Byung-Chul Han: Non-things: Upheaval in the Lifeworld, Polity, 2022

Non-things: Upheaval in the Lifeworld Couverture du livre Non-things: Upheaval in the Lifeworld
Byung-Chul Han. Translated by Daniel Steuer
Polity
2022
Paperback $34.95
110

Gioia Laura Iannilli: L’estetico e il quotidiano

L’estetico e il quotidiano: Design, Everyday Aesthetics, Esperienza Couverture du livre L’estetico e il quotidiano: Design, Everyday Aesthetics, Esperienza
Esperienze dell’estetico
Gioia Laura Iannilli
Mimesis
2019
Paperback 22,80 €
300

Reviewed by: Asia Brunetti (University of Bologna)

Questa è la storia di un tentativo di emancipazione: quello del concetto dell’”estetico”, o meglio, della cosiddetta dimensione estetica. Si tratta di un concetto che per lungo tempo ha rischiato di fossilizzarsi irrimediabilmente sullo scoglio della propria dimensione istituzionale e istituzionalizzata, e al quale oggi, invece, è finalmente concesso prendere aria. La concezione tradizionale dell’estetico, infatti, che lo voleva come membro dell’equazione quasi monolitica “estetico = artistico” – la quale ha segnato la storia dell’estetica filosofica per diversi secoli -, è stata fatta scendere finalmente dal piedistallo che l’aveva ospitata fin quasi alla metà del XX secolo. Oggi, fortunatamente, possiamo revocare in dubbio questa idea (pur ancora fortemente consolidata nell’opinione pubblica, oltre che in quella di alcuni esperti in materia); ci è concesso di guardare al di là dei rigidi bordi del concetto dell’estetico, di avvicinarci sempre di più a questi confini – un tempo concepiti come rigidi e netti – per scoprire, man mano che ci avviciniamo, che sono in realtà ampiamente sfumati e tutt’altro che ben definiti.

È bene ricordare inoltre come questa stessa sorte toccata all’estetico sia efficacemente rimbalzata anche sul secondo termine della nostra monumentale equazione: l’artistico. Anche il concetto di arte nell’ultimo secolo ha subito un affascinante ridimensionamento, volgendo la propria natura ad una nuova capacità inclusiva e di “apertura”, talmente evidente da garantire un’accoglienza entro il novero degli oggetti d’arte persino a quei prodotti di consumo costruiti in serie come risultato di un’opera di progettazione, ossia gli oggetti di design. Sarà allora possibile, in maniera quasi paradossale, elaborare persino un’estetica del design; oppure, rendendo all’estetico ciò che da sempre gli appartiene  ma che ha portato a lungo con sé solo nel nome come radice etimologica, – ossia il suo riferimento alla sensibilità, all’esperienza sensibile – pensare ad un’estetica che non comprenda più al suo interno solo il campo semantico dell’artistico, ma, letteralmente qualsiasi cosa, fino a ciò che più si discosta dalla straordinarietà delle opere artistiche, persino le cose ordinarie, quotidiane, la nostra everydayness.

Proprio di questi temi tratta ampiamente l’opera di Gioia Laura Iannilli, L’estetico e il quotidiano, che fa di “Design, Everyday Aesthetics ed Esperienza” i tre cardini o pilastri sui quali installare la riflessione, come recita appunto il sottotitolo del testo. Sono proprio queste tre grandi tematiche, appunto, a scandire il flusso delle considerazioni dell’autrice, nonché a dividere il testo in altrettante sezioni volte al loro approfondimento. Ciò che si vuole sostenere con fermezza è la preziosità che contraddistingue elementi di per sé difficilmente accostabili all’ambito dell’estetico – poiché esso è stato a lungo marcato dal profondo pregiudizio arte o natura-centrico – come l’ambito quotidiano, le pratiche ordinarie e la progettazione di oggetti quotidiani (il design), per una riflessione sull’esperienza estetica che voglia aspirare ad una certa completezza.

Per quanto riguarda il primo elemento di questa triade, il design, esso viene messo in rilievo nel testo per la sua potenzialità nel far emergere la dimensione pratica dell’estetico, una sfaccettatura di quest’ultimo raramente presa in considerazione negli studi dell’estetica filosofica. L’autrice, nel delineare le categorie concettuali – principalmente coppie di concetti, dicotomie – e tutto l’apparato interpretativo attraverso il quale è stato studiato il design a livello istituzionale (utile/bello; funzione/forma; consumo/immagine), rivendica una modalità nuova di avere a che fare con questo tema: «È necessaria un’analisi estetologica sul design che si concentri sulla categoria dell’esperienzialità (o della relazionalità) che trova riscontro nelle pratiche quotidiane». Il migliore amico del design, d’altra parte, è proprio il quotidiano, la dimensione della “everydayness”, dalla quale esso appunto risulta estremamente inscindibile. In secondo luogo l’autrice rivolge la trattazione verso l’analisi della genesi e degli sviluppi di un ambito di studi relativamente recente, sorto in seno all’indagine estetica; una linea di ricerca che si potrebbe quasi definire “oscura”, incerta, sulla quale l’autrice, perciò, vuole tentare di gettare un po’ di luce e di chiarezza: si tratta della cosiddetta “Everyday Aesthetics”, sub-disciplina dell’estetica sviluppatasi pressappoco negli ultimi tre decenni.

La valutazione dell’autrice in merito a questo nuovo ambito di studio risulta chiaro fin dalle prime pagine del testo: si tratta di un vero e proprio congedo. Infatti, pur mettendo in campo elementi essenziali nel gioco della riflessione estetica – in primo luogo proprio i fenomeni quotidiani – tuttavia essa tende a ricadere troppo spesso nella trappola dei pregiudizi e delle impostazioni tradizionali degli studi estetici; una grande “pecca” dell’Everyday Aesthetics sarebbe ad esempio, quella di conferire troppa poca importanza all’ambito del design. Tuttavia, l’analisi dell’Everyday Aesthetics compiuta dall’autrice in questa sede risulta molto accurata e particolareggiata; il suo intento principale è quello di sistematizzare quelli che sono i più importanti contributi sorti in grembo alla disciplina, scandendoli in base al criterio della loro vicinanza e adesione oppure rifiuto e lontananza rispetto alla tradizione estetica consolidata. Vengono a delinearsi in tal modo da un lato degli approcci “deboli, continuisti o straordinaristi”, cioè fedeli alla tradizione, e dall’altro degli approcci “forti, discontinuisti o familiaristi”, che appunto se ne distanziano in maniera evidente. Tra i grandi autori dei quali l’autrice esamina i contributi, cioè i maggiori esponenti dell’Everyday Aesthetics, si può rintracciare nel primo gruppo Thomas Leddy con la sua Aesthetics of Aura Experience e Ossi Naukkarinen con la sua Aesthetics of Everydayness, nel secondo Yuriko Saito, fautrice di una Aesthetics of Care, Arto Haapala, di una Aesthetics of Lacking e Kevin Melchionne, propugnatore di una Aesthetics of Well-Being.

