The Oxford Handbook of Levinas provides another key step on the way to entrenching the possibility of continued scholarship on the rich thought of philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, as well as providing an accessible entry-point into the ever-growing body of commentary on his works. Although at times the structure of the handbook makes gestures toward necessary contributions that are currently absent, both in outlining the field of Levinas’s influences or interlocutors, and in terms of key engagements with contemporary concerns, it has also amassed an exciting range of discussions from a diverse array of scholars. Contributions are well-researched, insightful, and make Levinas’s notoriously difficult thought comprehensible and intriguing. Further, certain departures with conventions of reference texts in the composition of contributions—he articles being of comparable length to those of scholarly journal’s—creates space not only for informative but critical treatments, as well as facilitating dialogue and challenge.
The editor, Michael L. Morgan is a prolific scholar in his own right in Jewish studies and on Levinas specifically. He has authored other introductory texts including Discovering Levinas (2007), The Cambridge Introduction to Emmanuel Levinas (2011), and recently published on his ethico-political thought and practice in Levinas’s Ethical Politics (2016).
There are certainly benefits to a handbook both of this magnitude and this breadth. The text is a nearly nine hundred page collection of thirty-eight entries, including contributions from notable Levinas scholars such as Robert Bernasconi, political philosopher Annabel Herzog, Levinas translator Bettina Bergo and editor of The Levinas Reader (2001) Seán Hand. Also certainly, a text of this kind provides a crucial opportunity for a multiplicity of scholars of varied backgrounds to contribute—scholars of history, religion, philosophy, ethics, politics, classics and art, who contextualize Levinas’ expansive works and biography through critical, interpersonal, dialogical, feminist, hermeneutic, theological frameworks. It is divided into six section with entries on a wide range of topics and themes by which one could enter into scholarship: covering Levinas’ life and influences, key philosophical themes, religious thought, ethics, and critical assessments of his work.
One of the potential drawbacks of a ‘handbook’—and consistent with all genres of reference texts more broadly—is the prefiguration of a conversation as one in which specialists communicate information to non-specialists, rather than opening the possibility of dialogue and interpretation. The pragmatic context of a ‘handbook’ still makes it unlikely that professional scholars will refer to this text as an entry-point into key controversies and as a site of engagement even over more specific collected volumes. A text like this, then, fills the space of a general reference and guide into the multiplicity of avenues that Levinas’ thought might open, and in its capacity as a general reference book it does well, even though it is competing with a number of more specific works on Levinas—whether reference volumes, essay collections or single-author monographs—that are also available for Anglophone scholars with an equally wide breadth; works on Levinas’ engagements with Martin Buber and other Jewish thinkers, with Asian thought and with ancient philosophy, on Levinas’ contributions to hermeneutics and theological exegesis, a swath of texts on Levinas’ ethics, on his interlocutions with poststructuralist and deconstructive thought, and texts that (re)situate and seek for his ethics to speak to their own and our socio-political contexts. In this way, a reference text of this sort helps best to locate oneself in relation to a veritable library of Levinas scholarship, and to identify those signposts, even if often as an index to an index.
Accordingly, the handbook attests to an emerging polarization of Levinas scholarship concerned with two key conceptual constellations in his ethical thought; on responsibility and vulnerability. The former has perhaps been considered the central aspect of Levinas’s work traced to the importance of the text most often called his magnum opus, Totality and Infinity (2011 ). Not merely the outline of ‘responsibilities,’ Levinas’s conceptualization of responsibility grounds his fundamental claim that ethics is first philosophy. Not just in the content of responsibility, but in the provocation or the desire (later he will call this intrigue) to respond to and respond for the Other, Levinas finds the opening of ethics as an infinitely asymmetrical relation grounded in the unconditional command to be for the Other. In its poetic force and uncompromising gesture, one’s responsibility for the Other and on their behalf is perhaps the aspect of Levinas’s work that draws most scholars to him. It also becomes the rich ground from which he rejects conventional and general practices of philosophy as projects of securing, organizing and reorganizing both ontology and metaphysics as the totalizing structure of ‘the Same.’ Beyond the sort of A=A identity, the structure of the Same is all that operates under the heading of ‘Being’ and at the disposal of the privileged Self. Thus, where philosophy in general and phenomenology in particular meet, Levinas finds a notion of the Self within a world that they might appropriate, incorporate, or otherwise violate as if it were exclusively ‘their own.’
In contrast, Levinas finds an entirely unappropriable and thus infinitely transcendent disruption of the structure of the Same in the encounter with the Other, where the face to face meeting and the very face of the Other themselves, escapes all such appropriative attempts to fix them in place within the horizon of the world of the Same. Instead, the face of the Other seems to call to the Self with a commandment, the fundamental interdiction “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” further disrupting the absolute enjoyment (jouissance) that would otherwise be the prerogative and entitlement of the Self within its own world. In place of this enjoyment is the unsatisfiable desire to be with, and be for, the Other, the ground upon which an infinite and unconditional responsibility emerges. Then, all subsequent thought is a matter of bearing out the implications of this unconditional and infinite responsibility for the Other in its applications and tensions.
Incrementally, this picture, as outlined by readings of Totality and Infinity, has expanded as more scholarship has turned toward the ‘other pole’ of Levinas’s work as represented by Otherwise than Being (2016 ). No longer willing to accept the ‘Self’ as originally in a position of comfort, chez soi, or at home with oneself, Levinas reconsiders the place of the encounter with the Other as both fundamental for thought and fundamental to the very existence of the subject before subjectivity can be claimed. In the exchange of the ‘word’—even the word that proclaims ‘I am I’—the Self is less so in proximity to an unchallenging world of their own, than they are in proximity to an Other. In this most basic sense, vulnerability is the fundamentally disruptive trauma of recognizing that the self comes after an encounter with the Other (see Bergo’s chapter as well as Staehler’s). Robert Bernasconi theorizes vulnerability in two particularly interesting ways. On the one hand, he notes that responsibility operates on the subject as disruptive enough to veritably tear the subject apart, what Levinas calls dénucléation. He explains, “Dénucléation is apparently a word used to refer to the coring out that doctors perform when, for example, they remove an eyeball from its socket while leaving everything intact. Levinas used this same word to describe breathing as a dénucléation of the subject’s substantiality, albeit in this context it also has an association with transcendence” (pp. 268-69).
Although Bernasconi will motivate a reading of Levinas that prefigures the need to defend both the subject and its subjectivity, he summarizes his exploration of the notion of vulnerability that is too traumatic to ignore: “I showed that he went out of his way to say that the exposure to outrage, wounding, and persecution was an exposure to wounding in enjoyment. This is what qualifies it as a “vulnerability of the me.” It touches me in my complacency. But vulnerability extends to the trauma of accusation suffered by a hostage to the point where that hostage identifies with others, including his or her persecutors” (p. 269). He continues that this fact of vulnerability, then, is compelling enough to enact an experience of substitution in the subject, as if the subject is provoked to experience themselves as Other.
Following these considerations, I would like to make note of two particularly useful aspects of the handbook, and to applaud Morgan and the contributors for them. Firstly, some of its richest content is the contribution to an Anglo-American readership on the scope of Levinas’ writings of which we currently do not have complete access. Pieces by Sarah Hammerschlag and Seán Hand rectify this condition with stimulating discussions of his wartime notebooks and his early poetry and novel fragments respectively. Still an English-speaking public does not have access in particular to either the Carnets de captivité, nor to his wartime literary works in Éros, littérature et philosophie, both of which were recently posthumously published in French.[i] With Hammerschlag’s survey of Levinas’s wartime notebooks, though, (spanning, in fact, from 1937-1950), and Hand’s reconceptualization of Levinas in light of the literary dimensions of these personal writings, they make stellar contributions to Anglophone Levinas scholarship by filling those gaps. For this alone, the handbook is already an invaluable resource for scholars of all sorts.
Secondly, the fourth section of the handbook, dedicated to applications of Levinas’ thought beyond his own sphere is truly effervescent. Special attention should be paid to this section in its eclectic reach, where the very notion of a foundation (the presumed objective constraining any ‘handbook’ faces) opens up into a display of generative and rich ideas. Exactly where the ‘cut and dry’ necessity of a text of this kind breaks down, we are treated to an array of interventions and interpretive supplements that carry Levinas scholarship forward in great leaps. Again, Seán Hand’s resituating of Levinas’ works in light of early literary engagements is a delight, as well as Kris Sealey’s far-reaching discussion of Levinas’s contributions to critical race theory (which I will discuss further below). Moreover, not a single contribution in this section fails to illuminate and extend the possibilities of scholarship—from more traditional surveys of the possibilities of attending to philosophical thought within other domains of academic inquiry, such as psychology (David M. Goodman and Eric R. Severson), law (William H. Smith) and Levinas’ comments on war (Joshua Shaw), as well as his contributions to pedagogy (Claire Elise Katz), film (Colin Davis), and his use of food metaphors (Benjamin Aldes Wurgraft).
Similarly, Kevin Houser’s attempt to position Levinas across the Continental-Analytical divide is admirable. This is similar to Morgan’s attempts himself to have Levinas’ work placed in proximity to Bernard Williams, Charles Taylor, Christine Korsgaard, Stanley Cavell and others. In this piece, Houser finds Levinas speak to concerns of linguistic objectification embedded in the notion of reason as metaphysics against which he poses what he calls the ‘absolute interlocutor.’ He extends this discussion by placing him in conversation with P.F. Strawson on freedom and resentment. Houser’s claim is that “de-facing reason,” and not “reason itself as the practice of de-facing generalization,” is what is at issue in Levinas’s work. However, perhaps Houser’s reading can come off as reductive given that he seems not to be willing to take his own critical stance as far as Levinas would. That ultimately an analytical account of reason is valorized through a complementary reading of Levinas and Strawson would also be a grounding condition for the possibility of such reconciliation between reason and the face of the Other. Yet, this is something Levinas seems consistently to reject, and why Houser must work so hard to reconcile the positions in the first place; the position of reason itself with the positioning of a refusal of reason (not merely an ‘unreasonable’ or even ‘pre-rational’ stance).
