Thomas Nemeth: Russian Neo-Kantianism, De Gruyter, 2022

Russian Neo-Kantianism: Emergence, Dissemination, and Dissolution Book Cover Russian Neo-Kantianism: Emergence, Dissemination, and Dissolution
Volume 10 in the series New Studies in the History and Historiography of Philosophy
Thomas Nemeth
De Gruyter
Hardback 113,95 €
Front matter: 9. Main content: 345

Hanne Jacobs (Ed.): The Husserlian Mind

The Husserlian Mind Book Cover The Husserlian Mind
Routledge Philosophical Minds
Hanne Jacobs (Ed.)
Hardback GBP £190.00

Reviewed by: Mitchell Atkinson III (IFiS PAN)



I am not aware of any recent collection of pieces by Husserl scholars that includes so many of the most important names in the field. Hanne Jacobs has demonstrated an astonishing prowess at organizing not only the material within the text but also in choosing and arranging contributors for this compilation. The book has, in its substance, aspirations to be the definitive introduction to Husserl—and by implication to phenomenological philosophy—in the English language. As philosophers and good critical readers, we must assess these aspirations in light of the works we already have while attempting to bring Husserl to a wider readership within and outside of the academy.

Perhaps it’s appropriate to examine for a moment the question why one makes such a fuss over Husserl in the first place. There has been a line of discussion in phenomenology, and several “post”-phenomenological disciplines, that makes of Husserl a sort of spastic Cartesian, chastised by Frege for psychologism, flailing ineffectually between an outdated dualism, an outdated essentialism, and a metaphysics he dare not name. This sort of dismissal can be found among so-called analytic as well as continental philosophers, although the level and volubility of the attack tends to differ between the schools. Strong phenomenologists have published doubts of central Husserlian notions, including essence and the epoche. Others have attempted to refine or expand Husserl’s work into new domains of human experience. Still others have attempted to use parts of the phenomenological method to deepen work in adjacent disciplines, most notably the social sciences, psychology, and cognitive science. But the question of Husserl’s value remains, nonetheless. We can ask ourselves, as Adorno’s imagined interlocutor says of Hegel, “Why should I be interested in this?”[1] Are there not many other philosophers, many other more contemporary dealers in concepts whose work will bring me closer to the intellectual promised land? The question is related intimately with the question why one does philosophy to begin with. The money’s no good and hardly anyone reads it. If J.K. Rowling or Stephen King wrote a text on transcendental epistemology, would anyone care to read it? Philosophers, as a group, have given weak answers to the question of the utility of philosophy. Socrates, in line 38a of Plato’s apology, famously says the unexamined life is not worth living. Wittgenstein seems to have thought sometimes that philosophy isn’t good for much at all. Philosophers like Schopenhauer see in philosophy the path to a kind of resignation to the dreariness of life. The existentialists give us angst and its attendant pleasures.  And what of Husserl? How would he answer this question? And might we, if we tease out a possible answer for him, not see something penetrating about what it is that Husserl has to offer us today?

One of the problems with trying to catch hold of Husserl’s motivations for doing his philosophy—and by extension what he thought philosophy could do—is that Husserl wrote so much that had implications for so many disciplines. One need only glance at the list of works in Husserliana to get a sense of the dizzying and perhaps dismaying depth of Husserl’s Nachlass. What this means in practice is that one must always interpret Husserl with a certain air of humility. It is always possible that a new page, maniacally scribbled over in his modified shorthand, will be discovered, and one’s prize interpretation will be sent to pot. This difficulty has been noted before, and it haunts all scholars who choose to tangle with prolific thinkers. There is always the threat of another level or dimension in the work which one has not quite reached, an aspect of the work which, having remained obscure to you for years, comes into focus just in time to obliterate the paper you’re currently writing. If our Husserl presents himself as such a bottomless pit of philosophical insight, perhaps the power of philosophy was for him also bottomless. In which case, the answer to the question, what for Husserl, can philosophy do? would be exceedingly simple: everything.

Now, invocations of “everything” are not so common in good philosophy without adequate justification, and we certainly have not yet provided it. Further, if we take a step back and examine our aims in this little review, we will find a much more satisfying route toward the answer that we seek. It is not an undifferentiated omnipotence that Husserl saw in philosophy. What is more differentiated than the work of Edmund Husserl? Rather it is a multifarious form of experiential description, questioning, analysis and elaboration—according to a sharply defined method—that he sees in philosophy. The value of the activity and method we’ll say ever-so-few words about at the end of this text.

