova’s account of the development of Hegel’s treatment of the history of philosophy (485-517). By way of conclusion I shall simply state that there is a great deal in this volume that will be of interest to Hegel scholars and students, and that the Palgrave Hegel Handbook provides a valuable addition to the resources available to anyone engaging seriously with almost any facet of Hegel’s work.
Baur, M. and Houlgate, S. 2011. A Companion to Hegel. Oxford: Blackwell.
Bunyard, T. 2019. “Demagogy and Social Pathology: Wendy Brown and Robert Pippin on the Pathologies of Neoliberal Subjectivity.” Araucaria, Vol 21 Issue 42: 505-527
de Laurentiis, A. and Edwards, J. 2013. The Bloomsbury Companion to Hegel. London: Bloomsbury.
Kreines, J. 2015. Reason in the World: Hegel’s Metaphysics and its Philosophical Appeal. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Moyar, D. 2017. The Oxford Handbook of Hegel. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Monahan, M. 2017. Creolizing Hegel (London: Rowman and Littlefield International.
Westphal, K. 2018. Grounds of Pragmatic Realism: Hegel’s Internal Critique and Reconstruction of Kant’s Critical Philosophy. Leiden: Brill.
The four sections of this review essay will each pursue a major facet of Nikolay Milkov’s monograph, a monograph mainly directed at professional philosophers and their postgraduate students, but not without interest for historians of ideas. Within the space available, we shall give particular attention to the opening chapters. Indeed, it is in these chapters that the fundamental framing of Early Analytic Philosophy and the German Philosophical Tradition is erected. They are finally re-engaged in the concluding pair of chapters, chapters that portray two dominant conceptions of analytic philosophy influencing its subsequent factional development; the consequent proliferation of incomplete often methodological definitions of analytic philosophy; and, finally, what amounts to the author’s manifesto for the future renewal of analytic philosophy. The questions governing the four sections of this critique can be summarised as follows. Firstly, how does Milkov construe the context of historical enquiries into early analytic philosophy? Secondly, what does he believe ought to be the task and goal of such endeavours? Thirdly, how do the demands of a case-study of the impact of a controversial major intellectual upon early analytical philosophers demonstrate his actual historical practice? Finally, to what extent do other significant, contemporaneous historical approaches invite further questions? Or, to recast this issue, do the assumptions Milkov makes about the very nature and crafting of the history of philosophy raise closer scrutiny and debate?
Milkov’s re-framing of the history of the early phase of analytic philosophy comes a half-generation after Daniel Garber’s reflection upon attitudes to the intellectual past by so many of its practitioners. Garber’s own generation was “reacting against … a bundle of practices” that could be characterized by several trends (2004: 2). These included the tendencies “to substitute rational reconstruction of a philosopher’s views for the views themselves,” “to focus upon an extremely narrow group of figures,” “to focus on just a few works … that best fit with … current conception[s] of the subject of philosophy,” “to work exclusively from translations and to ignore secondary work … not originally written in English,” and “to treat philosophical positions as if they were those presented by contemporaries” (2004: 2).
Before assessing how Milkov differs in his historical approach, let us focus upon the first two theoretical chapters of his sixteen-chapter volume in order to examine the underpinnings of that approach. Whereas the vast majority of chapters draw upon a dozen articles and chapters published between 1999 and 2012, both introductory chapters implicitly provide Milkov’s readers with his most recent thinking. It occurs within the statement of his over-arching aim of transforming the “largely disparate efforts” (4), notably but not exclusively since the ‘’seventies when Michael Dummett (1981: 628ff. & 665ff.) began probing the development of Gottlob Frege and the philosophy of language (also succinctly critiqued by George Duke (2009)). Milkov believes this can be achieved by “developing a comprehensive account of early analytic philosophy as a movement that both inherited and transformed an entire spectrum of themes … in mainstream German philosophy” (4). A significant factor amongst English-speaking commentators in avoiding, if not disparaging, the role of Germanic thinking from the twentieth century’s first world war to the aftermath of the second was “socio-cultural animosity and clashing ideologies” (4).
Milkov is well aware that his effort to construct “a theoretically balanced and comprehensive, ideologically unbiased account” involves him in pursuing “pioneering figures” of analytic philosophy such as B.A.W. Russell and G.E. Moore. More particularly, it demands that he demonstrates how they probed “inherited problems and doctrines” originating in Germanic philosophical thinking “in the language and theoretical idiom of a far different cultural and intellectual environment” (5). By so doing, we find that Milkov overtly opposes five historical conceptions of what many scholars construe as the Anglo-Germanic intellectual relationship (or lack thereof) during the initial period of the analytic movement (and subsequently elaborated when dealing with “incomplete definitions” of the extended analytic movement’s “methodological” and “defining themes” (208-212)). In brief, they comprise the following objections:
[i] that, as the twelfth and sixteenth chapter in the first volume of Scott Soames (2003) might be interpreted, Kant’s analytic-synthetic dichotomy was central to early analytic projects (5, cf. 8, 11-12);
[ii] that, despite efforts to reconnect two historically divorced yet aligned traditions in Paul Redding (2007) and thereby contend that Hegel’s “grand … theories” were central, but not his methods which Milkov specifically upholds subsequently (e.g. 46ff.) (5);
[iii] that, as promoted by the likes of Kevin Mulligan and Barry Smith, Kant and his followers operated “in principle” with a “universe of ideas” totally independent of the analytic movement (5-6);
[iv] that neo-Kantians, notably Ernst Cassirer of the Marburg school, “were largely preoccupied with the philosophy of culture,” thereby ignoring their continuation of “the logicalization of philosophy initiated by Kant” (6, cf. 7, 221); and,
[v] as Dummett (e.g. 1981: xlii, 665-684) influentially maintained, that “Frege alone introduced analytic philosophy as a kind of philosophy of language” (6, cf. 12, 111, 209-210).
From the pivotal occurrence of Kant’s “recalibration” of occidental philosophy by “synthesizing logic with the rest of the field” (7), Milkov proposes the next major pivot to be neither Hegel nor Frege but Hermann Lotze. His investigations would later be identified, if not always acknowledged, as “signature concerns” of early Cambridge analyses, ranging “from the proposition, objective content—both conceptual and perceptual—of knowledge, and intentionality to the theory of logical forms, the objective nature of values and logical validity” (7). As Hans-Johann Glock (1999: 141ff.) emphasizes, the “logocentric” factor in what he regards as German analytic philosophy saw the pronounced rejection of the naturalist trend of reducing philosophy to an empirical science such as psychology to which the laws of logic were subservient and thereby functioning as little more than empirical, inductive generalisations.
The subsequent questioning of logocentric constraints rationalises Milkov upholding a distinctive, “discrete” second (or “middle”) phase of analytic philosophy initially associated with the Vienna Circle’s focus upon “problems of explanation in science” (9). Thereafter, he observes, a “clearly distinguishable” third (or “late”) phase emerged from the ’sixties with Van Quine, Thomas Kuhn, and John Rawls epitomizing “leading exemplars” of shifts into questions of translatability and interpretation, scientific revolutions and commensurability, and socio-political rules and cohesion. In sum, synoptic attempts to define analytic philosophy fail to “discriminate … different stages” (10) and thus distort historical actualities of its “multifacteted” development (11).
Chapter One ends by returning to its goal of “a fine-grained” investigation of topics “from alternative perspectives” that were “formative” of early analytic philosophy to be treated by way of its “methodology … which was more focused on descriptions than explanations” (11). Rather than impose a “monothematic,” if not hierarchical, interpretation upon actual analytic development, such as Soames’ singular notion of analysis or Dummett’s one of language (11-12), Milkov points elsewhere. We, in fact, face “concepts that survived the demise of the grand theories in which they originally figured” (13). At the same time, when “later recast by thinkers,” the “supersession of historically successive philosophical contexts, whereby seminal ideas make their way through history, explains why philosophically formative ideas are often difficult to recognize” (13). Furthermore, “the progress of these ideas was not always linear … nor was it always a function of a proximate influence” (13).
Chapter Two ends Milkov’s theoretical introduction by initially surveying attitudes of philosophers, be they analytic or other, towards their intellectual antecedents. Whilst so doing, he notes that even philosophers “cannot, in principle, write down their completely finished story” (18). This state of affairs holds irrespective of whether their successors, be they “friends or rivals,” develop “steps” suggested or even when others, attempting to demonstrate how their ideas are “constructed” or related, typically interpret such ideas as contributing to a “completely new problem” (18-19). Curiously, for a chapter devoted to the logical, systematic history of philosophy, Milkov does not pursue the conceptual consequences of history as retrospective narrative, a point to be expanded in our fourth section.
Milkov contends that the task of an historian of philosophy is fourfold, namely:
[i] explicating “elements” of the “different range and level of specific philosophical works”;
[ii] relating these elements within “a logical net” or, still metaphorically speaking, mapping them;
[iii] logically relating them to “the ideas of other philosophers: predecessors, contemporaries, successors” irrespective of whether they are “members of the philosopher’s school or group”; and, finally,
[iv] aiming to “develop them further in their authentic sense” (19).
That said, Milkov makes allowance for more implications arising from his four designated tasks. These include, for example, the need for historians—especially for those pursuing “logical connections” aiming to detail “a map without omissions” (26)—to adopt two directions. On the one hand, there is a diachronic quest for the “origins of particular concepts, problems, and theories” (20). On the other hand, there is a synchronic “reporting” about how other philosophers deploy these differently in order to “delineate … how the systematic philosophical problems and concepts, past and present, interrelate in formally determinate ways” (20). In his penultimate chapter, Milkov reframes this dual task along the lines of what Peter Strawson (1992: 17-28) once called “connective” as opposed to “reductive” analysis (203).
The foregoing may nonetheless leave readers wondering if Milkov’s fourfold set of tasks above is sufficiently explicated. Consider, for instance, why Milkov’s preferred “elements”—concepts, problems, theories—gradually focus upon the first two at the expense of the third. Consider again, how one is to construe Milkov’s metaphorical notions of “net” and “map.” The latter, as we shall consider in our final section, reveals some questionable presuppositions bedevilling theories of history applied to the realm of ideas. Finally. consider why his reference to “specific … works” omits the interpretive nature, let alone assumptions and consequences, of translations, transcriptions, and reconstructions of published and unpublished work or works; all the more so, when pitted against the goal of approaching its or their “authentic sense” (19). Is this appeal to “authentic sense” in danger of becoming embroiled in a potential dilemma? As argued in more literary circumstances by Saam Trivedi (2001), the underlying conception of communication ultimately “implies a commitment” to “the view that the correct meanings and interpretations … are fixed” or “at least … constrain[ed]” by their authors’ “actual intentions” in constructing their works (195). In other words, the problem is “an epistemic dilemma, a dilemma with redundancy as one of its horns, and indeterminancy as the other” (198). Imagine a situation in which Antonio and Alessia, archaeologists and keen students of accounts of the settlement of the Azores archipelago begin reading the fifteenth chapter of the 1894 Raymond Beazley history of “one continuous thread of Christian” European exploration and expansion across the Atlantic which “treat[s] the life of Prince Henry as the turning point” albeit one “clouded by the dearth of compete knowledge… but enough … to make something of … a hero, both of science and of action” (xvii). Both sense the above-mentioned danger of confronting them, namely, whether or not Beazley’s textual or oral sources are pervaded by ambiguity. If ambiguity is pervasive according to Antonio, the historian’s attempt to appeal to contexts if not conventions as a sufficient constituent of his sources’ meaning in cases of failed or indeterminate intentions begins to crumble. The dilemma remains if, as Alessia contends, ambiguity here is not pervasive because the sources threaten to become superfluous especially in the face of Beazley’s ideological pre-occupations.
