Alexander Schnell: Qu’est-ce que la phénoménologie transcendantale ?

Qu’est-ce que la phénoménologie transcendantale ? Fondements d’un idéalisme spéculatif phénoménologique Book Cover Qu’est-ce que la phénoménologie transcendantale ? Fondements d’un idéalisme spéculatif phénoménologique
Krisis
Alexander Schnell
Jérôme Millon
2020
Paperback 22.00 €
246

Reviewed by: Alexandre Couture-Mingheras (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne – Université de Bonn)

La force d’Alexander Schnell tient à ce qu’il est l’un des rares philosophes de notre temps à défendre l’idéalisme transcendantal, idéalisme dont on sait qu’il constitue pour Husserl l’essence même de la phénoménologie, en le rapportant d’une part à l’idéalisme allemand et plus particulièrement à la Bildslehre de Fichte, dont il est l’un des plus éminents spécialistes, et d’autre part au « réalisme » dominant aujourd’hui et plus particulièrement au réalisme spéculatif de Quentin Meillassoux. La défense du projet husserlien se fera donc dans ce nouvel ouvrage, ambitieux et de haute facture, sous deux angles.

Tout d’abord, une auto-fondation de la phénoménologie à la fois sujet et objet de la démarche de légitimation, de sorte que l’on pourrait parler d’un « discours de la méthode » à condition que le methodos soit son propre telos (sans quoi, à raison, il faut avec l’auteur en rejeter l’expression) : il s’agit là de la perspective indiquée par le sous-titre de l’ouvrage, à savoir des fondements, dont le pluriel lui-même indique qu’il ne saurait s’agir d’un simple retour à l’unique fundamentum inconcussum de la subjectivité absolue, et de fait la réflexion sur l’anonymat du sens se faisant, dans l’horizon heideggérien de l’herméneutique, invitera à un dépassement de la structuration purement égologique de la phénoménologique. Ensuite, et c’est le sens de « l’idéalisme spéculatif », cette auto-réflexion méthodologique – étant entendu que la méthode encore une fois ne s’applique pas de l’extérieur à un objet mais est le Tout même de la phénoménologie comme la réduction transcendantale en est l’Alpha et l’Omega, l’objet de la phénoménologie en en étant le Sujet -, doit être elle-même ontologiquement fondée, la réflexivité fondementielle du projet étant sise en l’autoréflexivité de l’Être. La spécularité de l’essai de « phénoménologie de la phénoménologie » transcendantale dont l’auteur reprend à Fink le projet, jamais conduit à terme, se trouve donc associé à une pensée de la spécularité ontologique, la réflexion sur ce qui est reposant sur l’essence -flexive de l’être : pas de retour sur soi — ce qu’est la philosophie en son essence -, sans être spéculaire, ou, pour le dire autrement, pas de fondation disciplinaire sans spécularité réelle, pas de réflexion sur le phénomène sans réflexivité de la phénoménalité.

Le projet, qui a ici un caractère inaugural — appelant à une reprise et collaboration, dans la droite ligne de la réflexion husserlienne -, et qui pose les jalons de l’idéalisme spéculatif en ramassant sous forme « systématisée » (ou plutôt « méthodologique ») ce qui avait été exposé dans les ouvrages précédents de l’auteur, est assurément original. Au-delà même du dialogue fécond qu’il instaure avec le passé et notre temps, il surmonte l’opposition entre le phénoménologique et le spéculatif : c’est d’ailleurs la force de l’essai que de montrer – il s’agit là du fil rouge à mon sens qui en traverse les sections -, que le dehors historique de la phénoménologique, le spéculatif, est en réalité non tant un dehors qu’un dedans non surmonté qui en constitue la vérité insigne. S’annonce en filigrane l’ouverture de la phénoménologie à son Autre comme à ce qui lui est le plus intérieur, le Métaphysique comme « interior intimo » de la phénoménologie, ce dont témoigne le dernier chapitre sur « le sens de la réalité », réel qui n’est ni dedans ni dehors, comme une torsion spéculaire où l’extase est l’envers de l’enstase, ce que l’auteur exprime en termes d’« endo-exogénéité de l’être ». Cette originalité est d’autant plus saisissante lorsqu’on confronte le projet de l’auteur à l’orientation majoritairement réaliste aujourd’hui de la phénoménologie : au réalisme qui prend pour fil directeur l’objet prédonné s’oppose l’idéalisme qui passe de l’objet à la réflexion sur la phénoménalité du phénomène, en une réflexion sur la possibilité de la phénoménologie qui appelle l’interrogation sur la possibilité même de la phénoménalité, en un transcendantalisme spéculatif qui se démarque, A. Schnell y insiste, du transcendantalisme kantien qui concerne les conditions de possibilité non de l’être mais de la seule connaissance. Encore cet idéalisme se donne-t-il moins pour l’opposant du réalisme que pour son fondement puisque la question posée d’entrée de jeu est celle de la conciliation entre d’un côté la reconduction à la subjectivité transcendantale (l’idéalisme) et de l’autre la fondation d’un concept fort d’être ou de réalité capable de rendre compte de la transcendance du monde (le réalisme), que si on ne saurait faire l’économie du sujet – contre cet appel généralisé au XXème siècle à la « mort du sujet » (et de « l’auteur ») -, on ne saurait pas plus résorber l’absoluité de la transcendance en l’intentionnalité d’une visée. On comprend que l’agent de liaison, ou de sursomption de l’opposition, sera établi par la redéfinition spéculative de l’idéalisme transcendantal, et que le spéculatif sera la clé permettant de sortir du conflit entre l’approche essentiellement gnoséologique de Husserl avec son projet de légitimation de la connaissance et l’ontologie phénoménologique de Heidegger où l’horizon du sens et du comprendre est irréductible au schème de la constitution transcendantale.

Est en jeu, cela est évident dès l’introduction, l’avenir même de la phénoménologie, qui se trouve forclos par une double attitude, de soumission à l’empiricité d’un objet pré-donné — c’est là le positivisme au double sens de ce qui sert la science mais aussi de ce qui est de l’ordre du « trouvé-d’avance » -, et de subordination historiographique de la philosophie à son passé. Le transcendantal, c’est précisément cet arrachement de la pensée au règne du fait déjà tout fait au profit d’une pensée pensante. Si la philosophie consiste à retourner à l’originaire, alors la phénoménologie en assume-t-elle la vocation, elle qui, « science des premiers commencements », ne cesse de recommencer pour interroger l’origine du sens et de l’être ou de ce que Husserl appelait « l’Énigme du Monde », c’est-à-dire non un problème mais une aporie qui exige que l’on se place à sa hauteur : le retour aux « choses mêmes » n’est pas de l’ordre d’un retour aux « faits » — en une dangereuse mythologie du Fait qui semble sous-tendre aujourd’hui bien des « ontologies » plates ou feuilletées orphelines de leur Sujet -, mais, suspendant l’en-soi à titre de préjugé, il consiste à faire de l’a priori de la corrélation entre ce qui se donne et son appréhension subjective son thème propre comme l’écrit Husserl dans un passage célèbre de la Krisis (§ 48). En effet, interroger l’être c’est questionner le sens d’être, ce en quoi la corrélation est a priori, originaire, irréductible qu’elle est au rapport entre deux termes hétérogènes. La corrélativité constitue la structure interne de la phénoménalité, ce que met au jour l’épochè phénoménologique, laquelle opère le passage de l’objet à la conscience d’objet. La corrélation désigne la structure sujet-objet inhérente à tout étant apparaissant, faisant tomber l’évidence apparente de la chose, la naturalité précisément d’une perception dont le propre est de s’effacer devant son objet. En d’autres termes, il s’agit de réfléchir la perception, de conduire la vision, obnubilée par la chose vue, à se saisir en un voir du voir : bref, le spéculatif est bien l’essence du phénoménologique, et l’enjeu de l’ouvrage est d’en décliner le thème en trois sections — qu’il est bien sûr impossible de « résumer » : il s’agit, encore une fois, d’un methodos et non de micro-thèses dont on pourrait transposer le contenu de façon ramassée -, la première exposant des considérations méthodologiques, la deuxième établissant un dialogue « historico-systématique » avec l’idéalisme allemand et l’empirisme anglo-saxon (humien), la troisième enfin, affrontant l’idéalisme spéculatif au réalisme spéculatif de Q. Meillassoux.

Le premier temps est consacré au concept même de méthode en phénoménologie et à ce qui fait la spécificité de l’attitude transcendantale, laquelle engage les notions de science eidétique (contre la « cécité spirituelle » des empiristes selon Husserl), d’expérience transcendantale (contre le transcendantal abstrait – apagogique – de Kant), de sens (contre l’être « en-soi ») et enfin de corrélation, en vue d’une rapproche renouvelée du problème de la compréhension, dans l’effort de conciliation de l’approche herméneutique chez Heidegger et de la légitimation transcendantale de la connaissance chez Husserl : l’idéalisme spéculatif met en jeu ce « comprendre transcendantal » irréductible à la face subjective et psychologique d’un savoir dont la connaissance objective et scientifique serait l’autre face, comme ce « sens se faisant » de l’ordre de l’entre-deux, inassignable à une instance, subjective ou objective, entre l’activité de l’esprit (il faut un interprétant) et un champ prédonné de compréhension (qui oriente l’interprétation, la soustrayant à tout arbitraire). Autrement dit, la description qui était définitoire de la phénoménologie se trouve dépassée par la construction : le spéculatif, c’est déjà ce « comprendre », cette monstration du sens – occulté dans l’attitude naturelle -, une « donation génétisée ». Spéculer, ce n’est pas spéculer dans le vide, mais ce n’est pas non plus, tel est l’enjeu de cette section, rapporter une construction à un étant qui lui préexisterait.

