Daniele De Santis, Burt Hopkins, Claudio Majolino (Eds.): The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy

The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy Book Cover The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy
Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy
Daniele De Santis, Burt C. Hopkins, Claudio Majolino (Eds.)
Hardback £190.00

Reviewed by: Gabriele Baratelli (University of Cologne)

This volume arguably represents the most ambitious and complete attempt until today to collect in a uniform form a series of highly qualified contributions on the entire spectrum of phenomenological philosophy.[1] Given the peculiar character of each entry of this Handbook, it will be no surprise if the text will be taken as a useful guide by students entering for the first time in the difficult terrain of phenomenology as well as by experienced scholars. On the one hand, the book is, in fact, certainly meant as an introduction, as a “conceptual cartography” that alludes to the answers and to the immense potentialities that this philosophical practice has expressed in its history. This is done by means of the precise but not esoteric description of its language and conceptuality. On the other hand, with diverse gradations, the entries are also original contributions that certainly make significant progresses in phenomenological research.

The text is divided into five main parts. The first one is devoted to history, conceived in two senses.  The first essay of this section, written by Pierre-Jean Renaudie, gives an excellent and concise overview of the history of the phenomenological movement itself. The others concern instead the conceptual heritage of phenomenology and the original transformation of traditional doctrines and methods coming from the history of philosophy that it brought about. The style of the contributions varies a lot. This is certainly a virtue for the expert, but it can easily become a limit for the beginner. To make a comparative example, Burt Hopkins’ “Phenomenology and Greek Philosophy” provides an analysis of one of the classical themes of phenomenology, namely its relationship with ancient metaphysics. This is realized in three steps. Since the terms of the discussion have been laid out by Heidegger in the 1920s, Hopkins takes into critical account at first his interpretation of Husserl’s method through the lens of Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophies. It is argued that both Heidegger’s identifications (of the doctrine of categorial ideation with Aristotle’s doctrine of the apprehension of eide, and of the theory of intentionality with Plato’s statement that speech is about something) are totally unwarranted. This technical assessment of Heidegger’s miscomprehension of Husserl’s main tenets leads Hopkins afterwards to the related conclusion that the entire Heideggerian conception of Greek philosophy has to be recognized as the “myth not only of Plato’s philosophy being limited by a prior understanding of the meaning of Being as presence, but also of it being a fundamentally driven by an ontology”. After a brief intermezzo devoted to a not very well-known Husserlian discussion over the origins of philosophical thought and the role played in it by the sceptics and Socrates, Hopkins presents Jacob Klein’s account of Plato’s doctrine of the eide. Besides its intrinsic interest, this last part helps clarifying Hopkins’ critical account of Heidegger. It has moreover the merit of assigning to Klein’s analyses of Greek philosophy the deserved position next to the other classical phenomenological interpretations. The presentation of the subtlety of his arguments as well as the skilful use that Hopkins makes of them to confute and correct Heidegger’s shortcomings is certainly proof of the richness Jacob Klein’s thought. To come back to our concern, it is clear that this text has strong theoretical claims, whose authentic appreciation could require the reference to the other texts of the author and, especially for the beginner, to the other entries of the Handbook (including the one dedicated to Klein himself).

Francesco Valerio Tommasi’s “Phenomenology and Medieval Philosophy” has instead a less demanding theoretical commitment, as it displays an historical outline of the different approaches to Medieval philosophy (and religion and theology in general) that characterizes phenomenology (Tommasi focuses on Brentano, Scheler, Stein, Heidegger and Marion). The reconstruction is driven from the outset by a clear interpretative idea, namely, as Tommasi puts it: “The history of the relationship between phenomenology and medieval philosophy is, for the most part, the history of the relationship between phenomenology and Neo-Scholasticism”. The paper has then a twofold utility: by studying the reciprocal influences of two of the greatest philosophical tendencies of the XXth century, it shows indirectly, so to speak, the noteworthy role that Medieval thought played in phenomenology itself. Regarding the conceptual viewpoint, the key-concept that allows Tommasi to give uniformity to his reconstruction is arguably that of analogia entis. This “fragile architrave” of Scholastic thought gathers together the initial emergence of a phenomenological conceptuality in Brentano (for whom, as it is well known, the encounter with Aristotle’s doctrine of category and Being was decisive) and some of its most radical outcomes, including Heidegger’s philosophy. On this view, significant differences among the phenomenologists can be detected through the analysis of their appropriation of this pivotal notion. This undoubtedly sheds new light on phenomenology overall and on its conflicting relationship with Neo-Scholasticism. Without this common ground, in fact, even the “very heavy blow to the Neo-Thomist model” provoked by Heidegger’s critique of “ontotheology” would remain inexplicable.

The other essays concern the relationships with the Cartesian tradition, British empiricism, German idealism and Austrian philosophy.

The second section is the real core of the text. It presents a list of concepts and issues that form, so to speak, the basic ingredients of phenomenology. The entries are either fundamental concepts that often immediately refer to a specific author, for example “Dasein” and “Life-World”, or general topics, like “Ethics”, “Time”, “Mathematics” and so forth. The order is alphabetic, so that any hierarchical connotation and immanent principle of organization is excluded. The complex technicality of phenomenological vocabulary is here analysed thanks to a useful kaleidoscopic operation. Since many terms have already taken upon various meanings, one the strategy followed in the texts of this section is to refract the successive sedimentations of meanings showing the hidden reasons and the misunderstandings responsible for their complex conceptual history. Paradigmatic of this choice is the crucial entry “Phenomenon”, written by Aurélien Djian and Claudio Majolino, in which the connotations of this fundamental concept are unfolded throughout the history of phenomenology. Among the important shifts that characterized this history, two of them appear probably as the most significant ones: Husserl’s departure from Brentano’s notion of phenomena, and Heidegger’s departure from Husserl’s. Thus, in the first case, while for Brentano a phenomenon is “what appears as it truly is, something whose existence is tantamount to its appearance”, for Husserl is rather “what appears beyond existence and non-existence, something whose existence is indifferent with respect to its appearance”. This change clearly determined the “eidetic” character of Husserlian phenomenology as a “purely descriptive” science in the Logical Investigations. This feature will be constant in Husserl’s further reflections, despite the increasing sophistication of his method and the corresponding substantial modifications of the concept of phenomenon itself (modifications that are recognized in three further steps and painstakingly described in the paper). Heidegger’s case involves something else. Thanks to a precise clarification of the famous §7 of Being and Time, the authors explain how Heidegger considered phenomenology as a method that has to deal with the “how” things show themselves, and not with a certain “what”, namely phenomena themselves. Moreover, he distinguished between the “vulgar concept of phenomenon”, something that “initially and for the most part” shows-itself in the world, namely entities, and something that, by showing itself, is essentially concealed, namely Being, the “proper phenomenological concept of phenomenon”. A different phenomenological method corresponds to each pole of this ontological difference: the one of positive sciences and the one of hermeneutical ontology, i.e., “a method to wrestle from its concealment what essentially does not show itself (Being) and yet is fundamental with respect to the immediate and unproblematic self-showing of worldly entities”. This new peculiar scientific attempt is then irreducible to Husserl’s original one, as it focuses not on “phenomena” simpliciter, but exclusively on “the most exceptional phenomenon of all”. The final part of the essay reconstructs the more recent developments of phenomenology by showing the “Heideggerian logic” they embody. Be it Levnias’ phenomenon of the Other, Henry’s Life or Marion’s Givenness, in all these cases it is reiterated that the idea of an authentic phenomenological thought has to face the most exceptional phenomenon of all. The differences lie rather in determining which is the most fundamental one. This paper, therefore, alongside with many others, not only elucidates a central theme in conceptual and historical terms, but it also offers indirectly an interpretation of the sense of several, apparently contradictory, phenomenological trajectories.

The third part is composed of a list of major phenomenologists. For each of them is given an overview of their work. It is noteworthy that this section dedicates deserved space to authors that are still little known (the list includes, for example, Aron Gurwitsch, Jacob Klein, Enzo Paci). Here, the ideas analytically set forth in the previous section form specific constellations of meanings within the unitary production of each philosopher.

The fourth part, —“Intersections”—concerns the significant influence of phenomenology on other philosophical traditions and the positive sciences. This section not only stresses once again the peculiarities and the theoretical richness of phenomenology, but also its fundamentally relational nature. In “Phenomenology and Analytic Philosophy”, for instance, Guillaume Fréchette takes into account the vexata quaestio of the alleged fracture between “continental” and “analytic philosophy” that occurred during the XXth century. The author recollects the most significant episodes of dialogue (and reciprocal incomprehension) of the last decades and gives an overview of the philosophers that, explicitly or not, tried to “bridge the gap”. However, Fréchette underlines the fact that this divide is exclusively determined by contextual and institutional factors, and not by fundamental theoretical principles, as it has been usually the case for conflicting schools of thought in the history of philosophy. In the last part of the essay he conceptually formulates both traditions by invoking the realist/anti-realist distinction. On the one hand, this analysis proves the previous thesis, since it is shown that these opposing tendencies are equally present in both traditions. On the other, by an overarching reflection concerning the so-called “philosophy of mind”, it sheds light on the (often undervalued) similarities and influences that, besides any actual recognition, inform the course of recent philosophical research. Other papers are instead devoted to the relationships with psychoanalysis, medicine, deconstruction, cognitive sciences.

The fifth and final part of the text connects phenomenology, historically grounded in the Western world, to other areas and thus to conceptualities apparently distant from the philosophical tradition. As Bado Ndoye notes in the first essay of the section dedicated to “Africa”, this operation can even appear odd, if not paradoxical, if we think that when Husserl mentioned “African or non-Western people in general, it was always in order to make a contrast with what he used to call the ‘Idea of Europe’, as if the very essence of the latter could not be cleared if not opposed to a radical exteriority”. Husserl’s “eurocentrism”, however, is of a peculiar kind since it privileges the role of European humanity as that which factually revealed the authentic idea of reason and science. The content and especially the telos of this idea are not of course limited to one culture, but rather represent the common horizon that has to define humanity as such. Given this premise, the wide interest that phenomenology received all over the world cannot be a surprise and does not imply eo ipso an endorsement of relativism. Ndoye shows precisely this by analysing the work of Paulin J. Hountondji and his critique of the philosophical Western prejudices over Africa from the exact standpoint of Husserl’s universal idea of science. This happens in Hountondji’s account of Tempels’ Bantu Philosophy (1947), which is charged with confusing philosophy and ethnology, and in this way creating “philosophemes” attributed to a “fantasized vision of African societies”. This attitude does not rule out the importance of empirical research but is useful, on the contrary, to appreciate its authentic role and meaning. Ndoye suggests that in this sense Hountondji’s trajectory repeats Husserl’s, inasmuch as the latter finally encounters the question of the life-world as the unavoidable dimension that precedes every objective science. Despite the plurality of its manifestations, the correct interpretation of this original dimension helps “to pass through the element of the particular, in this instance the local cultures, as a gateway to the universal”.

Two things have to be certainly recognized in the editorial composition of this Handbook. The first is to have successfully produced and assembled a useful and insightful instrument for further phenomenological studies. The second is the courage behind the realization of such a project. The unity of this book, in fact, surpasses the collection of excellent contributions that it contains. Through its pages, phenomenology is not presented in the rigor mortis of definitions and historical analyses dictated by an eccentric scholarly curiosity. It is instead fierily depicted as a “living movement” whose role within and outside the philosophical sphere is not exhausted. In other words, this book does not impose the seal of the past to phenomenology, but rather it vividly presents it in its actual force, as a cultural project that is still in becoming in such a way that it can still meaningfully respond to our present needs.

Now, if this is what motivated, at least partially, this enterprise, then a very basic assumption is here presupposed. Namely, the fact that phenomenology, whatever it really is, exists. Given a superficial knowledge of the history of philosophy after Husserl up to the present, a sceptic could simply deny this alleged fact: the contrasts among philosophers at first recognizing themselves as belonging to the same scientific community inspired by Husserl’s works are so fundamental and the paths taken from them so diverse that any possible feature giving an acceptable unity and coherence seems to vanish.  The sceptic could find in the constant appeal to metaphors describing the course of phenomenology further evidence for his thesis. For instance, in Renaudie’s already mentioned historical essay, it is said that phenomenology cannot be characterized as a systematic doctrine, having fixed and clear fundamental principles and a cumulative-like progress. On the contrary, what is common to its different manifestations is only a “philosophical style”. As a consequence, Renaudie himself describes the history of phenomenology through a series of “conceptual shifts” (“transcendental”, “existential” and so forth) and he finally compares this flourishing of expressions to a plant, “the wilting of which does not necessarily prevent its growing back under a new and rejuvenated shape”. On this view, the many unorthodox interpretations stemming from Husserl’s texts would not destroy the sense of the entire project but, on the very contrary, would be essential to foster its development. Surely fascinating, but again, the sceptic would reply: is it  really so? Is it not just a verbal escamotage to cover the historical failure  of phenomenological thinking, whatever it tried to be at the end? Is not this narrative even more doubtful in contrast to Husserl’s own words, where in the Crisis the existence of almost as many philosophies as philosophers is presented as an urgent contemporary problem?

As said before, the editors do not elude this question and, in the introduction, they give a few remarkable hints to clarify their position. Even more clearly, perhaps, the collection of essays itself indicates a possible reply to the sceptic. The way in which they are organized, as well as the very diversified contents and perspectives offered, reveal a tension towards two complementary directions. The first one has to do with the “origin” of phenomenology, and specifically with the inevitable theoretical heritage of Edmund Husserl’s epoch-making work. Without Husserl, that is, without his immense factual influence, phenomenology, and therefore any history of phenomenology, would have never been arisen. Having in mind Paul Ricouer’s notorious dictum, namely that phenomenology is the sum of Husserl’s works and the heresies that stemmed from them, the editors suggest that this history has to be primarily described as a “‘self-differentiating’ history, a series of more or less dramatic (theoretical or even spatial) departures from Husserl, or even as a sum total of all the one-way train and air tickets away from him”. This does not amount to saying that the inevitable coming back to Husserl has to be meant as a return to “the things themselves”, in the sense of an auroral locus in which phenomenology was authentically conceived and practiced, untouched by its successive distortions. This solution cannot work since the sceptical arguments could be in fact repeated on this level. After all, who really is Husserl? Given the profound changes that mark his philosophical career, not to mention the various interpretations and criticisms to which his work underwent, the sceptic would maybe paraphrase what Einstein once bitterly said of Kant, namely that every philosopher has his own Husserl. Be that as it may, the state of affairs that occasioned the “ongoing cluster of heresies of heresies”, is not in contradiction with its grounding in Husserl’s texts. The latter do not contain a fixed and coherent system of doctrines, but rather (despite the huge amounts of material) a “small beginning” that has to be still understood and, when necessary, criticized. The very content of Husserl’s ground-breaking philosophizing, in other words, has not finished to be unfolded with his death: new shades appear in a circular motion in which phenomenology tries to define itself in such a manner that “Husserl’s own doctrine assumes a constantly new aspect and shape as it is looked at from such and such an angle”. The ultimate reference point, therefore, is not a mythological Husserl, “the true one”, but the conceptual space that he opened and that still waits for its authentic discovery.

The other side of the reply to the sceptic involves a certain view of the future. The connection to an origin meant in this way cannot but find its verso in a unity that is still to come. Now, despite the appearances, it is undoubtful that phenomenological doctrines share a certain “family resemblance”, whose sense points beyond each of them. Just like “the many different adumbrations do not exclude the dynamic unity of what is experienced though them”, the multiple directions presented in this text are directed to a common ideal pole. In other terms, each of them cannot live without the others in a multiplicity of positions that, insofar as they are genuinely phenomenological, contribute to build the very same “Husserlian” theoretical space.

In conclusion, this book is a great guide for everybody who is looking for an orientation in a certain domain of phenomenology. But we could say, it is a phenomenological guide, a book of phenomenology, that gathers a (empirical but ideally infinitively extendable) community whose project is shared. The implicit tension that crosses the contributions hides thus a promise, the promise that many heard at first in Husserl’s own words and that this text has succeeded in making audible once again. The restoring of this philosophical ambition is what preserves the necessary looking back to the past into a nostalgic and antiquarian task and at once what projects the very same enquiry into the future.

[1] To my knowledge, the only comparable text in English is The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology (2012) edited by D. Zahavi, published by Oxford University Press, which is limited to a smaller portion of this spectrum.

William McNeill: The Fate of Phenomenology: Heidegger’s Legacy

The Fate of Phenomenology: Heidegger's Legacy Book Cover The Fate of Phenomenology: Heidegger's Legacy
New Heidegger Research
William McNeill
Rowman & Littlefield
Paperback $39.95 • £31.00

Reviewed by: François Raffoul (Louisiana State University)

In this short book, The Fate of Phenomenology. Heidegger’s Legacy, Heidegger translator William McNeill engages the question of phenomenology in Heidegger’s work. The question or conceit that is taken as a guiding thread for this work runs as follows: while the early Heidegger “enthusiastically” embraced phenomenology as proper access to authentic philosophizing, and as the “method of ontology,” after the publication of Being and Time, McNeill considers thatHeidegger appears to abandon phenomenology,” and that his “later thinking is for the most part no longer carried out in the name of phenomenology” (41). With respect to this alleged abandonment of phenomenology, McNeill adds that Heidegger “never fully or systematically explains why, neither in his published writings nor in his public lectures,” to then conclude: “the apparent abandonment or further transformation of phenomenology remains something of a mystery” (117). In what follows, I will briefly reconstruct the sequence of the work, and then raise a few questions.

As mentioned above, this is a short book, and McNeill recognizes the limited scope of his work, characterizing it as a series of “musings” (xiv), a “set of short reflections,” a sketch that “cannot and does not claim to offer a full or systematic account of Heidegger’s complex relationship to phenomenology” (ix). Rather, this work is more like a “provocation” on the way to a philosophical reflection on the fate of phenomenology in Heidegger’s thought. The book is composed of 7 chapters, with a preface and no conclusion. Two chapters are either already published or drawing from an earlier essay.

The first chapter looks at Heidegger’s early work, focusing on his confrontation with Husserl, on the interpretation of what is meant by “the things themselves.”  In opposition to Husserl’s emphasis on consciousness and transcendental subjectivity, and to a certain theoreticism, Heidegger posits “life” in its historical concreteness as the “‘primordial phenomenon’ (Urphänomen) of phenomenology,” 14).  McNeill follows Heidegger’s appropriation of phenomenology, insisting on its hermeneutic and deconstructive scope.

Chapter two pursues and develops Heidegger’s radicalization of phenomenology around the time of Being and Time, fleshing out the ontological sense that Heidegger gives it (as opposed to Husserl’s orientation towards consciousness). Being for Heidegger must be considered as what is primarily concealed. This, it should be noted, already announces the late expression of “phenomenology of the inapparent,” to which I will return. This element of concealment is crucial and determines Heidegger’s thinking of phenomenology.

In Chapter three, McNeill argues that Heidegger’s radicalization of phenomenology “was not quite radical enough: It did not quite get to the root of the matter, of the Sache.  That would require a further step, one that Heidegger would begin to venture only in 1930.”  McNeill claims that the early Heidegger approaches “the λόγος of phenomenology in its scientific guise,” maintains a “scientific” (wissenschaftlich) aspiration that is in tension with phenomenality itself” (xi), and concludes that, “The conceptual discourse of phenomenology, it turns out, was by implication complicit with doing a certain violence to things, indeed to phenomenality itself,” thereby necessitating a turn towards poetic thinking that is “no longer the conceptual λόγος of phenomenology” (xii). Further in the book, McNeill still refers to such “conceptual thinking of phenomenology” (123). These claims are a bit surprising, first because Heidegger had broken with the dominance of the theoretical as early as 1919, in a Freiburg lecture course, where he spoke of “breaking the primacy of the theoretical” on the way to an originary phenomenology of the facticity of life (GA 56/57, 59/50); second, because as we will see Heidegger rejected the ideal of scientificity in Husserl’s phenomenology; and, finally, because he approached λόγος in Being and Time in its apophantic and phenomenological scopes, and not under the form of the concept. The early Heidegger has certainly already broken with the dominance of the theoretical and of conceptuality, approaching phenomenology as belonging to life itself in its process of self-explication (always occurring against the background of a certain opacity, as factical). Heidegger still reminded us in the Zollikon seminars that “Phenomenology deals with what is prior to all conceptualization” (GA 89, 172/131). Referring to a “turn away from phenomenology” toward a more poetic attunement to letting be after Being and Time, McNeill contrasts this alleged conceptuality with Heidegger’s new emphasis on the motif of “letting.” But did Heidegger not precisely characterize in Being and Time the λόγος as a “letting be seen” (Sehen lassen)? The contrast established by McNeill in chapter three, although convenient, is thus not without complications.

