There are at least two approaches to what may be called ‘applied phenomenology’: one involves performing a phenomenological analysis of one’s own by closely attending to, describing, and critically interrogating one’s first-personal experiences of some phenomenon; the other involves applying existing phenomenological theory—i.e., the results of another’s, or one’s own, prior phenomenological analysis—to some phenomenon in order to understand it in phenomenological terms. (These are not the only approaches, of course, and they need not be mutually exclusive.) With respect to art and aesthetic experience, the first approach can be seen in Mikel Dufrenne’s The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience (1973) and in Samuel Mallin’s Art Line Thought (1996). (For an example of an analysis of a painting that employs Mallin’s body phenomenology, see Crippen 2014.) The second approach is more common, not only in phenomenological reflections on art but in applied phenomenology generally. Done well, it is a matter of putting some phenomenon into dialogue with an established phenomenologist so as to explore how his or her theory can inform and enrich our understanding and, ideally, our experience of the phenomenon—and, reciprocally, how the phenomenon can clarify, challenge, or modify the theory. (For an example of such a dialogue between Merleau-Ponty’s thought and art, see Hacklin 2012.) However, there is a risk of merely translating our pre-existing understanding of the phenomenon into the language of the theory in a way that adds neither to our understanding nor to the theory, but merely fits the phenomenon into the theory’s framework.
Véronique M. Fóti’s new book, Merleau-Ponty at the Gallery, takes the second approach, promising to put Merleau-Ponty’s reflections on visual art—along with other elements of his philosophy—into dialogue with the work of five 20th century artists in a way that will shed new light on these artists’ works and practices while illuminating, and in places challenging, Merleau-Ponty’s thinking. Unfortunately it does not live up to this promise or to the precedent set by Fóti’s previous work on both Merleau-Ponty and the phenomenology of art (see, e.g., Fóti 1992, Fóti 1996), which includes her recent volume exploring the notion of expression in Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetics, ontology, and philosophy of biology (Fóti 2013). This is not to say that Fóti’s new book is not interesting or valuable, only that it is not as valuable as it might have been. It will interest readers familiar with Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception but who are less familiar with his aesthetic reflections or his late ontology, since one of the strengths of the book is Fóti’s explications of these elements of his thought. Another strength is her discussion of the works and practices of the artists she has selected and her use of them to illustrate Merleau-Ponty’s ideas. In this respect, Fóti’s book is valuable for showing how well his ideas fit the work of artists beyond those he himself wrote on. Fóti’s research here into and engagement with art historical and critical work on the artists she considers is admirably thorough.
That being said, it is not clear that Fóti’s framing of these works and artists in terms of Merleau-Ponty’s thought reveals aspects of the works and practices that are not already noted in the art historical and critical scholarship she cites; the discussion often amounts to Fóti noting similarities or convergences between some aspect of an artwork or an artist’s practice and something Merleau-Ponty wrote, or showing how existing interpretations of these works can be put in his terms. Similarly, it is not clear that this book will offer many new insights into Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy for readers already familiar with his work and the secondary literature on it, since his thought is not significantly complicated, questioned, supplemented, etc. in the ways one would expect from a genuine dialogue. Nevertheless, Fóti’s discussion and descriptions of works by artists who—with the exception of Cy Twombly—are under-attended to in philosophical aesthetics will interest philosophers of art, and her explication of Merleau-Ponty’s ideas will be useful for art historians and critics with an interest in phenomenology or a wish to ground their work in an amenable ontology. Fóti’s final chapter, which considers the disavowal of beauty in much 20th century art and art theory, and suggests what she calls ‘strong beauty’ as a way to reclaim the notion while avoiding its purportedly problematic aspects, is worth further consideration—and perhaps further development in a future work—, although this chapter feels somewhat disconnected from the others since it draws significantly on only one of the artists from the preceding chapters, with the significance being minor.
With these six chapters, plus introduction and conclusion, coming to 112 pages before endnotes, bibliography, and index, this book is on the short side, which makes it easy to read and to refer back to, e.g., for locating particular examples of artworks. However, the lack of any illustrations is unfortunate: this is a book that calls for high quality colour reproductions of the works discussed. (To be fair, the choice to omit illustrations may not have been Fóti’s but an editor’s. There are also a number of minor typographical errors that hopefully will be corrected in future printings, e.g., parenthetical comments with the second parenthesis misplaced or simply missing, which leaves the reader to intuit where the comment ends and the sentence into which it is inserted resumes.) As mentioned, chapter 6 sketches a theory of beauty that is meant to avoid worries about links between the idea of beauty as traditionally understood and the morally troubling practices it is sometimes thought to support. Fóti draws on Merleau-Ponty to develop this theory but goes beyond his writings which, as she notes, contain a “near-silence concerning beauty” (95); this chapter is where most of Fóti’s original ideas can be found.
In the introduction, Fóti outlines her approach to applying Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetics and details the common threads or convergences to be found between his thought and the works of the artists she has selected for her focus. She notes twin tendencies in the scholarship on Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetics: “to focus predominantly on the very same artists or artistic movements with which he himself engaged,” such as Cézanne, Klee, Matisse, Rodin, and post-impressionism and cubism, and “to concentrate on the issues that he himself discusses in his aesthetic writings, rather than engaging directly with artworks and the practices of artmaking” to bring them “into dialogue with Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology” (1-2). She is right that a tendency to repeat the same examples that ‘big-name’ philosophers have used is limiting and can be a sign of a lack of original understanding or a lack of familiarity with the range of phenomena from which the usual examples are drawn, and that it would make for better scholarship to engage directly with a new range of artworks and examples. It would also lead to better phenomenology, since it would make the results of individual phenomenological analyses less likely to be reified as universal claims about the nature of art when these results may have been specific to those examples.
The choice to focus on artists who, except for Morandi (whose was a near-contemporary of Merleau-Ponty’s), were part of an artworld slightly after his time avoids these limitations and lets her test whether Merleau-Ponty’s views map onto works and practices from a later period in visual art’s history with new developments, directions and styles. However, as noted above, the work of these artists is not always brought into mutual dialogue with Merleau-Ponty’s thought, or at least the claim that her consideration of these works “did not simply confirm [his] analyses but also … deepened or complicated them or introduced critical perspectives” (3) is not reflected in what is said about each one in the subsequent chapters. Instead, the areas of convergence that she finds between these artists’ works and Merleau-Ponty’s ideas are often presented by noting similarities between what an artist does and an observation or a view of Merleau-Ponty’s, where these similarities are not always clearly explicated and where more could be done to explain how a particular work exemplifies or embodies Merleau-Ponty’s claims. These convergences are: ‘interweaving dualities’, i.e., the collapsing of binary dichotomies between figuration and abstraction, subject and object of perception, etc.; the relation between image and writing, including the nature of written texts as both visual and linguistic; the ‘thingness’ of artworks, i.e., their in-between status as more than ‘mere’ things but distinct from tools or equipment for use, and their relation to materiality; the question of the artist’s historical situatedness and the ‘timeliness’ of their work. The biological need for beauty is also listed as a convergence, but it is not clear how this counts given Merleau-Ponty’s (and some of the five artists’) relative lack of concern with beauty.
Chapter 1 focuses on Giorgio Morandi, whose work Fóti sees as converging with Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy with respect to his explorations of vision and visibility and his refusal to draw a hard-and-fast distinction between figuration and abstraction. The suggestion is that Morandi’s still lifes of ordinary objects such as bottles and vases work to subtly defamiliarize these objects while keeping them recognizable; as Fóti puts it, they “unhinge things and their configurations from customary identification without, however, treating them as mere pretexts for painterly innovation” (17). This is linked to the idea of suspending or bracketing ‘profane’ vision to leave room for ‘primordial’ vision, which idea is fundamental to Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of phenomenology and his notion of visual art’s ability to disclose and thematize this primordial vision and its workings, and thereby to “rende[r] visible what could not otherwise be so” (14). In other words, the claim is that the familiar character of the objects Morandi paints, e.g., bottles, is placed in the background (rather than being removed entirely) so that their character as visible, or things-that-appear, and the ways in which they appear to us, can be brought to the fore.
This is a fertile point of convergence between Morandi’s painting and Merleau-Ponty’s thinking, although it would be nice if how Morandi’s paintings do these things were explained rather than it being just asserted that they do. The concrete, practical details of the paintings or Morandi’s process that Fóti describes do not sufficiently explain this; instead, not all of these points are clearly relevant to the rest of the discussion, e.g., noting that Morandi often uses “a rich and subtle palette of grayed earth tones, siennas, golds and whites, or earth greens and muted violets [which] is restrained, with a somewhat melancholy echo of classical antiquity” (16). This works well as a description of Morandi’s use of colour, but it does not obviously relate to or explain how “things constellate and configure themselves in space” in his paintings, as Fóti claims (Ibid.). Seeking out and viewing Morandi’s paintings does not help to make these claims concrete in the same way that one can easily see the fittingness of what Merleau-Ponty says about, e.g., Cézanne’s paintings from looking at them. There is a nice description of Morandi’s Still Life with Yellow Cloth, but what this painting is described as doing is not significantly different from what Merleau-Ponty already describes Cézanne’s still lifes as doing, such as the absence of a fixed perspective; moreover, it is unclear how this description relates to the point about the “mutual precession” of seer and seen that follows it (18). Since what Fóti is claiming about Morandi’s paintings here is much the same as what Merleau-Ponty claimed of Cézanne’s, it would have been helpful if more attention had been paid to the ways in which Morandi’s work differs from Cézanne’s and the implications of these differences for Merleau-Ponty’s thought.
Another theme that is discussed in this chapter is the place of ‘thingness’ in Morandi’s work, given his frequent depictions of commonplace objects in ways that emphasize both their materiality and what Merleau-Ponty would call their ambiguity or ‘perceptual nonresolution’. However, most of the discussion of this theme is done in relation to Heidegger and not Merleau-Ponty; while it is true that Heidegger dwells more on the nature of ‘thingness’ (i.e., the being of things qua things), it feels somewhat disjointed for the focus to switch to Heidegger so early on in a book that is meant to be primarily about Merleau-Ponty.
Chapter 2 turns to Kiki Smith, whose work is linked to Merleau-Ponty’s thought insofar as she is concerned with the body and its vulnerability, organic nature and animality, and exploring our relations to the usually invisible insides of bodies by opening them out to view. As with the chapter on Morandi, the main convergence discussed here is the intertwining of dualities; however, where the dualities that were found to be intertwined in Morandi’s work have to do with perception and with painting as an expression of vision, those in terms of which Smith’s work is discussed have to do with the overlap or blending (‘inter-being’/Ineinander) of conceptual categories such as humanity and animality, life and elemental nature, nature and cosmos, in their “ecological coexistence” (27). This is seen in examples discussed of works in which Smith defamiliarizes not the visual appearances of objects but the themes and symbols of traditional folklore, such as her sculpture Daughter, which presents Red Riding Hood as a wolf-girl.
The connections Fóti draws between Smith and Merleau-Ponty are more tenuous than those drawn between the philosopher and Morandi in the previous chapter. There is, for example, an extended discussion of play and imagination as the transcendence of a fixed perspective on actuality (33-34), but this is not linked to Smith and instead the discussion moves from this to some remarks on her work’s relationship to ideas of beauty. Also, just how each one handles the common theme of our corporeality is not discussed in a way that adds to or informs our understanding of either. Instead, the discussion often takes the form of noting a theme in Smith’s work, describing an example or two of particular works that explore this theme, and then noting what Merleau-Ponty says about that theme. For instance, Fóti mentions that pregnancy is a recurring theme in Smith’s work and that Merleau-Ponty used the concept of pregnancy as a metaphor (29), but nothing more is made of this and it is not shown why the fact that both explored this metaphor is important: how do the ways in which they explored or employed it compare or differ, and what can this tell us about either their work or the concept itself? Similarly, Smith may have linked her concern with the body to her background in Catholicism, and Merleau-Ponty, sharing this background, may have written about the importance of the body and the idea of incarnation to Christianity (31), but—at the risk of being blunt—so what?
Without saying more to connect these themes in their work at more than a superficial level, what is meant to be a dialogue between their work and ideas fails (ironically) to intertwine the two: their work and ideas are not put into the sort of ‘inter-being’ that is found between, say, humanity and animality in Smith’s work, and instead the discussion becomes something closer to a listing of similarities that keeps these similarities side-by-side, rather than a dialogical exchange in which they are made to commingle. At the end of the chapter there is a passage suggesting how Fóti thinks Smith’s work might inform and supplement Merleau-Ponty’s ideas, where she writes that “[a]lthough Merleau-Ponty speaks of the elementality of flesh, he does not develop or concretize his understanding of elementality beyond pointing to the ancient (Presocratic) provenance of that notion,” whereas “Smith’s art allows the elements to come to presence … in their everyday and easily overlooked modalities of presencing” (41). This is the kind of point that I would like to see explored and developed further, and even given a central place in the discussion, since it points to the kind of dialogue that was promised.
Chapter 3 considers the work of Cy Twombly, focusing especially on those of his paintings that incorporate writing to explore both the visual qualities and the historical resonances of particular words, sentences, and fragments of text, which allows Fóti to bring Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of language to bear on the discussion. Fortunately, the convergences or points of connection between Twombly’s work and Merleau-Ponty’s thought are less tenuous—or at least are better explained—than those claimed in the previous two chapters. Here Fóti links the relation between image and text to the relation of materiality to ideality or meaning in order to analyze Twombly’s use of writing (and ‘quasi-writing’) in his visual art through a Merleau-Pontian lens in a way that does more than just note how something Twombly does resembles or is an example of one of the philosopher’s ideas. This gives us a way of attending to, understanding, and appreciating the art that goes beyond what is available from looking at it without this lens. Moreover, it involves Fóti making points that Merleau-Ponty did not already make himself about a different artist, as is the case with the points about Morandi in the first chapter and Merleau-Ponty’s remarks on Cézanne.
Of particular interest here is what is said concerning the ways in which the incorporation of writing in Twombly’s work exemplifies, or rather, enacts, Merleau-Ponty’s questioning in works such as “Eye and Mind” (1960) of any ontological separation between visual and verbal artforms. By bringing the visual form of written language to our attention, whether this is in the form of actual letters and words, or in the looping lines in Twombly’s ‘blackboard’ paintings that show up for us as writing-like—while remaining illegible since they are not actual writing but what Fóti calls ‘quasi-writing’—, Twombly defamiliarizes writing and introduces a multidimensional or ‘diacritical’ field of meanings and associations that go beyond mere semantic or literal meaning. This treats words and letters as figures rather than as signs, which highlights both the gestures involved in writing certain letters or words and the materiality of the sign itself, which illustrates the embodied grounds of language and expression. Additionally, Twombly’s attention to the trace left by the act of writing and his erasures, effacements, and concealments of words in his paintings, along with the deferral of meaning this produces, are informed by reading this practice in the light of Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the “invisible of the visible” (48).
Unlike the other chapters, here Fóti does explain how considering Twombly’s work in relation to Merleau-Ponty’s ideas can complicate and inform the latter’s philosophy. For example, Twombly’s questioning of the separation between the visual and the verbal lends weight to Merleau-Ponty’s suspicion of this dualism in “Eye and Mind” over his apparent endorsement of this separation, viz., his distinction between painting as (or as allowing) ‘timeless meditation’ vs. literature as tied to its historical situation in “Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence” (1952). As well, Fóti considers whether Twombly’s practices of drawing in the dark and with his non-dominant hand in order to disrupt the habitual connections between hand and eye, and between painting and vision, might pose a challenge for Merleau-Ponty’s thought. She concludes that they do not, arguing that dissociating hand, eye, and mind only introduces a problem for what Merleau-Ponty calls ‘profane’ vision; however, it is not clear why drawing ‘blind’ would lead to a more genuine or ‘primordial’ kind of vision, although it does plausibly allow for an element of embodied expression, which always underlies the act of drawing or painting, to be foregrounded. While these points about the relation of Twombly’s work and Merleau-Ponty’s thought are in keeping with what was promised in the introduction, the rest of this chapter—e.g., the descriptions of Twombly’s series of paintings about the Trojan war—is far less clear as to the connections being made or their importance.
Chapters 4 and 5 consider the art of Joan Mitchell and Ellsworth Kelley, respectively. The chapter on Mitchell consists mostly of descriptions of her paintings and practices, her thoughts on her work, and biographical details. These descriptions are well-wrought and thoughtful and the details are interesting; together they work to give us a good sense of her art. Fóti explores the ways her non-figurative expressionist paintings combine disintegration and turbulence with order and balance, how her paintings explore ambiguities between figure and ground, and the tension in her practice between spontaneity and deliberation. However, not much of a link is drawn between her work and Merleau-Ponty’s ideas: Mitchell’s interest in how colours combine and interact is mentioned alongside Merleau-Ponty’s remarks in “Eye and Mind” about colour as giving us visual textures and as supporting identities and differences, but these two concerns about colour are not obviously the same and their relation is not made clear. Fóti does note that Mitchell’s relationship to colour can be compared to what Merleau-Ponty says about Cézanne’s use of colour, but just how they compare or why this is a substantial convergence between her art and his thought is again not made clear. Similarly, Fóti discusses how Mitchell seeks to capture the felt ‘essences’ of experience in abstract forms and through colour, and notes that Merleau-Ponty is critical of the traditional quest for essences in philosophy but makes room in his thought for ‘carnal’ rather than ‘pure’ essences. However, it is not clear that Mitchell and Merleau-Ponty mean the same thing by ‘essence’ here; if they do not, there is no conflict, so it is again unclear just what relation between the artworks and philosophy is being drawn.
The chapter on Kelly focuses on his plant drawings and their relation to his better-known colour field paintings, where Fóti suggests they were a step on the way from figuration to abstraction in his work. The chapter also looks at Kelly’s artistic practice in terms of the interrelation of hand, eye, and mind and the involvement of memory in perception, and discusses Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of nature and biology, although Kelly’s work ends up mainly illustrating rather than informing Merleau-Ponty’s ideas. The discussion of the plant drawings is similar to the points made about Morandi’s work, with the claim here being that these drawings disclose a ‘primordial’ vision by abstracting from the familiar appearances of ‘profane’ vision. As in the discussion of Mitchell, the notion of art’s ability to disclose the essences of things is prominent here: by concentrating on lines that capture the shapes and visual rhythms of plant life and eschewing three-dimensional representation, colour, etc., Fóti claims that Kelly’s work is able to present “the very essence of the plant” or its “genuine essentiality” (75-76). Despite the decisiveness of these claims, it is unclear why we should take Kelly’s drawings to do this rather than to foreground an aspect of the plants he draws; this seems to involve what we might call a ‘reductionist bias’, i.e., presupposing that the ‘essence’ of a phenomenon will be a pared down or simplified version of it rather than thinking that essences could be as rich—as complex, messy, and muddled—as phenomena themselves. Not only is it unclear in what sense stripping away three-dimensionality and colour, and abstracting a linear form from its background or context, presents us with “what the eye sees” (77), but this seems to be in tension with the importance Merleau-Ponty places on colour, background, and, especially, depth.
The sixth and final chapter on beauty is identified as a version of a lecture given at the 2019 meeting of the International Merleau-Ponty Circle, which makes sense of its disconnect from the first five chapters, i.e., the lack of any substantial relation to the artists discussed therein, except for a brief discussion of Kelly and passing mentions of Morandi, Smith, and Mitchell. Here Fóti’s aim is to offer a theory of beauty that rescues it from “[t]he critique and eclipse of beauty as an artistic aim and ideal” in much 20th century art and art theory (93), and she does this largely by elaborating on a remark made in one of Merleau-Ponty’s lecture courses (see Merleau-Ponty 1996), viz.: “By the disintegration of the figurative, one finds a Beauty which is sought by painting’s internal exigency, and which no longer hides pain and death, being the profound sensitivity thereto” (quoted by Fóti, 61). Her suggestion is that ‘strong beauty’ avoids the worries behind the 20th century discrediting of beauty—especially post-WWII concerns about beauty’s potential complicity with evil—because totalitarian projects are based on worldviews where everything is taken to be fully present to view and completely determinable, and because strong beauty necessarily involves acknowledging the invisible in its interrelation with the visible. In other words, the idea is that works with strong beauty cannot be (mis-)used for ideological aims because they cannot be totalized or objectified but are opaque and enigmatic, whereas an ideological appropriation and use of art cannot tolerate ambiguity.
Since strong beauty is characterized in terms of enigma and opacity is it perhaps not surprising that Fóti never quite tells us exactly what it is. We are told that strong beauty: is not merely external attractiveness but is intrinsic to a work’s meaning; is not related to pleasure but rather to feelings of intensity, is not opposed to ugliness or abjection; is a character not of objects but of events, and so is not a representation but a revelation; involves being open to the universe rather than wanting to impose one’s own vision onto it; must have an “uncompromising ethicality” (Ibid.); must refuse ‘absolutization’ by remaining enigmatic and unforeseeable, always “exceeding one’s spectrum of preformed possibilities” (99). This is all rather vague, and we might expect that examples of particular artworks that manifest strong beauty would make this clear, especially given Fóti’s concern throughout the book to illustrate her more abstract points by way of presenting detailed and concrete descriptions of works. Unfortunately, the works of art that are mentioned as examples of strong beauty—such as Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, and some of the works of Kiki Smith, Lucian Freud, Narvar Bhavsar, and Agnes Martin—are merely asserted to have this character without explaining what it is in virtue of which they have it.