La deuxième section vise à rapporter la phénoménologie comme idéalisme spéculatif à l’idéalisme postkantien, passant de l’approche strictement méthodologique à une approche historique dont l’objectif est clair : justifier l’idéalisme spéculatif en inscrivant le projet de fondation de la phénoménologie dans l’horizon de l’idéalisme allemand, permettant ici encore de dépasser le caractère descriptif de la phénoménologie – le « principe des principes » qu’est l’intuition et qui est eo ipso légitimante pour Husserl -, au regard de la Wissenschaftslehre – et de l’image – de Fichte où il s’agit bien de construire le fait et ses conditions de possibilité de façon génétique, non à partir de faits (pure description) mais à partir d’un acte de construction (ici de la Tathandlung) par quoi la construction (ou spécularité) coïncide avec l’intuitivité de ce qu’elle construit et donne à voir. Comme le dit A. Schnell, l’intuitivité est ici un voir de la genèse. Cette interrogation sur les fondements spéculatifs de l’unité de la phénoménologie – conditionnement mutuel, possibilisation, construction génétique, redoublement possibilisant, autant de concepts analysés par l’auteur -, se double d’une confrontation subséquente de la phénoménologie à l’empirisme humien sous l’angle de la thématique de la Lebenswelt. Si le mérite de Hume est en effet d’engendrer le monde, montrant que ce qui paraît aller de soi n’a rien d’assuré, que les vérités objectives sont des formations de vie – une subjectivité voilée -, bref de retourner au monde de la vie comme sol de notre rapport au monde et a priori subjectif au fondement de l’a priori objectif de la science, il s’agit en revanche pour Husserl, on le sait, de concilier cette « fiction » du monde à son projet de légitimation de l’objectivité de la connaissance en intégrant le débat de la validité menée par le néo-kantisme de l’école de Baden dans la problématique de l’être. Contre l’objectivisme, l’auteur étudie la formation transcendantale du sens en prenant en compte le concept de vérité exposé dans la Sixième recherche logique et la thèse heideggérienne de la vérité comme existential. L’idéalisme spéculatif se trouve ici approfondi, permettant de sortir de la perspective purement gnoséologique en vue d’un « rendre compréhensible transcendantal » — mis en avant surtout par la Krisis -, et la mise en avant du plan anonyme, pré-égotique, de la Sinnbildung. Autrement dit, de la seconde section ressortent l’irréductibilité de la phénoménologie à la description et intuition, le rôle fondamental joué par les modes de conscience « non-présentants » (la fameuse phantasia) et enfin le primat du plan du procès du sens sur la constitution égologique (le spéculaire), idée d’un auto-anéantissement du moi conduisant à une « Sinnbildung anonyme » pré-égotique (ou « subjectivité anonyme ») — ici évoquée seulement mais dont on peut imaginer la fécondité à la rapporter par exemple au champ transcendantal sans ego (Sartre) ou au plan d’immanence de conscience absolue et impersonnelle (Deleuze), c’est-à-dire à ce dont Jean Hyppolite avait avancé l’idée en 1959, à savoir la possibilité de dériver le « Je » transcendantal – le « Je » comme pôle qui accompagne toutes mes représentations -, d’un champ antérieur au partage entre Moi et non-Moi, pré-subjectif et pré-objectif, et ce contre l’égocentrisme de la donation transcendantale.

Mais c’est à l’aune de la confrontation au réalisme spéculatif dans la troisième section que l’on saisit l’un des motifs au principe de l’essai : sauver la phénoménologie contre l’attaque menée par Q. Meillassoux contre ce qu’il a appelé dans Après la finitude le « corrélationisme ». Si on comprend mal la référence au « Nouveau Réalisme » de Markus Gabriel dans la mesure où il s’agit d’un réalisme sans Réalité – « tout existe, sauf le Tout » -, qui ouvrant l’ontologie aux sens de l’être et aux laissés-pour-compte de l’ontologie traditionnelle comme les licornes se détourne de son principe et abolit l’idée de « réalité du réel » et de nature fondamentale de ce qui est, au nom d’un pluralisme ontologique et épistémologique si radical qu’il en perd tout sens – l’ouverture de l’être aux fictions reposant sur l’idée de fiction de réalité -, en revanche la discussion menée avec le réalisme spéculatif permet, par contraste, de légitimer le projet de fondation de l’idéalisme spéculatif phénoménologique. Au-delà de la critique de l’argument de l’ancestralité qui fait fond sur une confusion selon l’auteur entre l’empirique et le transcendantal – l’expérience possible ne doit pas être confondue avec la possibilité empirique, si bien qu’il n’est de sens à inscrire la survenue du sujet (transcendantal) dans la ligne temporelle objective -, c’est bien à mon sens la façon dont l’absolu se trouve revisité à l’aune de l’idéalisme allemand qui ressort de l’analyse : d’un absolu qui n’est plus pensé comme absolu objectif mais comme réel subjectif et pré-égotique contre l’ontologisation de l’irraison et l’absolutisation de la contingence de la corrélation. La réflexivité de l’être – sa « corrélativité » -, le procès du sens comme structure transcendantale tendant à l’auto-explicitation réflexive du réel, d’un être se réfléchissant comme sens sans en passer tout d’abord par la figure de l’ego, tel est au final ce qui justifie ontologiquement le projet de fondation de l’idéalisme spéculatif, l’auteur répondant au défi lancé par Q. Meillassoux qui invitait la phénoménologie à s’élever aux hauteurs spéculatives de l’idéalisme kantien et postkantien. Pari tenu.

Que serait un en-soi qui serait pensé non comme chose mais comme sujet, en-soi comme Soi ? Si l’on se plaît depuis Wittgenstein à parler d’un « mythe de l’intériorité », la démarche radicale d’immanentisation chez Husserl consistait au contraire, tirant le fil cartésien, à interroger ladite « réalité du réel » et à rebours de l’attitude naturelle à mettre au jour ce qu’on pourrait appeler un « mythe de l’extériorité », révélant le dehors du dedans au sens du génitif subjectif. La phénoménologie procédait à une libération spectaculaire (mais n’est-ce pas le sens même de l’amour du Vrai, de la Philalethia en son sens originaire, i.e. initiatique ?) : libération de la conscience à l’égard du monde, renvoyé à son insuffisance ontologique et au caractère immanent de sa transcendance, libération de la conscience à l’égard d’elle-même dans son auto-appréhension limitante comme « moi psychophysique » — si l’épochè est l’acte inaugural de la philosophie c’est bien en tant que nul ne saurait se mettre en quête de Vérité qui reste prisonnier du sens de son identité -, et libération contre la philosophie moderne à l’égard de Dieu en tant qu’absolument Autre. Il ne faudra plus chercher le fondement ailleurs qu’en soi-même, quitte à ce que cet en-soi soit le lieu de révélation de la Vie divine, que l’égologie soit un théocentrisme, que l’ego soit porté par ce qui, plus haut, est ego transsubjectif, en un solipsisme transcendantal au fondement de l’intersubjectivité, intra au principe de l’inter. C’est là une direction qui me paraît passionnante, en une pensée de l’intériorité transcendantale et « cosmique », comme l’appelait Ravaisson, dont une confrontation cette fois-ci avec la Métaphysique du Veda, le Vedanta, permettrait de renouveler l’approche. Au-delà du cercle strictement phénoménologique ainsi tracé – avec son style parfois sibyllin et elliptique -, la phénoménologie eût pu s’ouvrir à un public plus large, dans le renouvellement urgent de la question originaire de la Vérité de Soi et de celle du Monde dont l’identité ouvre le rationnel à son autre en un rationalisme élargi. Mais c’est là ce dont le positivisme encore latent – mais Husserl était aussi fils de son temps – de la Strenge Wissenschaft, ce qu’engage la thématique de la validité, de laquelle participe l’essai de fondation de la phénoménologie, nous détourne. Certes Husserl concluait ses Méditations cartésiennes par un passage aussi beau qu’exigent : « L’oracle de Delphes gnôthi seauton acquiert alors une signification nouvelle. La science positive devient science en perdant le monde. Il faut commencer par perdre le monde avec l’épochè pour le reconquérir dans l’auto-réflexion universelle. Noli foras ire, dit Augustin, in te redi, in interiore homine habitat veritas ». Ce serait toutefois emprunter une voie différente, celle d’un philosophique roulant sur l’écume des catégories de l’entendement occidental et nourri par l’océan du philosophal : la « porte du dedans », ainsi que l’appelait Rûmî, conduirait alors à un immanentisme radical, intériorité qui n’est plus celle d’un « moi » mais d’un « nous » qui n’est Nous que d’être Un, et dont la réalisation, sans doute, nécessiterait de déchirer le voile des phénomènes – l’image dudit « réel » — de faire de la phénoménologie le tremplin vers son auto-dépassement.

Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, Francesco Alfieri: Martin Heidegger. Adevărul despre „Caietele negre”, Ratio et Revelatio, 2021

Martin Heidegger. Adevărul despre „Caietele negre” Book Cover Martin Heidegger. Adevărul despre „Caietele negre”
Epoché
Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, Francesco Alfieri. Romanian translation by Paul Gabriel Sandu, Alexandru Bejinariu, Dragoș Grusea
Ratio et Revelatio
2021
Paperback
458

Ron Margolin: Inner Religion in Jewish Sources: A Phenomenology of Inner Religious Life and Its Manifestation from the Bible to Hasidic Texts, Academic Studies Press, 2021

Inner Religion in Jewish Sources: A Phenomenology of Inner Religious Life and Its Manifestation from the Bible to Hasidic Texts Book Cover Inner Religion in Jewish Sources: A Phenomenology of Inner Religious Life and Its Manifestation from the Bible to Hasidic Texts
Emunot: Jewish Philosophy and Kabbalah
Ron Margolin. Translated by Edward Levin
Academic Studies Press
2021
Hardback $159.00
700

Thomas Gricoski: Being Unfolded: Edith Stein on the Meaning of Being

Being Unfolded: Edith Stein on the Meaning of Being Book Cover Being Unfolded: Edith Stein on the Meaning of Being
Thomas Gricoski. Foreword by William Desmond
The Catholic University of America Press
2020
Hardback £64.60
304

Reviewed by: Steph Marston (Birkbeck, University of London)

Edith Stein’s best known work is her phenomenological investigation of affectivity and philosophy of mind, and especially her treatment of empathy. Relative to these, her ontology is somewhat neglected even though it is of great interest, both as a transition between her academic and theological writings and as a development of concepts of essence implicitly present in phenomenology more widely. This is an acknowledged gap in Stein scholarship which Thomas Gricoski aims to bridge with Being Unfolded, a rigorous and insightful philosophical-theological interrogation of Stein’s Finite and Eternal Being (Endliches und ewiges Sein, hereinafter EeS).

Gricoski’s opening chapter lays the foundations for his characterisation of Stein’s ontology as a correlational realism. Contextualising Stein’s work within two philosophical traditions, the Husserlian phenomenology of her academic beginnings and the neo-Scholasticism with which she engaged in her later phenomenological inquiries, he argues that Stein developed a correlational philosophy in which phenomenological method is used to address traditional Thomist metaphysical questions. The result is an ontology of multiple modes of being whose common attribute is unfolding:

Finite being is the unfolding of meaning; essential being is the atemporal unfolding beyond the contraries of potency and act; actual being is the unfolding outward of an essential form, from potency toward act, in time and space. Mental being is unfolding in multiple senses… (10, citing Stein, EeS 284-285)

Stein’s own work is notoriously unspecific about the concept of  Entfaltung, ‘unfolding’ or ‘blooming’, and it is this gap that Gricoski seeks to fill in Being Unfolded. He proposes that for the unfolding which characterises being throughout Stein’s ontology is a “self-transcending relationality”:

The key to understanding Stein’s sense of being…is the transcending nature of the relations between being and meaning, and between each mode of being. (32)

Clearly, such a proposal stands in need of further elaboration, and Gricoski unpacks it over subsequent chapters, offering a close reading of Stein’s texts which moves from the logical questions arising from the concept of being itself, through different aspects of being and meaning, to conclude with a reaffirmation of unfolding as transcendence.