Houser’s final discussion regarding the generalizability of ‘reason’—as something that is specifically not my reason, but a reason (p. 604)—bears many possibilities to build from, perhaps also anticipating a challenge to Levinas by deconstructionist linguistics. One can also imagine such a reading figuring importantly into the prefiguration of Otherwise than Being, which seems to bear out the not-yet-subject specifically in light of the pre-existence of language in the demand to speak as ‘giving reasons’ (see Baring, Coe and of course Bernasconi’s chapters). It also helps to reconcile how, for example, in Oona Eisenstadt’s chapter, she finds Levinas capable of saying that three rabbis in the Talmud—Ben Zoma, Ben Nanus and Ben Pazi—can offer three different answers to the question, “which verse contains the whole of the Torah?” where each will make a different universal claim as a manner of expanding upon the last (p. 462). Nevertheless, it would seem that the reason-and-objectivity oriented language of analytical thought does not prepare one to bear out this tension between the particular and the general in a way that is non-totalizing; it answers the question of responsibility rather than responding to it. As such, it substitutes the sphere of representational description in place of the vocative dimensions of language as address. In the end, even capturing the dialogical subject in relation to the absolute interlocutor, one is still speaking about language as if no one else is there, a sort of monological ‘dialogue,’ lest the reason they give may be contradicted. The Other seems to have faded into the background.
I would like to address, though, a potential drawback of the handbook. What is at times a lack of much needed general study of Levinas’ engagements not merely with particular thinkers—both predecessors and contemporaries, if not friends but fields of scholarship—can often leave the reader without proper orientation. No doubt, the task of presenting an exhaustive groundwork specifically for Anglo-American scholarship is at best aspirational, and to his credit, Morgan himself identifies certain oversights in the handbook that should be noted. In terms of groundworks, he rightly mentions that the handbook would have benefited from contributions that survey Levinas’s engagements with foundational Jewish thinkers from Maimonides to Buber and Rosenzweig. There is also no specific account of Levinas’s debts to Russian literature. Finally, general overviews of both Levinas’s situation within French thought broadly from the 1930s to the 60s would have been extremely helpful to orient readers, even if they still find much needed context especially in Kevin Hart’s discussion of the relationship between he and Blanchot, and Edward Baring’s account of his encounters with Derrida. This is so as well for the absence of a general account of Levinas’s predecessors ‘at large,’ although one is able to orient themselves with texts on Husserl (Bettina Bergo), Heidegger (Michael Fagenblat), as well as Platonic or Aristotelian thought (Tanja Staehler), early modern thought (Inga Römer), and the German Idealists (Martin Shuster).
There are other oversights that a large reference text is especially beholden to ensure don’t go unnoticed that we might categorize as ‘essential additions’ to these groundworks. Increasingly important is a critical appraisal of eurocentrism and colonialism. It would also be imperative to outline Levinas’ reading of the Torah on ‘Cities of Refuge,’ something only tangentially touched upon by Annabel Herzog in her daring discussion of Levinas and Zionism. One might argue that Levinas’s statements on the State of Israel in particular are critical for understanding some of the most recent explorations of a sort of Levinasian cosmopolitanism—especially where it intersects with Jacques Derrida’s (1999) explorations on the issue (and because it would seem Derrida’s encounter with the notion of cosmopolitanism is in large part due to their relationship). This is perhaps a particularly difficult oversight to reconcile because, as Morgan notes, readers of Levinas “…are drawn to him by the centrality of his insight that our responsibilities to others are infinite. To them, Levinas is the philosopher of the dispossessed, the displaced, the refugee, the impoverished, the suffering, and the hungry. He is the spokesperson for the weak and the oppressed; his philosophy, for all its difficulty and obscurity, in the end speaks to our most humane and caring sentiments” (pp. 4-5). Unfortunately, these concrete engagements are conspicuously absent in the handbook.
Kris Sealey has the sizeable task, then, of orienting readers looking for critical responses to Levinas relating to Eurocentrism, colonialism, and theories of race and racism. In that measure, Sealey does a spectacular job finding inroads between Levinas with both critical race and postcolonial scholars including Paul Gilroy, Orlando Patterson, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Michael Monahan. She also performs such an important task of bridging scholarship on critical race theory and Levinas studies by focusing her discussion on a review of literatures published in the 2012 volume of Levinas Studies contending with race, which included contributions from Lisa Guenther, Oona Eisenstadt (also present in this handbook), John Drabinski and Simone Drichel.
Sealey’s contribution, though, may also give pause especially insofar as there remain some crucial tensions in her work with Levinas’s. Particularly, she draws her conclusions in a way that notions of race are ‘reified’ not on biological but communal and relational grounds that are perhaps difficult to square with Levinas’ statements on the ‘nudity of the face’—as much as they are in tension with Paul Gilroy’s (2000) rejection of both biological and cultural formations of ‘race.’ Sealey’s turn toward Michael Monahan seems to authorize the possibility that, “we can be against racism without being against race” (p. 653 n. 41). The statement from which this note arises is quite important, and perhaps should be quoted at length:
In an important sense, a creolizing subjectivity bears witness to her rootedness in the world, insofar as she is constituted by the ways of that world. But, as creolizing, she also bears witness to her transcending of that world, insofar as her antiracist praxis will invariably be an active contestation of the meaning of race. In other words, she is both obliged to her materiality and positioned to take a critical stance against that materiality as well. That critical stance calls for a vigilance that never ends, lest she succumbs to the inertia of a purity politics and the racist structures for which it codes. Might we not see, in this, echoes of what Levinas calls for in “The Philosophy of Hitlerism”? Is this not a recognition of incarnation (of one’s rootedness in, or entanglement with, history) without the essentialization and stagnation of biological determinism? (p. 644)
Here we might identify a key contention—the ground for what may be a generative controversy in the transposition of Levinas’ thought to an Anglo-American context. Levinas’ contention against the ideology of Hitlerism is not reducible to its relation exclusively to biologism, but speaks to a desire to escape the very notion of ‘incarnation’ itself (see Eaglestone, Fagenblat, and Giannopoulos’s chapters). Hitlerism itself is not exclusively a biologist ideology; rather it binds a notion of spirit with the materiality of the ‘body as much as it fetishizes that body as the material symbol of ‘racial purity,’ or the ‘spirit of a people,’ as an incarnation—the becoming-flesh of spirit. It’s not clear if any notion of identity, not even one proposed to be hybridized, socially and historically determined, or relational escapes this logic. One might point out how Sealey’s creolizing subject, recognizing their rootedness and transcendence, isn’t necessarily difficult, as both are already coded as positive identifiers in an unambiguous metaphysical structure, even if they contradict one another, and occlude the disruptive primacy of the Other. Being rooted—rather than being imprisoned or entangled—and transcendence—above, beyond, outside of the world—both already speak to their own ideals. But one finds in Levinas’ work instead both a potentially failed desire to escape (On Escape [2003/1982]being an aptly titled expression of this unabiding arrest in his early works), and an uneasy navigation of the rooted interior of identity.
We find further that the not merely biological implications of Hitlerist ideology entails also that—as Annabel Herzog notes of Levinas’ critical stance against the State of Israel—the entrenchment of the ‘Self’ within the soil (as in the Nazi slogan, ‘blood and soil’), and the attachment to land or territory remains also a critical site upon which Levinas rejects this manner of reification. That is, rather than being—or under the pretense that one ‘recognizes themselves to be’—rooted in their world, Levinas finds instead in political practices of justice a certain exilehood on Earth represented in the call of the Other and the asymmetrical responsibility that follows. This grounds the particularity of his claims on Judaism and often against the State of Israel (see below), even when he concedes that an otherwise uncompromising ethic needs account for survival. Thus, there remains a tension between justice and survival that is not comfortably set aside in order to commend one’s being ‘rooted in their transcendence,’ but always uneasily attested to as the disruptive and traumatic condition upon which a foundational ethics preceding ontology, an ‘ethics without ground’ which refuses to appeal to the world and the comfort of being rooted in it is asserted.
We might fashion two contrapuntal examples of scholarship that refuse these dynamics in the extremely careful readings offered by Annabel Herzog on Levinas’s relation to Zionism and Cynthia Coe’s feminist analysis of his works. Herzog has quite admirably explored a controversy well beyond even the scope of the academy by contending squarely with Levinas’s writings on Zionism in relation to his conceptions of ethics and politics. Even in the form of her analysis we can see a principled refusal to allow her representation of him to be anything other than embroiled in a complex set of concerns, where she presents first his defense, and then his criticism of the State of Israel. Of the former, it would seem that Levinas finds in the State of Israel the every-present possibility—a particularist possibility for Judaism—for the concrete actualization of his ethical ideal as justice. Such a state could make an ethic of dialogical solidarity, refusal of violence, and refuge for the Other practically real. It is also one that merges these ideals with the enduring need for survival following the Holocaust. Perhaps this rendering bears similarities to Sealey’s account of a creolizing subject.
On the other hand, though, the State of Israel is also always in a position to reject or neglect these ideals; where notions of space and place are re-instituted in the territory, in the very soil, or where the Other is banished from that territory. This is much like Sealey’s comment that valorizations of the logic of ‘race’ demands constant vigilance lest one find themselves once again under the inertia, and in the realm of a politics of purity. Herzog cites a telling instance in which Levinas refused to leave the tour bus while attending a conference on Martin Buber after hearing that Bedouin communities in Be’er-Sheva were required to burn their tents to be eligible to receive stone houses from the government (p. 478).[ii] She follows this tension up until the events of the First Lebanon War, and the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982 when his statements on the matter of Israel become dispersed and infrequent, even if he does not waver in his defense by the time of his 1986 interview with Francois Poirié. It would seem, in this case, that the vigilance Sealey advises, and the enduring possibility of ‘purity politics’ reemerging finds a real example in Levinas’s subsequent silence. But leaving this possibility open seems already to speak to the need to refuse attenuation of a Levinasian ethic in the first place both in practice, and in the theoretical refusal of ‘rootedness’ or ‘incarnation.’
