Recent decades have witnessed a current of uncertainty surrounding the afterlife of Gadamer’s philosophy. The critical challenges posed by poststructuralism, postmodernism, and deconstruction certainly had the potential to relegate philosophical hermeneutics to the role of a precursor or, worse, a vanquished adversary. What is more, a similar sentiment had troubled Gadamer himself, even before publishing his magnum opus. Finishing work on Truth and Method in 1959, he wondered whether it had not already come ‘too late’. By then, the kind of reflection he was advocating would have been deemed superfluous, as other philosophical movements and reforms in the social sciences already appeared to have left the romantic conception of the Geisteswissenschaften in their wake (Gadamer 1972, 449; 2004, 555).
As is well known, Truth and Method stood the test of the 20th century and indeed became one of the most important works of its time. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Gadamer’s death, and it prompts an unavoidable question: does Gadamer’s thought remain ‘of its time’, or is it equipped for the challenges of our own? The ambition of the volume under review is to show that the reception and scholarship of Gadamer’s philosophy has been flourishing and that his influence remains felt within and beyond philosophy.
The Gadamerian Mind, edited by Theodore George and Gert-Jan van der Heiden, is the 8th volume in the Routledge Philosophical Minds. This series, currently encompassing 12 published titles and three forthcoming, aims to present a ‘comprehensive survey of all aspects of a major philosopher’s work, from analysis and criticism […] to the way their ideas are taken up in contemporary philosophy and beyond’ (ii). True to the series’ objectives, this volume promises to be a ‘comprehensive scholarly companion’ (4) and a ‘major survey of the fundamental aspects of Gadamer’s thought’ (i). It therefore focuses on the dominant themes of Gadamer’s main body of work, philosophical hermeneutics. On the other hand, the purpose of this collection is to also show that the scholarly reception of Gadamer’s philosophy has developed and increased in the decades since his death. Accordingly, in addition to tracing the diverse influence of his views in different areas of philosophy and other disciplines, the editors aim to chart new and emerging perspectives on his thinking in this ‘new and comprehensive survey of Gadamer’s thought and its significance’ (1).
Consequently, this collection promises to put forth a ‘portrait of the Gadamerian mind’ that comprises what they call an increase in being. The term is borrowed from Gadamer’s discussion of images: according to him, an image is more than a mimetic replica of the original, but involves a presentation of what is essential, unique or merely possible in it, hence an increase in being. The editors thus aim to offer much more than a mere replication and exposition of Gadamerian themes. However, at a cursory glance, these different aims might in fact seem divergent. On the one hand, the volume aspires to be comprehensive, therefore self-contained. As such, it will necessarily repeat the structure and at least some of the content of previous volumes with similar goals. Companion volumes, as is well known, tend to be rather conventional, both in format and subject matter. On the other hand, this volume aims to not only distinguish itself from existing scholarship, but also forward and develop Gadamer’s own thinking. Hence, there is a danger, given these objectives, for it to splinter off in different directions and lose coherence. It will soon become clear that this danger is only apparent.
The Gadamerian Mind is composed of 38 chapters divided into six sections and enclosed by a brief introduction at the start and a comprehensive index at the end. The sections closely follow the stated aims. Roughly speaking, the first two sections review the main concepts and themes that return throughout Gadamer’s work, predominantly – but not exclusively – in his philosophical hermeneutics. Sections three and four canvass the philosophical background, both contemporary and historical, of Gadamer’s work, providing readers with contextual information about the diverse influences on his thought and its contemporary audience and critics. Finally, the concluding two sections focus on the second goal of this collection, that of assessing the importance of Gadamer’s work in recent philosophy and beyond.
The volume opens with Overviews, a section surveying the intellectual background of Gadamer’s life and philosophy as well as showcasing the chief focal points of his work. The contributions in this first section explore aspects of Gadamer’s intellectual biography and life, as well as sketching out the main outline of his philosophical legacy. His commitment to humanism and its significance, the importance of poetry and art in general for his thinking, the ongoing theme of dialogue and conversation are all touched on in this section. A stand-out essay, which highlights an important and often overlooked subject is Georgia Warnke’s ‘Gadamer on solidarity’. In this remarkably detailed and illuminating article, Warnke collects the threads of Gadamer’s scattered remarks on solidarity and friendship into a general account. In dialogue with previous scholarship, she identifies the cardinal dimensions which articulate Gadamer’s conception of solidarity. What emerges is brought into sharper focus through comparisons with relevant recent and contemporary accounts.
According to Warnke’s reconstruction, Gadamer’s understanding of solidarity is that of a substantive bond with others that does not depend on affinities or similarities, and neither on subjective intentions or attitudes. She finds here a stark contrast with some recent approaches, such as Banting and Wymlicka’s, for whom solidarity is ‘a set of attitudes and motivations’ (2017, 3). In line with this definition, these authors look to various political institutions and policies which can reinforce the attitudes underlying democratic solidarity. As Warnke explains, from a Gadamerian perspective this project would have to seem futile. Given that he does not think solidarity is a matter of attitudes, he would contest that cultivating the relevant ones can foster it. Warnke proceeds to compare Gadamer’s account to Rorty (1989), Shelby (2005), Jaeggi (2001), and Habermas (2001, 2008) in a highly persuasive and concise chapter on Gadamer’s continued relevance and significance for contemporary debates in the philosophy of solidarity, identity, race, and public policy.
Overviews is followed by Key Concepts, a section devoted to a critical examination and assessment of the primary conceptual makeup of Gadamer’s acclaimed philosophical hermeneutics. The chapters contained here track the notions of truth, experience, tradition, language, play, translation, image (picture) and health. These are well-written by well-known scholars and provide an approachable and comprehensive introduction to these concepts. A particularly notable essay, and indeed relevant in the global circumstances of today, is Kevin Aho’s ‘Gadamer and health’.
In his contribution, Aho details the enormous impact Gadamer’s The Enigma of Health had within philosophy and explores the way Gadamer’s pronouncements reflect the views of medical practitioners. According to Aho, the core aim of Gadamer’s book is to liberate medicine from the scientific method that governs it in order to arrive at patients’ own experiences of their illnesses and bodies. For Gadamer, health is hidden, enigmatic, it is ‘the condition of not noticing, of being unhindered’ (1996, 73). Further, he claims that it does not consist in ‘an increasing concern for every fluctuation in one’s general physical condition or the eager consumption of prophylactic medicines’ (Gadamer 1996, 112). This, for Aho, reflects the transparency of our own bodies. What is especially noteworthy in Aho’s contribution is the detailed account of exactly how and to what extent physicians and medical professionals are echoing Gadamer’s views. There is ample evidence here, for Aho, that Gadamer can help lay the conceptual groundwork for reforming our understanding of health and care. Although this connection is not explored in the text, this article is especially important at a time where health is no longer defined along these lines, where sick bodies are asymptomatic, and a ‘condition of not noticing’ can characterize both illness and health.
Unfortunately, there is also a notable absence from Key Concepts. Certainly, there are several important concepts not treated in this section and one could make a case for their inclusion. For instance, the concepts of pluralism, phronesis or scientific method are also key to Gadamer’s philosophy and are absent here. But, in the editors’ defence, a collective volume is finite, and their selection can certainly be justified with respect to these and perhaps other notions.
There is, however, an omission for which this cannot be said. In their introduction, the editors state that Gadamer’s name has become synonymous with philosophical hermeneutics, a field ‘concerned with theories of understanding and interpretation’ (1). A chapter dedicated to the concepts of understanding and interpretation, therefore, both undoubtedly key concepts in Gadamer’s philosophy, should not be missing in a comprehensive scholarly companion, more so since Gadamer’s use of these concepts is known to cause confusion and controversy among scholars and critics alike. This is a regrettable omission for which the other chapters, for all their merits, cannot make up.
The third section is entitled Historical Influences and is devoted to outlining the most important philosophers who left their mark on Gadamer’s thought and to evaluating his own account of their views. The papers composing this part examine the importance of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Dilthey, and Heidegger for Gadamer’s thinking, undoubtedly the chief influences on his thought.
Francisco J. Gonzalez opens this section with ‘Gadamer and Plato: an unending dialogue’, a veritable tour de force of erudition. Not only is this paper a brilliant survey of Gadamer’s Plato studies and his significance for Gadamer’s own thought, but this article also details the extent to which the study of Plato’s dialogues played a key role in the development of Gadamer’s own philosophy. Gonzalez identifies the chief contributions of Gadamer’s commentaries and interpretations of Plato and investigates how his reading changed throughout his career. By subdividing Gadamer’s engagement with Plato in five distinct periods and analysing his hermeneutical approach to the study of the dialogues, Gonzales brings this ‘unending dialogue’ of the two philosophers into clear view. This paper’s discussion of the differences between these periods, the internal inconsistencies within them and the accounts of the parallel developments in Gadamer’s own philosophy in these periods are highly valuable to scholars of Plato and Gadamer alike.