There is a worry here that what Smith is describing departs from what is customarily or traditionally called ‘beauty’ to the point where by changing the definition she in effect changes the topic while continuing to use the same label. There is also a worry that building a moral component into the idea of strong beauty by requiring its ethicality is only done to make it immune from the worries about beauty’s compatibility with evil by merely asserting their incompatibility. Nevertheless, despite these worries and the vagueness of Fóti’s explication, her comments on strong beauty and the experience of our encounters with it, as well as the implications of these comments for the relation between art, morality, and politics, are worth further exploration.
This book offers a fairly enjoyable and interesting read, but one that will be of limited use to those who are already familiar with Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetic thought and late ontology other than as a resource of examples that illustrate his ideas. Readers looking for this, however, will find the book valuable: Fóti’s close descriptions of particular artworks are eloquent and informative, and the details she provides about the lives and practices of the artists whose work she considers are intriguing and show a deep familiarity with the art-historical and critical literature. Although Fóti successfully explicates many ideas that are of central importance for Merleau-Ponty’s thought post-Phenomenology of Perception, this will mainly serve as summary for readers with their own background knowledge of Merleau-Ponty rather than adding anything new to what readers can gain by reading works such as “Eye and Mind”. (For readers seeking this, Fóti’s 2013 Tracing Expression in Merleau-Ponty is recommended.) Moreover, these ideas are explained in a way that likely will be too advanced for readers who do not already have a background in Merleau-Ponty’s thought, or in phenomenology and 20th century continental philosophy more generally, and readers who come to the book from a background in art history or art theory will need to supplement their reading in order to grasp the ideas of Merleau-Ponty’s that are presented here. Ultimately, while Fóti’s knowledge of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy and of art history are enviable, this book does not obviously make a significantly new contribution to either Merleau-Ponty scholarship or to the art-historical literature on the artists discussed, except for the first half of Chapter 3, where she analyzes Twombly’s combinations of image and writing, and Chapter 6 with its suggestions for a theory of beauty that hopefully will be clarified and developed further in future work.
Crippen, M. 2014. “Body Phenomenology, Somaesethetics and Nietzschean Themes in Medieval Art.” Pragmatism Today, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 45-50.
Dufrenne, M. 1973. The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience. Translation by E. S. Casey. Northwestern University Press.
Fóti, V. M. 1992. Heidegger and the Poets: Poiesis, Sophia, Techne. Humanities Press.
Fóti, V. M. 1996. Merleau-Ponty: Difference, Materiality, Painting. Humanities Press.
Fóti, V. M. 2013. Tracing Expression in Merleau-Ponty: Aesthetics, Philosophy of Biology, and Ontology. Northwestern University Press.
Hacklin, S. 2012. Divergencies of Perception: The Possibilities of Merleau-Pontian Phenomenology in Analyses of Contemporary Art. PhD thesis. University of Helsinki. Retrieved from https://helda/helsinki.fi/bitstream/handle/10138/29433/divergen.pdf.
Mallin, S. B. 1996. Art Line Thought. Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Merleau-Ponty, M. 1952. “Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence.” Revised translation by B. Smith. In The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, G. A. Johnson (ed.), pp. 76-120. Northwestern University Press.
Merleau-Ponty, M. 1960. “Eye and Mind.” Revised translation by M. B. Smith. In The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, G. A. Johnson (ed.), pp. 121-149. Northwestern University Press.
Merleau-Ponty, M. 1996. Notes de cours, 1959–1961. Edited by Stéphanie Ménasé. Gallimard.
Phenomenological Approaches to Physics is a welcome attempt to bridge the gap between two areas of philosophy not often mentioned in the same career, let alone the same breath. The collection provides fertile ground for further work on phenomenological approaches to physics—and science more generally—however, as much as the collection is promising, it is also disappointing in the preparatory nature of much of the material. While this is a general vice of the phenomenological tradition—consider how many of Husserl’s published works are introductions to phenomenology—in order to appeal to one of the primary audiences of the collection, phenomenology-curious philosophers of physics, further developments with clear consequences are needed. Many of the papers stop just as they’ve really started. This collection is of value for many purposes: as a general introduction to phenomenology, as a guide to the consequences of phenomenology for science and physics, as a pointer to areas of application for the budding phenomenologist, but it also provides some indications of particular lines of further development.
The editor’s introduction is relatively long, but deservedly so, as it does a lot, providing expositions of ten themes from Husserl’s oeuvre: anti-psychologism, intentionality, descriptions and eidetics, the epistemic significance of experience, phenomenology as first philosophy, anti-naturalism, the life-world, historicity and genetic phenomenology, embodiment and intersubjectivity, the epochē, transcendental reduction, and transcendental idealism. The sketch of Husserl produced is that of an epistemological internalist who develops a theory of the objective from fundamental subjectivity, who denies empiricism about logic and mathematics, and who holds that phenomenology is a first philosophy which comprises analyses of the essential structures of subjectivity, the ground of all knowledge, therefore legitimizing all other forms of knowledge, sciences. Any reader interested in a first pass at the role of these themes in Husserl’s work could probably do so no more efficiently than looking through the first half of this introduction. A highlight of the introduction is a sketch of the relevance of other phenomenologists, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, to the philosophy of physics. The themes brought up in the introduction and elsewhere are suggestive: Heidegger’s pluralism regarding scientific standards and the difference in the concepts of time in physics and history; his preemption of the theory-ladenness of observation; his praise of Weyl; his primacy of practical understanding over theoretical knowledge; Merleau-Ponty’s participatory realism; his analysis of measurement and rejection of instrumentalism, realism, and idealism, in favor of structuralism.
Part 1: On the Origins and Systematic Value of Phenomenological Approaches to Physics
Robert Crease’s “Explaining Phenomenology to Physicists” is a response to philosophy-phobic physicists, like Hawking, and aims to show how the projects of phenomenological philosophy and physics differ. This amounts to a sort of introduction to the Husserlian distinction between the natural, or naturalistic, attitude of the physicist in her workshop and the more skeptical attitude of the epochē adopted by the phenomenologist. Note that Crease makes the same point that Maudlin and other metaphysically oriented philosophers of physics often emphasize, that mathematical formulae do not comprise a theory but require an interpretation, an ontology (57). How this interpretation is established and justified is the common project of the phenomenologist and the analytic metaphysician. But herein lies a problem with the Crease essay, which is that it while it distinguishes analytic (narrowly focused on the logical analysts of science of the early 20th century), pragmatic, and phenomenological approaches to the sciences, Crease does not say enough to distinguish a defense of phenomenological approaches to physics from a defense of a philosophical approach to physics whatsoever. Now Crease may make the point that phenomenology preempted concerns with the metaphysics of physics or concerns regarding the applicability of mathematical idealization to nature that have more recently become central to the philosophy of physics. Further, it is not clear that this is a fair reading of the aims of the logical empiricists. What is the logical empiricist project of establishing how scientific, “theoretical” terms get their meaning if not a concern with the “framing” of scientific theories and “the reciprocal impact of that frame and what appears in it on their way of being” (55)? This is not to say there is no distinction to be drawn, but the discussion here is not fully convincing as an argument for the value of phenomenology in studies of physics in particular.
Mirja Hartimo’s contribution, “Husserl’s Phenomenology of Scientific Practice,” fills out Crease’s sketch of the phenomenological approach and specifies how Husserl preempts the naturalistic, practice-oriented turn in contemporary philosophy of science. This “naturalism” is to be opposed with ontological or methodological naturalism, both of which Husserl rejected. Hartimo recapitulates the difference between the natural and phenomenological attitudes and its production by the epochē, in which existence is “bracketed.” The case is made that the phenomenological attitude is not inconsistent with the natural attitude (indeed Husserl had, for the most part, the same natural understanding of the sciences as did his contemporaries in Göttingen). The Göttingen view comprises a pre-established harmony between mathematics and physics, “the axiomatic ideal of mathematics served for Husserl, as well as for his colleagues, as an ideal of scientific rationality, as a device that was taken to guide empirical physical investigations ‘regulatively’.” (67) This influences the focus on Galileo in Crisis: physics is fundamentally mathematical in nature (68). Harmony amounts to an isomorphism of the axioms and the laws, with the axioms of physics being a formal ontology, a formal definite manifold (69). Husserl’s two differences with the Göttingen consensus are: (1) scientists should also develop material ontologies, which provide specific normative ideals for the mathematization of nature and its connection to intuition; (2) the normativity of the exact sciences does not extend to all scientific domains, a normative pluralism. (2) is particularly important because phenomenology itself falls short of the axiomatic ideal, due to the inexactness of the relevant essences.
Pablo Palmieri’s contribution, “Physics as a Form of Life,” is an odd fish. It presents itself not as a presentation of Husserl’s account of the lifeworld and its relevance to physics but rather as focusing on a foundational question raised by Husserl: “why is it that the axioms of mathematical physics are not self-evident despite the evidence and clarity that is gained through the deductive processes that flow from them?” (80) To answer this question Palmieri embarks on an analysis of physics as a form of “Life” in the sense of some historical development. The three epochs of physics which characterize its form of life are (1) the youth of Galileo’s axiomatic physics, (2) the senescence of Helmholtz’s work on the anharmonic oscillator and the combination of tones, and (3) the “posthumous maturity” of physics following quantum physics. These historical studies are interesting and valuable in themselves, especially the Galileo study, particularly regarding the influence of Galileo’s aesthethics on his mathematization of nature (84). Unfortunately, how these studies relate to the overall aim of the essay is unclear and is shrouded by the sort of allegorical and flowery prose that turns away many from “continental” approaches more generally. Palmieri’s description of the third stage of physics’ life as “posthumous maturity” describes a “disarticulation” in physics that comes to a head for Palmieri in Heisenberg’s use of (an)harmonic oscillator framework for quantum mechanics. The result of such a “translation” is not a direct analog to the classical treatment of spectra, due to the lack of rules for “composition of the multiplicity into the unity of an individual, by the interpretation of which we might generate the individual utterance that once performed will elicit in our consciousness a corresponding perception in any of the sensory modalities whatever” (100). The obscurity of such bridge principles to observation is, again, exactly the crisis of which Husserl was concerned. The upshot seems not to be, as it was for Husserl, a call to action for phenomenological analysis, but rather the essential mystery of nature as “[i]t is nature herself that precludes herself from knowing reflexively her own totality of laws” (83). While this is supposed to have the status of an explanation it is only buttressed with metaphor:
This being hidden of nature as a totality, or her desire or necessity to hide herself from further scrutiny, which I would be tempted to qualify as nature’s vow of virginity, explains why the axioms of mathematical physics must appear to our intuitions as obscure (84).
This pessimistic conclusion conflicts with phenomenology’s self-conception as a progressive research programme, leaving Palmieri’s own position mysterious, and one suspects that is how he wants it.
Norman Sieroka’s “Unities of Knowledge and Being—Weyl’s Late ’Existentialism’ and Heideggerian Phenomenology” is a fascinating exposition of Weyl’s latter existentialist turn and his engagement with Heidegger’s work. Weyl claims that physics is dominated by “symbolic construction”, of which axiomatic mathematics stands as paradigm, which are empirically evaluated holistically. Weyl’s account of symbolic construction is dependent on the understanding that these symbolic systems are constructed out of particular concrete tokens. Similarly it is essential to the symbolic construction that it is intersubjective and the practitioners of a symbolic system are peers embedded in a wider public. The core of mathematics and the sciences is not logic, but rule-bound “practical management” of symbols (109). This practical level must be fundamental or else we fall into a circle of physical reduction and symbolic representation.
Weyl’s 1949 paper “Science as Symbolic Construction of Man,” explicitly invokes Heidegger’s concept of the existential basicness of being-in-the-world as a point of agreement. Weyl does not, however, accept Heidegger’s anti-scientific attitude that concludes from this, that science is “inauthentic”. Weyl held that scientific practice and philosophical reflection were mutually enriching — particularly moral reflection in the shadow of the bomb. Heidegger’s rejection of science is due to symbols being merely present-at-hand, as they do not figure in the “care-taking encounter of daily life” (114). The weight of evidence and experience clearly sides with Weyl here. Sieroka raises examples of bridge-building and experimental physics. More simply, even the manipulation of symbols in themselves is care-taking in that they are to be interpreted and not only by oneself, in a dubious “private language”, but by some community. Here is a missed opportunity to engage with Heidegger’s later work, though it cannot be said to have influenced Weyl. Something like “The Question Concerning Technology” shows that Heidegger did not think that modern science and technology were independent of daily life, but rather have a radical and destabilizing effect that inhibits Dasein from encountering its own essence. Though, it is not clear how much this is a rejection of the verdicts of Being and Time, or should correct Sieroka and Weyl’s intepretations. The extension of the critique by way of Fritz Medicus, Weyl’s colleague, to a critique of “thrownness” and the general receptivity or passivity of Dasein to Being seems beside the point and reliant on a misunderstanding of Heidegger. Medicus’ “piglets” complaint about the thrownness of Dasein can only rest on a misunderstanding of the role of historicity in Dasein’s being (see Division 2, Chapter 5). Intersubjectivity is fundamental to Dasein. Being-with is “equiprimordial” with Dasein’s Being-in-the-World and is an existential characteristic of Dasein, even when it is alone (149-169). Being-with defines Dasein’s inherent historicity. Dasein is thrown into a culture, into a way of life.
Sieroka’s comparison of Weyl and Cassirer, that Cassirer’s theory of symbolic forms provides a unity of knowledge, while Weyl’s provides a unity of being, owing to his existentialist inflection, is interesting but perfunctory. It makes one wonder what such a distinction could tell us about the difference of method between phenomenology and neo-Kantianism, how this might relate to the interpretational dispute at the center of the Davos debate, and how Weyl’s conception of physics and mathematics could have played a role in such rifts.
Part 2: Phenomenological Contributions to (Philosophy of) Physics
“A Revealing Parallel Between Husserl’s Philosophy of Science and Today’s Scientific Metaphysics” by Matthias Egg aims to show how the crises that Husserl saw as central to the contemporary sciences and his solution are echoed in the scientific metaphysics of Ladyman and Ross (2007). The crisis is rooted in the substitution of the lifeworld for mathematical idealities, which amounts to a forgetting of the “meaning-fundament” of the sciences, undermining their own epistemological standing. Egg frames his comparison of Husserl and the scientific metaphysicians with Habermas’ critique of Husserl’s project of making science presuppositionless, providing a basis for absolute practical responsibility. The supposed failure is that it is left unexplained how a more perfect theoretical knowledge is to have practical upshot. The lacuna is Platonic mimesis, wherein the philosopher “having grasped the cosmic order through theorizing, the philosopher brings himself into accord with it, whereby theory enters the conduct of life,” (129), which is in direct ontological opposition with Husserl’s transcendental idealism, as Habermas sees it. (Does Habermas commit the naturalistic fallacy?) Husserl’s model claims only that the procedure or methodology of theoretical knowledge provides normative force on our practical affairs, in Egg’s example, our doing of physics. Egg presents Ladyman and Ross as agreeing with Husserl’s science-cum-Enlightment project, particularly, that science must be central to our worldview as it allows for a unified, intersubjectively valid approach to world even beyond theoretical practice. This too, falls short of Habermas’ mimetic ideal —their project could only be preserved in the “ruins of ontology” (130). Ladyman and Ross share some skepticism about strong metaphysics but accept weak metaphysics. Unfortunately, Egg stops just before saying anything more substantive than an observation of convergent philosophical evolution. There is more to be said particularly regarding the link between this sort of communicative conception of the scientific project and structural realism which puts Ladyman and Ross and Husserl in the same camp. The metaphysical essays to follow cover some of what I would like to say, but let me gesture at a possible development. In Ideas II and the fifth Cartesian Meditation, Husserl develops an account of scientific objectivity such that it is constituted by intersubjective agreement via “appresentation.” What is intersubjectively available are the appearances of objects, but what is agreed upon are the invariant structures supposed to explain the experiences of the community. Heelan’s (1978) hermeneutic interpretation of Husserl provides a picture in which the infinite tasks of mathematization and measurement link together the lifeworld and the scientific image which is constituted by it. There is a structural realist position to be examined here which could provide a unified account of everyday and scientific perception.
Lee Hardy’s “Physical Things, Ideal Objects, and Theoretical Entities: The Prospects of a Husserlian Phenomenology of Physics” attempts to square Husserl’s phenomenology with scientific realism. Husserl’s seeming positivism is especially problematic given that Husserl argues “that the objective correlates of the mathematical laws of the physical sciences simply do not exist in the physical sense. They are ideal mathematical objects, not real physical things” (137). Hardy restricts Husserl’s instrumentalism to scientific laws rather than scientific theories tout court. Husserl’s view is that knowledge of physical objects is gained by mathematical approximation, leaving room open for the positing of actual physical entities. Hardy’s argument, a rational reconstruction of a path not (explicitly) taken by Husserl, depends on a distinction that seems both interesting and suspicious. Hardy wishes to distinguish instrumentalism about the laws from instrumentalism regarding theories, the difference between the two lies in the fact that laws specify functional interdependencies of physical quantities which state how empirical objects behave, but theories explain why physical quantities behave as they do. So then, the instrumentalist holds that the semantic value of theories is limited to that of the laws, which predict observable behavior. The realist holds that scientific theories have as semantic values the behavior of unobservables. Husserl’s radical empiricism is in apparent tension with the realist’s explanation, Hardy reconstructs the received view:
(1) A obtains if and only if p is true.
(2) p is true is and only if p is evident.
(3) p is true if and only if A is intuitively given in an act of consciousness.
Ergo, (4) A obtains if and only if A is intuitively given in an act of consciousness.
Theoretical entities cannot be so given, so statements about them can never be true, so we ought not be committed to them. This interpretation Hardy rejects in favor of one which changes the role of experience from semantic-metaphysical to epistemic:
S is justified in believing p if and only if the correlative states of affairs A is given to S in an intuitive act of consciousness (143).
Hardy specifies that the perceivability condition on existence was meant to be dependent on an ideal possibility, not an actual possibility (dependent on sensory apparatuses). This point goes some way towards specifying the meaning of transcendental idealism, though this seems to go astray in attempting to recover realism. Transcendental idealism requires that possible perception by a transcendental subjectivity constitutes (the preconditions for) existence. Hardy picks up the thread in the Crisis regarding the essential approximative nature of the sciences as their conclusions are mediated by ideal, mathematical constructions:
Exact, objective knowledge is possible only by way of a passage through the ideal; and for that very reason will never be more than approximative knowledge of the real (146).
In Crisis, Hardy claims, Husserl distinguishes the ideal, physical object and the perceived object ontologically: the objects of ordinary life are not “physical” objects. It is these limit-idealized objects that Husserl is anti-realist with respect to. The trouble with Hardy’s distinction between theories and laws and between real objects and idealized objects is that the approximation relation is left unexplained. There remains an explanatory gap as to why physical objects should be subject to laws that properly only have idealities as their subjects.
Arezoo Islami and H. A. Wiltsche’s “A Match Made on Earth: On the Applicability of Mathematics in Physics” shows how phenomenology can provide a response to Wigner’s puzzle, “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics,” by moving on from why-questions to how-questions. The puzzle arises from a rejection of Pythagorean mathematical monism towards which the phenomenologist is officially neutral, due to the epochē, setting aside why-questions altogether. To answer the how-questions, the phenomenologist must also provide both synchronic and diachronic accounts of how we apply mathematics. The authors explicate constitution and replacement. They show what is meant by the horizon of experience, all the non-actual aspects of some experience which frame one’s interpretation of it, one’s anticipations. From this constitution is explicated:
It is this process of intending objects through specific noemata and then constantly projecting new sensory data against horizons of possible further experiences that phenomenologists call constitution. Of particular importance in this context are those aspects of experience that remain invariant… (169)
From these invariances of the noemata, lawlike relations are found and suitably objective properties can be described of the noema. This structure generalizes to scientific constitution from the example of perceptual constitution. Aiming to intend all of reality through mathematical noemata is Galileo’s great leap forward. Doing so is to replace the lifeworld with the scientific image. Nature is mathematical because we have made it so. While I am largely sympathetic with this approach, and hold that it contributes to a structuralist view that is worth developing, to satisfy mysterions like Wigner specific accounts of such constitution is needed.
Thomas Ryckman’s essay, “The Gauge Principle, Hermann Weyl, and Symbolic Constructions from the ‘Purely Infinitesimal’,” provides a mini-history of Weyl’s development of the gauge principle (a fuller history in Ryckman 2005), in which Weyl is motivated to investigate Lie groups and algebras by phenomenology on the one hand and Naturwirkungphysik on the other. Naturwirkungphysik is a standard explanation, “that all finite changes are to be comprehended as arising through infinitesimal increments” (182). In practice this is to take locally defined tangent spaces to be explanatorily fundamental. For Weyl, this standard of locality is justified by appeal to not just phenomenological epistemology, that direct givenness to the ego is the ground of all essential insight into the structure of things, and this givenness is attenuated at spatial distance, but to full blown transcendental idealism:
insofar as symbolic construction of the “objective reality” of the purportedly mind-independent objects of physics is, per Husserl, a constitution of the sense of such objects as having “the sense of existing in themselves” (184-5).
Just as the previous essay establishes, the objects of mathematical physics are constructions which intend transcendent objects. However these objects are only fixed up to an isomorphism, any further “essence” is beyond cognitive grasp and therefore unreal (188). Ryckmann provides an able and clear derivation of the gauge principle in QED and a quick rundown of how this generalizes in the Standard Model. While this is a valuable contribution to the collection, those familiar with Ryckman’s past work will wish that the closing remarks regarding the standard model and the Weyl-Nozickean (2001) slogan, “objectivity is invariance,” were expanded upon. I look forward to further development of the alternative view implied by Ryckman’s interpretational challenge this slogan, which centers locality as the source of gauge transformations (199).