Dopo aver trattato approfonditamente le posizioni di questi teorici, da considerarsi i veri e propri “pilastri” dell’Everyday Aesthetics, l’autrice passa in rassegna quelli che denomina i suoi “meta-teorici”. Questi ultimi, i quali si sarebbero spesi in una revisione critica degli approcci teorici dell’Everyday Aesthetics, sarebbero a suo avviso i responsabili della svolta normativa della disciplina in una direzione intersoggettivo-continuista. Tutto ciò vuol significare il rientro in campo con piena dignità di una colonna portante del discorso estetico tradizionale, specialmente di matrice kantiana: la dimensione della condivisione dei giudizi di gusto, dell’intersoggettività, appunto. Ma ciò non significa affatto che i “meta-teorici” dell’Everyday Aesthetics convergano tutti verso una medesima prospettiva: tutt’altro; anche per quanto riguarda i più recenti approcci “critici” ciò che emerge è un’aria di disaccordo ed un certo attrito. L’autrice prende in considerazione in particolare i contributi di Cristopher Dowling, Dan Eugen Ratiu, Jane Forsey e la prospettiva dell’Egalitarian Aesthetics avanzata nel 2016 da Giovanni Matteucci, i quali concordano appunto nel riconoscere la necessità di rintracciare un aspetto normativo entro la cornice della nuova sub-disciplina dell’estetica; inoltre essi tendono a condividere, non a caso, una linea di pensiero di carattere continuista.

Il binomio intersoggettività-continuità, che dunque qualifica in maniera determinante la linea teorica dei cosiddetti approcci “meta-teorici”, è evidentemente sotteso ad una fondamentale dimensione dell’estetico, ossia al suo carattere di relazionalità. Scrive infatti l’autrice: «La relazionalità […] è indubbiamente cifra specifica dell’estetico in quanto è proprio in un contesto fondamentalmente intersoggettivo, ossia espressivo (sia esplicito sia implicito, sia proposizionale sia gestuale), che l’esperienza estetica ha luogo». Ma, come ribadisce l’autrice in un altro punto, questa relazione che connota l’estetico in quanto tale in ogni suo dispiegarsi, è sempre “da qualche parte”, cioè è sempre situata, e quindi «specificata e vincolata topograficamente». Quest’ultimo aspetto ci spinge ad aprire un ulteriore contesto di riflessione: quello che riguarda gli “spazi estetici”, e in particolare gli spazi estetici quotidiani. Essi vengono ripartiti dall’autrice nelle seguenti categorie: gli spazi estetici privati, pubblici, istituzionalizzati, virtuali-globali e commerciali. Si vuol far emergere in tal modo una caratteristica di fondo dello spazio estetico quotidiano, ovvero la dimensione di benessere che esso tende a produrre: «Gli spazi estetici quotidiani sono spazi in cui “si sta bene”», che garantiscono una qualche gratificazione, e far risaltare inoltre l’intreccio che attraverso questi spazi viene a configurarsi tra l’estetico e l’economico.

L’autrice sofferma infine la propria attenzione su una configurazione del design di origine molto recente: il cosiddetto Experience Design – risultato del recentissimo processo (cominciato all’incirca negli anni ’80 ma sempre più diffuso) di «smaterializzazione, diffusione e integrazione del design nelle pratiche quotidiane» -, facendone un caso esemplare per dispiegare ulteriori concetti sottesi alle dinamiche estetiche quotidiane. Esso consiste generalmente nella produzione di esperienze nelle quali la componente materiale decresce progressivamente d’importanza a favore di una dimensione interattiva sempre più rilevante. Tale ambito viene introdotto dall’autrice soprattutto al fine di rimarcare e giustificare la caduta e risoluzione delle dicotomie e delle storiche antinomie tra “soggetto” e “oggetto” e tra “natura” e “tecnica” o “artificio”. I due settori ai quali l’autrice fa riferimento nell’esame di questo recente sviluppo del design sono quelli della moda e dell’interazione con le interfacce.

L’Experience Design viene analizzato alla luce di una contrapposizione di fondo tra due concetti: quello di Lebenswelt e quello di Everydayness, proprio per sottolineare l’impatto che esso produce su tali dimensioni. L’intento dell’autrice è mostrare l’inadeguatezza ai nostri scopi di questi termini e proporre dunque una sostituzione di questi ultimi con le nozioni di “habitus” da un lato e di “campo” dall’altro, dove la prima dev’essere intesa sulla scorta di Bourdieu come «strutture strutturate predisposte a funzionare come strutture strutturanti, cioè in quanto principi generatori e organizzatori» e la seconda come «contesto dinamico in cui interagiscono energie significative», o meglio, bisognerebbe parlare di: «Mondo della vita, dinamicizzato in habitus, e quotidianità restituita alla sua funzione di campo di gioco». L’autrice ritrae tale nuovo settore come una vera e propria radicalizzazione odierna del design, la quale porta con sé l’«intreccio tra esteticità e quotidianità in una prospettiva centrata sulla intersoggettività e sulla continuità tra i vari livelli dell’estetico». Scrive inoltre che: «L’Experience Design […] plasma in modo sempre più significativo la nostra realtà proponendo un tipo di esperienzialità basata sulla “immediatezza”, sulla “superficialità”, sulla disponibilità, e sul piacere che deriva proprio dalla facilità con cui è possibile realizzare le esperienze che esso progetta, propone o innesta nella vita quotidiana».