The subsequent section, Contemporary Encounters, canvasses important conversations and debates between Gadamer and his critics about the possibility, nature, and limits of philosophical hermeneutics. The reader finds here all the usual suspects (Habermas, Derrida, Ricoeur, Vattimo) but will certainly be pleasantly surprised to see Paul Celan’s name mentioned among them. In his ‘Poem, dialogue and witness: Gadamer’s reading of Paul Celan’, Gert-Jan van der Heiden analyses a very important concern in Gadamer’s later philosophy, namely poetry. He specifically centres on the relation between dialogue and poem. According to Gadamer, they are two distinct modes of language, each with their own specific modality of disclosing meaning. What follows is a compelling discussion of this difference and a welcome addition to Gadamer scholarship. The focus on Gadamer’s interest in poetry is in general an important innovation to existing literature and can be seen throughout this volume.
A noticeable omission from this section, however, is a chapter on the Italian philosopher and jurist Emilio Betti. He and Gadamer had a private, epistolary debate and a lengthy public controversy, yet news of their engagement has not yet fully reached English-language scholarship. This is especially unfortunate as part of their disagreement revolves around central issues in hermeneutics. One such point of contention is the conceptual relation between understanding and interpretation, an issue concerning which these authors had opposing views and were sternly critical of one another. Another source of disagreement was the issue of validity and correctness in interpretation as well as the question of the diversity of interpretative criteria required by the variety of available hermeneutic objects. On the latter point, Betti criticized Gadamer for his undifferentiated view of objects of interpretation and argued that different items demand different hermeneutic approaches. But the deeper differences between these thinkers are yet to be thoroughly examined in Anglo-American academia and Betti’s unique voice is yet to be heard. I consider his omission from this collection regrettable for that reason.
In the penultimate section of this volume, Beyond Philosophy, the editors have compiled essays detailing the impact and significance of Gadamer’s work in areas and disciplines outside philosophy. From theology to jurisprudence, from medicine and healthcare to history and political science, Gadamer’s influence is thoroughly discussed here and, for many working within philosophy, brought into the open for the very first time. This entire section is undoubtedly a vital addition to existing scholarship and one of the areas where this volume more clearly innovates.
The collection concludes with Legacies and Questions, a section addressing significant philosophical currents that draw on Gadamer’s work, whether positively through further development, or negatively through critical engagement. The papers collected here deal with the encounter of Gadamer’s philosophy with postmodernism, analytic philosophy, race theory, metaphysics, and philosophy of culture. Particularly engaging and an excellent supplement to a growing literature is Catherine Homan’s article on Gadamer’s position within feminist philosophy.
In her ‘Gadamer and feminism’, Homan surveys Gadamer’s ambivalent reception by feminist philosophers. While many have criticized his position, others have viewed hermeneutics as fruitful for feminist purposes, adopting or adapting some of its cardinal tenets. In order to make sense of this varied reception, Homan enlists the help of Gadamerian hermeneutics itself. In particular, she claims that it is Gadamer’s insight into tradition that helps us understand feminist replies to his philosophy as well as what she provocatively calls the ‘tradition of feminism’. In her extensive treatment of the literature, Homan criticizes dominant strands of Gadamer reception in feminist philosophy by arguing that attending to tradition, rather than dismissing it, makes us better able to preserve valuable differences. Drawing hermeneutics and feminism together, she claims, invites more comprehensive interpretations and reinterpretations of both.
A regrettable lacuna of Legacies and Questions has to do with Gadamer’s reception in Anglo-America. Unfortunately, Greg Lynch’s ‘Gadamer in Anglo-America’ is not primarily concerned with the full range of this phenomenon. At first, this essay details Gadamer’s philosophical proximity to a well-known movement in the analytic philosophy of language, namely the so-called ‘ordinary language philosophy’. Lynch considers this starting point to be ‘the most natural spot in the analytic landscape’ in relation to which Gadamer’s philosophy ought to be discussed. After this initial section, which explores and assesses both significant commonalities and differences, Lynch proceeds to discuss the adoption of a Gadamerian-inspired perspective by two prominent analytic philosophers, Richard Rorty (1979) and John McDowell (1994). While Lynch’s treatment of this encounter and his critique of the adequacy of Rorty and McDowell’s reading of Gadamer are highly informative and valuable, what unfortunately does not emerge from this paper is the extent to which Gadamer’s reception in the ‘Anglo-American’ tradition of philosophy is still an ongoing process which continues to be relevant.
This is most visible when it comes to Gadamer’s proximity to Davidson and the ongoing exploration of their affinities in the philosophy of interpretation. Dialogues with Davidson (2011, ed. Jeff Malpas), an excellent volume on Davidson’s work in areas of philosophy of action, interpretation, and understanding, provides a good example of the fruitfulness and proportion of this endeavour. Nine out of the 21 chapters of this collection critically examine and assess this proximity, not to mention the Foreword, where Dagfinn Føllesdal states that Gadamer is a ‘natural point of contact’ with Davidson’s own views. In fact, Davidson himself claimed to have arrived ‘in Gadamer’s intellectual neighborhood’ (1997, 421). Dialogues with Davidson is a small sample of a new and growing debate in contemporary scholarship which focuses on drawing Gadamer and Davidson’s respective philosophies together and reaping the benefits of this comparison, thus bridging the unfortunate gap between the two major Western philosophical traditions. Gadamer is therefore very much part of an ongoing debate within analytic philosophy in recent decades and it is an oversight not to have included it in this collection.
The volume closes with a very detailed and useful index.
The Unity of the Collection
As mentioned at the outset, this collection might at first seem controlled by two sets of strings, comprehensiveness on one hand, innovation on the other. And the task of coordination appeared daunting. But has this volume nonetheless been able to strike a balance? Has it delivered a ‘portrait of the Gadamerian mind’ that is at once comprehensive and tracks the state of the art? In my view, it has, and the articles cited are some excellent examples of the fruits that can be borne of this twofold ambition. These and many other papers in this collection show that the two directions can be harmonized into a cohesive volume. Moreover, this collection is not only held together by the skeleton of its primary goals. The connecting tissues stretching out between the chapters are just as vital to the unity of the work.
A pertinent example of such a link, running through the various contributions, is the theme of conceptual innovation. Several of the articles undertake novel deconstructions of Gadamerian concepts, some authors opting at times for a reconstruction and retranslation instead. For instance, there is the increased and usefully articulated emphasis on the presentational, as opposed to the representational in Gadamer, not only as it relates to aesthetics (see James Risser, Cynthia R. Nielsen and Günter Figal’s chapters), but also to language, where, for Gadamer, it is being that comes to presentation (see Nicholas Davey and Carolyn Culbertson’s contributions). The careful articulation of the differences between these concepts is a highly valuable, if unintended, sub-debate in this volume.
Another instance of this new interest in conceptual analysis in Gadamer scholarship is David Vessey’s ‘Tradition’. In this extensive and comprehensive contribution, the author distinguishes between Gadamer’s Tradition and Überlieferung, two concepts identically translated, and usually indistinctly understood. Through his careful analysis, Vessey has not only disambiguated some interpretations of Gadamer, but contributed positively to the philosophical study of tradition in English-speaking scholarship.
On the other hand, some authors have proposed and explored renewed translations of Gadamerian concepts. One such instance is the concept of linguality (and lingual as an adjective), here presented as a translation of the Gadamerian Sprachlichkeit (for which linguisticality is the norm) but extending in use beyond the scope of Gadamer’s own philosophy. Linguality, with its overtones of orality, might indeed be better fitted for a philosophy which sees the essence of language in its fluid, spoken form of Gespräch, as opposed to linguisticality, which evokes fixed structures and stable grammars. Bildung as enculturation, as opposed to the more common cultivation, might again figure as such an example. I, for one, salute these conceptual innovations and look forward to the fruits they might bear in the future.
The way I see it, these ‘connecting tissues’, as I called them, constitute part of that increase in being promised at the outset. For it is not a simple terminological update. A philosopher’s words are the body, and not only the dress of his thought. As such, the examples mentioned contribute to uncovering – for an English-speaking audience – the full texture of Gadamer’s conceptual apparatus and the different layers of inferential relations present between concepts in the original. At the same time, they provide, as already mentioned, precise instruments for novel philosophical reflection. One could say, with Gadamer on one’s side, that this represents a positive appropriation and integration of his philosophy into a new idiom, filled with possibilities for future application and potential insights into issues Gadamer himself didn’t grapple with. In my view, this is an excellent way of keeping Gadamer and his philosophy alive through translation and appropriation, and of demonstrating their relevance.
On the topic of translation, we can also applaud the inclusion of a chapter on this issue as one of Gadamer’s key concepts. While one can argue whether the concept is key, this is certainly an area of research that has been growing backstage for a while. Although the author, Theodore George, does not mention this debate in his ‘Translation’, as that was not necessarily his purpose, his chapter will nevertheless bring this area of research into the mainstream, attracting new and significant contributions to this promising and burgeoning field. After all, a collection of this scholarly calibre does not, in spite of its goals, merely canvass the state of the art: it also establishes it. For this reason too it deserves praise.