Part 3: Phenomenological Approaches to the Measurement Problem
Steven French’s “From a Lost History to a New Future: Is a Phenomenological Approach to Quantum Physics Viable?” does well to show that the phenomenological background of Fritz London was deeply influential on his approach to the measurement problem (with Bauer) and that this influence has been covered over by misinterpretation. The measurement problem is essentially the apparent inconsistency of deterministic dynamics of quantum mechanics and the collapse of the wave function. London and Bauer have been taken to merely restate von Neumann’s notorious solution, that the uniqueness of the interaction of the system with a conscious observer explains how and when the “collapse” occurs. French shows this picture presented by Wigner, which fell to the criticism of Shimony and Putnam, to be a straw man. French argues that London and Bauer’s phenomenological account of quantum measurement can stand up to such criticisms and for London. Quantum mechanics presupposes a theory of knowledge, a relation between observer and object “quite different from that implicit in naive realism” (211). Measurement, considered subjectively, is distinguishable from the unitary evolution of the quantum state by introspection giving the observer the “right to create his own objectivity” (212). This is not some (pseudo-)causal mind-world interaction that creates a collapse but rather a precondition for the quantum system to be treated objectively and by a different mathematical function, the precondition being a reflective act of consciousness in which the ego-pole and object-pole of experience are distinguished, not a substantial dualism, “thereby cutting the ‘chain of statistical correlations’” (212-3). The discussion that follows, while suggestive, shows that it is not clear how this general phenomenological view about the nature of objectivity is supposed to remove the particular quantum measurement problem. Whether this is the fault of French or of London and Bauer is unclear; the most direct quotation from London and Bauer suggests that this distinction of the ego and the object somehow licenses the transition from representing the measurement situation by the wave function, ψ, to representing the system as in a particular eigenstate. This is much too oblique, given that the nature of such fundamental acts of consciousness is, even to the phenomenological initiate, obscure, and requires some substantive claims about the determinate nature of consciousness. French too must find the explanation as given by London and Bauer incomplete as he invokes decoherence, decision theory, and the “relational” interpretation as elements of a fuller story, presenting something, protestations aside, very close to Everettianism indeed. If such a distinctive and useful interpretation can be fleshed out on phenomenological grounds, it would be the most direct and substantive proof of the progressive nature of a phenomenological programme.
Michel Bitbol’s “A Phenomenological Ontology for Physics: Merleau-Ponty and QBism” is another breath of fresh air in the collection, exploring a phenomenological approach other than Husserl’s. Taking the primacy of lifeworld and Bohr’s challenge to traditional scientific epistemology as starting points, the essay sets up correspondence between Fuch’s participatory realism and Merleau-Ponty’s endo-ontology. More generally Bitbol takes recent developments in the philosophy of quantum mechanics, like Peres’ no-interpretation and Zeillinger’s information-theoretic approach, to “all seem to be pointing in the same direction,” in line with the phenomenological approach to the sciences as tools for navigation in the world. These are the pragmatists, as distinguished from the interpreters. Bitbol goes on to describe how the anti-interpretational approach is phenomenological by establishing an epochē for quantum physics. Rather than understand the states of quantum systems in a Hilbert space as properly predicative, we bracket any ontological posit and treat these states functionally as informational bridges between the preparation and outcome of experiments. Bitbol then considers a question a level up:
[W]hat should the world be like in order to display such resistance to being represented as an object of thought? Answering this question would be tantamount to formulating a new kind of ontology, a non-object-based ontology, an ontology of what cannot be represented as an object external to the representation itself (233).
For Merleau-Ponty (and Michel Henry), the non-objectual ontology is provided by the priority of the body and raw, original experience.
This is an ontology of radical situatedness: an ontology in which we are not onlookers of a nature given out there, but rather intimately intermingled with nature, somewhere in the midst of it… we cannot be construed as point-like spectators of what is manifest; instead, we are a field of experiences that merges with what appears in a certain region of it. This endo-ontology is therefore an ontology of the participant in Being, rather than an ontology of the observer of beings (236).
Here the central self-consciousness of transcendental idealism becomes self-perception of the body. In physics, this is translated into a participatory realism, wherein the observer is involved in the creation of Being. Merleau-Ponty’s own statement of the relationship between his phenomenology of embodiment and physics starts from the observation that physics always attempts to take in the subjective as a part of or a special case of the objective. This is something of a category error, and in quantum mechanics it seems that there is a concrete proof of the impossibility of eliminating the subjective, or better yet shows that the objective-subjective distinction is not well formed. These are interesting points and one wishes that Bitbol (and Merleau-Ponty himself) would have spelled out this metaphysical picture in more detail. While the correspondence with QBism seems somewhat plausible, it is not shown that either view commits one to the other or that this endo-ontology provides an advance on the anti-metaphysical orientation of the QBist. The remarks regarding probability are paltry and given the significance of probabilities in quantum mechanics, a full account of it is necessary if there is to be much uptake—the primary limitation here seems to be that Merleau-Ponty did not get to consider this matter much prior to his death.
In contrast, “QBism from a Phenomenomenological Point of View: Husserl and QBism” by Laura de La Tremblaye is one of the fullest contributions in the collection. This essay serves as an able introduction to non-denomenational QBism, presented as a generalization of probability theory and cataloged as a participatory realist, -epistemic “interpretation” of quantum mechanics. QBism “stands out as an exception” (246) in this category because it focuses on belief, adding the Born Rule as an extra, normative rule in Bayesianism (the axiomatization is not explicitly shown). QBism removes the ontological significance of the collapse of the wave function, the state description and reality are decoupled, the collapse is a statement of some (ideal) agent’s belief state. Accordingly, “knowledge” yielded by measurements is redefined as information about the system that is accepted via measurement (250). While the probabilities assigned are subjective, the updating rules are objective.
It is no trivial task to draw a clear line between the subjective and the objective aspects of the Born rule… Fuchs and Schack invoke a completely new form of intersubjectivity. It is through the use of Bayesian probabilities that the multiplicity of subjectivities elaborates a reasoning that can be shared by everyone, and that, consequently, can be called “objective” in precisely this limited sense… this leads to the new conception of knowledge: knowledge is no longer understood in terms of an objectively true description of the intrinsic properties of the world; it is rather understood as the kind of knowledge that is needed to guide the future research of any agent, thus implying a weaker form of objectivity (251).
For Fuchs, the measuring device is analogous to a sensory organ, measurement is an experience. This leads de La Tremblaye to consider two notions of experience, one from Husserl, the other from William James, who influenced Chris Fuchs. de La Tremblaye argues that it is Husserl’s model of experience as involving a normative, intentional horizonal structure, that better coheres with the Qbist view. This shows a positive contribution phenomenology may offer to QBism: an explanation of the source of the Born Rule’s normativity. Another would be an adequate explanation of how it is that the rules of Bayesian probability can be objective via the intersubjective constitution of objectivity essential to Husserl’s model of the sciences.
In sum: this collection is promising though deficient in some respects. It will provide a number of starting points for a further development of a phenomenology of physics and provides the curious or sympathetic philosopher of physics something to chew on, but it is not a full meal. Many of the contributions would do well as additions to a graduate seminar or undergraduate course on phenomenology or the philosophy of science, with the materials on quantum mechanics showing the most potential for further development.
Heelan, P. A. 1987. “Husserl’s Later Philosophy of Natural Science.” Philosophy of Science 54 (3): 368-390.
Heidegger, Martin. 1977/1993. “The Question Concerning Technology.” In Basic Writings, David F. Krell (ed.). New York: HarperCollins.
———. 1962. Being and Time. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (trans.). New York: Harper and Row.
Ladyman, J. & Ross, D. et al. 2007. Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nozick, R. 2001. Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Ryckman, T. 2005. The Reign of Relativity: Philosophy in Physics 1915-1925. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
 Thanks to Porter Williams for reading the collection with me and sharing his thoughts with me, which allowed me to sharpen my own.
The emergence of totalitarianism in the 20th century not only marked a destructive turning point in modern history, but it also led to a ‘political turn’ in the phenomenological movement. Philosophers with a phenomenological background, such as Hannah Arendt, Claude Lefort, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Paul Ricœur, started to apply phenomenological insights to the study of political life in order to understand the emergence of Nazism and communism. This resulted in original and nuanced accounts of both totalitarianism and democracy, which are still relevant today, especially in the face of the growing popularity of nationalist and populist movements.
When it comes to the reception of their work, it is interesting to note that one almost never reads discussions of ‘political phenomenology’ as a coherent movement with its own method and beliefs. Apparently, the work of these philosophers is considered to be too idiosyncratic and incommensurable to be discussed together as part of a single movement. It is here that the originality lies of Le corps politique by Agnès Louis: by analysing the work of Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur – mainly focusing on similarities and how they complement each other – she provides an account of ‘political phenomenology’ as a coherent movement.
The central concept with which Louis tries to tie together the work of these four philosophers is the body politic, which is somewhat surprising since this is at most a marginal concept in their work. In the introduction to the book, Louis gives a brief historical reconstruction of the use of the concept of ‘body politic’ in political philosophy, followed by an explanation why she thinks this concept is fruitful for framing the movement of political phenomenology.
When people today talk about the political community they live in, they usually refer to it as ‘nation’, ‘country’, or ‘society’, but – as Louis reminds us – it used to be common to speak of the ‘body politic’. By looking at three paradigmatic thinkers of the body politic—Aristotle, John of Salisbury and Thomas Hobbes—Louis shows how the notion of the body politic was accompanied by three central claims about political life. The first claim is that individuals can only truly realize themselves when they are part of a political community; by becoming political, human life takes on a superior form that it otherwise would not take. For example, in Aristotle’s picture ‘mere’ life (focused on reproduction) becomes the good life (focused on the actualization of moral and political capacities), and in Hobbes’s account a violent state of nature becomes a peaceful Leviathan. The notion of the body politic thus expresses the idea that liberation and belonging to a political community go hand in hand.
Secondly, the metaphor of the body politic entails that the form that human life takes in a political community is particular and that therefore there exists a plurality of political bodies. The possibility of a single political body that includes all of humanity is rejected, which we find clearly expressed in Hobbes, who famously rejected the possibility of a universal sovereign.
Thirdly, the notion of the body politic is informed by a certain conception of the body, which reinforces a certain conception of political life. For example, the conception of the body in Aristotle and Salisbury, in which the distinction between body and soul is central, leads to a different picture of political life than Hobbes’s mechanistic conception of the body. Despite these differences, they agree that there is an analogy between bodily life and political life.
Given these three claims, Louis says, it is not surprising that the notion of the body politic became problematic and disappeared in modern democratic societies. First of all, democratic societies give primacy to the individual, and individual freedom is now understood as having the possibility to escape any pregiven identity. The idea that individuals can only liberate and realize themselves by belonging to a political community therefore becomes suspect. Secondly, the understanding of humanity in modern democracies becomes broader and more abstract: humanity now consists of all individuals independent of their political and cultural attachments, which conflicts with the notion of humanity as being divided into a plurality of different body politics, each having their own form of life. As Louis says, the metaphor of the body politic thus seems to be too demanding for us when it comes to the individual, and too limited when it comes to our interpretation of humanity.
In modern political life there thus emerges a permanent tension between freedom and belonging, or freedom and embeddedness. And unfortunately, modern political history has showed a tendency to resolve this tension one-sidedly, either absolutizing the pole of individual freedom (i.e. imagining that the individual can liberate him or herself without belonging to any political community) or absolutizing the pole of communal embeddedness (i.e. the individual belongs to a community where political existence does not lead to any kind of liberation).
It is here, Louis thinks, that phenomenology can make a valuable contribution. In its analysis of embodied subjectivity and the life-world, the phenomenological movement has provided nuanced insights about the way in which freedom and embeddedness are always intertwined in human experience. What would happen if these phenomenological insights be applied to the analysis of political life? This brings us back to the concept of ‘body politic’ and to the third claim mentioned above: that the body politic is always informed by a certain conception of the body. What Louis aims to do in her book is to rehabilitate the notion of ‘body politic’ by connecting it to a phenomenological conception of the body. In this way she wants to explore how phenomenology can help us to better understand the tension in modern political life between freedom and embeddedness.
The book consists of three parts. In the first part Louis gives a general introduction to some basic aspects of the phenomenological tradition—most notably the phenomenological method and the phenomenological conception of the body—which are necessary for understanding the presentation of political phenomenology in the rest of the book. Louis says the phenomenological method consists of an analysis that is characterized by a respect for phenomena and a sensitivity to the way in which subjective existence is embedded in the world. And even though Husserl and Heidegger were never directly concerned with issues of political philosophy, Louis shows that the phenomenological method can be fruitfully applied to political life in order to do justice to political phenomena by avoiding various forms of reductionism, and to become aware of how subjective existence is embedded in the political world. And indeed, it has been the merit of political phenomenologists like Arendt and Lefort to have done justice to political phenomena in an intellectual climate dominated by Marxism and sociology, in which it was very common to reduce politics to a supposedly more fundamental reality, either economic or sociological. Furthermore, they have contributed to a better understanding of the experience of living in a totalitarian or democratic society, as opposed to positivist approaches that reduce political life to a collection of objective empirical data.
The second aspect of the phenomenological tradition that Louis discusses—its conception of the body—is especially crucial for the argument in the rest of the book. Since Louis wants to introduce a concept of the body politic that is informed by a phenomenological account of the body, she has to explain how to understand this and how it plays a role in the work of Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur. Louis is aware that this is not an easy task since the four philosophers use the concept of ‘body politic’ in different ways, if they use it at all. Merleau-Ponty and Lefort seem to prefer the notion of ‘flesh’ over the notion of ‘body’ when speaking of modern political life. And although there are passages in Arendt’s work where she uses the notion of body politic, this is not informed by a phenomenological conception of the body. Only Ricœur uses the notion of body politic to refer to modern democracies while at the same time drawing an analogy between political life and embodied subjectivity.
Still, despite this conceptual confusion, Louis thinks that a phenomenological conception of the body politic can function as a helpful focal point for discussing the similarities between Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur. Louis therefore presents a Husserlian account of the ‘flesh-body’ (corps de chair) in which there is an intertwinement of activity and passivity. On the one hand, the flesh-body plays an active role in human experience: for example, it is the place from which objects and the world can be experienced as a unity, and it plays an active role in the experiencing of others. At the same time, there is a passive side to the flesh-body: it is something given to us at birth and it remains something opaque and strange, something that we can never completely appropriate or control. The flesh-body is thus paradoxical in the sense that it is both active and passive, both personal and impersonal.
Louis sees a parallel between this paradoxical character of the Husserlian flesh-body and the way in which Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur describe political experience in a healthy political community as an intertwinement of freedom and embeddedness. In their different ways, they all show how freedom (or political action) is embedded in a social, institutional and historical situation that can never be completely known or controlled. So both in the Husserlian account of the flesh-body and in the account of political life by the four political phenomenologists freedom is never absolute, since it is always preceded by something—the flesh-body or social-historical reality—that can never be fully controlled or made fully transparent. Louis’ notion of a ‘phenomenological body politic’ thus refers, simply put, to a political community in which this interdependency between freedom and embeddedness, or activity and passivity, is acknowledged.
In the second part of the book Louis explores the way in which totalitarianism destroys the ‘phenomenological body politic’ by turning to the critical reflections on Nazism and communism by Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur. Louis starts by discussing Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism in which totalitarianism is described as a phenomena that manifests itself as a permanent movement, which aims to realize total domination with the help of terror and ideology. Two visible effects of this permanent movement are central in Arendt’s description: first of all, the atomization of society, whereby the totalitarian Party uses terror and ideology to destroy the common world, thereby isolating individuals and preventing them from forming a meaningful community in which political action is possible. Secondly, since total domination is only possible when it encompasses all humanity, totalitarianism cannot settle for a limited territory nor acknowledge the existence of a plurality of political bodies, but it has to remain a de-territorialized movement. Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism thus shows how totalitarian power refuses to become embedded in any body politic whatsoever.
For Lefort, the main characteristic of totalitarian power is that—in its quest for complete control and domination—it suppresses all internal division, such as the division between different spheres of human activity (economy, politics, religion, science, art, etc.), the divisions within society (no autonomous associations) and within politics (no diversity of opinion within the Party), the division between the political and the social (since totalitarian power denies any separation between itself and society), and finally the division between the real and the symbolic.
This striving for unity is accompanied by both an organic representation of society as a giant body or organism and a mechanistic conception of society as a machine. Together, they fuse into a conception of society as a mechanical body, which points to the ideal of a society that can be completely known and fabricated. As Louis says, this is the opposite of the flesh-body, which is always characterized by division: there is a part that is intimate and a part that is opaque and strange, and therefore our power to master experience is always limited. It is this limit to power that the totalitarian Party does not acknowledge; it wants to be autonomous without being embedded, thus destroying the phenomenological body politic.
Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur have not provided full-blown theories of totalitarianism, but their work contains interesting critiques of communism. For Merleau-Ponty the main problem of communism is its gradual disconnection – visible both in the Soviet Union and in Sartre’s ‘ultra-bolshevism’ – between the Party (the will) and the social-historical experience of the proletariat (the flesh). As soon as the Party stops understanding itself as being embedded in the proletarian experience, Merleau-Ponty argues, it becomes a will without flesh, thus destroying the emancipatory possibilities of communism.
Ricœur argues that communism is problematic because it is unable to clearly distinguish between social-economic and political reality and to acknowledge the relative autonomy of the latter. This is illustrated by the fact that communism cannot conceive of an evil that is properly political; it reduces all forms of evil to the social-economic evil that results from the inequality of the relations of production. Once a socialist regime is established, all evil should therefore be abolished. But by denying the possibility of political violence, it also becomes impossible to control or limit it; this explains, according to Ricœur, the unleashing of terror in communist states.
In sum, Louis shows in the second part of the book how the four philosophers criticize totalitarian power for running amuck and refusing to be embedded, thereby destroying the phenomenological body politic. Whereas the second part of the book thus provides a ‘negative’ picture of the destruction of the body politic, in the third part Louis tries to extract a ‘positive’, substantial picture of the phenomenological body politic from the work of Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur. She does this by focusing on three areas where the tension between freedom and embeddedness manifests itself: political action, history, and the symbolic unity of the social.
Louis explores the area of political action by looking at the work of Arendt and Ricœur. Similar to Aristotle, Arendt associates biological life with servitude and determinacy, and political life with freedom and action, that is, our capacity to create something new and to escape from the repetitive patterns of biological life. But, as Louis asks, if freedom is about starting something new and breaking with repetitive patterns, is there still a need for the agent to be embedded in a political community in order to realize freedom?
Arendt’s answer is affirmative: action needs to be embedded, first of all, in what she calls ‘plurality’. In order for action to become an objective reality, the presence of others is needed, which creates a space of visibility in which action can appear, a space of signification where action can become interpreted and meaningful, and it creates the possibility for an action to be fully accomplished, since this requires bringing others to act. Secondly, action needs to be embedded in the physical and juridical reality of the political community, which together create a common space between people where action has a chance to realize itself not just in exceptional circumstances but in a regular manner.
Arendt thus illustrates how in a free political community autonomy and embeddedness are intertwined and – despite her association of ‘the biological’ with servitude – she refers to such a community as a ‘body politic’. However, her concept of body politic remains vague and she does not draw an analogy between the body politic and embodied subjectivity. This is why Louis complements Arendt’s analysis with that of Ricœur, who largely agrees with Arendt but who explicitly draws an analogy between the duality of political action (starting something new and being dependent on others and institutions) and the duality of embodied subjectivity.
A second area where the tension between freedom and embeddedness manifests itself is history. Louis explores this tension by focusing on the work of Merleau-Ponty and Lefort, who both speak of the ‘flesh of history’ to refer to the complex interdependency of freedom and historical embeddedness. In the last chapter of the Phenomenology of Perception, where Merleau-Ponty gives his account of freedom, he argues that freedom is effective in human life only insofar as it is not absolute: the subject is always already embedded in a specific personal history that provides certain options and motivations on which he or she can decide to act or not. The same goes for collective history: every historical period offers certain options and roles to be taken up, between which individuals can choose and which they can play good or bad. Merleau-Ponty’s account of the relation between freedom and history thus rejects the two extremes of absolute freedom (which denies historical embeddedness) and historical necessity (which denies individual freedom).
In his later work, Merleau-Ponty further developed these reflections on historical embeddedness by introducing a specific understanding of the notion of institution. Against Durkheim, who understood institutions as social facts that restrict human behavior, Merleau-Ponty understands an institution as a symbolic matrix that opens up a field of possibilities for giving form and meaning to human co-existence.
Louis then shows how Lefort further developed Merleau-Ponty’s reflections by connecting this understanding of institution as a symbolic matrix to the question of the political. According to Lefort, every society is the result of a political institution of the social, that is, by a process in which form and meaning is given to human relations based on a common understanding of the nature of society. However, this political institution is executed in different ways, as Lefort illustrates by comparing different ‘forms of society’.
For example, in primitive societies, which Lefort also calls ‘societies without history’, the political institution of the social is understood as something that has been done by ancestors, gods or heroes in a distant past, and it is now beyond anybody’s power to change. The nature of society is thus fixed once and for all, and this explains, according to Lefort, why primitive societies suppress all conflict and why they resist all novelty and social transformation: only in this way can society’s identity remain stable and be preserved over time. Democratic societies, however, operate differently: they deny a transcendent foundation of the social and instead allow permanent conflict and debate over the nature of society. This explains the emergence of ideologies in modern democratic societies, such as liberalism, socialism or conservatism, each painting a different picture of the nature of society and each presenting a different program of the changes and transformations that are needed in order to realize such a society.