Alla luce di quanto emerso è facile notare come il problema fondamentale per noi sia quello di cercare una risposta ad un tale interrogativo: se, dato che la progettazione (il design) sembra orientare sempre di più e in modo maggiormente pervasivo le nostre esperienze estetiche, tale circostanza conduca ad una alienazione oppure consenta, al contrario, dei margini di spontaneità e libertà. L’estetico può essere inteso come un mezzo di emancipazione dell’individuo contemporaneo oppure no? Per usare le parole dell’autrice: «Non potrebbe forse l’estetico rivelarsi un fattore di disincantamento dalla metafisica dualistica, piuttosto che propriamente di alienazione, e dunque essere un mezzo di emancipazione per l’individuo contemporaneo?».

Oggi le dinamiche esperienziali quotidiane sono modellate con un’incidenza sempre maggiore dal design, dalla progettazione, spesso attaccato come se fosse causa dell’estinzione della spontaneità. È innegabile quanto l’esperienza sia «oggi sempre più evidentemente in oscillazione tra spontaneità e natura progettata»; ma questa dinamica, risultata dallo sviluppo sempre più incredibilmente rapido e inarrestabile delle pratiche umane, ed in questo caso specialmente delle arti, ci accompagna davvero necessariamente di fronte ad un baratro oltre il quale non c’è più umanità (intesa qui come spontaneità naturale dell’uomo)? Per quanto possa sembrare difficile rispondere a questi interrogativi, ciò che è evidente – e questa è l’opinione portante del testo – è il bisogno di elaborare ai nostri fini «un’estetica generale che si occupi anche di quotidianità avendone acquisito i motivi al proprio interno senza farli diventare caratteri essenziali, ma relazionalmente e dinamicamente strutturali dell’estetico»; infatti «è proprio su queste basi, ovvero su basi relazionali, o intersoggettivo-continuiste, che andrebbe elaborata una teoria generale dell’estetica (del quotidiano), di fatto non ancora disponibile». Solo in tali condizioni, infatti, potremmo essere in grado di riflettere ampiamente ed apertamente sulle recenti acquisizioni dell’ambito estetico e sulle sue nuove promesse, liberati finalmente dal giogo del pensiero più tradizionalista e diretti verso un nuovo mondo, il mondo ordinario, quello che da sempre tutti abbiamo ed abbiamo avuto sotto gli occhi, ancora tutto da scoprire.

Enzo Paci: Journal phénoménologique, Éditions Conférence, 2021

Journal phénoménologique Couverture du livre Journal phénoménologique
Lettres D'italie
Enzo Paci
Éditions Conférence
2021
Paperback $31.95
224

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

Life-World and Cultural Difference. Husserl, Schutz, and Waldenfels Couverture du livre Life-World and Cultural Difference. Husserl, Schutz, and Waldenfels
Orbis Phaenomenologicus, Band 47
Chung-Chi Yu
Königshausen & Neumann
2019
202

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Chung-Chi Yu on Husserl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chung-Chi Yu on Schutz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chung-Chi Yu on Waldenfels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maren Wehrle: Phänomenologie: Eine Einführung, J.B. Metzler, 2021

Phänomenologie: Eine Einführung Couverture du livre Phänomenologie: Eine Einführung
Philosophische Methoden
Maren Wehrle
J.B. Metzler
2021
Softcover 22,35 €

Chung-Chi Yu: Life-World and Cultural Difference. Husserl, Schutz, and Waldenfels, Königshausen & Neumann, 2019

Life-World and Cultural Difference. Husserl, Schutz, and Waldenfels Couverture du livre Life-World and Cultural Difference. Husserl, Schutz, and Waldenfels
Orbis Phaenomenologicus Studien, Band 47
Chung-Chi Yu
Königshausen & Neumann
2019
Paperback 48,00 €
202

Frode Kjosavik, Christian Beyer, Christel Fricke (Eds.): Husserl’s Phenomenology of Intersubjectivity, Routledge, 2018

Husserl’s Phenomenology of Intersubjectivity: Historical Interpretations and Contemporary Applications Couverture du livre Husserl’s Phenomenology of Intersubjectivity: Historical Interpretations and Contemporary Applications
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Frode Kjosavik, Christian Beyer, Christel Fricke (Eds.)
Routledge
2018
Hardback £115.00
352

Dan Zahavi (Ed.): The Oxford Handbook of the History of Phenomenology, Oxford University Press, 2018

The Oxford Handbook of the History of Phenomenology Couverture du livre The Oxford Handbook of the History of Phenomenology
Dan Zahavi (Ed.)
Oxford University Press
2018
Hardback £110.00
784

Jan Patočka: The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem

The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem Couverture du livre The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
Jan Patočka. Edited by Ivan Chvatík and Lubica Ucník. Translated by Erika Abrams. Foreword by Ludwig Landgrebe
Northwestern University Press
2016
Paperback $34.95
240

Reviewed by: Michael Deckard (Lenoir-Rhyne University)

There is something slightly mysterious about reading this book, like finding a notebook in a desk in the attic in a drawer full of cobwebs. Or searching the archives for something you only have an inkling of what you might find (see below for a further description of the Patočka archives in Prague). Even though everything in this book besides the Translator’s Note has previously been published before in other languages, this collection of texts provides in English an insight into a thinker’s life hitherto inaccessible, or at least forgotten. Hence, the mystery. Erazim Kohák’s work in the 1980s brought forth a life story and a philosopher, but focused on the phenomenological and Czech thinker. The dates of the texts from The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem are fascinating in themselves. The main text is Patočka’s habilitation from 1936, Přirozený svét jako filosofický problém, first translated into French forty years later in 1976 (a year before he died), Le monde naturel comme problème philosophique, and then in German in 1990 as Die natürliche Welt als philosophisches Problem. Now the English in 2016, some eighty years after the original publication and forty years after his death. I mention these three translations because the nature of the natural world, for Patočka, is at issue: why is this a philosophical problem, and not an historical or scientific one? What has become of this problem in the intervening eighty years since he wrote the text? Normally, one does not review a book published eighty years earlier, but besides the main text, there is a “remeditated” supplement to it written 33 years later (1970), and then an afterword to the first French translation (1976). But that still leaves a mystery: what can be recalled anew about such texts?