The motivation for Stein’s concept of unfolding is located in the tensions in Aristotelian philosophy between actuality and potentiality, acting and resting. Traditional ontological formulations of this dichotomy tended to situate ‘real’ existence in acting; this was especially true of Scholastic interpretations, which drew parallels with Christian concepts such as creator and soul. Gricoski demonstrates in the second chapter how Stein’s own work on potency and act underpins her concept of unfolding. Refusing the need for selecting between potency and act, Stein insists that they are unique modes of being, potency as ‘resting’ essential being and acting as actual being, inextricably related in what Stein calls ‘close belonging-together’. Gricoski’s argument is careful in following Stein’s text so as to show that her ontological project retains a recognisably phenomenologist character in its recognition of a diversity of modes of being and meaning which, rather than being hierarchically related, are drawn together in her correlational principle of unfolding. Within this complex analysis, he argues, there is a harmony in which “a transcending relation holds the relata in a creative tension, without resolving the tension through overcoming difference” (59).

While Stein’s engagement with Thomist philosophy is her unique contribution, there is nonetheless an implicitly Aristotelian flavour to the phenomenological project of seeking to grasp essential meanings. Underlying Stein’s resolution of the acting-resting dilemma is the problem of how to characterise the meaning of essential being, and this is Gricoski’s theme in the third chapter. As with the potency-act question, Stein seeks to refute a philosophical tradition in which different elements of being are ordered as to precedence: in this case, the priority of essence over existence. Arguing that being is non-identical with existence, since existence is temporal whereas being can also be atemporal, and that essence without instantiation cannot count as being, she posits that essential being is irreducibly constitutive of meaning in all being. Gricoski clearly sees this move as pivotal to Stein’s philosophy. It enables her to avoid traditional critiques of essentialism while incorporating essential being into her ontology rather than simply ‘bracketing’ it in Husserlian mode. More significantly, it motivates her evocation of ‘unfolding’ as characterisation of the relation among different modes of being:

Without splitting being into apparently irreconcilable ‘modes’ and arranging them in such a way that the modes ‘overlap’ or coincide in beings, there would be no need for the correlational principle of unfolding to bring the modes together. (252)

Here one may query whether Gricoski imputes too much to Stein in his elaboration of her concept of unfolding. Stein’s own underdeveloped treatment of unfolding might seem to undermine the thesis that it cements her ontology in the way that he indicates. Indeed, Gricoski acknowledges that the more conventional reading of ‘unfolding’ is as a bridge between the demands of Stein’s dual philosophical tradition, phenomenology on the one hand and Thomism on the other. Whether Stein scholars will find his case for viewing unfolding in a strong ontological sense is an interesting question.

The defence of Stein’s concept of essential being provides a springboard for subsequent chapters where Gricoski, turns his attention from being to meaning. Like being, meaning in Stein’s later work is multiple and relational; the different modes of being are all meaning-bearing, as are the relations among them. Gricoski proposes that the relationality present in being is not only reflected in meaning is constituted by the connections among actual beings which derives from their participation in essential meanings:

Through actualised essential structures, every individual actual thing is related in some way to every other actual thing that shares one of the same essentialities. Actual things are connected to each other through the nexus of essential meanings. (109)

Again, the question arises of how far this is Gricoski’s picture and how far it is Stein’s. It seems as though the delicate balance and parity of ontological standing which Gricoski perceives in Stein’s philosophy is threatened by situating the source of their relationality in essential meanings and hence implicitly in essences. If actual things derive their meaning form the meanings of essences, then why not their being also? This is a question which Gricoski takes himself already to have settled but readers may find it pressed anew by chapter five, where Stein’s theistic commitments come to the fore in an exploration of the origin of meaning.

Here, Gricoski’s exposition of Stein’s work takes what appears to be a more traditionally Scholastic turn. Finite being is “the dim analogue of eternal being” (110); actual being qua act echoes the actus purus of divine being; the intrinsic meaningfulness of essential being resembles Logos. It is challenging to read this other than as a hierarchy of meaning, and thus as at least potentially reductive; this suggestion becomes more forceful in the claim that essentialities reflect only the meaning aspect of divine being, so that finite acts of actual being are closer to God than finite instances of meaning which have only essential being. With such a structure in play, can Gricoski uphold his thesis that Stein’s ontology avoids hierarchy by foregrounding the relationalities within being and between being and meaning? Stein’s own answer is reminiscent of theological mysteries:

We can only conclude that everything finite – its quid as well as its being – must be predetermined as being-in-God, because both [principles] come from him. The final cause of all being and quiddity must however be both in perfect unity. (111, fn3, citing Stein, EeS)

More compelling is Gricoski’s account of how Stein takes herself to have overcome not only the intrusion of hierarchy into her adaptations of ontological categories but also the problems of Aristotelian teleology. While the suggestion that every object has meaning which it unfolds is undeniably reminiscent of a form-matter ontology of substances, Gricoski persuasively proposes that Stein balances the priority of actual being in its closeness to God with the argument that essential being is prior to actual being insofar as actual being aims at a goal, and thus at the rest represented by essential being. While essentialities bear the meaning of finite beings, those meanings can only be unfolded by finite beings; further, since being and meaning are correlative and not reducible to one another, there are no unfolded essentialities waiting in some metaphysical realm to be unfolded into being. This delicately contrived equilibrium indicates the scale of the challenge inherent in Stein’s project of articulating a Thomist phenomenology.

In Chapter Six Gricoski moves to explore the implications of Stein’s posited mode of actual being in relation to meaning. The unfolding of essential, atemporal structures of meaning in temporal finite being is characterised as “an ontological ‘conversion’ or ‘translation’” (129). On this picture, the essences of existent things are properly understood as unfoldings of meaning, such that existence realises an “irreducible” relationality of co-dependence between being and meaning in the ontologically distinct domains of essential, actual and mental. Unfolding emerges as a self-relation in which being and meaning transcend themselves both within each ontological domain and beyond any one domain. Unfolding reveals both the limitations and the powers of actual being, which Gricoski characterises in terms of deficit and surplus: deficit, in that the temporal existence of an actual object can only partially or inadequately unfold its essence, but surplus in that Stein insists on the “ontological brilliance” of actuality, without which essence cannot be realised. Indeed, according to Gricoski, actual beings represent for Stein “a leap of transcendence”: an enacting in which essence retains its essentiality even while becoming actual and in which the actual qua activity also participates in the eternity of essence. This relation of temporal, changing existence to essence’s atemporality and intransience renders existent things intelligible, capable of bearing meaning.

The complexity of this parsing of the relations among different elements in Stein’s ontology is reflected in the following two chapters, which are perhaps less successful than others in the book. Chapter 7, Matter and Meaning, presents a detailed exposition of Stein’s explorations of the relation between form and matter. Gricoski seeks to defend Stein against interpretations which take her to prioritise essence over actuality, but this defence is only partially persuasive. The challenge, as Gricoski acknowledges, is that the tensions between Stein’s phenomenology and her later Thomism are not always fully reconcilable. This chapter effectively shows how Stein’s phenomenological focus on the uncovering of meaning through essences reads into her commitment to articulating a hylomorphism which synthesises immanent and transcendent (Aristotelian and Platonic) concepts of form and in which form and matter are reciprocal, co-sustaining aspects of actuality. However, while Gricoski sees unfolding as the key to appreciating how this works out in Stein’s ontology, it is not clear that he has defeated suggestions that form takes priority over matter, or essence over existence, as a source of meaning. This difficulty is reiterated in Chapter 8, Material Beings, in which Gricoski seeks to illustrate the workings of Stein’s hylomorphism in “case studies” of the unfolding of material things of different kinds.

The case studies demonstrate the sheer intricacy of Stein’s ontology and the complexities involved in using it to illuminate the meanings of phenomena – it is tempting to wonder whether Stein’s work shows the prudence of Husserl’s strategey of epochē towards ontological questions. Gricoski is diligent in drawing the different levels and elements of Stein’s treatments of essence and being into his case studies, perhaps at the expense of a full exposition of his own thesis that her ontology is ultimately relational, based in unfolding. To be sure, the examples of organic beings have unfolding baked into their descriptions, but this is hardly surprising given the Aristotelian roots of Stein’s hylomorphism. More insightfully, Gricoski elaborates unfolding as a relational term in that material beings of all kinds depend on external beings and essential structures in order to accomplish their unfolding: the nourishment that living things require for their development; the openness to meaning that enables emotional and intellectual experience and willful acting; the processes communication and interactions which generate fuller unfolding of meaning in all beings involved in them. This seems quite true to Stein’s emphasis on the exteriority in which spirit transcends itself and in which all meaning, knowledge and creativity reside, and it would have been good to see more clearly how Gricoski’s own thought develops the insights gleaned from his exegetical work.

In addressing the mode of mental being in Chapter Nine, Gricoski touches on one of the most interesting aspects of Stein’s philosophy, the ontological characterisation of concepts, creativity and knowing. The medium of mind, he proposes, exhibits unfolding analogously to the other spheres of being:

Between an actual thing and my knowledge of it, a gap or discrepancy necessarily emerges. This discrepancy likewise reveals the dynamic process of unfolding. (196)

The discrepancies alluded to here relate to given meaning given and acquired meaning, and themselves underlie familiar mental processes of experience, concept formation, creative thinking and so forth. In each case, meaning qua acquired unfolds relative to meaning qua given, as being unfolds relative to essence: that is, into something which only partially resembles or manifests the original. Gricoski reads Stein as holding that such gaps in meaning reveal that essence and being cannot be identical, and argues that their persistence through the different layers of Stein’s ontology points to both correlational unfolding and transcendence as intrinsic features of it.