In the meantime, it would be nice to get straight about what it is philosophy can do by Husserl’s lights. It so happens the book currently being reviewed is beautifully structured to do just that. Jacobs’ collection is divided into seven parts: (1) Major works, (2) Phenomenological method, (3) Phenomenology of consciousness, (4) Epistemology, (5) Ethics and social and political philosophy, (6) Philosophy of science, (7) Metaphysics. A naive interpretation of the structure of the book would be that Husserl’s thought fits comprehensively within these categories. To the extent that it does, we can say the book captures the Husserlian mind, thereby living up to its title. Where such a set of categories misses Husserl, where he slips away, may mark territory where this collection refuses to follow him.

Major Texts

The book appropriately opens with an overview of Husserl’s major texts. Pierre-Jean Renaudie writes on the Logical Investigations, Nicolas de Warren on Ideas I, Sara Heinämaa on the Cartesian Meditations, Mirja Hartimo on Formal and Transcendental Logic, and Dermot Moran on The Crisis. We can see the logic in this selection of texts. We begin with Husserl’s first mature philosophical book and end with his last one. We have the lynchpin of the transcendental turn in Ideas I. Sara Heinämaa writes persuasively on Husserl’s egology in the Cartesian Meditations, as well as helping us to contextualize the extent to which Husserl can be called a Cartesian. Heinämaa writes, “Husserl presents Descartes’ doubt as a great methodological innovation which provided the possibility of reforming all philosophy. However, he immediately points out Descartes made a series of fundamental mistakes that blocked the entry to the transcendental field that radicalized doubt laid open” (p. 41). Heinämaa shows that Husserl is a Cartesian in a rather qualified sense, in the sense of having received a limited inspiration in the theme of Cartesian skepticism. The themes in Descartes that are most commonly attacked, most notably a rather untenable mind-body dualism, are not at all operant features of Husserl’s mature philosophy. Nicolas de Warren, in his contribution, tells us something illuminating of Husserl’s approach to doing philosophy. The title of his piece, “If I am to call myself a philosopher,” refers to a line from a 1906 writing in which Husserl, characteristically, sets himself a task in order to gain philosophy as such. While de Warren’s contribution is eminently useful as an elucidation of difficult phenomenological concepts like noesis and noema, the natural and naturalistic attitudes, and many others, perhaps the greatest insight it provides is given in this short quotation. Still in 1906, Husserl was writing things like “If I am to be…” He had not, on some level, settled into an image of himself. Or perhaps better, he was still challenging himself to develop in order to match the philosophical aspirations he held so dear.

When setting out a philosopher as prolific as Husserl’s “major works,” there will necessarily be some difficult omissions. Here, one might like to see a chapter on either the Analysis Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis or Experience and Judgment. In that way, with one or both represented, the importance of the theme of genesis, the technique of genetic phenomenology all told, would receive a fuller exposition. No text as comprehensive as this one can possibly avoid the genetic theme altogether, but it would be helpful to see one of the major genetic texts included with the ”major works.”

Phenomenological Method

The second part of this book is, to my mind, the most important for young philosophers. The method of phenomenology must always be front and center because phenomenology is something philosophers do; it is not a list of conclusions other philosophers have already reached. Those who focus on and reiterate the method as Husserl’s major discovery enact a tradition of phenomenology that allows it to be a living, dynamic branch of philosophical practice as opposed to a stodgy cul-de-sac of philosophical history. In this collection, we have Dominique Pradelle discussing transcendental idealism, Andrea Staiti on the transcendental and the eidetic in Ideas I, Rochus Sowa on eidetic description, Jacob Rump on reduction and reflection, Jagna Brudzińska on the genetic turn, and Steven Crowell on Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. Pradelle’s text is absolutely essential for unlocking the association between Kant and Husserl, and the ways in which Husserl suffers under the Kantian influence. An under-appreciation of the nuances in both thinkers might tempt us to characterize the phenomenological reduction as merely a restatement of Kant’s Copernican revolution. Such a reading would see the Kantian transcendental and the Husserlian transcendental as one and the same; their differences, as philosophers, would be relegated to style and method. Pradelle writes that for Husserl, “Kant discovers the region of pure consciousness or subjectivity, which is not intra-worldly but supra-worldly, which is not objective but constitutes all objectivity, and which is not inserted in the spatio-temporality or causality of the world but is fundamentally different from any worldly entity” (77). But for Husserl, as a central feature of his philosophy, the Kantian thing in itself is inimical to consciousness, a strange exteriority to conscious life that can’t, in the end, have anything whatsoever to do with a philosophy grounded in the transcendental as a method as well as a theme.