In Chapter 4, McNeill focuses on the 1936 version of “The Origin of the Work of Art,” a choice that McNeill never really justifies. This is an odd chapter, as it is not entirely clear how it fits the problematic of the book on the fate of phenomenology in Heidegger’s thought. The chapter draws from an earlier publication by McNeill, but its justification in this work is not provided. We are asked to “reflect on the implications of that essay for the phenomenological approach.” Yet the question that follows reads: “Does the essay provide us with a phenomenological account of the work of art, as is sometimes claimed?” That is not the same question. The first statement seeks to reflect on the implications of “The Origin of the Work of Art” for phenomenology. The second asks whether the essay offers a phenomenological account of the work of art. Further, McNeill makes the very odd claim that the work of art “takes the place of phenomenology.” Heidegger’s effort in that essay would be to “twist our thinking free from the violence” (79) of conceptual thinking. Once again, the contrast made with an early privileging of conceptual thinking in Heidegger’s early work is without basis.

In Chapter 5, McNeill focuses on two recently published essays or self-critical notes written by Heidegger in 1936, “Running Remarks on Being and Time” and “Critical Confrontation with Being and Time,” texts that McNeill interprets as showing Heidegger’s intent “to take leave of phenomenology.” Yet the reason given for such a view is most telling. Heidegger would distance himself from phenomenology (as well as fundamental ontology), not because they “are simply inadequate or inappropriate, but because of their very success” (87). This nuance is crucial, for it shows that Heidegger does not simply dismiss or discard phenomenology, but on the contrary assumes its vocation in getting us to the matters themselves, in opening the way to a thinking of the event of being, or Ereignis, “the originating Ereignis of Being.” As McNeill puts it,

“Phenomenology, on this account, can be left behind because it has brilliantly accomplished its proper task and is thus no longer needed—at least by that thinking that now thinks the truth of Being as Ereignis” (76).

Ereignis becomes the ultimate phenomenon. This is why we are not seeing  a movement away from phenomenology, but rather, “a turning into and toward the issue or Sache of phenomenology” (58).  In a sense, it is a turning back, back to the matter of thinking. Phenomenology is a re-turn to the things themselves.  A leap into Ereignis, yes, but in the sense in which Heidegger speaks of it in What is Called Thinking?: “A curious, indeed unearthly thing that we must first leap onto the soil [Boden] on which we really stand” (GA 8, 44/41).

In Chapter six, a slightly revised reprint of an earlier essay, McNeill develops the “transition” (and the entire difficulty lies in determining the sense of this word), from phenomenology to the thinking of Being as Ereignis, referring to Heidegger’s thinking of a “history of being,” which he labels the “concept” of the history of being. A word in passing: McNeill has a tendency to designate Heidegger’s key words as “concepts.” We saw how he referred to the notion of a “conceptual λόγος” in Being and Time (when Heidegger was proposing there a phenomenological understanding of λόγος as “letting be seen”). He also writes of “the concept of destruction” (13), of the “central concept of care (Sorge)” (17), of how “the λέγειν of the early phenomenology tends, first, to bring Being to a concept” (79), or how Heidegger “develops the concept of the happening of Ereignis as a ‘history of Being” (103), etc… The title of an earlier essay of his reads: “On the Essence and Concept of Ereignis,” an essay in which McNeill keeps referring to the “concept of Ereignis.” Now, the language of conceptuality (or essence!) is certainly not appropriate to approach Heidegger’s thought, and particularly not the thinking of Ereignis: Ereignis is not a concept, but as we saw the ultimate phenomenon. In any case, in this chapter McNeill attempts to relate the notion of destruction with Heidegger’s later problematics of a history of being. We may note here that Destruktion in the early work was already connected to, indeed grounded in, historicity.

In chapter 7, after having spent the entire book claiming that Heidegger abandoned phenomenology, McNeill has to recognize (and without giving an explanation for the discrepancy) that in his last texts and seminars Heidegger did claim phenomenology as his own approach, and sought “to reclaim or rehabilitate the term phenomenology, along the lines of what he calls ‘a phenomenology of the inapparent’ (eine Phänomenologie des Unscheinbaren)” (122). This last expression, according to McNeill, “fulfills what Heidegger now calls the original sense of phenomenology, that which phenomenology has always sought, its concealed τέλος, as it were” (xiv), implicitly recognizing that phenomenology (as a phenomenology of the inapparent) has been a continuing thread in Heidegger’s thought. The original Sache of phenomenology has now been rethought as “the letting of letting presence as the happening of the inapparent” (xiv). We witness in these texts by Heidegger an assumption of phenomenology: not a move beyond phenomenology, but on the contrary an appropriation of a more primordial sense of phenomenology. This compels us to return to the assumptions of this work.

As we saw, McNeill’s entire problematic rests upon the hypothesis of an “abandonment” of phenomenology by Heidegger after Being and Time, upon the claim that “phenomenology is, to all appearances, discarded by Heidegger as the designation for his own method of thinking” (65). This led McNeill to wonder whether Heidegger remained a phenomenologist at all:

“Is the later Heidegger of the 1930s onward still thinking phenomenologically, as is often claimed? If so, in what sense? Why, in that case, does he no longer appeal to phenomenology as the method of his thinking? Has phenomenology been left behind or abandoned? Or is it somehow retained, but in a transformed or radicalized sense? Yet why, then, does he no longer use the term phenomenological to characterize his later thinking?” (ix).

Now, with respect to this last claim, we saw that Heidegger did use the term phenomenological to characterize his later thinking, during a period that spanned two decades (the 1960s and the 1970s), acknowledging his debt to phenomenology, claiming it as his own, and professing faithfulness to the phenomenological approach as constitutive of his own path of thinking. Would that have happened if he had “abandoned” or “left behind” phenomenology?

We note here several issues: first, it seems as if McNeill wonders whether Heidegger remained a phenomenologist after Being and Time because for a time he used the word less, considering that it is “the deployment of phenomenology itself, at least in name, that disappears” (65). As if the relative absence of the word “phenomenology” amounted to a repudiation or a retraction. Because the word is not uttered we have to conclude that phenomenology was left behind and abandoned? That would be a superficial view. To ask whether Heidegger is still a phenomenologist, if he still “belonged,” as it were, to the phenomenological movement, is to reduce phenomenology to a title or a school of thought as opposed to an effort directed at the “things themselves.” Heidegger always stressed that phenomenology is not to be approached as a particular philosophical movement but rather as a permanent possibility of thought, entirely oriented towards the access to the things themselves: “This procedure can be called phenomenological if one understands by phenomenology not a particular school of philosophy, but rather something which permeates [waltet] every philosophy. This something can best be called by the well-known motto ‘To the things themselves’” (GA 14, 54/TB, 44-45). This is why in the autobiographical essay “My Way to Phenomenology” (1963), Heidegger suggested that phenomenology “can disappear as a title [als Titel] in favor of the matter of thinking [Sache des Denkens]” (GA 14, 101/82, slightly modified). Instead of worrying about “titles” or “labels,” it might be worthwhile to question about what such relative eclipse of the term might harbor. In “A Dialogue on Language between a Japanese and an Inquirer,” when asked about his neglect of the term “phenomenology” (along with “hermeneutics”) after Being and Time, Heidegger had this telling response: “That was done, not — as is often thought — in order to deny the significance of phenomenology, but in order to abandon my own path of thinking to namelessness” (GA 12, 114/29). We recall here that remark in the “Letter on Humanism” where Heidegger stated that the human being “must first learn to exist in the nameless,” and how, “before he speaks the human being must first let himself be claimed again by being, taking the risk that under this claim he will seldom have much to say” (GA 9, 319/243). If there is any abandonment, it is to the nameless, so that, as William Richardson put it, the term “phenomenology” disappears “in order to leave the process name-less, so that no fixed formula would freeze its movement” (Through Phenomenology to Thought, 633). Indeed, the Sache of thinking is not some static object, but an event to which phenomenology always responds and corresponds, a response that always occurs as a relationship to the nameless. Phenomenology is never finished or complete, but always underway in its response to the eventfulness of being. As Heidegger stressed in an early course, whereas “Worldview is freezing, finality, end, system,” “philosophy can progress only through an absolute sinking into life as such, for phenomenology is never concluded, only preliminary, it always sinks itself into the preliminary” (GA 56/57, 220/188). The fact that there was less thematic discussion of the term “phenomenology” after Being and Time says nothing about the fact that Heidegger would have renounced the phenomenological impetus of his early thinking. There is simply no basis to make that claim. In fact, Heidegger actually rejected that view.

In his preface to William Richardson’s work, Heidegger ponders the initial title of the book, From Phenomenology to Thought. This expression might suggest that phenomenology would be left behind to the benefit of another kind of approach, i.e., “thought.” However, Heidegger disputes that implication, and proposes to replace “from phenomenology” with “through phenomenology,” precisely in order to show that not only phenomenology is not left behind, but that it is the very process and way of thought itself. He begins by recalling how his understanding of phenomenology as a return to the “things themselves” differs from Husserl’s orientation towards the modern categories of consciousness and transcendental ego. Whereas “‘phenomenology’ in Husserl’s sense was elaborated into a distinctive philosophical position according to a pattern set by Descartes, Kant and Fichte,” Heidegger returns to the question of being as fundamental Sache of thinking: “So it was that doubt arose whether the ‘thing itself’ was to be characterized as intentional consciousness, or even as the transcendental ego. If, indeed, phenomenology, as the process of letting things manifest themselves, should characterize the standard method of philosophy, and if from ancient times the guide-question of philosophy has perdured in the most diverse forms as the question about the Being of beings, then Being had to remain the first and last thing-itself of thought.” In fact, he insists, “The Being-question, unfolded in Being and Time, parted company with this philosophical position, and that on the basis of what to this day I still consider a more faithful adherence to the principle of phenomenology” (GA 11, 147-148/Through Phenomenology to Thought, xiv, my emphasis). On the basis of this reorientation of phenomenology, Heidegger then discusses the title of Richardson’s book in this way: “Now if in the title of your book, From Phenomenology to Thought [von der Phänomenologie zum Seinsdenken] you understand ‘Phenomenology’ in the sense just described as a philosophical position of Husserl, then the title is to the point, insofar as the Being-question as posed by me is something completely different from that position” (GA 11, 148/Through Phenomenology to Thought, xiv). However, if “we understand ‘Phenomenology’ as the [process of] allowing the most proper concern of thought [der eigensten Sache des Denkens] to show itself, then the title should read ‘Through Phenomenology to the Thinking of Being’ [durch die Phänomenologie in das Denken des Seins]” (GA 11, 148-149/Through Phenomenology to Thought, xvi). Through phenomenology as opposed to from phenomenology: this shows that the thinking of being enacts the task of phenomenology as a return “to the things themselves.” There is thus no shift from an early espousal of phenomenology to a later thinking of being and letting-be, as McNeill suggests. This is how Heidegger describes his so-called “turn” or reversal (Kehre) in his thinking: “The thinking of the reversal is a change in my thought. But this change is not a consequence of altering the standpoint, much less of abandoning the fundamental issue, of Being and Time. The thinking of the reversal results from the fact that I stayed with the matter-for-thought [of] ‘Being and Time’” (GA 11, 149/Through Phenomenology to Thought, xvi). There is no essential change of standpoint from an early to a later phase, but only the persistence of the same fundamental issue, i.e., the question of being. What matters in phenomenology is the revealing of the matters themselves, and, “Once an understanding of these is gained, then phenomenology may very well disappear” (GA 19, 10/7). Could it be for that reason (among others, such as Heidegger’s distancing with Husserl) that the term itself was not as often used after the turn, a turn or reversal that as Heidegger clarified in no way signifies the abandonment of his phenomenological thinking?

Heidegger thus speaks of the persistence of the same fundamental issue, i.e., the question of being. Indeed, the fundamental issue in Being and Time, accessed through an analytic of Dasein, is being. What is asked about [Gefragtes] in Being and Time is the meaning of being. And phenomenology is precisely understood by Heidegger as the method of ontology, as the access to being. In fact, as early as the 1925 course Prolegomena to the History of the Concept of Time, Heidegger had distanced himself from the Husserlian conception of reduction, which he characterized as a forgetting of the question of being. Husserl’s phenomenology is marked by a prior orientation toward an absolute science of consciousness.

“Husserl’s primary question is simply not concerned with the character of the being of consciousness. Rather, he is guided by the following concern: How can consciousness become the possible object of an absolute science?  The primary concern which guides him is the idea of an absolute science” (GA 20, 147/107).

In the final analysis, according to Heidegger, Husserlian phenomenology is a fundamentally Cartesian undertaking: “This idea, that consciousness is to be the region of an absolute science, is not simply invented; it is the idea which has occupied modern philosophy ever since Descartes” (GA 20, 147/107). Heidegger reiterates this point in the Zollikon seminars: “Thus, the term ‘consciousness’ has become a fundamental conception [Grundvorstellung] of modern philosophy. Husserl’s phenomenology belongs to it as well” (GA 89, 191/146). Consequently, the project of returning to pure consciousness, carried out through the various stages of the reduction, rests upon a subjectivist presupposition and can lay no claim to being an authentic phenomenological enterprise. “The elaboration of pure consciousness as the thematic field of phenomenology is  not derived phenomenologically by going back to the matters themselves but by going back to a traditional idea of philosophy” (GA 20, 147/107). To that extent, as Heidegger is not afraid to affirm, Husserlian phenomenology is … “unphenomenological!” (GA 20, 178/128). By contrast, Heidegger defines phenomenology as the very method of ontology, allowing him to grasp the phenomena (in contrast with Husserl), not in relation to a constituting consciousness, but to the event of being as such. Indeed, Heidegger stresses that phenomenology is concerned about the being of phenomena, the appearing and happening of phenomena (an appearing that, as will see, is itself inapparent). The opposition that Husserl established between phenomenology and ontology, or rather the “bracketing” of ontological themes in the transcendental phenomenological reduction, is a foreclosure of ontology that can be said to be rooted in the determination of phenomenology as a transcendental idealism, that is, in the subjection of phenomenology to a traditional (Cartesian) idea of philosophy. For Heidegger, on the contrary, as he stated in Being and Time, ontology and phenomenology are not two distinct disciplines, for indeed phenomenology is the “way of access to the theme of ontology” (SZ, 35). In turn, and most importantly, ontology itself “is only possible as phenomenology” (SZ, 35, modified). Thus, if the question of being, of the event of being, is the fundamental issue of thought, then phenomenology, as the pure apprehension of being, could not have been left behind and abandoned by Heidegger. Even when he had recourse to other terms, whether “mindfulness” (Besinnung), “remembrance” (Andenken) or “releasement” (Gelassenheit), Heidegger continued to think phenomenologically. As Thomas Sheehan clarifies: “Heidegger did all of his work on the question of being as phenomenology” (Making Sense of Heidegger, 106).

As we saw, McNeill seems committed to the view that Heidegger has abandoned or discarded phenomenology, returning to it throughout the book and claiming that his “later thinking is for the most part no longer carried out in the name of phenomenology” (41). Now, Heidegger’s later thinking was in fact carried out in the name of phenomenology. This is a simple matter of scholarship: precisely in his later thinking, through the 1960s and 1970s, Heidegger did explicitly and repeatedly claim phenomenology as the most authentic way of thought, one that he claimed as his own. The question thus arises: if Heidegger had abandoned phenomenology, then why did he claim it in the last two decades of life as his own? McNeill’s question, “Why, in that case, does he no longer appeal to phenomenology as the method of his thinking?”, is misleading at best: Heidegger did continue to appeal to phenomenology, not as the “method,” but as the way of his thinking until his very last years. This, in fact, is implicitly recognized by McNeill, when he refers to the notion of a “phenomenology of the inapparent,” which appears in Heidegger’s 1973 Zähringen seminars. This expression, I would argue, accomplishes the early sense of phenomenology, for instance as it is presented in Being and Time. Heidegger defines there the concept of phenomenology as a “letting be seen” (sehen lassen), which necessarily implies the withdrawal of the phenomenon. Indeed, if the phenomenon was simply what is given and apparent, there would be no need for phenomenology. As Heidegger put it, “And it is precisely because the phenomena are initially and for the most part not given that phenomenology is needed” (SZ, 36). This is why Heidegger could write that the phenomenon, precisely as that which is to be made phenomenologically visible, does not show itself, although this inapparent nonetheless belongs to what shows itself, for Heidegger also stresses that “‘behind’ the phenomena of phenomenology there is essentially nothing” (SZ, 36). What is the full, phenomenological concept of the phenomenon in Being and Time?

“What is it that phenomenology is to ‘let be seen’? What is it that is to be called a ‘phenomenon’ in a distinctive sense? What is it that by its very essence becomes the necessary theme when we indicate something explicitly? Manifestly, it is something that does not show itself initially and for the most part, something that is concealed [verborgen] in contrast to what initially and for the most part does show itself. But at the same time it is something that belongs to what thus shows itself, and it belongs to it so essentially as  to constitute its meaning and its ground” (SZ, 35).

What is concealed according to Being and Time is being itself, although in “The Way to Language,” Heidegger would state that Ereignis is “the least apparent” of the inapparent: “Das Ereignis ist das Unscheinbarste des Unscheinbaren—the least apparent of the inapparent” (GA 12, 247/128, modified). Phenomenology, in its very essence, is for Heidegger a phenomenology of what does not appear, a phenomenology of the inapparent, as he put it in his last seminar in 1973:

“Thus understood, phenomenology is a path that leads away to come before…, and it lets that before which it is led show itself. This phenomenology  is a phenomenology of the inapparent [eine Phänomenologie des Unscheinbaren]” (GA 15, 399/80).

Thought must be brought “into the clearing of the appearing of the inapparent,” Heidegger also wrote in a letter to Roger Munier, on February 22, 1974. The entire phenomenological problematic is thus rooted in the concealment of being, in what Heidegger calls the forgetting of being, which is to be meditated upon and remembered (itself to be understood paradoxically as a standing in oblivion: GA 14, 38/30), as opposed to overcome. Phenomenology becomes the guarding of the inapparent. This would suggest, without ignoring the various twists and turns that occurred throughout, a profound continuity and unity (which McNeill tends to ignore as he cuts Heidegger into pieces) between the early and later Heidegger, what Richardson refers to as the “Ur-Heidegger” (Through Phenomenology to Thought, 633). McNeill seems to only situate the problematic of a phenomenology of the inapparent in the 1973 Zähringen seminar, and only in terms of what Heidegger calls there “tautological thinking” (tautologisches Denken),  without realizing that not only does the theme of a phenomenology of the inapparent run throughout Heidegger’s corpus, but also the motif of tautological thinking: let us mention here the following occurrences that one encounters throughout Heidegger’s work: “die Welt weltet,” “die Sprache spricht,” die Zeit zeitigt,” “der Raum räumt,” “das Wesen west,” “Das Walten waltet,”  “das Ding dingt,” “Das Ereignis ereignet,” etc… In fact, the very idea of a “phenomenology of the inapparent” could be seen as the guiding thread of the entirety of Heidegger’s thought: from the “ruinance” of factical life in the early lecture courses to the concealment of being in Being and Time, from the errancy and the lethic at the heart of aletheia in “On the Essence of Truth” to the notion of “earth” in “The Origin of the Work of Art,” from the Geheimnis or mystery in the Hölderlin lectures to the sheltering of the λήθη in the 1942-1943 lecture course on Parmenides, from the withdrawal or Entzug in the essay on the Anaximander fragment or in What is Called Thinking to the Enteignis within Ereignis in “On Time and Being”… Each time phenomenological seeing is exposed to an inappropriable and inapparent phenomenon.

In conclusion, the work provides precise and detailed analyses of several of Heidegger’s texts, and to that extent is a valuable contribution. However, the overall interpretation is flawed, and the underlying hypotheses and questions that drive those analyses are misguided and miss the ultimate stakes of the question. The book is constructed upon an artificial problem: McNeill assumes an abandonment of phenomenology in Heidegger’s work that is not warranted by the texts and by the very trajectory of his thought. Further, this assumption is itself based on an inadequate understanding of phenomenology as a particular discipline or school of thought, a view that Heidegger rejects. Heidegger insisted that phenomenology was to be rigorously approached in its “possibility” (that is, not exclusively connected to the philosophical movement founded by Husserl). This is how Heidegger presents the issue in this passage from Being and Time, beginning with an ambiguous homage to Husserl that is immediately followed by a distancing with his former mentor: “The following investigation would not have been possible if the ground had not been prepared by Edmund Husserl, with whose Logische Untersuchungen phenomenology first emerged. Our comments on the preliminary conception of phenomenology have shown that what is essential in it does not lie in its actuality as a philosophical ‘movement.’ Higher than actuality stands possibility. We can understand phenomenology only by seizing upon it as a possibility” (SZ, 38). In “My Way to Phenomenology” (1963), Heidegger reiterates the same point:

“And today? The age of phenomenological philosophy seems to be over. It is already taken as something past which is only recorded historically along with other schools of philosophy. But in what is most its own phenomenology is not a school. It is the possibility of thinking, at times changing and only thus persisting, of corresponding to the claim of what is to be thought. If phenomenology is thus experienced and retained, it can disappear as a title in favor of the matter of thinking [Sache des Denkens] whose manifestness remains a mystery [Geheimnis]” (GA 14, 101/82, slightly modified).