The Gadamerian Mind and the chapters it contains are more than likely to act as signposts marking the relevance and significance of a given topic. This is exactly why I have said that the absence of certain topics is regrettable. But it is also why the presence of others is praiseworthy, such as those explored in Kevin Aho, Georgia Warnke, Theodore George, or Catherine Homan’s contributions.
Undoubtedly, the Gadamerian Mind is of the highest scholarly value as a comprehensive companion to Gadamer’s thought and its significance. That his philosophy remains relevant is both successfully argued for and evident from the quality of the contributions collected here. But I have also been suggesting in the previous section that part of the value of this volume lies in its potential for impact, and it’s important, in my submission, not to underestimate its possible repercussions for future research. In other words, this collection both provides an increase in being in Gadamer scholarship, as I’ve argued above, and promotes and forwards it through its selection of treated topics and its academic stature. The Gadamerian Mind stands as an open invitation for scholars to explore and actualize the latent possibilities of Gadamer’s philosophy themselves.
Banting, Keith, and Will Kymlicka. 2017. The Strains of Commitment: The Political Sources of Solidarity in Diverse Societies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Davidson, Donald. 1997. ”Gadamer and Plato’s Philebus.” In Hahn 1997: 421-432.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1996. The Enigma of Health: The Art of Healing in the Scientific Age. Translated by Jason Gaiger and Nicholas Walker. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1972. ”Nachwort zur 3. Auflage.” In Gadamer 1993, vol. II: 449-478.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1993. Gesammelte Werke. 8 vol. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 2004. Truth and Method. 2nd rev. edn. Translation revised by Weinsheimer J. and Marshall D.G. Continuum: London, New York.
Habermas, Jürgen. 2001. “The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy.” In The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays, edited and translated by Max Pensky, 58– 112. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Habermas, Jürgen. 2008. “Prepolitical Foundations of the Constitutional State?” In Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays, translated by Ciaran Cronin, 101– 13. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hahn, Lewis Edwin. 1997. The Philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer. The Library of Living Philosophers. Vol. 24. Chicago: Open Court.
Jaeggi, Rahel. 2001. “Solidarity and Indifference.” In Solidarity in Health and Social Care in Europe, edited by R. ter Meulen, Will Arts, and R. Muffels, 287– 308. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Malpas, Jeff. 2011. Dialogues with Davidson. Acting, Interpreting, Understanding. London and Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
McDowell, John. 1994. Mind and World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Rorty, Richard. 1979. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Rorty, Richard. 1989. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Shelby, Tommie. 2005. We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
 Unfortunately, there is an ambivalence throughout this volume as to the precise meaning of the Gadamerian mind. For some, it is a placeholder for Gadamer himself, as an aggregate of ideas, interests, and commitments, for others it stands for ‘Gadamer’s theory of the mind’. So, it is unclear whether such a portrait would be of the former or the latter. Given the nature of the Philosophical Minds series, the editors’ intention is certainly for it to be of the former. But I believe a more thorough exploration of the latter would have been highly valuable and as such remains a missed opportunity of this collection.
Marie-Hélène Desmeules et Julien Farges présentent dans cet ouvrage pour la première fois une traduction française d’une partie du volume 37 des Husserliana qui reste jusqu’à présent non traduit en français. Ce volume contient des leçons sur l’éthique que Husserl donna entre 1920 et 1924. Toutefois cette traduction présente une partie de ces cours qui ne porte pas directement sur la question de l’éthique. C’est pourquoi précisément elle s’intitule Digression dans les Leçons (Exkurs in der Vorlesung). Cette version française traduit l’intégralité de la Digression, une partie des appendices ainsi qu’un choix de variantes.
Les traducteurs mettent au jour dans leur introduction deux thèmes fondamentaux qui structurent cette Digression, à savoir la normativité et la déconstruction. La question de la normativité est mue par la distinction opérée par Husserl entre les sciences d’objets (Sachwissenschaften) et les sciences normatives (Normwissenschaften), distinction dont le point culminant consiste selon les traducteurs dans l’élucidation phénoménologique du terme «évaluer» (werten). En effet, cette élucidation permet de démontrer au § 13 que les sciences normatives et l’éthique ne sont pas équivalentes.
Comme le montrent les traducteurs il y a l’œuvre dans ce texte de Husserl une réflexion sur la possibilité des sciences normatives, possibilité qui se conçoit par la structure intentionnelle de la conscience. Par là-même la normativité devient dans ce texte un objet d’étude en soi et n’est plus considérée à l’aune d’une simple application des sciences théoriques, approche que Husserl adopte dans le premier tome des Recherches logiques, Prolégomènes à la logique pure. Plus précisément, ce lien intrinsèque entre la normativité et la structure intentionnelle de la conscience se conçoit comme une relation intrinsèque entre le sens et l’objet visé, relation qui n’est pas réelle mais intentionnelle. En effet, cette relation implique une distance entre le sens et l’objet visé, ce qui fait que le sens subsiste même lorsque l’objet visé n’existe pas. Or c’est précisément cette distance qui fonde la possibilité des jugements normatifs puisqu’ils portent justement sur les visées de sens. Sur ce point l’explication des traducteurs est particulièrement éclairante : «s’il y a un sens à juger une visée de sens à l’aune de sa conformité à l’objet auquel elle se rapporte, c’est justement parce que la possibilité subsiste que l’objet ne soit pas tel qu’il est visé».
A partir de cette compréhension de la normativité l’on peut définir les sciences normatives comme des sciences qui reposent sur le rapport entre le sens et l’intuition. Comme le remarquent les traducteurs l’on retrouve cette compréhension des sciences normatives déjà dans les Ideen I, § 136-153. A partir de cette définition Husserl réinterprète la distinction entre les sciences de la nature et les sciences de l’esprit puisque seules les sciences de l’esprit admettent une orientation normative, les sciences de la nature ne pouvant avoir qu’une orientation objective.
Dans leur introduction Marie-Hélène Desmeules et Julien Farges offrent également une élucidation intéressante du rapport entre l’éthique et la normativité tel qu’il apparaît dans la Digression. Ils insistent sur l’idée développée par Husserl selon laquelle la valeur et la vérité ne sont pas équivalentes, ce qui permet justement de distinguer l’éthique de la normativité en fonction de ces concepts opérants qui leur sont respectivement propres. En effet, «la vérité ne « s’apprécie » (…) pas comme on apprécie la teneur affective et axiologique d’un objet ; elle consiste à vérifier que le sens est ajusté à l’attestation intuitive ». La vérité ne présuppose donc pas intrinsèquement un acte d’évaluation, raison pour laquelle elle est une catégorie qui n’est pas équivalente à la valeur. Par conséquent, l’éthique et les sciences normatives ne sont pas équivalentes. De façon très intéressante les traducteurs en concluent que la notion d’une éthique normative n’est pas pléonastique. Bien au contraire il est possible de concevoir également une éthique objective sur le modèle des Leçons sur l’éthique de 1914 de Husserl.
Toutefois. malgré cette distinction claire et nette entre l’éthique et les sciences normatives sur laquelle insistent les traducteurs force est de constater l’idée paradoxale soutenue par Husserl au § 13 de la Digression selon laquelle « l’éthique est de fait, parmi toutes les sciences normatives, la reine des sciences », semblant ainsi soutenir que l’éthique est bel et bien une science normative. Husserl justifie cette idée en affirmant que l’éthique « présuppose toutes les autres sciences et qu’elle les absorbe finalement en elle, et (…) qu’elle prête finalement à toutes les sciences une fonction éthique.» Marie-Hélène Desmeules et Julien Farges n’occultent pas dans leur introduction cette idée paradoxale.. Toutefois cette idée ne contredit pas à leurs yeux la distinction husserlienne entre l’éthique et les sciences normatives, étant bien plutôt un geste rhétorique censé exprimer l’idée selon laquelle l’éthique « transformerait en devoir pratique la normativité intentionnelle étudiée dans ces sciences », c’est-à-dire dans les sciences normatives.
Il aurait été sans doute intéressant de mentionner le contexte polémique au sein duquel Husserl élabore la distinction entre la valeur et la vérité et par là-même aussi entre la valeur et la norme. En effet, Husserl développe cette distinction contre la pensée de Windelband et de son école à laquelle il reproche de confondre « l’acte d’« évaluer » au sens affectif avec l’acte de « normer ». » Il est vrai toutefois que Husserl se limite à évoquer ce point, ce qui explique sans doute son omission dans l’introduction.
Le deuxième volet de la Digression déploie ce que les traducteurs considèrent comme étant la « première (et quasiment la seule) exposition circonstanciée de la méthode de la déconstruction (Abbau) » sous la plume de Husserl, méthode qui sera reprise par Heidegger et Derrida entre autres. L’exposition détaillée de cette méthode ne se retrouve selon les traducteurs que dans un seul autre texte de Husserl, datant de 1926, édité dans le volume 39 des Husserliana.