Unlike primitive societies, democratic societies thus embrace both conflict and transformation, and in this way, Lefort says, they become truly historical societies. In democratic societies we find ourselves embedded in a historical situation that presents several options for transforming society (liberal, socialist, progressive, conservative, etc.), and democratic politics consists in debating which option makes the most sense to pursue based on past experiences (failures, successes, unintended consequences, etc.). Lefort thus paints a similar picture to Merleau-Ponty of the connection between freedom and historical embeddedness – or of the ‘flesh of history’ – but he gives it a political twist by showing that it is only in democratic forms of society that a healthy balance can be realized between the two.
The third aspect of the phenomenological body politic that Louis discusses concerns the enigma that democratic societies can be both divided and united at the same time. Democratic societies are divided into relatively autonomous spheres of action, such as the economy, politics, religion, science, art, etc., each with their own norms. This raises the question why life in democratic societies can still be experienced as a unity, which Louis tries to answer by turning to the work of Merleau-Ponty, Lefort and Ricœur.
As Louis says, an important concern in Merleau-Ponty’s body of work has been to show the unity that penetrates the variety of domains of experience. However, in doing so, he has always resisted reductionist solutions – either materialist, sociological or idealist – that reduce the social world to an economic principle, a social fact, or a determined idea. Such explanations of social life remain abstract and cannot do justice to the variety of experiences, nor to their internal coherence. Instead, Merleau-Ponty conceives of social life as a totality, which he sometimes calls ‘civilization’; even though society is divided into different social spheres, these spheres communicate and interact because they are all informed by a specific understanding of the human, that is, a background understanding that pervades social life in all its dimensions.
As Louis shows, it is again Lefort who gives a political twist to Merleau-Ponty’s reflections by arguing that the specific understanding of the human that penetrates a society is of a political nature, and that it is closely related to the way in which power is organized in a society. Louis illustrates this by comparing Lefort’s accounts of the Ancient Regime and of democratic societies. According to Lefort, the society of the Ancient Regime was pervaded by a corporatist and mystical understanding (i.e. individuals had their place in corporations and this organization of society had a religious foundation), which went hand in hand with a form of government where the King was both the highest corporation and his authority had a sacred quality. Democratic societies, on the other hand, are informed by an understanding of man as articulated in the Declaration of Human Rights – as both autonomous and indeterminate – and this is accompanied by a paradoxical organization of power, which appears to be both emerging from society (the people are sovereign, which secures autonomy) but at the same time as being external to society (nobody can legitimately appropriate and embody power, which secures indeterminacy). A democratic regime thus secures a specific understanding of the human as both autonomous and indeterminate, initiating a permanent process of attempting to give substance to the human. In this sense, a democratic society is divided and symbolically united.
Louis’ discussion of Ricœur revolves around his critical analysis of Michael Walzer’s Spheres of Justice. In this book, Walzer argues – pace John Rawls – that a theory of distributive justice should take into account the plurality of goods that have to be distributed. However, Ricœur thinks that Walzer, in discussing this plurality of goods, does not emphasize enough that citizenship and political power cannot be discussed as goods to distributed like other goods. Citizenship, according to Ricœur, is a general condition for having access to social goods, whereas political power (or the state) is the central instance of distribution. In other words, the division of society into different spheres of distributive justice is only conceivable within a political community, or body politic, in which citizenship and the state are already instituted. Ricoeur conceives the nation-state to be the concrete form of the body politic within which complex justice can be established. The nation-state can both guarantee the autonomy of the different spheres of justice, but it can also prevent their complete dissociation: it is because citizens in the end feel themselves members of a nation-state that their pursuit of a plurality of goods in different social spheres does not lead to a radical dissociation.
Despite their differences, Louis thinks that the accounts of Merleau-Ponty, Lefort and Ricœur can be understood as a plea for the securing of a phenomenological body politic in which a healthy balance can be realized between the autonomy of social spheres and their embeddedness in the symbolic unity of a political community. The phenomenological body politic thus serves as an antidote to both totalitarian unity (in which the diversity of social life is abolished by the reign of ideology) and radical dissociation (where a particular social sphere, such as the capitalist economy, emancipates itself completely from all political frameworks).
In sum, Louis uses the third part of the book to extract insights from the work of Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur about the intertwinement of freedom and embeddedness in different areas of political life, and she ties these insights together with the help of the metaphor of the phenomenological body politic. In this way, Louis gives a convincing presentation of ‘political phenomenology’ as a coherent movement that wants to do justice to political phenomena and defend democratic political life as the privileged place for establishing a healthy balance between freedom and embeddedness (or, put more abstractly, between indeterminacy and determinacy). This account of political phenomenology is similar to the one given by Robert Legros (1996, 548), whose work seems to have been an important influence on Louis’ thinking.
In the final pages of the book Louis tells us that political phenomenology does not tell us which political position we should adopt, but it can help us to avoid the two pathologies of ‘absolute freedom’ and ‘stagnant embeddedness’. Even if we avoid these pathologies, Louis says, there is still plenty of room for political maneuvering – from a flexible conservatism to a radical reformism – and, depending on our situation, we have to decide if we need to secure more freedom or more embeddedness.
I want to conclude with three critical remarks. The first remark concerns Louis’ silence about the differences between Arendt and Lefort. This silence is partly understandable since she wants to focus mainly on similarities so that she can present political phenomenology as a coherent movement, but I think the differences between Arendt and Lefort are of such a fundamental nature that they cannot be ignored. For example, whereas Arendt makes a rigid distinction between ‘the social’ (as a sphere of determinacy and the biological) and ‘the political’ (as a sphere of freedom), for Lefort the social and the political are closely intertwined: the political refers for him to the complex process in which the social gets symbolically instituted.
And indeed, as Wim Weymans (2012) has argued, Arendt’s lack of attention to the symbolic dimension of democratic life is at the heart of many differences between Arendt and Lefort. Whereas Arendt has a tendency to interpret political phenomena in a concrete-empirical way, Lefort interprets them in the light of their symbolic dimension, which explains for example their different evaluation of human rights. Lefort considers human rights as emancipating because of their symbolic dimension: the fact that they are indeterminate and can never be fully realized in social reality creates a permanent possibility for citizens to criticize the existing state of society. Arendt instead perceives human rights as problematic because, in concrete reality, they are not protected by a particular state. One could list more differences between Arendt and Lefort (for example concerning equality, representation, or ideology) but I think this suffices to show that these differences are not unimportant but touch on central aspects of a political phenomenology: how to understand ‘the political’ and how to perceive and interpret political phenomena.
The second remark is related to the phenomenological metaphor of the body politic. Although I think Louis shows convincingly that there is an analogy between political life and embodied subjectivity when it comes to the tension between freedom and embeddedness, in the end this is just one of the tensions in modern political life. As soon as one analyses modern democracies more closely and concretely – as it has been done for example by some of Lefort’s students, such as Pierre Rosanvallon – then there emerge many other structural tensions, such as the tension between liberalism and democracy, the individual and the citizen, reason and will, expertise and opinion, representation and participation, juridical generality and identity, self-responsibility and solidarity, etc. All these tensions structure our democratic experience but, one could argue, they are of a much more incommensurable or ‘tragic’ nature than the tension between freedom and embeddedness. It remains to be seen if the phenomenological metaphor of the body politic can also help to illuminate these ‘tragic’ tensions in our democratic experience or if we would need other metaphors and imaginaries for that.
Thirdly, although Louis’ book convincingly shows that political phenomenology deserves a place in the landscape of contemporary political philosophy, one would still like to hear more about how it relates to other approaches. For example, political phenomenologists are not the only ones who have studied the relation between freedom and embeddedness; there has been a long tradition of Hegelian scholars who have reflected on this problem by rethinking Hegel’s notion of Sittlichkeit (e.g. Honneth 2014). And although Louis justly characterizes Heidegger’s phenomenology as apolitical, there has been a growing interest lately in ‘political ontology’ (e.g. Marchart 2007), which takes its inspiration largely from Heidegger. By comparing political phenomenology to these closely related approaches, I think its specific contribution to contemporary political philosophy could become even more clear.
Honneth, Axel. 2014. Freedom’s Right. The Social Foundations of Democratic Life. New York: Columbia University Press.
Legros, Robert. 1996. “Phénoménologie politique.” In Dictionnaire de philosophie politique, edited by Philippe Raynaud and Stéphane Rials, 544-551. Paris: PUF.
Marchart, Oliver. 2007. Post-Foundational Political Thought. Political Difference in Nancy, Lefort, Badiou and Laclau. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Weymans, Wim. 2012. “Defending Democracy’s Symbolic Dimension: A Lefortian Critique of Arendt’s Marxist Assumptions.” Constellations 19 (1): 63-80.
« Dans l’éclatement de l’univers que nous éprouvons, prodige ! les morceaux qui s’abattent sont vivants » (René Char)
Renaud Barbaras intitule son dernier ouvrage L’appartenance. Vers une cosmologie phénoménologique. Le texte est constitué des leçons données en mars 2019 à l’UCLouvain et reprises dans son cours de Master II du premier semestre de l’année académique 2019-2020 à l’Université de Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. Ce texte est une introduction au nouveau projet – qui occupera Barbaras pour les deux prochaines années comme il l’a avoué dans son cours de Master II du premier semestre de l’année 2020-2021 – d’une cosmologie phénoménologique. À vrai dire, nous nous retrouvons au seuil d’une nouvelle période de la philosophie de Barbaras. Dans ce nouvel ouvrage, en posant, tout d’abord, et à nouveau en phénoménologie, la question du corps et de la chair, pour délimiter ensuite la notion d’appartenance, il propose une unité fondamentale entre la capacité phénoménalisante et l’appartenance au monde. La formule ontologique, inspirée de Merleau-Ponty, qui se propose comme soubassement d’une telle unité fondamentale et comme événement originaire de l’étant est celle de la « déflagration », à partir de laquelle l’auteur esquisse une réponse aux problèmes génératifs propres à une cosmologie phénoménologique. Plusieurs problèmes se posent à cet égard. L’appartenance est-elle la notion légitime pour comprendre la phénoménalisation ? Une réponse rapide et négative à cette question pourrait se défendre à partir des critiques husserliennes de l’existentialisme. Si nous essayons de donner une réponse positive à une telle question, une deuxième question se pose. En quoi une ontologie de la déflagration continuerait à être phénoménologique ? Si nous sommes toutefois convaincus que la cosmologie phénoménologique ne trahit pas les motifs fondamentaux du mouvement phénoménologique, une troisième question se fait jour. En quoi consisterait l’originalité de cet ouvrage par rapport aux autres développements d’ontologie phénoménologique ? Afin de donner des réponses à ces questions, nous formulerons les hypothèses suivantes. La notion de déflagration, comme formule de l’arché (principe et origine) ontologique de la phénoménalisation, renouvelle, tout en demeurant fidèle aux fondements du mouvement phénoménologique, d’une part, une branche spécifique de la tradition phénoménologique – la branche proprement française –, et d’autre part, la branche ontologique en tant que telle. Mais par rapport à l’originalité et à la spécificité de la cosmologie barbarasienne, nous soutenons qu’à la différence d’autres ontologies phénoménologiques, la cosmologie phénoménologique de Barbaras ne surgit pas de la critique de la subjectivité transcendantale husserlienne (Fink et Patočka), ne finit pas par un négativisme de l’être (Sartre, Jaspers, Jonas), pas plus qu’il ne se subsume dans une onto-théologie phénoménologique (Heidegger, Lévinas et Marion). La cosmologie phénoménologique de Barbaras défend à la fois l’appartenance du sujet au monde et le caractère phénoménalisant du sujet. Le pouvoir phénoménalisant de l’étant n’est ainsi ni négatif ni neutralisant, sinon profondément vivant. Cette cosmologie trouverait ainsi à s’exprimer poétiquement, comme il l’a lui-même affirmé lors de son cours de Master II en 2019-2020 à Paris I, dans les vers suivants de René Char : « [d]ans l’éclatement de l’univers que nous éprouvons, prodige ! les morceaux qui s’abattent sont vivants » (Char, 1969, p. 153).
I. L’ontologie dont la phénoménologie a besoin
Tout se passe comme si la cosmologie phénoménologique de l’appartenance donnait réponse à la question ouverte par Ricœur sur le type d’ontologie conséquente avec la phénoménologie (1990, p. 345-410). Selon celui-ci, la question de l’ontologie n’a pas été résolue dans la phénoménologie, étant donné qu’une telle solution finirait par dissoudre la catégorie de l’altérité. En effet, la cosmologie phénoménologique de Renaud Barbaras est la toute dernière formulation d’une question ontologique générale dont la réponse a été donnée, comme Ricœur semblait l’attester (1990, p. 410), depuis le commencement même de la philosophie, avec Parménide. Partant, nous sommes d’accord avec le jugement d’Etienne Gilson lorsqu’il écrit :
Il est évident que, tout élément du réel généralement concevable étant un être, les propriétés essentielles de l’être doivent appartenir à tout ce qui est. Lorsque Parménide d’Elée fit cette découverte, il atteignit une position métaphysique pure, c’est-à-dire infranchissable à toute pensée qui s’engagerait dans la même voie, mais il s’obligeait du même coup à dire ce qu’il entendait par « être » (Gilson, 1948, p. 24).
Parménide s’engage, selon Gilson, dans une voie métaphysique qui l’oblige à définir les termes de son ontologie. Si Ricœur ne va pas plus loin dans la question de l’ontologie, c’est parce qu’en suivant Husserl dans la mise entre parenthèses de l’ontologie, sans vouloir la nier, il la déplace dans le point d’arrivée promis qui, comme idée en sens kantien, guide, en son absence et sans faire partie de, la description phénoménologique. Précisément, par rapport à la crainte de l’ontologie que certains phénoménologues ont héritée de Husserl, Gilson remarque le contraste entre « le soin minutieux ou même le génie » des phénoménologues et « l’insouciance avec laquelle ils déblaient sommairement en quelques pages des problèmes métaphysiques dont les conclusions, acceptées par eux à la légère, compromettent parfois ensuite l’exactitude de leurs analyses et en faussent toujours l’interprétation » (Gilson, 1948, p. 22). Nous croyons toutefois qu’avec de telles sentences, Gilson n’adresse pas une critique de fond à la phénoménologie. A contrario, il félicite la rigueur phénoménologie tout en faisant une critique constructive de la méthode. Davantage, il admet l’urgence d’une phénoménologie réformée en avouant que notre temps a besoin « d’une métaphysique de l’être conçue comme prolégomènes à toute phénoménologie » (Gilson, 1948, p. 21). La cosmologie phénoménologique de Barbaras, dont le livre que nous commentons ici n’est qu’une introduction à un nouveau projet, promet, à notre avis, de prendre au sérieux les problèmes métaphysiques en nous offrant, finalement, l’ontologie que la phénoménologie, selon Gilson, a besoin. Ces problèmes nous conduisent au paradoxe, non résolu auparavant dans la tradition phénoménologique, que constituent notre appartenance au monde et la capacité de phénoménalisation de ce monde même.
Mais cette ontologie n’est possible que parce que le versant ontologique du mouvement phénoménologique, en dépit de Husserl lui-même, a posé à nouveau la question de l’ontologie sans en tirer toutes les conséquences. Ce versant commence, à juste titre, avec Max Scheler. Pour lui, la phénoménologie se réalise dans une ontologie qui pose la valeur (Wert-sein) comme être originaire de l’existant (Scheler, 2004). L’existence n’est pas ici mise entre parenthèses comme chez Husserl. Dans tous les cas, pour les deux, il y a une différence entre une attitude mondaine et une attitude phénoménologique. La corrélation intentionnelle serait l’évidence qui apparaît, pour chacun, dans l’attitude phénoménologique. C’est ici la découverte de l’intentionnalité par Brentano (Brentano, 2008, p. 102) qui inaugure le chemin vers une ontologie phénoménologique dans laquelle l’être sera considéré à partir de l’existence intentionnelle que la Modernité avait perdue. Pour Barbaras, l’intentionnalité est « l’envers centripète du mouvement centrifuge de la déflagration, la manière dont se réalise et se manifeste l’appartenance dynamique à l’événement originaire » (p. 80). Il souscrit ainsi à la position phénoménologique fondamentale qui rapproche Scheler de Husserl. Cependant, Barbaras fonde l’intentionnalité au seuil de l’être lui-même. Il ne s’agit pas d’une structure de la conscience dans les termes de Brentano, mais d’une structure ontologique fondamentale entre l’être et l’étant qui n’exprime que l’appartenance de l’étant à l’être est le caractère essentiel, non restrictif, de l’être se déployant dans l’étant.
Nous sommes convaincue que la phénoménologie est capable de révéler cet aspect intentionnel et foncier de l’existence parce qu’elle est elle-même une question qui prend la forme d’une réponse à une question dérivée : la question sur le comment (quomodo). La phénoménologie décrit le comment de la chose et en décrivant elle demande le quoi, le quid, un quid qui ne se donne jamais dans l’exercice de la méthode phénoménologique. La question sur le quid ne peut être résolue que par une ontologie, l’ontologie que Husserl a mise entre parenthèses, et que Heidegger, Lévinas et Marion diffusent dans une onto-théologie sans rendre assez compte de la capacité phénoménalisante du sujet, parfois subsumée dans une éthique. Pour sa part, Scheler place l’ontologie comme vrai fondement de la philosophie en incluant la catégorie de « monde » dans la dernière période de sa pensée. La capacité phénoménalisante du sujet semblerait toutefois se diffuser dans l’ordre des affectivités. Un versant criticiste de la phénoménologie fait dériver la question ontologique (quid) de la critique opératoire de la description phénoménologie (quomodo) tout en récupérant la catégorie de « monde ». Ce sont Fink et Patočka qui, en parcourant une voie criticiste, réintroduisent la question cosmologique déjà posée par Scheler. En tout cas, c’est cette même ontologie phénoménologique visée par l’ontologie négativiste de l’existentialisme, que Ricœur situe comme finalité promise par la méthode sans jamais y arriver (la voie longue), et dont la route est inaugurée par Merleau-Ponty sans pour autant être accomplie. Barbaras appartient sans doute au même mouvement phénoménologique qui pose la question du quid dans le même site originaire que la question sur le comment (quomodo). Nous pouvons affirmer à juste titre qu’il appartient au mouvement phénoménologique tout court.
Il y a néanmoins deux manières d’appartenir à un mouvement philosophique, lesquelles sont, corrélativement, deux manières de rendre possible la continuité et postérité de ce mouvement. La première est de rester fidèle à l’idée authentique du fondateur du mouvement en le défendant contre ses critiques et ses interprétations abusives, en montrant que sa pensée est encore importante dans un contexte philosophique toujours nouveau. Il s’agit de l’option exégétique du mouvement phénoménologique, qui continue à chercher, dans l’œuvre non publiée du fondateur, des réponses aux problèmes contemporains. La deuxième consiste à renouveler les fins qui ont mobilisé un tel mouvement philosophique à partir de nouvelles questions et de nouvelles réponses. Il s’agit de l’option créatrice qui implique toujours la formation de nouvelles branches. Les deux manières sont, d’une certaine manière, impliquées dialectiquement dans la pensée de Barbaras. Il est évident que l’apport de Barbaras n’est pas exégétique, mais sa proposition renouvelle cette tradition tout en y étant fidèle. Nous pouvons lire sa trajectoire philosophique à partir du geste phénoménologique dans la mesure où, en prenant comme point de départ les présupposés théoriques précédents (dans ses premiers ouvrages, voir par exemple, Barbaras, 1991 et 2004) pour les neutraliser et rendre possible la vision du phénomène (dans les ouvrages précédant ce dernier, voir par exemple, 2011a et 2016a), il amène, dans la toute dernière période de sa philosophie (2019), l’ontologie phénoménologique à sa formulation la plus radicale, en en tirant toutes les conséquences.
II. Le versant français de l’ontologie phénoménologique
La pierre de touche de L’appartenance. Vers une cosmologie phénoménologique de Renaud Barbaras est indubitablement la notion de déflagration comme origine cosmologique de l’ontologie de l’appartenance. Il s’agit d’un concept qui permet de mettre l’accent sur le caractère vital, dynamique et spatial de cette ontologie. En ce sens, même si ce livre inaugure une nouvelle étape dans la philosophie de l’auteur, il est conséquent avec les découvertes de l’étape précédante de sa philosophie qui a été déployée depuis Dynamique de la manifestation (2013) jusqu’à Métaphysique du sentiment (2016a) et Le Désir et le monde (2016b). Dans ces œuvres, nous trouvons un effort pour penser la radicalité de la corrélation d’une phénoménologie dépassée par une métaphysique. Dans L’appartenance. Vers une cosmologie phénoménologique, c’est surtout la perspective cosmologique qui sera traitée comme la plus fondamentale et la plus originaire. Cette perspective met la catégorie de l’espace comme étant plus fondamentale que la catégorie du temps, bien que cette perspective, comme l’a fait remarqué Aurélien Deudon (2018), ait déjà redémarré dans les ouvrages antérieurs de l’auteur : « force est de conclure que le temps est la forme même de l’apparaître secondaire, tout comme l’espace était la forme de l’apparaître primaire » (Barbaras, 2013, p. 327).