The mystery begins with the foreword, written by a close friend of over forty years, who speaks to the life of the man himself and not just his thought: “our conversations were never purely philosophical,” and that these took place “for nights on end in my Prague years between 1933 and 1939”, Ludwig Landgrebe writes. These years seem to haunt this book, and perhaps the life and country if not all of Europe itself. Experiencing these years in “a kind of exile” in Prague, Landgrebe says, “Talk of personal life, family, comments on the alarming political situation in Europe, common concern for the future of Germany…For me, the development of Patočka’s philosophy is inseparably linked with the history of a friendship.” (ix) This is not a normal foreword. In fact, it was written as memories right after Patočka’s death in 1977. In being guided through the homeland and Prague in particular, “History came alive on these occasions in its interwovenness with art and literature” (x). The foreword is a document in history concerning a time “near and far, familiar and alien,” (xv) and according to Landgrebe, it was the first book on the problem of the life-world (Lebenswelt) (xiv). And yet, the title of the work is not the lifeworld as a philosophical problem, but the natural world. Is this only a problem of translation? Should this 1936 book be interpreted as truly a book about the problem of the lifeworld, or rather as one regarding the natural world, which is a broader problem in philosophy and science than the “well-nigh uncatalogable” literature on the life-world problem. (See the recent review on this site by Philipp Berghofer of The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World).[1]

The introduction to the main text begins thus: “Modern man has no unified worldview. He lives in a double world, at once in his own naturally given environment and in a world created for him by modern natural science, based on the principle of mathematical laws governing nature. The disunion that has thus pervaded the whole of human life is the true source of our present spiritual crisis.” (3) The one philosopher mentioned in this introduction is Descartes—but isn’t Descartes himself a kind of founder of phenomenology as well as science? In a certain sense, then, this book is about “the history of the development of modern science” (113) for which he points to “Leonardo the engineer, Bacon the insatiable political practitioner and visionary, Descartes the mechanistic physician, and even Galileo himself” in the conclusion. Instead of calling it a disenchantment of the world, it is a “dehumanization of the world.”

Chapter 1, “Stating the Problem,” expands upon this fundamental “disanthropomorphization” (6), speaking to how one can philosophise again not just “through mere wonder (thaumazein), but rather on account of the inner difficulties of his spiritual life.” (7) The problem is simply that humans who have experienced modern science “no longer live simply in the naïve natural world; the habitus of his overall relationship to reality is not the natural worldview.” (8) If this book is considered a debate with the founders of modern philosophy, then after stating the problem, Patočka poses some answers: a return to the feeling of life (9-11), an historical typology of possible solutions (11-19), and Patočka’s own proposed solution (19-22). To put it as simply as possible, “to state what we expect from this philosophical anamnesis and why we look upon the subjective orientation as a way to reestablish the world’s unity, the breaking of which threatens modern man in that which, according to Dostoyevsky, is most precious to him: his own self.” (19) There are thus three parts to his solution: subjectivity, the natural world (through history), and language. All of these are meant to unify the self from its fractured nature.

Chapter 2, “The Question of the Essence of Subjectivity and Its Methodical Exploitation,” begins from Descartes, and follows a trajectory of Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, and finally the method of phenomenology as recapturing subjectivity. Several guiding clues are given as to this method, reduction and time consciousness being two of the most important. Regarding the first,

“the reductive procedure applies, of course, to each and every particular thesis, but above all to the so to say general theses, which are already presupposed in singular judgments, and so on, e.g., the thesis that the world exists with its specific real structures. The reduction applies thus not only to propositions about what is but also to propositions about the structure of what is: not only to ontic but also to ontological propositions. Reduction should not be regarded, as is sometimes the case, as a method for acquiring a priori knowledge.” (38)

By means of this guiding clue, both subjectivity and knowledge are saved through “abstaining” (Epoche), and thus purifying experience of sedimentation in order to achieve some singularity in “pure givenness” or “pure consciousness” as “lived-experience.” (41) It is worth pointing out here that occasionally an endnote by the editors mentions the “recently discovered personal copy of his habilitation thesis” in which there is a penciled note. (201n52) Part of Patočka’s thesis of this chapter is thus to show similarities between phenomenology and the “Platonic-Aristotelian noesis.” (203n71) Due to ideation’s relationship to time-consciousness, the human is intersubjectively constituted. Differentiating this view from Fichte, Schelling, Kant, and Descartes, to go in reverse historical order, nevertheless allows a “passage through phenomenological reflection.” (51)

Chapter 3, “The Natural World,” the heart of the book, entails that subjectivity is not enough, but rather that man is in relation to a world. Erazim Kohák has already written of this work in his 1989 collection of Patočka’s writings, touching upon the difference between přirozený svét and English or German or French: “the world of nature, the entire realm of animate being, including humans in their mundane dimension, with its vital order and natural teleology…the world—now in the sense of the coherent, intelligible context of our being rather than as a sum of existents—which comes ‘naturally’ to us, the prereflective, prepredicative coherence of our context which we take so much for granted.” (Kohák 1989: 23) The point, going back to Patočka’s text, is a conscious co-living with others, with regard to them, and common to all. Criticisms of his 1936 conception, even mentioned 33 years later in his French afterword, is that it was too human-centric. The references are to “home”, “refuge”, “alien”, but he is still aware of the human and the extrahuman dimension. While animals are mentioned within “living nature,” as well as “generations,” “traditions,” and even “myth,” there seems to be no references to fossils. minerals, or flora as part of this natural world. The historical development of the problem accentuates this absence in which something of German idealism is still too stuck in human sensibility, despite mentions of biologists like von Baer and Uexküll or philosophers like Bergson.

Chapter 4, “A Sketch of a Philosophy of Language and Speech,” takes up the third aspect of his proposal, basing language in sensibility, history, and acoustics. While using insights from the Czech school of linguistics, as Landgrebe says in his foreword, “the whole chapter can be read as echo of the discussions that took place in the 1930s in the Prague Linguistic Circle. Many issues of fundamental philosophical import discussed at that time have disappeared from current linguistics under the influence of the nominalist tradition.” (xvii)

When Patočka added a supplement to this main text 33 years later (115-180), he later wrote about that supplement, “Written in haste, under the pressure of circumstances, the added text falls short to this aim, i.e. to clarify and update our view of the problem.” (182) The main problem is thus whether to listen to him or not. If we did, we would only read the afterword, some nine pages long (181-190) Most Patočka scholars ignore this, as did the German edition as well as the editors and translator of this book “despite his openly stated criticism of the first of the two and its omission from the 1976 French edition.” (191) Now, in reviewing this whole text from the perspective of eighty-years later, the sense of mystery returns. The translator’s note, then, should really be read first, or at least at the same time, as Landgrebe’s foreword, since she concludes that “the two afterwords are mutually complementary.” (192) Remembering that for most of Patočka’s life he was under great scrutiny, Kohák points out: “Altogether, of the forty-six years of his active life as a philosopher, Jan Patočka lived only eight years free of censorship.” (Kohák, 1989: 27) This is not an arbitrary point of history. “Man is not only thrown into the world but also accepted. Acceptance is an integral part of throwness, so much so that being-at-home in the world is made possible only through the warmth of acceptance by others,” Landgrebe writes (xvii). It is not without irony and a sense of sadness that Patočka died, having been arrested and interrogated for over eleven hours, forty years ago this year and that we can now read his earliest book for the first time in English.