La méthode de la déconstruction est étroitement liée selon les traducteurs à la dimension génétique de la phénoménologie dont l’objet d’étude est « l’histoire des objets dans la conscience et, de façon corrélative, l’auto-constitution « historique » de la subjectivité constituante elle-même ». L’objet de la phénoménologie génétique est donc le pouvoir constituant de la passivité à la fois primaire et secondaire. Or au sein de la passivité secondaire s’édifie la sédimentation que les traducteurs définissent de façon très éclairante comme un « phénomène de modification continue en vertu duquel les acquis des visées actives de la conscience ne disparaissent pas quand ces visées cessent d’être actuelles mais persistent à l’arrière-plan de la conscience sur un mode rétentionnel, comme des dépôts d’activités antérieures prêtes à être réactivés ».
Or, la méthode de la déconstruction consiste justement en une procédure inverse, à savoir en une procédure de dépouillement (entkleiden, abtun) ou encore de désédimentation, terme que les commentateurs reprennent à Jean-François Courtine et à Dominique Pradelle. C’est une procédure de clarification du sens qui consiste à dépouiller les objets du monde de leurs couches de signification avec lesquelles ils nous sont toujours prédonnés. Par là-même il s’agit de mettre au jour un « niveau originaire d’expérience » au sein duquel se constituent les prédicats de signification.
Une telle procédure de déconstruction aboutit à un monde d’objets in-signifiants, dont on ne peut jamais faire l’expérience et que Husserl nomme monde de l’expérience pure. Comme le soutiennent Marie-Hélène Desmeules et Julien Farges, le fondateur de la phénoménologie reprend consciemment ce terme au philosophe empiriste et positiviste Richard Avenarius, puisque dès le début des années 1910 Husserl met en avant l’affinité qui existe entre sa phénoménologie et la pensée d’Avenarius, notamment dans des cours réunis dans le volume 13 des Husserliana. Ici il aurait été sans doute intéressant de remarquer que l’on retrouve cette notion d’expérience pure également au sein de la pensée de William James que Husserl n’était pas sans connaître.
De façon très intéressante les traducteurs attirent notre attention sur le fait que la manière dont Husserl utilise la notion d’expérience pure évolue au cours de ses écrits. En effet, si dans la Digression le monde de l’expérience pure s’oppose au monde de la vie, dans les textes ultérieurs regroupés dans les volumes 6, 9 et 32 des Husserliana le monde de l’expérience pure est tout au contraire identifié au monde de la vie.
Pour finir, les traducteurs évoquent la question du sens de ce procédé de déconstruction, qui consiste selon leur formule en une « reconstruction philosophique du monde ». Plus précisément cette reconstruction peut avoir un double sens, à savoir celui d’une restitution du monde de l’expérience dans sa concrétude ou celui d’une construction d’un monde ambiant conforme aux normes, d’un nouveau monde vrai corrélatif d’une humanité vraie. Cela permet finalement de montrer le lien intime qui relie la question de la déconstruction à celle de la normativité dans la Digression. En effet, «la méthode de déconstruction sert l’idée de normativité telle que Husserl l’a élaborée dans la première partie de la Digression ».
Plusieurs écrits ont été consacrés au sein de la littérature contemporaine à la question de la normativité d’une perspective husserlienne et plus généralement phénoménologique. En ce sens cette traduction ainsi que son introduction permettent d’approfondir une question actuelle et importante pour la recherche phénoménologique contemporaine. Plus particulièrement, la distinction que proposent Marie-Hélène Desmeules et Julien Farges entre les notions de normativité, de normalité et d’optimalité est particulièrement féconde pour nuancer les lignes de recherche contemporaines autour de cette question. Selon les définitions proposées par les traducteurs, la notion de normativité désigne la rectitude en fonction d’une norme, la notion de normalité indique ce qui devrait normalement être notre perception de l’objet tandis que la notion d’optimalité définit ce qui devrait être idéalement notre perception de l’objet. Ces distinctions conceptuelles permettent aux traducteurs de démarquer l’objet propre de recherche de la Digression, à savoir la normativité, de l’objet de recherche de plusieurs études phénoménologiques contemporaines qui n’est pas la normativité telle que l’entend Husserl dans la Digression mais la normalité et l’optimalité.
En conclusion, nous saluons cette première traduction française de la Digression dans les Leçons sur l’éthique de 1920 ainsi que les éclaircissements apportés par les traducteurs qui sont à la fois très utiles pour une meilleure compréhension des enjeux de ce texte mais aussi féconds pour la recherche phénoménologique contemporaine.
 Edmund Husserl, Normativité et déconstruction, Digression dans les Leçons sur l’éthique de 1920, trad. fr. par Marie-Hélène Desmeules et Julien Farges, Paris, Vrin, 2020, p. 16.
 Ibid,, p. 31.
 Ibid., p. 151 / Hua 37, 319.
 Ibid., p. 33.
 Ibid,, p. 146 / Hua 37, 316.
 Ibid., p. 36.
 Ibid., p. 37.
 Ibid., p. 38.
 Cf. Jean-François Courtine, « Réduction, construction, destruction. D’un dialogue à trois : Natorp, Husserl, Heidegger » dans Archéo-Logique. Husserl, Heidegger, Patočka, Paris, P.U.F., 2013, p. 35 ; Dominique Pradelle, Généalogie de la raison, Essai sur l’historicité du sujet transcendantal de Kant à Heidegger, Paris, P.U.F., 2013, p. 309.
 Edmund Husserl, Normativité et déconstruction, Digression dans les Leçons sur l’éthique de 1920, p. 42.
 Ibid., p. 47.
 Voir par exemple Steven Crowell, Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013 ; Maxime Doyon et Thiemo Breyer (éd.), Normativity in Perception, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015 ; Matthew Burch, Jack Marsh et Irene McMullin, Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology, New York, Routledge, 2019.
 Edmund Husserl, Normativité et déconstruction, Digression dans les Leçons sur l’éthique de 1920, p. 24.
Alfred J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic was first published in 1936, a second, revised edition appeared in 1946. Chapter 1 (‘The Elimination of Metaphysics’) of this book opens with the following paragraph:
“The traditional disputes of philosophers are, for the most part, as unwarranted as they are unfruitful. The surest way to end them is to establish beyond question what should be the purpose and method of a philosophical inquiry. And this is by no means so difficult a task as the history of philosophy would lead one to suppose. For if there are any questions which science leaves it to philosophy to answer, a straightforward process of elimination must lead to their discovery.” (Ayer 2001: 13)
The author of these words was only twenty-five when he finished writing a book which became a milestone in contemporary philosophy. It was indeed “a young man’s book” (…) “written with more passion than most philosophers allow themselves to show”, as Ayer admitted in the second edition (Ayer 2001: 173). “With these and similar assertions the young Ayer embarked on a course of discussion that was designed to shake the philosophical establishment” (Hanfling 1997: 4). And even though time has clearly demonstrated the flaws and shortcoming of Ayer’s text and its main ideas, it needs to be acknowledged that Language, Truth and Logic (henceforth LTL) is a major achievement in the field, with long lasting influence, provoking over the years vivid discussions and reactions, especially in the areas of philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, and ethics.
The volume edited by Adam Tamas Tuboly reconsiders the philosophical and historical importance of LTL, and discusses its more contemporary legacy in several different disciplines. Tuboly specifies that the questions that need to be asked and discussed: “are the following: how did Ayer preserve or distort the views and conceptions of the logical empiricists, especially those of Otto Neurath and Rudolf Carnap? How are Ayer’s arguments different from those he aimed to reconstruct? How influential was LTL really, and what are the factors that explain its success in Britain and especially at Oxford?” (3).
The book comprises an introduction and five parts (each consisting of two chapters). The introduction gives necessary background information, part one contextualizes Ayer’s book, part two concentrates on philosophy of language in LTL, part three discusses philosophy of mind and psychology, part four looks at epistemology and truth, and part five focuses on ethics and values. The individual chapters provide critical re-examinations of LTL, with the final chapter offering a highly critical analysis within a wide context of philosophy and culture. Each chapter is furnished with an extensive list of references.
In the first, introductory chapter, ‘From Spying to Canonizing – Ayer and His Language, Truth and Logic’, Tuboly traces Ayer’s road to LTL, his first encounters and contacts in Vienna, and provides a brief overview of the book’s content and its main theses. He observes that Ayer’s main task is “twofold: to show that all metaphysicians try to go beyond the empirical realm and to buttress his core thesis that only empirical propositions are meaningful in a literal sense” (12).