“At times changing and only thus persisting”: this passage captures the persistence of the phenomenological thread in Heidegger’s thought. In a letter to Roger Munier from April 16, 1973, Heidegger still claimed that “For me it is a matter of actually performing an exercise in a phenomenology of the inapparent,” while clarifying that “by the reading of books, no one ever arrives at phenomenological ‘seeing’” (GA 15, 417/89). In fact, a proper introduction to phenomenology “does not take place by reading phenomenological literature and noting what is established therein. What is required is not a knowledge of positions and opinions. In that way phenomenology would be misunderstood from the very outset. Rather, concrete work on the matters themselves must be the way to gain an understanding of phenomenology. It would be idle to go back over phenomenological trends and issues; instead, what counts is to bring oneself into position to see phenomenologically in the very work of discussing the matters at issue. Once an understanding of these is gained, then phenomenology may very well disappear” (GA 19, 10/6-7). There lies, ultimately, the limit of McNeil’s work, if it is the case, as Heidegger reminds us, that “talking about phenomenology is beside the point” (GA 63, 67/53, modified).

Works Cited:

(GA): Martin Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1978–)

Martin Heidegger. GA 8. Was heißt Denken? (1951-1952). Ed. Paola-Ludovika Coriando, 2002. What is Called Thinking? Trans. J. Glenn Gray. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

Martin Heidegger. GA 9. Wegmarken (1919-1961). Ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, 1976, 1996 (rev. ed.). Pathmarks. Ed. William McNeill. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Martin Heidegger. GA 11. Identität und Differenz (1955-1957). Ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, 2006. Letter to William J. Richardson. In William J. Richardson, S.J., Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought, 4th ed. New York: Fordham University Press, 2003.

Martin Heidegger. GA 12. Unterwegs zur Sprache (1950-1959). Ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, 1985. On the Way to Language. Trans. Peter D. Hertz and Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

Martin Heidegger. GA 14. Zur Sache des Denkens (1927-1968). Ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, 2007. On Time and Being. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.

Martin Heidegger GA 15. Seminare (1951-1973). Ed. Curd Ochwadt, 1986, 2005 (2nd rev. ed.). Four Seminars. Trans. Andrew Mitchell and François Raffoul. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Martin Heidegger. GA 19. Platon: Sophistes (1924-25). Ed. Ingeborg Schüßler, 1992. Plato’s “Sophist.” Trans. Richard Rojcewicz and André Schuwer. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.

Martin Heidegger. GA 20, Prolegomena zur Geschichte des Zeitbegriffs (1925). Ed. Petra Jaeger, 1979, 1988 (2nd, rev. ed.), 1994 (3d, rev. ed.). History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena. Trans. Theodore Kisiel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

Martin Heidegger, GA 56/57. Zur Bestimmung der Philosophie (1919). Ed. Bernd Heimbüchel, 1987, 1999 (rev., expanded ed.). Towards the Definition of Philosophy. Trans. Ted Sadler. London: Continuum, 2000.

Martin Heidegger. GA 63. Ontologie. Hermeneutik der Faktizität (1923). Ed. Käte Bröcker-Oltmanns, 1988. Ontology—The Hermeneutics of Facticity. Trans. John Van Buren. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Martin Heidegger. SZ. Sein und Zeit (Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1953). English translations: Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper, 1962; Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh, rev. Dennis J. Schmidt. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010.

William Richardson. Through Phenomenology to Thought. 4th Edition: Fordham University Press, 2003.

Thomas Sheehan. Making Sense of Heidegger. A Paradigm Shift. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014.


Andrea Staiti: Etica Naturalistica e Fenomenologia

Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia Book Cover Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia
Andrea Staiti
Società editrice il Mulino

Reviewed by: Roberta De Monticelli (Director of the Research Centre PERSONA; San Raffaele University, Milan)

La teoria dei valori che ci manca

Dialogando con  Andrea Staiti (2020), Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia, Bologna: Il Mulino


  1. Tre osservazioni preliminari

La prima cosa da dire è che questo è un bellissimo libro[1]. La seconda, che era un libro necessario, e comincia a riempire una lacuna che i colpevoli ritardi dei fenomenologi, non solo italiani, e fra i più colpevoli quello di chi scrive, avevano lasciato spalancata come un grido di Munch.

Sì, perché non si tratta genericamente di filosofia morale, e neppure specificamente di etica normativa – le quali da almeno una ventina d’anni sono sotto la lente dei fenomenologi, anche se – a mio avviso – in modo ancora troppo esegetico o filologico, o non abbastanza fenomenologico.  Qui si tratta di metaetica, per l’essenziale, e in particolare di metaetica naturalistica, oggi di gran lunga la più gettonata anche fra i non specialisti (si vedano recenti dibattiti anche sul nostro www.phenomenologylab.eu).  E quindi, bene o male, di teoria dei valori: lasciata finora quasi senza interlocuzione proprio dalla fenomenologia, che quasi era nata per parlare di questo! Un vero scandalo, attenuato soltanto dalla presenza di pochi, troppo pochi e ancora troppo iniziali contributi, quasi tutti rigorosamente citati nel testo di Staiti.

Che esagerazione, penserete: la fenomenologia nata per parlare di questo! Ma sì, questa è la terza cosa da dire, prima di entrare in materia. Basta che pensiate ai valori epistemici: chiarezza, evidenza, rigore-scientificità, buona fondazione, verificabilità, conoscenza – e naturalmente avrete tutto ciò di cui anche la più tradizionale e poco immaginativa esposizione della fenomenologia – specie classica, specie poi husserliana – si preoccupa. Ma, tanto per andare più a fondo, e giustificare il mea culpa sui ritardi: penso che un’assiologia fenomenologica sia oggi il più urgente dei nostri bisogni intellettuali, un bisogno teorico ma anche culturale. Questa assiologia fenomenologica da farsi oggi salirà certamente sulle spalle dei suoi classici, ma altrettanto naturalmente dovrà pur discutere con i filosofi contemporanei – specie se condividono almeno implicitamente un impegno verso i valori epistemici, oltre che eventualmente trattarne al livello metateorico, e quindi dovrà tradurre il suo gergo in termini universalmente accessibili, come già sta facendo questo libro eccellente.

Quest’ultima considerazione era necessaria proprio per entrare in materia. Perché mette subito le carte in tavola: non si è mai tanto interessati ai libri quanto se ci si sta occupando proprio delle cose di cui parlano. Perciò questa mia discussione non sarà distaccata o neutrale: avrà sullo sfondo alcune delle tesi che mi stanno a cuore[2]. Non invasivamente spero, perché ora è delle tesi di Andrea Staiti che stiamo parlando. Ma per dare già un’idea di come voglio procedere, espliciterò subito l’essenziale della mia lettura. L’approccio di Andrea Staiti alla metaetica dà tutto quello che si poteva dare sfruttando il versante noetico dell’analisi fenomenologica – fuori dal gergo, il versante della riflessione sugli atti e i vissuti del soggetto, quelli che in terminologia più standard, e pur con una perdita di un dettaglio di informazione, si chiamerebbero stati intenzionali. Ma, come perdiamo contenuti rilevanti di analisi se riflettiamo sul vedere e il guardare senza tener conto delle caratteristiche proprie dei contenuti del visibile, così accade o può accadere se descriviamo i modi della cognizione assiologica – del valutare ad esempio – indipendentemente dai loro oggetti, o meglio dalla “materia” di questi oggetti, i valori: specifici oggetti di un’assiologia “materiale”, che la sua materia desume dal versante noematico dell’analisi, cioè dall’indagine sulla natura dei valori — ovviamente in quanto dati al loro specifico modo d’esperienza.

Procederò quindi affiancando questioni di assiologia materiale – o noematica, o a parte objecti — all’esposizione di alcuni fra i problemi e le soluzioni che Staiti propone, con una importante eccezione nel cap. III, a partire dalle risorse della fenomenologia noetica o a parte subjecti. Solo alla fine di questa disamina potremo capire se la prospettiva noematica è solo complementare rispetto a quella noetica caratteristica di questo libro, o è anche in qualche senso più fondamentale proprio da un punto di vista fenomenologico, ossia quanto alle fonti di evidenza, o riempimento intuitivo, dei principi di un’assiologia fenomenologica. Né nell’una né nell’altra ipotesi il valore della ricerca portata a termine in questo libro ne risulterà minimamente diminuito.

  1. Uno sguardo d’insieme

Cominciamo da uno sguardo sulla strategia generale del libro. Staiti sceglie di non disperdere la nostra attenzione nell’elenco sistematico delle posizioni possibili riguardo a alla questione fondamentale della metaetica, che riguarda l’esistenza e la natura delle proprietà assiologiche, e specificamente morali, posizioni che si dispongono intorno a quello che a partire da Moore (1903, 1964), ma in effetti già da Hume, appare un dilemma: se le proprietà assiologiche sono proprietà reali, che qualificano e modificano la realtà di questo mondo, sembrano perdere la normatività che pure le distingue, nel senso che dettagliano il mondo com’è, e non come dovrebbe essere; ma se vogliamo preservare questa distintiva normatività, dove le metteremo, per così dire, se non in un altro mondo, un mondo di modelli ideali, molto simile alle idee platoniche? In metaetica il “naturalismo” si origina qui, come rigetto più o meno argomentato del dualismo platonico che il secondo corno del dilemma comporta.

Staiti invece ci introduce subito in medias res, attraverso un’agile esposizione delle forme che prende il naturalismo metaetico, e del modo in cui la fenomenologia (come stile e metodo di pensiero filosofico che ha radice nei suoi classici)  si posiziona utilmente nel dibattito, proprio a partire dall’esigenza che in questo dibattito si fa sentire di rendere conto della fenomenologia del discorso morale (p. 21): cosa intendiamo dire quando diciamo che un’azione è sbagliata? Questa prima mossa permette di lasciare da parte, per così dire, quelle posizioni che risultano prima facie irrilevanti al senso e ai riferimenti, quindi alle condizioni di verità, del discorso morale, e fra questi ci sono già alcune delle più classiche e ricorrenti posizioni: quelle del cosiddetto non-cognitivismo, emotivismo ed espressivismo, che da Hume a Ayer a Blackburn e Gibbard  riducono le proprietà assiologiche a stati dei soggetti, in particolare stati emotivi, e i loro giudizi a espressioni di questi stati, e quelle dei fisicalisti che affrontano la questione delle proprietà assiologiche solo per denunciare l’illusorietà dei discorsi morali, riferiti a entità che non esistono – nell’ipotesi che esistano soltanto le entità riconosciute dalla fisica o a queste riducibili. La fenomenologia del discorso morale induce quindi anzitutto a specificare il senso in cui si può essere “naturalisti” in etica: sia accettando la distinzione fra naturalismo scientifico e naturalismo “liberalizzato” (De Caro 2013), che si riduce al requisito assai modesto di non ammettere entità che violino apertamente le leggi naturali (come gli interventi “divini”, in una forma piuttosto rude di teologia miracolistica o magica), sia accettando una parte dell’argomento mooriano secondo cui le proprietà assiologiche sono indefinibili nei termini di quelle naturali (Cuneo 2007, Crisp 2011).

Il cap. I ha così istruito la questione che occuperà, sotto prospettive complementari, gli altri tre capitoli: come render conto del rapporto fra proprietà naturali e proprietà assiologiche, in modo da rendere ragione, da una parte, all’esigenza del naturalismo (liberalizzato) che valutazioni e giudizi portino su fatti di questo mondo e non di un altro, e d’altra parte, al requisito di apriorità che la stessa “fenomenologia del discorso morale” ci presenta come inaggirabile? Perché se affermiamo che la tortura è inammissibile, noi riteniamo che la verità di questa tesi non dipenda certo dall’induzione empirica, che al contrario ci mostra la tortura praticata e impunita in molti luoghi della terra. Staiti intende mostrare che la fenomenologia (questa volta nel senso dello stile di pensiero e del metodo filosofico che portano questo nome) ha risorse per suggerire risposte illuminanti a questa questione, rispettivamente: dal punto di vista epistemologico (Cap. II), dove si mette a fuoco la nozione di intuizione morale in un utile confronto con Robert Audi; dal punto di vista ontologico (Cap. III), dove la relazione di sopravvenienza delle proprietà assiologiche su quelle naturali, tirata in direzioni diverse da naturalisti e anti-naturalisti per sottolineare rispettivamente la riducibilità e l’irriducibilità delle prime alle seconde, viene ad essere inclusa come caso particolare di Fundierung, o vincolo di (co)variazione fra parti dipendenti di un intero. Un bel risultato, perché la teoria husserliana degli interi e delle parti (III Ricerca Logica) è l’ossatura ontologico-formale di tutta la fenomenologia, e la misura della sua generalità e insieme della sua precisione analitica in quanto, potremmo dire (ma il termine non è di Staiti), teoria delle varietà apparenti, cioè di ogni possibile scenario concreto.   Infine, armato di questa doppia strumentazione epistemologica e ontologica, Staiti offre nel IV e ultimo capitolo una lettura squisitamente noetica del famoso Open Question Argument (OQA) di Moore, ovvero della ragione ultima per resistere alla naturalizzazione delle proprietà assiologiche. Riassumo informalmente: non è affatto l’idealità, cioè in definitiva il contenuto normativo della proprietà assiologica, a sfuggire alla sua definizione in termini di proprietà naturali, che lasciano sempre aperta la domanda decisiva (supponiamo che il bene sia il piacevole: ora questo caso di piacevolezza è anche cosa buona?). No: ma è, in definitiva, la sua vuotezza! E’ il fatto che ogni, come oggi diremmo, impegno assiologico (x è generoso, coraggioso, temperante) deve ancora ottenere un “riempimento intuitivo” adeguato, esemplare (“questa è quella che chiamiamo un’azione generosa!” – “questo è quello che chiamiamo un buon coltello!”) perché la proposizione assiologica in questione abbia anche solo la possibilità di essere vera. In altri termini, l’OQA misura semplicemente la differenza fra l’atto di comprensione “vuota” della qualità intesa, e l’atto (potremmo dire: l’incontro) che offre, in tutta la sua ricchezza descrittiva e tipizzabile, la cosa stessa come era intesa ancora non intuitivamente, non data in carne ed ossa, nella posizione assiologica.

  1. Analisi di temi per capitoli. A partire dalla conclusione, Capitolo IV

Cominciamo dalla fine, ma solo per dare la direzione della riflessione e poi affrontare nel merito una minuscola scelta degli argomenti di questo libro breve ma molto denso. Possiamo notare due cose: da un lato la sorprendente generalità della conclusione, che in definitiva sembra risultare valida per qualunque tipo di proposizione, ad esempio botanica o geometrica (pensate ai solidi platonici, e alla differenza fra saperne le definizioni e visualizzarli) o di teoria musicale o di tecnica alpinistica.  Ma questa generalità si ottiene al prezzo di dismettere come irrilevante l’angoscia quasi “munchiana” della Domanda Aperta di Moore, più formalmente quell’eccedenza dell’ideale sul reale – quel possibile sguardo su altri mondi che l’ideale, l’utopico, comportano;  insomma, quella loro possibile, caratteristica opposizione che i filosofi hanno sempre a loro modo concettualizzato, a partire dalla classica teoria di Platone del bene “al di là dell’essere”, epekeinas tes ousias. Quell’opposizione che ha in effetti del paradossale, perché è proprio l’esperienza di situazioni in cui non c’è giustizia, o in cui c’è positiva ingiustizia, che ci fa “vedere” cosa sia giustizia. C’è un sapore specifico dell’assiologico che si perde in questa conclusione.

  1. Sopravvenienza o fondazione. Capitolo III

Ma dall’altro lato possiamo apprezzare la coerenza e linearità dell’intero discorso, che riesce a sdrammatizzare l’opposizione fra due realismi, quello naturalistico e quello metafisico e dualistico dei non-naturalisti (Shafer Landau (2006), Enoch (2011), ma prima di loro Tommaso d’Aquino e il giusnaturalismo classico) “stemperandolo” prima nell’appello fenomenologico all’esperienza (Cap. II), che ci riporta a un confronto serrato proprio fra teorie della percezione (della natura dell’atto percettivo); e poi riassorbendo, per così dire, nella teoria degli atti perfino il problema della relazione fra proprietà reali o fattuali e proprietà assiologiche (Cap. III). Questo problema infatti, che i filosofi analitici nostri interlocutori risolvono in termini di sopravvenienza, viene affrontato da Staiti a partire dal “versante ‘soggettivo’ che ci è ormai familiare” (p. 100). In realtà, suggerisce Staiti, il mistero della sopravvenienza, o se preferite il dilemma della metaetica, si risolve a partire dalla teoria husserliana, tutta noetica, della fondazione degli atti non oggettivanti (emotivi e volitivi) sugli atti oggettivanti (percezioni e giudizi). E così anche la fondazione o non indipendenza, anzi proprio la fondazione unitaria o non indipendenza di ciascuna delle parti relativamente alle parti stesse e all’intero, questo potentissimo strumento analitico capace di descrivere con precisione estrema, come scrive Husserl, “ciò che tiene insieme tutte le cose […] i rapporti di fondazione”[3] (il dono dei vincoli, per così dire) – si riconduce a quel caso particolare che sarebbe la fondazione degli atti non oggettivanti sui quelli oggettivanti. Ma questo caso particolare, che governa la vita della coscienza, mi chiedo, è veramente più fondamentale delle fondazioni che scopriamo nelle cose stesse, nei fatti e nel loro rapporto coi valori? Non sarà anche qui, come dovunque in fenomenologia, la natura delle cose stesse a prescrivere il tipo di cognizione che le cose richiedono, e quindi a decidere anche della correttezza delle riflessioni noetiche? E perché mai, se no, aprire un capitolo nuovo e straordinario dell’ontologia formale fenomenologica, la teoria della varietà apparenti ovvero la mereologia (io la chiamo piuttosto olologia) husserliana? Intendiamoci, e Staiti lo sa bene, la teoria della ragione, cioè dei nessi motivazionali che legano gli atti, fa della fenomenologia della coscienza husserliana una teoria dell’esperienza sotto la “giurisdizione della ragione”, appunto, e non una semplice psicologia. Ma appunto: se questa teoria della ragione fosse sufficiente a descrivere con fedeltà lo specifico tipo di richieste poste ai soggetti dalla natura delle cose stesse (in quanto oggetti DATI nei modi in cui lo SONO, ovviamente), che bisogno ci sarebbe di una teoria della realtà oltre la teoria della ragione e prima di essa, di un’ontologia fenomenologica, formale e materiale o regionale? Quale sarebbe il senso di quel principio di priorità del dato sul costruito che è il motto stesso della fenomenologia, “alle cose stesse”?

Qui però la mia domanda è molto più specifica. L’assiologia non è una regione ontologica materiale a parte, e non potrebbe proprio! La circostanza che il valore né si riduce al fatto né sta in altri mondi che quello dei fatti, l’eccedenza e l’opposizione fra ideale e reale, stanno lì ad impedirlo: sono l’osso duro che resta inalterato e che nutre ancora il dilemma della sopravvenienza normativa (altrimenti ci potremmo comprare un qualunque neoplatonismo che riduce l’esse al bonum, o un qualunque spinozismo che riduce il bonum all’esse: gli errori “continentali” più frequenti).  L’osso duro che, io ne convengo pienamente, il fenomenologo proverà a sciogliere in termini “olologici” (io credo, e ho provato a mostrarlo altrove in diversi casi specifici[4], che i valori siano in definitiva qualità globali del secondo ordine, intuitivamente vincoli di variazioni di strutture (“essenze”) di concreta, strutture o essenze che sono a loro volta vincoli di variazione di contenuti dati). E tuttavia, la stessa assiologia formale – perché ad essa appartiene evidentemente la tesi sulla natura dei valori, che dovrebbe esserne la proposizione fondamentale – in tanto ha ragione di esistere, in quanto, appunto, formalizzazione di un’assiologia materiale. Ma la vera  questione è: cosa riusciamo a illuminare dell’esperienza dei valori, degli oggetti stessi o materie di questa esperienza, e soprattutto del pensiero che se ne nutre (dopotutto, il pensiero assiologico sta alla base delle strutture normative che sorreggono le civiltà umane) a partire soltanto dalle strutture formali della coscienza emotiva e volitiva? Forse non è un caso che la questione degli atti oggettivanti/non oggettivanti sia rimasta tanto più oscura di molte altre dottrine di Husserl, anche se Staiti offre un notevole contributo a dirimerla.