My own experience, having spent a few days this year in the Patočka archive, was remarkable. Upon discovering a 200+ page manuscript on Ficino with pages and pages of drawings, astrological and artistic, hidden in the 1940s in the Strahov Library in Prague, the content of the archive can truly astonish and surprise one. A few pages of this ms. have been translated into German in Andere Wege in die Moderne: Studien zur europäischen Ideengeschichte von der Renaissance bis zur Romantik by Ludger Hagedorn. The amount of time Patočka spent studying and researching this period from the Renaissance to Romanticism is incredible. Any good phenomenologist or historian wanting to understand the richness of Patočka should visit the archive. The mystery of the text mentioned at the beginning of this review concerns the prophetic style of the philosopher, and how such a text brings out a renewal of thought. Once the cobwebs are blown off, and the archive uncovered, thought and even resistance can begin anew.


[1] Philipp Berghofer. Review of The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World by Ľubica Učník, Ivan Chvatík, Anita Williams (Eds.), Springer, 2015.

Ľubica Učník, Ivan Chvatík, Anita Williams (Eds.): The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World

The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World Couverture du livre The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World
Contributions to Phenomenology 76
Ľubica Učník, Ivan Chvatík, Anita Williams (Eds.)
Springer
2015
Hardcover 109,99 €
223

Reviewed by:  Philipp Berghofer (Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz)

Husserl’s last major work, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, is not only his main contribution to a phenomenological approach towards a philosophy of science, but also offers a new way to the transcendental reduction, namely the ontological one. This ontological way crucially depends on Husserl’s conception of the life-world. The life-world is also key in understanding Husserl’s discussion of modern science, as it is considered to be the meaning-giving foundation for all (non-phenomenological) sciences. Modern science, due to its formalised nature, seems to have forgotten this. However, it is important to point out that Husserl does not criticize science or the formalisations which take place in scientific investigations per se. So what precisely does Husserl criticize?

The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World has the important and ambitious objective not only to clarify what a phenomenological critique of mathematisation and formalisation consists in but also to reveal the relevance and actuality of such a critique. This means the aim is “to offer phenomenological accounts of the nature of self-responsibility as a critical, self-reflective and ethical practice, which is required in order to correct the increasingly value-free formalism of scientific knowledge.” (2)

The volume consists of four parts. The first part is a single paper of Patočka, namely his review of Husserl’s Crisis that has been translated by the editors especially for this volume. The second part is interpretive in nature, comprising five contributions devoted to “Patočka’s Phenomenological Philosophy.” The third part is also primarily interpretive, consisting of four contributions to “Husserl’s Phenomenology.” The fourth and final part, which unfortunately but tellingly is the shortest part, contains three contributions that aim at highlighting “The Continued Relevance of the Phenomenological Critique.”

In nuce, this volume succeeds in delivering interesting and high-quality individual analyses, but it has trouble meeting its self-imposed goal of clarifying the nature, genuineness, and relevance of a phenomenological critique of formalisation in modern science. More than half of the contributions do not even explicitly address “formalisation” or “mathematisation.”

The exception is Rosemary Lerner’s detailed and enlightening contribution “Mathesis Universalis and the Life-World: Finitude and Responsibility” that discusses Husserl’s critique. Rightly, she points out that “Formalism cannot per se be criticised – even when it is equated with the purely technical dimension of signs, calculative operations and their ‘game rules’.” (157) She moves on by clarifying that according to a Husserlian critique there are “three ways in which formalism conceals and forgets its meaning-foundation” (157). Of special importance is the third critique that “an ontological interpretation of forms replaces their merely methodological meaning,” which means that “modern physicalistic rationalism has forgotten its meaning-foundation in the life-world” (159).

Modern science is not aware of its own limitations anymore, and its successes led to “a nascent philosophical ‘naturalism’” (160). To be sure, Lerner makes it clear on more than one occasion that formalisation cannot and should not be criticized as such. Formalisation has positive aspects in the positive sciences (162 f.) and also “within objectively oriented philosophical research” (161). Aside from the fact that such formalisation is only applicable for some kinds of scientific research (while it should not be the role model for scientific investigation as such) the problem is that the practice and success of formalisation can conceal the difference between what is a method and what is reality. Mathematics and geometry are methods to describe reality; they are not the “true” reality lying behind what we can intuitively observe.

Lerner clarifies that according to Husserl,

“The ‘crisis of European sciences and humanity’ is due not to the ‘application’ of analytic geometry to the physical world but to the ‘shift in meaning’ whereby it is concealed and forgotten that mathematical disciplines are only powerful ‘methods’ and ingenious ‘hypotheses’ constructed by finite human beings, not ontological descriptions regarding a supposed reality ‘such as God sees it in itself’” (168).

This is why “Husserl’s aim in the Crisis – much as in Philosophy of Arithmetics – is to understand (and thus ‘recover’) the forgotten meaning-foundation of this mathematised natural science” (160), which also means that a “critical philosophy must attempt to clarify the question of the essential origin of every positive science, including formal logic.” (165) I absolutely agree with Lerner that precisely “[t]hese issues led Husserl in 1898 to the ‘universal a priori of correlation’ (Husserl 1970b: §46), and thus to the version of intentionality he developed in his transcendental phenomenology” (165).