Cynthia Coe’s reading of Levinas is equally nuanced in its ability to balance a careful analysis of his works with an unwavering commitment to feminist scholarship. This is so even where she marks a delineation between—and within—texts of his that represent heterocentric and masculinist presumptions in his philosophy, and where concepts and arguments are coded in gendered language, while also being potentially capable of disrupting those structures. Particularly early Levinas (as Simone de Beauvoir attests regarding Time and the Other) seems to find ground for a narrative framework where a masculine protagonist is compelled to depart from totality. He does so by situating him in the dichotomy of a conception of the feminine as inessential and inabsolute alterity to a totalizing and interiorized masculine counterpart.
However, in this, and especially in her reading of Otherwise than Being, there remains a seed from which the disruption of this framework is enacted or can be enacted. Firstly, the reversal of values in Levinas’s work—rejecting totality in favour of a more ambiguous infinity, and subsequently masculinity for the feminine—begins this process, if in a way that remains deeply flawed. Secondly, Levinas’s subject is increasingly characterized, even by the time of Totality and Infinity, by events and experiences that are wildly outside of their control, not least of which is the face to face encounter with the Other. Thus, the notion of a masculine subjectivity ‘always in control’ is undone by their vulnerability to the Other. Finally, in Otherwise than Being, Levinas begins with the incomplete subject, one who is subjected to a responsibility primordial to themselves, before themselves as a traumatic disruption Coe also terms vulnerability. As well, she finds in Levinas (without romanticizing) the possibility that a mother might pass away in childbirth to be an expression of vulnerability which demands one reckons with a responsibility that interrupts their self-possession. This, by the way, is rendered also in Giannopolous’s discussion of Levinas and transcendence in terms of ‘paternity’; where one—coded as the ‘father’ in this case—must reckon with the birth of their child as “a way of being other while being oneself” (p. 230).[iii]
Potential tensions one might identify in one or another contribution are perhaps another way of branching some key difficulties the handbook faces on a structural level with its own self-contextualization. Morgan identifies the handbook as being a resource specifically for Anglo-American scholarship on Levinas—perhaps because in English-speaking contexts globally, or in the European context, Anglophone philosophy is already in proximity to Francophone and multi-lingual continental thought to ignore it. However, the reductive potential of such a translation—not merely into an English idiom, but into an Anglo-American one—seems to allow the possibility that conclusions like Housers’s which valorize rather than critique a notion of reason, and Sealey’s which affirms rather than contending with the logical structures of race, find little response in other places in the handbook. Morgan should be lauded for gathering together a diverse array of scholars from many backgrounds, even when he already notes that most are located in North America. It is also, perhaps, not feasible to engage a global scope of scholarship for a project like this. However, the implications of a foundational reference-work bearing such absences are reflected in the non-universal dialogue that manifests itself within its pages.
Even with these problems in view, there is no doubt that The Oxford Handbook of Levinas makes an important contribution to scholarship in the diversity and richness of its philosophical engagements, and in the explorations and controversies attested to. If it is any indication, studies of the profound works of Emmanuel Levinas are likely to continue, and perhaps even to expand in new and unforeseen ways. If so, this handbook will stand as a testament and signpost for all those looking to enter the field.
Derrida, Jacques. 1999. Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. Translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.
Gilroy, Paul. 2000. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Levinas, Emmanuel. 2003. On Escape. Translated by Bettina Bergo. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
———. 2009. Carnets de captivité suivi de Écrits sur la captivité et Notes philosophiques diverses. Edited by Rodolphe Calin and Catherine Chalier. Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur.
———. 2011. Parole et silence, Et autres conferences inédites. Edited by Rodolphe Calin et Catherine Chalier. Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur.
———. 2011 . Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.
———. 2013. Éros, littérature et philosophie: Essais romanesques et poétiques, notes philosophiques sur le thème d’éros, Edited by Jean-Luc Nancy and Danielle Cohen-Levinas. Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur.
———. 2016 . Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.
Malka, Salomon. 2006. Emmanuel Levinas: His Life and Legacy. Translated by Michael Kigel and Sonia M. Embree. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.
Morgan, Michael L. 2007. Discovering Levinas (2007). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
———. 2011. The Cambridge Introduction to Emmanuel Levinas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
———. 2016. Levinas’s Ethical Politics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
Morgan, Michael L. ed. 2019. Oxford Handbook of Levinas. Oxford University Press.
[i] Emmanuel Levinas, 2009, Carnets de captivité suivi de Écrits sur la captivité et Notes philosophiques diverses, ed. Rodolphe Calin and Catherine Chalier, (Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur). Emmanuel Levinas, 2013, Éros, littérature et philosophie: Essais romanesques et poétiques, notes philosophiques sur le thème d’éros, ed. Jean-Luc Nancy and Danielle Cohen-Levinas, (Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur). These two texts were issued as part of a (currently) three-part collection by publishing house, Éditions Grasset, of the complete works of Levinas. The other volume gathers early lectures given at the invitation of jean Wahl to the Collège Philosophique. See: Emmanuel Levinas, 2011, Parole et silence, Et autres conferences inédites, ed. Rodolphe Calin et Catherine Chalier, (Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur).
[ii] This anecdote was quoted from: Salomon Malka, 2006, Emmanuel Levinas: His Life and Legacy, trans. Michael Kigel and Sonia M. Embree, (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press): p. 217.
[iii] The passage is a quotation from: Emmanuel Levinas, 1969, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis, (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press): p. 282.
“It is,” writes Steven DeLay, “a serious responsibility to be human” (125). Whatever else one thinks philosophy is, one of its tasks is undoubtedly to figure out what our human responsibility is. And that responsibility must be connected in intelligible ways to the reality of what we are, the nature of the world at large, and what, given our powers, we are supposed to achieve. If goods and evils do exist, and if it lies within our powers to introduce or eliminate them, philosophy should have something to say about what those goods and evils are, and how to do that. As Augustine puts it, “to obtain the supreme good and avoid the supreme evil–such has been the aim and effort of all who have professed a zeal for wisdom in this world of shadows” (Augustine 1958, XIX.1, 428).
DeLay certainly has a “zeal for wisdom,” and his book is, ultimately, about how to identify and obtain the “supreme good.” The short answer lies in the title: we should live our lives “before God.” The long answer can only be acquired by reading the book. For what DeLay offers is a series of powerfully written and insightful reflections on what a life lived before God looks like for the one who lives it. It is an “exercise in subjectivity,” not in the Cartesian sense, but in the phenomenological sense—an exercise in how human life and its responsibilities manifest themselves for one who lives in the confidence of the immense value of the human person and in God’s redemptive plan for us. It is phenomenological in a further sense, insofar as it spells out intelligible and in many cases essential connections among the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of one who lives their life before God. DeLay’s analyses draw heavily on the phenomenological and existential traditions, and his insights into some of the classics of those traditions are genuinely eye-opening. Many of DeLay’s insights are novel, especially those he applies to contemporary life. And many are knowingly part of a long spiritual and philosophical tradition, whose central point can be expressed by saying that to live before God is to repudiate the values and the invidious distinctions lying at the basis of nearly all worldly life and its political, social, and institutional expressions and manifestations. It is to take up a radically different form of life, one in which selfless love extends beyond one’s family and friends to one’s neighbors and even one’s enemies. At the same time, it is to look to God, and not to power, pleasure, prestige, or group membership for redemption. It is to “grow in doing good,” which is “to want what is good for others” (62), even those who do us wrong. It is to regard God as “the living One to whom we owe all” (3).
At the heart of DeLay’s exercises lies a contrast that hearkens back to Kierkegaard’s contrast between being a self and being part of a crowd, Augustine’s contrast between the City of God and the City of Man, and, of course, Paul’s contrast between a life of the spirit and a life of the flesh. “We are most defined,” DeLay writes, “by our capacity to decide whether we will an existence of being-in-the-world, or one instead of being-before-God” (124). The choice of being-in-the-world has a familiar outline, and DeLay allows the existentialists to describe much of it. It is, as Heidegger says, in large measure the customary, conformist, inauthentic way of doing what “one” does, thinking what “one” thinks, and feeling what “one” feels. On this point Kierkegaard agrees. This world is, moreover, widely agreed to be a place of immense pain and disappointment and despair, most of it caused by humans themselves. Here too Kierkegaard agrees.
But against Kierkegaard, and DeLay, the atheist existentialists more or less agree that the natural and human world is all there is and, most critically, that whatever redemption we can fashion must come from willing or resolving upon a certain order of values for and by ourselves. Our lives are essentially bound up with those of others and their self-centered projects, and our relations with them are for the most part instrumental or adversarial. From the point of view of being-before-God, others are made in God’s image, and we are required to treat them as such (see 76). From the point of view of being-in-the-world, as Sartre famously characterizes the matter, other people are hell with the magical power of defining, in their total freedom, who and what we are, and the best we can hope for is to stop serving them and to fashion and define ourselves. The task for the atheist existentialists remains what it was for Kierkegaard: to become a self rather than a crowd. But whereas Kierkegaard says in a thousand different ways that one can only be a self in relation to God, the atheist existentialists hand what they can of God’s powers over to us. At its height (or depth, as the case may be) this involves becoming creators of value or, perhaps even more absurdly, of our own essence or nature. Failing that, it is to at least live “authentically.” In any event, there is little recognition that anything we have, including life itself but also our powers of mind and body, is a gift, or any acknowledgment that these gifts are to be received in gratitude, held with humility, and employed in a life of service and love.
Does this mode of thinking and living exemplify a “zeal for wisdom”? If DeLay is right, it is the opposite, a view that “leads whomever follows it badly astray” (6). All of its proponents declare God to be dead far too hastily and, in many cases, too eagerly. For Heidegger, with whom DeLay engages most closely on this point, the reason is putatively methodological: the philosopher must practice “methodological atheism.” DeLay has a great deal to say about the questionableness of that methodological choice. But, more importantly, as DeLay notes, it is obviously quite more than a methodological choice. Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein as being-in-the-world is not supposed to be an account of what we would be if there were no God, but what we are. As DeLay puts it, Heidegger’s decision to characterize Dasein as “anxious fundamentally” is “not at all to bracket the question of God, but to reject directly the idea that we are made in the image of God” (6).