Our previous section has in passing questioned Milkov’s conception of the goal and task of historians of (early) analytic philosophy in terms of retrospective narratives and metaphors of mapping. However, before turning to these issues in our final section, we shall pursue, albeit briefly, how the demands of a significant philosophical case-study demonstrate his actual practices. Here, we find a rich array from Chapter Three onwards. In practical terms, we would hardly expect a volume of under three hundred pages to present a fully “comprehensive,” let alone an “unbiased,” account (5); rather, it acts as a corrective by challenging engrained scholarly perspectives with alternative ones. An example of a complex major German thinker, initially rejected by Russell and Moore as intersecting with early analytic philosophy, should suffice, namely, Hegel, a pivotal figure for what is popularly called the European idealist movement.
Milkov acknowledges the recent role of Redding (2007) and Angelica Nuzzo (2010) in drawing parallels between analytic philosophy and Hegel’s approach to concepts (46). However, he elects to highlight an “unexplored” perspective of the “methods employed” not as the “genealogical connection between … two theoretical orientations, but rather … [as] their kinship” (47). His prime candidate is the “economic method of elimination” (as distinct from the “reductive” conception of analysis in which particular concepts were assigned to specific classes (cf. 49)). Early analytic philosophers, beginning with its “only one founding father,” Russell (221), deployed elimination to rid analysis of “a superfluous duplication of terms” (47). For instance, if Antonio knows the words comprising a proposition (“The Azores is Europe’s largest volcanic archipelago”), then by that very fact he knows its meaning. If his colleague Alessia can confirm that the hypogea of the Azores are products of human activity at least a millennium before European settlement from 1433, then, ipso facto, she can prove that there were ancient people and things before and beyond herself.
This method, asserts Milkov, is akin to Hegel’s mereological approach in logic to analysing the relationship between a whole or totality and its parts or elements. By so analysing the connections between parts of a whole by “the most economic type of connection between them,” Hegel can simultaneously characterize those between the parts and the whole which “are unities of individuals” (48), the latter, citing Hegel (1830: §158), functioning as “only moments of one whole.” Nonetheless, Milkov concedes that the above method specifically “related to Hegel’s dialectics” was “a major trend” amongst fin de siècle philosophers ranging from William James, a key contributor to the North America pragmatist movement, to Edmund Husserl, a major instigator of the European phenomenological movement, and not peculiar to the early analytic movement as such (49).
For Milkov, only the early Wittgenstein (1922) fully embodies Hegel’s dialectics where “every concept transforms into another concept” and thereby making it “more precise” (50). His other nominee is Rudolf Carnap who, during the middle or second period of the analytic movement’s trans-Atlantic debates over the logical quest for conceptual or definitional precision, “called the practice of analysis explication” (50). Thereafter, the relatively open-ended use of “explication”—nowadays known as “conceptual (re)engineering”—by advocates in philosophical and psychological fields has seized upon experimentally or experientially driven applications of theoretical enquiries. Whereas Milkov subsequently concentrates upon Susan Stebbing’s criticisms (e.g. 186-187), the contested arguments of Quine and Strawson amongst others continue to reverberate. These include, for example, the viability of securing necessary and sufficient conditions; the validity of distinctions between analytical and empirical truths; the separation of denotative and connotative meanings; the division between semantic and pragmatic kinds of context and reference; and the methodological question of whether “explication” ultimately alters the subject of enquiry or forcibly resolves it by way of implicit stipulation.
Hegel’s mereological approach above carries implications for its relationship to the “absolute” or “absolute idea” which Milkov construes more generally amongst German idealists as determining “the characteristics and behavior of all individuals that fall under it with necessity of a law” (62). Later, focusing upon the early Russell under the specific influence of Lotze, Milkov claims that Russell, when first emphasizing “the logical discussion of metaphysical problems,” conceptually distinguished between space and time “as consisting of relations” and “as adjectives to the absolute” (89). What is ignored here is an alternative account of the “absolute idea” which, according to Markus Gabriel (2016), is grounded in “methodological assumptions designed to guarantee the overall intelligibility of what there is, regardless of its actual natural, social or more broadly normative structure” (181). Gabriel’s challenging perspective centres upon “how reality as a whole is the main topic of Hegel’s philosophy” which includes the crucial task in the face of scepticism of “accounting for the presence of self-conscious thinking in nature” (2018: 383). Irrespective of the merits of this alternative, it compels intellectual historians to ask if early analytic philosophers realised that Hegel’s “absolute idea” was not a first-order metaphysical method for disclosing, in Gabriel’s words, “the composition of ultimate reality in the sense of the furniture of mind-independent fundamental reality” (2016: 185).
There is something else Milkov largely seems to overlook in his treatment of Hegel’s mereological mode of dialectical analysis which only tangentially comes to the fore when his sixth and seventh chapters delve into Lotze’s focus upon the logical relations within judgements and its influence upon Russell and Moore (e.g. 73-74 & 76-77). For many readers, especially those more familiar with the third (or “late”) phase of analytic philosophy and its persistent debates about semantic holism, curiosity centres upon the extent to which the early analytic phase and its German antecedents wrestled with holistic assumptions. Yet only passing mention of Moore’s widely disseminated and influential Principia Ethica is made. Milkov simply remarks that the volume was “developed around the concepts of ‘organic unity’” or organic whole in a “quasi-Hegelian manner” (49)—notably, it may be added, in terms of the intrinsic and non-intrinsic values of whole and parts (e.g. 1903: §18-23, 27-36)—without any explicit mention of Lotze.
From an historical perspective, amongst the basic conceptions upheld by the generation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the organic kind, as Dennis Phillips has long argued, took root in efforts to deny the adequacy of atomistic or mechanistic assumptions associated with the physical and chemical sciences of the day when applied, for example, to conscious beings, human societies, or even “reality as a whole” (1976: 6). Why? Because the “parts of an organic system are internally related to each other” (1976: 7). Internal relations are commonly explained by such propositions as the “whole determines the nature of its parts”; “parts cannot be understood … in isolation from the whole”; and, parts are “dynamically” inter-dependent or -related (1976: 6). To accept internal or intrinsic relations, continues Phillips, rapidly leads to the contestable belief that “entities are necessarily altered by the relations into which they enter” (1976: 8). Hegel’s mereological approach in, for example, The Science of Logic is replete with holistic assumptions. This becomes all the more so as Hegel probes the “essential relation” in that work’s 1813 The Doctrine of Essence as “the relation of the whole and the parts” wherein the whole “consists of the parts, and apart from them it is not anything” (1813: 449-450). Because the whole “is only relative, for what makes it a totality is rather its other, the parts” (1813: 451), Hegel unhesitatingly declares:
Nothing is in the whole which is not in the parts, and nothing is in the parts which is not in the whole. The whole is not an abstract unity but the unity of a diversified manifoldness; but this unity within which the manifold is held together is the determinateness by virtue of which the latter is the parts. (1813: 452)
In sum, we might ask, would focusing upon Hegel’s holistic commitments give us a more cohesive framework for explaining why the development of early analytic philosophy hinged upon overtly rejecting them for several decades at least? Or, if Milkov’s cryptic remarks about Hegel’s dialectical approach (e.g. 46-51, 75-76) tempt us to accept the reconstruction proposed by Gabriel (2011: 104-119), might this, in turn, explain why early analytic philosophers misinterpreted Hegel’s concept of the absolute in so far as it was premised on the “dialectical failure of transcendent metaphysics” from Kant onwards?
The last two chapters deftly portray three key issues motivating Milkov’s monograph which some readers may find worthwhile reading first of all before retracing earlier chapters for the expository details. These key issues include the emergence of two dominant conceptions of analytic philosophy influencing its subsequent factional development which, as Gordana Jovanović (2010) unwittingly demonstrates, echoes tensions within the early history of psychological theory and practice. Thereafter, Milkov turns to the resultant proliferation of incomplete, and often implicitly reified methodological, definitions of analytic philosophy. Finally, he ends Early Analytic Philosophy and the German Philosophical Tradition with what amounts to a manifesto for the future renewal of analytic philosophy partly by contrasting its fundamentally asymmetric relationship with “continental” philosophy and partly by looking to how reconnecting to scientific developments promises its theoretical interdisciplinary enrichment (217ff.).
Milkov’s closing chapters seek “to articulate a clear definition” based upon “the findings” of his preceding chapters and to “foster a more historically informed and theoretically nuanced understanding of analytic philosophy in general” (208). This statement returns us to his initial one about the ideal goals and tasks facing the historian of philosophy: “a theoretically balanced and comprehensive, ideologically unbiased account” (5). As noted in our previous sections, this left at least two historical issues in abeyance which we rather tersely associated with the retrospective character of narratives and the misleading metaphors of mapping. We shall briefly conclude by questioning the presuppositions of these and related issues whilst drawing upon recent re-conceptualisations of the crucial explanatory dimension of history of philosophy.
To ask Milkov what the criteria are that mark an historical account of analytic philosophy as balanced, comprehensive, and unbiased may well be accompanied by such questions as “From whose perspective?” or “By what objective measure?” More unsettling here is the possibility that we are dealing with an idealised set of attributes. How, were this the case, would we ever recognise a comprehensive or an unbiased historical account? The contrast with actual historical accounts immediately shifts our focus. For example, the question might now become whether any historical narration of the occurrences and persons said to be instrumental in the formation of the analytic movement—the role, for instance, assigned to the neglected Dimitri Michaltschew and Johannes Rehmke (153ff.) or Jacob Fries and Leonard Nelson (167ff.)—changes with each re-description by the historians involved, irrespective of whether their chronological, let alone intellectual, scope is relatively narrow or expansive.
Or, to change tack, do individual re-descriptions multiply other kinds of consequences facing historians of analytic philosophy? For example, if Dummett identifies Frege, Redding identifies Hegel, and Milkov identifies Lotze as pivotal to the development of early analytic philosophy, have we become trapped between Scylla and Charybdis, between accepting, on the one hand, a multiplicity of different pasts, different formative occurrences and persons, different causal sequences and accepting, on the other hand, an incapacity for historical accounts to become synthesized and for historical understanding to accumulate? Again, do we confront another consequence? To what extent is any historical narration ultimately a product of imaginative re-enactment where the historian has, as R.G. Collingwood proposed, “no direct or empirical knowledge of … facts … no transmitted or testimonial knowledge of them” (1936: 282)? Hence, when probing the formation of analytic philosophy, the historian is not engaging in an act of recollection where “the past is a mere spectacle” as distinct from being “re-enacted in present thought” (1936: 293). If so, how are we to defend the historical reconstruction’s claim to have disclosed the truth of the matter? Would it be feasible here to appeal to all narrated propositions within the account as not only constituting the facts but also corresponding to a past and actual state of affairs? Or would it feasible to presume that the narrative account is simply justified by an appeal to generalisations about intellectual influences, the Zeitgeist, which map particular occurrences and persons as necessary to the historical terrain being explored, namely, how the nineteenth-century German philosophical tradition or a pivotal figures within it influenced the early twentieth-century analytic movement? In turn, is that historical act of mapping or charting the means for automatically justifying what is therefore construed as significant and hence worthy of inclusion?