In my opinion, Husserl holds that the life-world is the meaning-foundation for all positive sciences and that it is transcendental phenomenology that has to investigate and clarify the basic role the life-world plays. To be sure, transcendental phenomenology cannot deliver the basic axioms, principles or laws that occur in the “exact” sciences, but it can and has to clarify why axioms, principles or laws of such and such a type are appropriate for such and such a science. Transcendental phenomenology can do so as it is the only science that goes beyond the life-world. It goes beyond the life-world by adopting the transcendental attitude in which we are not directed towards the objects that occur in our everyday lives but towards the way in which these objects appear (cf. Husserliana VI, 155, 161 f.). In investigating how different types of objects can be given to us, i.e., investigating the correlation between consciousness and world, transcendental phenomenology has realized that the ultimate foundation of knowledge and science is not the life-world but subjectivity (cf. Husserliana VI, 70, 115). All objective knowledge is founded on subjectivity.

All knowledge is knowledge of an agent and in explaining how knowledge is possible, you ultimately have to turn away from objective states of affairs and focus on the subject’s consciousness. The ultimate evidence for my knowing that there is a table in front of me is not the existence of the table but my experiencing this table. My experiencing this table gets its justificatory force not from the reliability of my sensory apparatus but from the distinctive, originally presentive phenomenal character of this experience. What ultimate evidence is cannot be investigated objectively but only subjectively by turning to one’s experiences and to how these experiences can be described from a first-person perspective.

As transcendental phenomenology precisely is this science that investigates the structures of consciousness and experience from a first-person perspective, transcendental phenomenology is the ultimate science. Not because it can deliver the axioms, principles, laws or theorems of every or even any individual science, but because it is concerned with how the specific objects of investigations of any science can be given and what type of evidence is appropriate for what type of object.

The only worry I have with Lerner’s paper is that she does not focus on or even ignores this most fundamental role that subjectivity plays, especially as this is crucial for understanding why Husserl’s phenomenology is a transcendental phenomenology. She rightly mentions that for Husserl ultimate evidence is evidence of experience (169), but she does not deliver a more detailed analysis of precisely how phenomenology is the science that investigates from the first-person perspective what it is that gives experiences their justificatory force.

Be that as it may, Lerner’s paper is a great contribution that precisely fits the topic of this volume. The papers in this third part addressing “Husserl’s Phenomenology” are in general outstanding contributions, arguably the best of this volume. It is unfortunate, however, that this volume does not succeed in taking contributions like Lerner’s as a basis for discussing the actuality of a phenomenological critique by addressing questions like “Is Husserl’s critique best applicable to what he takes to be Galilean physics or is it equally applicable to physics in the 21st century?”, “What is Husserl’s stance on unobservable entities like electrons and quarks?” (cf. Wiltsche 2012), “What does Husserl’s critique mean for recently popular ontic scientific realism?” I will return to such missed opportunities below.

In “Everydayness, Historicity and the World of Science: Husserl’s Life-World Reconsidered” Dermot Moran provides an excellent discussion of Husserl’s conception of the life-world. Of course, one might question whether we really need another discussion of Husserl’s life-world. Anticipating this objection, Moran points out that, despite all the works on this topic, “the deep meaning and transcendental sense of Husserl’s concept of the life-world remains troublingly obscure” (110). Moran aims at presenting “a coherent exposition of this influential yet ambiguous concept” and at clarifying “how the life-world can function both as a universal ground (Grund, Boden) of all experience and as a potential horizon (Horizon) for experience” (110). One important aspect we have already touched on is the relationship between the life-world and subjectivity. Moran brings this into focus by quoting a passage where Husserl already around 1917-18 tells us: “Everything objective about the life-world is subjective givenness, our possession, mine, the other’s, and everyone’s together” (119; Husserl 1989, 375). Unfortunately, Moran does not discuss this transcendental character of Husserl’s doctrine in more detail. The central topic Moran wishes to shed light on is the relationship between science and life-world:

“The life-world, on the one hand, on Husserl’s conception, grounds and supports the world of science (which is essentially different from it); and, on the other hand, it also completely encompasses the world of science, since all scientists as human beings are themselves members of the life-world and scientific discoveries evolve in and are carried along by historical human communities and cultures” (121).

How is this possible? According to Moran, Husserl’s life-world can ground and encompass science at the same time as “the life-world is actually a horizon that stretches from indefinite past to indefinite future and includes all actualities and possibilities of experience and meaningfulness” (121 f.). The life-world as horizon and the life-world as ground can be reconciled if we “think of grounding in a new sense,” namely “as a constant ongoing contextualisation and re-contextualisation whereby meaning itself is secured through its horizonal connections with meanings lived through and established in the non-objectifiable world of living and acting” (126). Since such a grounding is not an objective but an “ultimately subjective” one (126), we, again, touch on the epistemic impact of subjectivity. While there is no doubt that Moran’s paper delivers a conception of Husserl’s life-world that is not only elegant and based on textual evidence but also sheds light on the relationship to the sciences, the precise relationship between science and life-world remains hazy and vague. We see in what way the life-world can ground and encompass science, but we still do not know how they can influence each other. What influence does science have on the life-world? Can science directly influence the life-world as culture does or only indirectly, for instance via influencing culture? What happens if there is a clash of science and life-world? Given Husserl’s criticism of modern science, one might be tempted to think that natural science cannot or at least should not “overrule” the life-world in the sense of shattering and shifting horizonal structures. This, of course, is not true. Our life-world is significantly different from the one of Ptolemy. When we observe the stars, planets or the sun what is originally given to us might be the same, but the horizonal structures of these experiences are clearly different simply in virtue of our scientific background beliefs.

The life-world is also the topic of Nicolas de Warren’s contribution “Husserl’s Hermeneutical Phenomenology of the Life-World as Culture Reconsidered.” Here the main target is Sebastian Luft’s recent Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology (Luft 2011) as De Warren forcefully argues against Luft’s thesis that Husserlian phenomenology “becomes a hermeneutical phenomenology of the correlational a priori of the world as historical world, as a world of culture, and of subjectivity as intersubjectivity, connected in a history and a tradition” (Luft 2011, 27). For De Warren, this interpretation and specifically the “identification of the life-world with a world of culture” is “untenable on the basis of Husserl’s own thinking” (135). De Warren’s contribution can be seen as a clash between two prominent and outstanding scholars, which naturally leads to a stimulating and controversial debate.