It is not clear, however, that Gricoski does full justice to Stein’s philosophy here. While epistemologically Stein certainly speaks of a “discrepancy” of knowledge relative to meaning, of knowledge “lagging behind”, ontologically she imparts a greater reciprocity to the unfolding of mental being:

Mental being is unfolding in multiple senses: the original genesis of genuine mental constructs is as temporal as the thinking action through which they were constructed. The ‘finished’ structures have something of the timelessness of the beings according to which they were constructed, and in which they were predetermined as ‘possible’.” (200, citing Stein, EeS 285)

While Gricoski recognises this additional feature of mental being to some extent, he relates this primarily to the primacy of human minds and the intellectual capacity associated with spirit. This seems like a missed opportunity to further develop his insight of the significance of relationality in Stein’s philosophy, since the mental realm brings into relations of unfolding beings which otherwise – that is, in their actual or material existence – are not related.

The culmination of Being Unfolded comes in Chapter Ten, Unfolding, Analogy and Transcendence, where Gricoski lays out the motivation for his project of attributing to Stein an ontology of unfolding:

By unfolding, being ‘becomes’ meaningful, and meaning ‘becomes’ real. Even if being and meaning are considered analytically separable, then each ‘gains’ something in the process of unfolding…[T]he being/meaning dependent pair itself authentically ‘gains’ something by unfolding itself or being unfolded. Unfolding creates surplus even as it causes deficits.

In Stein, then Gricoski discerns an ontology of dynamism, (non-spatial) expansion and creativity. Stein’s allusions to ‘unfolding’ offer a means of elaborating this insight; and if the allusions sometimes sound metaphorical then on Stein’s own terms that is no reason for not taking ‘unfolding’ seriously:

The metaphorical figures of speech of our language express an inner correlation between the different genera of beings and thus also a correlation with the divine archetype. (176, citing Stein, EeS 213)

If unfolding pervades all the layers and entities of Stein’s ontology for Gricoski, then so does analogy, in that he takes analogy to be the relation between that which unfolds and that which is unfolded. Similarly, from the pervasiveness of analogy is inferred a universal transcendence which occurs as beings come into relation with other beings or with aspects of themselves. Transcendence and analogy are both constitutive and characteristic of unfolding: “Unfolding appears now as both transcending difference by maintaining similarity and creating difference by analogous similarity” (246).

While Gricoski’s project is firmly rooted in Stein’s ontology, the book could have benefited from greater acknowledgement of her philosophy of emotion and empathy, and from consideration of how that earlier work may have influenced her unique and productive perspective on Thomist metaphysics. If unfolding is relational, as Gricoski persuasively argues, then relations among beings will be of as much ontological significance as intra-being relations. Indeed, Gricoski emphasises that, in Stein’s ontology, “relationality respects difference in order to enable mutual enrichment” (p58). In Being Unfolded, however, there is a great deal more self-unfolding tha being-unfolded. This is a regrettable gap in Gricoski’s treatment of Stein’s philosophy, especially since one of his concerns is to demonstrate continuity between Stein’s academic phenomenology and her later work in Thomist metaphysics. Stein’s own life offers a stark illustration of just how significant are relations among beings for opening up or circumscribing the possibilities of unfolding. Nonetheless, Being Unfolded is a lucid and valuable work of scholarship. Despite the technicalities of Stein’s philosophy it is also engaging and readable for the non-specialist, offering an intriguing introduction to a relatively neglected twentieth-century thinker. Gricoski has demonstrated good grounds for taking unfolding as a pivotal element in Stein’s ontology and an ineliminable force in the creation of meaning.

Martin Koci, Jason Alvis (Eds.): Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque

Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque Book Cover Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque
Reframing Continental Philosophy of Religion
Martin Koci and Jason Alvis (Eds.)
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
2020
Hardback $130.00 • £100.00
264

Reviewed by: Nikolaas Deketelaere (Catholic University of Paris)

Crossing without Confusing

 

During my first forays into so-called ‘continental philosophy of religion’, I mostly knew Emmanuel Falque as the author of a series of extraordinarily insightful essays on the major figures of contemporary French phenomenology, but never seriously explored his own original phenomenological work. After all, as a rare atheist philosopher active in this field who more or less shares Dominique Janicaud’s diagnosis of it, Falque’s work initially struck me as exacerbating the worst tendencies of that of Jean-Luc Marion and Michel Henry: a theologisation of phenomenology by way of a too close reconciliation of philosophy and theology that is not only unsatisfying philosophically but equally remains naïve theologically, thus disappointing both philosophers and theologians. This judgement on my part, however, was little more than a prejudice based on the back covers of Falque’s books—which, admittedly, carry extremely theological titles that might make even the most open-minded atheist philosopher suspicious—and some initial English-language scholarly discussion of their contents. Take for example the chapter on Falque in Christina Gschwandtner’s Postmodern Apologetics—for a while the only comprehensive overview available in English—, which initially describes him as follows: “He has degrees in both philosophy and theology and merges the two disciplines far more fully than any of the other thinkers, occasionally even challenging the boundaries between these subject matters as unnecessary and superficial.”[1] It was only after seeing Falque speak in person that I was tempted to start reading his work more thoroughly, until I realised that Gschwandtner’s description seriously mischaracterised it. Indeed, I attended a conference on continental philosophy of religion at which both Falque and Marion, his former doctoral supervisor, delivered keynote addresses. Teacher and student made very different impressions, however. Marion addressed a crowded auditorium but simply repeated one of his Gifford lectures, a text that had been published a few years earlier and with which—presumably—most if not all attendants were therefore already familiar. Far fewer people showed up for Falque’s lecture early the next morning, but he displayed so much energy and enthusiasm that I myself certainly left feeling much more inspired than I had done the night before. I wanted to learn more about this man’s work and immediately ordered his Triduum philosophique upon my return home. What I found there was a philosophy that, whilst certainly making liberal use of theology, at no point risked merging the two but instead employed both disciplines separately and with an equal degree of sophistication—something that is both hard to do as an author and difficult to understand as a reader.

Having now come to appreciate Falque as one of the most interesting and audacious French philosophers working today, I am suitably embarrassed by my previous misconceptions. I am also equally excited by this first edited volume dedicated to his work in English, as it may help others avoid making the mistakes I did. Reassuringly, the editors acknowledge that we must be careful when reading Falque, for otherwise we might easily arrive at “the misunderstanding that Falque is the direct successor of the theological turn, and a cursory reading of Falque’s work can lend to the impression that he seeks an even deeper radicalization and abrupt intrusion of the theological into the philosophical. Even worse, one might think he intends to exact theological imperialism over philosophy, ultimately reducing any phenomenologically gained insights to ready-made theological truths” (xxi). To remedy this misunderstanding, the essays included in the book all confront Falque’s method, as set out in his Crossing the Rubicon, from a variety of perspectives. This method can be summarised using two of Falque’s favourite phrases. First, there is ‘crossing the Rubicon’, which becomes the title of Falque’s self-proclaimed ‘discourse on method’ and serves to indicate the act by which the philosopher transgresses the boundaries of their own field in order to set foot on that of theology and vice versa, leaving them transformed. Second, there is Falque’s ‘principle of proportionality’, which states that ‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’, and according to which the two disciplines must thus be practiced together but without losing their respective rigour. The summary of this framework provided by the editors in their introduction is perhaps the clearest one available in the scholarly literature so far:

Nevertheless, in the context of the discourse on method, it must be stated clearly that the joint practice of theology and philosophy does not result in their fusion, which necessarily would result (and indeed already has) in confusion. The point in the making is that in crossing the Rubicon one is allowed to pass onto the other bank, look around, and then come back home before getting lost in its waters. In this sense, the boundaries are not abolished (Lacoste) or confused (as Falque’s critics interpret his work) but transformed. (xxiii)

Indeed, what perhaps causes the misunderstandings surrounding Falque’s method is that the act of returning to one’s proper bank, as well as avoiding drowning in the Rubicon’s perilous waters, are too often neglected in favour of that initial crossing: even in the transformation (i.e., the crossing) of one by the other, the distinction (i.e., the boundary) is maintained. After all, without acknowledging the reality of the boundary and confirming its legitimacy, there can be no crossing to speak of. We may then summarise the task this volume sets itself as facilitating crossing without confusing: to show how Emmanuel Falque, as a philosopher, crosses the disciplinary boundary between philosophy and theology, without ever confusing them and thus ceasing to be a philosopher. The difficulty of this enterprise, both for Falque to execute rigorously and for the book to document adequately, should not be underestimated.

Indeed, the difficulty is attested to by the volume itself: several of its contributors offer wholly contradictory interpretations of Falque, with the ‘crossing’ sometimes undeniably becoming ‘confusing’. However, given that this volume only constitutes the opening salvo for the many battles in the English-language reception of Falque that are sure to follow, the diversity of opinion on offer here is to be expected and indeed entirely welcome. Taken together, these essays provide a fascinating and varied overview of the many ways in which Falque’s method can reinvigorate the debate concerning the relationship between theology and philosophy. The book itself is divided in three parts: first, critical interpretations of Falque; second, comparisons between him and other philosophers (unfortunately somewhat limited to French intellectual sphere, with authors like Blondel, Ricœur and Lévinas); and, finally, constructive engagements with his work. The book also includes an essay by Falque that probably constitutes the most succinct statement of his method, as well as an afterword by him.

It is the question of that method, of crossing from one territory to another rather than confusing them, that runs through the entirety of the book. Therefore, that question will also be my focus here, particularly how it makes various contributors claim mutually contradictory interpretations of Falque and occasionally confuse the territories he wants to keep separate. Before exploring these confusions and contradictions, however, it would be remiss of me not to note that this volume also has plenty of other criticisms and developments of Falque to offer that do not primarily concern his method. There is, for example, Bruce Ellis Benson’s important observation that Falque’s “account fundamentally overlooks a concept that he mentions more than once but never analyzes: namely, what ‘religion’ is” (33). Indeed, Falque talks a lot about ‘religion’, but in doing so virtually always means something entirely different: namely, Christianity if not simply Roman Catholicism. He may provide a philosophy of Christianity (e.g., philosophical treatments of Christian concepts like the Passion, Resurrection and Eucharist), but in absolutely no way does he provide a philosophy of religion: i.e., an analysis of the troubled notion of the ‘essence of religion’, or any kind of discourse that also concerns other world-religions. To be fair to him, this problem is one of the field of ‘continental philosophy of religion’ as whole: it talks a lot about Christian theological concepts, but very little about those of other religious traditions or indeed about religion as such. Perhaps less excusable is what Benson calls Falque’s “religious homogeneity,” even when dealing with Christianity: “he shows remarkably little concern for the multiplicity that is found in world Christianity” (27). Of course, Falque has read the major 20th century German theologians, but that is where his engagement with anything outside Catholicism stops. Now, we shouldn’t expect a French philosopher to engage with, say, Asian or American Pentecostalism; but Christian thought in Europe—even in France—nevertheless has an abundance of sources to draw on beyond Catholicism and specifically German Lutheranism. The most glaring lacuna in Falque’s bibliography is perhaps the rich Orthodox theological traditions, including the Russian émigré theologians who often wrote in French (e.g., Lossky, Bulgakov, Florovsky, Berdyaev)—though the present volume remedies this oversight somewhat. A theologian can afford to dwell within a particular confessional framework when discussing Christian concepts since his labours serve a particular church; an author who claims to be philosophe avant tout and wants to address a larger audience, however, cannot.