The foregoing questions, drawing upon the concerns of Louis Mink (1987) amongst others with the very idea and practice of history, emphasize that the past is not somehow immutable and unchanging, that the past is not somehow awaiting historical discovery to be told (by analogy with the excavations undertaken by our archaeologists, Antonio and Alessia, in the Azores archipelago). Rather, as Mink (1987: 140 & 79) contends, historical enquiries plumb developmental processes retrospectively. Being written from at least one particular perspective at the historian’s time and place, his or her account is thereby characterized by its “conceptual asymmetry” with the antecedent time and place under examination. In that respect, Milkov can be rightly seen as taking particular care over what might be implied and thus translated by Lotze’s concepts (e.g. 98ff.) that have misled Anglophone commentators and translators. Furthermore, Mink portrays a distinctive feature of historical accounts. Their significant conclusions are not so much a mathematical quod erat demonstrandum as what the preceding narrative “argument” aims to have “exhibited”: “they are seldom or never detachable” so that “not merely their validity but their meaning refers backward to the ordering of evidence” (1987: 79).
Finally, as Paul Roth (1989: 468ff.) suggests, there is a “logic internal” to the way in which a narrative account proves explanatory by using “cases … taken to be exemplary instances of problem solving.” In the course of so saying, Roth seems to have provided us with a set of criteria by which any historian of philosophy, Milkov included, can be evaluated. Does the historical account under examination establish the significance of the occurrence or the event, the person or the puzzle; what is problematic about that occurrence or event, person or puzzle; why have other rational reconstructions failed; and how has the narrative presented solved the problem set (1989: 473).
Beazley, C.R. 1894. Prince Henry the Navigator, the Hero of Portugal and of Modern Discovery, 1394-1460 A.D.: With an Account of Geographical Progress Throughout the Middle Ages As the Preparation for His Work. New York & London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Collingwood, R.G. 1936. “History as Re-enactment of Past Experience.” In The Idea of History with Lectures 1926-1928. Edited by W.J. van der Dussen, rev. edn., 282-302. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.
Duke, George. 2009. “Dummett and the Origins of Analytical Philosophy.” Review of Metaphysics 63(2): 329-347.
Dummett, Michael. 1981. Frege: Philosophy of Language. 2nd edn. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.
Garber, Daniel. 2004. “Philosophy and the Scientific Revolution.” In Teaching New Histories of Philosophy. Edited by J.B. Schneewind, 1-17. Princeton: Princeton University Center for Human Values.
Gabriel, Markus. 2011. “The Dialectic of the Absolute: Hegel’s Critique of Transcendent Metaphysics.” In Transcendental Ontology: Essays in German Idealism, 104-119. London & New York: Continuum International Publishing.
——-. 2016. “What Kind of an Idealist (If Any) Is Hegel?” Hegel Bulletin 37(2): 181-208.
——-. 2018. “Transcendental Ontology and Apperceptive Idealism.” Australasian Philosophical Review 2(4): 383-392.
Glock, H.-J. 1999. “Vorsprung durch Logik: The German Analytic Tradition.” Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 44: 137-166.
Hegel, G.W.F. 1813. The Doctrine of Essence. In The Science of Logic. Edited and translated by George di Giovanni, 337-505. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
——-. 1830. Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Basic Outline. Part 1: Science of Logic. 3rd edn. Edited and translated by Klaus Brinkmann & D.O. Dahlstrom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Jovanović, Gordana. 2010. “Historizing Epistemology in Psychology.” Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science 44(4): 310-328.
Mink, L.O. 1987. Historical Understanding. Edited by Brian Fay, E.O. Golob & R.T. Vann. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Moore, G.E. 1903. Principia Ethica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nuzzo, Angelica (ed.). 2010. Hegel and the Analytic Tradition. London & New York: Continuum International Publishing.
Redding, Paul. 2007. Analytic Philosophy and the Return of Hegelian Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Roth, P.A. 1989. “How Narratives Explain.” Social Research 65(2): 449-478.
Soames, Scott. 2003. Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, Volume 1. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Strawson, P.F. 1992. Analysis and Metaphysics: An Introduction to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Trivedi, Saam. 2001. “An Epistemic Dilemma for Actual Intentionalism.” British Journal of Aesthetics 41(2): 192-206.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1922. Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung /Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Translated by D.F. Pears & B.F. McGuinness. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963.
Every student of Kant’s thought is familiar with his reflective assertion that the Transcendental Deduction in the first Critique cost him more labor than any other part. The centrality of that presentation for his entire argument coupled with its sheer conceptual difficulty lay behind Kant’s efforts and the attention he afforded to elaborate it correctly. Countless students from his time to our own have themselves spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to follow the train of thought Kant pursued in it. Not just have disagreements surfaced on the actual steps Kant took in the Deduction, but differing opinions arose on how he could best achieve his intended end. We know that even in his own day Kant’s contemporaries were puzzled by the Transcendental Deduction as it appeared in the Critique’s first edition. Kant took the criticism to heart, and in a second edition of the work he gave a completely new version of the argument. Regrettably, what many thought should be the clearest of all presentations in the Critique – owing to its centrality – has been viewed by able scholars over the ensuing decades, nay centuries, as puzzling and obscure, but above all as inconclusive. Whereas many have ventured opinions on the success of Kant’s endeavor, few, if any, have concluded that he succeeded in achieving whatever it is that he had set out to do.
Numerous attempts have been made even in recent years to do what Kant himself seemingly was unable to accomplish, namely to give a clear account of Kant’s argument in the Deduction, quite apart from whether it succeeds or not. Even if we lay aside the presentations in the form of journal articles, the number of book-length studies alone is surprising, even astonishing – and this just in the English language. Fortunately, we have two eminently lucid expositions of Kant’s Transcendental Deduction, namely Guyer’s Kant and the Claims of Knowledge and Allison’s Kant’s Transcendental Deduction, though as the titles suggest the latter is more pointedly directed at explaining Kant’s text than the former. Both, however, are works that no serious student of Kant can afford to ignore. Certainly, there are considerable differences between the two books in their conclusions and their manner of executing their respective projects. Nevertheless, regardless of one’s familiarity with Kant’s text, whether a graduate student trying to understand Kant’s problem for the first time or an accomplished Kant-scholar, both books offer much clarification and many insights. Moreover, both books make ample use of Kant’s writings from his so-called “Silent Decade” and thus attempt to trace the evolution of Kant’s problem in the Deduction from his early “pre-Critical” writings. Now, we have Laywine’s dense contribution to the literature.
Alison Laywine is one of the few scholars who already in 1995 undertook an examination of Kant’s pre-Critical works in considerable depth with the hope of shedding light on the basic tenets of his Critical writings and positions. In that previous work, Kant’s Early Metaphysics and the Origins of the Critical Philosophy, Laywine told us that an understanding of the first Critique’s dichotomy between the faculties of sensibility and the understanding requires an understanding of his earlier position, why Kant adopted it at the time, and what led him to alter it, assuming, of course, that he did. Implicit in Laywine’s train of thought here is that such knowledge of Kant’s development is necessary in order to arrive at Laywine’s understanding of Kant. She and so many others who make similar claims take no account of the fact that others with a different understanding of Kant may not feel the need to turn to Kant’s pre-Critical writings. Given her position regarding just what the Deduction seeks to achieve, her argument for an examination of Kant’s early writings surely would include that he retained the kernel of his early metaphysics but reinterpreted and adapted it to fit those aspects of his philosophy that changed over the intervening years.
In any case, Laywine claims – and not without good reason – that Kant came to realize the inadequacies of his 1770 Inaugural Dissertation and tried during the subsequent decade or so to investigate and establish the limits of human cognition and the role of the respective faculties he delineated within those limits. He argued that what could be known under the conditions of one faculty could not be known under the conditions of the other. Yet unlike in 1781, the year of the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant held earlier in 1770 that the understanding through its concepts can cognize things in themselves, whereas things conceived through the senses are representations of things merely as they appear to us. He drew this conclusion from his contention that space and time are formal conditions of our sensibility. The strict separation of the faculties would go on to pose significant issues for him, and the attempt to resolve them led him to his mature system.
Laywine’s newest book essentially takes up where she left off previously, namely with a discussion of a set of Kant’s papers now known collectively as the Duisburg Nachlaβ, written most likely in 1775, and thus just about half-way between the Inaugural Dissertation and the first Critique. Short of paper, Kant often wrote notes on whatever paper was at hand including in the blank areas on letters he received. The so-called Duisburg Nachlaβ is such a set of jottings written in the blank areas of a letter bearing a date. Based on that fact, we know approximately when the note was scribbled. For those interested in the development of Kant’s mature positions, these notes are of great importance, since we have little else by which we can see the evolution of his thought. Although Laywine acknowledges Guyer’s treatment of the Nachlaβ in his own book, she charges him with neglecting Kant’s early metaphysics and with resisting the idealism that she sees present in the Nachlaβ. She, on the other hand, recognizes “some kind of idealism” (19) in them, but in doing so she in effect begs us to ask of her what kind of idealism is it that she sees. We get an answer or, rather, to use her own words, “some kind of” answer, further on in her detailed exposition of the Nachlaβ, where she says that the idealism is not transcendental idealism, but an idealism based on the idea that the cognizing subject intuits oneself directly through an intellectual insight and “bodies” – presumably meaning all else besides the subject – only insofar as they affect me. In this she explicitly sees herself as diverging from Guyer’s reading of the Nachlaβ, according to which Kant’s writing hopes to provide a theory of the a priori conditions of empirical knowledge but without thereby establishing an unbridgeable chasm between the world as cognized and the world as it is apart from our human cognition, i.e., as it is “in itself.” Even if one were to agree with Guyer in his reading of the Nachlaβ, one must wonder along with Laywine what Guyer meant by realism, particularly if he had Kant’s own definition in mind. Kant claimed, after all, to be an empirical realist even while espousing his transcendental idealism. Thus, the onus falls here on Guyer to clarify his position and interpretation – or at least it does on Laywine’s reading of Guyer.