For DeLay, this is both catastrophic and philosophically irresponsible. Indeed, in the very first page DeLay rejects the traditional distinction between philosophy and theology. “Are philosophy and theology really so distinct” (1)? To affirm that they are, for DeLay, is to carve up disciplinary boundaries that do not correspond with the things themselves or the structure of our concern about them. “If it is impossible for any individual life to evade the question of God entirely forever …, how could a philosophy that aims to understand human existence do so itself” (3)? Well, quite simply, it can’t. One must, in one fashion or another, come to terms with the question of God. If philosophy is to speak to our condition, to aid us in identifying and seeking the highest good, it cannot simply bracket God as beyond or beneath its concern.
That philosophy cannot responsibly evade the question of God through mere methodological means seems rather clear. So what are the alternatives? DeLay writes: “where Heidegger recommended methodological atheism as philosophically crucial to transcendental phenomenology, why cannot we claim the opposite and insist on a methodological theism” (27)? Well, I think there may be an answer to that, and one that rules out both methodological atheism and theism. In transcendental phenomenology, we are concerned with essential relations among acts, their objects, and their contents. “To elucidate [the] connections between veritable being and knowing and so in general to investigate the correlations between act, meaning, object is the task of transcendental phenomenology” (Husserl 2008, 434). We bracket the factual existence of the world, for instance, not in order to doubt it, but just to prevent irrelevant premises from being imported into an eidetic investigation. It’s really no different from bracketing propositions about empirically real shapes when doing geometry, a procedure compatible with the absolute certainty that such shapes exist. Comparing the two disciplines, Husserl writes: “Geometry and phenomenology as sciences of pure essence make note of no determinations about real existence” (Husserl 2014, 147).
Now it would be objectionable to bracket God if that meant that in phenomenology we can say nothing about God or the consciousness of God. If phenomenology deals with what we are conscious of and the nature of our consciousness of it, then “by what authority can God’s phenomenality be discarded as illegitimate, as unimportant to phenomenological philosophy’s concern” (27)? That’s a great question, whose answer is, I think, just what DeLay thinks it is: by no authority whatsoever. This does not, however, amount to methodological theism. Nor is it methodological agnosticism. It is, well, bracketing—simply not considering the matter within the context of phenomenology, in the same way that a geometer brackets the color of shapes without thereby confirming, denying, or even remaining neutral on the question of whether shapes have colors. Bracketing the existence of God is compatible with phenomenological inquiries into the nature of the consciousness of God and the form of a life lived before God. We can talk about God and a conscious life lived before God all we want in phenomenology, as DeLay insists. And—here I think I may disagree with him—we can do so without violating any of Husserl’s strictures regarding the phenomenological method. The reason is that provided there is a consciousness of something, the nature of that consciousness is fair game for phenomenology. And you cannot discuss the nature of the consciousness of something without saying quite a bit about the nature of that very something: “the description of the essence of consciousness leads back to what, in consciousness, one is conscious of” (Husserl 2014, 254). (And I hasten to add that “what … one is conscious of” when one is conscious of God is God, and not, say, a God-noema.) Since people, including methodological atheists, are obviously conscious of God, that consciousness is a suitable topic for phenomenology, in all of its various forms of love, hate, and indifference. In the same way, phenomenology can talk about the nature of perceiving a physical thing, even without positing the actual existence of a single physical thing. The reason to bracket God—or trees, tables, or anything else—isn’t because their existence is dubitable. It’s because phenomenology is an eidetic discipline that posits the existence of no actualities at all.
From the beginning, as at all later stages, its scientific statements involve not the slightest reference to real existence: no metaphysical, scientific, and, above all, no psychological assertions can therefore occur among its premises (Husserl 1970, 265).
This—and the whole process of bracketing—has exactly nothing to do with epistemic caution. It has to do with the fact that phenomenology does not posit the existence of a single real thing. Indeed, among the things we don’t posit in phenomenology are individual acts of consciousness themselves (see Husserl 2014, 102). This partly explains why believers and unbelievers alike can learn a great deal from works like DeLay’s. Even without positing God, one can grasp, in some fashion, the nature of a subjective life lived in the consciousness of being before God.
Clearly, however, DeLay is right that philosophy as a whole cannot simply proceed on the assumption that God does not exist, or go on bracketing God’s existence indefinitely. Not, at least, if its task is to provide a metaphysics, an ethics, a proper ontology of the human person, and, finally, a path toward a good life. Now I don’t think this quite means that philosophy and theology are not distinct or even that they overlap—though, of course, they might. But in any case, I think this division is not what’s really at stake in DeLay’s view. For there are reasons to think that, at least on one conception of what those disciplines are about and what they require in terms of our wills, and despite the fact that both disciplines must address the question of God and the nature of a life lived before God, they cannot lead us all the way to God anyway. The reason is that knowing God is not principally a matter of how smart one is. As Delay puts it, “if God will be known, he must be loved” (18). Since a love of God is necessary for a knowledge of God, but is not necessary for doing philosophy or even theology, doing philosophy and theology cannot be sufficient for knowing God.
Before moving on, I should point out at once that DeLay addresses the worry that this is circular. His response is that the kind of knowledge at stake is knowledge by acquaintance rather than a deductive proof (18-19). A life lived before God is not the same thing as a life lived with a convincing argument for God. I think the point could be summed up by saying that surely one must have some conception of God in order to love and desire to encounter God, but that this conception and love does not presuppose the knowledge of God that it itself makes possible. Simply put, we all have some conception of God as an all-powerful and morally perfect spiritual being, one who meets human wrongdoing with mercy. Some of us love and desire to know God, and hope that this world could somehow be redeemed by him. Some of us, by contrast, would be quite relieved if God did not exist, since his ways and our ways do not agree. In fact DeLay very artfully turns the tables on those who charge the believer with “wish-fulfillment.” As he puts it, “the denial of God’s existence might equivalently be interpreted as someone’s not wanting to love what is there” (19). The prelude to acquaintance is loving, or at least not resenting and hating, the object of this conception. The principal problem for the atheist, on DeLay’s view, is that “he persists looking in a way that guarantees he will come up empty-handed inevitably, so long as he wants to” (19).
But why should a love of God be required to know God? Might we at least secure an argument for his existence if an encounter is out of the question? Part of DeLay’s answer seems to be that this is just a special case of a more general principle. It is, as DeLay points out, a familiar fact that while ordinary physical objects show up to anyone with properly functioning senses, many things do not. A hardened heart will not detect kindness or love when others exhibit them, or the beauty that lies in a piece of art or music (17). Nor is our will inoperative when we grasp arguments outside the “terrain of certainty” (19). “Knowing is entwined with what we want to know, or want to be. In a very subtle yet relevant way, just affirming an argument’s conclusion takes an exercise of love” (19).
I am not confident that this last claim is quite right. Many scientific theories, for instance, are uncertain, but we affirm them without any detectable exercises of love. But even if it is right, there may be a different reason why God, in particular, will only show up for those willing to encounter him. It is that God “does not impose an encounter with himself, because to do so would be incompatible with the love defining him” (18). And here, I think, DeLay’s work can be profitably supplemented with insights from, among others, Max Scheler and Paul Moser. God is a person, and as Scheler points out, persons, and only persons, can be silent (Scheler 1960, 335). Now Scheler is quick to add that it would be incompatible with the goodness of God to remain silent for all people and forever. But he may well decide to be silent for some people some of the time. And as Moser points out, his reasons for doing so would be motivated by and intelligible in the light of his perfect moral goodness. As he puts it, “God typically would hide God’s existence from people ill disposed toward it, in order not to antagonize these people in a way that diminishes their ultimate receptivity toward God’s character and purposes” (Moser 2013, 200). That is, the issue isn’t that certain spectacles will only appear to those favorably inclined. Rather, it is that God isn’t available via “spectator evidence” at all. Because he is a person, and a person primarily concerned with our moral characters rather than our beliefs, “God would not use spectator evidence for self-authentication” (Moser 2013, 105).
All of that seems perfectly in line with DeLay’s own claims about the conditions for encountering God. Like appreciating a work of art or recognizing nobility and excellence in another, it requires a certain loving attitude on our part. But unlike those cases, it also requires that God voluntarily reveal himself in ways suitable for our moral development. If we persist in the “wisdom” that characterizes being-in-the-world, we can expect God, out of love for us, to remain out of reach, just as DeLay says (19). But it does put pressure on DeLay’s framing of the relation of philosophy to theology. Much of the content of those disciplines is available to “spectator evidence.” They call upon powers primarily of intellect rather than of character. But the encounter with God does not. He will hide from the wise and manifest himself to children (Matthew 11:25). And given God’s personal prerogative to remain silent, and his reasons, grounded in love, for doing so, establishing the reality of God is quite possibly where both philosophy and theology stop short. I think that almost certainly follows from Moser’s position, and I suspect that it follows from DeLay’s as well. The alternative is that philosophy and theology do require a love of God to be done properly—a position that, I think, DeLay might endorse when he favorably characterizes the “ancient schools” of philosophical thinking for regarding philosophy as a partially “therapeutic” activity designed to “elevate those who pursued it above the quotidian life,” and which “requires more than conceptual clarity” (33). In either case, the important point of DeLay’s work stands: not just anybody is going to encounter God, and there are powerful reasons lying in both the subject and the object why that is so.
Whether that is so, a further and related point is amply substantiated by DeLay’s book, and that is that philosophy conducted “before God” can arrive at insights that would escape a philosophy of being-in-the-world. Or, more precisely, actions and attitudes that might look absurd from the perspective of being-in-the-world take on a whole new character of obviousness when viewed from the perspective of being before God. “A faithful life, led by its distinctive form of evidence, involves a comprehensively new way of seeing things in their totality, one with wide-reaching implications for how we grasp everything…” (28). So, for instance, Nietzsche accuses Christians of denying life, and bills his own philosophy of will to power as an affirmation of life. But what is being affirmed here is not life per se, nor a good life on any defensible understanding of it, but being-in-the-world with all of its brutality, arrogance, egoism, exploitation, and needless suffering. From the perspective of being-before-God, hatred of “the world,” so construed, is the very opposite of a hatred of life. “To the contrary, hatred of the world affirms life” (159). DeLay’s book is full of such insights.