  1. Modi della presenza in carne ed ossa. Capitolo II

Questa considerazione, che come dicevamo riguarda il cap. III, mi permette di risalire al II con la domanda che ne è la prosecuzione. Siamo sicuri di poter rispondere adeguatamente alla teoria di Robert Audi della percezione morale, prima di aver presente l’intenzionalità specifica caratteristica degli atti di Wertnehmen, ovvero del sentire assiologico? E si può descrivere questa intenzionalità specifica senza indagare, da un lato, lo specifico oggetto intenzionale che questo sentire presenta, i beni e i mali, le cose stesse (oggetti fatti eventi situazioni etc. ) assiologicamente cariche; e dall’altro lato, però, la specifica posizionalità degli atti corrispondenti, la posizionalità assiologica? Questione tanto più cruciale in quanto il concetto di posizionalità gioca un ruolo decisivo nella conclusione di questo libro, cioè nella rilettura fenomenologica dell’intuizionismo di Moore, conclusione che io ho riassunto sopra (§2) in termini molto informali, precisamente perché non eravamo ancora entrati nel vivo della questione di cosa la posizionalità assiologica sia.

Mi spiego. Quello che colpisce nei testi di Audi è la completa assenza di contenuto, non-concettuale o concettuale, della qualità “morale” del percetto. Secondo Audi (2015) si può, letteralmente, “vedere l’ingiustizia” compiuta da qualcuno, nel senso che si vede l’oggetto o il fatto o l’evento con tutte le sue proprietà reali, fattuali:  in virtù delle quali il fatto costituisce un’ingiustizia, ad esempio un omicidio. Proprio come nel famoso esempio di Hume (1739)[5]: esaminate bene il fatto in questione, vi troverete la dinamica dell’azione, la forza e la direzione del movimento, i motivi e le passioni, ma non vi troverete alcuna proprietà o relazione corrispondente alla sua ingiustizia. Che differenza c’è allora fra Audi e Hume? Piuttosto dottrinale, direi: di dottrina che non modifica essenzialmente la visione, solo la reinterpreta. L’omicidio in questione un effetto me lo fa: un’impressione di unfittingness. Perché questo non è soltanto, come voleva Hume, uno stato soggettivo (eventualmente, intersoggettivo, una risposta socialmente appresa), privo di portata cognitiva sul mondo? Per la maggior complicazione della teoria della percezione di Audi, che prevede almeno tre componenti fra loro connesse: una componente “fenomenologica” (“l’effetto che fa”), una componente rappresentativa (la mappa mentale che corrisponde, ad esempio in termini di colori, forme, movimenti, all’evento fisico), e una componente causale (l’evento in questione che impatta sul sistema percettivo). A queste si aggiunge una ulteriore componente che è esperienziale o “fenomenologica” (quale, effetto-che-fa) ma non rappresentativa, ed ecco la nostra unfittingness. Ma questa aggiunta non basterebbe a rendere magicamente oggettiva e non soltanto soggettiva l’impressione, se non venisse in soccorso l’ausilio ontologico della sopravvenienza, per cui l’ingiustizia è “fondata” (grounded) o, in una versione precedente (Audi 1997) “ancorata” nelle proprietà reali dell’omicidio, e quindi infine inerisce al percetto – sia pure come uno stigma negativo, una bandiera non-verbale che dice “così non va”. Per rendersi conto dell’assenza di contenuto descrittivo, di “materia” della “percezione morale” di Audi, si può immaginare un caso di eutanasia che abbia le identiche qualità visibili di un accorto assassinio, e chiedersi come farebbe un’impressione assiologica tutta diversa ad “ancorarsi” in una scena percettiva identica. Eppure, del tutto a prescindere dal giudizio morale che l’osservatore finirà per darne, una qualità assiologica tutta diversa permea l’azione (diciamo ad esempio la pietà tragica che permea i gesti accorti dell’agente).  Generalizzando, si può parlare con Audi di “intuizione morale” quando l’impressione morale riguarda non questo fatto particolare ma, poniamo, l’omicidio in generale, che è sbagliato. Ma queste intuizioni appaiono altrettanto vuote di materia assiologica – altrettanto thin. Prive di componente assiologica descrittiva, ridotte alla componente formale normativa (giusto, sbagliato).

Ma a questa, in fondo assai mooriana, assenza di contenuto descrittivo delle proprietà assiologiche, Staiti ha qualcosa da obiettare, da fenomenologo? Posso sbagliarmi: ma mi pare di no. Qui la sua linea di difesa  “noetica” – che insiste su quale sia l’atto piuttosto che sulla sua materia – rischia, per aver troppo concesso a Robert Audi, di farci smarrire per via gli atti rilevanti: che non sono quelli della percezione sensoriale, ma sono quelli del sentire e degli approfondimenti riflessivi delle ricchissime qualità assiologiche delle cose (e delle relazioni fra qualità assiologiche), in tutto il loro spessore. La grazia di questo gesto, la gentilezza di questa persona, la crudeltà di questa azione, il nesso eidetico fra brutalità e violenza, ma non fra crudeltà e violenza. Se non la fraintendo, la strategia critica di Staiti è la seguente: 1. Contrapporre alla teoria della percezione di Audi quella fenomenologica (cioè una teoria non rappresentazionalista ma diretta, secondo cui percezione è presenza diretta dell’oggetto nel come, fallibile e sempre inadeguato o prospettico, del suo darsi); 2. Contrapporre alla teoria dell’intuizione morale di Audi quella fenomenologica dell’intuizione come riempimento di un’intenzione, fuor del gergo come verifica in modalità di presenza “in carne ed ossa” dell’oggetto di un giudizio (non necessariamente verbale o concettualmente articolato), cioè del positum di una posizione dossica.

  1. La questione della posizionalità

Ed eccoci alla famosa posizionalità. Io credo che poche nozioni siano importanti come questa in fenomenologia, perché è precisamente in sua assenza che la nozione non fenomenologica di intenzionalità si riduce a quella di aboutness. Uno stato mentale è intenzionale se è riferito a un oggetto. Punto. Ma se i fenomenologi preferiscono parlare di atti piuttosto che di stati, è precisamente perché “tutta la vita è prendere posizione”[6] : ogni stato intenzionale è un atto personale in quanto include una posizione, attraverso la quale soltanto rispondiamo al mondo, e rispondiamo sempre più o meno correttamente e adeguatamente a seconda che le posizioni siano corrette o no. Che siano dossiche (o di esistenza), come nelle esperienze e nei giudizi di fatto; che siano assiologiche (o di valenza), come nelle esperienze e nei giudizi di valore; che siano pratiche (o di endorsement), come nelle decisioni e nelle azioni. Che poi le posizioni e le loro modificazioni siano corrette o scorrette (e questa possibilità le pone tutte sotto la “giurisdizione della ragione”) dipende precisamente dalle cose stesse, che in tutte le loro dimensioni (di realtà, di valore, di praticabilità) sono fonti infinite di informazione, forniscono cioè contenuti o “materie” di indefinita ricchezza e “spessore”, mai esaurientemente note, sempre di nuovo da indagare. Ma se invece dovessimo ammettere, come Staiti suggerisce (pp. 87-89), che gli atti emotivi e quelli volitivi non hanno posizionalità propria, ma la loro “qualifica posizionale” è tratta da altri atti (i famosi atti “oggettivanti”), come potremmo, da fenomenologi, argomentare contro lo scetticismo non solo logico, ma anche assiologico e pratico? (E non c’è dubbio che fin dall’inizio della sua vita filosofica lo stesso Husserl abbia soprattutto avuto a cuore la questione dello scetticismo in tutte le sue forme, del confronto continuo con se stesso in cui essa pone il filosofo, e del modo in cui rispondervi sempre di nuovo). Come potremmo, dicevo, anche soltanto porre la questione della validità delle valutazioni e delle decisioni? Come potremmo cioè mostrare, non certo se una data valutazione è valida o no, che non spetta al filosofo, ma dove occorre continuare a “guardare”, come approfondire la cognizione e proseguire l’esperienza della cosa stessa, per vedere se lo è, infine, o no? Come può esserci una indefinita possibilità di approfondimento e ricerca anche nei campi d’esperienza assiologica (e pratica), se non ci sono posizioni originalmente assiologiche e pratiche, o almeno se anche i valori corrispondenti non sono dati “in carne e ossa”?

Io credo che sia questa la questione cruciale, dove un umanismo fenomenologico si distingue da uno semplicemente kantiano, oltre che, certamente, da un “naturalismo”, sia pure liberalizzato e quindi pericolosamente tendente a un grado zero di informazione, ontologica ed epistemologica (dato che esclude soltanto, come la filosofia ha sempre fatto dai tempi di Socrate, entità e fonti di conoscenza “soprannaturali”).

La questione è relativamente indipendente da quella del rapporto di fondazione fra atti, sulla quale ritorneremo. Possiamo riformularla così: da fenomenologi, possiamo essere “realisti” in materia di giudizi di valore come lo siamo in materia di giudizi di fatto? Intendo qui per “realismo” la tesi che la veridicità di un’esperienza e la verità di una proposizione non dipendono da norme in ultima analisi poste o costruite, ma da vincoli dati : dati tuttavia inesauribilmente, e in qualche modo anche imprevedibilmente, passibili di essere “scoperti” attraverso sempre nuova esperienza (e ricerca), nonostante la loro apriorità, eideticità, essenzialità (come ci sono e sempre ci saranno scoperte matematiche). L’apriorità dei vincoli eidetici non si oppone alla loro reperibilità “sperimentale” (semplicemente, non è per induzione empirica che li troviamo, come del resto non troviamo così le leggi gestaltiche dei percetti): e su questo non credo ci sia disaccordo rispetto a Staiti. Dove potrebbe esserci, invece, è proprio sulla metaetica, cioè in definitiva sulla risposta fenomenologica alla questione di che cosa sia l’etica, che naturalmente ha come sotto-questione quella sulla natura dei valori specificamente morali. Ma siccome l’etica è una disciplina dell’assiologia, il disaccordo riguarderebbe in definitiva quest’ultima. La questione sarebbe allora: ma c’è veramente posto, in questa garbata conciliazione di etica naturalistica (liberalizzata) e fenomenologia, per una adeguata descrizione  dell’esperienza quotidiana che noi facciamo di tutti i beni e i mali di ogni tipo e rango in cui siamo immersi, per una tematizzazione dei modi specifici della cognizione assiologica? (Un insieme di direzioni di ricerca che riguarda praticamente tutte le professioni, da quelle che riguardano la salute, l’abitazione, il benessere, a quelle che si prendono cura del funzionamento economico e civile delle società, a quelle che riguardano la sua struttura normativa politica, fino  alle professioni artistiche e scientifiche, e per chi vi si interessa, a quelle in vari modi intente ai valori del divino).

Mi sono lasciata prendere la mano. Non c’è peggior errore che quello di accusare un libro di non parlare di quello di cui non voleva parlare. E quindi, torno indietro. Questa apertura sugli orizzonti dell’assiologia materiale però non la cancello, perché offre a tutti e non soltanto agli specialisti di qualche testo sacro lo sfondo sul quale si staglia la mia tesi che l’etica presuppone essenzialmente l’assiologia materiale, e questa tesi è invece, mi pare, pertinente alla discussione di questo libro.

Concludiamo allora sulla questione della posizionalità e degli atti oggettivanti, prima di tentare una conclusione, per parte mia, di questa lettura e di questa discussione delle tesi di Andrea Staiti. La questione che sopra ho definito cruciale riguarda la conoscenza morale, specificamente. E’ la questione se l’esperienza morale che ne è alla base sia passibile di essere, da un lato, concettualizzata sempre meglio (con sempre maggiore precisione e finezza) e dall’altro sempre ulteriormente approfondita, in modo che la verifica e la correzione delle nostre posizioni possa far crescere, qui come in ogni altro campo, la conoscenza. Se ora, per scrupolo secondario (perché è la cosa stessa che conta, non i testi) apriamo il testo husserliano che Staiti cita più frequentemente dopo le Ricerche logiche, cioè le Lezioni di etica e teoria dei valori del 1908-14[7], andiamo a vedere che cosa si dice sulla questione della conoscenza morale, ci troviamo, senza stupore, che il solo “primato” della ragione logica[8] è nella circostanza che i contenuti assiologici e quelli pratici devono pur accedere al pensiero proposizionale (e dunque al linguaggio) per poter essere sottoposti al vaglio critico e alla verifica cognitiva, vale a dire per poter acquisire condizioni di verità[9]. E quindi, non è un caso che Husserl parli di “predicati logici” e non di “proprietà naturali”, come Staiti stesso ci fa notare (p. 91): per quanto ne sappiamo, infatti, qualunque questione, sia essa fattuale, assiologica o pratica, riceve condizioni di verità solo quando è articolata in una proposizione, e in questo senso, che non ha nulla a che fare con la questione della sopravvenienza normativa, non c’è dubbio che c’è un primato della “ragione logica”, vale a dire delle “posizioni dossiche”, necessarie a formulare tesi assiologiche (“Non c’è giustizia senza libertà”), e anche a mettere in questione la verità di giudizi di valore particolari (“Non è vero che Gianni è generoso”). In effetti è altrettanto evidente che il primato passa alle posizioni assiologiche e alla ragione pratica se ci chiediamo a cosa serva la logica (a ragionare bene, cioè con inferenze valide e sane) o perché mai dovremmo preferire la conoscenza del vero all’errore o all’ignoranza, o preferire un bene epistemico come una tesi ben fondata a un male epistemico come un’asserzione confusa e arbitraria: tanto è vero che nelle più mature lezioni di Introduzione all’etica del 1920-24[10] Husserl preferisce parlare dell’”intreccio” fra ragione logica e pratica.

  1. Essenze e sopravvenienze

Una piccola ma acuta conseguenza questa dissociazione del problema dell’accesso delle “materie” di qualunque atto al pensiero proposizionale e alla questione della verità dalla questione della relazione fra fatti e valori, o fra proprietà “reali” e proprietà assiologiche c’è: e riguarda precisamente quest’ultima questione. Staiti cita un testo dall’ultimo volume della Husserliana[11]:

“Un oggetto è ‘ciò che è’ anzitutto indipendentemente dall’esser  bello, buono ecc. Il predicato di valore presuppone un oggetto, un oggetto completo. (….) Un oggetto ha la sua natura e ha valore soltanto attraverso questa natura”.

Ebbene: veramente possiamo intendere questa tesi nel senso di una distinzione fra le proprietà “subvenienti” (non assiologiche) e  “sopravvenienti” (assiologiche)? Si noti: le prime corrisponderebbero alle proprietà “naturali” della metaetica, salvo godere (a differenza di queste) di un criterio per essere individuate come subvenienti, vale a dire che se immaginiamo di sopprimerle (o di variarle oltre certi limiti), viene soppressa l’unità oggettuale delle cose, “prive di valore ma pur sempre unitarie e perduranti secondo la loro essenza propria” (p. 91).

In effetti questo “criterio” ci dice con precisione che cos’è l’essenza di una cosa, il vincolo di covarianza violando il quale la cosa perde la sua identità specifica, cessa di essere una cosa di quel tipo: negli esempi offerti, la Nona Sinfonia di Beethoven cessa di essere l’oggetto che è se facciamo astrazione da proprietà temporali quali la durata, o il Davide di Donatello se facciamo astrazione dalle sue proprietà spaziali. Ma dovremmo davvero credere che perveniamo all’unità oggettuale della cosa soltanto se passiamo “dall’atteggiamento valutativo che caratterizza la vita quotidiana a un atteggiamento puramente teoretico e naturalistico (….), cioè l’atteggiamento delle scienze naturali, in cui si fa astrazione proprio dai predicati assiologici delle cose” (p. 91)? Se Staiti applicasse veramente il suo ottimo criterio, la risposta sarebbe certamente: no! La Nona Sinfonia cesserebbe di essere una sinfonia ben prima di cessare d’essere un oggetto temporalmente esteso (tale sarebbe anche lo sferragliare di un tram), appena si violassero vincoli ben più stringenti, come sono addirittura una struttura armonica, con tutte le relazioni tonali presupposte, uno svolgimento tematico, relazioni timbriche eccetera. Cesserebbe poi di essere la Nona di Beethoven anche solo toccando quella struttura armonica etc. (Cioè, come direbbe Husserl, variando anche una soltanto delle singolarità eidetiche che la caratterizzano come l’essenza individuale che è, anche prima di qualunque sua esecuzione o token concreto). E lo stesso avverrebbe con i gialli di Van Gogh o le morbidezze plastiche di Donatello.

Già qui risulta arduo individuare proprietà subvenienti separabili dalle qualità che all’intero (poniamo, a un movimento, a un tema, a un dipinto) sono conferite dalle posizioni tonali reciproche  delle parti (o dai contrasti cromatici degli elementi). Ma attenzione: questo vuol dire che queste qualità sono semplicemente parte dell’essenza. Dell’essenza specifica di una sinfonia e dell’essenza individuale della nona sinfonia. Sono i contenuti della sua concreta unità oggettuale, ne fanno la cosa che è.   Ora, queste qualità sono proprietà assiologiche. Dunque non è vero che l’unità oggettuale si preserva astraendo dalle proprietà assiologiche. Non è vero sul piano ontologico[12]. E non è vero su quello fenomenologico, o noematico e noetico: proprio non potrei distinguere una sinfonia dallo sferragliare di un tram se non udissi e sentissi, col flusso di suoni, il senso musicale che la composizione gli presta.

D’altra parte, il testo dell’ultimo volume della Husserliana citato sopra lo conferma (come fanno innumerevoli altri): “Un oggetto ha la sua natura e ha valore soltanto attraverso questa natura”. “Attraverso” qui è proprio la preposizione adatta a evocare la fondazione unitaria. Staiti, lo abbiamo visto nell’analisi del Cap. III, legge la fondazione unitaria come una specificazione della sopravvenienza. Ma se non giochiamo con le parole, non può allora al contempo comprare il tipo di taglio fra fatti e valori che la relazione, forte o debole, di sopravvenienza presuppone: per due ragioni.

La prima ragione è che questa relazione presuppone che le proprietà assiologiche non hanno materia o contenuto indagabile all’infinito, ma sono soltanto normative: tutto il “descrittivo” fa parte delle “proprietà naturali”. Staiti “compra” questa tesi (p. 113)[13], che in effetti fa parte dell’eredità mooriana dell’intera metaetica, nonostante i tentativi di metterla in questione, quali furono quelli di Iris Murdoch e di pochi altri. Se non fraintendo il suo testo, riportato in nota, finisce per condividere con Bernard Williams proprio l’idea che un concetto thick può essere analizzato in due componenti: quella “descrittiva”, che in effetti si riduce a un sottoinsieme di proprietà reali o naturali (quelle in virtù delle quali un’azione è crudele) e quella normativa, che aggiunge appunto un semplice operatore deontico, un “non dovrebbe”, o se vogliamo, una valutazione. E con questa osservazione ci avviamo alla sezione conclusiva di questa lettura, cioè all’esposizione della mia domanda fondamentale: si può far luce sull’esperienza assiologica senza respingere con decisione questa tesi, e senza accogliere la thickness, la ricchezza di contenuto o materia descrivibile in proposizioni vere (o false), come costitutiva di tutte le qualità di valore? Si può in fenomenologia proporre una metaetica senza basarsi su un’assiologia materiale?

La seconda ragione per respingere il tipo di dicotomia fra fatti e valori che la relazione di sopravvenienza, forte o debole, presuppone, è che l’unità oggettuale di ciascun bene è data precisamente dal tipo di valore che definisce quel tipo di bene. La stessa fondazione unitaria è assiologica, appare nel fenomeno come l’unità ideale dei suoi contenuti,  fra i quali ci sono certamente qualità assiologiche “subvenienti”, ogni volta che la cosa appartiene alla classe dei beni. Dei quali, come ben sappiamo, è popolato il mondo della vita, il mondo dell’atteggiamento naturale. Dove ci sono beni utili, che sono la gran maggioranza degli artefatti: come potremmo mai descrivere l’unità oggettuale di una sedia prescindendo dalla sua funzione, che è quella cui risponde la sua forma, che ne fa una cosa in un senso assai preciso utile? Certo, una sedia è una sedia prima di essere bella o brutta: ma questo è perché l’unità oggettuale che la costituisce sedia è la sua funzione o utilità, dopodiché potrà essere più o meno bella senza che il suo valore costitutivo ne sia affetto. Questo è ciò che succede ogni volta che ci troviamo di fronte a un bene. Un bene non è affatto semplicemente un oggetto naturale, che contingentemente riceve o acquista un valore. L’unità cosale di un bene è costituita dal valore o dal campo di valori che nel bene, parzialmente e più o meno perfettamente, si realizza. Nel mondo della vita ci sono ogni sorta di beni d’uso, beni artistici, beni (semplicemente) estetici come i paesaggi, beni come le istituzioni, eccetera[14].