However, even if we agree that Guyer failed to provide such a clarification, this does not absolve Laywine from providing her own account of Kant’s idealism. She writes that based on her reading of the A-Deduction, i.e., the Deduction as found in the 1781 Critique, Kant was an idealist about objects taken as objects of knowledge, but this need not mean that he was a skeptic concerning the external world (137). Clearly in 1781 Kant did not offer, and presumably therefore saw no need to offer, a special refutation of idealism. To Laywine’s thinking, Kant must have been as surprised as anyone that his sheer confidence concerning externality could be questioned. That critics charged him with Berkeleyan idealism forced Kant to add a distinct “Refutation of Idealism” in the 1787 second edition of the Critique. The question, then, is whether Laywine’s understanding of Kant’s idealism as presented in 1781 stands scrutiny given her premise that Kant took for granted the existence of the external world at the time. To be sure, Laywine finds nothing in Kant’s idealism that would disturb his confidence in externality. However, for us the question is whether Laywine’s confidence is itself misplaced. Are there not ample grounds in the 1781 Critique to think that Kant must have recognized the significance of the problem? And since he did not offer a refutation in the first Critique, is it not possible that he was still searching for one? Much, then, depends on the nature of Kant’s 1781 position, to which Laywine writes she will return in §3d (147-150) of the second chapter of her book. Indeed, Laywine there does somewhat return to the issue, albeit only in a footnote, in which she stresses her disagreement again with Guyer’s treatment of Kant’s idealism in the Nachlaβ. Unfortunately, determining Laywine’s own position requires an understanding of Guyer’s in order then to set Laywine’s against it. Certainly, this can be done, but the procedure requires the reader to make the necessary inference. The burden Laywine thrusts upon her readership is not aided by her assertion that Kant’s idealism in 1775 is “something like” (149f) the idealism that Guyer attributes to Kant in 1781. If the two positions are merely “like” each other, then in what way are they different?
Regrettably, Laywine, by her own admission, states that although she will take into account both versions of the Deduction – the A-Deduction and the substantially revised version in the second edition, or B-Deduction – her focus throughout her treatment is on the latter. This may be understandable given the argument she develops, but it does significantly narrow her potential audience, who may want an understanding of the Deduction on the whole, and not just her particular argument. In this respect, Henry Allison’s earlier work, in patiently dealing with both versions of the Deduction, succeeds far better and is far more accessible to a general reader. True, the B-Deduction may be, as Laywine writes, “more perspicuous” (14), but it is for that very reason, then, that one might well expect her to devote more attention to the first version. To be sure, she does not wholly dispense with the first edition tout court. She does draw instructive parallels between passages in the two versions of the Deduction, but she often finds the A-Deduction more convoluted and the argument more ambiguous than in the B-Deduction. An understanding of Laywine’s discussion here is again helped by the juxtaposition of her understanding with that of Allison’s. Laywine states (14) that a second reason for concentrating on the B-Deduction is to show that certain “infelicities” some have seen in the A-Deduction concerning metaphysics are not mistakes that are “ironed out” in the B-Deduction. On the contrary, Laywine believes that they are essential to the Deduction as such.
Laywine’s devotion to the Nachlaβ in the context of the present work concludes with the assertion that it more or less shows that Kant recognized already in the middle of his “Silent Decade” the need for a deduction of the categories, regardless of their number, of the understanding, i.e., for an, in effect, legal argument substantiating the claim that pure concepts in the understanding apply to appearances and do so a priori. Even stronger, Laywine holds that Kant did provide such a deduction already in the Nachlaβ at least in outline. This can hardly come as a surprise to readers familiar with the vast secondary literature. For example, Wolfgang Carl in a paper “Kant’s First Drafts of the Deduction of the Categories” originally read in 1987 to an audience at Stanford University, but published in 1989, noted that Kant had already drafted several versions of the deduction before the 1781 Critique.
In turning to the Deduction itself in the B-Deduction, one of Laywine’s first concerns is understanding what Kant meant by such terms and expressions as “manifold” and “synthetic unity of apperception.” She turns again to Kant’s pre-Critical writings for clarification as to how he employed the word “manifold” previously, hopefully, thereby, throwing light on his use of the word in the Critique. Laywine writes that for Kant every intuition has a manifold, including a priori intuitions. This would seem incontestable, particularly since Kant himself clearly makes that assertion, for example at B160. Whatever the case, Laywine suggests that not everyone recognized this, Dieter Henrich being one.
Particularly since Henrich’s 1969 article on the proof-structure of the B-Deduction, virtually every commentator on Kant’s first Critique has had something to say on whether the B-Deduction presents two distinct steps or two distinct arguments for a single conclusion. The Deduction, in Laywine’s words, is to show that the categories or pure concepts of the understanding “are the formal conditions of thought in the same way that the pure intuitions of space and time are the formal conditions of sensibility” (13). The problem, so to speak, is that the argument of the B-Deduction extends through §26 of the Critique, but the conclusion offered there does not appear to be substantially different from that already presented in §20, where Kant writes that “the manifold in a given intuition also necessarily stands under categories,” the categories being nothing other than the functions for judging (B143). Only by standing under categories is the unity of the sensible manifold possible. Thus, does the first step of the B-Deduction end with the quite brief §20 (B143) and then resume with a second step at §22 or does §22 advance another distinct argument? If what we have here are two arguments for one conclusion, it looks as though Kant was saying you should pick the one that you like best (209). On the other hand, if the B-Deduction consists of two steps, how do the two steps differ?
Laywine writes that she “prefers” to think that the B-Deduction consists of two steps rather than two arguments (209). Stating that one of the two options is preferred is hardly a ringing endorsement of a choice. We can only hope that now having completed her inquiry Laywine is firmly convinced that she made the correct decision. She does realize, though, that having made her choice she must now say what the second step offers to the argument beyond what the first affirmed. Kant provides the answer, or as Laywine herself calls it “an important clue” to the answer, at the beginning of §26. She then quotes one sentence from that section – in her own translation – after which she remarks that its significance lies in its announcement that the “final step” of the Deduction will be an attempt to account for how nature is possible (210). Are we, therefore, to conclude that what sets the “second step” apart from the first is that it finally answers how nature is possible? But, then, the first step, contrary to its appearance, cannot have reached the same conclusion as the second step. Laywine’s answer lies in understanding that Kant uses the word “nature” in two different senses, a material and a formal sense. Laywine finds the material sense given explicitly in Prolegomena §36, where Kant writes that nature is the totality of all appearances, and the formal sense concerns appearances governed by laws so that they form a unified whole. Stated in such terms what is at issue appears simple enough. But interpreting the intricate and puzzling B-Deduction through the lens of the Prolegomena asks us to assume that the twofold sense given in the Prolegomena accurately reflected Kant’s thinking at the time of the Prolegomena – and not one offered for the sake of simplicity alone – but also that Kant continued to maintain the same stance in 1787. That the B-Deduction does indeed hold to the twofold sense of nature is a major task of Laywine’s treatise.
Laywine sees her proposal for understanding the B-Deduction as unique. Henrich, for one, wrote that what Laywine sees as the respective sections of the B-Deduction constituting the two steps in fact do not actually come to the same conclusion. For Henrich, Kant presents two different arguments with two different conclusions. Others have proposed variations. In Laywine’s estimation, Hans Wagner came close to her own by recognizing that the second step focuses on empirical intuition and perception, whereas the first step deals only with intuition as such. While this train of thought leads him to recognize the importance of the question how nature is possible, he failed to exploit this insight. In focusing on how perception is possible, Wagner, in Laywine’s estimation, overlooked accounting for how perceptions can be connected. Certainly, she correctly remarks that without such an explanation of connected perceptions there can be no explanation of how nature is possible. But we may ask of Laywine what more needs to be added to Wagner’s argument to produce her own. The answer is both easy and hard. That is, it can easily be stated as that we must notice the cosmological aspect of the second step, the contribution of a cosmology of experience makes to the completion of the B-Deduction argument.
We know that Laywine puts much weight on this conception of a “cosmology of experience.” After all, it features prominently in her book’s subtitle, and she mentions the expression many times in her text. She tells us on page 87 that such a cosmology – she also calls it a “metaphysics” (3f) – treats experience “as a unified whole of appearances … and tries to establish its conditions of possibility by showing that its unity comes from laws legislated to appearances by the understanding through its categories.” This treatment of experience, allegedly, is conspicuously absent from the first step of the B-Deduction. The emphasis here is on the word “unity,” for it allows us to characterize the world as a whole. Laywine claims that the germ of this conception of a cosmology of experience “informs” Kant’s account of human sensibility already in the Inaugural Dissertation and again is revealed in the Nachlaβ and even in the A-Deduction. Of course, if it is as easy as Laywine says, it is hard to see why the answer to Henrich’s challenge appears explicitly only on page 214, but in her defense she did prepare much of the needed groundwork up to this point. In her own estimation, the hard part of her argument is to make an understandable presentation of what a cosmology of experience will contribute to the Deduction.
Even by her own reckoning, having reached §26 of the B-Deduction, the final section of the argument, Laywine, by her own opinion, has still not been able to clinch the required proof. According to her, to say, as Kant does, that the categories are valid for all objects of experience in B161 is not the same as invoking universal laws to make the unity of appearances possible. But is it? Laywine continues, holding that if we are to speak of universal laws of nature, they must either stem from God, which Kant has dismissed for his purposes here, or from the categories. Kant at B163 wrote that the “categories are concepts that prescribe laws a priori to appearances, thus to nature as the sum total of all appearances. … Here is the solution to this riddle.” Can we say that with this Laywine’s task is complete?
Hermann Cohen, in his own all-too-brief commentary from 1907, found, like Laywine, that these words contained the transcendental question. He found the answer – or so he says – in the distinction between objects and things in themselves, a distinction that Laywine fortunately does not invoke. But she does, like Cohen, find that the solution she seeks lies in the understanding’s self-activity and the imagination. Cohen writes, “Here we see, however, how the imagination and the connection that it creates between sensibility and the understanding make the resolution more plausible. … Thus by means of the imagination nature, as the sum total of appearances, becomes nature, ‘as the original ground of its necessary lawfulness’” (63, B165). Certainly, while there are many nuances that distinguish Cohen’s endeavor from that of Laywine, there is a distinct similarity that Laywine does not so much as mention.
There are certainly many positive points to Laywine’s treatment of the B-Deduction. Not one of them, however, is that her investigation is largely ahistorical. In this too, though, she is not unique. Despite all the scholarship over the more than two centuries that preceded her work, she makes little reference to it. Does she think that her formulation of and solution to the central problem of the Deduction is original as compared to all that has gone before? If it is unique, that would be a stunning claim in light of all of the nineteenth century German scholarship alone, not counting those from the twentieth, some of which she does briefly mentions. But if it is not, in what way does her treatment contribute to what has gone before? Or is she, in effect, saying that each of us should attempt for ourselves unaided by the past to square the circle? Frederick Beiser has remarked with regard to contemporary Anglophone scholarship on German idealism that many of the champions of a normative interpretation of it do not realize that their reading was worked out with greater sophistication and subtlety long ago (10). Can we not draw a parallel comparison to the core message in Laywine’s reading of the B-Deduction – apart from the many details she provides – but referring instead to Cohen’s interpretation?
Undoubtedly, Laywine’s treatment of the Duisburg Nachlaβ in relation to the B-Deduction is a valuable addition to contemporary English-language Kant scholarship. It is this rather than her actual treatment of the Deduction that sets her book apart. It is not an easy read for the casual or beginning student of the first Critique, who might come upon it looking for guidance. But those already quite familiar with the B-Deduction will find a number of observations they will have likely overlooked previously.