Two more constructive contributions that do not directly concern Falque’s account of the relationship between philosophy and theology but are noteworthy nevertheless are those by William Connelly and Andrew Sackin-Poll respectively, for they show how phenomenological philosophy borders not just on theology but on other disciplines as well. Connelly situates Falque’s work at the confluence of phenomenology and non-phenomenology, impressively developing this notion by way of Merleau-Ponty and Blondel. In a complex and sophisticated essay, Sackin-Poll meanwhile explores the relation between phenomenology and metaphysics from a trinitarian perspective. It strikes me that Sackin-Poll’s essay could very well form a somewhat unexpected but nevertheless very welcome bridge between the sometimes excessively French preoccupations of this volume and recent developments in Anglo-American theology.

The volume’s chief concern, however, is Falque’s account of the relationship between philosophy and theology: what it means to ‘cross the Rubicon’ between both disciplines whereby one is transformed by the other without them ever being confused with it. The various contributions offer equally varying interpretations of this notion, resulting in some contributors directly contradicting others (which the editors are clearly aware of and exploit in their organisation of the material). This variety of opinion illustrates the difficulty of rigorously ‘crossing the Rubicon’, of jointly practicing philosophy and theology without ever confusing them. A source of the confusion and contradiction may be the liberal use of metaphor made throughout the volume to interpret the central metaphor used by Falque (i.e., ‘crossing the Rubicon’). In his contribution, for example, William Woody asks whether this crossing must be understood as ‘foreign exchange’ or ‘hostile incursion’: even though it uses a military metaphor, Woody asks, doesn’t “Falque’s account blithely ignore an essential—and perhaps necessary and productive—hostility between philosophy and theology?” (52). He explains:

Despite this, is there not a necessary hostility—or perhaps a less charged, beneficial antagonism—that we should maintain between theology and philosophy? Crossing the Rubicon provides an exemplary model that enables dialogue across difference, though such a movement also exposes a necessary inner tension that appears irresolvable in the relationship between philosophy and theology—a mutual necessity but also a mutual hostility or antagonism, or (at best) a mutual opposition and critique. I fear that, in some cases, Falque advocates an overly optimistic view of the potential for this relationship. (59)

Nevertheless, Woody does not give any examples of cases that concern him, sticking instead to the analysis of Falque’s method as Crossing the Rubicon states it generally and abstractly—often, he notes correctly, through various curious uses of metaphor. He then concludes with a metaphor of his own, reinterpreting Falque’s: “Without antagonism and hostility in the relationship, perhaps Falque advocates not so much crossing the Rubicon as the more docile exchange of crossing the Schengen zone” (60).

It is true that we Europeans have grown accustomed to our ability to cross borders easily, perhaps even blithely. Equally, ancient hostilities between European nations have ceased. Arguably, these two developments went hand in hand. However, to say that with them all antagonism has also disappeared—whether on the metaphorical level (between European nations) or as concerns the topic at hand (between philosophy and theology in Falque’s work)—could not be more wrong. Indeed, just like there remains plenty of antagonism amongst European nations, there very much is a necessary antagonism between philosophy and theology in the substantive parts of Falque’s work (which, after all, Crossing the Rubicon precisely looks back on methodologically). In his critique of Henry’s phenomenology of incarnation, for example, Falque questions the too close reconciliation of what theology and French phenomenology both have separately come to call ‘flesh’: sarx in John or caro in Tertullian, he argues vigorously, does not equal Leib in Husserl or chair in Henry. In this respect, there is a perfectly obvious and necessary antagonism between philosophy and theology, one that is precisely productive of what Falque calls the ‘backlash’ of theology on phenomenology and comprises the substance of his own philosophical contribution. This backlash, the result of an antagonism between the two disciplines, is the site where the ‘crossing’ takes place: the transformation of phenomenology in its encounter with theology. Moreover, Falque has explicitly thematised this antagonism—by way of another titular metaphor—in his The Loving Struggle: just like there continues to be strife amongst European nations, philosophy and theology remain mutual antagonists in their eternal struggle with one another; the point Falque wants to make, however, is that this antagonism never reaches the level of hostility. “We deceive ourselves,” he explains, “if we see this struggle as a war. Here, the opposition of contenders (agon) characterizes the conflict (polemos), such that the ‘loving struggle’ among thinkers consists of more than a clash of one ‘force against another force’ aimed at the obliteration of one by the other. (…) Instead, I envision a quasi-athletic clash (lutte) wherein the partners are adversaries only in order to measure themselves against one another and thereby surpass themselves.”[2] For example, precisely in struggling with the theological notions of sarx and caro, will phenomenology truly come to appreciate the distinctly philosophical meaning of what it calls chair—i.e., one that is different from the theological one and therefore cannot be confused with it. In short, there obviously is antagonism between philosophy and theology, but Falque wants to show us how this antagonism should be understood, not as the hostilities of war, but as the loving struggle of an intellectual dialogue in which mutual transformation can take place: according to the principle of proportionality (‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’), it is not that philosophy becomes more theological by actually theologising more; rather, in exploring the other bank of the Rubicon, philosophy’s very philosophising is improved (i.e., becomes more rigorously philosophical).

Fortunately, Tamsin Jones sets the record straight with an extremely clear essay that immediately follows Woody’s and eloquently captures Falque’s approach as follows:

Falque is interested in encounter, not conversion. Indeed, this is one of the markers which, arguably, separates him from a previous generation of French phenomenologists who, by refusing the distance between the two disciplines and claiming certain topics (such as revelation, liturgy, Eucharist) as properly philosophical, also were less explicit about the confessional origin of those topics. Distinctly, Falque has no need to ‘baptize’ philosophers like Badiou, Franck, and Nancy, who might, nevertheless, make use of theology in interesting ways. Despite the fact that Falque employs a militaristic metaphor—Caesar’s crossing is a movement into battle—(…) the ensuing encounter (…) need not result in ‘crushing’ one’s foe, but instead could be understood as an athletic contest in which one encounters an equal adversary against which to test, exercise, and thus strengthen one’s own abilities. (64)

Indeed, of all the contributions included here, Jones’ states Falque’s method most clearly and succinctly as intended to “at once, uphold and traverse the distance between the two disciplines” (63) (i.e., ‘crossing without confusing’). Indeed, she is so succinct when setting out Falque’s framework that she manages to have sufficient space left to use it for some interesting reflections on the institutional structures within which the relevant disciplines are practiced in North America.

In one of the most eloquent contributions to the edited volume, Barnabas Aspray then offers a final metaphor for the interpretation of Falque’s original one:

However, it would be a gross misunderstanding of Falque’s project to consider it as one of confusion. Falque is not a transgressor of boundaries but a marriage counselor; he calls for us to overcome the divorce between philosophy and theology. His aim is to break down the artificial barrier of separation between the disciplines that was erected in twentieth-century France. Just as a marriage makes ‘one flesh’ out of two individuals without destroying the uniqueness of each, so Falque’s reuniting of philosophy and theology does not homogenize them but rather restores their right mutual relation. (163)

Aspray writes well and develops the metaphor beautifully, so it is not without regret that I cannot help but feel that thinking of Falque as a marriage counsellor is seriously flawed. Indeed, though Aspray clearly knows that on Falque’s account “each discipline is transformed by the other without losing its core identity or its distinctive contribution” (164), I wonder if his own essay does not inadvertently end up confusing them after all due to this metaphor.

The metaphor of a marriage counsellor as Aspray presents it can be questioned from several perspectives. First of all, it strikes me as odd to think of an author who puts so much emphasis on the gesture of ‘crossing’ as anything but “a transgressor of boundaries.” However, perhaps what Aspray means by this is that Falque does not cross into foreign lands in order to conquer them, but rather to listen to those living there—which is an important part of his method that Aspray rightly emphasises:

Emmanuel Falque is first and foremost a true listener, reaching out across the barricades to engage in serious and honest dialogue with people who ‘see things differently’ than Christians. This listening attitude is laudable, because it shows love and respect for the humanity of the people to whom he listens. (168)

Secondly, Aspray’s choice of metaphor should also be criticised for downplaying the reality and significance of philosophy’s separation from theology: regardless of the “artificial” way in which it may have come about institutionally, it is a significant reality for the way in which each discipline understands itself and is practiced today. That this distinction should not be taken seriously is a claim some theologians and confessional philosophers like to make in the most casual of ways as supposedly self-evident. That it only seems to be confessional thinkers making this claim has apparently never given them any pause. Yet, if there is a Christian thinker who understands that even a confessional philosopher cannot display such a careless disregard towards the work of their atheist colleagues, it is Emmanuel Falque: he maintains that he is philosophe avant tout because he wants his argument to be intelligible to those who do not share his faith and might not even recognise theology as a valid intellectual enterprise, let alone understand their own philosophising as connected to it in any way. Finally, Aspray’s use of the marriage counsellor metaphor is perhaps too one-sided: after all, marriage counsellors do not just reconcile lovers who have grown apart; at times, they also facilitate an amicable divorce once the marriage has run its course. Perhaps Falque is then only a marriage counsellor in the latter sense: setting up the division of assets between two former partners who have grown apart after a long history together and must now reconfigure their relationship by way of a loving struggle. Falque’s question is first of all how to think the apparently still productive relationship between philosophy and theology once history has separated them from each other: he never questions this separation, for at no instance does he want to confuse the two.

It is curious that Aspray never acknowledges this alternative interpretation of the metaphor he uses. I wonder if that might be because the rest of his essay inadvertently tends to merge or confuse philosophy and theology in its apparent assumption that the two self-evidently belong together, meaning that any attempt at separating them must be dismissed as an artificial accident of history: the job of the marriage counsellor, for Aspray, is to reconcile what naturally belongs together. Yet, in thinking of the marriage of philosophy and theology as entirely natural, one risks confusing them. For example, Aspray writes: “Philosophy and theology can enrich each other precisely because they offer mutually complementary perspectives on the same object” (163). This statement seems innocent enough, yet we must be careful: in saying that philosophy and theology are complementary, i.e. that together they provide a full account of their shared object, it is implied that theology completes the limited account provided by philosophy (or vice versa). Yet, Falque’s principle of proportionality (i.e., ‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’) does not state that in stepping onto the terrain of theology the philosopher ends up with a better ‘philosophy’ (i.e., a more complete one), but rather that their ‘philosophising’ is improved (i.e., becomes more rigorously philosophical). There is thus a difference between saying that philosophy can learn from theology and saying that theology completes philosophy. A philosophical explanation is complete in itself, though it can be more philosophically rigorous when confronted with theology, for philosophy thereby gains an appreciation of its own distinction from theology (i.e., it does not confuse its own concepts with similar theological ones).