Rochus Sowa and Andrea Staiti together help us to clarify the eidetic method as we see it in Husserl. Sowa takes us from Husserl’s insistence that descriptions are facts, due to the factual nature of experience, to an analysis of Husserl’s descriptive eidetic laws which Husserl needs to motivate a view of phenomenology as general enough to undergird other forms of human enquiry. Key to this generality of application is the distinction between empirical concepts and pure descriptive concepts, the latter of which apply to possible or ”thinkable” objects and states of affairs irrespective of their empirical instantiation. Sowa also helps us to see that in eidetic work, the examples brought before the mind, whether objects in the world as experienced or possibilities in phantasy, are not the theme of the analysis; the examples are there to help guide us to an essential relation or an eidetic law. It is against such precise considerations that we can read Andrea Staiti’s contribution on the relation between eidetics and the transcendental. Staiti points to a tendency in the literature to treat the suspension of the being of the world as an instant path to essential description, as if all one had to do was dunk one’s head in the transcendental waters to see the colorful essential fish. This idea is sharply incongruous with Husserl’s work ethic, with his almost superhuman drive to add, distinguish, complexify. At the same time, those who acknowledge the need for eidetic work can draw too sharp a distinction between the transcendental and the eidetic, the implication being that we can pick one or the other to motivate our phenomenology. Staiti concludes that the eidetic and transcendental are “inextricably linked’ (96). Although this may sound obvious, it has implications. Perhaps most importantly, it places rigorous limitations on the degree to which phenomenologists are doing phenomenology when they engage in interdisciplinary work. On Staiti’s view, phenomenologists may have much to say about case-specific, empirically oriented studies in the human sciences but their properly phenomenological contributions will be bound by the transcendental and characterized by the eidetic.

Jagna Brudzinska gives us a penetrating overview of Husserl’s turn to a genetic phenomenology, a development in his thinking that is increasingly seen as crucial for understanding his later works. Brudzinska points out that even today many phenomenologists view the eidetic method as purely static. If phenomenology is meant to be anything like a theory of subjectivity, however, a static methodology is bound to be inadequate. The experience of the subject is dynamic, flowing, changing in our awareness of time’s passage. Brudzinska gives us a quick historical overview, making the claim that the importance of the genetic theme was there for Husserl as far back as the Logical Investigations. From there, Brudzinska develops the expansion of the field of inquiry that the genetic method achieves. She says, “In this context, it becomes possible to take into account not only present and immediately intuitive experiences. In addition to consciousness of the past we also gain the possibility to consider alien and future consciousnesses.” (132). Phenomenology needs this breadth of enquiry if it is to become the philosophy of subjectivity, for experiencing subjects are constituted and constituting in time.

Steven Crowell’s contribution is in many ways a commentary on the other pieces in the methodology section. His aim is to further clarify Husserl’s phenomenology by examining his notion of the transcendental and distinguishing it from Kant’s.

Phenomenology of Consciousness

Although the papers on method are some of the most important in this collection for young philosophers, part three, on consciousness, will no doubt be of interest to many seasoned Husserl researchers. Christopher Erhard introduces us to Husserlian intentionality by exploring three questions, why intentionality matters philosophically, what intentionality is, and finally what the lasting impact of intentionality is. He develops, through a reading motivated by a tight logical style, a view of Husserl’s idealism that shows its fundamental differences from both Kant and Berkeley. Maxime Doyan works through the normative turn in intentionality, citing a normative theme in Husserl’s studies of intentionality that is seldom observed. Doyan identifies the most important norms for this discussion as identity and recognition, identifying them with noema and noesis respectively. This allows a discussion of illusion and hallucination to unfold alongside a Husserlian rejection of the conjunctivist/disjunctivist distinction. Doyan here sides with Zahavi and Staiti, claiming that from the Husserlian view the question whether perceptions, illusions and hallucinations are the same kind of experience hardly makes sense at all.

Lanei Rodemeyer’s work on inner time consciousness is required reading for anyone attempting to understand Husserl and his place in the literature today. In her contribution here, she provides an overview of Husserl’s phenomenology of internal time consciousness, displaying as ever her unique pedagogical powers. She reiterates Husserl’s claim that the phenomenology of time is the most difficult of philosophical topics. Indeed, getting the phenomenology of time in a digestible package is difficult for various reasons. Husserl changed his mind concerning the structure of inner time consciousness in at least one major way and his ideas on time are scattered throughout his works. Rodemeyer treats us to a general introduction to the problem in Husserl, discusses the place of content in inner time consciousness and describes levels of constitution in Husserl. There are few practitioners in contemporary phenomenology as helpful in introducing the reader to Husserl’s work on temporalization.