Beiser, Frederick C. 2009. “Normativity in Neo-Kantianism: Its Rise and Fall.” International Journal of Philosophical Studies, vol. 17 (1): 9-27.
Cohen, Hermann. 1907. Kommentar zu Immanuel Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Leipzig: Verlag der Dürr’schen Buchhandlung .
A Guide to Kant’s Psychologism (2019) is presented as a more accessible and to-the-point delivery of the interpretive theses Waxman lays out in Kant’s Model of the Mind (1991), Kant and the Empiricists: Understanding Understanding (2005), and Kant’s Anatomy of the Intelligent Mind (2014). This comparatively compact 351-page book promises a unique angle on Kant’s theoretical philosophy for a range of philosophical and scientific audiences. The work is original both in its iconoclastic style and its thesis, which defends Kant’s ‘psychologism’ and interprets the titular empiricist philosophers as precursors thereof. Kant’s account of objective representation in terms of the interrelations between sensation, pure intuition, logic and concepts is argued to be firmly rooted in problems brought into the spotlight by the empiricists, such as animal consciousness and multimodal sensory perception. The book thus combines a historical sensitivity to the genealogy of Kant’s philosophy with the systematic ambition of a new interpretation, not merely of one isolated aspect of Kantian theory of mind but of the way its various doctrines fit together, from pure intuition to apperception to judgment.
The book is organized into two parts. After an introductory chapter preparing the reader for a radical departure from what Waxman presents as an anti-psychologistic consensus in Kant interpretation, Chapters 2-4 chronologically introduce key thinkers from the empiricist tradition and their contributions to the book’s central concept of psychologism. In chapter 5, Waxman uses Wittgenstein to illustrate Hume’s conventionalism, which in Waxman’s view Kant targets no less than rationalist platonism. Chapters 6-10 guide the reader through Kant’s theoretical philosophy. The sequence of chapters, “The Kantian Cogito” (6), “The Logical I” (7), “The Aesthetic I” (8), “The Objective I” (9), and “The I of Nature” (10) is prescribed less by the text of the Critique of Pure Reason than by the conceptual layers of Waxman’s reconstruction. While regularly referring Kant’s insights back to their empiricist lineage, the progression from the ‘I think’ to the objectivity of physical nature also points to Cartesian and Leibnizian influences in Kant’s treatment of logical universality. The chapters on Kant additionally argue that the doctrines of pure intuition and logical form, interpreted as elements of an ‘a priori psychologism’, can accommodate post-Kantian scientific developments in logic, geometry, mathematics and physics. The concluding chapter assesses platonism and conventionalism as the only possible routes of refutation of Kant’s psychologism, as well as indicating how Waxman’s interpretation may be illuminating for contemporary study of the mind.
One of the most original features of the book is that it makes the compatibility of Kantian doctrines with subsequent scientific advances a matter of first importance: “naturalistic theories like Kant’s and those developed by his British empiricist forebears were intentionally crafted to leave open a place for future science on which philosophy can never impinge” (12). The scope of the book is not only to radically overhaul received opinion on Kant’s methodology, and the relation of his ideas to the sciences, but to defend a biologically plausible version of Kant’s account of logical form. In the remainder of this review I will address in turn: (1) Waxman’s definition of ‘psychologism’ and how his use of this concept situates him with regard to other interpreters; (2) his reading of Kant, with a focus on the logical forms of judgment according to the psychologistic approach; and (3) some questions emerging at the interface of Waxman’s naturalistic reading of Kant and the sciences, especially neuroscience and evolutionary biology.
Waxman stresses that Kant’s ability to resolve skepticism about the objective purport of (some of) our representations is rooted in his radicalization of the British empiricists’ methods to accommodate logical universality, modality, and relational concepts. Thus, the book’s overarching thesis about the relationship between its titular figures is that Kant continues what Locke, Berkeley and Hume started, expressed as their common adherence to psychologism. Waxman has in mind a quite specific interpretation of this term:
[T]he task of psychologism is to explicate meanings, with special emphasis on identifying psychological ingredients essential to notions that, in language, are free of any tincture of psychological content. There can therefore be no expectation that the psychological contents adduced as essential to the meaning of familiar notions will themselves be familiar. (147)
Waxman’s compelling take on the psychologistic philosopher’s undermining of rationalist metaphysics is thus that psychologistic elucidation makes us distrust the appearances of the natural language of metaphysics, thereby overturning realist intuitions that the qualities we discern in appearances are properties of mind-independent objects (33f). Psychologism in this sense, Waxman is clear, is not to be confused with the fallacy of explicating the non-psychological psychologically (305). According to Waxman’s use of the term, psychologism means giving contents which are in fact psychological their due explication in terms of mental representations. Kant’s account of how we are capable of “cognitive representation of sense-divide transcending external objects” (264) equips empirical psychologism with the resources to explicate the objectivity and logical universality of our representations, where this is possible. Hence, “any representational content that neither empirical psychologism nor conventionalism can explicate, a priori psychologism can, and what the latter cannot explicate, nothing can” (147).
Waxman introduces his interpretation as a novel defence of Kant’s theoretical philosophy which rejects two pervasive trends in its reception: an anti-psychologistic consensus, and a more general obsolescence consensus that due to revolutions in logic, geometry, and physics, Kant’s philosophy is “a once formidable structure long since reduced to ruin, fit only for piecemeal salvage” (24ff). The latter engenders attempts to clear the respectable theory behind Kant’s project of its psychologistic methods, resulting in a range of approaches to ‘updating Kant’ e.g. by explaining conscious representation using anything from post-Fregean mathematical logic to Chomskyian linguistics, or Roger Penrose’s quantum theory of consciousness (15). Against these kinds of salvage attempts, Waxman argues that a properly psychologistic account of Kant’s theory of objective representation reveals its compatibility with subsequent developments in logic, geometry, physics, as well as neuroscience and evolutionary biology.
Kant scholars may suspect that the anti-psychologistic consensus is by no means universal: for instance, Andrew Brook’s Kant and the Mind (1994), and Patricia Kitcher’s Kant’s Transcendental Psychology (1990) (see also Falkenstein and Easton 1997) make similar critical points about the anachronism of understanding Kantian theory of cognition ‘anti-psychologistically’. For example, “Kant clearly held that his ‘logic’ of the mind is part of what we would now call psychology” (Brook 1994, 6). Waxman takes note of these authors in a footnote, nonetheless signalling his substantive interpretive differences from Kitcher and Brook as well as Lorne Falkenstein and Scott Edgar. The problem, Waxman explains, is that these authors refer to ‘psychology’, which is concerned with “whether and how a representation comes to be in us (empirically, innately, etc.)” rather than ‘psychologism’, which is concerned with “how the representation itself comes to be” (17n). This distinction, in my view, is not as straightforward as Waxman needs it to be in order to distance himself from other interpreters as far as he claims to.
Waxman himself says in the aforementioned footnote that he agrees with Beatrice Longuenesse’s (1998) work on Kant in its essentials, despite her not using the term psychologism (16). This fosters doubts about exactly what defines Waxman’s psychologism as an interpretive approach. If we stipulate that an anti-psychologistic reading foregoes any reference to mental activity in explicating the meanings of objective representations, psychologistic approaches still come in stronger and weaker flavours, which come down to how the genesis of “the representation itself” is construed.
If ‘psychological’ is interpreted weakly, any view that endorses Kant’s references to mental activities such as synthesis and apperception as non-negotiable parts of the story about objective representation, not wholly translatable into an analytic argument, is “identifying psychological ingredients” (147) in discourse which does not overtly suggest them. I believe most interpreters today would uphold this kind of psychological account. Any particular view on what informs Kant’s psychology need not be empiricist in orientation, as one may instead emphasize the scholastic heritage of Kant’s references to mental acts (e.g. Sellars 1967). On stronger versions, e.g. Kitcher (1990), Kant’s ‘psychologism’ qua account of the genesis of objective representations is a ‘proto-cognitivist’ theory which can be re-formulated in light of contemporary experimental methods and results. Waxman’s qualifies as a weakly psychologistic interpretation, in my view, since nowhere in the book does ‘psychologism’ imply ‘experimental psychology’. In the first chapter and the conclusion, Waxman seems to reject mainly Neo-Kantian attempts to place Kant in the service of twentieth century analytic semantics, philosophy of mind and epistemology—explicitly confronting Strawson (1966) in the conclusion (306), but probably also thinking of authors such as Evans (1982) McDowell (1994), and Cassam (1997). However, they present their work as critical reconstructions and selective adaptations of Kantian ideas. Given that Waxman accuses Strawson’s interpretation of Kant of reverting to a kind of platonism, it would have been interesting to hear more about where Waxman agrees and disagrees with existing criticisms of these Neo-Kantian projects, including McDowell’s (1994) ‘naturalized platonism’.
Let us consider the specifics of Waxman’s use of the term ‘psychologism’. Psychologism is presented as a mode of conceptual explication concerned with the psychological content of the meanings of traditionally metaphysical notions, rather than the psychological mechanisms underlying conceptual meanings. Consciousness turns out to be the key ‘psychological ingredient’ reference to which constitutes a psychologistic account. Waxman stresses that all representation requires some degree of consciousness, but that for Kant and his predecessors consciousness is graded from ‘dark’ to ‘bright’ to ‘clear’ (41) and is hence ubiquitous, reaching down to the sensory representations of basic organisms such as molluscs. Another notable feature of Waxman’s psychologism is its gloss on the normative dimension of Kant’s inquiry into our transcendental justification for applying concepts:
instead of proceeding by defining notions in terms of other notions without regard to whether there is, or even can be, any corresponding conscious representation, psychologism [has] the express aim of seeking out such representations. If the search reveals that a notion owes none of the contents indispensable to its meaning to consciousness, then its scope of application is nowhere limited by it (10).
Conversely, if the notion “can be shown to be beholden to consciousness for any of the ingredients essential to its meaning—ingredients at least implicit, but often explicit, in definitions—then its scope of application is limited accordingly” (10).
In general, the distinctiveness of Waxman’s approach lies in his wholesale engagement with Kant’s more unwieldy terms and concepts, and readiness to endorse Kant’s claims as literally about psychological reality—rather than about concepts, the brain/organism, or the objective world. Despite his psychologistic approach having a foot in psychology and a foot in explication, Waxman is content neither with purely conceptual or exegetical arguments, nor ‘proto-cognitivist’ claims that Kant anticipated cognitive science on this or that front. But he ultimately agrees with many other interpreters that any staunchly ‘anti-psychologistic’ reading is a non-starter, as well as joining Kitcher (1990) and Brook (1994) in thinking that a naturalistic perspective on Kant may be able to contribute to contemporary (experimental) psychology and theory of mind.