Per concludere davvero su questo disaccordo parziale, va detta un’ultima cosa: includere componenti assiologiche nelle essenze non vuol dire affatto rinunciare alla distinzione fatti/valori, che ha certamente una sua legittimità di principio (p.92) – e su questo concordo pienamente. Vuol dire che la sua “origine fenomenologica” (p. 92) non è quella individuata da Staiti, e che in ultima analisi rinvierebbe alla distinzione fra atti oggettivanti e non oggettivanti. La sua origine fenomenologica è, io credo, l’opposizione fra l’ideale e il reale, quella – in un certo senso – che ci richiama l’angoscia del grido di Munch: e non ha veramente più a che fare né col naturalismo scientifico né col dualismo, né forse con un loro liberale incontro a metà strada. Perché, lungi dall’espungere la normatività dallo IS, il fenomenologo vi ingloba ogni sorta di OUGHT. Mi sia permessa, per rapidità, un’autocitazione:

“Le essenze o idee, dicevamo,  sono sempre portatrici di un elemento normativo. Poiché essere dato è essere strutturato, ecco la profusione di essenze, invarianti “eidetiche” che contraddistingue il mondo della vita secondo i fenomenologi, e anche implicite direttive di tutto il nostro percepire, sentire e fare. La sua infinita ricchezza racchiude ovunque ordine, significato, struttura, norme. Questo pensiero attraversa l’opera di Husserl dalle Ricerche logiche alla Crisi delle scienze europee.”[15]

Così, un cane a tre zampe non è un buon esemplare della sua specie, e un coltello che non taglia neppure, come non è un buon guerriero un guerriero che non sia coraggioso, o un buon palo della banda uno che, come nella canzone di Jannacci, non ci vede un accidente. La salute ha la sua norma vitale, fondata in biologia, e uno Stato che non sia in grado di assicurare ai suoi cittadini almeno la pace civile ha perduto la sua ragion d’essere.

 E tuttavia, l’angoscia assiologica perdura: meno drammaticamente,  perdura l’opposizione fra il reale e l’ideale. Perché se in definitiva ogni cosa è un esemplare del suo eidos, o dell’unità ideale della sua specie (nel linguaggio delle Ricerche logiche), non ogni cosa ne è un buon esemplare. Quanti insegnanti abbiamo conosciuto che non sono proprio insegnanti ideali. E le repubbliche ideali abbiamo cominciato a studiarle da quando viviamo in quelle reali. Lo scarto fra essere e dover essere è tutto nella realtà com’è, che sia naturale o che sia artifattuale, istituzionale, sociale, personale – e la perfezione non è di questo mondo.

  1. Conclusioni sull’etica e l’assiologia

 Riprendo dunque la domanda che ho formulato all’inizio di questa analisi: la prospettiva noematica, o sulla natura dei valori, che ora forse risulta più chiaramente incentrata sull’assiologia materiale (che questa prospettiva richiede di sviluppare), è solo complementare rispetto alla prospettiva noetica caratteristica di questo libro, o è anche in qualche senso più fondamentale proprio da un punto di vista fenomenologico, ossia quanto alle sue fonti di evidenza, alle fonti della conoscenza (rigorosa) che il filosofo non rinuncia a cercare? Per le ragioni che nell’analisi ho cercato di evidenziare, propendo per la seconda. Ma ora debbo spiegare in che modo l’assunzione di questa prospettiva più fondamentale farebbe maggior luce anche sugli stessi problemi che Staiti affronta.

Il disaccordo, ipotizzavo nella sezione 6, potrebbe vertere proprio sulla metaetica, cioè in definitiva sulla risposta fenomenologica alla questione di che cosa sia l’etica, che naturalmente ha come sotto-questione quella sulla natura dei valori specificamente morali.

Cominciamo a levar di mezzo le questioni secondarie. Staiti cita fra le fonti storiche principali  della ricerca fenomenologica i volumi dell’edizione critica delle opere di Husserl espressamente dedicati all’Etica, che sono rimasti per molto tempo inediti e hanno cominciato ad essere pubblicati solo dalla metà degli anni Novanta (p. 36). E cita anche Max Scheler e il suo Formalismo, solo recentemente riscoperto e rivalutato[16]. C’è però una ragione di questo ritardo, che coinvolge un intero universo di ricerche di assiologia materiale di straordinaria portata e radicate precisamente in quell’angoscia munchiana per la pianta bifronte dell’arbitrarismo o antiumanesimo teoretico e pratico, logico ed etico, che sempre si riproduce nel confronto fra il filosofo e il sofista: un confronto che avviene ogni giorno nell’anima stessa del filosofo ed è tutt’altro che accademica. Ai tempi di Husserl e ancora per tre quarti di secolo dopo la sua morte vinse, nel mondo e nell’accademia “continentale”, il sofista. E furono praticamente dimenticati i nomi degli assiologi che dal ceppo fenomenologico fiorivano e fuggivano o morivano: Herbert Spiegelberg, Aurel Kolnai, Roman Ingarden, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Moritz Geiger e molti altri. Ora, non c’è dubbio che l’eredità di Scheler non si fa molto sentire in questo libro. Ma questo è infinitamente secondario, anzi il suo pregio è che semmai vi si facciano tanti altri nomi di interlocutori vivi oggi.

Andiamo al dunque, invece. Cosa sono i valori specificamente morali?  Io credo che abbia molto senso cercarli nel mondo, ma non certo indipendentemente dalla messa a fuoco, del tutto fenomenologica, dei portatori ultimi di questi valori, che sono in definitiva gli agenti personali, ossia le loro decisioni, azioni, comportamenti, e alla base motivazionale di questi, le loro esperienze. E’ così fastidiosa, in tutta la metaetica mooriana e post-mooriana, l’oscillazione perpetua e oscura  fra un discorso sulla natura dei valori e uno su quelli specificamente morali, che poi dà il nome alla disciplina, “metaetica”. Che cosa sono il bene e il male morali? La tradizione fenomenologica fornisce una risposta ovvia anche se illuminante: buone o cattive moralmente sono le azioni e i comportamenti, e dunque le situazioni e le realtà cui danno luogo, e dunque in ultima analisi le volontà esplicite o implicite che animano azioni e comportamenti. Ebbene, quando sono buone moralmente queste volontà? Evidentemente, quando realizzano in ogni data situazione, e in funzione delle date possibilità e capacità dell’agente, i valori relativamente superiori accessibili e non quelli relativamente inferiori, o addirittura i corrispettivi disvalori, ad esempio: a supporre che io sappia nuotare, diciamo che salvando la vita a un bambino ho preservato un bene (realizzato un valore) superiore a quello del mio comfort che avrei preservato evitando di buttarmi nell’acqua gelata. Ovviamente sia la vita del bambino sia il mio comfort sono beni o parti di beni, quindi hanno valori: ma non certo valori morali! La salute non è certamente un valore morale, ma è certamente immorale danneggiare quella altrui per i propri interessi, e così via. Una tesi fondamentale della metaetica fenomenologica dovrebbe dunque essere che il valore morale della volontà presuppone tutti i valori non morali delle cose del mondo (e, in effetti, le loro relazioni)[17], e in un senso preciso ne dipende. Se la tua vita non avesse alcun valore, che male sarebbe sopprimerla? Se nessuna cosa avesse valore, perché ci sarebbero norme sulla proprietà e che male sarebbe il furto?

Naturalmente, per quanto antikantiana sia questa tesi, c’è una cosa su cui Kant ha assolutamente ragione, ed è che la volontà non e buona o cattiva in ragione dei beni che realizza, ma dell’intenzione che la muove. Ma come può definirsi la bontà dell’intenzione se non in riferimento al valore cui mira? E perché il dovere mi obbliga, se non in quanto deriva dal valore? Dunque c’è un elemento fortemente cognitivo della bontà morale, perché le decisioni dipendono dalle valutazioni e quindi dall’adeguatezza del sentire: ma questa a sua volta dipende da quella disposizione libera, volontaria, che è la veglia del sentire, l’attenzione della mente e del cuore.  In ultima analisi, dunque, moralmente buona è la persona in quanto veglia, non solo in quanto decide e agisce. Di più: in quanto è disponibile alla verifica continua delle relazioni fra i puri contenuti assiologici, fra i valori, o piuttosto a rimettere in questione tutte le proprie certezze, a fare ogni volta nuove scoperte assiologiche.

Queste due tesi impattano su alcune tesi di fondo di questo bel libro che ho forse un po’ troppo appassionatamente voltato e rivoltato. Insieme esprimono il cognitivismo assiologico in generale, e il cognitivismo etico in particolare.

Vediamo prima l’impatto di quest’ultima tesi, che esprime il cognitivismo etico così profondamente caratteristico del fenomenologo. Staiti all’inizio del libro risponde validamente all’obiezione secondo cui “la natura descrittiva della fenomenologia le impedirebbe di occuparsi di fenomeni etici, in quanto prescrittivi”. Questa obiezione, risponde Staiti, è quanto meno fuorviante: “Sono proprio i fenomeni prescrittivi dell’etica a dover essere anzitutto descritti per scoprirne la configurazione essenziale e le condizioni di validità” (pp. 36-37). Un primo punto con il quale non si può che concordare. Staiti prosegue: “Vi è però un nucleo di verità nel riferimento alla natura descrittiva, anziché normativa, della fenomenologia: la prospettiva fenomenologica non intende proporre un’etica normativa autonoma, distinta dalle tre canoniche alternative di eudemonismo utilitarismo e deontologia” (37). Ancora d’accordo: ma qui bisogna intendersi sulla portata della tesi. Quella che le conferisce Staiti è modesta, indulgente e affabile: si tratterà soltanto di un lavoro di chiarificazione, “che riporti le nozioni cardine delle tre tradizioni etiche alle loro fonti esperienziali e provi a rettificare eventuali pretese eccessive avanzate da ciascuna di esse”. La portata che conferirei io a questa tesi è invece più ambiziosa, e quindi molto meno indulgente e affabile: a ciascuna delle tradizioni rimprovererebbe un vero e proprio fatale errore, precisamente radicato nell’ignorare le tesi fondamentali di un’etica materiale dei valori. Alla tradizione eudemonistica imputerebbe la confusione di valori e fini, che porta ad agire con in vista non il maggior bene che posso portare al mondo ma lo stato personale (sia esso il mio piacere o la mia perfezione), eticamente irrilevante (non è vero che la propria felicità sia il fine, né d’altronde men che meno la ricompensa, dell’agire moralmente buono, anche se è vero, probabilmente, che ne è una fonte, o forse che solo il felice è veramente buono). Alla tradizione consequenzialista imputerebbe, come farebbe un kantiano, la confusione di beni e valori in quanto inficia l’incondizionatezza delle ragioni morali; a un kantiano imputerebbe la confusione di valori e beni, cioè l’ascrizione di ogni contenuto o materia delle motivazioni alle realizzazioni finite, relative, contingenti e contendibili dei valori nei beni, cioè l’inconcepibilità di determinanti del volere morale che siano insieme materiali (contenutistiche, thick) e apriori. Altro che pretese eccessive: errori fondamentali. Ma a questa minore affabilità fa riscontro un terzo punto, rispetto alla questione normativo/descrittivo, che a mio parere dovrebbe far parte delle tesi fenomenologiche di metaetica, ma che non so se possa dato l’impianto del libro, essere con questo compatibile: la giustificazione di ogni norma rinvia a una cognizione descrittiva, lungo le due direttive del dover essere e del dover fare: cioè lungo quella dei valori di perfezione eidetica, menzionati sopra, e lungo quella dei valori pratici o d’azione (in particolare quelli morali, come le virtù) quindi delle relazioni assiologiche pure di volta in volta in gioco. I valori infine non sono che una sottoclasse di eide, quella sottoclasse costituita dalle qualità con valenza positiva o negativa. La ricchezza delle loro materie ci rende tutti principianti nei vari domini delle assiologie materiali, ancora di più che in quelli delle ontologie materiali.

Infine, resta da verificare l’impatto che la tesi più generale del cognitivismo assiologico ha su tesi proprie di questo libro. E forse, allora, è la sua conclusione stessa a venire in questione. Un testo famoso di Peter Geach[18]  offre a Staiti la base per questa conclusione, sull’interpretazione fenomenologica dell’Open Question Argument di Moore. Per Geach, “buono” e “cattivo” sono sempre aggettivi “attributivi” e non “predicativi” – dove con “attributivi” si intende che “buono” non predica una proprietà ulteriore di una cosa di tipo X che possiede già le proprietà EFG , ma serve precisamente ad attribuire a questa cosa le proprietà che lo costituiscono: un coltello è buono se la sua lama è tagliente, il suo manico solido etc., e ogni volta vediamo dal sostantivo che cosa costituisca la “bontà” attribuita alla cosa: un buon cavallo, un buon romanzo, un buon filosofo, una persona buona. Dal punto di vista di Geach, dunque, il carattere “speciale”, “non naturale” che un mooriano attribuirebbe all’idea del buono, è del tutto illusorio, e dipende dall’aver considerato “predicativo” un aggettivo “attributivo”. Ora, non è difficile per un fenomenologo riconoscere in EFG le qualità che fanno di un coltello, un cavallo, un filosofo, un buon esemplare del suo tipo: ma questo non ci basta affatto per negare che un buon X sia in effetti un X ideale, o come anche diciamo un X “esemplare”. E naturalmente  questo non toglie alcuna normatività alla qualità di “buon” X. Riferito a un coltello, l’aggettivo seleziona tutte le qualità funzionali che il coltello deve possedere per essere utile, riferito a un cavallo le qualità vitali,  lo slancio, il vigore, la potenza che distinguono un purosangue da un ronzino; riferito a un romanzo la capacità di avvincere senza banalità e tutte le altre qualità estetiche che distinguono un’opera narrativa degna del nome da un report sconclusionato di fatti casuali, e così via. Perché dunque Geach non si accorge che la sua distinzione fra “attributivo” e “predicativo” non confuta affatto l’Argomento della Domanda Aperta, il quale mostra pur sempre che non posso analizzare proprietà normative in termini di proprietà non normative? A mio avviso, perché non si avvede dell’errore più fatale di Moore, che sta purtroppo avvinghiato alla sua più geniale scoperta: perché è vero che le proprietà assiologiche non sono analizzabili in termini di proprietà non assiologiche, ma è falso che non siano analizzabili in assoluto. Lo sono inesauribilmente, in termini di altre proprietà assiologiche. Ne abbiamo appena dato una serie di esempi.

Questo errore fatale è a mio avviso quello che ha dato adito a tutte le “soluzioni” del dilemma della metaetica che tagliano il “descrittivo” dal “normativo” nel modo sbagliato, cioè – come suggerì Bernard Williams, analizzando i concetti assiologici “thick”, dotati di un ricco contenuto (come vigoroso o aggraziato, banale o impudente eccetera) in due parti: da una parte materia e contenuto, cioè il descrittivo, l’insieme delle proprietà “naturali”; e dall’altra un operatore normativo generico, vuoto, universale – in ultima analisi espressivo di una prescrizione sociale, di un comando soggettivo, di una convenzione, di una pressione culturale.

Ecco: l’assiologia materiale, si potrebbe dire, è nata precisamente contro questo tipo di errore, che ha precedenti in molte forme classiche di nominalismo assiologico. There is a matter of values, not just a matter of facts! Perché le qualità assiologiche dei beni esperibili, come la comodità di una sedia, la potenza di un cavallo o la bontà morale di un uomo, tutte senza eccezione, sono thick e non thin, ricche di contenuto. Concetti assiologici “sottili”, come “buono” (ma anche “bello”) sono proxy per designare tutte le varietà di qualità assiologiche positive, o la valenza positiva che le accomuna: gli aggettivi di una lingua umana non bastano neppur lontanamente a designarle tutte, e l’esperienza assiologica più comune è quella di una sorta di ineffabilità, sempre superabile ma mai del tutto. Utilizzando la distinzione di Geach  possiamo dunque dire che l’aggettivo “buono” nel significato “attributivo” che qualifica un certo tipo di bene è una variabile che varia sulle qualità assiologiche materiali positive dei buoni esemplari di quel tipo di bene.

Credo che Staiti possa aver in mente qualcosa di non dissimile quando usa la distinzione di Geach per arrivare a un’”interpretazione fenomenologica dell’argomento della domanda aperta” di Moore. Per farlo, la sviluppa nel senso che “è buono” sta alla posizionalità assiologica come “esiste” sta alla posizionalità dossica. Ossia, “è buono”, esprime la posizione assiologica, la risposta alla valenza positiva della cosa intesa o incontrata. E fin qui saremmo più che d’accordo. Ma qui salta fuori quella che a me pare un’incongruenza. Staiti compra di Geach proprio la parte dell’argomento che contesta a Moore l’idealità, la non-riducibilità in termini di proprietà naturali, non normative, dell’idea di buono. Per questo abbiamo detto sopra, nella sezione 2 commentando questa conclusione, che secondo Staiti non è affatto per la sua idealità o la sua eccedenza normativa,  che l’esplicazione del valore in termini di proprietà naturali lascia aperta la domanda (“ma è davvero buono”?), ma per la sua vuotezza. Vale a dire, ci sarebbe un’intrinseca mancanza di contenuto del positum assiologico (forse perché correlato di un atto non oggettivante?), per la quale “quando sostituiamo “buono” con un qualunque altro aggettivo (“piacevole”, “salutare” … ecc.) la nostra domanda non si riferisce più a un positum, ma torna a riferirsi a un oggetto ordinario” (140). Ma perché, la poltrona che mi appare buona, quella che ho davanti consentendo con delizia, o che sogno per quando sarò tornato a casa, non è, in questa terminologia, un positum ?  E che cosa posso intendere con la mia posizione assiologica, se non che la poltrona è comoda?  Come potrei mai assentire con delizia o aspirare alla mia buona poltrona, se non “intendessi” questa sua invitante affordance, la sua comodità? E quand’è che la poltrona diventa “un oggetto ordinario”? Quando, abbandonandomici, ne verifico la comodità? Se spiego a qualcuno che è una buona poltrona perché è comoda, non c’è alcuna eccedenza mooriana: la domanda “ma è davvero buona?”, non ha senso. Altra cosa sarebbe se spiego a qualcuno che è buona perché è fatta di lana, materassi, molle. Allora avrebbe senso chiedere: ma è davvero buona? E’ comoda?

Ma tant’è : abbiamo già visto (sez. 7, con riferimento a Staiti p. 113) che per Staiti la vuotezza di un aggettivo thin come “buono” non può essere semplicemente quella di una variabile su predicati thick, su qualità assiologiche materiali, come comodo. Che il primo non può che esprimere la vuotezza oggettuale di una posizione assiologica e il secondo la proprietà di un oggetto (ordinario). Non riesco ad accedere all’evidenza fenomenologica per questa tesi: ma se non la fraintendo, è un netto rifiuto del cognitivismo assiologico. E infatti ecco la conclusione: la costante “apertura” delle domande mooriane

“non deriva dalla supposta non-naturalità del bene, bensì dalla “natura” peculiare degli oggetti di cui esso si predica: posita e non oggetti ordinari”. (141)

Una conclusione che, mentre leva a Moore la sua sola unghia, la tesi che la normatività non è naturalizzabile, leva anche il bene e il male dal mondo degli oggetti ordinari.

Non mi resta che ringraziare Andrea Staiti per questo – lo ribadisco – bellissimo libro. Forse, leggendo queste note, penserà che esse lo rimproverino di non aver scritto un altro libro. Invece io l’ho trovato appassionante proprio perché è questo. Per avermi dato materia per questo confronto serrato, e la gioia per ciò che ho imparato leggendolo: perché se non sono riuscita a rendergli ragione, ho forse, con il suo aiuto, capito meglio quanto resta da fare, quanto da chiarire, perché la vocazione assiologica della fenomenologia riesca infine a esplicarsi nel mondo della vita, ma soprattutto nel mondo dei vivi oggi — che ne ha molto bisogno.