Chad Kidd, in his contribution, seeks to rescue the theme of judgment from philosophical obscurity. His approach outlines Husserl’s theory of judgment while avoiding a reiteration of the commonplace debates concerning psychologism. Roberto Walton provides us with an excellently researched elaboration of Husserl’s work on language as a ground of the common world. Among the piece’s many useful contents, it stresses the distinction between Wittgenstein’s insistence on language as a “proto-phenomenon” and Husserl’s understanding of prelinguistic modes of consciousness that “condition the general structure of predicative statements” (255). Walton’s work sets the stage beautifully for Phillip Walshes’s text on other minds. Walsh is keenly aware that one of the most common charges against phenomenology is that of solipsism, or even more—Cartesian methodological solipsism. Walsh notes that the problem of intersubjectivity, of the constitution of the other in consciousness, is a fundamental phenomenological problem to which Husserl returned again and again. Zahavi’s chapter on three types of ego is the last in the section on consciousness. Because of Zahavi’s extraordinary precision as a scholar and reader of Husserl, his papers on changes to phenomenology, false starts and complete reversals, are incredibly valuable. Here, he unveils the steps Husserl took from an almost absolute disinterest in the ego concept to placing it so prominently in later works like the Cartesian Meditations. The chapter has extraordinary pedagogical value, not least because Zahavi synthesizes Husserl’s complex egology into the three phases given in the title while at the same time going painstakingly over the important details in the body of the text.


Clinton Tolley’s is the first paper on epistemology in Husserl. Here, he helps us understand Husserl’s project as a clarifying of cognition. This task is placed in a Kantian shadow that Husserl labored in throughout his career. Many of his pages were filled with responses to neo-Kantians like Natorp, Cohen, and Rickert. The chapter helps bring into focus the extent to which Kant’s preoccupation with (human) reason is taken up by Husserl. Walter Hopp begins his work with a nod to the challenge posed by the philosophical zombie. He develops an argument whereby we come to see the notion of unconscious intentionality as absurd on its face. Philipp Berghofer’s seeks to establish the sources of knowledge available in phenomenological work. He provides a typology of knowlege that includes types of object, experience, givenness and evidence. Using these categories, we can better understand the range of knowledges available to philosophical discussion. In John Drummond’s contribution, Husserl’s concept of objectivity is explored. Here, we begin by rejecting any reliance on either subjectivism or objectivism. If these categories, as naive theoretical types, are cast aside, the question of what it is to be an object for consciousness remains. Drummond motivates his discussion with what he calls putative and intersubjective objectivity. Hanne Jacobs, the editor of the volume, makes her contribution by discussing Husserl on epistemic agency. Jacobs uses a reading of Husserl to challenge deflationary accounts of epistemic agency, accounts that would minimize the role of our active participation in the formation of beliefs. Husserl’s emphasis on the centrality of attention in our holding of any proposition to be true as epistemic agents. Jacobs takes the reading of Husserl to the realm of personal responsibility, arguing that, for Husserl, one can be responsible not only for positively held beliefs but also for what one does not believe, doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know.