I now turn to Waxman’s reading of Kant and his empiricist forerunners. Chapter 2 argues that Locke sets the stage for the psychologistic approach by conceiving consciousness on a scale starting with primitive animals: “Since in the entire absence of sensation no consciousness of any kind seems possible … its terrestrial advent would presumably have coincided with the appearance of the first sensation” (54). In Chapter 3, Berkeley is credited with “extending imagination into the cognitive sphere, thereby for the first time crossing the line separating reality from fiction (where Hume and Kant would follow). This is because the ability to represent space as transcending the divide between sight and touch is indispensable to all cognition of the physical” (85). For Kant, this consideration leads to the thesis that there is nothing in sensation (visual or tactual) that is intrinsically spatial, so the representation of space must be constructed in pure intuition (201). Chapter 4 links the foregoing to Hume’s well-known skeptical challenges to relational concepts:
By shifting the basis of belief in relations from objective experience to subjective feeling, Hume moved the topic from epistemology to psychology where, instead of needing to be justified by evidence and to follow as a conclusion from premises, belief is determined purely affectively, by association-constituting feeling, and nothing else (96).
For Waxman, Hume was the first to psychologistically attribute fully general concepts such as the uniformity of nature and the general causal maxim to humans and non-human animals alike (114). Waxman illustrates the theoretical development from associationism to Kantian a priori psychologism in terms of a speculative evolutionary development from a creature
capable of the kind of highly sophisticated, behaviourally efficacious conscious mentation that Berkeley and Hume devised their associationist psychology to explain. Thanks to some fortuitous mutation or other alteration in its genome, its progeny included creatures capable of the representation ‘I think.’ Having no evident selective advantage by itself, this neural capacity presumably could have established itself in the population only as a spandrel piggy-backing on some genetically connected trait that earned its evolutionary keep. (177)
Eventually enabling complex propositions and inferences, Waxman contends, the ‘I-think’ representation would have enabled behaviours with adaptive value. This evolutionary story complements Waxman’s interpretation of Kant’s logical forms of judgment as more basic than language and indeed making language possible:
The ability of linguistic propositions to blend with non-linguistic is, in its way, no less amazing than the mathematizability of nature. But isn’t this exactly what we should expect if language was originally crafted by creatures already fully conversant in the use of non-linguistic propositional representation, transcendental judgments included? (315).
The chapters of Part II centre around Kant’s psychologization of logic in relation to sensory and propositional representation. Waxman details how Kant adapts from Descartes the contentless representation ‘I think’, which “in and of itself, has no content [and hence] cannot be suspected of having borrowed any, whether from language or anywhere else” (158). Being non-linguistic, it is not attributable to convention and thus provides a purely psychological basis for logical generality that synthetically unifies all possible representable contents (174). According to this notion of pure apperception, Waxman argues that Kantian logic is based in a universal self-consciousness which includes “the totality of logical structures universals enable us to form—propositions, inferences, narratives, et al.” (149). Unfortunately, Waxman doesn’t elaborate on whether self-consciousness is for Kant always a form of ‘bright consciousness’, or could exist in ‘darker’ shades as he argues it does for Hume (120).
Kant brings what Waxman calls “intelligence”—which amounts to consciousness of universality and modality—to Humean representations of general relational concepts which lack any awareness of the “logical universe of possible representations” (171). Kantian concepts “enable us to consciously represent each and every associative combination as a grouping of denizens of the logical universe that are thereafter sortable not only by their sensible/imaginable properties but by their logical ones as well” (171). According to Waxman, Kant’s logical forms of judgment are what “make any ‘I think’-generated concept combinable with any other such concept in a single act of thought, or propositional representation” (167). Conceptual representation is thus explicated as the gradual elimination of degrees of “logical freedom” (150) by restricting the space of logical possibilities to what is representable given the content supplied by sensation and association.
According to Kant’s psychologization of logic, fixing the position of a term as subject or as predicate in a categorical judgment is a psychological act starting with the bifurcation of the logical universe (170). However, such a “logical form by itself cannot guarantee that a proposition will result. In particular, even if a would-be proposition is logically well formed, it would still fail to be a genuine proposition if, for other than strictly formal logical reasons, it cannot be thought without generating not just falsehood but one or another species of impossibility, e.g. … ‘water is not always H2O’” (175). For Waxman’s Kant, categorical form permits the unification of concepts in a single consciousness, but it does not allow a unified representation of the resulting propositions (175). In addition to the assertoric modality, then, we need Kant’s problematic modality, which asserts merely the relation between two propositions, suspending judgment on the propositions themselves. The logical form this assumes in us, hypothetical judgment, relates problematic propositions as ground to consequent in the assertoric modality. Together, hypothetical and categorical forms enable any combination of the totality of possible propositions to be unified in a single conscious act (175f).
Waxman mobilizes this account to show that Kant (1) does not restrict intelligence to language-using organisms, nor (2) does he impose our parochial linguistic structures on his model of the basic “building blocks of propositional thought” (22). Waxman takes his elucidation of Kant’s transcendental logic to counter both misconceptions:
Intelligence can be accorded to any creature, actual or possible, that is capable of pure apperception … even including beings so asocial as to be devoid of anything remotely analogous to language or socially grounded symbolic communication of any kind. This is not to deny that Kant regarded all non-human animals known to him as incapable of apperception and therefore unintelligent. (172)
But, Waxman adds, “that does not mean he would have persisted in that view had he known what we know today” (172). This is an interesting speculation, implying that animals have some form of awareness of universality and modality—not in Hume’s sense, but in Waxman’s more demanding Kantian sense of apperception—“an a priori logical universe that quite literally encompasses all possible conscious representations” (169). I fully agree that Kant’s logic is non-linguistic, but I want to know more exactly how Waxman understands our present knowledge of animal intelligence such that it could make Kant change his mind on this controversial topic.
Waxman regularly refers to his lengthier engagements with Kant’s first Critique in footnotes. These references will be necessary for scholars seeking to determine Waxman’s position on exegetical debates. Part II succeeds in presenting Kant’s account of logical forms and concepts as centrally relying on consciousness, and hence psychologistic, while emphasizing that propositional representation need not be construed as an evolutionary leap separating humans from other animals. The combination of these theses makes for an original, stimulating addition to works on Kant’s first Critique.
I now have some remarks on the book’s intriguing but somewhat ambivalent references to the sciences. Waxman’s general stance that the insights of Kantian psychologism extend beyond their own scientific and philosophical context is very ambitious, and I’m not sure his case is equally strong for each of the sciences he addresses. Waxman makes a convincing case that non-Euclidean geometries cannot falsify any of Kant’s statements about pure intuition, as the latter pertain to the necessary features of any representation of space, rather than any particular geometry:
the formal intuition of space is not only neither Euclidean nor non-Euclidean but completely indeterminate as regards number, limit, distance, metric, part-whole relationships, and everything else that makes space suitable for properly mathematical representation or objective representation of any kind (208-9).
When it comes to the life sciences, however, Waxman’s perspective is (perhaps inevitably) more in tension with the scientific context Kant was writing in.
Waxman is clearly not neutral on matters of philosophy of consciousness, stating at the outset that consciousness is for his purposes identical in existence to its neural correlates (13-14), but that there is nonetheless a distinct psychological reality (14, 57, 159, 162, 177f). As this commitment is not compared to any alternatives, I am curious as to why he has opted for this particular form of identity theory to defend the biological plausibility of Kant’s psychologism, rather than functionalism or some form of emergentism. Polák and Marvan (2018), for example, defend the view preferred by Waxman that neural correlates are not in a causal relation to conscious states but an identity relation—a position which philosophers of mind might like to see defended more explicitly in connection with Kant’s views. Also, they may ask whether there is a specifically Kantian motivation for understanding the “mystery of consciousness” as Waxman does, that is, “a purely physical existence that is at the same time irreducible to physical reality” (14). Waxman clearly wants a naturalistic position to complement his psychologistic interpretation, but he also does not want to impose too much recent theory on the historical theories. Given this concern, psychophysical parallelism—an early form of identity theory espoused in different (including Neo-Kantian) versions by German philosophers from Fechner to Feigl via Riehl and Schlick—could illuminate Kantian psychologism from this side of Darwin and experimental psychology (see Heidelberger 2004, Ch. 5). Of course, it would be possible for most Kant scholars to profess neutrality with respect to these debates, but Waxman has—to his credit—set different standards.
Waxman’s decision to adhere to Kant’s original terminology and to steer clear of issues of translation in one sense makes the book smoother. The book conveniently contains a glossary, and tailor-made terms such as ‘AUA [analytic unity of apperception] concepts’, and ‘dark consciousness’ helpfully remind us that a term is not being used in its familiar sense. Waxman’s capacious use of ‘consciousness’ clearly works in his favour insofar as Modern and Kantian philosophy become much more relatable simply by lowering the threshold (as we understand it) on what sensory and cognitive states count as conscious. Yet it would have helped for Waxman to illustrate the general features of (what Descartes, Locke and Kant viewed as) ‘dark consciousness’ in more descriptive neural or psychophysical terms—not simply because readers may have difficulty forgetting the current meanings of such terms and the controversies attached to them, but because it would improve the book’s case for making psychologism compatible with contemporary biology.
One of the book’s most interesting features is its rapprochement between Kant and Darwin. Frequent references to phylogeny and the evolutionary plausibility of psychologism (as contrasted with platonism and conventionalism) evidence Waxman’s eagerness to integrate Kant’s insights into a post-Darwinian landscape, which I take to be a very important, relatively neglected project:
[N]ot only is Kant’s psychologism consistent with evolution, it actually spotlights suitably primitive forms of empirical consciousness that would gain adaptational advantages from a priori consciousness. Most basically, formal intuitions can easily be conceived to be of use to minds grappling with the challenge of combining external sensations into a single, unified external sense capable of providing immediate access to sense-divide transcending objects. (306)
This illumination does not go both ways, however, since Waxman also says that transcendental consciousness is entirely outside the scope of scientific explanation (295)—“because the subjectivity constituted by apperception … becomes part of the explanation of the physical, it cannot itself be explained physically on pain of circularity” (23). This claim recalls circularity charges against naturalized epistemology and logic, which in my view can be convincingly refuted by pragmatic and holistic considerations. It also blatantly contradicts the book’s initial claim that “[t]he mental is causally and in every other way fully determined by its physical underpinnings, and so is in principle fully explicable by science” (21). This is surprising, after seeing Waxman go to great lengths to argue that although a priori, the most innovative aspects of Kantian philosophy are features of our natural constitution, different in complexity but not radically different in kind from the sensory sensitivity of an oyster. Placing a priori elements of Kantian psychologism beyond the reach of current and future biological explanation strikes me as a missed opportunity, and again makes me doubt what is meant by psychologism. Empirical research in animals can indicate how consciousness might have arisen, and in a footnote Waxman considers but then discards a few such accounts based on their comparatively restrictive definition of consciousness (63n). The reader may suspect that casting the net more widely would reveal theories more congenial to Waxman’s evolutionary take on subjectivity, such as Godfrey-Smith (2016).