Before I turn to De Warren’s criticism in more detail, I briefly want to present Luft’s main points. When he presents his thoughts in the Introduction to his book, Luft begins with some basic but crucial Husserlian assumptions like “the only way to experience the world is from my own perspective,” (Luft 2011, 10); “it is impossible to leave the confines of our mind,” (Luft 2011, 12); and “[t]he Husserlian turn to transcendental idealism, by contrast [to Kant], is motivated by the factum of the world and its justification” (Luft 2011, 13). With respect to Husserl’s famous correlational a priori, which Luft calls the “One Structure,” Luft’s claim, then, is that “Husserl’s entire focus is on the thoroughgoing correlation of subjective and objective” (Luft 2011, 15). Luft considers this the main thesis of his book (cf. Luft 2011, 14).

I totally agree with these foregoing claims. Luft rightfully focuses on the correlational a priori and rightly declares this aspect the main core of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. Husserl does not aim at proving that there is objective knowledge and justification but at explaining how this is possible. In doing so, one has to focus on the subject, more precisely, on the structures of intentionality. By explicating my knowledge of objects and states of affairs, I have to investigate from the first-person perspective how these objects are given to me within my experiencing them. The aim, then, is gaining essential insights about the structures of intentionality, such as the essential feature of perception to have the phenomenal character of self-givenness or givenness in actuality (Husserliana XVI, 14) − what Husserl often but most notably in his “principle of all principles” calls originary givenness.

Having said this, the question, of course, is how does Luft determine this correlational a priori? What are the end points of this correlation? In the literature, most often, it is described as a correlation between subject and object, sometimes between subject and world. Luft makes clear that he does not view this correlation “as a thoroughgoing correlation of the One structure with its poles, I and world” but “as a balance between both poles in which they are ‘always already’ intertwined, interrelated, dancing a tango” (Luft 2011, 18). This world, for Luft, is the life-world, which is (and this is the “provocative” part of Luft’s analysis) the world of culture (Luft 2011, 27). My main issue with this portrayal is its narrow focus on how our culture and history shape our experiencing. Interpreted modestly, this means that already in Husserl you find claims like “There is no view from nowhere,” or “All experience is theory-laden” (Cf. Moran’s remark at p. 118). Interpreted strongly, this can lead to the implausible phenomenalist consequence that there is an ontological distinction between what we experience and the things in themselves. (De Warren accuses Luft of undermining a non-phenomenalist reading of Kant at p. 150.) Either way, this disguises what I take to be the most important insight of Husserl’s correlational apriori. Namely that,

Category of objectivity and category of evidence are perfect correlates. To every fundamental species of objectivities – as intentional unities maintainable throughout an intentional synthesis and, ultimately, as unities belonging to a possible ‘experience’ – a fundamental species of ‘experience’, of evidence, corresponds, and likewise a fundamental species of intentionally indicated evidential style in the possible enhancement of the perfection of the having of an objectivity itself” (Husserl 1969, 161).

This means that the type of object I experience determines the type of evidence that is available to me (e.g. adequate evidence for physical objects, apodictic evidence for mathematical truths, adequate evidence for my existence). As Heffernan puts it, “evidence is a function of the evident” (Heffernan 1998, 22). Husserl is interested in what it means to experience, for instance, a physical object, how such an object can be given within experience and what it means that in perception such an object is self-given, i.e., originally given. The answers to these questions are essential insights and independent from a subject’s culture or history.

Let us return to De Warren’s criticism of Luft’s identification of life-world and culture. Luft provides the following clarification:

“Culture, then, is the safe haven and our home, and nothing could be further from living an enlightened life than dwelling and feeling at home in the niches of subcultures, which deliberately depart from the ‘mainstream’. Subcultures, which consciously depart from the ‘grand discourse’ of Culture, are the enemy of culture” (Luft 2011, 356).

De Warren has two main objections against the claim that culture (in this sense) captures the idea of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology.

  1. Husserl’s method of reduction is “diametrically opposed” to the claim that one should strive for “mainstream” (145). Referring to Patočka, De Warren insists that, contrary to Luft, “the phenomenological reduction can be understood as instituting a ‘break’ or ‘shattering’ of belonging to a human-made world of culture” (145).
  2. The life-world cannot be identified with the world of culture as “there are a multiplicity of irreducible worlds” and only some of them are culture but “most are not” (153). In this context, De Warren points out that it is misleading to call Husserl’s a priori correlation a “One Structure” as there is no uniform meaning to this correlation (153).

While this debate between Luft and De Warren is of fundamental importance for understanding Husserl and transcendental phenomenology in general, this does not tell us much about a phenomenological critique of mathematisation and formalisation. The same is true for Moran’s contribution and also for Thomas Nenon’s.

In part II, “Patočka’s Phenomenological Philosophy,” the contribution of Učník & Chvatík entitled “Patočka on Galileo” and Burt Hopkins’ “Nostalgia and Phenomenon: Husserl and Patočka on the End of the Ancient Cosmos” both more directly address the topic of mathematisation. Učník & Chvatík shed light on Patočka’s claims that “we cannot await moral answers from a mathematised nature” and that the source of such a deceptive expectation is “the assumption that if we can mathematise nature we can also mathematise human relations; and that mathematics can give us all the answers, in every sphere of our living, from physics to ethics” (49). My worry with this contribution and the second part of this volume in general is twofold: First, it is not clear to me in what ways Patočka is supposed to go beyond Husserl in complementing his phenomenological critique. Secondly, and this is true for the volume as such, while there are many topics mentioned that perfectly fit current debates in epistemology, philosophy of science and meta-ethics, it is hardly ever discussed how Husserl and Patočka could contribute to current debates. In the context of formalising ethics, for instance, one could mention the currently very popular method of reflective equilibrium and question that every moral intuition can be sacrificed for greater coherence of the belief-system (cf. Daniels 1996). I will return to such missed opportunities when discussing the final part.

Hopkins argues that Patočka not only “goes beyond Husserl’s fragmentary account of Galileo” but also that Patočka’s account “is informed by actual history” (59). But is it important that philosophy of science is informed by actual history? Can philosophy profit from integrating history? This is precisely the topic of the currently popular and widely discussed research field of “Integrated History and Philosophy of Science” (cf. Patton 2011). But neither in Hopkins’ contribution nor elsewhere in this volume are these connections discussed. This is worrisome as this volume has the self-imposed goal of revealing “the continued relevance of the phenomenological critique of formalism” (6).