The confusion of theological and philosophical concepts might then be precisely what is going on in Aspray’s critique of Falque. Noting appreciatively that Falque advocates for constructing all theology on top of a secular philosophical anthropology—so that the Christian message may be available and intelligible to all (i.e., on the basis of our shared humanity) rather than to a privileged set of believers (i.e., on the basis of faith as a pre-existing God-relationship)—, Aspray is nevertheless concerned that Falque may be showing too much deference to philosophy in practice:

But if philosophy has such a large impact on theology, as Falque rightly insists, it becomes all the more important that philosophy is correct in its account of the human condition. Falque’s picture of the human is the one given to us by contemporary phenomenology (…). But is it the correct picture of the plain and simple human (l’homme tout court)? Should theology allow itself to be unilaterally determined by contemporary phenomenology? Such a position would open theology to be led about by the trends of philosophy like a dog on a leash that must follow wherever its master goes. (171)

Now, Aspray produces a valid theological critique of Falque’s larger framework which, when followed to its logical conclusion, really robs theology of any methodological independence: theology, too, would essentially exist in elucidation of the existentiality of the human being and a phenomenology of its transformation by the encounter with God. That being said, it is hard to think of a period in history where theology would have had complete methodological independence: theology has always had to borrow its method from philosophy, history, social science, etc. Aspray also rightly makes the important point that there can be philosophical discussion about what constitutes a good understanding of the human condition: there is no reason to privilege Heidegger’s analytic of finitude to the extent Falque does without real justification and to the detriment of alternative philosophical accounts. We might say that Aspray therefore accuses Falque of ‘anthropological homogeneity’ alongside Benson’s complaint of ‘religious homogeneity’. However, insofar as Aspray suggests that it is up to theology to decide what constitutes an adequate anthropology, he risks confusing philosophical and theological conceptualisations of the human condition. Theology, by definition, cannot evaluate the account philosophy provides of what Falque calls l’homme tout court, for this is a fundamentally philosophical notion: it indicates the human being ‘as such’ (tout court), i.e. in terms of its pure and simple humanity and thus without any reference to God whatsoever. Such an understanding of the human being as ‘pure nature’ is, of course, highly unorthodox in terms of Catholic theology, but Falque is not doing theology: insofar as he thinks of himself as philosophe avant tout, his methodology equally maintains philosophie avant tout. His method is really based on a fundamental rejection of the most influential ideas of Henri de Lubac’s:

Although it is absolutely invalid from a dogmatic point of view, insofar as it rejects a divine creation, the conjecture of a ‘pure nature’ retains here nonetheless a certain heuristic value. Human beings were not created without grace, but all the same we find ourselves first in nature (or better in finitude)—that is to say, independent of the evidence that will be the revelation of God. In this respect we return to our own humanity along with all of those of our contemporaries who are capable of living authentically without God. Contemporary philosophy thus finds, and in the shape of phenomenology in particular, what Catholic theology had thought already settled.[3]

In other words, the philosophical conception of l’homme tout court by definition cannot be evaluated on a theological basis because theology never views the human being tout court, but always in relation to God. It is this perspective that makes theology theological, meaning distinct from philosophy insofar as they both entertain anthropological themes. Theology and philosophy are different disciplines and will therefore produces different anthropologies: theology cannot disprove philosophy’s claims about the human condition, just like physics cannot disprove theology’s claims about the origin of the world­—such cross-disciplinary evaluation would amount to a confusion of disciplinary boundaries and concepts (or worse, a theological imperialism akin to the scientific naturalism theologians are often so eager to reject). In short, philosophy is not completed by theology and theology therefore cannot take anything away from philosophy; yet, this does not mean that they cannot learn from one another: in their mutual encounter, in crossing the boundary and setting foot on the terrain of the other, each gains a better appreciation of their own rigour without confusing it with that of the other.

Perhaps I can propose a metaphor of my own to interpret what Falque understands as the transformation of philosophy by theology and vice versa. Rather than military manoeuvres, athletic contests or marriage counselling, perhaps the philosopher or theologian’s venturing beyond their respective borders should be understood as a form of tourism. A tourist certainly crosses international borders, but always does so with the intention of returning home shortly afterwards. Moreover, a tourist clearly stands out as such and is never confused with a local. This is not to disparage tourism, for it is often a transformative experience: not because the tourist stays long enough so as to become a local, but precisely because the experience of having been abroad has transformed the way they perceive their homeland upon their return. The British tourist does not become French simply by taking the Eurostar to Paris. However, having enjoyed the gastronomy of France whilst away from home, they might find they have lost their previous appetite for English food upon their return. At the same time, simply setting foot in France has—sadly—in no way given them mastery of French cuisine so that they might recreate it at home. So, the transformation that takes place is not of the Brit into a Frenchman; instead, the Brit is changed insofar as they come to see or conceive of Britain and their own Britishness in a new way. Of course, they may have brought some things back with them from France, but souvenirs are generally tacky and unsophisticated things. We should think of the philosopher’s venturing onto the terrain of theology in the same way: unmistakeably not themselves one of the theologians who are native to this foreign land, and indeed probably unaware of much of this tribe’s sophistication; the philosopher courageous enough to listen will nevertheless have their philosophical practice enriched by this experience upon their return, as long as they can refrain from bringing with them ready-made theological truths that turn out to be garish once placed in a philosophical landscape and are aware that at no point do they themselves turn into a theologian or master the distinct rigour of theology. Perhaps the crossing Falque has in mind is then not Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon in 49 BC, but Lévinas’ crossing of the Rhine in 1928: not a hostile military invasion, but a relatively short and temporary scholarly stay abroad born out of intellectual interest in or love for a way of thinking that is different from what one is used to at home. After all, when he returned after his two semesters of study with Husserl, Lévinas did not spend his life developing Husserlian orthodoxy but rather renewed and transformed French philosophy by way of phenomenology: clearing the space for a distinctly French phenomenology and thereby immediately inscribing into that phenomenology the potential for its later theological turn (i.e., the epiphany of the face becoming the theophany of Christ).

Of course, I don’t claim any authority for my particular choice of metaphor. It will have flaws of its own, as all metaphors do (e.g., it would be wrong to think of Falque himself, personally, as a mere tourist on the terrain of theology). Indeed, given the variety of metaphors used by its contributors and the contradictions this leads to, this volume perfectly illustrates the philosophical endeavour itself: it is the necessarily metaphorical character of thinking that prohibits philosophy from ever considering any question as settled, including questions concerning the interpretation of other philosophers. For that is, ultimately, what this volume establishes most clearly: Emmanuel Falque is a philosopher worthy of the name; i.e., not just an author who thinks (and comes up with metaphors), but an author whose thinking spawns different ‘paths of thinking’ (Denkwege) in others (who come up with their own metaphors). As a result, the publication of this first edited volume on Falque’s work is an event to be celebrated: it will undoubtedly set the tone for scholarship of Falque in years to come and hopefully encourage further exercises in the rigorous crosspollination of philosophy and theology he advocates (i.e., crossing without confusing).


[1] Christina M. Gschwandtner. 2013. Postmodern Apologetics: Arguments for God in Contemporary Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press, 184.

[2] Emmanuel Falque. 2018. The Loving Struggle: Phenomenological and Theological Debates. Trans. by Bradley B. Onishi and Lucas McCracken. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 1-2.

[3] Emmanuel Falque. 2012. The Metamorphosis of Finitude: An Essay on Birth and Resurrection. Trans. by George Hughes. New York: Fordham University Press, 16.

Cynthia D Coe (Ed.): The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Phenomenology, Palgrave Macmillan, 2021

The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Phenomenology Book Cover The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Phenomenology
Cynthia D Coe (Ed.)
Palgrave Macmillan
2021
Hardback 187,19 €
XIII, 774

Balázs M. Mezei, Francesca Aran Murphy, Kenneth Oakes (Eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Divine Revelation, Oxford University Press, 2021

The Oxford Handbook of Divine Revelation Book Cover The Oxford Handbook of Divine Revelation
Oxford Handbooks
Balázs M. Mezei, Francesca Aran Murphy, Kenneth Oakes (Eds.)
Oxford University Press
2021
Hardback £110.00
736

Chad Engelland: Phenomenology

Phenomenology Book Cover Phenomenology
The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series
Chad Engelland
Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press
2020
Paperback $15.95
264

Reviewed by: Robert Farrugia (University of Malta)

From its onset, phenomenology has been highly concerned with new beginnings.  Its insistent demand to relearn how to see things in a new light is evident not only in its method but also in the phenomenologists’ relentless dedication to reintroduce and describe anew this project in myriad ways, time and time again, through their works and lectures to a variety of audiences. One of the main driving forces is that the notion of ‘beginning’, in phenomenology, takes on a wider and fuller meaning: to go back, again and again. This is precisely because phenomenology takes the starting position very seriously.

Chad Engelland’s book, Phenomenology, is both for beginners and about new beginnings; an invitation to re-examine and renew what it means to be a philosopher by analysing how we experience our very own experiences. In his own words, “philosophy is a rigorous intensification of ordinary reflection, and phenomenology is a renewal of philosophy” (151). Engelland’s book is not just a  highly accessible introduction to this 20th century movement but, moreover, it is  a way (the phenomenological how) of presenting the subject itself. The content  list Engelland presents is itself not conventional for academic books introducing phenomenology. Instead of the typical chapters titled ‘intentionality’ or ‘consciousness’ we find chapter titles such as ‘love’ and ‘wonder’. Nevertheless, all the key concepts and main thinkers are mentioned within these chapters throughout the book, in Engelland’s own way of offering them. When one starts reading his book, it becomes immediately clear that the author intends the reader to read this work not as a mere theoretical exercise but, rather, as a means of shifting from the conceptual to the experiential. In many ways, this book is a guide on how to do phenomenology on a daily basis.

As Engelland immediately points out in his preface, phenomenology invites us to look back again in order to bring to our attention that which was previously unnoticed and hidden from us. This call for renewal summons one to embark on a quest of regaining a sense of wonder and fascination with the world. It is a call to revisit that which we take for granted and, as a result, end up filtering and losing significant details about both the world and ourselves as the ones undergoing experiences.