Here is another example that, I think, goes straight to the heart of contemporary life. Being-in-the-world is marked by conflict at every level of human interaction, from the personal on up. That conflict often erupts into violence. And it always involves an enemy. One’s attitude toward an enemy might involve “rancor, resentment, hatred or even wrath” (103). But that, typically, is not how enemies are made. Enmity is normally, rather, the “bad fruit of egoism” (103). My enemy is my enemy because, originally, “he simply stood in the way of my desires” (103). Once this opposition is established, the “bad fruit” of enmity begins to grow. Far too often, the result is violence, followed by more violence, in a brutal cycle of retaliation and revenge. Hence the religious prohibitions on lust (103), which, judging by the widespread efforts to provoke it, much of the contemporary world seems to find arbitrary. Political solutions to these problems often simply substitute personal violence with institutional violence which, again, is typically born of people trying to get what they want, and coming to hate and oppress those who stand in their way. “Violence, when it concerns the lack of peace with others, originates in the strife produced by the desire to get what we want, sometimes at any cost, even should the cost mean the horrific suffering of others” (109). Following Dostoevski, DeLay insists that political solutions to violence do not get to the root of the problem: “true change would require everyone first beginning by revolutionizing themselves” (112).
For DeLay, this personal revolution means living before God. When I regard others as made in God’s image, I will never consent to harm someone for the gratification of my desires, or especially for vengeance. And, given the normal way in which enmity arises, this means that I simply won’t have enemies. As DeLay puts it, “There can be no peace until we learn to live without enemies” (110). Now of course DeLay knows and insists that enmity is not always reciprocal (102). We cannot control whether others regard us as their enemies. And, of course, we might all have unwilled enemies, otherwise the commandment to love one’s enemies would make no sense. But we can control whether we regard others as enemies, whether we are the ones who will the harm or destruction of another. When we love others, we would never want that. Alice von Hildebrand writes:
A fundamental characteristic of love is that all the good qualities of the beloved are considered to be a valid expression of his true self; whereas his faults are interpreted as an unfaithfulness towards his true self (Hildebrand 1965, 57).
And that is exactly the vision that DeLay shares. From the point of view of living before God, not only will we not regard others as enemies, but it will be obvious that we cannot so regard them. Defense of self and others might be called for in certain dire circumstances. But mowing down others or destroying what in their lives is precious in the pursuit of pleasure, power, or revenge for past harms would be out of the question. What is natural and obvious from the point of view of being-in-the-world, namely the genesis of violence in uncontrolled desire and its perpetuation through hatred and retaliation, is nearly unimaginable from the point of view of being before God.
It is in this light, I suggest, that we read one of the more puzzling features of DeLay’s view. In his discussion of lying, DeLay claims that there is no explanation for why people lie (129). And that is because, like Kierkegaard and Henry, DeLay thinks that this is true of all sin and evil (129). Now I admit that lying often involves a kind of bad faith, that “To lie is to trust that I, and not it, am in control. But I am not, and so to breathe it into being is to make myself its dupe” (131). But it is rather implausible, for instance, that there is no explanation for why a criminal on the stand would lie. He doesn’t want to suffer. Lying to avoid great suffering or death is about as intelligible as things come in the sphere of human motivations. Maybe such a liar wrongly thinks that he is in control of the consequences of his lie. But more likely, the explanation is more mundane: telling the truth means certain suffering, and lying means, well, maybe not.
More worrying, though, is that the claim that sin and evil are without explanation entails that the repeated and depressingly similar patterns of wrongdoing that we find in the world have no explanation, that it is a gigantically improbable and horrendous miracle. But DeLay’s own book succeeds in showing, again and again, that being-in-the-world has an inner logic of its own that makes wrongdoing almost inescapable. Equip some very finite but rather clever beings with pride and lust and the will to power, give them contingently limited physical resources and essentially limited funds of prestige and social status, and one might hazard a guess at how things will unfold. And so they do unfold, much as DeLay describes and explains in each chapter of his book, and as other insightful people (Plato, Paul, Hobbes, Nietzsche, Veblen, Murdoch, to name just a few) have described in theirs.
How are we to reconcile DeLay’s position that evil does not make sense with the fact that it does make sense, and that he himself makes sense of it? The answer, I think, refers us again to the contrast between being-in-the-world and being before God. Evil might make sense from the perspective of abandonment, despair, and self-sufficiency that characterizes being-in-the-world. In fact, it makes enough sense that with minimal premises we could deduce it a priori. But from DeLay’s own perspective, that of being before God, doing the right thing is not only possible, but natural and obvious—so much so that evil must, from this outlook, genuinely be unintelligible.
But DeLay makes, and repeatedly illustrates, a further point about evil. Not only is it profoundly irrational from the point of view of living before God, but is so even from the perspective of being-in-the-world. The reason lies in its typically self-undermining character. To return to the lie, the lie has, as part of its own nature, something paradoxical about it. “A lie,” DeLay writes, “is something one assumes will not be identified for what it is … yet what makes it what it is (a lie!) is precisely that it deceives, first and above all else, the one that it has assured it cannot (or probably will not) be discovered” (130). This is the “existential” paradox characteristic of the act of lying. A lie has logical and practical consequences that exceed our intentions, our grasp, and our control. To utter one is to lose control in an attempt to exercise control.
We find the same internal tension in other cases too. Evil, as DeLay points out, is often silent, both in point of fact and more broadly by way of a life shrouded in “a fog of evasions and obscurities” (118). The absentee father, to give one of examples, becomes increasingly silent in this way as his failure at parenting becomes increasingly conspicuous. “Phone calls are left unmade, birthday cards unsent” (118). But the silence intended to cover over this failure makes it all the more evident. “As with the adulterer, the conman, or the spy, the silence required to conceal the double life eventually becomes bizarre; in turn, it only arouses the suspicion of guile it was meant to dispel” (119). Or again: “Undermining itself, the silence not only has failed to hide what it hoped it would. It has disclosed that it has something to hide” (121).
Another, but by no means the final, example is violence itself. Its goal, ultimately, is to put an end to conflict. But it almost never manages to do this. Not only does retaliation typically provoke further acts of retaliation, but the act of violence nearly always leaves the perpetrator of it damaged—especially, we might add, when retaliation amounts to annihilation. Even in those cases which seem most obviously justifiable—the United States’ role in World War II, for example—violence harms everyone, including the victors. This isn’t just because, say, it led to the horrors of Nagasaki or Dresden, in which “to do violence to others is also to have done harm to ourselves” (104). It’s also because the many consequences, both seen and unforeseen, of that conflict. Now DeLay does say that “A purely philosophical justification for unconditional pacificism is admittedly elusive” (106). At the same time, his chapter on “Making Peace” reminds us of the horrific consequences of violence, quite contrary to whatever legitimacy might appear to characterize violence in the first place. Furthermore, according to DeLay, violence is exacerbated by the very worldly attitude of regarding the individual as unimportant and viewing political entities as the really important agents of power and change in the world. This perspective is itself self-undermining because “It worsens the violence it hopes to ameliorate by ignoring the depths of the problem’s source” (109). It is a recurring feature of DeLay’s book how often self-defeating the world’s solutions to its own problems are.
This brings me to an important point about DeLay’s method of philosophizing. In the examples above, DeLay provides empirical evidence for his assertions. But he does not characterize his claims to be empirical only. Regarding the consequences of war, for example, he writes that “empirical reality concerning historic facts confirms the original claim of phenomenological essence” (106). And so it is with each of his analyses. I can imagine some readers being suspicious of these claims of “phenomenological essence.” DeLay does not employ the familiar strategy in philosophy of wandering to the remotest of all allegedly “possible worlds” to see if his claims don’t hold up in some of them. Might there not be some possible world where violence succeeds in putting everything right, where the proud and the self-centered never become enemies, where the power of the State puts an end to all conflict while leaving our inner lives untouched, and where the lie and its offspring have all been tamed by the liar? Well, maybe such worlds are “conceivable,” at least in some empty or inauthentic way. So construed, maybe these aren’t claims of “essence.” But between what is true in every far-fetched possible (or, more often, inauthentically conceivable) world and mere contingency there is intelligibility. The connections among evil and its consequences, and between living before God and its consequences, are not brutely empirical. They make sense, including phenomenological, motivational sense. And DeLay’s method is to make sense of them, within the constraints that reasonable people will probably recognize as framing human life. I imagine that some readers will find this realism to be a refreshing aspect of DeLay’s work. I know I did.
This leads to one final point, however, one where my own doubts run deepest. A strong interpretation of DeLay’s position is that living a life before God is both sufficient and necessary for genuine moral goodness, the kind of robust moral goodness needed to transform human life in the ways so desperately needed. I will leave to the side the question of whether it is sufficient, in part because I think DeLay makes a very strong case that it is—though, and as I suspect DeLay would agree, learning to live before God might be a long road that cannot be travelled by a mere change in belief. But is it necessary? There are, after all, more sober conceptions of a godless and finite life than the being-in-the-world of the existentialists, and it would have been helpful to see DeLay exercise his considerable philosophical skills against some more credible opponents. Iris Murdoch’s philosophy, for example, presents a diagnosis of human wrongdoing very much in line with that of the Christian tradition, and recommends a partially similar and non-legalistic cure of selfless love, “attention” to the real, and humility (see Murdoch 1970). And even when the similarities don’t run as deep, there is a considerable overlap between many secular and religious conceptions of the good person and right action. Seeing the other as treasured by God, for instance, is certainly helpful to seeing the other as a bearer of dignity and rights. But it does not seem to be essential to doing so. Furthermore, as flawed as we and our world may be, normal human life contains goodness too. Love, care, mercy, honesty, courage, self-sacrifice, and mutual respect are familiar aspects of human life which, again, might be strengthened by faith in God, but do not seem to require it. Is there an alternative, then, on which people could be genuinely and profoundly good without faith in God?