Audi, R. 1997. Moral Knowledge and Ethical Character, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Audi, R. 2015. Moral Perception Defended, in: “Argumenta: Journal of the Italian Society for Analytic Philosophy, 1., 1, pp. 5-28.

Crisp, R. 2011. Naturalism: Feel the Width, in: S. Nuccetelli e G. Seay (Eds.) Ethical Naturalism: Current Debates, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Cuneo, T. 2007. Recent Faces of Moral Nonnaturalism, in “Philosophy Compass”, 2.6, pp. 850-879

De Caro, M. 2013. Naturalismo scientifico e naturalismo liberalizzato, in “Metodo. International Studies in Phenomenology and Philosophy”, 1,2, pp. 27-37

De Monticelli. 2020. Perceiving Values: A Phenomenological Approach, in: M. Mühling, D. A. Gilland, Y. Foerster (Eds.), Perceiving Truth and Values. Interdisciplinary Discussions on Perception as Foundation of Ethics, Series Religion Theology Natural Sciences at Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen – Bristol (CT), ISBN Print 9783525573204 e-Book 9783647573205, pp. 43-62

De Monticelli. 2018. “The Paradox of Axiology – A Phenomenological Approach to Value Theory”, Phenomenology and Mind, 15, 2018, ed. by S. Bacin and F. Boccuni, ISSN 2280-7853 (print)  ISSN 2239-4028 (online), pp. 116-128  https://oaj.fupress.net/index.php/pam/article/view/7327

De Monticelli, R. 2018bis. Il dono dei vincoli. Per leggere Husserl. Milano, Garzanti, Engl. Transl. Springer forthcoming.

De Monticelli, R. 2016. Sensibility and Values. Toward a Phenomenological Theory of the Emotional Life, in Analytic and Continental Philosophy — Methods and Perspectives. Proceedings of the 37th International Wittgenstein Symposium, Ed. by Rinofner-Kreidl, Sonja / Wiltsche, Harald A., Series: Publications of the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society – New Series (N.S.) 23, ISBN: 978-3-11-045065-1, pp. 381-400

Enoch, D. 2011. Taking Morality Seriously: A Defense of Robust Realism. Oxford: Oxford  University Press.

Geach, P. 1956. Good and Evil, “Analysis”, 17, 2, pp. 33-42.

Hume, D. 1739 [1978]. A Treatise of Human Nature , Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Husserl, E.  1900-1901 [1964]. Ricerche logiche, Il saggiatore, Milano 1968, 2 voll.

Husserl, E. 1911 [2001]. Filosofia come scienza rigorosa, Bari: Laterza.

Husserl E. 1908-14 [2002]. Lineamenti di Etica formale – Lezioni sull’etica e la teoria dei valori del 1914, a c. di P. Basso e P. Spinicci, Le Lettere, Firenze  (Trad. it. parziale di Husserliana XXVIII).

Husserl E. 1920-24 [2009].  Introduzione all’etica, Laterza, Bari (Trad. it. parziale di Husserliana XXXVII).

Husserl E. 2020. Studien zur Struktur der Bewusstsein, Teilband III, Wert und Gefühl, Husserliana XVIII.

Ingarden, R. 1955 [1989]. L’opera musicale e il problema della sua identità, Palermo: Flaccovio.

Moore, G.E. 1903 [1964]. Principia ethica, Milano: Bompiani.

Shafer-Landau, R.  2006. Ethics as Philosophy: A Defense of Ethical Nonnaturalism, in T. Horgan, M. Timmons (Eds), Metaethics after Moore, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Scheler, M. 1913, 1921, 1926 [2013]. Il formalismo nell’etica e l’etica materiale dei valori, trad. it., note, Introduzione di R. Guccinelli, testo originale a fronte, Milano: Bompiani.

[1] Di cui, infatti,  non sono la prima ad occuparmi: segnalo almeno le recensioni di Susi Ferrarello, e Bianca Bellini (2020). Anche per questo la mia lettura, più che una recensione, è una discussione approfondita, che prende questo libro molto sul serio come contributo a un campo di studi di enorme importanza, e che solo oggi rivede finalmente una ripresa da parte fenomenologica: questo può in parte giustificare, anche se non forse scusare, l’inusuale lunghezza di questa analisi, e la sua passione.

[2] Le principali fra queste sono esposte sinteticamente nel cap. VI di Towards a Phenomenological Axiology. Discovering What Matters, Palgrave, 2021, forthcoming, e in italiano nel cap. V di Al di qua del bene e del male. Per una teoria dei valori, Torino: Einaudi, 2015.

[3] Husserl (1900-1901), 1964, 22 p. 69 (trad. lievemente modificata).

[4] De Monticelli (2020, 2018, 2016).

[5] Hume (1739), 1978, p. 335.

[6] Husserl (1911), 2005, p. 97. Per una discussione di questa tesi e del concetto di posizionalità, che vi è strettamente connesso, v. De Monticelli (2018), pp. 158-163. Da questo punto di vista, a me pare che l’assenza di menzione, da parte di Staiti, del nesso fra Stellungnehmen e Saetze lo privi di un’importante risorsa analitica. La posizionalità di un Satz corrisponde in effetti alla “forza assertoria” con cui è intrattenuto, in un giudizio, il contenuto proposizionale. Il positum di cui parla Staiti (129-137) è certamente “l’unità del senso e del carattere tetico” di cui parla Husserl in Ideen I, § 133. Tuttavia mi sembra che Staiti non faccia uso della potente generalizzazione che Husserl fa del “carattere tetico” (che è poi la “forza assertoria” di Frege, ciò che Austin svilupperà nella pragmatica degli atti illocutori) nel senso di uno Stellungnehmen o  impegno caratteristico di ogni sfera di atti, dove dobbiamo tenere la sfera degli atti emotivi, a differenza che in Brentano, distinta da quella degli atti conativi). Voglio dire che è un punto rilevante in tema di posizionalità assiologica!

[7] Husserl (1908-14), 2002, cit. da Staiti a p. 90.

[8] Ma sacrosanto, nella sua modestia! Pensate ai deliri, che si avvieranno presto a diventare criminali, di Heidegger con il suo “tanto peggio per la logica” dell’operatore di negazione che si perde nel vortice di un nulla più originario….

[9] “La ragione logica ha però questa straordinaria prerogativa: essa formula l’istanza di giudizio, determina la legittimità e predica le leggi della correttezza in quanto leggi non soltanto per ciò che comprende il proprio campo, ma anche per ciò che concerne il campo di ogni altro genere di intenzione, e dunque per ogni altra sfera della ragione. La ragione valutativa e quella pratica sono, per così dire, mute e in un certo senso cieche. Il vedere in senso stretto e in senso lato, e dunque anche il vedere nel senso del “cogliere con evidenza” è un atto dossico”. (…) Si deve dunque tenere alta la fiaccola della ragione logica, poiché solo così quanto di forme e norme è rimasto nascosto nella sfera emotiva e della volontà, può manifestarsi ora in piena luce. Gli atti logici sono tuttavia soltanto la luce che rende visibile unicamente ciò che vi è già” Husserl (1908-14), 2002, pp. 85-86.

[10] Husserl (1920-24), 2009. Per la tesi dell’”intreccio” v, De Monticelli (2018bis), pp. 123-127.

[11] Husserl (2020), Hua XLIII/3, Staiti p. 99.

[12] Si veda, per la migliore ontologia fenomenologica dell’opera musicale, il classico Ingarden (1955), 1989.

[13] Nella nota 1 all’ultimo capitolo, parlando della distinzione introdotta da Bernard Williams fra concetti etici “sottili” (thin) e “spessi” (thick), Staiti afferma di considerarla filosoficamente fuorviante, perché “La differenza, ad esempio, fra il concetto di bene e il concetto di crudeltà non è una differenza di grado o di spessore, bensì una differenza che rispecchia quella tra proprietà di oggetti ordinari (la crudeltà) e proprietà di Sätze, cioè di oggetti meramente intesi (il bene”

[14] La distinzione fra beni e valori e la teoria dei beni come unità assiologiche concrete costituisce il capitolo iniziale e fondamentale del Formalismo (Scheler 2013). Recentemente, Emanuele Caminada ha attirato l’attenzione su quel caso di fondazione unitaria di tipo assiologico che Scheler esprime con il participio “durchdrungen” (GW II, 44), “permeato”: come l’utilità che “permea” la sedia, legando tutti gli aspetti essenziali alla sua funzione, pur nel variare possibile di materiali, fogge, dimensioni, stili…. Caminada (2016), «omnes ens est aestimativum»: On Scheler’s Formal Axiology and Metaphysics presentato alla conferenza Feeling, Valuing, and Judging: Phenomenological Investigations in Axiology, St. John’s University, New York City 19-21 May 2016. Ringrazio Emanuele Caminada anche per avermi segnalato Caminada ( forthcoming, 2021) “Things, goods, and values”.

[15] De Monticelli (2018), p. 77.

[16] Lo cita, mi sia permesso di sottolinearlo, meritoriamente nella bellissima traduzione italiana (ma con testo a fronte) di Roberta Guccinelli, che ha portato un po’ di luce su un capolavoro ignorato anche per l’illeggibilità di precedenti traduzioni: Scheler 2013.

[17] Mi permetto di rinviare per questo all’ultimo capitolo di R. De Monticelli (2015).

[18] Geach (1956).

Eugen Fink: Geschichte der Pädagogik der Neuzeit, Teilband 1, Verlag Karl Alber, 2020

Geschichte der Pädagogik der Neuzeit, Teilband 1 Book Cover Geschichte der Pädagogik der Neuzeit, Teilband 1
Eugen Fink Gesamtausgabe Band 20/1
Eugen Fink. Edited by Anselm Böhmer
Karl Alber
Hardback 199,00 €

Helmuth Plessner: Levels of Organic Life and the Human: An Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology

Levels of Organic Life and the Human: An Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology Book Cover Levels of Organic Life and the Human: An Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology
Helmuth Plessner. Translated by Millay Hyatt. Introduction by J. M. Bernstein
Fordham University Press
Paperback $35.00

Reviewed by: Shawn Loht (Baton Rouge Community College, USA)

This publication of Helmuth Plessner’s 1928 work marks its first translation into English.  In fact, this text is one of only a few of Plessner’s many books that has seen English translation.  As Plessner describes in the Preface to the Second Edition, from 1965, this book did not reach a wide audience upon its publication due to the long shadow of Max Scheler (xix), of whom Plessner was widely seen as a disciple.  The present edition, translated from the German by Millay Hyatt, is a welcome appearance of a seminal text from German philosophy’s very productive engagement with anthropology and the philosophy of life in the first half of the twentieth century.  Regarded by numerous scholars as Plessner’s masterwork, Levels of Organic Life and the Human synthesizes philosophical biology, phenomenology, existentialism, and social philosophy in the process of constructing a systematic philosophy of life from the ground up.  The primary influence on Plessner’s composition of this work is not Scheler, as Plessner maintains in the Preface to the Second Edition, but Plessner’s teacher Hans Driesch, the biologist who favored vitalism as a framework for explaining the presence of entelechy in biological life.  Plessner also cites Wilhelm Dilthey as a major source of inspiration.  Indeed, much of Plessner’s approach seeks to tread a middle ground between the approaches of vitalism and mechanism in accounting for the principles of living things.  Plessner’s aim in fact is not to identify a hidden ingredient, force, or principle driving living things, as much as it is to describe the foundations of life phenomenologically, “finding and testing an approach that would make it possible to characterize the specific modes in which animated bodies appear” (xxiv).  In brief, he writes, the task is to reinvigorate dialogue on what we mean by terms such as “Iife,” “alive,” and “animate,” where supporting evidence can be drawn from what is available to intuition (xxxi).  A task for the specifically anthropological dimensions of this study is to analyze human life from the perspective of the lived body, as opposed to separating human being into dualistic aspects of mind and matter, subjective and objective, or spirit and sensation (32-33).  Plessner maintains that traditional dualism, inherited from the Cartesian paradigm, misconstrues the science underlying anthropology by virtue of separating science into the natural science of measurement on one hand, and the science of consciousness and self on the other hand (65).  Plessner does not want to invalidate this dichotomy entirely; instead, he aims to show how human lived experience is built upon an overlap of both of these dimensions, where human being consists of inner being and outer being at the same time, with the human self centered biologically rather than spiritually.  He stipulates that a specific aim of this anthropology is to highlight human life’s natural existence via a philosophical biology, arguing “The human is carried by living nature; no matter how spiritual he may be, he remains subjugated to it.  From nature he draws the strength and material for any sublimation whatsoever” (71). In other words, “the construction of a philosophical anthropology has as its prerequisite a study of those states of affairs that are concentrated around the state of affairs of ‘life’” (Ibid.).

The primary thesis of Plessner’s study consists of two key claims.  First, living things are defined by the possession of a “boundary” (Grenz), particularly in the manner that this boundary exceeds the physical space occupied by the object (84).  Second, living things are defined by what Plessner calls “positionality” (Positionalität) (121).  By this term, Plessner means the phenomenon of living things’ manner of depositedness or placement within themselves, such that they occupy a place relative to their surrounding environment.  The primary “levels” of the organic Plessner reckons with are plants, animals, and human beings.

To drill down on these main features of Plessner’s thesis, his focus on the concept of boundary is motivated by the fundamental notion that living things are characterized by a divergence, exhibited to intuition, of inner and outer aspects, where this divergence is constitutive of the being of the thing (84).  As Plessner summarizes, “[t]he relationship between outer and inner…determines the appearance of the thing-body as a whole” (92-93).  In other words, living things manifest themselves to intuition such that the exterior’s appearance is a function of interior structure, and vice versa.  Intuition can categorially comprehend an interior essence within the thing which is integral to its outward manifestation.  This intuited, interior essence does not arise with the intuition of inanimate bodies.  The concept of boundary is decisive here insofar as it expresses the phenomenon according to which living things direct themselves outward from inside while at the same time maintaining an inward center.  Boundary is thus not a strictly spatial concept as traditional language tends to construe this term, although it does express a living thing’s way of transcending its own space (119).  Plessner proffers the hypothesis that living things are constituted specifically by relating to their boundary, effecting the transition from where their being extends to where it ceases (94).  He does not provide many examples at this stage, but he seems to have in mind, for instance, phenomena such as that whereby plants are characterized by non-static, outward extension, stretching beyond their physical contours seeking food, water, and the like, but where this seeking is driven by an inward principle.

“Positionality” is another concept Plessner introduces in describing the ontology of living things in terms of their spatiality.  Though he expresses a wariness regarding the overtones of the notion of “position” or “positing” prevalent in German idealism, he selects positionality as a term for describing a living thing’s way of situating its specific way of reaching out of itself while at the same time maintaining its inward-turned character. He writes: “I mean by this [positionality] the fundamental feature of an entity that makes a body in its being into a posited one” (121).  Again, as with the notion of boundary, the crux concerns the fashion in which a living thing self-relates in specifically spatial terms.  A living thing possesses its boundary as its own, whereas a nonliving thing does not (121).  This realization of boundary has the implication of the living thing setting itself into a place.  Plessner describes this phenomenon as follows: “This being-for-itself or being-for-it…thus forms, as it were, the invisible frame in which the thing sets itself apart from its surroundings with the special distinctness of boundedness” (122).  Alternately stated, Plessner continues, living things have the character of “claiming” their space rather than simply occupying it; they have a place of their own, a “natural place” (123).  The Aristotelian slant of this last locution seems an intentional reference on Plessner’s part.  Finally, a further implication of the phenomenon of positionality is the observation that for a thing to exhibit a positional character requires it to become, to be constituted by process (123ff).  For a living thing cannot claim its space without actively doing so.  It must grow beyond the boundary originally given to it.  It must persist, pushing against the abandonment of its space (124).  And on the note of becoming, time comes into the picture, insofar as becoming cannot be understood outside of a framework involving time.  The positional character by which a living thing is always “ahead-of-itself” illustrates that living things are defined by existing in time (166-67).  Although Plessner does not highlight it himself, there is ostensibly a Heideggerian flavor in this discussion of the relation between living things and time; his account here seems to echo Heidegger’s claim in Being and Time that the future [Zukunft] is the fundamental temporal mode.  However, at this stage of the text, Plessner is discussing living things at large, and not yet human being.  I will offer some further comments about Plessner’s encounter with Heidegger below.

Plessner differentiates plants, animals, and human beings with the distinction of a living thing’s “form.”  “Form” characterizes for Plessner the specific way a living thing balances its self-sufficiency with its non-self-sufficiency as something alive (202).  In other words, form describes the living thing’s way of managing the divergence of what it can provide for itself and what it needs from elsewhere.  In this guise, the form of “plant” is characterized by “open” form.  Open form characterizes the type of living thing that “in all its expressions of life is immediately incorporated into its surroundings and constitutes a non-self-sufficient segment of the life circle corresponding to it” (203).  This observation describes a plant’s character of exhibiting total integration in its environment, such that everything it needs in order to persist is immediately available to its outward-directed boundary.  In this light, the plant is completely “open” to and in contact with its surroundings; it does not close itself off from its surroundings because it is stuck where it is.  The plant can only cope with the conditions posed by its surroundings by harmonizing with them, developing in coexistence with what the surroundings offer.  In contrast, the animal is characterized by exhibiting a “closed” form.  The closed form has its essence in the living thing sectioning itself off from its surroundings and maintaining a higher degree of self-reliance (209).  In its closed form, the animal relates to its surroundings in a mediate fashion as opposed to the plant’s immediate contact with its surroundings (213).  Particularly with animals possessing a central nervous system, which harmonizes the operation of organs and routes sense-data to the brain for processing, the closed form entails concentration of powers and drives, but at the expense of the immediate satisfaction of needs (215-16).  For instance, whereas plants are able to obtain all nutrition from their immediate surroundings, animals must make provisions for themselves by finding their food.  Finally, a feature of the closed form of life unique to animals which Plessner suggests is illustrative of the relationship between living things at large and their surroundings is the phenomenon of instinct.  As Plessner describes it, instinct refers to a mapping of the animal’s sensations and needs to its lived surroundings, revealing a necessary coexistence between the animal’s body and the organized field of its surroundings (240).  The occurrence whereby an animal’s instinct on one hand directs it to exhibit a kind of automatic intelligence or programmed behavior, and on the other hand, the ease whereby these patterns can be disrupted by the most miniscule changes in the animal’s field (ex. bees unable to find their hive if it is moved slightly), indicate that living thing and surroundings are reciprocal sides of being that cannot be separated.  Plessner summarizes: “the living thing has itself and its positional field in advance” (236).  The crux of this point is that, pace the theory of natural selection, the living thing’s surroundings are not a force that works against it or threatens its survival (240).  The animal’s surrounding field simply is reflective of what its body perceives and uses; what the animal does not engage with by and large has no meaning for it.

Plessner’s account comes to a climax with his description of human beings in the final chapter.  While this final chapter is the book’s briefest, the account of human beings also has implicit reference to all of the preceding material.  Now that he has accounted for all manner of living things except the human, Plessner’s final task is to highlight what the human level of life possesses in addition to the preceding levels.  In addition to unsurprising human features Plessner takes up here (memory, intelligence), a decisive move comes at the end of the book’s penultimate chapter, in which Plessner describes animal being.  While animals and human beings share in the experience of the “lived body” (an experience not afforded to plants), nonhuman animals lack insight into the contrast of the invisible and the real.  They lack categorial intuition of what is present but not perceived.  Whereas human beings plainly possess this quality.  Upon discussing Wolfgang Köhler’s experiments performed on chimpanzees, Plessner summarizes as follows: “The most intelligent living being in the animal kingdom, the animal most similar to the human, lacks a sense of the negative” (250).  In brief, animals cannot penetrate the excess of negativity in their perceptions; they cannot intuit the “backs” of things (251).  Here, Plessner shows a strong influence from Husserlian phenomenology on the features of human consciousness, although he does not acknowledge so.  This observation paves the ground for Plessner’s principal thesis regarding the human being.  This thesis holds that the human is defined by an “excentric” positionality (271), which is a way of saying that the human being is un-centered, removed from possession of itself, in contrast to the way that nonhuman animals are completely “centered” or at home in themselves positionally speaking.  The nonhuman animal’s self does not exist at any remove from its lived body; these are one.  As a result, interestingly, Plessner’s anthropology, while predicated on the elements of the philosophy of life leading up to it in the text, also contains a strongly Heideggerian overtone by virtue of its insight into the human being’s inherent disconnect with itself (what Heidegger labels in Being and Time with terms like “uncanniness,” “thrownness,” “falling,” and so forth).  One can also observe some rudiments of the early Jean-Paul Sartre regarding the inherent ungrounded negativity of consciousness.  But to reiterate, nonetheless different in Plessner’s model is the out-and-out derivation of the anthropological from the phenomenon of life, where human existence is founded in the lived body.