Ethics, Social, and Political Philosophy

The fifth division of the book collects chapters on ethics, social and political philosophy. One might fault this section for being a kind of grab bag of “social“ topics, but in reading the chapters here, one sees how they are inter-related as levels of exploration of the intersubjective theme in Husserl’s phenomenology. Inga Romer imagines Husserl’s history of ethics as a battlefield, pitting reason and feeling against one another. Romer’s text is a deep resource for understanding the works in philosophical history that informed Husserl’s development as an ethical thinker. The chapter also lays bare a tension in Husserl’s sometimes stated aims with respect to formal and material axiology and praxis as a science of ethics and the view of ethics toward which his late phenomenology pulled him. Mariano Crespo situates Husserl’s ethics among his contemporaries, including Lipps, Pfänder and Geiger. In the discussion, Crespo uncovers insights related to live issues in phenomenology, including especially the need for a phenomenology of the will. Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl writes about evaluative experience in prose whose grace is a relief after many turgid lines. Rinofner-Kreidl reminds us that Husserl does not hold that evaluative experiences infringe upon our rationality. The axiology Husserl develops is nonetheless complex, involving top-down formal axiology and formal praxis with bottom-up descriptions of associated experiences. We are even given an analysis of Husserl’s Kaizo articles and a discussion of the complex late ethics, culminating in a teleological view that grants us a universalism, as it were, from within. Sophie Loidolt writes on the fragility of the personal project. Loidolt moves from Husserl’s claim in Ideas II that motivation is the “basic law that governs the life of the person” (393) to a discussion of various topics guiding the debate on personhood and practical agency in Husserlian phenomenology. We end up with the claim that the person for Husserl is not defined as an achieved unity; the person is rather a fragile potential unity, ever missing its ultimate aim. Indeed, Loidolt ends with the rumination that it may only be through the support of others that our fragile projects of personhood can be maintained. Sean Petranovich takes us through Husserl’s work on social groups, exploring Husserl’s mereological work to draw attention to Husserl’s relevance to contemporary discussions regarding mereology and the social. The final chapter in this section of the book is by Esteban Marín-Ávila, discussing Husserl’s conception of philosophy as a rigorous science and its influence on his axiology and ethics. Marín-Ávila tackles the problem of Eurocentrism in Husserl with candor, refusing to dismiss it as an idle charge yet at the same time insisting that a Husserlian ethics, as elaborated in works like the Crisis, have much to say to non-European peoples. Husserl’s unfortunate writings on the impossibility of European peoples “Indianizing” themselves are referenced here, as well as his apparent belief that the achievements of Europe were such as to motivate a kind of rationally motivated mimicry in all other peoples of the world. Marín-Ávila ends with an affirmation of transcendental phenomenology that sees it as an already critical discipline capable of leading us toward a philosophy that matters.

Philosophy of Science

The sixth division of the text takes up Husserl’s work on the philosophy of science. We begin the division with Marco Cavallaro’s text which attempts to outline Husserl’s theory of science and posits a distinction between pure and transcendental phenomenology. Cavallaro sees ”pure” phenomenology as related to the project of a theory of science and transcendental phenomenology as related to ultimate epistemic foundations. Cavallaro is quick to point out this distinction is not made explicitly by Husserl. Jeff Yoshimi is the first in this collection to focus on the deepening field of phenomenological psychology. In this chapter we encounter Husserl’s main contemporary psychological influences (Wundt, Stumpf, Brentano, Dilthey). Yoshimi wants to link phenomenological psychology with transcendental phenomenology, phenomenological with empirical psychology and finally phenomenological psychology with philosophy of mind. One might misconstrue this as an effort to naturalize phenomenology, but it seems Yosimi is after a much more Husserlian move—establishing a transcendental dimension in the philosophies of mind and cognitive science. David Carr’s contribution looks to history as a science and its relation to phenomenology. This piece has pedagogical value as a general introduction to philosophy of history as well as an example of good Husserl scholarship. Carr helps us to see history as a study of the natural attitude in temporal development. Carr’s important Husserlian claim is that in the Crisis phenomenology takes on a decidedly historical character, for it is here that Husserl makes of philosophy as such a human endeavor with a history. The proper description for the historical a priori is something, Carr reminds us, Husserl struggled with until the very end. We are once again in full view of Husserl as a philosopher forever unsatisfied and unwilling to yield to his own limitations. The final contribution on the philosophy of science is Harald Wiltsche’s text on physics. Wiltsche quickly contextualizes the early twentieth century as a time of great upheaval in the sciences, noting above all others the arrival of relativity theory and quantum theory as fundamental disruptions to the way we view the world. He associates these shifts with changes in dominant philosophical discourses. Wiltsche shows that while Husserl himself may have demonstrated limited interest in the cutting edge physics of his day, in the person of a one-time student, Hermann Weyl, Husserlian ideas found their way into the scientific mainstream. Wiltsche also, rightly, points out that the discursive divide between analytic and continental philosophy is still far too robust today, despite our best efforts to pretend its dissolution a thing already achieved.