DeLay addresses this issue directly, but rather briefly:
…if living a maximally upright life without faith is possible, if caring for the well-being of others is one’s real priority, and if one hates suffering and evil, how does one exist in a world so broken and not die of grief? If anyone can live a comfortable life, relatively apathetic in the face of the supposed knowledge that this is the only world there will be, that there will be no judgment in which good is rewarded and evil punished: can we take this attitude’s declarations of sensitivity and clean-heartedness seriously (144)?
Well, maybe we couldn’t take such claims seriously from the comfortable and the apathetic. But between them and those who die of grief, there remains room for those who do hurt, who do care, but who find that there’s enough goodness in the world—including the intrinsic goodness of doing good—to get by. Perhaps such people would not allow themselves to die of grief, because that would constitute an additional triumph of evil. They might, additionally, recognize in humility that their own powers of healing the world are profoundly restricted, and that they are—like, I suspect, all of us—simply psychologically limited in how widely they can distribute their heartfelt care. I just don’t think anyone has the psychological or spiritual resources to shed a tear for every act of injustice on their block, let alone in the world, no matter how much each one of them warrants it. Extending effective love and care to our “neighbor”—who may also be our enemy—is as much as we can normally do, whether or not we have faith. In any case, I not only think that deeply moral agnostics or atheists are possible, but I am rather confident (one can never know for sure) that I know such people. Many of them are sincere, and their unbelief is founded in genuine difficulties, especially the problem of evil. I don’t pretend to know what resources they draw upon to sustain themselves—perhaps it is God and they don’t even know it—but virtue and unbelief do not seem incompatible. As Dallas Willard puts it, God’s kingdom is wherever his will is done, “the domain where what he prefers is actually what happens” (Willard 1998, 259). And I am confident that there are many more participants in this kingdom than the faithful alone.
That being said, I do think that DeLay’s account of a life lived before God succeeds in its task of shedding light on the world from the perspective of faith. This is in part because while the existence of God might not be a matter to be settled by description or argument, DeLay does provide a rich phenomenological characterization of what living with a secure faith and trust in God involves. It is a work of immense wisdom, compelling arguments, and rich phenomenological descriptions. It is, finally, a refreshing reminder of what draws most of us to philosophy in the first place: to grapple with ultimate questions of human existence, with clarity of thought and expression, and without methodological evasions.
Augustine. 1958. City of God. Translated by Gerald G. Walsh, Demetrius B. Zema, Grace Monahan, and Daniel J. Honan. New York: Image Books.
DeLay, Steven. 2020. Before God: Exercises in Subjectivity. New York: Rowman & Littlefield International.
Hildebrand, Alice. 2017. “Hope.” In Dietrich von Hildebrand with Alice von Hildebrand. The Art of Living, 61-77. Steubenville, OH: Hildebrand Press.
Husserl, Edmund. 1970. Logical Investigations. Two volumes. Translated by J.N. Findlay. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Husserl, Edmund. 2008. Introduction to Logic and Theory of Knowledge: Lectures 1906/07. Translated by Claire Ortiz Hill. Dordrecht: Springer.
Husserl, Edmund. 2014. Ideas I: Ideas for a Pure Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated by Daniel O. Dahlstrom. Indianapolis: Hackett.
Moser, Paul K. 2013. The Severity of God: Religion and Philosophy Reconceived. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Murdoch, Iris. 2001. The Sovereignty of Good. New York: Routledge.
Scheler, Max. 1960. On the Eternal in Man. Translated by Bernard Noble. London: SCM Press Ltd.
Willard, Dallas. 1998. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.
Despite facing almost immediate criticism from Hegel, Kant’s view of normativity has greatly influenced contemporary value theory. This volume is the fruit of a 2017 conference at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam by the same name that sought to bring the two conflicting accounts into dialogue (1). There are three general points worth making before addressing the articles themselves.
First, the articles in this volume use diverse sigla. Some articles, such as Christian Hoffman’s, refer to the Elements of the Philosophy of Right as PR and other articles, such as Jiří Chotaš’s, refer to it as RpH (9, 164). The Phenomenology of Spirit similarly receives the sigla PhG from Arthur Kok, Christian Schmidt, and Alberto L. Siani whereas Martin Bunte and Tereza Matějčková inter alia use PS (47, 147, 244, 62, 199). Similar article by article variation occurs with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason with Martin Bunte using CPR but Paul Cobben using KdrV (66, 27). While each article is internally consistent, this and rehearsal of the same parts of Hegel make the book feels more like a collection than a whole. For consistency’s sake, I will use PR, PhG, CPR, along with EPS for Encyclopedia of the Philosophical System and Religion for Kant’s Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone consistently in this review.
Second, different authors took different approaches to the use of German. Some authors use the German directly for the major parts of PR: Abstrakt Recht, Moralität, and Sittlichkeit; others translate them as Abstract Right, Morality, and, Ethical Life (Battistoni at 121, 124; Chotaš at 164). I will consistently use the English throughout. For terms such as Bildung where the translation choices are substantive, this is more understandable. Hoffman glosses it as “education” and then uses “education” after that (4,12). Krijnen supplies the possible translation “education of the understanding and applicable skills” but generally sticks to Bildung (115-117). Siani does the same (250). Chotaš and Zabel call it development (171, 181). These differences between articles will not impede specialists but make it challenging to read the work as a united whole.
Third, the title of the volume suggests proponents of both Kant and Hegel, but true to its origin at a conference from a network called “Hegel’s Relevance,” most authors are more sympathetic to Hegel than to Kant (1). Some contributions write as if Hegel’s critiques of Kant were definitive and Hegel’s positions decisive. Having more full-throated defenses of Kantian’s normativity and more engagement between the two as competing contemporary interpretations would have strengthened the volume. Nevertheless, the volume contributes importantly to our understanding of ethics and social philosophy in Hegel and German Idealism.
- Being at Home with Oneself in the Whole—Hegel’s Philosophy of Freedom as Actuality, Christian Hoffman
Christian Hoffman’s article provides an excellent introduction to the relation between Bildung and holism in Hegel and how this differentiates him from Kant. Hoffman traces Hegel’s attempt to accomplish monistically and holistically what Kant tried to achieve dualistically for reason and freedom. (9-10, 13). Hoffman identifies Bildung “education” in PhG, as both breaking the natural harmony and building “a new and more differentiated form of the whole” (12). Hoffman also highlights the senses in which Hegel’s unity is active rather than a static thing (14).
Turning to the system in the EPS and the PR, Hoffman first emphasizes how this holistic process is not just knowing but self-knowing (14-17). Hoffman joins to this sense in which Hegel’s holistic account refers to a common realm of shared freedom (19-22). Finally, Hoffman notes the relation between the Hegelian holism and its Aristotelian ancestry (inter alia 22-23). Hoffman addresses Kant’s idea of normativity as a dualistic account Hegel incorporates insights from but then supersedes.
- Hegel’s Radicalization of Kant’s Copernican Turn: the Internal Unity of the Natural and the Moral Law, Paul Cobben
Paul Cobben’s article progresses from problematic Humean impressions to dualistic Kantian intuitions to Hegel’s monistic resolution. First, Cobben develops how Kant’s intuitions solve the Humean predicament where impressions are both external and mind. Kant solves this problem in his apparatus of manifolds, imagination, and categories, which makes impressions mental and things-in-themselves external (27). Through this, Kant equates propositional and material truth when material truth is mediated by the Kantian apparatus (27-31). Cobben, following Gadamer, reads PhG’s first chapter as tracing out the Kantian account but rejecting its account of material truth (31-33). Cobben remarks that Hegel has demonstrated “The apperception of the Perception cannot justify how the manifold of intuitions can be connected into an objective material truth” (34). Unfortunately, the arguments substantiating this claim and the claims about Hegel’s “first truth of the understanding” and “second truth of the understanding” were truncated and hard to follow (34-35).
Cobben believes that understanding requires attending to the subject as conscious (36). Cobben sees PhG’s account of desire’s inability to achieve unity with its object, because it continues to want precisely what it is not as culminating in the realization that the perceived world that individual consciousness finds itself in is not merely its own but rather a shared world (38-39). Cobben joins to this an interpretation of the lord/bondsman dialectic which understands it as involving the death of individual consciousness and its sublimation into institutional consciousness (40-42). Cobben’s final claim is that Kant’s solution fails and that Hegel develops an account that culminates in the resolution of the lord/bondsman dialectic (43). Most of the second half seemed like it would benefit from more engagement with contemporary defenses of understanding along Kantian lines and other interpretations of the lord/bondsman dialectics.
- The Religion of the God-Man: Hegel’s Account of Revealed Religion in the Phenomenology of Spirit, Arthur Kok
Arthur Kok’s article is a welcome addition to the discussion of Hegel’s concept of God and its relation to Kant’s religion. Kok’s article also looks at Kant’s dualism and Hegel’s attempt to overcome it in PhG, insofar as Kant’s moral philosophy required a religion with a God as the projected lawgiver of reason to realize the good (46-47). Kok identifies this argument in PhG both specifically and within Spirit’s dialectical search for an adequate relation between freedom and moral duty (47-48). This activity culminates in the realization that the source of moral value in religion is Spirit moving in the community (49). Here, more interaction with Kant’s Religion could have explained why Kok believes Kant’s account of the rational community as the arbiter of moral value is inadequate.
Kok also locates a similar dynamic in Hegel’s account of revealed religion, i.e. Christianity, situating it as the dialectical outcome of an unhappy consciousness where freedom sees the inadequacy of an external law (50-53). This leads to the incarnation as the simultaneous “activity of the Self that results in the appearance of the Self without the Self becoming something other than itself” and thus resolves this tension in religion by (1) being “both distinct and non-distinct from those who identify him as the God-man,” (2) representing “the self-realization of spirit,” and (3) establishing “the presence of the divine in this world” to overcome suffering (55). Kok then articulates this as Hegel’s answer to the problem of evil where human activity can free itself from evil (56). Joined to the resurrection (and ascension), Hegel makes community that remembers the God-man the true reconciliation of spirit in ethics (57).