L’importance donnée à l’espace nous permet de penser dans les termes avec lesquels Guy-Félix Duportail caractérise la phénoménologie française, comme traversant un moment topologique (2010). De ce fait, Benjamin (2018, p. 115) nous a averti de l’être spirituel (ein geistiges Wesen) transmis par tout usager d’un langage constitué au sein d’une culture. Ainsi, sans vouloir risquer un historicisme, nous pouvons postuler que chaque phénoménologue français déploie des traits propres aux différentes couches de sens que nous comprenons par philosophie française, si nous rapportons la tradition phénoménologique française à l’histoire plus générale de la philosophie française. Selon Camille Riquier (2011), la philosophie française trouve son origine dans la figure de Descartes. Il ne se réfère pas à cette origine dans des termes causaux ou ontologiques, mais comme un simple fait :
[I]l n’y a pas de philosophe français qui ne se soit retourné vers Descartes à un certain moment de son parcours, souvent décisif, pour éprouver sa pensée au contact de la sienne, ou pour reprendre un fil qu’il avait laissé interrompu, s’y rattacher et le prolonger. Le caractère fondateur qui lui a été reconnu de droit au regard de toute la philosophie moderne a masqué l’importance toute spéciale que les penseurs français lui ont toujours accordée, de fait, dans leur propre édification intellectuelle. En France, Descartes est un référent plus encore qu’une référence, qui fournit moins les idées que la trame qui servira à les ordonner, – ce qui n’est pas le cas ailleurs (Riquier, 2011, p. 3).
Riquier identifie trois voies cartésiennes suivies par les philosophes français, dont la première, où l’on peut situer les phénomènologues français, est celle du cogito. Ceux-ci auraient pu exploiter ses ressourses aux marges de la phénoménologie transcendantale uniquement « à la faveur du cogito de Descartes qui était là pour eux, derrière, plus large que celui de Husserl » (Riquier, 2011, p. 23). Les œuvres de Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur et Barbaras ne seraient que le prolongement, selon Riquier, du sentiment de l’union de l’âme et du corps avec lequel le cogito cartésien déborde celui de Husserl en lui contestant sa prétention d’auto-fondation absolue (Riquier, 2011, p. 23). Force est de dire que la phénoménologie de Husserl n’a pas été reçue sans des conditions pré-compréhensives par la philosophie française. Cela peut expliquer que, comme l’affirme Bernard Stevens, la tradition de la phénoménologie française ait sauté de manière trop rapide aux réflexions de la Krisis, justement le livre plus « ontologique » de Husserl. À cela s’ajoute l’importance des réflexions sur la chair présentes dans Ideen II, livre qui a été aussi bien reçu par l’école française de phénoménologie, à la différence des Méditations cartésiennes, livre accusé souvent de solipsisme par la même école. De plus, Frédéric Worms remarque l’avènement du moment du vivant (Worms, 2009, p. 560) vers la fin du XXe siècle dans la phénoménologie française. Même si ce vivant apparaît sous la forme d’un bergsonisme minimal, dont le côté maximal est apparu au début du siècle.
Renaud Barbaras renouvelle ces préoccupations que nous pouvons qualifier de « proprement françaises » : le point de départ de sa cosmologie phénoménologique est la reconsidération radicale du corps, tout en échappant à une manière idéaliste de penser la chair comme conséquence d’une perspective ontologique fondée sur la conscience. Ce point de départ est inspiré de Merleau-Ponty même si son ontologie de la chair délivre les coordonnées du problème plutôt que la solution (p. 12), en risquant un dualisme sous-jacent à la distinction entre la chair mienne et la chair du monde. En allant plus loin que Merleau-Ponty, Barbaras essaie de résoudre le problème du dualisme que pose toute phénoménologie de la chair, et du solipsisme que pose toute phénoménologie. Comme Barbaras le montre, dans le premier chapitre du livre intitulé « De la chair à l’appartenance » (p. 1-26), la réflexion philosophique a manqué l’expérience foncière du corps au moment où elle l’a identifiée. Bien qu’un certain type d’ontologie ait déjà réfléchi sur la question du corps, celle-ci n’a pas été prise radicalement, car, au lieu d’être question, le corps est assumé comme une réponse (p. 13) au cœur d’une ontologie déjà donnée. Barbaras réalise ainsi une épochè des ontologies, qui ont caché le corps, sédimentées dans l’attitude naturelle. L’une de ces ontologies est l’ontologie de la mort sédimentée dans la science contemporaine pensant le corps du point de vue de l’inertie. Ce qui apparaît dans l’effectuation de cette épochè est une expérience fondamentale : l’appartenance. Pour Barbaras, penser le corps comme problème fondamental n’est rien d’autre que de mettre en avant la dimension d’appartenance. Afin de comprendre cette dimension de manière ontologique, l’auteur exerce deux remaniements ontologiques radicaux : a) la conscience n’appartient pas au monde ; elle est une modalité, parmi d’autres, de cette appartenance (p. 16); b) le fondement ontologique premier est l’espace et non le temps, comme une certaine perspective ontologique et phénoménologique l’a présupposé en prenant l’espace comme un dérivé du temps (p. 21). Ces deux remaniements ontologiques sont strictement liés car apparaître consiste à déployer l’espace. C’est pourquoi, seulement en prenant comme point de départ l’espace, nous pourrions saisir le sens phénoménologiquement radical de cette appartenance. Ainsi, Barbaras se place, à la fois, dans le moment topologique de la phénoménologie française, tout en utilisant les outils de la phénoménologie (l’époché et la description de l’expérience) débordés par l’expérience de l’appartenance. Mais est-ce que l’appartenance est comparable au sentiment de l’union âme-corps que Riquier présume déployé par les phénoménologues français dans le but d’aller plus loin que Husserl, tout en retournant à Descartes ? Nous croyons, tout au contraire, que la notion d’appartenance prouve l’originalité de Barbaras face à la tradition française de la phénoménologie, comme nous le verrons par la suite. Il nous convient ici de poser la question sur le quomodo de l’appartenance. Comment un étant appartient au monde ?
III. L’éclatement du monde
À notre avis, dans la clarification des modalités de cette appartenance, nous pourrons comprendre les conséquences inédites de cette ontologie face aux ontologies antérieures et à la tradition française de la phénoménologie. Précisément, dans le deuxième chapitre du livre intitulé « Les trois sens de l’appartenance » (p. 27-56), Barbaras propose une typologie sémantique. Du point de vue de l’usage français du mot appartenance, trois sens d’appartenance apparaissent : être dans le monde ou le site (être situé, position inhérente à l’étant) ; être du monde ou le sol (être pris dans son épaisseur, là d’où l’étant se nourrit et d’où provient son étantité), être au monde ou le lieu (la phénoménalisation, l’occuper activement, s’investir, une forme de possession du monde). Pour Barbaras, il y a un rapport d’identité entre les trois sens d’appartenance : l’inscription onto-topologique de tel étant dans le monde a pour envers la phénoménalisation du monde dans cet étant. Ces trois sens de l’appartenance ne font donc qu’un seul. L’inscription ontologique d’un sujet situé topologiquement dans le monde est aussi le déploiement de la phénoménalisation. Pour une partie de la tradition philosophique transcendantale, la phénoménalisation du monde est fondée sur la distanciation du monde. Barbaras renverse ce préjugé : plus un étant appartient au monde, plus il le fait apparaître. Le degré zéro de cette appartenance sera représenté par la pierre. L’appartenance de la pierre déploie un lieu, mais à contre-courant des autres êtres vivants : en se concentrant. La vie de la pierre se manifeste alors tout d’abord comme temporalité. Sa spatialité apparaît de manière dérivée et comme défaut : « le défaut de déploiement spatial est l’envers de l’installation dans une durée longue » (p. 32). La plante est, contrairement à l’animal, spatialisation, mobilité pure : « elle est tout entière à l’extérieur d’elle-même » (p. 36). L’animal, au contraire, occupe l’espace sans sortir de lui-même. Or, l’homme est un homo viator (p. 33). Il apparaît au monde dans le sens de la mobilité et c’est le désir de l’homme la raison même de la mobilité. Le rapport entre conscience et sol se pose ici autrement que dans le cartésianisme, de telle manière que le problème même du solipsisme ne se pose pas. Mais tout en demeurant dans le sol français qui contient sa philosophie, Barbaras dépasse Descartes – avec qui, selon Riquier, les phénoménologues français dépassent Husserl – avec Bergson. Dans l’un des moments les plus poétiques du livre, l’auteur s’aligne avec Bergson pour distinguer entre un corps minime et un corps immense. D’un point de vue solipsiste, notre corps serait la place minime que nous occupons, qui renfermerait la conscience. Du point de vue de Bergson, selon Barbaras, si je suis là où la conscience peut s’appliquer, mon corps va jusqu’aux étoiles. Plus radicalement, en dépassant Husserl et Descartes, pour Barbaras, « ce mode de déploiement du lieu qu’est ici la conscience des étoiles repose sur l’appartenance ontologique du sujet aux étoiles, sur le corps immense, et vient réduire la tension entre le site, à quoi correspond le corps minime et le sol, qui n’est autre que le cosmos lui même » (p. 55). Autrement dit, les étoiles deviennent lieu parce qu’elles sont d’abord sol. La conscience appartient premièrement à un corps pour être elle-même conscience, et au monde, ou aux étoiles, advient le caractère essentiel de pouvoir être phénoménalisé pour un sujet qui y appartient. La question du quomodo va se métamorphoser ici dans les termes du quid à des niveaux différents. Comment tout en étant différent des étoiles pour les percevoir, nous les faisons paraître en ce que nous appartenons à une continuité avec elles dans le sol ? Quelle ontologie fondamentale serait-elle capable d’expliquer, en répondant au quid de l’être, l’unité et la différence au sein de cette nouvelle manière de penser l’appartenance ? En d’autres termes, la question est de donner réponse à l’origine ontologique (quid) de la phénoménalité. Dans les mots de Barbaras avec lesquels commence le troisième chapitre du livre intitulé « Vers une cosmologie : la déflagration » (p. 57-80), où il essaie de répondre à ces questions, « [i]l s’agit de comprendre pourquoi ce faire singulier [que le mouvement des vivants est un mouvement phénoménologique] dont nous parlons, dont l’autre nom est le désir, ne peut être qu’un faire paraître » (p. 57-58).
Plus exactement, la question est de savoir comment le sol qui se sépare de lui-même par le site donne lieu au surgissement du lieu. Mais le surgissement de la phénoménalisation ne doit pas être compris dans le sens d’une téléologie. Le paraître de l’être est totalement contingent sans pour autant laisser d’être le paraître de l’être. De la réponse à cette question dépend la réponse à une question qui en est dérivée : la question de l’unité de l’appartenance. Il faut pouvoir expliquer comment le sol, en se séparant dans le site, n’est autre que le sol lui-même. En prenant en compte que le sol contient tous les étants en tant qu’il les fait être, cette appartenance est ontologique : les étants ne sont pas seulement situés dans le monde, il constitue leur source, il nourrit l’être de l’étant qui y est inscrit. Il s’agit d’une ontogénèse dynamique surabondante. Cette surpuissance n’a d’autre positivité que dans ce qu’elle fait naître (p. 61) ; elle ne peut avoir rien d’étant pour être la source de tout étant. Le sol est donc accessible uniquement dans l’étant qu’il dépose, étant l’acte de déposer. Il est le jaillissement comme être et non un être qui jaillit. Barbaras admet qu’il ne s’agit pas de la puissance aristotélicienne « toujours référée à une substance et ordonnée au telos de l’acte », mais plutôt de la puissance plotinienne qui est Acte, débordement de l’Un qui donne ce qu’il ne possède pas (p. 61). Mais cette surpuissance ontogénétique ne doit pas diffuser le caractère spatial de l’appartenance : si l’être n’a pas d’autre sens que l’appartenance, produire n’est qu’installer dans l’extériorité. La puissance onto-génétique disperse, donne un site. Le site s’inscrit ainsi dans une surpuissance expansive. Le sol, étant la surpuissance expansive, produit le multiple dans son être jaillissement. Plus que monde, l’être est Nature au sens d’une physis originaire. En suivant Dufrenne (1981, p. 165), Barbaras remarque que la Nature indique, d’un côté, l’extériorité et l’antériorité du monde comme précédence ontologique, et, d’un autre côté, l’énergie de l’être comme puissance ou productivité. Cette formule exprime le monde de l’appartenance à la fois comme totalité antérieure extériorisante et comme surpuissance productrice. À ce titre, la phénoménologie qui prend ce monde-Nature comme objet ne peut se réaliser que comme cosmologie.
Arrivé à ce point, Barbaras est capable d’expliquer la mobilité de l’étant, une autre voie pour comprendre la nature du sol. La raison du mouvement est la distance du site au sol. Mais le site est contenu dans le sol : « sa distance au sol est distance au sein du sol » (p. 65). La mobilité de l’étant provient alors du sol. L’étant ne produit pas la mobilité, il s’y insère. Dès lors, le mouvement des étants témoigne de la nature de son sol. Le sol serait, selon Barbaras, la mobilité même (archi-mobilité, pur jaillisement). À dire vrai, c’est le sol qui, en tant que puissance ontogénétique, essaie de se rejoindre à partir de ce qu’il produit : de revenir à lui au travers des étants en lesquels il se sépare. En s’inspirant de Louis Lavelle (1937), Barbaras affirme que la participation ne fait pas de l’étant une partie du Tout. L’être n’est pas préalablement réalisé, mais l’étant participe à un acte qui est en train de s’accomplir grâce à une opération qui oblige l’étant à la fois d’assumer sa propre existence et l’existence du Tout. Autrement dit, la puissance ontogénétique à laquelle appartient l’étant n’existe pas en dehors de ses produits « et leur doit en ce sens son être » (p. 68). L’étant rejoint son sol par un mouvement désirant parce qu’il s’insère dans l’acte onto-originaire qui est en train de s’accomplir et qui lui donne l’énergie qui lui permet de déployer un lieu au sein du même sol qu’il essaie de rejoindre. Cela peut évoquer une affirmation d’un autre livre de Lavelle (1939) publié en aval de celui cité par Barbaras : « Elle [la vie] est toujours un retour à la source. Elle fait de moi un être perpétuellement naissant » (Lavelle, 1939, p. 92).
En voulant éclairer cette source qui est le sol, Barbaras pose à nouveau la question de Leibniz dans Les Principes de la Nature et de la Grâce : « pourquoi il y a plutôt quelque chose que rien » (Leibniz, 1996, p. 228), dans des termes cosmologiques : « comment y a-t-il quelque chose plutôt que rien ? » (p. 68). Cependant, il ne s’aligne ni sur Sartre ni sur Husserl, qui donnent, soit à l’existence, soit à la conscience, une irréalité ou négativité métaphysique, seule capable de dépasser le réel, de le penser ou de le constituer. Pour Barbaras, la négativité se pose uniquement en des termes ontiques. La source est une et indivisible : elle produit le multiple parce qu’elle ne l’est pas (négativité ontique). Mais elle n’est pas non plus un néant. Il n’y a pas création ex-nihilo. Il y aurait une forme de précession métaphysique : « rien de moins que la surabondance qui sous-tend tout étant pour autant qu’il vient à l’être » (p. 70). Sa négativité ontique consiste en son excès métaphysique. Il faut alors la comprendre comme l’événement en tant que mondification qui est l’advenir même d’une multiplicité d’étants (avènement). C’est pour cette raison que Barbaras choisit de caractériser cet archi-événément, sens d’être ultime du sol, comme déflagration. La déflagration est éternelle, car l’étant est immobile dans son archi-mobilité et stable dans son instabilité constitutive (p. 72). Barbaras avoue qu’il identifie ici, dans le concept de déflagration, l’archi-mouvement et l’archi-événement qu’il avait distingués dans son œuvre précédente (voir Barbaras, 2013). Ce qui nous permet d’affirmer que nous nous trouvons, en effet, au début d’une nouvelle période de la philosophie de l’auteur.
La déflagration peut aussi répondre aux problèmes touchant l’advenir du multiple. La déflagration est dispersion originaire qui renvoie à une pluralité de sites ou, autrement dit, à des étants individués et différents. Il y a autant de multiplicité numérique, spatiale, que de multiplicité qualitative : différence. Cette différence n’est autre que la gradation inhérente à la déflagration. Les étants s’éloignent différemment de leur source, « de telle sorte que la déflagration est naissance de différences dans la différence » (p. 75). En empruntant des expressions avec lesquelles Bergson explique l’évolution de la vie (1908, p. 108), Barbaras caractérise la déflagration comme l’éclatement qui est gerbe ontologique créant des directions divergentes, ce qui donne lieu à l’individuation de l’étant. C’est l’événement même de la contingence comme fait de la différence renvoyant à la contingence absolue de l’avènement de la déflagration comme absolu. Les éclats que sont les étants sont retenus dans leur propre avènement. Ils sont maintenus dans leur source, l’écho de l’archi-événement les transit éternellement sous la forme de la mobilité. Les différences entre les étants s’expriment donc en termes dynamiques, et la mobilité n’exprime que la proximité avec la surpuissance originaire. Effectivement, René Char n’a jamais si bien expliqué – rétrospectivement et de manière aussi fidèle – l’intuition philosophique rapprochant Barbaras et Bergson : « les morceaux qui s’abattent sont vivants » (Char, 1969, p. 154).
Plus précisément, dans le cas des vivants, leur mobilité exprime leur proximité ou leur degré d’insertion dans la déflagration. A contrario, l’immobilité de la pierre exprime un éloignement de l’éclatement originaire. Dans le cas de l’étant humain, connaître son sol exprime sa proximité à son sol. En termes simples, tout mouvement de l’étant est mouvement vers le sol, « quête ontologique » (p. 79). Barbaras se situe à l’opposé du transcendantal husserlien ou du distancement intellectuel cher à la phénoménologie : la pensée, la donation du sens, la réflexion, et pourquoi pas, la description phénoménologique, auraient pour source et condition de possibilité une profonde inscription dans le sol. Malheureusement, Barbaras n’explique pas ici les conséquences épistémologiques de cette cosmologie déflagrationniste pour une théorie de la connaissance renouvelée.
La déflagration barbarasienne est, partant, l’ontogenèse dynamique, la puissance ontogénétique, l’archi-événement capable de produire le multiple sans déchirer l’unité fondamentale des étants, l’archi-mouvement stabilisant. L’inspiration merleau-pontienne de l’idée de la déflagration est évidente : « Tel est à nos yeux le sens véritable de ces mots que Merleau-Ponty ajoute à propos de cette ‘explosion stabilisée’ qu’est ‘absolu du sensible’ : ‘i.e. comportant retour’ » (p. 79). La déflagration doit se comprendre alors dans les termes d’une explosion qui ne cesse jamais d’exploser. Les étants ne se séparent jamais de cette déflagration ; ils sont au seuil même de sa puissance et « reviennent sans cesse à elle, mettent à profit la puissance dont ils héritent pour rejoindre l’origine, recoudre la déchirure » (p. 79). En amont, dans L’Œil et l’esprit (1964), Merleau-Ponty a caractérisé la recherche de Cézanne de la profondeur dans les termes de la déflagration de l’être :
La profondeur ainsi comprise est plutôt l’expérience de la réversibilité des dimensions, d’une « localité » globale où tout est à la fois, dont hauteur, largeur et distance sont abstraites, d’une voluminosité qu’on exprime d’un mot en disant qu’une chose est là. Quand Cézanne cherche la profondeur, c’est cette déflagration de l’Être qu’il cherche, et elle est dans tous les modes de l’espace, dans la forme aussi bien. (…) Elle (la couleur) est « l’endroit où notre cerveau et l’univers se rejoignent », dit-il dans cet admirable langage d’artisan de l’Être que Klee aimait à citer (Merleau-Ponty, 1964, p. 65-66).
Pour Barbaras, la profondeur sera la manière dont le sol se phénoménalise comme tel, l’envers phénoménal de la déflagration. Mais celle-ci ne s’abolit pas au profit de ce qu’elle dépose, elle explose en comportant retour. Ceci ne veut pas dire qu’il y aurait deux mouvements : la retombée de l’étant est remontée. Le mouvement centrifuge de la déflagration dans l’étant est aussi le mouvement centripète de l’étant vers la déflagration. C’est dans ces termes qu’il faut comprendre que le site appartient au sol comme le multiple à la déflagration, de manière que le site n’est pas le sol mais n’est pas autre chose que le sol. L’intentionnalité comme déploiement d’un lieu à partir d’un site ne serait que la manifestation phénoménologique de l’inscription et du retour de l’étant vers son origine explosive. L’intentionnalité est donc la manifestation centripète du mouvement centrifuge de la déflagration, la réalisation de l’appartenance dynamique à l’événement originaire (p. 80). Le lieu est, enfin, la trace phénoménologique de la continuité ontologique qui demeure dans la séparation. La question de la phénoménologie se pose ici. Nous retournons à la question sur le comment : l’origine des lieux. Quelle serait la phénoménologie de la cosmologie de la déflagration ? Dans le quatrième chapitre intitulé « La genèse des mondes » (p. 82-109), Barbaras fera le point sur la phénoménologie d’où il vient (Merleau-Ponty, Husserl et Patočka) pour poser les termes de la phénoménologie vers laquelle il se dirige et qui demeure ici en état de promesse.