The following passage is a good example of Waxman’s ambivalence towards his own naturalistic outlook:
The connection between the subjective psychological reality of consciousness and the objective physical reality of neurophysiology is a complete mystery in both directions, today and quite possibly for some time to come. Thus, Kantian logical forms of judgment pose no special mystery but instead are best regarded as simply an additional species of phylogeny-dependent neuro-psychological reality in addition to sensations, emotions, dreams, and the rest. (178)
Because Waxman has not restricted himself to purely exegetical argument, or the Kitcherian ‘proto-cognitivist’ angle described earlier, the reader may wonder how literally such claims are to be taken. One cannot but agree that (something similar to) Kantian a priori capacities such as the logical forms of judgment must have evolved somehow, just as there must be some neural correlates for the empiricists’ associative psychologies, as indicated in Part I. But the empirically-minded reader will want to know in more detail how forms of judgment (or their successors in contemporary science of mind) could be modelled and studied, if they are on a par with sensations and emotions.
A Guide to Kant’s Psychologism is bound to appeal to diverse philosophical audiences for its fresh take on Kant’s theoretical philosophy as a priori psychologism. It is also a lively, articulate instance of philosophical storytelling. Waxman avoids approaching Kant through the lens of contemporary philosophical problems where semantics, epistemology and metaphysics are concerned. When it comes to the sciences, however, the book makes us acutely aware of pieces of the puzzle of the mind in nature that Kant simply cannot have anticipated. Kant’s understanding of his current science needs to be confronted with today’s sciences in order to address all of the questions raised by an interpretation of Kantian philosophy as naturalistic a priori psychologism. Over the course of Waxman’s book, frequent references to neural correlates and phylogeny habituate the reader to seeing our biological reality in the same conceptual space as Kantian doctrines, which is surely a step in the right direction. As is perhaps Waxman’s intention, it is left to the reader to ponder the convergences and divergences between Kant’s account of the mind and current scientific knowledge, perhaps especially the life sciences. The book offers its non-Kantian readers a challenging, raw encounter with Kant’s theoretical philosophy, and will leave Kant scholars much to think about both on the old problem of psychologism and new ones arising from Waxman’s brand of naturalism.
Brook, Andrew. 1994. Kant and the Mind. Cambridge, New York and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.
Cassam, Quassim. 1997. Self and World. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Evans, Gareth. 1982. The Varieties of Reference. Edited by John McDowell. Oxford: Clarendon Press and New York: Oxford University Press.
Falkenstein, Lorne and Easton, Patricia, eds. 1997. Logic and the Workings of the Mind: The Logic of Ideas and Faculty Psychology in Early Modern Philosophy. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview.
Godfrey-Smith, Peter. 2016. “Mind, Matter and Metabolism.” Journal of Philosophy 113 (10):481-506.
Heidelberger, Michael. 2004. Nature from Within: Gustav Theodor Fechner and his Psychophysical Worldview. Translated by Cynthia Klohr. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Kant, Immanuel. 1998 [1781/1787]. Critique of Pure Reason. Edited and translated by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kitcher, Patricia. 1990. Kant’s Transcendental Psychology. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Longuenesse, Béatrice. 1998. Kant and the Capacity to Judge: Sensibility and Discursivity in the Transcendental Analytic of the Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Charles T. Wolfe. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
McDowell, John. 1994. Mind and World. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.
Polák, Michal and Marvan, Tomáž. 2018. “Neural Correlates of Consciousness Meet the Theory of Identity.” Frontiers in Psychology 24:1269. DOI https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01269.
Sellars, Wilfrid. 1967. “Some Remarks on Kant’s Theory of Experience.” The Journal of Philosophy 64 (20), Sixty-Fourth Annual Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division (Oct. 26, 1967): 633-47.
Strawson, Peter F. 1966. The Bounds of Sense. London: Methuen.
The decisive influence of McDowell in shaping the contemporary debate over non-conceptual content is well known. After the release of Mind and World (1994), almost any attempt to assign non-conceptuality to the contents of perception had to engage with McDowell’s conceptualist model of experience. The rich discussions inspired by conceptualism in the current literature on non-conceptual content, however, often ignore the original philosophical motivation behind McDowell’s thesis, or so goes the premise of Van Mazijk’s new book Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell (2020). This motivation comes from the tradition initiated by Kant in the 18th century, and followed by Husserl in the late 19th, known as transcendental philosophy, whose main idea is to put into question that which is the fundamental presupposition of the sciences, namely the availability of reality to us. The central aim of Van Mazijk’s book is to recover this original transcendental concern of McDowell’s thought by inserting his conceptualism within this broader tradition mainly represented by Kant and Husserl. As a result, it ends up by exploring how Kantian and Husserlian approaches of transcendental problems avoid certain inconsistencies in McDowell’s conceptualism, thus providing better alternatives for understanding the relation between mind and world.
The book is structured in three parts, each containing two chapters dealing with those thinkers’ theories of perception, since perception represents the most basic way through which the world is made available to us. Given the author’s overall aim to offer a new critique of McDowell’s thought, both Kantian and Husserlian theories of perception are analyzed through the lens of the conceptualism debate. This is made possible with the help of the distinction between weak conceptualism and strong conceptualism, which represents the key distinction of the entire book. Weak conceptualism is defined as “the view that all intuition and perception is, for us at least, open to conceptual exercise” (4), and strong conceptualism as the view that “concepts structure sense experience, and this is in fact what first makes reality perceptually available” (4). All the discussions that follow are carried out in view of this important hermeneutical tool.
The book follows historical sequence, thus beginning with Kant and ending with McDowell. The author himself, however, suggests that the chapters could be read independently of one another, and that any reader specifically interested in McDowell and in contemporary philosophy of perception could begin with the two last chapters on McDowell. I would rather suggest that readers not familiar with the contemporary discussion of conceptualism in philosophy of perception do that. This way they will better understand what is mainly at stake in the discussions with Kant and Husserl in the remaining chapters.
The first part focuses on how Kant’s transcendental philosophy provides us the tools to have an immediate access to reality, and not, e.g., an inferential one. The overall purpose is to advocate a weak conceptualist reading of Kant’s theory of perception, in opposition to, for instance, McDowell’s strong conceptualist reading of it. After introducing the basics of Kant’s theory of knowledge in the first chapter, Van Mazijk proceeds, in the second chapter, to the transcendental deduction. An adequate reading of the deduction is essential to a conceptualist interpretation of Kant’s theory. For instance, according to Van Mazijk, McDowell’s reading of the deduction is at the basis of his strong conceptualist interpretation of Kant. The author reads McDowell as stating that Kant places the dependence of sensible intuition on the categories at the same level as the dependence of it on space and time (41). This is a mistake, Van Mazijk’s points out, as the necessity of a transcendental deduction is justified precisely due to the fact that the “pure concepts, in Kant’s view, stand at a certain distance from the world; they are not sine qua non conditions for sensible intuitions in the way space and time are” (40).
Van Mazijk’s analyses of the A and B-Version of the deduction yield basically the same conclusion, namely that Kant is mainly concerned with weak conceptualism, as long as he insists that appearances have to be relatable to a unitary consciousness (which does not compel them to be always necessarily related to a self-consciousness or standing I). Apperception, so goes Van Mazijk in a close reading of Kant, is defined in terms of potentiality: “Apperception, then, need not be understood as a permanent, onlooking I; it is rather itself the potential for the I to be awakened; a transcendental potential for becoming actively aware of what is intuited” (45).
Besides that, however, strong conceptualism seems to also play a role in the deduction, especially in the A-Version. This is due to the synthesis of imagination and its specific role in the openness of intuitions to conceptualization. The main idea seems to be the following: The adequacy of intuitions to pure concepts – what Kant calls their affinity (46) – is the product of the synthesis of imagination. This affinity is already to be found previously in the sensibility itself as an “aptitude” of intuitions to be associable with pure concepts. This means that the contents of sensibility must already have an affinity with the understanding. Now, the synthesis of the imagination, Kant states, is grounded in the categories (46). Therefore, the categories are constitutive of intuitions, which is exactly the strong conceptualist thesis. That is, intuition is open to conceptualization (weak conceptualism) precisely because it is conceptually structured (strong conceptualism). Van Mazijk concludes from this that “pure concepts might after all play an important role in intuition, insofar as they would supply the imagination with the forms of synthesis required to make intuitions open to conceptualization” (47). In the end, however, the greater prominence seems to be given to weak conceptualism: “It can be concluded that, in both versions of the deduction, Kant’s principal aim is to show that pure concepts apply unconditionally to any intuition” (49). With regard to strong conceptualism, Van Mazijk only states that we have “some textual support” (49) for it.
The second part deals with Husserl’s theory of perception and knowledge. The third chapter begins by introducing the basic elements of Husserl’s early theory of intentionality that comes from the Logical Investigations. They are the quality (the way of intending something), the object-reference and the matter (the Fregean sense) of the act (63). Another important element within the intentional structure of consciousness is the sensation content, which Van Mazijk interprets not as unstructured data, but as having some kind of non-intentional and non-conceptual structure (66). Despite being non-conceptual, sensations are not regarded as merely natural facts, and are not, therefore, excluded from the concern of philosophy as a matter of, e.g., physiology, as in Kant’s account.
Nevertheless, sensations do not play any role in Husserl’s account of knowledge as synthesis of fulfillment, as long as they do not have an articulable structure, that is, a propositional structure which can be also instantiated in beliefs. Van Mazijk begins his explanation of Husserl’s theory of fulfillment by stressing that “it is crucial to observe first that, in Husserl’s view, signitive acts alone can be defined as meaning acts” (68). Knowledge is then explained as a coincidence that happens between this empty act of meaning and an appropriate fulfilling act. When I merely entertain the thought of a blackbird in the garden, for instance, I have an empty signitive act of meaning. When I look and see the blackbird, this act of intuition comes into a coincidence with my former signitive act and gives rise to a synthesis of fulfillment (69). Van Mazijk goes on to explore that not only sensible perception can provide fulfillment, but also memory, categorial intuition of ideal states-of-affairs and universal intuition. (69-70). Importantly, the fulfillment does not rely on all the aspects of the act, but only on the intentional ones: “all and only intentional contents come up for fulfillment and allow of propositional articulation” (71). From this, the author concludes that Husserl “clearly defends a version of weak conceptualism” (71). The reason why this conceptualism is weak is because “the articulable content of the fulfilling act (say, a perceptual content) can play its fulfilling part only by virtue of the fact that it is not just a conceptual content” (79). That is, the fulfillment can provide warrant for empty beliefs due to the fact that it makes an extra-conceptual contribution to it.
The clarity with which the theory is presented hides, however, the greatest difficulties of Husserl’s text. There are, for example, some problematic passages in the Logical Investigations where Husserl states that “the very thing that we marked off as the ‘matter’ of meaning, reappeared once more in the corresponding intuition” (Husserl, 2001, 241). This kind of statement seems to challenge the author’s affirmation that “signitive acts alone can be defined as meaning acts” (68), since the “matter” – understood as the Fregean sense and hence as conceptual content – would make both signitive and intuitive acts as carriers of meaning. Another problem not faced by the author is one concerned with the concept of fullness. It is only stated, at the end of the section dealing with fulfillment, that it is the “peculiar character of fullness” that “distinguishes perception (as an intuitive act) from thinking (as an empty act) – instead of, say, a real causal relation to an object” (72). Nothing, however, is said about this peculiarity itself, and the difficulties that are implied by this statement are not deemed important by the author. I find this to be a mistake, since the exact way in which the fullness gives fulfillment is one of the most important and controversial aspects of Husserl’s theory, and its clarification seems to me to be necessary to make understandable the “extra-conceptual contribution intuition makes relative to our empty beliefs” (72) mentioned above. The apparent inconsistencies in Husserl’s description of fulfillment was, by the way, one of the initial motives for the dispute over conceptualism with regard to his theory of perception.