The final division of the text is devoted to metaphysics. We may find the inclusion of these chapters strange because, as Daniele De Santis points out, Husserl’s relationship to metaphysical philosophy is all-too-often taken for granted. If for no other reasons (and of course there are other reasons) the chapter is useful in that it contributes to the literature refuting the charge that Husserl is a naive metaphysician of presence. De Santis is a systematic thinker whose penetrating Husserl scholarship attempts to make the development of the metaphysical in Husserl something clear and useful for scholars. Claudio Majolino takes on the Herculean task of mapping Husserl’s ontology. The difficulty, as Majolino points out, is that Husserl is so vast and many of his works have ontological elements and implications. Majolino’s work here—using Burnyeat and Aristotle to seek out contours of Husserl’s ontology—is too original for a few lines in a review such as this. The chapter is worth serious study. Timo Miettinen’s contribution begins with a general introduction to the theme of teleology, moving quickly to a detailed exposition of the place of teleology in Husserl’s phenomenology. Miettinen notes the importance of genetic method in exploring the development of experiential structures demonstrating immanent teleological character. This means that early static analyses of teleology were not sufficient given the temporal requirements of goal-directed experience. Miettinen also, here, deepens our understanding of Husserl’s alleged Eurocentrism, responding to an accusation by Derrida that, Miettinen shows, relies on a crucial misreading. One unresolved question in the chapter is whether and how all of Husserl’s teleological descriptions can be subsumed under transcendental phenomenology. The final chapter of the final section of the book is Emiliano Trizio’s paper on teleology and theology. Trizio, more than any other scholar in this compilation, is concerned with Husserl’s investigations of the nature of God and what they can do to deepen our phenomenological understanding. For Trizio, God is a necessary theme of phenomenology. Trizio shows how theology fits within Husserl’s overall phenomenology. And, finally, Trizio develops a non-objectivist reading of Husserl’s most theological passages.

Concluding Remarks

Having commented on these contributions, we are left dizzied by the depth and variety of Husserlian concern. Beginning this review, we confronted two basic questions. The first, Why Husserl?, asks us to assess Husserl as a thinker today. The second, What for Husserl can philosophy do?, is a refinement and extension of the first. What perhaps a collection like The Husserlian Mind gives us is the scope to determine, for ourselves, the answers to these questions. At the very least, we have within these pages the first lengths of many different paths one might take through the mind of Edmund Husserl and accordingly through philosophy as such. In so doing, we can discover for ourselves the value of great minds and the philosophies they make.


Adorno, Theodor W. 1993. Hegel: Three Studies. Translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen. MIT Press.

Husserl, Edmund. 2001. Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic. Translated by Anthony J. Steinbock. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

———. 1970. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated by David Carr. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.

———. 1973. Experience and Judgment. Translated by James Spencer Churchill and Karl Ameriks. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.

[1] Adorno (1993: 109).

Harald A. Wiltsche, Philipp Berghofer (Eds.): Phenomenological Approaches to Physics, Springer, 2020

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Synthese Library, Volume 429
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Radek Schuster (Ed.): The Vienna Circle in Czechoslovakia, Springer, 2020

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VII, 206

Friedrich Stadler (Ed.): Ernst Mach – Life, Work, Influence, Springer, 2019

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Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook, Volume 22
Friedrich Stadler (Ed.)
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Saulius Geniusas, Paul Fairfield (Eds.): Hermeneutics and Phenomenology: Figures and Themes, Bloomsbury, 2018

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Raffaele Pisano, Joseph Agassi, Daria Drozdova (Eds.): Hypotheses and Perspectives in the History and Philosophy of Science: Homage to Alexandre Koyré 1892-1964, Springer, 2018

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Andrea Staiti, Evan Clarke (Eds.): The Sources of Husserl’s ‚Ideas I‘, De Gruyter, 2017

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De Gruyter
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Rudolf Carnap: L’Espace. Une contribution à la théorie de la science, Gallimard, 2017

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Jack Reynolds, Richard Sebold (Eds.): Phenomenology and Science: Confrontations and Convergences

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Jack Reynolds, Richard Sebold (Eds.)
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XVI, 229

Reviewed by: Svetlana Sholokhova (Catholic University Louvain)

While the founding fathers of the phenomenological movement, Husserl and Heidegger, emphasized methodological differences between phenomenology and empirical sciences, successive generations of phenomenologists never ceased to question and challenge this basic presupposition. In the last decades, there has been a lot of discussion about whether the idea of phenomenological naturalism should be reassessed in the light of both advancements in empirical research, especially in cognitive sciences, and the progress in phenomenological investigations. Phenomenology and Science brings together the work of young researchers and experienced scholars in the fields of phenomenology, contemporary philosophy and cognitive sciences in order to address the question of the possibility of a productive dialogue between phenomenology and empirical sciences.

The volume opens with a study by Aaron Harrison that focuses on the interactions between the first wave of phenomenology (Gurwitsch, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre) and Gestalt psychology (Wertheimer, Koffka, Köhler and Stumpf). The interest of the latter for the question of the modes of mutual influence between phenomenology and sciences lies in its complex relation to empirical science (which was especially the case in the first half of the twentieth century, when the boundaries between psychology and philosophy were still not defined) as well as to phenomenology (which had, as Harrison shows, an important impact on the development of Gestalt psychology). According to Harrison, this peculiar situation of Gestalt psychology suggests the importance of attentive examination of the history of its intersections with phenomenology in order better to understand how the phenomenological approach could be situated with regards to experimental methodology.