An important part of this chapter is devoted to discussing the controversy surrounding the significance and influence of LTL. Tuboly offers here a brief overview of the most important references on the subject and concludes this section observing that “the influence of LTL can be measured on two grounds. First, it was quite negatively received by the philosophical community, as it stepped on many toes and produced a mainly critical response among both philosophers and public intellectuals. (…) On the other hand, Ayer’s book was more than successful in other ways. LTL is one of the best-selling philosophy books of the twentieth century; every student of analytic philosophy has to read it at least once (…), and many educated laymen know it as a source of inspiration and a seminal text from the intellectual history of positivism – a distinction shared by only a few books in analytic philosophy. Whether institutional success is enough for philosophical success, however, is a different question” (27-28). Tuboly also stresses that LTL, though written when the Vienna Circle was past its peak, provides rather scarce information on logical positivism and its historical and theoretical developments. These remarks prepare the ground for more detailed analyses in the following parts of the volume.
Further contextualization of Ayer’s book is provided by the two chapters in Part One (‘The Book and Its Context’). Andreas Vrahimis discusses LTL and the Anglophone reception of the Venna Circle, he further investigates the issue of omissions made by Ayer in tackling the history of logical positivism, the debate around the Neurath-Haller thesis, and Ayer’s divergences with Carnap. Vrahimis observes that the linguistic Empiricism of LTL is presented as partly conceding the Rationalist critique of classical Empiricism, while rejecting the metaphysical conclusions the critique had driven them to; fortifying Empiricism by rejecting the mistaken assumptions of its classical proponents; and both aligning itself with the Empiricist side of the dispute, and also resolving the dispute in an Empiricist manner (47). In concluding remarks on the aftermath of the publication, Vrahimis observes that:
“Ayer’s book focused on discussions of particular problems and only very briefly touched upon the context in which they had initially been addressed by the Vienna Circle and its predecessors. The reception of his work also followed course, and the bold claims made by LTL resulted in bringing a critical debate over the viability of verificationism to the center of Anglophone philosophy during the 30s and 40s. Within this debate, there had been little concern about the acceptability of Ayer’s brief history of Logical Empiricism”. (63)
Chapter 3, by Siobhan Chapman, concentrates on ‘Viennese Bombshells’, i.e. reactions to LTL from Ayer’s philosophical contemporaries, especially John L. Austin, Arne Naess, and L. Susan Stebbing. All three philosophers found interesting elements in LTL but also had objections to the implications of Ayer’s study for the study of language. Chapman focuses on the reaction of these three philosophers to LTL, and on their further influence upon the study of language. Austin’s name is closely associated with ordinary language philosophy, one prominent version of the ‘linguistic philosophy’ (acknowledged by Ayer in his retrospective). Naess is less well known in Anglophone philosophy, “but was extremely influential in the development during the middle part of the twentieth century of philosophy in Norway, where he was celebrated as the founder of the school of empirical semantics” and finally Stebbing’s work “has been relatively neglected in recent decades, but in the 1930s and 1940s she was recognized as a leading figure in British analytic philosophy, particularly in relation to what became known as the Cambridge School of directional analysis” (71). In the remaining parts of the chapter Chapman discusses some subsequent developments connected with LTL and ordinary language philosophy in the fields of philosophy and linguistics, and she claims that after initial criticism connected with the fact that Ayer failed to recognize the disjuncture between philosophical inquiry and the assessment of ordinary linguistic usage, in the last few years “some analytic philosophers have returned to the idea that ordinary language might be of relevance, and even of vital methodological significance, to philosophical inquiry” (85). She also points at some interesting developments in Critical Discourse Analysis which might have been inspired by the close attention to different uses of language explicit in ordinary language philosophy (92).
The two chapters in Part Two are explicitly devoted to philosophy of language in LTL. Nicole Rathgeb discusses Ayer’s stance on analyticity, and Sally Parker-Ryan studies Ayer and early ordinary language philosophy. Ayer’s definition of analyticity is of great significance for his whole philosophy, not least because he regards philosophical truths as analytic propositions, hence his conception is often cited as ‘truth in virtue of meaning’ (101). Rathgeb carefully traces the inspirations and sources for Ayer’s ideas, the developments of this conception, changes between the first and second edition of LTL, and objections voiced against this approach. In the conclusion, the author suggests that Ayer’s account of analyticity is fundamentally correct, and that “the two definitions of analyticity given in LTL and in the introduction to the second edition can be brought into accord, that the truth of analytic propositions so understood is not contingent upon the existence of language, and that the different factors Ayer appeals to in his explanation of the necessity of analytic propositions are all important, although one of them is more fundamental than the others” (120).
In chapter 5, Parker-Ryan examines the development of two approaches to language: the concept of ideal language, and the concept of ordinary language. The former is connected with Ayer’s views expounded in LTL, whereas the latter is discussed by Parker-Ryan with reference to the work of John Wisdom. The author briefly presents the origins of the method of linguistic analysis, the influence of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and of his later views, succinctly introduces ordinary language philosophy and contrasts it with theories advocating ideal language. In conclusion, Parker-Ryan claims that Ayer and the positivists “understood linguistic analysis as the weeding out of nonsense, such that the ‘logic of science’ could emerge. Such a language would be ideal, in the sense of being perfectly transparent logical form, and comprised exhaustively of empirically verifiable propositions, logical propositions and nothing else” (146). On the other hand, for ordinary language philosophy, the aim was also to resolve philosophical confusion; proponents of this movement “believed that a closer and more thoughtful examination of how language really is used, in various circumstances, can be philosophically revealing” (147).
Part Three is devoted to philosophy of mind and psychology. Gergely Ambrus traces the evolution of Ayer’s views on the mind-body relation, whereas Thomas Uebel investigates the puzzle about other minds in early Ayer. Ambrus observes that the analysis of Ayer’s views, “beyond being interesting in itself, is also important in that it provides further details about the large-scale development of analytic philosophy, stretching from the logical positivists’ radical anti-metaphysicalism in the 1930s to the 1960s when (some) classical metaphysical problems like realism or idealism, and the mind-body problem, were treated as being meaningful and legitimate once more” (153). The chapter discusses the phenomenalist background, focuses on the relations between the mental and physical events (a core issue in contemporary philosophy of mind) and on reinterpretations of the psychophysical relation within Ayer’s ‘sophisticated realist’ framework. Ambrus sums up the developments in Ayer’s thought in the following way: “the changes in Ayer’s views about the nature of the psychophysical relation were embedded in the evolution of his overall approach to philosophy. He departed from the radically anti-metaphysical attitude of logical positivism and arrived at a sort of pragmatist realism” (187). The shift from radical anti-metaphysical to ‘soft’ metaphysical views (with simultaneous faithfulness to earlier empiricist foundations) is characteristic of developments in Ayer’s thought (188).
Chapter 7 provides additional evidence for Ayer’s changing views in what today might be referred to as proto-philosophy of mind. Uebel concentrates on the account of knowledge of other minds as formulated in LTL, provides different interpretations and reinterpretations, and discusses Ayer’s approach to logical behaviorism: “once it is noted how his verificationism limited his options, it is of course difficult to dispute Ayer’s conclusion that no knowledge of other minds is provided at all, but this limitation does not apply unless the doctrine of logical behaviorism is also reinterpreted” (211). Uebel also points to the discrepancies between the argument as presented in LTL, and as later interpreted by Ayer himself (240), a very interesting observation connected with authorial methodological consciousness (or lack of it).
Part Four deals with epistemology and truth. First Hans-Joachim Glock takes a close look at Ayer’s verificationism, next László Kocsis focuses on the problem of truth and validation. Truth, the second element in the title of Ayer’s book, was crucial both for the author’s line of investigation, and for the interpretation of his theory. Glock opens his chapter observing that the most fundamental aspiration of LTL is meta-philosophical: “Its stated aim is to argue for a positivist, anti-metaphysical conception of philosophy, its tasks and proper methods” (251). Further in this chapter, Glock discusses the importance of verificationism in LTL, different criteria of verifiability, the principle of verification, and the differences between the two (also in the context of Wittgenstein’s use-theory of meaning); it follows from this discussion that “there remains more to be said both against and for Ayer’s verificationism” (275).
In chapter 9, Kocsis starts with examining the difference between the definition and the criterion of truth and how they can be connected; next, he devotes some space to Ayer’s deflationism about the nature of truth and his place in the famous protocol-sentence debate, including his defense of a correspondence conception of the criterion of truth. In the final section he shows that Ayer’s deflationism about the nature of truth is not in conflict with his correspondence conception of the criterion of truth. This is because, contrary to his logical positivist contemporaries, Ayer did not admit any intimate connection between the two above-mentioned truth-theoretical tasks. According to Kocsis, “Ayer was convinced that the correspondence criterion could be applied to synthetic propositions, but as a fallibilist he did not distinguish between epistemically basic and incorrigible propositions (…) and all other non-basic propositions (hypotheses)” (301).