- The Reality of Value as a Problem of Kantian Ethics, Martin Bunte
Martin Bunte’s article looks at Hegel’s formalism objection against Kant’s ethics from PhG 257 (A.V. Miller pagination) and the problem of testing but not giving laws (62). Bunte believes Kant’s ethics suffers from a tautology because the a priori nature of Kant’s ethics interacts with the autonomy of the will to produce moral laws that are “conceivable only under the reservation of the heteronomy of what is willed” (63). Bunte explains his version of the objection in a single sentence: “If freedom as spontaneity or autonomy is to be the essential reason for the determination of will, then it must be able to refer to rules or laws from the position of legislator” (64).
Bunte argues that a successful Kantian defense against this objection must also achieve a unity for practical reason like the one for theoretical reason (65). Since the two domains are both domains of reason, Bunte notes that they must both find their origins in the spontaneity of the will as the “unconditioned condition” (65). Bunte illustrates this with the categories of the understanding in the realm of theoretical reason (66). Bunte analogizes that Kantian practical reason must be premised on the idea that the moral self gives itself its rules (66). Bunte here distinguishes the analogical cases by arguing that reason’s theoretical use refers to the laws of nature but that its practical use must refer to laws of freedom, which means laws that it must give itself (67). While Bunte largely thinks that Hegel’s critique rings true, he believes Kant succeeds in answering one part of Hegel’s objection: the moral imperative is something the self commands to itself as a demand of reason and that he develops such an account in Religion (70).
Bunte believes both that the formalism objection applies to Kant and succeeds convinced the formalism objection succeeds. There is a large amount of literature on this that finds things murkier: there is disagreement as to both what the objection is, to whether it misses the mark, and to whether Kantians have resources to resist or overcome it (See for instance Hoy 1989, Freyenhagen 2012, and Stern 2012).
- Foundations of Normativity, Max Gottschlich
Unlike many articles in this volume, Max Gottschlich’s article focused on identifying which logic is best for normativity: “formal logic” which he identifies with pre-Kantian order of being thinking (74-75), “transcendental logic” which he identifies with Kant (75-81), or “dialectical logic” which he identifies with Hegel (81-86). Gottschlich dismisses formal logic as often used but not useful for considering normativity, because it cannot capture the paradox of determiner and determined.
Transcendental logic, in contrast, focuses on the paradox of determiner and determined and identifies the limits of what can be said and is naturally reflexive (76). In Kant, this accomplishes “self-fulfilling self-relation” (77, emphasis in original). Through this, Gottschlich states that transcendental logic identifies the role of values and norms in “settings” (77). Gottschlich mentions in passing that he thinks the formalism objection is wrong (in opposition to several articles in this volume), that Kant and Hegel agree that value must begin in reason, and that Hegel’s true objection is to the absolute form, rather than developmental growth, that births duties (80).
Gottschlich sees dialectical logic’s acceptance of contradiction as its genius (82). In a clearer formulation, the point is that “the self only maintains itself by losing itself” – in other words when it recognizes its mediation as dynamic act rather than absolute (84). Gottschlich then turns to how norms are produced in the Hegelian account (86). While Kant and Hegel both make goal-setting a sign of rationality, Gottschlich sees Hegel’s version as more advanced because it abstracts from the abstracting in the execution of a “concrete universal” (86-87). Gottschlich next looks at poiesis (production) where Kant’s form is too abstract to derive anything but an abstract universal (90). Only in Hegel, he maintains, can we find subjectivity (a subjectivity beyond the self) as the goal (91). At many points, Hegel’s critiques seemed to be accepted uncritically and would have benefited from more interaction with defenses of the Kantian approaches.
- Hegel über die logischen Grundlagen der Sittlichkeit, Klaus Vieweg
Klaus Vieweg’s article was the singular contribution in German to this volume. Vieweg highlights the important role of civil society in PR often overlooked since it is only one step before right’s ultimate form in the state. After rehearsing PR’s Morality as a critique of Kant and a demonstration of its self-inadequacy (95-96), Vieweg focuses on Ethical Life as “eines logisch fundierten Systems der allgemeinen Willensbestimmungen konzipiert, als das Objektive der Freiheit” (97). In this domain, it is not the objective that dominates like a yoke but reason as a cozier hearth that determines things based on both objective and subjective will (97-98).
Vieweg focuses on the role of civil society and how it helps us understand modern society. Viewing identifies civil society as setting living a good life as the goal in a domain where consciousness has been brought under the concept (98-99). This is true freedom insofar as thinking has itself as its end. While Vieweg notes the work of Dieter Henrich on Hegel’s Lecture on the State as Three Ends, he argues that civil society’s importance has not been sufficiently mined in PR (99). Vieweg sees reflection and necessity as the distinctive marks of civil society that separate it from the family’s role as the natural end of humanity and the state’s self-substantial unity (100). Vieweg argues that this logic occurs in triadic form throughout these three forms of Ethical Life but in different sequences (101).
For Vieweg, what unifies all of the forms Ethical Life is that they all will the concept not only subjectively but in recognition of its objectivity (103; PR §142A). In this way, they are self-developing ends. They advance over the freedom of persons in abstract right, the freedom of moral subjects in Morality, and become the freedom of ethical subjects (103). Through this, they find themselves unified in a moral community (103).
- How is Practical Philosophy Speculatively Possible?, Christian Krijnen
Christian Krijnen’s article identifies both Kant and Hegel as contributors to a complete account of normativity. Krijnen argues that post-Kantian attempts in German Idealism to better ground the unity of practical and theoretical reason all lead to the centrality of freedom and the construction of value-laden reality (106-107). Krijnen believes the Kantian approach succumbs to a formalism objection that Hegel avoids this by understanding “self-formation as self-knowledge in the fashion of a self-realization of the concept” (107). At the same time, Krijnen argues that Hegel’s solution eviscerates practical philosophy by thematizing it as the “speculative doctrine of the idea” rather than engage it practically (108). Thus, Krijnen holds that Hegel does achieve a unity in the form of free Spirit but that this unity sublates practical philosophy and demeans it as an inadequate form of knowledge (109).
Returning to Kant’s architectonic, Hegel is not describing what “ought to be” in practical philosophy (110). In Kant’s picture, the free will needs to realize the rational object of its freedom, which it experiences as an ought (111). In contrast, Hegel’s Ethical Life focuses on the actuality of freedom rather than an ought: “The point for Hegel here is that we only have concrete, not mere abstract duties only in the realm of Sittlichkeit” (112).
Krijnen’s positive task is to establish a speculative practical philosophy despite Hegel’s failure to provide one (112). He begins by noting that Kant makes moral agents the originators of their actions (through the bifurcation of the world into the deterministic theoretical realm and the free practical realm), and this for Hegel is only true in the realm of subjective Spirit – not objective Spirit (112-113). Krijnen notes that abstract oughts operate as givens for Hegel and thus remain inadequate, which makes them inadequate for the living good that Hegel demands of the sphere of action (113-114).
Krijnen thinks an answer can be found in Bildung in the family and civil society (114-115). Krijnen then differentiates his view from those of Vieweg and Cobben. Krijnen thinks that Vieweg is wrong to think Hegel does not need a “canon of duties,” because Hegel does not abandon Morality’s truth but brings into Ethical Life (116). For Cobben, Krijnen notes the degree to which both treat Bildung but argues that the solutions Cobben notes are problems of integrating practical philosophy into Hegel rather than irremediable deficits in Hegel’s philosophy (117).
- The Normative Function of the Right of Objectivity in Hegel’s Theory of Imputation, Giulia Battistoni
Giulia Battistoni presents a deeply technical argument about imputation in the Morality section of PR. Battistoni first maintains that Hegel’s critique of Kant identified with PR §135 shows Kant unable to “derive particular and concrete duties from the determination of duty as formal correspondence with itself” and requires evaluating both the “consequences of actions” and “the social context” (121). While Ethical Life merges objective and subjective concerns of right, Battistoni sees Morality as the locus where imputation attributes subjective right to a moral subject (121-122). In Morality, the moral subject experiences the good as an ought, which interestingly creates the problem of making this “both the true good and a mere opinion” where actions are good if they are born of good intention (123).
To understand imputation in this context, Battistoni draws a parallel with Hegel’s two notions of nature (128). First nature is externality which can take the form of a natural world which stands in opposition to the subject as a determination separate from will (124). Second nature is the habituation and internalization of the social order of right (127). Battistoni locates the lower sense in Abstract Right and the higher sense in Morality, especially PR §119A’s claim that external deeds are categorized as we impute motives to the moral subjects involved (132).
- Freedom from Kant to Hegel, Christian Schmidt
Christian Schmidt’s article differs from many of the other critiques in defending Hegel against a contemporary critique. Schmidt tests whether Louis Althusser’s critique of German Idealism applies to Hegel and through this differentiates Kant and Hegel on freedom. Schmidt looks at why Althusser calls Hegel an empiricist by highlighting how Hegel mines the real by dividing the empirical and the essence of things to get to their essences (142). As Schmidt points out, this largely echoes Hegel’s critique of Kant where the empirical becomes merely material fodder for the categories to peel off (142). In contrast, Hegel sees understanding as a synthesis of sensuous manifold and mental activity (143). While knowing this, Althusser still things Hegel is guilty of the same bifurcation.
Schmidt spends the rest of the article looking specifically at freedom in Kant and Hegel as “a property of rational beings and moral (or political, or social) agents that is not detachable” and the critique of this analysis in Foucault and Althusser (144-145). Schmidt first explains how reason and understanding are the self-activity of subjects that separate them from animals (145). Despite the receptive components of understanding, Kant believes moral agents are free (146). Schmidt characterizes Kant’s account as “highly abstract … purified from all social and political meaning” (146). On this basis, Schmidt believes Althusser stands justified in his critique of Kant (147).