In the second chapter, Jack Reynolds starts by questioning the “stark methodological distinction between phenomenology and science” and advocates considering phenomenology as a “more hybridic enterprise” (p. 24). By concentrating on the theme of intrinsic time, Reynolds aims to demonstrate how the phenomenological analysis of the temporal dimension of subjectivity proves to be useful for the latest discussions within empirical sciences on the irreducibility of the first-person perspective. The phenomenological account of the temporality that draws the connection between the “intrinsic temporality” and the pre-reflective dimensions that constitute the “minimal self” offers, according to Reynolds, a more consistent explanation of what “is resisting the objectivism” since it avoids the “view from nowhere” and gives access to a lived subjective experience. To see the minimal self “both phenomenologically and empirically” (p. 37) provides, then, a significantly richer account of subjectivity and presents an opportunity to explore the potential of what Reynolds, in Gallagher’s terms, the “mutual enlightenment” (p. 31) of phenomenology and science is.

A more skeptical view of the relationship between phenomenology and the sciences is expressed by Richard Sebold, who insists on the fact that the “naturalistic perspective has much more going for it than the phenomenologists are prone to admit” (p. 47). In order to see this, it is necessary to rigorously examine the anti-naturalistic claims made by Husserl and his successors, starting with distinguishing between three major types of phenomenological arguments: metaphysical (“there are some phenomena that are of a certain nature that it is inappropriate to investigate them via scientific methodology”, p. 48), semantic (“the very intelligibility of the scientific project depends upon the meaning of the pre-theoretical world”, p. 53) and methodological (“scientific methods <are> incomplete and unable to gain certain types of knowledge about the world”, p. 57). Sebold’s paper provides a comprehensive study of the assessments of empirical sciences by various phenomenologists; a study that proves to be crucial for addressing their criticism and, more importantly, for revealing the sources of phenomenology’s claim for possessing a distinct advantage over other disciplines.

In the fourth chapter, Marilyn Stendera raises the question of how one should approach the inevitable negotiations between different perspectives in interdisciplinary projects. The author’s goal is to show that such negotiations do not necessarily lead to conflict and can, instead, create a productive exchange between different approaches. For Stendera, this is the case for the collaboration between Heideggerian phenomenology and the enactivist approach to cognitive science. Beyond their historical connection, these two approaches prove to be fundamentally compatible, first of all, where the idea of the interdependent relationship between the subject and the world is concerned. By studying how the Heideggerian conception of temporality could be useful to address one of the key issues of cognitive sciences – that of the possibility to trace a distinction between various cognisers without failing to consider their continuity, – Stendera explores the benefits of interdisciplinary dialogue and tries to outline possibilities for future investigations.

With Michael Wheeler’s paper, we switch from a phenomenologically minded perspective to an explicitly naturalistic one, according to which the conflicts that can possibly arise from negotiations between philosophical and empirical accounts should be resolved following the idea that “philosophy should be continuous with empirical science” (p. 87). Wheeler claims that “it is the phenomenologist, and not the cognitive scientist, who should revisit her claims” (p. 87), because the first-person perspective – and the phenomenological approach in general – is fundamentally “untrustworthy” (p. 92) when it describes mental states, since the operation of cognitive systems depends largely on unconscious states that remain unreachable in the first-person attitude. At the same time, Wheeler agrees that the phenomenological analysis could not be limited to introspection and that, instead, it represents a transcendental enterprise. Nevertheless, for Wheeler, no transcendental approach could be “insulated” (p. 100) from the social world, which leaves to science – that constitutes a “part of our social world-making” – the final word in the philosophy-science controversy.

In David Morris’s paper, we find a diametrically opposite view that considers life as a “transcendental condition of science”: “that is, science is not simply an activity conducted by living beings, rather, our living, as inherently oriented by affect, provides us with a pre-scientific feel and criterion for the activity-passivity distinction, without which we could not grasp key issues in, e.g., biology and quantum mechanics” (pp. 103-104). This claim puts phenomenology, and in particular Merleau-Ponty’s reflections, in a privileged position with regards to empirical sciences. Phenomenology allows us to grasp this dimension of affectivity that is “crucial for sciences” (p. 116), the dimension in which all the processes of constitution of sense are grounded.