IV. La phénoménologie que la cosmologie mérite
Au début du quatrième chapitre, Barbaras rappelle sa critique de l’ontologie phénoménologique de la chair de Merleau-Ponty. Cette conception présuppose une limitation que la cosmologie phénoménologique essaie de dépasser : « contrairement à ce que Merleau-Ponty affirme, que cette chair soit mienne, c’est-à-dire sentante, ne signifie d’aucune manière qu’elle se distingue de la chair du monde : c’est au contraire en tant que chair du monde, en tant par conséquent qu’elle lui appartient radicalement, qu’elle est mienne » (p. 81). La condition de la phénoménalisation est l’inscription phénoménologique dans le monde. La question classique de l’union de l’âme et du corps, qu’on a qualifié au début de cet article de purement française, est ici dépassée. Si ma chair est la chair du monde, j’ai une conscience signifie la même chose que j’ai un corps et inversement (p. 81). La distinction entre conscience et corps est une abstraction. Cela lui permet de répondre aussi à Husserl. C’est la profondeur de l’inscription dans le monde qui mesure la puissancce phénoménalisante et non l’inverse. Le faire paraître le monde n’implique pas une situation d’exception, mais une appartenance radicale à lui. Barbaras renverse ainsi également la qualité d’être éjecté du monde du Da-sein heidéggerien ou de l’être pour soi sartrien : « c’est pace que ce que nous nommons conscience est du monde en un sens plus radical que d’autres étants, qu’elle est précisément conscience, à savoir aptitude à le faire paraître » (p. 81). L’extériorité est inscrite au sein de cette nouvelle interprétation de la phénoménalité. En effet, l’ampleur du lieu n’est que la profondeur de l’inscription dans le monde. Un nouvel a priori universel de la corrélation, valide pour tout étant, apparaît : « autant d’appartenance, autant de phénoménalité ; autant de continuité ontologique, autant d’ipséité » (p. 82). Mais la question est de savoir comment comprendre le statut et l’origine de la phénoménalité. Afin de répondre à cette question, Barbaras montrera que la phénoménalisation consiste dans l’unité propre à la manière dont les étants remontent vers leur source.
Le début de sa démonstration est inspiré de la phénoménologie a-subjective de Patočka. Ce phénoménologue, auquel il a consacré deux livres auparavant (2007, 2011b), dépasse de manière définitive la phénoménologie transcendantale de Husserl – que Barbaras caractérise comme « la version orthodoxe de la phénoménologie » (p. 83) – en déliant la phénoménalité de l’étant de la référence à un sujet constituant. Cela ne veut pas signifier la perte absolue du sujet. Le sujet sera dérivé d’une conception non subjectiviste de la phénoménalité. Selon la critique de Patočka (1995) à laquelle Barbaras souscrit, Husserl n’aurait pas su respecter l’autonomie du champ phénoménal dévoilé par l’épochè phénoménologique. Plus précisément, il finirait par trahir l’épochè. En effet, l’attitude naturelle peut être comprise par l’intention de rendre compte de l’apparaître du monde à partir des lois du monde ou, dans d’autres termes, de tenter de rendre compte de l’apparaître à partir d’un apparaissant. Mais Husserl, tout en voulant suspendre l’attitude naturelle, fait reposer pourtant l’apparaître sur des vécus (un apparaissant). Il faut donc faire avec la conscience ce que Husserl fait avec la thèse du monde, la neutraliser, afin de pouvoir accéder à l’apparaître comme a priori ultime. Cet a priori ne sera pas distinct de celui des apparaissants mondains : l’apparaître est un et relève d’une même légalité. Pour Patočka, c’est le monde qui constituera ainsi l’a priori ultime de l’apparaître, étant le vrai point d’arrivée de l’épochè. C’est l’appartenance au monde le sens d’être ultime de l’étant. Le monde est l’apparaissant ultime : « la condition du donné est un archi-donné » (p. 87). Autrement dit, le monde est l’a priori de l’expérience du monde : l’empirique, ou plutôt l’ontologique, et le transcendantal coïncident. Il semblerait que Patočka finisse par faire dériver l’apparaître de l’apparaissant, comme il le reproche à Husserl. Cependant, selon Barbaras, ce n’est pas le cas si on comprend bien le sens de cet apparaissant qui est le grand Tout, qui est le monde. Pour s’expliquer, il reprend et renverse la détermination husserlienne de la perception comme donation par esquisses. La perception se déploie sous la forme d’un cours d’esquisses parce que l’on dispose par avance de la garantie de pouvoir parcourir la chose. Il a fallu que la continuabilité de cette expérience me soit donnée d’emblée : une chose ne paraît qu’au sein de son horizon. L’horizon n’est plus, comme pour Husserl, potentialité de la conscience. La présence intuitive doit se comprendre comme la cristallisation d’un horizon préalable. L’horizon sera le nom de l’être donné à la continuabilité de l’expérience : l’Un englobant. Dire d’une chose qu’elle apparaît signifie qu’elle s’inscrit dans une unité ouverte de toutes les apparitions possibles. L’expérience est ainsi en continuité avec toutes les autres l’expériences. À dire vrai, elle ne peut être qu’une : l’unité de l’expérience est ce qui commande son être d’expérience. La conscience n’est donc pas la condition de l’apparaître, elle serait la conséquence de l’apparaître : c’est dans la mesure où une chose apparaît dans une totalité englobante que l’unité peut se donner à une conscience et non l’inverse. S’il ne s’agit pas alors d’une conscience, la question qui se pose est celle du mode d’être de ce sujet capable d’accueillir cette unité.
Barbaras le confesse : « [l]es mots ici nous manquent (p. 92). Sans le deviner peut-être, il s’aligne sur les moments de description de phénoménologues qui, en voulant être fidèles à la description des aspects les plus mystérieux de l’expérience, rendent explicite les limitations du langage. C’est peut-être en ceci que réside la différence entre la phénoménologie et l’herméneutique, ou encore entre la phénoménologie et le structuralisme. Nous en trouvons l’un des exemples dans les descriptions husserliennes de la constitution de la conscience absolue du temps. Et c’est justement l’excédance du moyen de description par les faits phénoménologiques de la description même qui en dit le plus long sur la pratique fidèle de la phénoménologie et de la profondeur de la vision du phénoménologue. Scheler remarque précisément que la phénoménologie montre avec la parole ce qui doit être expérimenté par l’interlocuteur du phénoménologue, une expérience qui dépasse les moyens de l’expression de l’évidence (Scheler, 1954, p. 391). Dans tous les cas, il est aussi étonnant que compréhensible que les mots manquent quand Barbaras essaie d’éclairer le sens de l’être de ce sujet phénoménalisant. Selon Barbaras, ce sujet ne peut pas être constituant, mais il est requis par l’apparition qui le précède comme principe d’unification. Le sujet participe, dans l’unification de l’unité unifiante, de l’apparaître des choses sans les constituer. La réponse de Barbaras, en accord avec la cosmologie de la déflagration, est que le sens d’être de ce sujet consiste en un mouvement, « précisément celui qui constitue cette unité des apparitions que nous avons, pour notre part, nommée lieu » (p. 93). L’horizon des apparitions existe comme son propre déploiement dynamique indifférent au partage de la transcendance et de l’immanence. En suivant Patočka, Barbaras remarque que la pénétration dans le monde est l’envers d’une orientation qui implique que le sujet soit situé au sein de la totalité : « l’approche est toujours un ‘déloignement’ (Entfernung) » (p. 94). Mais c’est parce que l’approche constitue notre rapport originaire au monde dans un tout anticipateur, que nous voyons les choses ; le distancement n’est pas la condition de possibilité du voir. La phénoménalité est renvoyée, par Barbaras, à la mobilité. L’unité est effectuée par un sujet qui, appartenant au monde, s’avance vers son sol au sein de lui en déployant des lieux. Patočka a déjà mis l’accent, selon Barbaras, sur le caractère spatialisant de la phénoménalisation. Toutefois, le pas franchi par rapport à Patočka consiste à fonder cette dynamique spatialisante sur une appartenance ontologique et non topologique, « sur un défaut d’être qui ne peut avoir pour envers qu’une aspiration » (p. 95). Barbaras remet la question de la phénoménalisation dans les termes du lieu au sein de sa cosmologie, afin de donner à l’espace son importance constitutive. Au fond, l’indivisibilité de l’origine perdure sous la forme de la puissance unifiante qui habite chaque étant : son activité phénoménalisante (p. 97). L’unité est la trace d’une telle puissance indivise. La surpuissance de la déflagration demeure sous la forme des mouvements qui s’attestent dans une dimension unificatrice. L’étant poursuit cette unité dans le multiple et tente de la réaliser. La sortie de l’origine comme dispersion a une relation d’identité avec le retour à l’origine comme rassemblement. L’origine de la phénoménalité, l’origine des mondes, est ce qui apparaît de l’origine au sein du multiple, « la manière dont l’indivision de la puissance explosive se réfléchit au sein du fini » (p. 98). La forme est ainsi archè.
Mais si le monde est corrélat d’une appartenance, il y a alors trois sens du monde : le monde comme source (déflagration) qui renvoie au sol, le monde comme multiplicité ontique provenant de cet archi-événement qui renvoie au site, le monde comme forme ou sédimentation de l’origine au sein du multiple qui renvoie au lieu. Ils correspondent respectivement à l’appartenance ontologique, à l’appartenance ontique et à l’appartenance phénoménologique. Si l’étant va de son site vers son sol du point de vue phénoménologique, il y a un mouvement plus originaire par lequel la source explosive cherche à se rassembler dans sa dispersion. Le sujet véritable est le cosmos lui-même et sa vérité est celle d’une surpuissance originaire qui fait des mondes pour se faire être comme pure origine. Le monde proprement dit est, pour la phénoménologie de cette cosmologie, la trace de la puissance de l’origine au sein du multiple, la totalité comme sédimentation, le troisième sens du monde. Autrement dit, bien qu’il y a un cœur archi-événementiel (déflagration) du monde qui constitue son contenu (l’ensemble des étants), en donnant lieu à son contenu contingente, « l’archi-événement est archi-contingence » (p. 101). Il s’agit d’un néoplatonisme inversé, car la réalité de l’Un qui donne ce qu’il ne possède pas est cosmologique au lieu de métaphysique, elle est une réalité indéterminée et indivisible. De plus, si la pensée consiste dans un mouvement de séparation et de remontée (hypostase vers l’Un) qui produit le multiple, dans la perspective de Barbaras, le multiple manifeste originairement une séparation de l’origine, face à laquelle la remontée vers l’origine a le sens d’une unification.
Les lieux marquent la proximité de l’origine dans la distance. Si aucun monde ne peut s’approprier l’origine, il y a toutes sortes de mondes possibles, autant de mondes que d’étants dont l’amplitude se mesure à la profondeur de l’inscription dans le sol qui n’est que la proximité de l’origine. L’ampleur de la synthèse sur laquelle un monde se repose ou la puissance signifiante sera d’autant plus forte que l’étant sera moins loin de son origine (p. 104). Avec cette affirmation, Barbaras se situe à l’opposé de la phénoménologie qui caractérise le sujet comme étant un hors-monde. Pour la cosmologie phénoménologique, autant d’appartenance, autant d’intentionnalité ; autant d’intentionnalité, autant de subjectivité ; autant de proximité avec la déflagration, autant de puissance ; autant de puissance, autant de monde ; autant de monde, autant de subjectivité. C’est parce que nous sommes d’abord des êtres cosmologiques que nous sommes conscients et connaissants. Les degrés de subjectivation renvoient aux degrés d’appartenance. Barbaras avoue que Merleau-Ponty s’est dirigé dans cette direction mais qu’il n’a pas pu fonder son intuition parce qu’il prenait comme point de départ la chair sensible. La chair comme sentir est différente de la chair du monde qui est sentie en ce sentir même (p. 106). Merleau-Ponty n’a pas pu fonder l’univocité dont il a pourtant eu l’intuition. Pour Barbaras, c’est parce que nous appartenons au sol ontologique du monde que nous sommes capables de le phénoménaliser. La subjectivité ne se distingue pas de la puissance phénoménalisante. Il ne s’agit pas de nier la différence, mais de ressaisir la différence, « nier qu’elle repose sur la séparation d’une entité subjective et d’un monde » (p. 107). Mais si la phénoménalisation ou la subjectivité a pour condition l’appartenance, elle n’a pas l’appartenance pour contenu. Le lieu n’est pas le sol, mais la manière dont le sol se donne à celui qui en est séparé au sein du sol. Le monde est la manifestation de l’archi-événement à celui qui en est un éclat. Partant, « le destin de l’origine est sa propre occultation dans le phénomène » (p. 108). En d’autres termes, la phénoménalisation implique une occultation. Le sol n’apparaît jamais comme sol et c’est pour cela qu’on peut dire qu’on est séparés en son sein. La dimension d’occultation s’accuse tandis que la phénoménalisation se fait plus ample. Le lieu que nous déployons est plus loin du sol. La profondeur de notre appartenance déclenche une puissance de phénoménalisation qui nous permet de déployer un lieu en ouvrant le monde lui-même. Ce monde se donne comme « objectif », détaché de l’activité phénoménalisante, et comme délivrant un sens de l’être. La plus grande appartenance débouche donc sur la séparation, car la phénoménalisation finit par nommer l’essence de ce qui est : « la puissance de l’origine débouche sur sa propre occultation » (p. 108). Nous avons alors plus de chances d’accéder à l’appartenance si l’on aborde les modes d’exister ou mondes où le lieu ne recouvre pas encore le sol. Le problème de la réduction phénoménologique se pose ici. Il faut admettre qu’au sein de la relation objective du monde de la vie, et malgré elle, le sol affleure. Il faut admettre que nous sommes d’une certaine manière initiés à notre sol d’appartenance au sein d’une existence qui nous en éloigne, pour transcender ce monde objectif à partir duquel on ne peut pas « exhiber sa propre condition de possibilité » (p. 109). Barbaras finit son livre alors par l’indication d’une réalité à définir qui serait celle de la profondeur, étant le mode sous lequel l’appartenance se phénoménalise dans le lieu. Pour y accéder, il ne faut pas suivre la voie de la subjectivité objectivante, mais celle d’une contestation interne à celle-ci : la voie du suspens de la puissance phénoménalisante. L’interrogation de la profondeur ne pourra s’accomplir, confesse Barbaras, que dans une esthétique. Il semblerait que la phénoménologie que mérite la cosmologie de la déflagration n’ait pas encore été déployée, et qu’elle serait peut-être une phénoménologie de la profondeur au titre d’une esthétique. Nous comprenons cette idée de profondeur dans la lignée de l’affirmation de Borges : « la musique, les états de bonheur, la mythologie, les visages travaillés par le temps, certains crépuscules et certains lieux, veulent nous dire quelque chose, ou quelque chose qu’ils ont dit que nous n’aurions pas dû perdre, ou ils sont sur le point de dire quelque chose. Cette imminence d’une révélation, qui ne se produit jamais, est peut-être le fait esthétique » (Borges, 1952). Cette profondeur ne serait que le mode sous lequel nous éprouvons la trace de la déflagration tout en essayant de donner monde sans pour autant recouvrir le sol au point de le nier. Et c’est pourquoi il nous faudrait ajouter aux vers de René Char avec lesquels nous avons commencé – « dans l’éclatement de l’univers que nous éprouvons, prodige ! les morceaux qui s’abattent sont vivants » (René Char, 158) –, les mots de Paul Veyne : « [i]ls s’abattent sur le monde, ils y reviennent, et ne chutent pas dans le néant » (Veyne, 1995, p. 516).
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We can think of the Husserlian phenomenological project and the history that surrounds it as the passage “from visible graces to secret graces”, borrowing the expression with which Alain Mérot (2015) describes Poussin’s artistic work. In Mérot’s words, the visible graces are those of rigour (diligentia), order and visual eloquence with which Poussin always sought to show the clarity he was voluntarily seeking in all things. These visible graces make possible, in Pousin’s work, the realization of “secret graces”, which are those inexplicable and never totally expressed graces that support the deep and dark unity of the world, inseparable from the delectation that his work offers. It is because of the transmission of hidden graces that Poussin, according to Mérot, is accessible only to those who are both intelligent and sensible. Moreover, it is precisely because of the transmission of these secret graces that his work needs, in order to exist in all its fullness, a community of chosen people to whom it can be addressed.
Like Poussin’s work, facing the path of making grace visible by combining various techniques from the history of painting, Husserl’s work is a work in progress, a work that is always preparatory: “Everything I have written so far is only preparatory work; it is only the setting down of methods” (Husserl, 2001a). We can say in this sense that, insofar as the contemplation of a painting by Poussin makes us participants in the grace made visible and not sufficiently expressed (secret), the methods of the phenomenological vision are put into practice by every reader of Husserl. In this way, everyone who sees through Husserl, irremediably leaves aside, in her or his reading, something that cannot be said. It is for this reason, perhaps, that phenomenology continues creating interpretative divergences even so many years after the method’s foundation. Nevertheless, this is the same reason why phenomenology must confront other traditions of thought (from positivism to structuralism, among others) in front of which it still has something to say.
This book presents us with the panorama of these divergences, establishing the center of the discussion in the semantic richness of the notion of “subject(s)”. Thus, we can understand this book as the discussion of the subject(s) as the main theme, or main themes, of phenomenology. But we can also understand this book as the discussion of whether the main theme of phenomenology – expressed in the imperative to go back to the “things themselves” – revolves around the notion of subjectivity (subject), although transcendental, or of the multiplicity of subjectivities (subjects). Moreover, the main interest of this book is that it is situated in the field of the most recent of Husserl’s readers, which allows us to question the relevance of the phenomenological method in front of the themes of contemporary philosophical debate: “The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl sets out to critically re-evaluate (and challenge) the predominant interpretations of Husserl’s philosophy, and to adapt phenomenology to the specific philosophical challenges and context of the twenty-first century” (viii). In this way, as we expect of every new book of phenomenology, this book puts in dialogue phenomenology with the most recent philosophical proposals in order to show the limits that this tradition must overcome, or at least identify, to defend its actuality. The presentation of these dialogues and limits is organised around three orientations, each of which is developed in one of the three parts of the book: 1) the logical field of phenomenology, 2) problems and applications of the phenomenological method, and 3) the extents of phenomenology.
Part I, which has five chapters, is entitled “The Phenomenological Project: Definition and Scope”. This section concentrates mainly on the logical and linguistic framework of the Husserlian project. The Logical Investigations (2001b and 2001c) are thus a constant reference in this part of the book.
In the first chapter, “An Analytic Phenomenology: Husserl’s Path to the Things Themselves” (3-15), Jean-Daniel Thumser presents the path of the Husserlian language to things themselves, a path which he calls, for the first time in phenomenological literature, an analytical phenomenology. This essay concentrates on Husserl’s methodological language, from logical investigations to his ‘late manuscripts’. Thumser opposes the Husserlian language to the common language and to the scientific language (3). Unlike these languages, the language of phenomenology, according to the author, responds to the objective of phenomenology, which is “describe the essence of the experiencing life by practicing the phenomenological reduction” (3). The author speaks in the terms of an analytical phenomenology as a way to understad how transcendental language can express lived experience. The aim of the author of this contribution is to show the unity of Husserlian thought from this particular method while showing its limits.
In the second chapter, entitled “Parts, Wholes, and Phenomenological Necessity” (17-30), Adam Konopka reconstructs the notion of Husserlian necessity from the early logic of Husserlian phenomenology referring to parts and wholes. This notion of necessity will be presented as the radicalization of the Kantian conception of the material a priori from the diversification of phenomenological a prioris: “Kant accounts for the necessity proper to the unity and organization of manifolds in a one-sided relation to the subjective accomplishments of the knower. In contrast, Husserl account (sic.) for necessary unities of sense in terms of a two-sided relation of intentionality that is inclusive of lateral unities of coincidence” (29). However, to the author, Kant and Husserl are both convinced that transcendental philosophy clarify the necessity of the lawful regularities in a contingent world by a reference to the necessary conditions of their knowability.
Simone Aurora, in “The Early Husserl Between Structuralism and Transcendental Philosophy” (31-43), establishes a dialogue between Husserlian phenomenology and structuralism. To this end, he must overcome the apparent opposition that, due to the problems of an interpretative caricature of both traditions, would make this dialogue impossible. The author seeks to show that both Husserl’s early philosophy and structuralism must be considered as part of the same transcendental tradition. He concentrates on the notion of Wissenschaftslehre and the mereology of the “Third Logical Investigation” to identify “original” structuralist elements in Husserl’s transcendental philosophy: “Husserl’s version of structuralism is, however, original in many respects. Indeed, unlike the various structuralist currents that have animated many scientific fields, the philosophical programme which underlies the Logical Investigations is by no means limited to a specific disciplinary domain” (39). In this way, the author sets the relevance of Husserlian broad and philosophical structuralism in comparison with other structuralisms.
In the fourth contribution, entitled “Transcendental Consciousness: Subject, Object, or Neither?” (45-56), Corijn van Mazijk problematizes the term “transcendental consciousness”. The author presents three different interpretations of this concept. The first type of reading is classified by the author as ‘subjectivist’. This reading “sees transcendental consciousness as a kind of too narrowly restricted, exclusively first-person reality” (46). The second is the analytic or representationalist one characteristic of the thinkers of the U.S. West Coast. According to these thinkers, Husserlian phenomenology is interested in the ways in which we acquire knowledge of things and says nothing about the being of these things. From this reading, consciousness and the things it apprehends are totally different entities. Phenomenology would then have its own region of objectivities. The third reading is proper to thinkers of the U.S. East Coast (including Dan Zahavi) which challenges the West Cost interpretation. “These scholars understand transcendental consciousness in a more world-encompassing sense” (47). The East Coast argues that transcendental consciousness is no different from its world and is above the subject-object distinction. In the face of this discussion, van Mazijk proposes that phenomenology refers to the entire reality: “phenomenology and natural science genuinely study one and the same reality, even though they have different themes” (52). What is at stake, in the author’s view, is a metaphysical commitment in Husserl’s thought. It should be noted that, to van Mazijk, “metaphysical here (as in its classic sense) refers to a positive claim about what all (actual and possible) being in its final sense amounts to” (50) and Husserl maintains precisely that the ontological region of the transcendental consciousness includes the totality of the being.