Part Five brings two chapters dealing with ethics and values. In chapter 10, Krisztián Pete compares Ayer and Berkeley, and their concepts of the meaning of ethical and religious language. Ayer starts the preface of the first edition of LTL with the following claim: “The views which are put forward in this treatise derive from the doctrines of Bertrand Russell and Wittgenstein, which are themselves the logical outcome of the Empiricism of Berkeley and David Hume” (Ayer 2001: 9). Berkeley’s and Hume’s influence on Ayer, and Ayer’s interpretation of Empiricism have already been discussed in chapters 1 and 2. Pete discusses in some detail Ayer’s and Berkeley’s views on emotional and theological use of language, he also explores the claim that Ayer is indebted to Berkeley “not only for the core ideas of his phenomenalism but also for his emotivism” (307), and provides a Berkeleyan reinterpretation of Ayer. Pete concludes that “by examining the semantic theory of one of Ayer’s distant empiricist predecessors, we can get some guidance on how to modify the ethical theory that Ayer outlined in LTL” (330).
The last chapter, by Aaron Preston, is significantly entitled ‘Ayer’s Book of Errors and the Crises of Contemporary Western Culture’. Preston offers a highly critical reading of LTL, with an equally critical assessment of its influence:
“Given that its flaws were both grievous and fairly obvious to many, LTL and the simplistic positivism it exemplified would be mere curiosities in the annals of a very curious century if it weren’t for the fact that they had massively harmful effects on culture, effects which persist to this day. (…)
LTL’s real significance lies here, in its role as a sophisticated and successful bit of propaganda for an ideology that played a critical role in loosing Western culture from its moral and epistemic moorings”. (334; 335)
Preston considers the rise of positivism in the light of the crises of contemporary western culture, including contemporary politics, fake news and post truth politics. Parts of this chapter sound rather like a political manifesto; however, it is interesting to see the line of argumentation leading the author from flaws in LTL to analyses (neither very deep nor original though) of Trump’s presidency. The tenor of the conclusion is predictable: “What, then, is the real significance of LTL? Sadly, its significance is overwhelmingly negative. It resides in the fact that it gave a distinctive and rhetorically powerful voice to a form of scientistic naturalism which has played a powerful role in fouling our relations to moral truth” (361). A brief critical remark with respect to these claims is included earlier in the volume, in chapter 8, where Glock observes that Preston’s dismissive attitude is precipitate, for:
“A. Ayer’s later assessment leaves open that LTL also includes important truths. B. Mistakes can be philosophically significant. C. By its own lights, LTL aims at introducing and implementing a method of clarification and critical thinking rather than at propounding a true doctrine.” (273-4)
The above points provide a good coda to this final chapter; however, it would be interesting to see a chapter polemic with regard to Preston’s stance.
In the conclusion of his brief introduction to Ayer’s work, Oswald Hanfling observed that “just as one must admire the bravado of his early book, so one must be impressed, when reading his later work, by his cautious and painstaking treatment of the questions at issue, and his constant striving to do justice to alternative views before arriving at his own conclusion” (Hanfling 1997: 51); and Ben Rogers added that the greatness of LTL resides in the fact that “it exudes a rare and inspiring passion for truth” (Rogers 2001: xvi). The papers collected in the reviewed volume attest to the depth and breadth of Ayer’s thought, they demonstrate that the shortcomings of his early work cannot overshadow its lasting influence in several philosophical disciplines.
Ayer’s book provoked reaction also within literary studies, and its title inspired at least two publications – Hamm (1960) and Martin (1975) – with both authors consciously alluding to the original title, and both investigating the benefits and shortcomings of logical positivism as applied to literary analyses. This aspect of Ayer’s influence is not discussed in the reviewed book, however, it additionally confirms the importance of LTL for various developments in several disciplines.
The Historical and Philosophical Significance of Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic provides an excellent overview of the topics discussed by Ayer, the controversies surrounding the publication and its influence. Additionally, it provides important (not only historical) considerations connected with the developments in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, and ethics.
Ayer, Alfred J. [1936/1946] 2001. Language, Truth and Logic. London: Penguin Books.
Hamm, Victor M. 1960. Language, Truth and Poetry. The Aquinas Lecture 1960. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.
Hanfling, Oswald. 1997. Ayer. Analysing What We Mean. London: Phoenix.
Martin, Graham Dunstan. 1975. Language, Truth, and Poetry. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Rogers, Ben. 2001. “Introduction.” In: Ayer (2001), ix-xviii.
From its onset, phenomenology has been highly concerned with new beginnings. Its insistent demand to relearn how to see things in a new light is evident not only in its method but also in the phenomenologists’ relentless dedication to reintroduce and describe anew this project in myriad ways, time and time again, through their works and lectures to a variety of audiences. One of the main driving forces is that the notion of ‘beginning’, in phenomenology, takes on a wider and fuller meaning: to go back, again and again. This is precisely because phenomenology takes the starting position very seriously.
Chad Engelland’s book, Phenomenology, is both for beginners and about new beginnings; an invitation to re-examine and renew what it means to be a philosopher by analysing how we experience our very own experiences. In his own words, “philosophy is a rigorous intensification of ordinary reflection, and phenomenology is a renewal of philosophy” (151). Engelland’s book is not just a highly accessible introduction to this 20th century movement but, moreover, it is a way (the phenomenological how) of presenting the subject itself. The content list Engelland presents is itself not conventional for academic books introducing phenomenology. Instead of the typical chapters titled ‘intentionality’ or ‘consciousness’ we find chapter titles such as ‘love’ and ‘wonder’. Nevertheless, all the key concepts and main thinkers are mentioned within these chapters throughout the book, in Engelland’s own way of offering them. When one starts reading his book, it becomes immediately clear that the author intends the reader to read this work not as a mere theoretical exercise but, rather, as a means of shifting from the conceptual to the experiential. In many ways, this book is a guide on how to do phenomenology on a daily basis.
As Engelland immediately points out in his preface, phenomenology invites us to look back again in order to bring to our attention that which was previously unnoticed and hidden from us. This call for renewal summons one to embark on a quest of regaining a sense of wonder and fascination with the world. It is a call to revisit that which we take for granted and, as a result, end up filtering and losing significant details about both the world and ourselves as the ones undergoing experiences.
Throughout his whole book, Engelland makes sure that significant words are not taken lightly as he frequently stops and reflects on them. In his preface, he gives us an insight on the word ‘fascinate’ as it is understood in its original meaning: to be under a spell. As he maintains, this fascination is precisely what phenomenology brings back in philosophy: an enterprise that dazzles, beguiles and bewitches us. This sense of fascination is not here understood as one which closes us on ourselves, in turn making us insensitive to the ordinary world but, rather, one which projects us outwards towards the world which, in turn, becomes understood in a fuller, richer and wider sense, since “phenomenology fascinates by restoring charm to the things of this world” (xii). It is, moreover, an enterprise which “captures our hearts by setting us free” (xii), allowing us to explore the truth of things together with others, via our very own shared experiences.
In his first chapter, titled ‘To the things themselves’, Engelland starts by giving a concise description of what phenomenology is: “the experience of experience” (2). Just as Husserl had struggled so hard to reopen up a space for philosophy in an overly growing scientific world, Engelland grapples with the physicists who, in our time, have proclaimed the death of philosophy. What this proclamation entails is the self-aggrandizement of the scientific view which ends up reducing all knowledge to its own episteme. It is this scientific reduction which phenomenology must resist, in order to shift from a view from nowhere towards a view from somewhere. Scientists themselves must presuppose this latter subjective view in order to do science: “there would be no science if there were no scientists” (5), for it is the very act of wondering that gives rise to science itself. In turn, as Engelland explains, phenomenology comes on the scene with its own reduction: the transcendental reduction – which allows us to step back in order to retrace how we experience things. He argues that just as biology is the study of being qua biological life, phenomenology, as a science in itself, studies being qua appearances – phenomena. However, Engelland stops to reflect on what is here meant by appearances. His claims is that it is not mere appearance which phenomenology studies but, moreover, the “true appearance of things” (3). In this sense, the principal goal of phenomenology is to discern the truth of experience itself; “the truth about truth itself and how it arises in our experience” (9).
One of the contributions Engelland makes here is to delineate how phenomenology cannot be understood as a mere modern epistemological enterprise. Rather, it is an inquiry in the classical investigation of the whatness of things coupled with the way, or how, these things are experienced. In this sense, Engelland argues that phenomenology brings back pre-modern philosophy within the modern epistemological paradigm by examining “how can we experience essences, and what is the essence of experience” (11). In many ways, phenomenology is both new and old, as it always seeks to make a fresh start by returning to philosophy’s origin in experience. Moreover, Engelland proposes that the centrality of a phenomenology is its publicness – which entails that such experiences are not happenings inside the brain but, instead, belong to the public world.
From the early stages of this movement, numerous phenomenologists have engaged with art to formulate and articulate their ideas. Engelland refers to this love affair between art and phenomenology in his second chapter, as he starts off by bringing into our attention Paul Cézanne’s bold emphasis on the individual things within his paintings. Merleau-Ponty had written extensively on this French artist in order to highlight that perception is not merely composed of passive impressions but, moreover, it is the activity of allowing things to show themselves as they truly are; what Husserl calls constitution. It is here that Engelland introduces the key theme of phenomenology: intentionality. Put simply, he formulates this notion by stating that “all experience is a matter experiencing something as something” (22). The author provides various ways of how our experiences appear in this way, using several examples from popular culture. However, as Engelland rightfully claims, the truly ground-breaking discovery of phenomenology is that it expresses the publicness of appearances, in opposition to the modern understanding of the privateness of things confined to the mind. His claim is that “appearances belong to the experiential world that each of us shares through our own resources” (24).
