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Phenomenology and Experience: New Perspectives
 9004391029, 9789004391024

Table of contents :
Notes on Contributors
Phenomenology and Experience: A Brief Historico-Philosophical Introduction • Antonio Cimino and Cees Leijenhorst
What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch • Emmanuel Alloa
Transcendental Experience • Bernardo Ainbinder
Encountering Finitude: On the Hermeneutic Radicalization of Experience • Jussi Backman
Poverty and Promise: Towards a Primordial Hermeneutic Experience • Gert-Jan van der Heiden
Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis • Lorenzo Girardi
Forgetfulness of Experience: Ideality and Necessity in Merleau-Ponty’s Reading of Husserl’s “Origin of Geometry” • Diego D’Angelo
Conditions of Historical Experience: Husserlian Reflections • Timo Miettinen
Motives in Experience: Pfänder, Geiger, and Stein • Genki Uemura and Alessandro Salice
Experience and Normativity: The Phenomenological Approach • Sophie Loidolt
The Specificity of Medium: Painting and Thinking in Merleau-Ponty’s “Eye and Mind” • Nicolas de Warren
Pregnant Embodiment as World Transformation • Tanja Staehler
Index of Names and Subjects

Citation preview

Phenomenology and Experience

Studies in Contemporary Phenomenology Editorial Board Chris Bremmers (Radboud University, Nijmegen) (Editor-in-chief) Gert-Jan van der Heiden (Radboud University, Nijmegen) Peter Reynaert (University of Antwerp) Arnaud Dewalque (University of Liège) Advisory Board Jos de Mul (Erasmus University, Rotterdam) John Sallis (Boston College) Hans-Rainer Sepp (Charles University, Prague) Laszlo Tengelyi † (Bergische Universität, Wuppertal)


The titles published in this series are listed at

Phenomenology and Experience New Perspectives Edited by

Antonio Cimino Cees Leijenhorst


The Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available online at lc record available at

Typeface for the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic scripts: “Brill.” See and download: issn 1875-2470 isbn 978-90-04-39102-4 (hardback) isbn 978-90-04-39103-1 (e-book) Copyright 2019 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Brill Hes & De Graaf, Brill Nijhoff, Brill Rodopi, Brill Sense, Hotei Publishing, mentis Verlag, Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh and Wilhelm Fink Verlag. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by Koninklijke Brill NV provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to The Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910, Danvers, MA 01923, usa. Fees are subject to change. This book is printed on acid-free paper and produced in a sustainable manner.

Contents Acknowledgments  vii Notes on Contributors  viii Phenomenology and Experience: A Brief Historico-Philosophical Introduction  1 Antonio Cimino and Cees Leijenhorst What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch  12 Emmanuel Alloa Transcendental Experience  28 Bernardo Ainbinder Encountering Finitude: On the Hermeneutic Radicalization of Experience  46 Jussi Backman Poverty and Promise: Towards a Primordial Hermeneutic Experience  63 Gert-Jan van der Heiden Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis  81 Lorenzo Girardi Forgetfulness of Experience: Ideality and Necessity in Merleau-Ponty’s Reading of Husserl’s “Origin of Geometry”  99 Diego D’Angelo Conditions of Historical Experience: Husserlian Reflections  114 Timo Miettinen Motives in Experience: Pfänder, Geiger, and Stein  129 Genki Uemura and Alessandro Salice Experience and Normativity: The Phenomenological Approach  150 Sophie Loidolt



The Specificity of Medium: Painting and Thinking in Merleau-Ponty’s “Eye and Mind”  166 Nicolas de Warren Pregnant Embodiment as World Transformation  185 Tanja Staehler Index of Names and Subjects  201

Acknowledgments The volume comprises invited contributions and some of the papers presented at two international conferences organized at the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies, Radboud University, Nijmegen: The Ideas of Phenomenology: Contemporary Varieties of Phenomenological Research, March 19–20, 2015 (organized by Antonio Cimino, Cees Leijenhorst and Carli Coenen) and Scientific Rationality and Europe’s Cultural Crisis: Re-addressing Husserl’s “Crisis of the European Sciences,” June 1–2, 2016 (organized by Antonio Cimino). The editors thank the International Office of Radboud University and the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies, which provided financial support for both conferences. Funding for copyediting was also provided by the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies. The editors thank Kristen Gehrman for copyediting the book manuscript. They also thank Carli Coenen for her assistance in the early phases of the book project.