Vedran Grahovac’s paper, “Philosophy as an Exercise in Exaggeration: The Role of Circularity in Husserl’s Criticism of Logical Psychologism” (57-94), shows that Husserl develops, in his Logical Investigations, a circular strategy of analysis that allows him to take advantage of the circularity inherent in psychology for the logical framework of his analyses. Thus, Husserl’s criticism of psychology and empiricism would consist above all in showing a circularity that is presupposed in these theories. The advance of Husserl’s philosophy itself depends on these theories, which he overcomes by transforming his themes and his own philosophy in the mode of a circular process. Moreover, for the author,
The persistence of the critical relation of pure science of logic towards psychologism, as the exaggeration of the latter through the self-regulation of the former, secures, in fact, the fixity of its epistemological position. The emphasis on the conscious particularism of the logical claim for universality clearly remains a pivotal concern for Husserl in the 1905–1907 lectures on Logic (85).
Part II, entitled “The Unfolding of Phenomenological Philosophy”, develops different themes that are very present in the current debate of phenomenological tradition, such as the relevance of phenomenology for the social sciences, problems of the transcendental point of view, imagination, intersubjectivity, and passivity. We can say that the papers here are organized in such a way that they outline the passage from the themes of static phenomenology to those of genetic phenomenology.
In Victor Eugen Gelan’s contribution, entitled “Husserl’s Idea of Rigorous Science and Its Relevance for the Human and Social Sciences” (97-105), we see how Husserl’s idea of rigorous science constitutes a great contribution not only to the understanding of the idea of science in general, but above all to the scientific character of the human and social sciences. To this end, the author presents Alfred Schutz’s thought, which allows him to show both an applied phenomenological idea of rigorous science and Husserl’s influence on the social science tradition. Moreover, the author points out that there is a thematic convergence in both thinkers that make such a contribution possible: “Husserl understood that it was necessary to complete his analysis of transcendental intersubjectivity (in Ideas I) with an investigation of subjectivity at the level of the natural world and attitude (elaborated in Krisis), from which the positive sciences emerge. This is where Husserl and Schutz meet” (104). Gelan also shows the methodological aspects of phenomenology that are valuable for social sciences, such as phenomenological reduction and the theory of the constitution of sense, aspects that are inscribed in the Husserlian idea of rigorous science.
Marco Cavallaro’s essay, “Ego-Splitting and the Transcendental Subject. Kant’s Original Insight and Husserl’s Reappraisal” (107-133), puts Husserl and Kant in dialogue about being an “I”. To this end, Cavallaro defines being an I as self-identity and self-consciousness. Firstly, the text attempts to reconstruct Kant’s implicit thought on the problem of Ego-splitting, and secondly, the text presents the view of Husserlian phenomenology on this same problem. According to the author, Husserlian phenomenology considers Ego-splitting the foundation of all transcendental philosophy. Cavallaro maintains that all self-consciousness implies an Ego-splitting and “that this is at odds with the prerequisite of self-identity we generally attribute to every experienceable or solely thinkable object” (128). He thus concludes that the splitting is a eidetic necessary character of the Ego.
“What Is Productive Imagination? The Hidden Resources of Husserl’s Phenomenology of Phantasy” (135-153) by Saulius Geniusas reconstructs the concept of productive imagination from the Husserlian point of view. The author treats this concept in a relative way, as opposed to the concept of reproductive imagination, which he seeks to expose first through the concept of fantasy. Next, the author shows that fantasy cannot be conceived as an ingredient of perceptive consciousness. Memory and fantasy, according to him, generate patterns of meaning and can therefore be taken in the field of positional experience. This allows him to show the place of productive imagination in the cultural field: “One can thus say that the cultural worlds are indeed historical through and through: the systems of appearance through which they are constituted admit of almost endless corrections, transformations and variations” (151). Moreover, according to Geniusas, despite Husserl’s concerns about the Kantian concept of transcendental imagination, Husserlian phenomenology of fantasy allows us to make a re-appropriation of the Kantian concept of productive imagination and apply it to the cultural world.
Rodney K. B. Parker’s contribution “Does Husserl’s Phenomenological Idealism Lead to Pluralistic Solipsism? Assessing the Criticism by Theodor Celms” (155-184) establishes a dialogue between Husserl and Theodor Celms. The author reconstructs Celms’ critique of Husserl’s supposed solipsism in Der phänomenologische Idealismus Husserls (1928). This reconstruction allows him to rescue Celms’ contribution to the formulation of Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations under the assumption that Husserl read Celms’ book before writing the text of Cartesians Meditations. Parker defends Husserl’s transcendental idealism by pointing out that the theory of intersubjectivity present in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation can neutralize transcendental solipsism. In any case, according to Parker, if transcendental idealism leads to a solipsistic pluralism, this would not be problematic.
Matt E. M. Bower’s essay “Finding a Way Into Genetic Phenomenology” (185-200) questions the place of genetic phenomenology in Husserian thought. The author concentrates on the clarification of the method of reduction and on its different ways in order to show the limits of these in dealing with the genetic themes of phenomenology. In the face of this, the author seeks to propose a new way that can give an account of the genetic description without leaving the transcendental scope. For this, he is inspired by Husserl’s late reflections on abnormal forms of consciousness. The characteristic feature of this new path is the fact that it is indirect: “The way to genetic phenomenology is indirect, and is at least one step removed from the familiar ‘ways to the reduction’” (191).
In “The Allure of Passivity” (201-211), Randall Johnson puts in discussion Husserl and Merleau-Ponty on the subject of passivity. To present Husserl’s thought on this subject, the author takes as his main reference the passive synthesis lectures, which, according to the author, were not known to Merleau-Ponty: “Based on H. L. Van Breda’s account of Merleau-Ponty’s visit to the Husserl Archives in 1939 and documentation of which manuscripts were available to him while they were being housed in Paris from 1944 until 1948, as well as those he later borrowed, it seems unlikely that Merleau-Ponty was able to read the passive synthesis lectures” (207). Merleau-Ponty’s contribution to the phenomenology of passivity consists, according to Johnson, in the diaphragmatic self-relation of an ego that cannot sustain its fragments. It is precisely the fragmentary forms of Merleau-Ponty’s notes that represent this characterization of passivity, which have produced, in the author, a strong impression capable of inspiring a profound reflection on love, with which this paper ends.
Part III, entitled “At the Limits of Phenomenology: Towards Phenomenology as Philosophy of Limits”, explores the challenges of the phenomenological method in different limit areas, which can be understood as different extensions of the Husserlian perspective of phenomenology. We can identify here four orientations of these explorations: time, expression, the social ground of the phenomenological method, and the reception of Husserl’s work by his French readers (heirs and critics).
The temporal orientation is explored by the first two papers. On the one hand, “Time and Oblivion: A Phenomenological Study on Oblivion” (215-229), by Benjamin Draxlbauer, is a phenomenological analysis of a time limit-case. The phenomenon of oblivion is treated as a limit-case arising in the description of time-consciousness in Husserlian terms. The author shows the passage from the early Husserlian thought on this subject, in relation to retention and intentional consciousness, to the reflections of Husserl’s later manuscripts. Husserl’s late perspective, according to Draxlbauer, calls into question his early thought on this subject by mobilizing the concepts of sedimentation and horizon. On the other hand, Christian Sternad, in “On the Verge of Subjectivity: Phenomenologies of Death” (231-243), explores various conceptions of the very different time limit-case that is death. What interests the author is to show how the conceptions of death of phenomenological thinkers such as Husserl, Heidegger, Scheler, Fink, Sartre, Lévinas or Derrida influence the conceptions of subjectivity of each of these thinkers. Moreover, Sternad understands death as the interruption of the correlation between subject and object. With it, “death” questions the fundamental premises of the phenomenological method as it ends the subject of the experience to describe. What puts this in relevance is the relation between the notions of death and intersubjectivity, as the author of this paper defends.
The second orientation of Part III puts Husserl in dialogue with Frege and Merleau-Ponty around the concept of expression. First, Neal DeRoo in “Spiritual Expression and the Promise of Phenomenology” (245-269) presents Husserl’s response to Frege’s theory of meaning, which makes Husserl’s thinking on expression possible. According to the autor, this concept allows Husserl, on the one hand, to situate meaning as the connection between subjective acts of meaning and objective meanings. On the other hand, this concept allows Husserl to develop his notion of spirit and the analysis of the «lifeworld». Moreover, according to DeRoo, in the Husserlian intention of understanding the scientific knowledge on the basis of Husserl and Frege’s discussion, “expression” will constitute the promise of the phenomenology itself. Second, “Individuation, Affectivity and the World: Reframing Operative Intentionality (Merleau-Ponty)” (271-290) by Elodie Boublil, focuses on the notion of “coherent deformation” present in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of expression. The author argues that, through this notion, Merleau-Ponty understands the individuation of subjectivity from its creative and ontological aspect. With this, Merleau-Ponty manages to show the dynamics inherent in intentionality and its expressions. The paper reveals that in his discussion with Malraux, Merleau-Ponty develops a phenomenology “from within” that displays the metamorphoses of the subject in diverse works of expression such as those of literature and art.
The third orientation explores the limits of the social basis of the phenomenological method, either from the point of view of the socio-geographical limits highlighted by the non-European vision of the world, or from the point of view of the socio-political limits highlighted by the political demands that we can address to phenomenology. Firstly, Ian Angus, in “Husserl and America: Reflections on the Limits of Europe as the Ground of Meaning and Value for Phenomenology” (291-310), problematizes a point that is present in the “Vienna Lecture” and that will be extracted in the Crisis text. This is the moment when Husserl defines the spirit of Europe by discounting Papuan people, the Inuit, the Indigenous peoples, and the Romani, and including “America”. For Angus, “this discounting and inclusion cannot be simply dismissed or ignored but constitutes a fundamental gesture in his critique of the crisis into which European reason has fallen” (292). This gesture is analyzed through the concept of institution (Urstiftung) of the Crisis, so that the “discovery” of America will be understood as an event instituting the spirit of Europe. Thus, the author defends that phenomenology can only be fully realized if, going beyond its European limits, it becomes a comparative diagnosis of the planetary and universal crisis of reason. Secondly, “Politicising the Epokhé: Bernard Stiegler and the Politics of Epochal Suspension” (341-354) by Ben Turner exposes Stiegler’s political appropriation of Husser’s epoché method. This method will not be seen simply as access to the structures of transcendental consciousness by suspending the influence of the world. Rather, what will suspend the epokhé will be the existing social systems to allow a moment of critical unfolding of disruptive source, which will be the institution of a new epoch. The author shows that the understanding of Stiegler’s epokhé has been achieved through, on the one hand, Husserian phenomenological thinking about the internal consciousness of time and, on the other hand, reflections on the pharmacological point of view of certain techniques that are both poisonous and curative. The political point of view of the epokhé must, thus, fight against the poisonous aspects of the epoché.
Last but not least, the fourth orientation of Part III groups three contributions that present the French reception of Husserlian phenomenology from very different topics but that identify, each time, a limit theme of Husserlian phenomenology. Firstly, I would like to present the last text of the book, which shows the contribution of the French critics of Husserl to the phenomenological project. This text, “Not Phenomenology’s ‘Other’: Historical Epistemology’s Critique and Expansion of Phenomenology” (355-380) by David M. Peña-Guzmán, deals first with the tensions between the tradition of French epistemology and the tradition of Husserlian phenomenology. At the same time, the author seeks to defend that, beyond possible misunderstandings, both traditions have similar features. The central references of the essay are Jean Cavaillès and Gaston Bachelard. Peña-Guzmán proves that the critiques of phenomenology by these thinkers have made possible an expansion of the phenomenological Husserlian project in their heirs and readers. Thus, the author of this essay considers that French historical epistemology is the Other of phenomenology. Secondly, I introduce the contribution, “Phenomenological Crossings: Givenness and Event (327-339)” by Emre Şan, which shows an example of the reappropriation and development of phenomenology in the French tradition. This essay focuses on the post-Husserlian developments of Michel Henry, Merleau-Ponty, and Jean-Luc Marion. Şan shows that these authors exceed the limits of the given meaning of the phenomenological perspective of noetic-nematic correlation. This is accomplished with the modification of the phenomenon considered, by these authors, as the event of meaning. With it, they manage to extend the scope of phenomenality to subjects such as the invisible, totality, affectivity. Finally, Keith Whitmoyer, in his essay entitled “Husserl and His Shadows: Phenomenology After Merleau-Ponty” (311-326), reflects on the reading of Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and Derrida of Husserlian phenomenology. With these authors, he conceives Husserl’s work as a work that should not be considered from a luminous pattern, but rather from a certain brilliance that shines through the paradoxical multiplicity and chiaroscuro of his path. In this way, Husserl’s phenomenology must be understood as the clarification of that which in us makes reduction possible and that which in us resists reduction.
This last idea allows us to return to the reflection with which we started this review. Mérot (2015) affirms about Poussin, in the same text we referred to at the beginning, that he shows the correspondences that sustain the “dark and deep unity” of the world on a certain visual elocution, which is an application, through visible graces, of secret graces. The same can be said of the Husserlian phenomenological project, which, many decades after its foundation, continues to cause the perplexity of that which, wanting to make visible, does not become visible without making visible in that same movement that involves simultaneous occultation. The subjects of phenomenology are thus variable, multiple, urgent, and undefined. Let it be permitted to us then, in front of the perplexity proper to the phenomenological path, to finish this review with a poem by Jaccottet (1977) that makes us think of the paradoxical light with which the phenomenological method seeks to illuminate things themselves: “mêlé au monde que nous traversons, / qu’il y ait, imprégnant ses moindres parcelles,/ de cela que la voix ne peut nommer, de cela /que rien ne mesure, afin qu’encore /il soit possible d’aimer la lumière/ ou seulement de la comprendre,/ ou simplement, encore, de la voir/ elle, comme la terre recueille,/et non pas rien que sa trace de cendre”.
Celms, Theodor. 1928. Der phänomenologische Idealismus Husserls. Riga: Acta Universitatis Latviensis.
Husserl, Edmund. 2001a. “O. Adelgundis Jaegerschmid: Conversations with Edmund Husserl, 1931–1938.” In: The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, vol. 1, p. 336.
———. 2001b. Logical Investigations, Volume I. Trans. John Findlay. London: Routledge.
———. 2001c. Logical Investigations, Volume II. Trans. John Findlay. London: Routledge.
Jaccottet, Philippe. 1977. À la lumière d’hiver. Paris: Gallimard.
Mérot, Alain. 2015. Des grâces visibles aux grâces secrètes. dir. Nicolas Milovanovic et Mickaël Szanto. Poussin et Dieu, cat. expo. [Paris, musée du Louvre, 2 avril-29 juin 2015], Hazan/Éditions du musée du Louvre, pp. 76-83.
The introduction of The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl wastes no time getting down to the nitty gritty. Iulian Apostolescu begins the volume immediately by setting the stage with two of the most common and difficult problems that Husserl scholars must grapple with. First, while the main subject matter of Husserl’s phenomenology can be said to be the subject, this is understood to mean the pure field of transcendental subjectivity. (The precise nature of what this means and entails is very murky, and depending which phase of Husserl you read, the answer can change.) Gather several Husserlians in a room to represent the span of his early works through to the posthumous pieces, and you will get a variety of answers to the question, “What is the subject of phenomenology?” Husserl’s work covers such a wide variety of themes and ties into so many other figures and fields, that you get a rather stunning plurality of topics. Second, attempting to carry out Husserl’s famous demand that we must return to things themselves, proves to be not as simple as it sounds, and the phenomenological method he developed is not always the easiest tool to implement. And let us not forget the debates about the phenomenological reduction. Taking this all in, the reader quickly understands what this volume will be attempting to do: (1) inspire new discussion about what phenomenology is and what its subject is; (2) critically engage with, and at times pose challenges to, the predominant interpretations of Husserl that have great hold in philosophy; and finally, (3) extend phenomenology into the twenty-first century and see how it handles the issues that occupy contemporary scholars. No small feat, indeed.
Apostolescu has gathered a diverse group of authors from across the globe, both young and established phenomenology scholars, and this gives the volume a feeling of great breadth and weight. It is organized into three parts that set up a fantastic flow, taking the reader first through discussions dealing with the fundamentals (The Phenomenological Project: Definitions and Scope), and then onto specific aspects and issues of Husserl’s phenomenology (The Unfolding of Phenomenological Philosophy), and lastly to the outer limits, where it is applied to some new contexts (At the Limits of Phenomenology: Towards a Phenomenology as Philosophy of Limits). Each part is jam-packed with a variety of chapters that provide a unique moment to encounter Husserl but in a connected fashion that feels cohesive and grounded.
The chapter that drew me immediately was ‘Does Husserl’s Phenomenological Idealism Lead to Pluralistic Solipsism? Assessing the Criticism by Theodor Celms.’ Mainly, this is due to the fact that Celms is rather obscure, and his criticism of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenological idealism is so rarely discussed in literature (especially English scholarship). Parker does a masterful job of acquainting the reader with the context through which Celms’ critical writing emerges, beginning with the criticisms of Husserl’s idealism by his early students after Ideas (1913) was published, and then moving into the charges of solipsism that Husserl had to confront in the wake of this work. Along the way, he discusses debates in the interpretations of (and misinterpretations of) Husserl’s idealism, feelings about the phenomenological reduction, and his theory of constitution. The introduction to Celms and his critical comments about Husserl is excellent and clear, and he presents both men in discussion. Overall, this chapter is important for scholars to understand the critical thoughts of those who studied with Husserl and had interactions with him shortly after the publication of Ideas.
The second contribution that struck me was Corijn van Mazijk’s ‘Transcendental Consciousness: Subject, Object, or Neither?’. The reason for this is simply that he seeks to address the question: what is transcendental consciousness? A not so simple thing to do, and yet she takes this challenge head on telling the reader that her aim is to provide a new answer. For me, this was exciting. He offers up in a detailed and clear fashion three different interpretations of transcendental consciousness, complete with their consequences and critiques of where they fall short. Along the way, he brilliantly highlights the tensions created by Husserl’s own words that have led to these interpretations. It is a fantastic read that left me feeling validated with respect to any confusion I had experienced regarding the transcendental consciousness. For myself, an early phenomenology scholar, it was also helpful in acting as a kind of foothold to move through this difficult, somewhat unfamiliar discussion, and it allowed me to arrive at my own position on things with a greater degree of clarity.
Saulius Geniusas’ chapter ‘What is Productive Imagination? The Hidden Resources of Husserl’s Phenomenology of Phantasy’ is another one that caught my eye. I have always found the discussions of the structures of the mind to be incredibly intriguing and exciting, and the imagination is definitely one of my favourite topics. So, when I saw the title of this one, I thought – did Husserl talk about productive imagination? After the abstract, I was hooked. The heart of Geniusas’ piece is phantasy, an intriguing and important concept of Husserl’s, and he demonstrates how it can be a reproductive mode of consciousness. He brings memory into the discussion and shows how both it and phantasy produce patterns of meaning that ultimately can be transferred to and thus play a major role in shaping our subjective experience of others and the world around us. He has a compelling argument here for how phantasy can be understood as productive imagination, and it is one I will revisit later for further reflection. The Kantian side of me cannot deny a good structural analysis!
I should also mention Keith Whitmoyer’s ‘Husserl and His Shadows: Phenomenology After Merleau-Ponty.’ This article was incredibly helpful and fascinating, to me, and to anyone, I imagine, more ensconced in early phenomenology. I have a new appreciation for Levinas as well as Merleau-Ponty because of this chapter.
In summation, I highly recommend this book. I must say I have rarely encountered an introduction that sets the stage so well for what is to come. As an editor, Apostolescu has really done an excellent job with this volume. The chapters cover a vast array of Husserl’s topics and ideas, and that means a scholar of any phase of Husserl will find something inspiring or enlightening. This volume is definitely not intended for the inexperienced Husserl reader or a junior scholar, and that is a big part of its appeal. It is a thoroughly rigorous and intellectually stimulating work filled with articles for the researcher who knows Husserl well but leaves space for new ways of becoming acquainted with texts and his ideas. Many of the most difficult topics or perplexing concepts in Husserl are found here, and that makes for a challenging yet enjoyable read. And on that point, it is not an easy read by any means; it is not a volume to approach after several hours of Zoom lecturing and your attention span diminished or your eyes feeling as if on fire. Sometimes I felt very ‘mind-full’ after reading a chapter, and it was hard to move on to read anything more: I had to sit and toss around inside my head what was argued, and then often I would go dig up some Husserl volumes to further reflect and find my bearings and opinions. Some chapters had details about Husserl’s phenomenology I was only vaguely familiar with, and so they inspired me to turn that primary text for a further look [Note: my area of expertise is early Husserl and so anything after the 1920s is a very distant graduate student memory to me. This might change though after this book.] This is the first book in a long while that I couldn’t read quickly. I deeply enjoy books like this – they remind me why I became a scholar and what it means to truly critically read an article and have a dialogue with it. This book demands a high degree of attention, and it is hard to do that when your brain aches. Mind you, it is hard to read Husserl when your brain aches anyway. However, I am confident that dedicated Husserl and/or phenomenology scholars will thoroughly enjoy this volume, and this book will become a treasure in the collection.
While Hegel has long been acknowledged as an important influence upon several figures within the phenomenological tradition, the relation of his system to the movement’s founder, Husserl, has been largely overlooked. Husserl’s few, and – for the most part – unenthusiastic references to Hegel, together with the anti-Hegelian attitudes of his teacher, Brentano, have seemed, for most, to suggest that there is nothing to learn from comparing Husserl’s thought with Hegel’s, however much Hegelian and Husserlian themes are to be found combined in the works of subsequent phenomenologists. As such, the recent collection of essays, Hegel and Phenomenology, edited by Alfredo Ferrarin, Dermot Moran, Elisa Magrì and Danilo Manca, represents a most welcome contribution to current debates concerning Hegel’s legacy for Continental philosophy, and the affinities between Hegelian and Husserlian approaches. The collection leans very much towards Husserl, with eight of its eleven chapters centring upon Husserl’s relation to Hegel. Other members of the phenomenological tradition, customarily thought closer to Hegel, are less well-represented here, although there are very interesting chapters on Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur, each of which makes an original contribution to phenomenology scholarship while offering a distinct perspective from which to assess Hegel’s twentieth century legacy.