Hegel’s subject, like Kant’s, is a break in the causal chain (147-148). At the same time, Hegelian freedom is the restriction of “dull-witted emotions and raw impulses” (LPWH 103-104) that only finds itself in the state (148). In Hegel, freedom is a byproduct of people pursuing desire since this constructs and restructures the rules of society (148-149). This merges with spontaneity insofar as individuals collide with the established order (151). Thus, Hegel presents a unified idea of freedom where freedom is “the concretization of spontaneity” (152). For this reason, Schmidt rejects Althusser’s critique of Hegel.
- Justification of the State: Kant and Hegel, Jiří Chotaš
Jiří Chotaš contrasts Kant and Hegel’s justifications of the state. Chotaš reads Kant as like Hobbes building the state from a state of nature where people “are at each other’s mercy” who produce by nature a civil union with a “general united will” that expresses itself in the ruler, the judge, and most importantly the legislator which cooperate for the benefit of the citizens (158-161).
While Hegel shared Kant’s idea that “freedom creates human substance,” Hegel also examined how it was realized, Hegel believed Kant erred by basing this union on “an arbitrary will of individuals” who sought to establish it for property and contracts (164). In contrast, Hegel believed the State was the natural home of people and argued for this in PR, his “scientific proof of the concept of the state” (164).
Chotaš summarizes the stages of Ethical Life. First, Chotaš looks at family, focusing on how marriage links non-related people around love and common interest rather than as Kant supposed contract (166). Second, civil society arises through the division of labor (167). To this, Hegel joins the Polizei who secure “external order” in matters as diverse as public health and bridge-building (168). Chotaš identifies these attributes as giving civil society the status of being “‘an external state’ as well as ‘a state of necessity’ (PR §183)” (168). Here, corporations protect their members like an extended family and provide “the second ethical root of the state” (169). Third and finally, the state itself functions as the culmination of the ethical ideal actualizing itself in customs (169) and replicating the family as “a human community with its own spirit and will” but through “political virtue” rather than feeling (169-170). The state also takes on attributes of civil society, by transforming people’s ends and unifying them as a whole (170).
Chotaš then distinguishes Hegel’s state from Kant’s. He begins by noting that for Hegel, peoples and their constitutions are mirrors (171). He notes that both believe constitutional change should happen through constitutional procedures (171). He notes that Hegel also has three powers but they differ: “the legislative power, the executive power, and the princely power or monarchy” (171). For Hegel, the most important of these is the sovereign (PR §273, 279R) but remains under the constitution (171-172). Chotaš also describes the Hegelian legislature: upper house of landed gentry by birth and lower house by election (172). Chotaš’s article could have demonstrated further differences by addressing Kant’s Religion and contemporary defenses of Kant’s state.
- Hegel’s Republican Penal Philosophy: an Attempt at a Contemporary Reconstruction, Benno Zabel
Benno Zabel focuses on the republican nature of Hegel’s penal philosophy, situating it in an account of PR (182-183). Zabel identifies crime in Hegel as “(performative) self-contradiction” (184). Zabel explains using PR §95 that in crime, a criminal violates freedom (184-185). This must be met with cancellation (185). As Zabel points out, Hegel believes crime only applies to actions (185). Zabel identifies three practical functions in Hegel’s conception of punishment: “the dimension of the (formal) recognition of status, the dimension of the institutionalized procedure and the dimension of social communication” (186). Recognition of status begins with the “effective power of sanctions” (186). This also brings to the fore the standing of the victim as a member of a moral community (186). Crime, for Hegel, is resistance to “the common normative basis” and must be met so that crime does not appear as valid (187).
Turning to institutionalized procedure, Zabel contends that Hegel sees punishment as part and parcel of a legal procedure (187). Thus, it simultaneously refers to the separation of powers (187). In other words, the counter-coercion of punishment must occur on “a universally recognized basis” in accepted criminal law (188). As Zabel notes, for Hegel, contra Foucault, these procedures are precisely the prevention of despotism (188). Textually, Zabel supports this from the “administration of justice” (189).
Finally, Zabel points out how punishment communicates for Hegel (191). Zabel explains that “punishment can be considered only as retaliation (Wiedervergeltung), that is, as (symbolic) restoration of the order of freedom” (191). Zabel notes that Hegel is not limited to mere retribution, however, and can help in “the general prevention of crime and betterment of the individual” as punishment becomes “a visible part of society” (191). In this way, punishment communicates. Zabel disagrees with Cooper’s Abstract Right only reading (1971) and other interpretations that isolate punishment from the larger context of Hegel’s PR. Zabel thus argues for a punishment plus account of Hegel’s penal philosophy in line with Brooks (2012) and Komasinski (2018) and others.
- History as the Progress in the (Un)Consciousness of Freedom?, Tereza Matějčková
Matějčková’s article contrasts the destructive Enlightenment that felled governments and challenged religions with a Hegelian concept of freedom where freedom invigorates institutions (196-197). Kant occupies a middle where the limits of knowledge lead to “respect and toleration of others” (198). Hegel extends this by making actions reflexive and incorporating a social reality in the “I that is We and We that is I” (199 quoting PhG 110). On this reading, normativity becomes an internal feature of freedom such that Absolute Spirit’s achievement is to recognize that “that its own thinking has been conditioned by a plurality of other spirits or subjects” (200). This particular characterization of absolute Spirit could have been expanded and defended textually.
Matějčková uses PhG’s lengthy phrenology critique to highlight how this involves a re-appropriation of the physical contra dualistic approaches that deny the skull-bone any part in Spirit. For Hegel, in contrast, it is a part but just one part and highlights the Hegelian idea that the inner is the outer and the outer the inner (203-205).
For Hegel, all of the upheavals of history are part of “the progress of the consciousness of freedom” (206). In the realm of history, this amounts to a recognition that nature by itself has no history, because nature is not for itself (207). Only by the addition of human freedom and spontaneity can something new arise (207). In Hegel’s history, world-historical people function precisely by using freedom to overturn existing structure (208). In the process, they appeal to the people (209). Joined to its dynamism is the terminus of history (210). This end is one where freedom is being achieved through equal checks and balances in the institutions (210). Matějčková maintains that contra Popper, Hegel’s philosophical system develops institutions that enable people to have personal freedoms (211). This article covers a lot of ground and makes interesting arguments that would be clearer if they were set in contrast to others writing on similar topics in Hegel such as Adrian Peperzak’s Modern Freedom (2001).
- Is There Any Philosophy of History?, Jean-François Kervégan
Kervégan contrasts philosophy of history in Kant and Hegel against the backdrop of the arguments between enlightenment and anti-enlightenment thought (219-220). Kervégan first notes Voltaire’s coining of the term in 1765 and its audacity for mixing two heretofore distinct areas of knowledge as a history of human spirit (217-218).
Kervégan believes Kant lacks a proper philosophy of history, because the Kant texts generally categorized do not deal with a “system of rational knowledge via concepts” (220). Kervégan suggests that Kant’s historical works even when they present a “history of freedom” are still just histories rather than a proper philosophy of history, because philosophy proper is metaphysics in nature and freedom and “historical considerations do not belong to it” (226).
Conversely, Kervégan identifies the history of philosophy as central to Hegel’s philosophy (226). Given Hegel’s dialectical philosophy, Spirit is always working towards an adequate understanding of itself including its history (227). Philosophy thinks in the present and thinks the rational as actual and the actual as rational (228). This has the consequence of making history present to itself. In other words, the object of Hegel’s philosophy of Spirit is history, and Spirit is also the one doing the study (229).
- “Freedom in the European Sense”: Hegel on Action, Heroes, and Europe’s Philosophical Groundwork, Alberto L. Siani
Siani argues that Hegel and Europe are intertwined terms with Hegel’s insight being that institutions should mirror the freedom of people (235-236). Siani quotes Hegel’s linkage of Europe and freedom: “It is especially this subjective or moral freedom that is called freedom in the European sense” in the Morality section of the encyclopedia (EPS, §503R, 224) (236).
Siani explicates this through PR’s Morality section emphasizing Hegel’s critique which Siani articulate as follows: “morality has to state the difference between subject and object in order to affirm the freedom of the former, but if this difference is absolutized, subjective freedom can never bridge the gap to objectivity, and hence becomes utterly ineffective and empty” (241). This is, of course, overcome for Hegel in Ethical Life in which subjective freedom bridges the gap. Classically, the individual is free qua an identity rather than an abstraction (243). Modern freedom requires that tragedy intervene and make this freedom open (243). Siani then provides an extended consideration of Antigone and the role of heroes in the transformation of freedom (243-248).
As this is the third chapter in this volume to articulate a version of Hegel’s critique of Morality, it would help to understand how the different interpretations contrast with each other and differentiate themselves from common interpretations and defenses against the objection from Kantian scholars.
Brooks, Thom. 2012. “Hegel and the Unified Theory of Punishment.” In Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, edited by Thom Brooks, 103–23. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Cooper, David E. 1971. “Hegel’s Theory of Punishment.” In Hegel’s Political Philosophy: Problems and Perspectives, edited by Z.A. Pelczynski, 151–67. London: Cambridge University Press.
Freyenhagen, Fabian. 2012. “The Empty Formalism Objection Revisited: §135R and Recent Kantian Responses.” In Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, by Thom Brooks, 43–72. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Hoy, David Couzens. 1989. “Hegel’s Critique of Kantian Morality.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 6 (2): 207–32.
Komasinski, Andrew. 2018. “Hegel’s Complete Views on Crime and Punishment.” Journal of the American Philosophical Association 4 (4): 525–44. https://doi.org/10.1017/apa.2018.35.
Peperzak, Adriaan Theodoor. 2001. Modern Freedom: Hegel’s Legal, Moral, and Political Philosophy. Studies in German Idealism, v. 1. Dordrecht ; Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Stern, Robert. 2012. “On Hegel’s Critique of Kant’s Ethics: Beyond the Empty Formalism Objection.” In Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, edited by Thom Brooks, 73–99. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.