Two final features of Plessner’s account of the human in this last chapter of the book that are notable for their overlap with themes in German thought of the same period are “artificiality” and “expression.”  These themes are treated amidst a subsection of the final chapter entitled “The Fundamental Laws of Anthropology.”  Like Heidegger, Plessner observes that artificiality or technology is an ineradicable component of the human situation.  However, different in Plessner’s view is that artificiality is a phenomenon driven directly by human finitude whereby human beings, given existential freedom (294), are driven to create in order to secure a stronger permanence beyond themselves.  Plessner writes: “Since the human is forced by his type of existence to lead the life that he lives, to fashion what he is — because he is only insofar as he performs — he needs a complement of a non-natural, non-organic kind.  Therefore, because of his form of existence, he is by nature artificial” (288).  Similarly, “[t]he human wants to escape the unbearable excentricity of his being; he wants to compensate for the dividedness of his own form of life, and he can achieve this only with things that are substantial enough to counterbalance the weight of his own existence” (289).  One particular direction this urge for creation pushes the human being is to create what Plessner terms the “unreal,” or the antithesis of the impermanence of the real.  Ultimately, Plessner maintains, this eventuates in the creation of culture (289).

“Expression,” which Plessner regards as an ontological precursor to language, reveals a phenomenological law of “mediated immediacy” (298-99).  Expression is the phenomenon in which the human being articulates the correlativity between the situation of one’s self and the world.  It is not limited to interpersonal communication or language in the conventional sense, but more broadly includes any type of creative, inventive act.  Plessner calls this occurrence the “fortunate touch,” insofar as it metaphorically manifests a moment of human contact with or grasping of the world (299).  As with the account of artificiality, which parallels Heidegger’s description of technology, similarly here with the notion of expression there is an overlap with bread-and-butter phenomenological accounts of language or signification read as the mode through which the human articulates the state of understanding, or the presencing of what is given in one’s intentional state.  Notable about Plessner’s overlap with Heidegger on these issues and several others are the fact that Heidegger is the philosopher Plessner criticizes the most in this work’s prefatory materials, especially the Preface to the Second Edition.  There is much one could explore here regarding the grounds of Plessner’s criticism, which to its credit is well-informed by the central claims of Being and Time.  However, the brunt of Plessner’s critique of Heidegger appears to lay in the latter’s failure to include any look at embodied life in his account of Dasein.

Much more could be said about Plessner’s account of the human, which, although relatively brief in the grander scheme of the book, covers significant ground and offers many avenues for further exploration.  This relative brevity is also what I see as a shortcoming of the book’s treatment of the human.  This treatment is almost too brief, to the point of being underdeveloped, although, as Plessner asserts in various prefatory passages of the text, this work aims to describe the human specifically as a manifestation of life and as one “level” or form among living things.  So Plessner cannot be blamed too much on this angle, especially given that the final chapter of this text sets the stage for the premise of his next work, Macht und menschliche Natur (published in English translation as Political Anthropology), which appeared shortly after Levels of Organic Life in 1931.  Another challenge posed by the book is its difficulty.  Because the author frequently neglects to include examples, much of the writing is quite abstract (in the vein of the more difficult texts of G.W.F. Hegel or Hans-Georg Gadamer), requiring focused concentration from the reader.  A further complicating factor here is that Plessner frequently adopts the voice of a position he in fact aims to criticize without making this move explicit or providing citations to outside texts and authors.  As a result, in many instances the reader can easily be given the impression that Plessner endorses a given position that he actually means to undercut.  With these challenges in mind, the reader will be advised not to pick this book up casually; one should be prepared for many hours of close reading and revisiting of passages.

This book’s foremost asset is its rich account of the philosophy of life and the various structures that correspond to the “levels” of organic life.  It is a major work in the history of the philosophy of life and should be read alongside other seminal works in the subject, such as Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution, Hans Jonas’ The Phenomenon of Life, and the writings of Hans Driesch.  In addition, its lively engagement with major philosophers of early 20th-century German thought provides a wonderful snapshot of the intellectual atmosphere of the time and the influence of Husserl, Heidegger, Scheler, and many others during their own lifetimes.  Levels of Organic Life was published one year after Heidegger’s Being and Time and in the same year as Scheler’s The Place of the Human in the Cosmos.

James G. Hart: Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ Ontological Phenomenology

Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ Ontological Phenomenology Book Cover Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ Ontological Phenomenology
Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences, Vol. 5
James G. Hart. Edited by Rodney K. B. Parker
Hardback 90,94 eBook € 71,68 €
XII, 272

Reviewed by: By Kevin M. Stevenson (PhD, of the Irish College of Humanities and Applied Sciences, ICHAS)

Before one reads Hart’s work, an introduction to Conrad-Martius’ (henceforth: CM) method which is also the title of the book, Ontological Phenomenology, it is important to bear in mind that it was originally his doctoral dissertation from the 1970s. This is important if we are to consider that much reflection most likely occurred between the time of the dissertation completion and the revisiting and further publication of this work. Not only does this allow the reader to consider the expertise Hart might have on CM, but also the importance of Hart’s academic career in further developing his dissertation into its final form.

In the Introduction, the book is informed to essentially aim to do four things in relation to CM’s ontological phenomenology. It provides a clear and concise message to the reader that the work is an interpretive summary of this phenomenological method. The four points that are to come across in the book are a) the context of CM in philosophy in general, b) why her work is pivotal for phenomenology as a method and discipline (but also why as a historical figure she is so important in the realm of phenomenology), c) the influences she has received and given to others in the field in the history of philosophy, and finally d) CM’s relationship with Natur Philosophie, in which potency and possibility are considered real ontological states of affairs.

Hart’s road map at the start of the book allows the reader to know what to expect throughout the text and provides an important background for understanding why Conrad’s (CM’s) ontological phenomenology developed in the way that it did. Being aware of her influences, standpoints and personal situation is important for this understanding, such as the debate between Goethe and Newton, being against post-Cartesian cosmologies and the reduction of nature to mathematical equation, phenomenology of colours, her attempt to give Christian cosmology ontological-cosmological foundations, and on a personal level, her financial and health difficulties (4). Throughout the book, Hart implicitly focused on the distinction between theology and philosophy within CM’s work, and on how CM would have interpreted the two, in order for the reader to consider CM as more of a philosopher than a theologian. Afterall, the series in which the book is part is based on ‘Women in History of Philosophy and Sciences’. At the same time, Hart’s omission of focusing on a label for CM, informs the reader of the context within which CM was living, where science, philosophy and theology were more alchemized together than in comparison to today.

From the beginning, Hart emphasized the importance of space for CM, and how its interpretation can be skewed by mathematical, technical, and quantifying approaches to cosmology; for her such bias orthodoxly follows a positivist faith. The mathematization of nature to be considered as the ultimate theoretical explanation for nature is notfhart a possibility for CM. Our interpretation of nature is thus important for our understanding of the world and therefore ourselves; hence, Hart informs of how theology through grace (which allows us to ‘see better’) fills the gap that appears to be missing in the interpretation of nature by positivist approaches. Disclosing the eidetic structure of the cosmos is essentially what Conrad’s ontological phenomenology aims to do through meta-methodological questioning that departs from positivism. Hart eloquently summarizes this notion within Conrad’s method that considers the world as being double-featured, stating: “One can speak of the essence of the world as it is immediately given to us on the level of felt-meaning, an essence-intuition in which we participate with the totality of our existence (5).” We can therefore ‘speak’ of the world in physical terms through essence-intuition but also in more difficult foundational terms which is characterized as metaphysical.

For Hart, CM’s ontological phenomenology essentially aims to explore the experience of the things themselves which is important for both ‘speakings’ of the world. According to Hart, CM does this in a way that does not merely repeat a Husserlian approach, despite the fact Husserl was her teacher. Rather her approach propounds that phenomenology is the ‘true’ positivism by attending fully to the given, which leads to two by-products as a result of undermining positivism: a) a qualitative rather than quantitative study of nature which considers the manner in which nature appears as inherent in realontological structure and b) the importance of the noesis and noema within the Husserlian excessiveness of particular experience. These by-products reinforce a spiritual attitude which equates with a phenomenological being-in-the-world, in turn cohering with the excessiveness of experience which Hart stresses is so important for CM’s later work. Hart thus allows his book to represent an excellent resource for first time readers of CM, not only to understand the content within his book, but other works of CM or on CM.

Throughout the book Hart does a good job at highlighting the importance of CM’s work for not only philosophy but the social sciences. This is particularly the case with the epistemological notions set out within the book which are of such importance for the social sciences. Perhaps one of the most important terms to be considered within the book, besides her realontology, is intuition. Hart emphasizes how CM countered the positivist notion that intuition is derived from inference, as the concept of an object’s body-face, in Hart’s words, is conceptualized as the totality of an objective content from self-presentation within intuitive vision’s realm (11). To comprehend CM’s approach, Hart is true to CM’s style in that he includes phenomenological experiments, such as thought experiments, in order help the reader understand her thought. His snail analogy for example challenges the reader to participate in phenomenological investigation in order to deepen one’s understanding of CM’s methodology and in this case of the snail, the aspectival presentation of body-face as intuition. This served as an excellent backdrop to understand CM’s realontology, which aims to bridge gaps between nature’s qualitative appearances and its scientific explanations (18).

The methodology for CM’s realontology involves essence-analysis, which essentially analyses that which exceeds the concretely given perceptual reality: excess which is characterized as a) immediately sensed body-face, b) materiality, c) meaning, and d) categorical foundations of things (substance/reality). The analysis of excess thus aims at a non-reductivist approach to nature without idealism. In this respect, Hart sizes CM up against Husserl to not only emphasize the influence his work on phenomenology had on CM in terms of maintaining a fresh philosophy free from scientific positivism, but also to place her within the great players of phenomenology and its intellectual historical trajectory at the time of her writings.

Hart is successful at pinpointing the important influences CM had received from other philosophers of phenomenology for clarity’s sake, such as how within the bracketing of the epoché there involves the eidetic reduction that is most influential for CM amongst the other conceptions of the epoché. The other two conceptions being bracketing epistemological questions and the transcendental reduction. The eidetic reduction is more important for CM because of its movement from the factual to the essential via essence-analysis or in other words, the search for essentials; the investigation which encapsulates CM’s ontological phenomenology. The eidetic reduction is a leading back to the essence or fact structure or in other words, the full phenomenality structure to essence on its own, which is a turning from actual concrete existence to an idea through bringing essence to its full bodiliness via ideation (23). Hart thus characterizes CM’s work as an ‘essence hunting’ that undermines the incidental, factual, and concrete. And Hart stresses that the best manner in which to conceptualize such essence-analysis is through the ideation involved in the eidetic reduction (20). The suspension involved in the epoché is crucial for understanding CM’s ontological phenomenology because not only does it cohere with the eidetic reduction which she values, but also because it highlights the importance of intuition in our analysis of nature. Intuition, as mentioned above, is important for considering immediate experience in which essential meaning can be detected without categories or systems; concepts that require reductions to objects rather than essentials.

Hart shows that CM was important for the social sciences by not only countering the positivism of her day, which believed or even still believes itself to be with the true original and immediate givens of experience as sense data and facts (21), but by showing how ideation can allow for reflection on the implicitly or intuitively known criteria of things found in nature. Hart uses his own terminology to help the reader understand this, by informing that ideation (essence-intuition) involves the know-how and the know-that of inquiry. Hart does not consider her as merely dovetailing on Husserl’s work, since though he also considered such positivist notions as the superstition of facts (21), she however did not embrace Husserlian intentionality. Hart rather frames her as a phenomenologist who was driven to discover the things themselves, and within her historical context, was brave to do so. Phenomenology was a passion for her since essences within the phenomenological method are considered immediate as well, not just the positivist criteria mentioned above is immediate therefore. To elucidate this, she originally considered there to be an intuitive essential realm in contrast to an intuitive factual realm.

The power of intuition thus lies at the heart of positivism and phenomenology for CM, though for her sake, essence-intuition requires phenomenology, since such essentiality involves the process of ideation, disciplined perception (such as in the case of the epoché) and an artistic sense of difference. Phenomenology’s principle of all principles is original intuition, as phenomenological essence does not lie simply on the surface of appearance as may be the case in positivistic approaches to nature. Hart characterizes CM’s method of ontological phenomenology as a reflexive cosmology, countering the forceful and direct approach of positivism on nature for an essence-analysis that permits the essential meaning of nature’s experience to emerge; an analysis that approaches that which in itself is considered inexhaustible and so irreducible. CM thus aims to expose the a priori laws and regions of nature through her realontology as her phenomenological ontology. Hart focuses on CM’s notions of this and the human challenge to do so, as the importance of fiction, thus the imagination and creativity, which are uniquely human attributes considered of utmost importance for CM’s approach. Essential meanings, alike those found in Husserl, are akin to ‘’horizons of indeterminate inklings’’, as peripheral inklings change our knowledge into essence-intuition. Analysing vague wholes into elements that bring forth essences, as a role of phenomenology, makes phenomenology a method more than mere language analysis (25). Hart is able to show CM’s Continental ‘feel’ by extracting concise information from the works that inspired CM, like Husserl, the Munich and Gottingen Circles, and Hering, without losing the importance and originality of her work.

Rather than get caught up in ‘works of meta’ which any work in philosophy can be guilty of committing, Hart is able to outline the relevance of CM’s work through its practical implications. This can be shown under the subtitle 2.3 ‘The Essence of Essence’, in which essence is considered something that discloses itself to the method of essence-intuition which avoids getting caught up in ‘meta-works’. Essence is thus taken to comprise of unique characteristics of objects’ fullness. Such fullness becomes understood to mean that essence requires a bearer and thus is always a reference for something else. The practical use of ideation thus becomes known to reveal if objects have core essential essences or if such elements are merely accidental. Hart emphasizes that object(s) is a broad concept and can even refer to practical issues we face in human life and experience. Hart thus informs how CM would inform of the utility of ideation in everyday life. The concept of promise was an example of a practical issue or what Hart considers as ‘states of affairs’ in contrast to the immutability of essences through a physical example involving a house, with the latter considering the notion of how its physical changes might not change its essence (27). The former example reveals the importance of CM’s work for practical ethical matters whereas the latter informs of unresolved philosophical issues since the ancient Ship of Theseus thought experiment.

CM’s method which takes the notion of essence belonging to objects themselves, in which the object’s idea remains separate from the object itself (as a result of ideating or objectifying an object’s essence leading to the object having it ideally in spite of the fact that the essence of the object is inseparable from the thing itself) has consequences for both physical scientific and social issues alike. Hart shows that the method is thus able to graft phenomenology and ontology together, echoing CM’s background in phenomenological concepts such as the Lebenswelt. CM’s Phenomenological Ontology clarifies the notion that the process of ideation leads to the idea that an object’s essence or whatness or morphé (such as the essence of an issue like promising for example) has a second separate existence to itself as an object, through a process of subsumption; a process that is often overlooked in the sciences but which CM brings to light. Although Hart could have brought in terms such as mereology or even Gestalt psychology to consider for the reader to investigate to assist in understanding CM’s method at this juncture, Hart appears to be aware of the danger of getting off topic and straying from the initial task of explaining CM’s approach from bringing in such concepts. One example however of when introducing other notions into the work could have been beneficial is with Hart quoting on CM and Hering (as one of CM’s influencers) on the importance of phenomenology’s consideration of: “relations of an object to its whatness is different than its relation to its properties (29).” Considering Gestalt psychology and even Cartesian dualism as additional notions to investigate could have been beneficial to the novice reader in philosophy or social sciences if introduced, however, we are aware of the limitations of Hart’s task at hand.

Understanding CM’s method thus requires the awareness of an object’s ‘what’ as taken to be the phenomenological basis of talking about ‘being-what’ or ‘being-such’. The concept of eidé is important here as it represents the essentialities of philosophical importance for both CM and Hering (as CM’s essential essence derives only from a comparison with Hering’s eidé). Eidé is a concept contrasted with objects which cannot be object realizable as eidé can. Here Hart does bring in Ancient philosophy to assist in considering how CM and Hering are disciples of Plato, perhaps in the sense of committing to the universality of ideas or in Plato’s terms, Forms. This helps in understanding that the eidé are not akin to whatnesses which need a bearer, since the eidé rest in themselves and are thus required for phenomena like objects (or social issues) to manifest their essences. Essences can thus be taken as eidé as that which are behind all essential essence.

Informing the reader of CM’s influences throughout the work does not lead Hart to simply consider CM as someone who chronological falls after Hering in terms of philosophical history, rather he frames their relationship as one that is akin to Husserl and Heidegger. Both relationships of their works can be said to contain an essence or spirit that does not replicate the other but rather challenges, reinforces, contributes and reciprocally builds on each other, which is perhaps why Hart was interested in nominating CM as a candidate for contributory women in philosophy and science. Her realontology in Chapter 2 is thus introduced by Hart in a manner in which we see it flowering out of the philosophical history of CM’s time. To emphasize the uniqueness of CM’s method, Hart does not hesitate to contrast it with positivistic approaches to reality. In CM’s ontological phenomenology or realontology, ideation subsumes an object’s eidos, so that eidos can be made concrete to a whatness or morphé. This is not an empirical process, but rather values more the idea that essential essences of objects are never realized in a concrete sense as a positivist would claim. Instead, an intuition or sense of an object is to be considered more fundamental than the empirical experience of an object. This is due to the fact that that which is presented to consciousness does so ‘as’ something. The object therefore bears the morphé (whatness or form) which is what is mediating the eidos (31).

In CM’s work, the eidos are juxtaposed to the universality of an idea and Hart gives the example of ‘redness’ being eidos instead of ‘red’ itself; hence the role of philosophy is to search and expose eidé as the meanings in themselves or intelligibility’s ultimate dimensions. The practicality within questioning or searching for eidé lies in the fact that such a task involves limit questions which involve reaching intelligibility’s foundations. The eidé provide objects with their essential meaning as via eidé the essence of ideal and real things can be understood which shows the epistemological implications of CM’s work. The eidé’s realm is important because it is the kosmos noetos, the latter term in this phrase related to noema and thus meaning, in turn considering a meaning-cosmos.

In order to keep in mind the fact that Hart is writing on a person of history, Hart does justice to CM’s cultural upbringing throughout the book in his analysis of the manner in which the term ‘meaning’ is taken by CM. He emphasizes that CM takes it with the German definition ‘Sinn’, which involves an objective meaning, one which is capable of disclosing itself to the intention of consciousness, thus a meaning that announces its essence through self-speaking objects (36). This unveils the ordering of CM’s approach to the experience of nature and all it entails, as essence, in its immediacy, is primary within the order of cognition, being first within knowing’s order, whereas eidé require an attachment to meaning to be cognized, since meaning realizes eidos. Ideation (the imaginary objectification of eidé) essentially brings eidé to givenness in order to get deeper into essence as the immediately given, so within the order of ontology, meaning (eidos) as defined as Sinn, is what holds as fundamental primacy within ontology. Hart informs that for CM, meaningful-topos is the terminology used to encapsulate the referential process of meaning making.

Within Chapter 2, Hart further elucidates the role of phenomenology within CM’s phenomenological ontology. Phenomenology is an investigation of essence that enters the realm of eidé, thus it is a ‘walking around’ of essence in order to find relations and properties of the meaning-topos of objects. Hart is critical of CM’s approach here, in that he believes that CM lacks an explanation of the causal categories she uses as that which is bounded to the metaphysics of participation, which is so crucial for meaning making. He highlights that Hering and CM founded phenomenology as essence analysis within meaning’s ultimate dimensions, which are apparently definite yet inexplicable. Eidé therefore cannot be merely grasped objectively, as any transcendental act of objectification of eidé in a positivistic sense distorts their essence. CM thus supports the indirect experience of objects through the concretization of eidé through ideation. Found within this notion is the practical implications of applying CM’s approach to nature and consequently science. The effort of objectification always leads to a distortion of the pure meaning of that which is objectified, so for CM, the purity of something is a realontology as essence-analysis, which involves a dialectic that is without pre-judgements and without any sort of Hegelian historical contradiction of truths. Hart explicates that for CM, it is the destined quest for meaning that is already and always intended within a horizon of meaning that is important; understood before any sort of cognition to be known through a kosmos noétos (which is juxtaposed to a reality cosmos which cannot unite with such a meaning cosmos). The horizon of meaning that is already set up for discovery and which ontology’s task is to illuminate through eidetic reduction and ideation is a study of the essence of that which presents itself. The Husserlian supported transcendental reduction on the other hand which as mentioned above CM does not adopt, purifies phenomena from the conferrals of reality. It is within these reductions that Hart highlights that CM, much like Heidegger, considered Husserl to be too subjective from the start, but she later revisited and supported his approach only to be finally contrasted with Husserl in his support for transcendental phenomenology whereas CM held onto an ontological phenomenology in which what is considered to hold meaning is actually a real being. The ‘really real’ is grounded in itself not in any sort of noema. Husserlian transcendental reduction does not involve the possibility of grasping fundamental structures of the ‘really real’ as such for CM, which allows her to refrain from supporting such a reduction.