The importance of phenomenological analysis as a unique tool that allows grasping the foundational role of affectivity in organizing experience is also defended by Joel Krueger and Amanda Taylor Aiken. Their joint paper aims to demonstrate that emotions and affectivity should be studied not only as they are perceived through social cognitive processes, but also as they are actually “facilitating interpersonal relatedness”: affectivity and embodiment structure the spatiality of interpersonal relationships and thus contribute to the emergence of the “social world as social”, that is “affording different forms of sharing, connection and relatedness” (p. 121). This role becomes particularly visible when the capacities to inhabit the social space are altered, as it can be observed in the cases of Moebius syndrome and schizophrenia. It is by drawing upon the analysis of such cases that the authors hope to “reinforce phenomenological arguments for the foundational role that body and affect play in organizing social space” (p. 136).

Andrew Inkpin chooses language as his object of study, a topic that had been mostly relegated to the margins of the so called ‘4e’ tradition dominant in cognitive sciences, a tradition that emphasizes the embodied, embedded, enactive and extended nature of cognition. The turn to non-linguistic phenomena in cognitive sciences, that initially aimed “to correct the earlier overemphasis on language” (p. 141), created a void that, in Inkpin’s opinion, should be filled by a phenomenological approach, which “might and should complement systematic empirical theories in the 4e tradition” (p. 141). Would it mean that phenomenology should be naturalized? For Inkpin, this way of formulating the question is misleading because it misses the specificity of the phenomenological approach to language. The goal of his paper is, therefore, to show why ‘4e’ cognitive science needs a phenomenology of language and what it could gain from it.

In the ninth chapter of the volume, Shaun Gallagher aims to show how the debate between two theories about social cognition (simulation theory and interaction theory) influences the idea of science and raises the question “whether one can continue to do science as we have been doing it, or one has to do it differently” (p. 161). Without ignoring the discoveries made by simulation theory in the area of brain processes involved in social cognition (e.g. activation of mirror neurons), Gallagher insists on the necessity to interpret such processes with regards to the intercorporeal character of social interactions, i.e. the fact that “we are dynamically coupled to the other person in our intersubjective interaction, most of which take place in highly pragmatic and social situations”. Pragmatism here means that our actions aim primarily to give a response to a certain situation and that the brain-body activity (promoted by simulation theory) should rather be thought of as a part of a more complex system: “brain-body-environment” (p. 170). Such a holistic, enactivist and dynamic conception is, however, a “challenge for the science of social cognition” (p. 171), which has to respond with developing a new model of explanation that could take into account various dimensions (neuroscientific, psychological, phenomenological, social etc.) that could, according to Gallagher, be compared to what Sandra Mitchell has called an “integrative pluralism” (p. 175).

How could we explain the fact that our memories are sometimes in a ‘first-person’ or ‘own-eyes’ perspective and sometimes in a ‘third-person’ or ‘observer’ one? This question is at the center of attention of the joint paper by Christopher Jude McCaroll and John Sutton. Drawing upon Sartre’s theory of image, the authors propose an analysis of memory imagery based on the idea that the image is not something “inspected by consciousness” but actually is “the act of consciousness, or a way of thinking about an object or event” (p. 183). According to the authors, such a phenomenological account of our puzzling ability to have multiperspectival memory imagery could “elucidate some of the empirical findings” (p. 183) and help to provide an understanding “uniting phenomenological and scientific perspectives on memory imagery” (p. 197).

The final chapter is also focused on the question of imagination. In her study of pretense (more precisely, non-deceptive pretense), Michela Summa draws on phenomenology of imagination, inspired mostly by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, and addresses two main problems: the epistemic functions of pretense, and its social nature. Starting with a critical analysis of Piaget’s remarks regarding the egoistic nature of pretense and its role of protector from reality in children’s development, Summa defends the idea that “imagination is a part of genuinely social experience” (p. 216) based on Vygotskij’s reflections on pretend play. While being “inherently subjective”, imagination participates in the construction of the we-perspective not just by assembling individual perspectives, but by creating a “form of sharing” and “cooperation of different subjects” enabled by “the cognitive value of pretense, of the perspectival flexibility that underlies pretense actions, and of the social meaningfulness of such actions” (p. 220).

The editors of the volume, Jack Reynolds and Richard Sebold, are explicit about their desire to put together a variety of opinions, positive as well as negative, regarding the future of the dialogue between science and phenomenology. And each of the eleven chapters of the collection allows in fact looking at the possibility of such a dialogue from a different point of view. Reynolds and Sebold’s joint work provides, then, a keen insight into the state-of-the-art of recent debates, and outlines directions for future discussions.