Engelland confronts Hume’s notion of subjective impressions as he finds in it a barrier which hinders any access to the things themselves. In a very concise and accessible format, which also includes sketched diagrams, the author shows the ways in which Hume and Husserl remain radically different in their conclusions: whereas Hume would conclude that we perceive mental images since our perception of things constantly changes whilst the real things remain the same, Husserl would conclude that the changing perception itself presents the same real thing in all its reality. This is because Husserl maintains that, within experiences, the changing and unchanging are necessarily intertwined. Thus, phenomenology puts forth the idea that “the thing does not hide behind its appearances. The appearances rather are the thing’s disclosure” (29). This entails that appearances put us into close contact with the public features of things; i.e. to the very being of the thing that appears. The main conclusion to this chapter is summed up into three points: 1) experiences involve a rich context which involves others, 2) experiences involve interplay of presence and absence, and 3) this interplay is what we mean by ‘world’.
Engelland also grapples with the phenomenological nuance of ‘flesh’ – the twofold experience of one’s body as both living (Leib) and physical (Körper). This means that, phenomenologically, our body can both feel and be felt; or sees and is seen. In this sense we are the perceivers and the perceived at the same time. Ultimately, as Engelland claims, “flesh opens us to explore the world and meet with not only things but also fellow explorers of thing” (46). This builds upon the idea of interplay between presence and absence since presence is always a presence to someone. Thus, experience is an active exploration accomplished by one’s flesh within the world; highlighting, yet again, this public feature of phenomenology. Engelland makes some references to child psychology to elaborate further on the significance of the body within phenomenology, arguing that it is thanks to the natural manifestation of flesh that infants learn to speak. By this he means that meaning is embodied in the world and, hence, involves body-reading rather than mind-reading.
Engelland invokes Descartes and his meditations on the appearance of the world populated by others like me. The father of modern philosophy had notoriously adopted a sceptical attitude when it comes to understanding the world, leading him to be uncertain of what he is experiencing. As a result, he categorizes the world in two kinds of things: subjects, experienced internally, and objects, experienced externally. Engelland explains how phenomenology sees this inner-outer division as an artificial construct and, hence, a pseudo-problem which needs to be dismantled: “other people do not show up in the first place as objects: they show up as fellow people” (52). This means that we have the same access to others as we do to ourselves. Here, Engelland skilfully brings into the discussion Husserl, Scheler, Heidegger, Stein and Merleau-Ponty together, thinkers who, in their own ways, have all wrestled with this Cartesian problem. Emphasising the shared aims in all these phenomenologists’ ideas, Engelland maintains that “we have the world thanks to flesh and in having the world we meet with the flesh of others who likewise have the world” (57).
Speech, writing and images also occupy a central stage in Engelland’s work as, for him, they are essential to comprehend our world. His claim is that “words hold this power of enabling us to share thoughts about things even when they are absent to our perception” (60). To highlight the interplay between words and images, Engelland calls our attention to René Magritte’s popular painting, titled ‘The Treachery of Images’ (La Trahison des images), which opens up a window onto a thing which, we know, is not the thing itself. To highlight this ambiguity, the artist relies on the power of writing. Engelland uses this example as a means to show that words go beyond the visual image since the latter is always given to us in a perspectival way, hence in parts; what Husserl calls adumbrations. This entails that the perceptual object can never be given all at once from all sides. However, this is not the case with words since they do give the object as a whole, in its totality. Moreover, as Engelland maintains, speech starts with what is present but soon goes beyond, towards things which are absent; such as the past, the future, the abstract, the hidden, and the imaginary. In this sense, the ‘phenomenological’ brings about the ‘poetical’ as “phenomenology wishes to make explicit the wonderful, life-giving relation of language and experience” (72). Engelland’s point rests on the idea that phenomenology helps us appreciate the richness and multiple layers of experience which language has the ability to articulate in a variety of ways.
Ultimately, as Engelland insists, it is truth which is at the heart of phenomenology since, as he boldly claims: “there is truth, or, if you prefer, truth happens” (79). Phenomenology has from its onset resisted the reduction of truth to contingent facts such as those of biology or psychology. Nevertheless, phenomenology is not against science per se but, rather, what scientists can argue for and uphold. Thus, phenomenology’s true opponent would be anyone who denies the reality of the experience of truth and of essence. But what is the condition for the possibility of truth? Engelland’s answer is clear: “an openness that offers a place for the things of the world to become manifest as the things that they are” (83). In this sense, the starting point of phenomenology is that we are open to the natures of things, which is in itself the presupposition for all other research. Pressing this further, one can ask: how does truth happen? Engelland states that “truth is not anonymous but personal” (83). His claim is that it happens for someone by making something present as it really is. This truth is only possible because we are always already open in our very being such that things can manifest themselves to us as they truly are. In this sense, truth can happen thanks to our personal experience of things.
Engelland relentlessly brings into discussion the possibility that phenomenology can be misinterpreted to be merely the study of appearances and, therefore, is not able tell us anything about how things really are. Such an interpretation will in turn hinder the possibility of ever attaining truth about anything. Engelland sees this as a dangerous place for both philosophy and anyone in search of the true meaning of things. Our job, as he contends, is not to stop at appearances but, moreover, to find out the true appearance of things. This entails that we must search for the adequate intuition that can clear up any confusion and falsity about things in order to give us the thing itself: “it is always by true appearance that we can sort how something is from how it seems” (90). This means that seeming and being are not necessarily opposed and it is, in fact, this central point which makes phenomenology stresses upon within the philosophical tradition. Ultimately, Engelland’s aim is to defend phenomenology from falling prey to relativism: “to say that truth involves a relation between things and us does not mean that truth is relative” (93). The latter simply merges appearance to reality whilst the former distinguishes between genuine and false appearances. It is confused thinking that ends up equating phenomenology to relativism, since, as Engelland claims, “truth is a feature not of things or of us but of a modality of the relation of things to us in which things show themselves as they are and are registered by us as such” (93). In this sense, truth is always relational, hence a relation of thought to things, where thoughts are subordinated to the self-showing of things. What this entails is that our thoughts can match with things the moment things are allowed to lead and manifest themselves as they truly are. Thus, Engelland argues that phenomenology is the virtuous mean between relativism and rationalism; the former demanding that truth is simply appearance whilst the latter stating that truth does not involve appearance at all. Ultimately, what phenomenology highlights is that truth is in itself experiential and, thus, personal.
Engelland dedicates a whole chapter on a theme which has gained quite some traction in phenomenology: ‘Life’. This notion of life is a crucial component of experience since, as the author maintains, “right there in the tasting, in the viewing, there is an implicit, background experience of oneself” (99). Were it not for this experiencing of our own self, it would be impossible to delight in the experience of things. In the opening lines of this chapter, Engelland refers to the French phenomenologist Michel Henry, who has written extensively on this theme. For Henry, life is precisely this immanent self-experience; or what he sometimes calls auto-affection, and it is this experience from within that makes possible the experience of the life of the other. All this ties with the previously aforementioned twofoldness of flesh: “we perceive ourselves perceiving and we perceive others perceiving” (100). Engelland also invokes Stein as one of the early phenomenologists who had shed light on this centrality of phenomenological life to contest the limitations of a mechanistic interpretation of the world. A biological reduction of life understood as purely physiologically and outwardly does not seem to satisfy the realm of life, which must include the inward. When we encounter the other, we encounter more than their outwardness: “I see the dog sad to see me go, happy to see I have returned, and keenly interested to discover who’s at the door” (100). Engelland’s claim is that life involves a world which must be understood as interwoven with it. On this point of chiasm between life and world, Henry would have some disagreement but, for the sake of keeping the argument flowing for the intended reader, Engelland does not go into the nitty-gritty of such disputes. The author’s central aim is to show that human beings are world-forming, hence are receptive to the essences of things, and can, thus, tap into the domain of truth. Engelland defends phenomenology from being determined or undermined by our biological make-up, as it would leave us with a truth that is relative, and not transcendent and accessible to us: “it must be maintained that we humans are tapping into something that transcends the idiosyncrasies of our biology and our environment when we tap into truth” (108).