Hart further outlines CM’s three senses of phenomenological attitude in Chapter 2, which further distances her approach from Husserl. These are a) Husserl with a purified world version, b) primacy to the eidetic reduction in order to allow for epistemological questions, and c) a realontological attitude. Essentially, CM’s realontology considers that it is only the method of essence-analysis that allows for transcendental elements to reach their givenness through the performance of the epoché bracketing. Essential analysis thus involves critical philosophy and theory of knowledge (epistemology), in turn allowing for transcendental phenomenology to correspond to realontology and the world-constitution ego without limiting itself to a transcendental reduction. Hart sums up the difference between a Husserlian approach and CM’s as the former thematizes the metaphysical-egological object of the world whereas the latter thematizes the metaphysical-transcendental actualization of the world via a realontological reduction which presents the factual and actually given. Hart emphasizes that CM’s approach can thus be considered a shift (a cosmological turn) from the finished to the pre-finished cosmological dimensions of reality. Realontology’s role can thus be considered a philosophy of nature via essence and horizonal analyses, provoking an examination of the full phenomena of nature.

The realontology thus reconnects the context within which rich concrete phenomena exits; phenomena which science essentially removes from context. In Chapter 3, the present context is considered to involve seeing the kind of being an idea possesses. Horizon-analysis increases the scientist’s awareness of the blind-spots, attitudes, and habits which they may involve towards nature. Hart stresses that this does not make CM anti-scientific nor embracing a romantic return to nature, rather her realontology involves a three-fold nature of a) a philosophy of nature, b) essence-analysis, and c) horizontal-analysis. Both a) and b) involve a reconnaissance (a unifying intuition akin to an unthematic felt-solution to issues), which Hart characterizes as looking at one’s surroundings in order to improve our perception of the immediately given, with b) involving specifically the seeing beyond of borders to see precise essence (topos) (50). Both b) and c) involve speculation, with b) having the character of seeing things within limits and c) involving the speculation of the limits we set on objection perception.

Commencing Chapter 3 by bringing an end to Chapter 2, Hart can be said to bring back the importance of the concept of the Lebenswelt. We see that for CM, any reductive mechanical interpretation of life would not be possible due to life-essences’ givenness of living creatures and the machine-ness of all that mechanical. This sort of contemporary view of CM’s work allows us to see her work as not a mere arm-chair phenomenology according to Hart (53), as the realontology intends to rescue the appearances of nature in order to thus grasp appearances’ essences and in turn disclose appearances which can be taken as mere appearances. We have seen that such analysis of essence is not of that just found in reality, but with social issues as well, which in turn gets the arm-chair phenomenologist to stand to their feet and engage with the social world around them, armed with the realontology as a method for living.

In Chapter 3, the foundation of the realontology is thus further elucidated and Hart informs of the realontology as a method aiming to show meaning objects as presented with ontological moments that are immanent, and this is framed by Hart as echoing Frege’s objects of thought with a third realm with a reality that differs from that of things. As mentioned above, promises, as states of affairs, involve objective dimensions in which judgements are considered intentional acts that must involve psychological adjustment. It is here that it is considered that the presentation of objects to consciousness does not suffice it to be a state of affair; categorical intuition (essence-intuition) thus immanently involves grasping something as such a thing that it is, which is a state of affairs through an ontological moment. It is ontological since our mere thinking of something includes us in being; a notion that must include the importance of time. Realontology’s fundamental movement is founded on the notion that that appearing in itself via out of itself in accordance with modalities of the rootedness of self involves three movements: a) substantial (bearer), b) essential (what), and c) existential (presenting object as union of a) and b)).

It is from these movements of the realontology that we consider that essence exists independently and prior to objects as things. Hart informs of the dichotomy between eidé (pure qualia, Logos, meaning) and meaning-being (objects which come from eidé) as important to understand this. The eidé are akin to Platonic Forms, and can exist without the physical world, as it is only when we speak of them that they transform from objects to subjects because they exist independently of knowing subjects. Eidos, as entities without references to anything else are thus distorted when they are objectified by human contact, as they become reduced to hypostases. Hart emphasizes here that for CM, it is phenomenology’s task as the study of the real and essence’s pure investigator, to disclose eide’s inexhaustible realm as pure meaning. For CM, reality is something that stands over nothing, a nothingness with a mode of being present which therefore allows for the possibility of eidetic analysis. Being’s essential level of present objects is through essential analysis as there is a three-fold sense of being a) pure, b) really existing, and c) existential movement linking the ideal and real. In 3.3, Hart informs that phenomenological experience which is synonymous with eidetic experience considers a potential mode of being. Any non-being involves a power in terms of emergence, as it allows for the consideration of a being grounding its own being whilst being the ground itself. This leads to the human capacity of not being confined to the present moment as the human being can ‘make present’ via the past and present; an intentional possession of time.

It is from this backdrop of connecting the essence-analysis of CM’s realontology to inspecting the emergence of essence that Hart considers CM’s transcendental-imaginative intuitive time which is grounded in fact through ontological means. The human being is thus not known empirically (as flowing in temporal time) nor transcendentally (holding a position that is outside of self and the empirical world). CM’s transcendental-imaginative time involves a z-fold motion which stands at the head of her realontological understanding of time which has important consequences for human understanding. For CM, the past therefore is the form of intuition that is transcendental imaginative, which Hart considers to be noughted (76). Time thus involves a founding process that is not within time itself, as the present holds its own kinetic. In terms of the future, it is incorrect for CM to consider it dictated by a forward motion of actuality for existence nor as moving forward into a distant future. Rather, the transcendental-imaginative temporal movement as a mere passing in the Aristotelian sense coheres with CM’s concept of time. Substance therefore involves a standing under of its own being, thus as self-grounding of itself whereas imagined objects are non-substances. Here, Hart informs that in relation to substances, there are two modes an object can stand in itself: hyletic (a being posited outside of itself) and pneumatic (substance free from essential constitutive form, thus pure essence of existing itselfness e.g. archonal being own self). The importance for this dichotomy is it allows for an understanding of how nature is able to realise itself within its own actuality.

For Hart, CM’s work over her lifetime was to inform of the speculative vision of the hyletic and pneumatic, as her realontology not only aims to link ontology and the philosophy of nature, but involves nature’s appearing in relation to metaphysical foundations; establishing the basic regions of nature through an analysis of nature in qualitative and concrete forms. Nature is taken as a symbolic whole revealing fundamental categories of the entire cosmos, which again involves the importance of her work for aesthetic and Gestalt psychology. CM thus aims to provide an analysis of nature which achieves what the idealistic tradition hopes or has hoped to do, as her involvement of retrocendence (reverse transcendence) is a spirituality that illuminates thought’s essence from the character of this mode of being itself without being limited to subjectivity. Throughout the book therefore, Hart continually informs of the importance of realising that CM’s approach is anti-Cartesian and anti-Augustinian, in the same sense that she does not adopt a transcendental reduction in a Husserlian sense. These three approaches in her view might limit themselves to either hyper-subjectivity in the case of the latter or a reduction of mind to matter in the former through hyperbolic internalization. Pneumatic substance allows her approach to hold, since it is a substance free from essential constitutional forms of itselfness, thus a substance that is being its own self, emerging as an archonal being. CM’s support of emergence reveals an underlying pragmatic essence that never completes itself.

Hart shows Heidegger’s influence on CM at this juncture on an emerging sense of substance, as the concept of care, as an ontological rather than psychological category, is existential. Such a conception of care allows for a hypokeimenal being which is thrown onto itself to be considered. This being is pneumatic and archonal as it projects beyond itself, finding itself in alterity through objectification and projection. Hart allows us to see CM’s reconfiguration of Heidegger’s being-in-the-world, as the pre-possession of the world is considered a pre-grasping of cosmic-meaning-being. The epoché is eternally in the background and such a conception of existence has implications for the manner in which space is conceptualized as well. Space that is intuited is not empty for CM, and so the essence-analysis through her realontology on apeiric space (the aperion being the infinite totality) holds great importance as it provides for this space’s ontological existence. The phenomenological experiment for CM in the sense of space is informed by Hart to involve the consideration of the qualitative change that occurs when apeiric space is aimed to be grasped. Such a task leads to a distortion and in turn the space loses its infinity as such a pure space in turn becomes a metric surface space. The concept of gestalt is important here, in that within such an experiment, the limits of dimensions’ definitions are considered and a dichotomy between a real surface space and a transcendental surface space are to be reckoned with. Heidegger again peaks his head into CM’s work at this point, as uncanniness becomes a concept to understand the ontological consideration of apeiron space. Such space is considered as an unmasking of space as something that goes beyond the limits of the human body. The real ‘now’ cannot be experienced thus a metric peiric space is taken as a ‘here’. Space thus has for CM an intuitive medium of continuity in which limits are established through essence which assists in the understanding of nature’s self-formation in the next chapter.

Chapter 4 begins with a consideration of the phenomenology of life as involving a subjectivity that discloses itself within matter. The concept to elucidate this is entelechy; a soulish potency to be realised, which is conceived psychologically. Hart informs how this put CM’s ideas against Driesh, as despite the latter’s rejection of phenomenological essence-intuition, the latter’s support of entelechy coheres with CM’s phenomenological notion of essence as having a unique character which makes it what it is. Hart informs that this consideration of the potentiality of the entelechy is important for the discipline of art, as the artist’s role is to explain the entelechy, as essence-entelechies do not equate with ideas but rather present them. And so art can assist in working out the notion of species found in nature. Hart informs that these notions coalesce into CM’s intuitive qualitative essential level which is juxtaposed to the modern causal-genetic level. This allows us to see the continental flavour of CM’s approach to nature which refrains from applying cybernetic models of machines to living organisms. Machines are given their selfness since their interiority is objective, and so Hart clarifies this with machines/computers as having subjective objectivity (subjectivity objectively), unconscious living things with objective subjectivity, and conscious living things with subjective subjectivity. Hart does not want the reader to lose sight of the view supported by CM that cybernetic perspectives for understanding the human being, just as we saw above with the mathematization of nature, are not possible for CM. The natural scientist will always involve a prejudice that considers intuitive understanding within nature’s realm to be intimately and concretely linked to physical extension and so causality; a physicalism that CM would consider dangerous for understanding nature.

Causal approaches to nature do not allow the essence of physical nature to unfold, and so the aim of phenomenology for CM is to bring forth new causal categories. Her realontology involves an essence analysis that is meant to discover the kinds of causes in nature; an ontological analysis of causality that analyses energy and potency and which reveals the two types of causality a) mechanical and b) conscious. Her essential ontological approach, however, is not to be confused with an intentional movement as a transcendental approach would support. It is within the entelechial potency that we are to discover essence-entelechy’s ontological nature. Here Hart considers the concept of actualization to encapsulate the potential energy and power that is so important for understanding CM’s view on the forces of nature. There is essentially no entelechial cause for CM, so there is no such epigenetic potency for CM as real potency (power) is always the ‘not yet’. It is from this potentiality that Hart informs of Heisenberg’s ‘Uncertainty Principle’ as coherent with the essence-intuition of CM’s approach of a potential ‘not yet’ essence of nature (its pre-actual dimensions). Aether becomes known as the elementary substance acting as a medium for a rigid and empty elasticity for substance in contrast to light as serving the ontological and consciousness. Aether discloses itself ecstatically and so it is no wonder that the realontology involves the thesis of physical energy resting on a presupposed substrate of an ontology that is definite and constituting through actualization via another dynamic that sets itself in motion and thus becoming a tendency for an accomplishment. The method of realontology involves a phenomenology that increases the visibility of the essence of the phenomenon derived from its appearing as a way of recovering the primordial movement of the cosmos as an ecstatic othering. The realontology thus describes nature as self-generating through a dialectic between essence-entelechy and essence-material.

Within CM’s system, energy contains an ontological foundation, and Hart emphasizes that for CM, energy does not equate with aether but rather energy and mass-hyle are to be taken as substrates. Energy is not a substance, however, all energy is founded on substance. The qualitative actualizing factor of nature is thus an existential moment; we take the world able to come to a pause only on the surface therefore, but this does not consider the cosmos as a hierarchy. The cosmos as Logos involves a continuing process of essence-entelechian expression. Nature is in constant revelation of essence-entelechy which is to be conceived as the complete logos of that which is in nature’s realm (AKA total essence), bringing the power of real potential into being. Within this philosophy of nature as essence-analysis disclosing essence-powers, the human being is conceived for CM as having a spirit rather than equating with spirit, with their emotions as being proper to them. The originating self in turn derives from the essence-entelechy using essence-material to configure individual Logos; an emergent essence from essence-entelechies and essence-material. Such emergence, as a philosophy of nature, is further elaborated in Chapter 5.

In Chapter 5 Hart aims to further CM’s approach as being understood as a non-empirical method. Time involves a motion that does not depend on empirical processes of change, but rather on an existential motion. The pure present in this sense is without a past and without knowledge of any real temporal motion, as CM is against any translatory motion. There exists thus the phenomenological experiment for CM of considering how the world does not change, and Hart here considers what change is for CM then, specifically if it is transcendental. If change is not empirical, then there is the consideration if nature and change involve a transcendental-empirical dimension. Hart informs of CM’s interest in Indian philosophy here, especially the transcendental character of the entity Vishnu, but also how Aristotle’s Physics had an impact on her. The latter’s notion of the world not being existent in space but rather constitutive of space is of importance for CM, as Aristotle considered that that circular motion is the only possibility of perfection. CM thus derives from these Aristotelian influences the transcendental concrete as the aethereal world-periphery (a sort of space-time), thus a cyclically moved reality as an aeonic motion. The circular motion is considered for CM the most accurate symbol of expression for the totality and trans-temporal presence. CM’s cosmos for Hart is thus to be considered as more of a tapestry than a ladder, which echoes the notion mentioned above that CM does not take the cosmos as a hierarchy. The cosmos emerges continually and aeonic space-time in turn renews the world in a constant fashion. The human being is the microcosmos existing within a polarity between the world-periphery (heaven) and the world-centre (underworld), the former characterized as an energetic potency.

Hart stresses that the human being can generate and creatively constitute things rather than create according to CM, and involves an existence with nothingness and death.  The world is expanding which makes temporal existence derive from the constant actualization of the world-event as a totality. The world-peripheral entelechies spark change and this unfolding nature is characterized as hominization for Hart. Such hominization allows for technology, abstract art, and other peculiarities of human existence. Here there appears to be a Hegelian historical development from human freedom, however without the dialectical nature of a Hegelian approach to culture. For CM, the horizon is the world background and context which is an unthematical constitution of thematic and objective experience. This echoes Hegel’s notion of zeitgeist, in which world epochs involve spiritual powers within the background as horizons. It is here that Christian spirituality is important for CM’s approach, as Christ becomes known as the final mystical body in which we understand animals as deriving from human existence not vice-versa. The Christian ‘Fall’ is commensurate for the disintegration of the organic whole of any space-time, in which the wheel can represent the symbol for the aeonic world’s continual actualization through a cyclical time. The end of temporal time through a Christian cosmic notion of time as a coming aeon allows for the realization of the potential for the great waves of aeonic time.

Despite the intellectual depth of CM’s conceptions of the cosmos, time, and space, Hart is still successful at informing the reader the significance of her work for practical matters. The thought of the schizophrenic patient not having a future is an example utilized to assist the reader in understanding just how the realontology could assist someone suffering from such a condition to cope or provide a practitioner an approach to such a condition (211). Towards the end of the book Hart taps even more into the less theoretical of CM’s work by informing of some of the historical notions important for CM’s academic trajectory. CM’s place between the two movements in phenomenology is important to keep in mind for Hart; that of the realist ontological and the transcendental idealist, both of which would play out within the Gottingen and Munich Circles of her day. CM’s support of Logos being found within human reason and her insight into the speculative movement of the Christian cosmological understanding of nature allows Hart to conceive of her with a unique phenomenological but also hermeneutical method that remythologizes the cosmos. In Chapter 6, Hart informs of how CM thought that her work truly uncovered personal powers, times, and objective mythical spaces, through the use of the aeonic world periphery which re-interprets in a unique manner the Christian cosmos. Myth therefore has three senses, that of a symbolic epistemological, a phenomenological through epoché, and the realontological through objective reference. Her remythologizing of the cosmos thus considers heaven as more than a theological concept, but rather an anthropological, cosmological, and religious one. Heaven essentially creates a heterogenous dimension which allows for fiction, schizophrenia, and love to exist, as heaven represents a constant symbolism for the human being as a ‘really real’, thus a phenomenological point which allows for the creation of the horizon and everydayness of life.

Despite the mythical nature of CM’s cosmos, Hart does an excellent job of bringing the reader back into the history of ideas which this book succeeds at highlighting throughout. The homogeneous Newtonian cosmos is at odds with CM’s cosmology of heterogeneity, the latter of which considers the existential meaning to be derived from the spatio-temporal emergence of nature. CM aims for a description of how the world presents itself before scientific understanding’s distortion. Such a contrast allows the reader to understand CM’s cosmos as taking heaven as a state, which is a phenomenological hermeneutical ontology and task. Chapter 7 furthers this exploration into heaven and phenomenology’s importance for such a concept, but also how as a method it can assist in understanding heaven’s implications for the philosophy of nature. The world becomes known as the ultimate horizon that accompanies objects, as objects in the present are not within a punctual time of ‘Nows’, but rather in a continuous stream. Human beings thus bring to perception a grounding which is characterized as a sedimentation of a historical-horizontal retention of meanings, as the world is constituted by this grounding retention, but also infinite possibility (protention) and anticipation; a horizon that is open and which stretches into the distance. Hart then connects this human experience to Heidegger’s Dasein, as he informs how Dasein’s fallenness into its everydayness leads to an anxiety that makes Dasein feel they are not at home with such unfamiliarity. Such unfamiliarity is related to CM’s remoteness found in the realm of heaven as the human being experiences alienation from the world-periphery.

In the Conclusion, Chapter 8, Hart reminds the reader of the fact that CM’s realontology does not embrace a transcendental reduction, as her method does not involve a disengagement from the natural attitude’s belief system within the reality of the world’s self-preservation as a Husserlian approach would accept. Rather, CM presupposes that the natural attitude is hypothetically valid which leaves room for the possibility of the explication of the natural attitude’s noematic correlation. For CM this a correlation that contains an essence of the ‘really real’ as the transcendental reduction does not provide the chance for an essence-analysis of the real; hence her ontological phenomenology is not just of perception, as it is not just an eidetic of a life-world existential analysis. Instead, Hart emphasizes that for CM, phenomenology involves a disclosure of Logos and that which shows itself. Phenomenology is essentially essence-analysis which aims to disclose and uncover the full sense and meaning of world-space through a discovery of its realontological status. Realontology considers the world as not in space, as time and space are considered aspects of the world’s mode of being; the trans-physical dimensions which realontology points to preserve the lived-experience of the cosmos which consists of the earth’s and heaven’s regions. And so Hart has shown that CM’s realontology is not just a method that can reinforce the experience of the life-world, but can be a way of life as well, unmasking the world-space’s antinomies in the process. It does this through a cosmological turn that brings us to the tradition of symbolizing the universe into a story through an affirmation of a holy physics which affirms objective mythical times, spaces and powers. The other worldly dimension that the realontology can bring to life echoes that of the grotesque in human experience, which makes it an existential method whilst maintaining a natural attitude to the world.  It is no wonder that Hart included an Appendix including a translation of an excerpt from CM’s Metaphysics of the Earthly, written only slightly before the ugliness found within the atrocities before and during World War 2.

In closing, Hart’s book placed the spotlight on a figure in the Western intellectual tradition who deserved such attention. Not only for the obstacles she faced in terms of her sex, race, and geographical living, but the contribution she provided particularly for the philosophy of science. In general terms, however, not only was the philosophical method of CM shown to be original and important for a plethora of theoretical disciplines, from theology to aesthetics, but it was also shown to provide practical implications that allowed her approach to phenomenology as realontology to bridge the gap between the real and the ideal, and the objective and subjective. Intentionality however, in the phenomenological sense, was a concept in the book that appeared to be a bone of contention for Hart. It appeared to be a concept that equates with Husserlian phenomenology, however, was it or was it not a concept supported within CM’s method? It can be left for the readers of the book to determine.

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