Throughout his whole book, Engelland makes sure that significant words are not taken lightly as he frequently stops and reflects on them. In his preface, he gives us an insight on the word ‘fascinate’ as it is understood in its original meaning: to be under a spell. As he maintains, this fascination is precisely what phenomenology brings back in philosophy: an enterprise that dazzles, beguiles and bewitches us. This sense of fascination is not here understood as one which closes us on ourselves, in turn making us insensitive to the ordinary world but, rather, one which projects us outwards towards the world which, in turn, becomes understood in a fuller, richer and wider sense, since “phenomenology fascinates by restoring charm to the things of this world” (xii). It is, moreover, an enterprise which “captures our hearts by setting us free” (xii), allowing us to explore the truth of things together with others, via our very own shared experiences.

In his first chapter, titled ‘To the things themselves’, Engelland starts by giving a concise description of what phenomenology is: “the experience of experience” (2). Just as Husserl had struggled so hard to reopen up a space for philosophy in an overly growing scientific world, Engelland grapples with the physicists who, in our time, have proclaimed the death of philosophy. What this proclamation entails is the self-aggrandizement of the scientific view which ends up reducing all knowledge to its own episteme. It is this scientific reduction which phenomenology must resist, in order to shift from a view from nowhere towards a view from somewhere. Scientists themselves must presuppose this latter subjective view in order to do science: “there would be no science if there were no scientists” (5), for it is the very act of wondering that gives rise to science itself. In turn, as Engelland explains, phenomenology comes on the scene with its own reduction: the transcendental reduction – which allows us to step  back in order to retrace how we experience things. He argues that just as biology  is the study of being qua biological life, phenomenology, as a science in itself,  studies being qua appearances – phenomena. However, Engelland stops to reflect on what is here meant by appearances. His claims is that it is not mere appearance which phenomenology studies but, moreover, the “true appearance of things” (3). In this sense, the principal goal of phenomenology is to discern the truth of experience itself; “the truth about truth itself and how it arises in our experience” (9).

One of the contributions Engelland makes here is to delineate how phenomenology cannot be understood as a mere modern epistemological enterprise. Rather, it is an inquiry in the classical investigation of the whatness of things coupled with the way, or how, these things are experienced. In this sense, Engelland argues that phenomenology brings back pre-modern philosophy within the modern epistemological paradigm by examining “how can we experience essences, and what is the essence of experience” (11). In many ways, phenomenology is both new and old, as it always seeks to make a fresh start by returning to philosophy’s origin in experience. Moreover, Engelland proposes that the centrality of a phenomenology is its publicness – which entails that such experiences are not happenings inside the brain but, instead, belong to the public world.

From the early stages of this movement, numerous phenomenologists have engaged with art to formulate and articulate their ideas. Engelland refers to this love affair between art and phenomenology in his second chapter, as he starts off by bringing into our attention Paul Cézanne’s bold emphasis on the individual things within his paintings. Merleau-Ponty had written extensively on this French artist in order to highlight that perception is not merely composed of passive impressions but, moreover, it is the activity of allowing things to show themselves as they truly are; what Husserl calls constitution. It is here that Engelland introduces the key theme of phenomenology: intentionality. Put simply, he formulates this notion by stating that “all experience is a matter experiencing something as something” (22). The author provides various ways of how our experiences appear in this way, using several examples from popular culture. However, as Engelland rightfully claims, the truly ground-breaking discovery of phenomenology is that it expresses the publicness of appearances, in opposition to the modern understanding of the privateness of things confined to the mind. His claim is that “appearances belong to the experiential world that each of us shares through our own resources” (24).

Engelland confronts Hume’s notion of subjective impressions as he finds in it a barrier which hinders any access to the things themselves. In a very concise and accessible format, which also includes sketched diagrams, the author shows the ways in which Hume and Husserl remain radically different in their conclusions: whereas Hume would conclude that we perceive mental images since our perception of things constantly changes whilst the real things remain the same, Husserl would conclude that the changing perception itself presents the same real thing in all its reality. This is because Husserl maintains that, within experiences, the changing and unchanging are necessarily intertwined. Thus, phenomenology puts forth the idea that “the thing does not hide behind its appearances. The appearances rather are the thing’s disclosure” (29). This entails that appearances put us into close contact with the public features of things; i.e. to the very being of the thing that appears. The main conclusion to this chapter is summed up into three points: 1) experiences involve a rich context which involves others, 2) experiences involve interplay of presence and absence, and 3) this interplay is what we mean by ‘world’.

Engelland also grapples with the phenomenological nuance of ‘flesh’ – the twofold experience of one’s body as both living (Leib) and physical (Körper). This means that, phenomenologically, our body can both feel and be felt; or sees and is seen. In this sense we are the perceivers and the perceived at the same time. Ultimately, as Engelland claims, “flesh opens us to explore the world and meet with not only things but also fellow explorers of thing” (46). This builds upon the idea of interplay between presence and absence since presence is always a presence to someone. Thus, experience is an active exploration accomplished by one’s flesh within the world; highlighting, yet again, this public feature of phenomenology. Engelland makes some references to child psychology to elaborate further on the significance of the body within phenomenology, arguing that it is thanks to the natural manifestation of flesh that infants learn to speak. By this he means that meaning is embodied in the world and, hence, involves body-reading rather than mind-reading.

Engelland invokes Descartes and his meditations on the appearance of the world populated by others like me. The father of modern philosophy had notoriously adopted a sceptical attitude when it comes to understanding the world, leading him to be uncertain of what he is experiencing. As a result, he categorizes the world in two kinds of things: subjects, experienced internally, and objects, experienced externally. Engelland explains how phenomenology sees this inner-outer division as an artificial construct and, hence, a pseudo-problem which needs to be dismantled: “other people do not show up in the first place as objects: they show up as fellow people” (52). This means that we have the same access to others as we do to ourselves. Here, Engelland skilfully brings into the discussion Husserl, Scheler, Heidegger, Stein and Merleau-Ponty together, thinkers who, in their own ways, have all wrestled with this Cartesian problem. Emphasising the shared aims in all these phenomenologists’ ideas, Engelland maintains that “we have the world thanks to flesh and in having the world we meet with the flesh of others who likewise have the world” (57).

Speech, writing and images also occupy a central stage in Engelland’s work as, for him, they are essential to comprehend our world. His claim is that “words hold this power of enabling us to share thoughts about things even when they are absent to our perception” (60). To highlight the interplay between words and images, Engelland calls our attention to René Magritte’s popular painting, titled ‘The Treachery of Images’ (La Trahison des images), which opens up a window onto a thing which, we know, is not the thing itself. To highlight this ambiguity, the artist relies on the power of writing. Engelland uses this example as a means to show that words go beyond the visual image since the latter is always given to us in a perspectival way, hence in parts; what Husserl calls adumbrations. This entails that the perceptual object can never be given all at once from all sides. However, this is not the case with words since they do give the object as a whole, in its totality. Moreover, as Engelland maintains, speech starts with what is present but soon goes beyond, towards things which are absent; such as the past, the future, the abstract, the hidden, and the imaginary. In this sense, the ‘phenomenological’ brings about the ‘poetical’ as “phenomenology wishes to make explicit the wonderful, life-giving relation of language and experience” (72). Engelland’s point rests on the idea that phenomenology helps us appreciate the richness and multiple layers of experience which language has the ability to articulate in a variety of ways.

Ultimately, as Engelland insists, it is truth which is at the heart of phenomenology since, as he boldly claims: “there is truth, or, if you prefer, truth happens” (79). Phenomenology has from its onset resisted the reduction of truth to contingent facts such as those of biology or psychology. Nevertheless, phenomenology is not against science per se but, rather, what scientists can argue for and uphold. Thus, phenomenology’s true opponent would be anyone who denies the reality of the experience of truth and of essence. But what is the condition for the possibility of truth? Engelland’s answer is clear: “an openness that offers a place for the things of the world to become manifest as the things that they are” (83). In this sense, the starting point of phenomenology is that we are open to the natures of things, which is in itself the presupposition for all other research. Pressing this further, one can ask: how does truth happen? Engelland states that “truth is not anonymous but personal” (83). His claim is that it happens for someone by making something present as it really is. This truth is only possible because we are always already open in our very being such that things can manifest themselves to us as they truly are. In this sense, truth can happen thanks to our personal experience of things.

Engelland relentlessly brings into discussion the possibility that phenomenology can be misinterpreted to be merely the study of appearances and, therefore, is not able tell us anything about how things really are. Such an interpretation will in turn hinder the possibility of ever attaining truth about anything. Engelland sees this as a dangerous place for both philosophy and anyone in search of the true meaning of things. Our job, as he contends, is not to stop at appearances but, moreover, to find out the true appearance of things. This entails that we must search for the adequate intuition that can clear up any confusion and falsity about things in order to give us the thing itself: “it is always by true appearance that we can sort how something is from how it seems” (90). This means that seeming and being are not necessarily opposed and it is, in fact, this central point which makes phenomenology stresses upon within the philosophical tradition. Ultimately, Engelland’s aim is to defend phenomenology from falling prey to relativism: “to say that truth involves a relation between things and us does not mean that truth is relative” (93). The latter simply merges appearance to reality whilst the former distinguishes between genuine and false appearances. It is confused thinking that ends up equating phenomenology to relativism, since, as Engelland claims, “truth is a feature not of things or of us but of a modality of the relation of things to us in which things show themselves as they are and are registered by us as such” (93). In this sense, truth is always relational, hence a relation of thought to things, where thoughts are subordinated to the self-showing of things. What this entails is that our thoughts can match with things the moment things are allowed to lead and manifest themselves as they truly are. Thus, Engelland argues that phenomenology is the virtuous mean between relativism and rationalism; the former demanding that truth is simply appearance whilst the latter stating that truth does not involve appearance at all. Ultimately, what phenomenology highlights is that truth is in itself experiential and, thus, personal.