Moreover, phenomenologists aim at showing that we are responsive to this truth that arises in our experiences. In a Heideggerian sense, this entails that we care about this truth. The temporal structure of experience and the interplay of presence and absence allow truth to manifest itself to us. This points to our hold upon experiences and the way we choose to face them: either authentically (deep and meticulously) or in an inauthentic mode (shallowly and superficially). Engelland describes this shift of attitude as choosing between “being faithful to the truth we have seen and not being so faithful” (109), respectively. In his chapter on ‘Life’, Engelland also introduces the reader to the phenomenological notion of the Lifeworld: “the world of our everyday things and ordinary perception” (110). Again, he brings into the discussion the distinction between the scientific worldview and the phenomenological one. Whereas the former sees the reality of objects only in what is measurable – dimensions, mass, etc. – the latter sees the reality of objects in terms of their meaningfulness and context. But, as Engelland clearly points out, the former must assume the latter for in order to measure anything one must first perceive it as such and such an object. The life lived around inanimate objects and living beings incorporates meaningful relations and it is precisely this realm which should be prioritized over a scientific view which divorces things from our human lives. As Engelland maintains, it is because of the lifeworld that speech, gestures, feelings and our flesh happens and present themselves to others. Moreover, it is within this lifeworld that the sense of wonder springs forth to give rise to science, poetry and philosophy in the first place. In simple terms, “the contrast between the lifeworld and science is not the difference between feeling and fact, but the difference between experience and experiment” (113). In this sense, Engelland affirms that it is not the scientific objects together that bring about the lifeworld but, rather, scientific objects are made possible because of the lifeworld.
Engelland also explores the theme of ‘love’ as he dedicates a whole chapter to it, showing that this theme has a vital role within phenomenology, and philosophy in general. But, what is love? Even though this question has been puzzling philosophers throughout history, it would be fair to say it has rarely been truly investigated and given its proper prominence and attention within the history of ideas. As Dietrich von Hildebrand had exclaimed in The Heart, the affective sphere has been treated in philosophy like the “proverbial stepson” (2007, 3) with the highest rank almost always given to the intellect. Engelland’s answer is that love allows us to see what can be seen and receive what is given, since love involves a relational dimension of openness and trust between the lover and the beloved. In turn, phenomenology “lets us discover the truth of love. In doing so, it frees us to uncover the truth of things” (120). Moreover, love changes the way we see the world, and this is precisely what is at the very centre of phenomenological inquiry. Against the idea that what one loves is their own desire rather than the desired, Engelland claims that phenomenology responds to such a claim by stating that love draws us outwards, beyond our own minds, towards the beloved’s world and, in the process, makes us attain new insight of this novel world. Engelland, with references to Scheler, points out that before we are a thinking being (ens cogitans) we are a loving being (ens amans). The latte entails that we are open to the world. Ultimately, it is love that makes the intentional relation possible.
Engelland presses the question of love even further in order to elaborate on the various kinds of love that exist: 1) idolatrous love, loving something of relative value by giving it an absolute value, 2) inverted love, loving something of lesser worth over something of higher worth, 3) inadequate love, loving something with an intensity that falls short of its worth, and 4) ordo amoris (order of love), which is the one Engelland defends here against the rest. This latter kind of love questions and seeks what really is loveable and worthy of love. Engelland finds that the popular view on love as altruism offers an unfitting understanding of true love, as it leads us to focus on the others in order to avoid our own selves. However, the ordo amoris does not require denying one’s own self for the beloved. The lover’s satisfaction does not weaken love as to love another requires rightly loving oneself.
Within the same discussion, Engelland also brings in some of the central concepts in phenomenological inquiry: shame, solitude and solidarity. The experience of shame “reveals that our bodies are not analogous to slabs of meat. Instead, they are the outward face of our inward selves and are charged with personal significance” (129). This brings out the distinction between love and desire as, under the former, shame disappears. In this same light, solitude is different than loneliness, as the latter is marked by a feeling of unrest. Engelland maintains that the experience of solitude is not something negative at all. Rather, it is an experience of oneself and its orientation towards others which lies at the basis of communion, which brings in the presence of others. On the experience of solidarity, Engelland adds the involvement and participation with other persons: “participants experience themselves as meaningful parts of the whole. They take delight in working for the good of the whole and thereby experience solidarity” (133). Moreover, participants express their own distinct voices to the whole which they belong to. This promotes genuine dialogue marked by an openness to truth which is necessary for the good of the whole. Thus, genuine participation entails being perceivers of truth. Engelland sees in phenomenology not a solitary exercise of the mind but, on the contrary, an invitation to see our lives as susceptible to truth, which can be shared thanks to dialogue and good works.
In another chapter on ‘wonder’, Engelland discusses the different notions of work and play; the former understood here as centring on utility whilst the latter on an activity which is done for its own sake of enjoyment. According to the author, phenomenologists focus on play as “it involves a sense of external display” (140), comprising of the experiences of the other as witnesses and interested participants. In this sense, we are invited to witness each other as beholders of the wonder of being human and, in turn, become moved to contemplate the truth of what we are. Engelland invokes another central notion which has been a popular subject for phenomenological inspection: boredom. This feeling is characterized by a superficial interest in things and is contrasted with a deeper interest which is imbued by a sense of wonder. The difference between the two has direct implications on being human: whilst the former evokes indifference, the latter actuates care. Our sense of lethargy and apathy result from running away from ourselves, resulting into an inability of finding any meaning as we fail to experience things deeply. As Engelland clearly points out, this is the epitome of the consumer self who chooses freely but remains unaffected by the content of things. As a result, experiences fail to transform us since we do not allow them to consume us instead: “if modern life bores, it is for no other reason than experience has become turned inside out” (143). This requires from us to relearn to see ourselves as pilgrims rather than tourists.
Engelland’s insisting rallying cry is a return to the familiarity and intimacy of experiences. The struggle becomes harder as we become more dependent on our technological world, which leaves us more disconnected, alienated, exhausted and bored. In the author’s own words, “it is a matter of becoming aware of the contours of experience and making a commitment to sharing the truth of the world through speech and flesh” (146). Phenomenology is here presented as a means to turn away from distraction and, instead, dwell deeper in the dimensions of human experiences. It is, in many ways, a means of discerning that which is really important and meaningful in our lives by salvaging us from getting lost in a world of idle talk and gossip, throwing us, instead, towards wonder and genuine admiration. As a renewal of philosophy, phenomenology invites us to step back to gain much-needed perspective. This opening up of distance, paradoxically, brings us closer to the things in question, which, as Engelland notes, is a renewal of the Socratic method by connecting it to experience. In Engelland’s words, “phenomenology, then, is nothing other than the advent of a new wonder, the wonder before the truth of experience” (156).
Intriguingly, the author concludes his chapter on ‘wonder’ by briefly providing the initiating stages of someone beginning to delve deep into phenomenology: 1) Marvelling Stage – which reveals the tension between what one has always been told and what one had construed to be true, resulting in a hunch that phenomenology might lead to some truth and, thus, one ends up reading more about the topic even though a state of bafflement still resides; 2) Speaking Stage – where one becomes an enthusiastic student of phenomenology and, even though still an amateur in the language-game, one starts becoming familiar with the novel vocabulary used and accustomed to the phenomenological way of speaking; 3) Thinking Stage – where one becomes an expert, rigorous speaker of this new language game and can write about the different topics with clarity and coherence; 4) Truthing Stage – which goes beyond mere fluency in speaking and thinking, in turn accessing a whole class of truths. In this final stage, Engelland explains that one becomes transformed from within as the language of phenomenology becomes just like one’s mother tongue, as the need insistently arises to phenomenologize. “Phenomenology is something we learn by doing; it is something that is first experienced and then afterward understood” (161).
In his last two chapters, which are followed by a concise glossary of key terms used in phenomenology, Engelland discusses the method and movement of phenomenology. The choice of placing these chapters at the end – and not at the beginning, as many books introducing phenomenology normally do – seems to show us that the author wants the reader to first fall in love with the new paths opened by phenomenology within one’s lived experience before concerning oneself with the historical development and its methodology. In his chapter titled ‘The Method’, Engelland explains the main difference between doing science and doing phenomenology. In the former one observes, hypothesizes and experiments, whilst in the latter one indicates, returns and explicates; whereby indicate directs us “beyond observation to a more original layer of experience” (165), through return we go directly, “close and personal, with the fundamental layer of experience, a layer presupposed by science” (166) and in explicate we articulate the exhibited phenomena, since “phenomenology recognizes an inner kinship between experience and language” (167).
In his final chapter, titled ‘The Movement’, Engelland aims at highlighting how phenomenology has originated in Husserl’s works and developed by other key philosophers from the dawn of the 20th century all the way through our contemporary times. He explicitly states that “at its heart phenomenology remains a collaborative venture of researchers renewing the very movement of experience” (183). Engelland maps the origins of this movement and how it sought to bring back experience at the centre of philosophy. As his concluding chapter, the author highlights that phenomenology is a discipline which has a history with its own modifications which, nevertheless, resists becoming an ideology, or system, with a final say. Rather, as he presents it, phenomenology remains an on-going, unfinished project which “invites us to awaken to the joy dulled down by habit, to recover and renew the riches of experience, which does not close us in on ourselves, but throws open a world of dazzling things” (212).
Chad Engelland. 2020. Phenomenology. MIT Press: Cambridge.
Dietrich von Hildebrand. 2007. The Heart: An Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity. St. Augustine’s Press.