The second half of the third chapter deals with Husserl’s transcendental turn and offers an interesting and original reading of the phenomenological reduction. The reduction should show us that all the sorts of nature-reason divide that somehow sets consciousness apart from the world are in the wrong path. Rather, reason and nature form a whole that could be investigated from the perspective of consciousness (as manifestations in my streaming conscious life) and from the perspective of nature (as real facts in the world). This results in a view the author calls “the double aspect theory” (80), which allows both natural science and philosophy to study the relation between mind and world: the former studies it as a natural fact under a natural attitude, forming a space of nature; the latter as a relation in the streaming of conscious life under a phenomenological attitude, forming a space of consciousness (81).
I find this way of presenting the phenomenological reduction to be one of Van Mazijk’s most interesting contributions that should be explored in the approximations between Husserlian phenomenology and conceptualism. Particularly important is that it understands the space of consciousness as wider than the space of concepts, thus making room for non-conceptual and non-intentional sensations in the philosophical approach of consciousness. For instance, the naturalistic psychology of Husserl’s time tended to see everything that does not have a relation to an apperception as a natural fact. By the same token, McDowell tends to see everything that falls outside the conceptual space of reasons as a natural fact. From Husserl’s perspective, in Van Mazijk’s view, this results from a failure to see that the world is not divided into two separated regions, mind and world, but is rather “one totality of being (mind and world), which can be viewed either under the aspect of nature or that of consciousness” (87). Absolutely everything is encompassed by the space of consciousness, only that under its specific attitude, which is not the same of the natural sciences. There is no reason, therefore, to exclude the non-conceptual and the non-intentional from it.
The fourth chapter turns to Husserl’s later genetic investigations in order to demonstrate how phenomenology can accommodate all accomplishments of consciousness. Van Mazijk proceeds here to the concrete analyses of non-conceptual levels of perception, showing that they are not restricted to empirical investigations, as in Kantian and McDowellian pictures. The chapter exhibits the powerful scope of phenomenology, which ranges from the most basic level of mere sensation to conceptual thought. This is considered by the author “Husserl’s master thought”, namely that “the space of consciousness can be analyzed as a unitary whole” (117), and not only as empty a priori forms of knowledge (Kant) or as conceptual capacities in the space of reasons (McDowell).
The genetic investigations present our openness to the world in a stratified manner. Three levels of perceptual accomplishments as well as three levels of conceptual ones are distinguished by the author. The analysis of these accomplishments provides an occasion for an interesting discussion with McDowell. Husserl is said to obey a strict divide between perceptual and conceptual content (105). Thus, to perceive something as being thus and so and to judge something as being thus and so are two different things, one involving a perceptual content, the other involving a conceptual content. But how do we get from perception to judgment? This is, of course, one of the most important problems of McDowell’s Mind and World, and it is there solved by appealing to strong conceptualism: the conceptual contents determine the perceptual experience. Husserl, in turn, has another story to tell. It is possible to perceive something as being thus and so without forming a judgment about that, that is, it is possible to “perceptually explicate relations between things perceived, yet lacking the ability to attain the propositionally articulated content” (104). Therefore, it is not the judgment that determines perception, but the other way around: it is because we can intentionally (albeit non-conceptually) be related to things in perception, that we can form judgments about them, and not the other way around. In order to make a judgment, “the ego must repeat the passive process, but this time in a changed, active attitude” (105). By doing this, the ego “extracts” the contents of perception and informs them with propositional articulation in judgment.
This narrative is a bit obscured, however, as Husserl speaks of the propositionally structured object being “pre-figured” in perception (105). This paradoxical statement serves to complicate the matters in the attempt to fit Husserl in the conceptualist or non-conceptualist parties. Van Mazijk does not overlook this challenging problem and engages with it in the second half of the chapter by exploring Husserl’s notions of horizonal awareness, motivation and bodily action – which form a “kinesthetic system” (107-110) –, and also his concept of habit (acquired skill) (111-117). Generally speaking, the idea is that perception considered as a simple intentional relation to an object is, on Husserl’s account, an abstraction. It is not a starting point (as it is in almost any theory of perception), but a resulting process. The original genetic analyses provided in this section show that “for us, then, perception is saddled with concepts after all” (118). This, however, in the author’s view, is not enough to assign Husserl a strong conceptualist theory of perception, since “intellectual acts are not a condition of possibility for a rich perceptual intentionality”, and “the fact that (some) perceptual contents are fit to figure in judgments does not derive from a capacity to judge; it is due to perception itself” (p118). Husserl remains, thus, in the end, a weak conceptualist.
The last part of the book focuses on the theory that orients all the discussions of the previous chapters, namely McDowell’s conceptualism. The fifth chapter introduces the central conceptualist claim that the contents of experience are all conceptual and explains how it arises as the only way out of the epistemological dilemma between the myth of the given and coherentism. As is well known, McDowell’s solution is to expand the conceptual domain beyond the mental sphere and to place it in the world, admitting experience to have conceptual content.
Having stated the conceptualist thesis, Van Mazijk goes on to ask some important questions that challenge its overall consistency. The author lists and analyzes 14 fragments from McDowell’s writings in order to find out what exactly does it mean to say that the contents of experience are conceptual. A close and detailed reading of these fragments reveal that McDowell oscillates between a weak and strong conceptualism, but in the long run favours the strong version. Strong conceptualism, in turn, raises the most important issues with respect to the consistency of McDowell’s idea. Particularly, it does not explain which concepts specifically are necessary to inform perceptual experience and leaves unanswered the question of how perception in non-rational animals is possible (since they do not possess concepts) (124-132).
After exploring these inherent difficulties in McDowell’s conceptualism thesis, Van Mazijk goes on to discuss how Kant and Husserl could offer better answers to them. The main purpose is to show that a weak conceptualism “should suffice to establish intuition’s inclusion in the McDowellian space of reasons” (133). That is, since weak conceptualism, either in its Kantian or Husserlian forms, avoids the issues raised above against McDowell’s strong conceptualism, then the former is preferable to the latter. With respect to Kant, the author states that it is at least conceivable that an imagination functioning differently from ours synthesizes intuitional contents in a non-conceptual manner (134). Therefore, it is at least thinkable, in the Kantian framework, to have a non-conceptual relation to the world. As to Husserl, it is said that both the early theory of fulfillment and the genetic investigations of later phenomenology offer good reasons not to account for the contents of perception under the unique category of the conceptual. Both Kantian and Husserlian more detailed distinctions in the realm of perceptual content should then make room for some kinds of nonconceptuality in the contents of perception that do not fall prey to the myth of the given, thus avoiding the necessity of strong conceptualism.
The sixth and final chapter criticizes the most important assumption of McDowell’s conceptualism, namely his division of spaces. In short, this division amounts to two ways of dealing with things: as natural lawful phenomena (the space of nature) or as rationally relevant exercises (the space of reasons). Van Mazijk proceeds to analyse how McDowell, in order to avoid any threat of non-naturalism, allows everything else but conceptual contents to be placed within the space of nature. This generates several problems. Among them, it makes it impossible for McDowell to give a satisfactory account of the genesis of reason (Bildung), thus making rationality a kind of miracle (150-153). A more adequate picture of perception, which does not preclude the possibility of offering a genesis of reason, is offered by Husserl, as the author showed in the fourth chapter. Another problem concerns the transcendental significance of McDowell’s enterprise. Conceptualism, in McDowell’s view, is said to refer to “prior conditions of being directed at reality” (156). This way, any claim concerning the space of nature (actually, any claim at all) must be made through the space of reasons. But this clearly contradicts McDowell’s affirmations that “thinking and knowledge can after all be conceived of as natural phenomena” (156). In Van Mazijk’s view, there is no way to conceive the space of reasons as being both condition of and conditioned by the space of nature (156). Both Kant and Husserl show that this is a “transcendental absurdity”, since it “conflates distinct levels of explanations” (161).
On the way towards a conclusion, Van Mazijk points out that it is precisely this division of spaces which makes conceptualism attractive after all. That is, only if one accepts that the space of reasons consists exclusively of concepts, one will tend to ascribe conceptuality to perception (in order to make it rationally intelligible). But, as all the analyses of both Husserlian and Kantian framework have shown, there are good reasons not to consider concepts to be the exclusive accomplishment of rationality and therefore not to accept this division of spaces. The rest of the chapter is then dedicated to reinforcing the main conclusion of the book, namely the idea that the Kantian and (specially) Husserlian accounts of perception and reality avoid the inconsistencies generated by McDowellian conceptualism and offer, therefore, better alternatives to it. The final preference is given to the Husserlian framework, as it “provide[s] the most interesting and viable alternative when it comes to determining reference for concepts of the mental, as well as for specifying the contents of various types of sensible operations” (157).
In sum, Van Mazijk’s rich book does an excellent job of showing how the three authors work towards the same epistemological problems and have shared ambitions. To all of them, the Cartesian approach on subjectivity is misguided; and to all of them, it is precisely this approach that is at the basis of the epistemological problems concerning the gulf between mind and world. As to the overcoming of the Cartesian picture, they all want to reject transcendental realism, that is, the idea that reality is radically independent of our knowledge. This way, Kant, Husserl and McDowell intend to show that the world is a priori a world of rational experience. The conflict emerges when McDowell achieves that by appealing to the exclusively conceptual configuration of the world, which is denied by both Kant and Husserl. In this way, the book successfully accomplishes one of its purposes announced in the preface of “connecting [McDowell’s work] to key figures of the German transcendental tradition”, and so of “uncovering a continuing tradition hidden underneath today’s more specialized and fragmented philosophical landscape” (7). Therefore, it should appeal to anyone interested in a historical study of Kant, Husserl and McDowell. As to its more original purpose, “to develop new critical reflections on core tenets of McDowell’s philosophy” (7), that is principally achieved by the author’s recourse to Husserl in order to advocate weak conceptualism. I am not convinced, however, that the Husserlian perspective as offered here by the author is free of difficulties. At most, it seems to me to be as problematic as McDowell’s views. The early theory of fulfillment, as I have said, has many problems concerning the concepts of matter and fullness. As to the genetic analyses, the author himself recognizes that Husserl’s work on habit poses serious difficulties to the overall interpretation of his theory as conceptualist (weak or strong) or non-conceptualist. It seems that these problems should be faced more at length if Husserl is to be seriously considered as an alternative to conceptualism.
This research was supported by Grant #2019/01444-6, São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).
Van Mazijk, C. 2020. Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl and McDowell. New York: Routledge.
Husserl, E. 2001. Logical Investigations, Volume II. J. N. Findlay, trans. London and New York: Routledge.