In the light of this criticism, let us now turn to the final part of the book, “The Continued Relevance of the Phenomenological Critique.” This part only consists of three contributions. Broadly speaking, there are four interesting ways of arguing for a continued relevance of a phenomenological critique of formalism. 1. To show how technological progress has led to consequences Husserl and Patočka have warned about. 2. To point out that modern natural science is still interpreted (either by scientists or non-scientists) as revealing that the world we perceive is mere illusion and that the world’s true nature is captured by formalisations. 3. To reveal that modern natural science is still interpreted (either by scientists or non-scientists) as the role model for all scientific investigations (including philosophy). 4. To show that there are current philosophical debates that share the basic idea of Husserl’s and Patočka’s critique and could benefit from adopting (elements of) transcendental phenomenology.

In his “Formalisation and Responsibility” James Mensch touches on all four topics but none is elaborated upon in great detail. He begins with the example that

“During the Vietnam War, US bombing missions were set by a computer program that, based on field reports, calculated the probability of the Vietcong’s being in a particular location at a particular time. Such missions, with their use of napalm, were responsible for the destruction of much of the countryside. Who or what was responsible for this: the computer, the writers of its algorithms, the pilots flying the missions, the operations research analysts that worked to ‘rationalise’ these missions?” (188)

I take this example to capture well the basic idea of the relevance of a phenomenological critique along the lines of critique 1 specified above. Mensch, however, does not return to this example. He also briefly complains that by an electron a scientist understands “this formula for the probability-density of its position” (187) and that adopting a naturalist attitude has led to a “devaluation of consciousness” by philosophers like Daniel Dennett (192). The recurrent theme of his contribution is embodiment. This is a very important aspect of a phenomenological critique of formalisation as it takes place, for instance, in artificial intelligence research. In this volume, Mensch is the only one who aims at systematically developing the role of embodiment in a phenomenological critique, which I take to be his main accomplishment.

Anita Williams’ “Perceiving Sensible Things: Husserl and the Act of Perception” and Ivan Chvatík’s “Are We Still Afraid of Science?” both pursue very specific goals. This is especially true for Chvatík, who discusses Stephen Hawking’s and Leonard Mlodinow’s popular-science book The Grand Design in order to see how it exemplifies what Husserl and Patočka have criticized. The upshot is that it exemplifies pretty much all of what, according to a phenomenological critique, could be worrisome.

From the claim that M-theory [multiverse theory] will turn out to provide a complete and final theory of the universe, to the naturalisation of consciousness, including the denial of free will, to the statement that “philosophy is dead” as it “has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics” (Hawking and Mlodinow 2010, 5) there is not much left that could provoke a phenomenological critique. You can feel Chvatík’s discomfort when he tells that he “would not have believed that a position like this is still possible in the present day” (212). It should not come as a surprise, however, that in the vast field of sometimes genuinely provocative popular-science there are works to which a phenomenological critique can be perfectly applied. Also, it should be mentioned that The Grand Design has been harshly criticized not only by philosophers but also by physicists.

In her contribution, Williams questions the so-called neurocognitive model of perception in which, according to Williams, “sense is reduced to sensation and human sense-making is confined to the end point of a causal process.” (197) She argues against the assumption of neurocognitive researchers “that mind can be reduced to the functioning brain” (197 f.) and wants “to show that a brain-based model of perception does not resolve the mind-matter problem” (198). The basis of her critique is Husserl’s conception of sensuous and categorial intuition. This means that Williams aims at an extremely important task, namely exploring the relationship between cognitive neuroscience and Husserlian phenomenology. However, it is not clear to me why this relationship should be negative in the sense that cognitive neuroscience clashes with Husserlian phenomenology. Of course, if Williams is right in asserting that neurocognitive researchers claim to solve the mind-matter problem by reducing the mind to brain, then somebody should step in. But even if they do, it seems obvious to me that their research is not committed to such claims. In his Sixth Logical Investigation Husserl makes the following remark about the relationship between his phenomenological investigation of perception and a potential natural scientific one:

“In sense-perception, the ‘external’ thing appears ‘in one blow’, as soon as our glance falls upon it. The manner in which it makes the thing appear present is straightforward: it requires no apparatus of founding or founded acts. To what complex mental processes it may trace back its origin, and in what manner, is of course irrelevant here” (Husserl 2001, 283).

Of course, there is a lot of debate about whether phenomenology should take a more active stance, some even claiming that phenomenology should be naturalized (cf. Zahavi 2004). Still, I am not convinced by Williams’ conclusion that “Husserl provides a way to question the causal explanations of perception adopted by neurocognitive psychologists” (207) as I believe that such causal explanations are non-phenomenological but not anti-phenomenological at least as long as there is not the claim involved that such causal explanations tell us everything we can know about perception, rendering a phenomenological account obsolete.

In conclusion, this volume offers a number of high-quality papers on important and current topics, but it does not succeed in bringing this currency, the relevance of a phenomenological critique in the 21st century, to the forefront. There are many missed opportunities as there definitely is such a relevance, and while this volume manages to provide many stimulating and important first beginnings for exploiting the fruitfulness of a phenomenological critique, it does not really go beyond such first steps.

References

Daniels, Norman (1996): Justice and Justification, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hawking, Stephen & Mlodinow, Leonard (2010): The Grand Design, London: Bantam Press.

Heffernan, George (1998): “Miscellaneous Lucubrations on Husserl’s Answer to the Question ‘was die Evidenz sei’: A Contribution to the Phenomenology of Evidence on the Occasion of the Publication of Husserliana Volume XXX,” Husserl Studies 15, 1-75.

Husserl, Edmund (2001): Logical Investigations, transl. by J. N. Findlay, New York: Routledge.

Husserl, Edmund (1970): The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, transl. by David Carr, Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Husserl, Edmund (1969): Formal and Transcendental Logic, transl. by Dorion Cairns, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Luft, Sebastian (2011): Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology, Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Patton, Lydia (ed.) (2014): Philosophy, Science, and History, New York: Routledge.

Wiltsche, Harald (2012): “What is Wrong with Husserl’s Scientific Anti-Realism?” Inquiry 55, 2, 105-130.

Zahavi, Dan (2004): “Phenomenology and the project of naturalization,” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 3, 331-347.