Although several of the contributors note significant agreements between Husserl and Hegel in earlier works, it is no surprise that the Hegelian motifs in Husserl’s project are most apparent in the posthumous Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. Whether or not Husserl himself became conscious of his affinities with Hegel, his successors in the phenomenological tradition were not slow to appreciate the Hegelian implications contained within a post-Kantian philosophy of subjectivity once it has become sensitive to the importance of intersubjective and inherited historical factors conditioning the subject’s understanding of its experience. The first three chapters of the collection are therefore specifically devoted to interpreting Husserl’s Crisis text in the light of such Hegelian motifs. Chapters four and five compare methodological approaches in Hegel’s phenomenology, whereas chapters six, seven and eight make subjectivity their central theme. The remaining three chapters examine Hegel and Husserl by way of Adorno, Ricœur and Sellars.
The first chapter of the collection, by Dermot Moran, delivers a fascinating account of Hegel’s passage from disrepute to prestige during the early history of the phenomenological movement. As Moran explains, Hegel’s reputation suffered enormously in Germany during the second half of the nineteenth century, when the call for a return to Kant left Hegelian speculative idealism discredited as an extravagantly metaphysical position vulnerable to epistemic critique. Brentano typifies the anti-Hegelian attitudes of this period in German philosophy, identifying Hegel as part of an irrationalist wave terminating a cycle of philosophical progress. The monumentally influential lectures of Koyré, Kojève and Hyppolite notwithstanding, however, Moran shows Heidegger’s rehabilitation of Hegel to pre-date these developments in France, so that it is in Germany that Hegel’s journey to phenomenological respectability originates. Moran stresses the importance of Heidegger’s Freiburg lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit in restoring Hegel’s esteem amongst a new generation of phenomenologists, and devotes particular attention to Finks’s Hegelian inheritance and its possible influence upon the ultimate shape of Husserl’s Crisis text.
Husserl’s early disregard for Hegel aside, Moran clearly identifies deep affinities between Hegel’s treatment of subjectivity in terms of historically developing intersubjective Spirit and the concerns of the Crisis, examining possible sources of conscious or unconscious Hegelian influences upon this work. Moran’s assessment of the Hegel-Husserl relationship is compelling, original and productive, opening a route to significant re-evaluation of a pairing frequently regarded as fundamentally incompatible. Moran arguably overstates Hegel’s proximity to Husserl, however, on the crucial and much-contested issue of transcendental philosophy – a matter of decisive importance in assessing Hegel’s place in the post-Kantian tradition. Whereas Husserl never abandons his commitment to transcendental methods following his 1907 Kantian epiphany, Hegel’s consciously anti-Kantian methodology greatly complicates efforts to classify him as a transcendental philosopher in any straightforward, unqualified sense.
The complex relationship between Hegel’s system and Husserl’s later work is further examined in the second chapter of the collection, by Tanja Staehler, which addresses their respective treatments of history and teleology. Whereas, according to Staehler, both thinkers identify a purposiveness in European history, and an orientation towards a telos, Hegel takes the goal of history to have been prescribed in advance by the logic of the Absolute Idea, while Husserl allows for changes in historical trajectory owing to the revisability of its telos. In spite of a common teleological approach to historical understanding, Husserl and Hegel differ very significantly, according to Staehler, in their treatments of the future. For Staehler, Hegel’s omnivorous system struggles to accommodate genuine spontaneity into its grand design, which entails that the horizons of historical possibility completely fixed by a process which achieved maturation in the early nineteenth century. Husserl, however, is better able to acknowledge contingencies of time and culture not anticipated in the historical experience of any given community. As such, the future never loses its potential for radical novelty on Husserl’s account, according to Staehler, who takes Husserl to deny the possibility of an ‘absolute’ perspective from which all historically-conditioned limits of understanding are overcome.
Those who are sympathetic to Hegel shall no doubt take issue with Staehler’s familiar objection that there is no contingency or spontaneity worthy of the title in Hegel’s treatment of history. All the same, Staehler identifies a crucial point of disagreement between Hegel and Husserl, insofar as Husserl treats the telos of European history as originating within a specific historical life-world, whereas, for Hegel, teleology involves the realisation in space and time of a conceptual order originating elsewhere. As such, Staehler is well-supported in maintaining that Husserl’s historical teleology is more modest in its claims than Hegel’s.
Danilo Manca’s chapter – the third of the collection – compares Hegel’s and Husserl’s respective treatments of the history of philosophy, with particular focus upon their differing relations to Kant’s approach to the same topic. Beginning with a discussion of Kant’s position, Manca outlines the notion of a ‘philosophizing history of philosophy’ which Kant introduces to distinguish a narrative of specifically philosophical significance within the events leading from Thales to the Enlightenment. Although the first Critique presents the history of philosophy as a cyclical process of metaphysical indulgence and sceptical renunciation, Manca notes evidence from Kant’s posthumous documents suggesting a more progressive interpretation of the same events, whereby reason’s own nature entails its elaboration over time. According to Manca, Hegel and Husserl are Kant’s successors in the project of a philosophizing history of philosophy, each seeking for an underlying rationale and a generally progressive direction to the same historical sequence of events.
Manca’s contribution is the first of the collection to discuss in detail the shared Kantian inheritance to the Hegelian and phenomenological movements, and his comparison of Hegel’s and Husserl’s respective accounts of the history of philosophy neatly illustrates their points of departure from a common ancestor. Manca notes that, for Hegel, contingencies in the historically-situated articulations of the Absolute Idea are the result of the spatiotemporal medium in which reason strains to express itself, whereas Husserl understands the same contingency to originate in more mundane cultural differences. Ultimately, Manca concludes, Husserl remains closest to Kant, insofar as he interprets the history of philosophy as orbiting around a set of problems, rather than as the unidirectional process by which reason realises itself over an organic series of stages. Whereas, for Hegel, history articulates a conceptual structure outlined in the Science of Logic, Husserl recognises no such extra-historical standard informing history’s development.
Hegel’s critique of immediacy and its implications for Husserl’s foundationalist project provides the theme for Chapter Four, by Chong-Fuk Lau, in which it is argued that Husserl came ultimately to concede the impossibility of the very presuppositionless standpoint to which his epoché had been intended to facilitate access. As Lau notes, Hegel and Husserl are similarly committed to the possibility of a rigorously scientific and presuppositionless philosophy, differing principally over whether presuppositionlessness is the feature of a starting-point or a system taken as a whole. Lau is sympathetic to Hegel’s anti-foundationalism, which he takes to fatally undermine the pursuit of ultimate beginnings to which Husserl is committed in his transcendental phenomenology. According to Lau, whereas Hegel had shown that there is nothing altogether free of mediation, Husserl’s performance of the epoché is intended to facilitate a radical beginning from which all mediation has been expelled. For Lau, there is simply no room for compromise between Husserl and Hegel over this Cartesian methodological issue, and Husserl’s appearance of having moved closer to Hegel by the time of the Crisis is the result of his having abandoned his earlier foundationalist ideals.
Lau’s expert discussion of Hegel compellingly makes the case for a fundamental incompatibility between Hegel’s method and that of the Husserlian transcendental phenomenologist. Whereas, however, he is on secure ground in maintaining that Heidegger or Gadamer represent greater prospects for a phenomenological appropriation of Hegelian insights than is afforded by Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, his claim that the Crisis involves a complete reversal of earlier foundationalist aspirations is more questionable. The ideal of “European science” to which Husserl re-affirms his commitment in the Crisis does not significantly differ from that which he presents in the Cartesian Meditations, and Husserl does not suppose his greater attention to the life-world to undermine earlier aspirations.
Chapter Five, the first of the collection specifically to compare Hegel and Heidegger, is by Antoine Cantin-Brault and examines Hegel’s and Heidegger’s respective understandings of the Heraclitean logos. In its profounder sense, as the principle (arche) of nature (phusis), logos may, according to Cantin-Brault be understood either as (i) the dialectical and determinate truth of being, or as (ii) the unveiling of that which is concealed. Although Heraclitus does not, Cantin-Brault maintains, explicitly make any such distinction, Hegel interprets Heraclitean logos from the first perspective, whereas Heidegger’s interpretation emphasises the second. For Cantin-Brault, Heidegger’s approach to Heraclitus is mediated by a Hegelian interpretation which he tries, and ultimately fails, to overcome. As such, Cantin-Brault argues, Heidegger is unsuccessful in his attempt to understand Heraclitean logos apart from Hegelian dialectic. Hence, for Cantin-Brault, as for Hegel, Heraclitus is a dialectical thinker, in whose work a process of rational self-articulation is driven by the dynamic relation between certain fundamental concepts. Indeed, Cantin-Brault maintains, it was Heraclitus that first instituted a logos which provides Hegel’s philosophy with its central governing principle.
Heidegger’s changing approach to Heraclitean logos, and his disagreements with Hegel on this matter, are, according to Cantin-Brault, illustrative of differing understandings of the nature of ontology, and Heidegger engages differently with Heraclitus before and after his famous Kehre. Cantin-Brault’s chapter strikingly highlights the very different issues relevant to comparing Hegel with either Heidegger or Husserl, and marks quite a thematic departure from the previous, more Husserl-focussed contributions. This is apparent not only in the respectively epistemic and ontological priorities which distinguish Husserl and Heidegger, but also in their divergent attitudes towards the pre-Socratics. Although Plato marks a watershed for both Husserl and Heidegger, he is, for Husserl, the first true philosopher, and for Heidegger, the initial step to modernity’s ontological forgetfulness.
In Chapter Six, Andrea Altobrando compellingly makes the case that, from the time of his transcendental turn, Husserl came to share with Hegel a commitment to the pure ego as a necessary abstraction from the concrete self. After the initial Humean-Brentanian scepticism towards the unified self which he displays in the Logical Investigations, Husserl moves, according to Altobrando, in the contrary direction, acknowledging the pure ego as a necessary condition of any possible experience. Like Hegel, however, in the Phenomenology of Spirit and Philosophy of Mind, Husserl is not, Altobrando shows, committed to Cartesian substance dualism, but recognises the pure ego as an abstraction from a more concrete self, upon which it is therefore ontologically dependent. Both Hegel and Husserl, Altobrando maintains, recognise a demand to develop a more concrete understanding of one’s ontological identity which is not, therefore, merely abstract. For Hegel as well as Husserl, the pure ego, according to Altobrando, is entirely barren of content, simple, indeterminate and negative, without being unreal. Such an abstract pure ego is, Altobrando maintains, necessary for both Hegel and Husserl in order to accommodate the possibility of free agency and the intentionality of consciousness.
With this discussion of the pure ego, Altobrando highlights a feature of Husserl’s philosophy which might – in view of his well-known Cartesian inheritance – initially be thought to disqualify any prospect of overlap with Hegel, and shows that such impressions are unfounded. What is more, as Altobrando explicitly remarks, the comparison of Hegel’s and Husserl’s respective views concerning the pure ego represents a large and difficult project with very significant potential for re-assessing the prospects for dialogue between Husserlian and Hegelian traditions. As such, Altobrando’s contribution indicates the beginning of an exciting and promising larger project concerning the place of the pure ego in Husserl’s thought and Hegel’s.
Chapter Seven, by Alfredo Ferrarin, examines the much-neglected topic of Hegel’s and Husserl’s respective views concerning the imagination and, in so doing, identifies fascinating and unexpected points of agreement between the two thinkers, along with more predictable disagreements. According to Ferrarin, Hegel and Husserl share, first, a common Humean target, and, second, an understanding of the mind as stratified into layers of capacity which support and build upon one another. Unlike Hume, who recognises only a difference in degree of liveliness and vivacity between the ideas and impressions which furnish the contents of the mind, Hegel and Husserl recognise logically irreducible functional differences between the imagination and other subjective capacities. Such capacities are vertically ordered, for Hegel and Husserl, each of whom maintains that the capacity for sensible perception is conditional and grounded upon that of imagination.
Whereas, for Ferrarin, Hegel stresses the continuities between imagination and perception, Hegel emphasises their discontinuities, but both acknowledge a mutual dependence between the possible representation of the real and that of the unreal. In accordance with their contrasting methodological approaches, however, Hegel and Husserl differ very significantly, according to Ferrarin, in their assessments of the philosophical role of the imagination. Husserl’s eidetic discoveries are presented as the products of phantasy or imaginative variation, whereas Hegel understands the imagination as an intermediate stage on subjectivity’s self-propelling journey towards the pure Idea, wherein the sensible content of one’s representations is abstracted and their logical form laid bare to the contemplation of speculative intelligence. Since for Hegel it is the business of philosophy to transform representations into thoughts, the products of imagination are, in spite of their necessary contribution in facilitating the possibility of sensible knowledge and experience, part of what needs to be overcome in effecting the self-mediated transition from ordinary consciousness to philosophical science.
In her chapter – the eighth of the collection – Elisa Magrì argues that Hegel and Merleau-Ponty confront a similar paradox concerning expression, and pursue a common strategy in response. According to Magrì, the concept of expression occupies a central role in Hegel’s thought and Merleau-Ponty’s, but is in neither case to be understood in terms of the manifestation of a pre-existing logos. Beginning with Kant’s account of genius in the third Critique, Magrì shows that, for Kant, expression involves the spontaneous production of a representation which is communicable to others without having been generated according to a fixed procedure or rule. Expression takes on a broader systematic role for Hegel and Merleau-Ponty, Magrì maintains, both of whom employ genetic description to make sense of its pervasive significance in every aspect of thought and subjective experience. Magrì examines Hegel’s discussions of the concepts of expression and manifestation in the Science of Logic and identifies how their respective shortcomings contribute to the emergence of the self-conditioning concept which is the articulation of its own significance. Hegel’s account of expression in the Philosophy of Subjective Spirit is then explored in depth and its systematic connections with the argument of the Logic brought into view.
Merleau-Ponty is seen to agree with Hegel in treating expression properly understood as the origination of meaning, rather than the making publicly available of a privately originating significance. According to Magrì, expression depends, for Hegel and Merleau-Ponty, upon a complex dialectical interplay of activity and passivity, the importance of which for their respective post-Kantian approaches is difficult to overstate. Such a dialectic is particularly well-illustrated, Magrì suggests, in Hegel’s and Merleau-Ponty’s respective accounts of the processes by which the body becomes habituated to the expression of meaning – a series of developments involving moments of subjectivity and objectivity, interiority and exteriority.
Chapter Nine, by Giovanni Zanotti, represents something of a change in direction for the collection, with Hegel taking a step into the background and his place being filled by one of his most important twentieth century enthusiasts – Theodor Adorno. Zanotti examines Adorno’s Hegelian critique of Husserl’s commitment to a presuppositionless first philosophy grounded in the immediate deliverances of intuition. According to Zanotti, Adorno shows Husserl’s ambitious foundationalist project to fall victim to Hegel’s critique of pure immediacy, insofar as Husserl falsely assumes the possibility of an immediate foundation to knowledge which is yet able to mediate the transfer of epistemic support to propositions to which it must therefore stand in relations of mediation. Zanotti explicitly maintains that Adorno’s critique is effective specifically against such earlier Husserlian works as the Logical Investigations, leaving open the possibility that Husserl may be less vulnerable to such criticisms in the Crisis and related works of that period.
What is especially interesting about Zanotti’s admirably lucid and finely-crafted chapter is the way it explains Adorno’s discovery of an unintended dialectical tendency in Husserl’s work. According to Zanotti, Adorno shows that Husserl is led, in spite of himself but nonetheless through a kind of logic immanent within his position, to qualify the earlier Platonic realism of the Logical Investigations in recognition of a necessary subjective ground for the logical concepts he intends to elucidate without, however, sliding into the naïve psychologism which, Adorno maintains, Husserl was right to reject. As such, Zanotti’s chapter amplifies a theme recurrent throughout the collection – that in spite of his ignorance of and early antipathy to Hegel’s thought, the trajectory of Husserl’s philosophical development is towards increasingly greater proximity to Hegel. This is not to deny, however – as Adorno well-recognises – that the one-sidedness of Husserl’s earlier works indicates a genuine insight.
The penultimate chapter of the collection, by Gilles Marmasse, explores Ricœur’s ambivalent assessment of Hegel’s system and its legacy. According to Marmasse, Ricœur understands Hegel’s absolutist ambitions as a temptation which must be resisted, but the renunciation of which cannot be experienced without a sense of profound loss. For Ricœur, the events of the twentieth century have made it impossible to subscribe any longer to the self-grounding and totalising conception of philosophy which Hegel offers in reply to the finitude of the Kantian system, without having eliminated the appeal of such an ideal. The contemporary predicament is well-illustrated by the remarkable fascination which Hegel’s system retains, according to Ricœur, notwithstanding that it is no longer possible seriously to regard philosophy as party to anything else than a partial interpretation of the multifaceted cultural environment to which it belongs and by which it is conditioned.
Ricœur exaggerates Hegel’s dogmatic proclivities, according to Marmasse, who confronts Ricœur’s familiarly speculative interpretation of Hegel with a more deflationary approach which emphasises the Hegelian ambition to accommodate contingency and particularity within the system without annihilating their status as irreducible moments of a greater whole. Contrary to Ricœur’s inflationary reading, Hegel’s notion of Spirit does not, Marmasse maintains, commit him to any disembodied extra-human agency. All the same, according to Marmasse, Ricœur’s criticisms of Hegel retain, in spite of their shortcomings, a contemporary value and interest, especially in respect of their highlighting of authoritarian implications in Hegel’s theory of the state. Marmasse’s chapter is especially interesting in the way it exemplifies a phenomenon frequently remarked upon in the history of Hegel’s reception – namely, the peculiar allure of his system even for those seeking to identify its failings, and the apparent impossibility of ‘getting beyond’ Hegel – with whom it therefore seems necessary to remain in continued dialogue.
Daniele De Santis concludes the collection with a chapter defending Husserl against charges of the kind raised by Sellars’s monumentally influential critique of the myth of the Given. As De Santis remarks, Sellars’s Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind is often taken as the original source of a Hegel renaissance within analytic philosophy by which Cartesian approaches of the kind which Husserl advocates have been largely discredited. De Santis identifies three aspects of Sellars’s Hegelianism; (i) a ‘three-fold critique’ of givenness, comprising epistemological, metaphysical and genetic elements, (ii) a historical counter-account to a received view of Hegel’s relation to Cartesian philosophy, and (iii) a conceptual holism subsequently embraced by Brandom and McDowell. According to De Santis, Sellars intends for his initial attack against sense-datum theories to open a route towards the rejection of a general picture of givenness of which no philosopher has been altogether innocent. Sellars’s self-described Méditations Hégéliennes are intended to recall Husserl’s Méditations Cartésiennes, De Santis maintains, and therefore to implicate Husserl as complicit in the myth which Sellars means to unveil and dispel.
Identifying a problematic conception of evidence as the core of Sellars’s three-fold critique of givenness, De Santis proceeds to argue that performance of the transcendental-phenomenological reduction, or epoché, leads Husserl to reconceive of the intentional object as the product of acts of transcendental synthesis. Appearances are not mere isolated ‘givens’ according to Husserl, but originate within a normative network of combination-guiding principles which has more in common with Sellars’s conceptual holism than analytic Hegelians have yet to recognise. De Santis’s contribution carries the welcome implication that the so-called ‘Hegelian turn’ in recent analytic philosophy need not preclude productive engagement with phenomenology, any more than phenomenologists have been prevented from making significant contributions to Hegel scholarship or to contemporary understandings of Hegel’s current relevance.
The omission of chapters devoted specifically to Sartre, de Beauvoir and Gadamer and their respective responses to Hegel is perhaps surprising, although a volume addressing each of the major figures of the phenomenological movement would have significantly increased the length of the collection and shifted its focus away from the movement’s founder. Certainly other phenomenologists are more explicitly indebted to Hegel, and Husserl is one of the least obviously ‘Hegelian’ figures of the tradition, but the collection’s unusual attention to Husserl’s widely unacknowledged affinities with Hegel’s thought is, for this very reason, amongst its many virtues. Few other collections offer such thorough studies of the congruences and points of departure between Hegel’s ambitious project and the tradition of philosophical research originating with Husserl, without failing to respect the complex unity of the phenomenological movement as a venture of Husserlian origin. The essays in the present volume – the result of a conference on “Hegel and the Phenomenological Movement” held in Pisa in 2014 – collectively and compellingly make the case for a fresh approach to the relation between Hegelianism and phenomenology, which does not assume Husserl’s basic philosophical orientation to be antithetical to Hegel’s but sees both traditions as responses to a common Kantian heritage and capable of productive cross-fertilisation in the development of anti-naturalist strategies centring upon the meaning-constitutive priority of historical subjectivity. Such a re-evaluation – it might reasonably be hoped – shall be met with enthusiasm by an audience which has become impatient with dismissive treatments of Husserl as a naïve Cartesian, radical only in his uncompromising foundationalism and unmoved by the era-defining concerns which have, since the mid-twentieth century, made Hegel increasingly difficult to ignore for analytic as well as Continental philosophers. While the history of the phenomenological movement has typically been seen as one of successive heretical departures from an original Husserlian ideal of ‘philosophy as rigorous science’ and the greater acceptance of a hermeneutic and historicist approach antithetical to Husserl’s, the present collection invites readers to question such received wisdom by considering the Hegelian potential implicit in Husserl and re-examining his legacy from a perspective informed by Hegel.