Engelland dedicates a whole chapter on a theme which has gained quite some traction in phenomenology: ‘Life’. This notion of life is a crucial component of experience since, as the author maintains, “right there in the tasting, in the viewing, there is an implicit, background experience of oneself” (99). Were it not for this experiencing of our own self, it would be impossible to delight in the experience of things. In the opening lines of this chapter, Engelland refers to the French phenomenologist Michel Henry, who has written extensively on this theme. For Henry, life is precisely this immanent self-experience; or what he sometimes calls auto-affection, and it is this experience from within that makes possible the experience of the life of the other. All this ties with the previously aforementioned twofoldness of flesh: “we perceive ourselves perceiving and we perceive others perceiving” (100). Engelland also invokes Stein as one of the early phenomenologists who had shed light on this centrality of phenomenological life to contest the limitations of a mechanistic interpretation of the world. A biological reduction of life understood as purely physiologically and outwardly does not seem to satisfy the realm of life, which must include the inward. When we encounter the other, we encounter more than their outwardness: “I see the dog sad to see me go, happy to see I have returned, and keenly interested to discover who’s at the door” (100). Engelland’s claim is that life involves a world which must be understood as interwoven with it. On this point of chiasm between life and world, Henry would have some disagreement but, for the sake of keeping the argument flowing for the intended reader, Engelland does not go into the nitty-gritty of such disputes. The author’s central aim is to show that human beings are world-forming, hence are receptive to the essences of things, and can, thus, tap into the domain of truth. Engelland defends phenomenology from being determined or undermined by our biological make-up, as it would leave us with a truth that is relative, and not transcendent and accessible to us: “it must be maintained that we humans are tapping into something that transcends the idiosyncrasies of our biology and our environment when we tap into truth” (108).

Moreover, phenomenologists aim at showing that we are responsive to this truth that arises in our experiences. In a Heideggerian sense, this entails that we care about this truth. The temporal structure of experience and the interplay of presence and absence allow truth to manifest itself to us. This points to our hold upon experiences and the way we choose to face them: either authentically (deep and meticulously) or in an inauthentic mode (shallowly and superficially). Engelland describes this shift of attitude as choosing between “being faithful to the truth we have seen and not being so faithful” (109), respectively. In his chapter on ‘Life’, Engelland also introduces the reader to the phenomenological notion of the Lifeworld: “the world of our everyday things and ordinary perception” (110). Again, he brings into the discussion the distinction between the scientific worldview and the phenomenological one. Whereas the former sees the reality of objects only in what is measurable – dimensions, mass, etc. – the latter sees the reality of objects in terms of their meaningfulness and context. But, as Engelland clearly points out, the former must assume the latter for in order to measure anything one must first perceive it as such and such an object. The life lived around inanimate objects and living beings incorporates meaningful relations and it is precisely this realm which should be prioritized over a scientific view which divorces things from our human lives. As Engelland maintains, it is because of the lifeworld that speech, gestures, feelings and our flesh happens and present themselves to others. Moreover, it is within this lifeworld that the sense of wonder springs forth to give rise to science, poetry and philosophy in the first place. In simple terms, “the contrast between the lifeworld and science is not the difference between feeling and fact, but the difference between experience and experiment” (113). In this sense, Engelland affirms that it is not the scientific objects together that bring about the lifeworld but, rather, scientific objects are made possible because of the lifeworld.

Engelland also explores the theme of ‘love’ as he dedicates a whole chapter to it, showing that this theme has a vital role within phenomenology, and philosophy in general. But, what is love? Even though this question has been puzzling philosophers throughout history, it would be fair to say it has rarely been truly investigated and given its proper prominence and attention within the history of ideas. As Dietrich von Hildebrand had exclaimed in The Heart, the affective sphere has been treated in philosophy like the “proverbial stepson” (2007, 3) with the highest rank almost always given to the intellect. Engelland’s answer is that love allows us to see what can be seen and receive what is given, since love involves a relational dimension of openness and trust between the lover and the beloved. In turn, phenomenology “lets us discover the truth of love. In doing so, it frees us to uncover the truth of things” (120). Moreover, love changes the way we see the world, and this is precisely what is at the very centre of phenomenological inquiry. Against the idea that what one loves is their own desire rather than the desired, Engelland claims that phenomenology responds to such a claim by stating that love draws us outwards, beyond our own minds, towards the beloved’s world and, in the process, makes us attain new insight of this novel world. Engelland, with references to Scheler, points out that before we are a thinking being (ens cogitans) we are a loving being (ens amans). The latte entails that we are open to the world. Ultimately, it is love that makes the intentional relation possible.

Engelland presses the question of love even further in order to elaborate on the various kinds of love that exist: 1) idolatrous love, loving something of relative value by giving it an absolute value, 2) inverted love, loving something of lesser worth over something of higher worth, 3) inadequate love, loving something with an intensity that falls short of its worth, and 4) ordo amoris (order of love), which is the one Engelland defends here against the rest. This latter kind of love questions and seeks what really is loveable and worthy of love. Engelland finds that the popular view on love as altruism offers an unfitting understanding of true love, as it leads us to focus on the others in order to avoid our own selves. However, the ordo amoris does not require denying one’s own self for the beloved. The lover’s satisfaction does not weaken love as to love another requires rightly loving oneself.

Within the same discussion, Engelland also brings in some of the central concepts in phenomenological inquiry: shame, solitude and solidarity. The experience of shame “reveals that our bodies are not analogous to slabs of meat. Instead, they are the outward face of our inward selves and are charged with personal significance” (129). This brings out the distinction between love and desire as, under the former, shame disappears. In this same light, solitude is different than loneliness, as the latter is marked by a feeling of unrest. Engelland maintains that the experience of solitude is not something negative at all. Rather,  it is an experience of oneself and its orientation towards others which lies at the basis of communion, which brings in the presence of others. On the experience of solidarity, Engelland adds the involvement and participation with other persons: “participants experience themselves as meaningful parts of the whole. They take delight in working for the good of the whole and thereby experience solidarity” (133). Moreover, participants express their own distinct voices to the whole which they belong to. This promotes genuine dialogue marked by an openness to truth which is necessary for the good of the whole. Thus, genuine participation entails being perceivers of truth. Engelland sees in phenomenology not a solitary exercise of the mind but, on the contrary, an invitation to see our lives as susceptible to truth, which can be shared thanks to dialogue and good works.

In another chapter on ‘wonder’, Engelland discusses the different notions of work and play; the former understood here as centring on utility whilst the latter on an activity which is done for its own sake of enjoyment. According to the author, phenomenologists focus on play as “it involves a sense of external display” (140), comprising of the experiences of the other as witnesses and interested participants. In this sense, we are invited to witness each other as beholders of the wonder of being human and, in turn, become moved to contemplate the truth of what we are. Engelland invokes another central notion which has been a popular subject for phenomenological inspection: boredom. This feeling is characterized by a superficial interest in things and is contrasted with a deeper interest which is imbued by a sense of wonder. The difference between the two has direct implications on being human: whilst the former evokes indifference, the latter actuates care. Our sense of lethargy and apathy result from running away from ourselves, resulting into an inability of finding any meaning as we fail to experience things deeply. As Engelland clearly points out, this is the epitome of the consumer self who chooses freely but remains unaffected by the content of things. As a result, experiences fail to transform us since we do not allow them to consume us instead: “if modern life bores, it is for no other reason than experience has become turned inside out” (143). This requires from us to relearn to see ourselves as pilgrims rather than tourists.

Engelland’s insisting rallying cry is a return to the familiarity and intimacy of experiences. The struggle becomes harder as we become more dependent on our technological world, which leaves us more disconnected, alienated, exhausted and bored. In the author’s own words, “it is a matter of becoming aware of the contours of experience and making a commitment to sharing the truth of the world through speech and flesh” (146). Phenomenology is here presented as a means to turn away from distraction and, instead, dwell deeper in the dimensions of human experiences. It is, in many ways, a means of discerning that which is really important and meaningful in our lives by salvaging us from getting lost in a world of idle talk and gossip, throwing us, instead, towards wonder and genuine admiration. As a renewal of philosophy, phenomenology invites us to step back to gain much-needed perspective. This opening up of distance, paradoxically, brings us closer to the things in question, which, as Engelland notes, is a renewal of the Socratic method by connecting it to experience. In Engelland’s words, “phenomenology, then, is nothing other than the advent of a new wonder, the wonder before the truth of experience” (156).

Intriguingly, the author concludes his chapter on ‘wonder’ by briefly providing the initiating stages of someone beginning to delve deep into phenomenology: 1) Marvelling Stage – which reveals the tension between what one has always been told and what one had construed to be true, resulting in a hunch that phenomenology might lead to some truth and, thus, one ends up reading more about the topic even though a state of bafflement still resides; 2) Speaking Stage – where one becomes an enthusiastic student of phenomenology and, even though still an amateur in the language-game, one starts becoming familiar with the novel vocabulary used and accustomed to the phenomenological way of speaking; 3) Thinking Stage – where one becomes an expert, rigorous speaker of this new language game and can write about the different topics with clarity and coherence; 4) Truthing Stage – which goes beyond mere fluency in speaking and thinking, in turn accessing a whole class of truths. In this final stage, Engelland explains that one becomes transformed from within as the language of phenomenology becomes just like one’s mother tongue, as the need insistently arises to phenomenologize. “Phenomenology is something we learn by doing; it is something that is first experienced and then afterward understood” (161).

In his last two chapters, which are followed by a concise glossary of key terms used in phenomenology, Engelland discusses the method and movement of phenomenology. The choice of placing these chapters at the end – and not at the beginning, as many books introducing phenomenology normally do – seems to show us that the author wants the reader to first fall in love with the new paths opened by phenomenology within one’s lived experience before concerning oneself with the historical development and its methodology. In his chapter titled ‘The Method’, Engelland explains the main difference between doing science and doing phenomenology. In the former one observes, hypothesizes and experiments, whilst in the latter one indicates, returns and explicates; whereby indicate directs us “beyond observation to a more original layer of experience” (165), through return we go directly, “close and personal, with the fundamental layer of experience, a layer presupposed by science” (166) and in explicate we articulate the exhibited phenomena, since “phenomenology recognizes an inner kinship between experience and language” (167).

In his final chapter, titled ‘The Movement’, Engelland aims at highlighting how phenomenology has originated in Husserl’s works and developed by other key philosophers from the dawn of the 20th century all the way through our contemporary times. He explicitly states that “at its heart phenomenology remains a collaborative venture of researchers renewing the very movement of experience” (183). Engelland maps the origins of this movement and how it sought to bring back experience at the centre of philosophy. As his concluding chapter, the author highlights that phenomenology is a discipline which has a history with its own modifications which, nevertheless, resists becoming an ideology, or system, with a final say. Rather, as he presents it, phenomenology remains an on-going, unfinished project which “invites us to awaken to the joy dulled down by habit, to recover and renew the riches of experience, which does not close us in on ourselves, but throws open a world of dazzling things” (212).

References:

Chad Engelland. 2020. Phenomenology. MIT Press: Cambridge.

Dietrich von Hildebrand. 2007. The Heart: An Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity. St. Augustine’s Press.

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