Notes on Contributors Bernardo Ainbinder is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Philosophy, Diego Portales University, Santiago (Chile). Emmanuel Alloa is Research Leader at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland). Jussi Backman is Academy of Finland Research Fellow at the University of Jyväskylä (Finland). Antonio Cimino is Assistant Professor at the Center for the History of Philosophy and Science, Radboud University, Nijmegen (The Netherlands). Diego D’Angelo is Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Würzburg (Germany). Lorenzo Girardi is PhD candidate at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick (Ireland). Gert-Jan van der Heiden is Full Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies, Radboud University, Nijmegen (The Netherlands). Cees Leijenhorst is Associate Professor at the Center for the History of Philosophy and Science, Radboud University, Nijmegen (The Netherlands). Sophie Loidolt is Full Professor at the Department of Philosophy at TU Darmstadt (Germany). Timo Miettinen is University Researcher in the Centre of Excellence for Law, Identity and the European Narratives at the University of Helsinki (Finland).

Notes on Contributors

Alessandro Salice is Lecturer at University College Cork (Ireland). Tanja Staehler is Professor of European Philosophy at the University of Sussex (UK). Genki Uemura is Associate Professor at Okayama University (Japan). Nicolas de Warren is Associate Professor at Pennsylvania State University (USA).


Phenomenology and Experience: A Brief Historico-Philosophical Introduction Antonio Cimino and Cees Leijenhorst Experience has been a pivotal philosophical topic since Greek antiquity. Virtually every defining moment in the history of philosophy and science has entailed an attempt to explain what experience is and what can be experienced. Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, and Albert Einstein are obvious and well-known examples that suffice to briefly illustrate the enduring importance both philosophers and scientists have attached to the question of experience.1 The phenomenological movement has also played a crucial role in the history of philosophical theories or ideas of experience. The major contributions of Husserlian and post-Husserlian phenomenology to the philosophical understanding of experience can hardly be overestimated. The great importance of those contributions can easily be identified in light of their broad historical and philosophical setting. The first to propose a full-blown concept of experience was Aristotle. In his works, we find a notion of experience (empeiria) as one of man’s cognitive capacities, situated somewhere between direct sensory perception and intellectual knowledge.2 Experience, according to Aristotle, is closely related to memory, as it involves retaining bits of sensory information in order to arrive at higher-level conclusions. More precisely, it is through experience that we can find the path leading from the sensible particulars to the intellectual knowledge of universals. It is because of this notion of experience that many have seen Aristotle as the first empiricist philosopher. In fact, his collected works comprehend many treatises that gather empirical data—especially

1 See, e.g., Aristotle, Metaphysics, ed. William David Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924), 1.1.980a21–982a3; Francis Bacon, The “Instauratio magna.” Part ii: “Novum organum” and As­ sociated Texts, ed. Graham Rees with Maria Wakely (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004), 111, 131; Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, ed. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 136–137 (B 1–3); Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenom­ enology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 55; Albert Einstein, Geometrie und Erfahrung (Berlin: Springer, 1921). 2 On Aristotle’s notion of experience, see Pavel Gregorić and Filip Grgić, “Aristotle’s Notion of Experience,” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 88 (2006): 1–30.

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concerning biological organisms—and derive higher-level conclusions from them. Moreover, Aristotle also reflects on the methodological use of experience in acquiring scientific knowledge, most notably in his Posterior Analytics. However, the function of experience in Aristotle is not only cognitive. In his works on ethics and politics, he stresses that moral virtue is the result of habit and experience. The notion of practical wisdom (phronēsis) entails the capacity of dealing with variable, contingent circumstances.3 This capacity can only be acquired in time and on the basis of experience. The wise man, the one who passes the right kind of moral judgments and is able to follow them, has learned to exercise his practical wisdom by drawing from the lessons of others and from his own moral experience, by actually leading a life according to practical reason. In sum, the notion of experience in Aristotle is also connected to agency and moral virtue. Aristotle’s heritage was taken up by medieval philosophers. Scholastic philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas continued to stress the crucial role of experience in arriving at scientific, universal knowledge. Nevertheless, the notion of experience has a somewhat ambiguous character in scholastic philosophy. Already in Aristotle, the data that have to be gathered and elaborated by experience do not have a strictly empirical character in the modern sense. Besides being pieces of sensory observation, these data could also comprise linguistic conventions, folklore, and the learned opinions of philosophers. In medieval philosophy, the weight clearly fell upon the learned opinions of philosophers, especially Aristotle himself. We find many references to experience (experien­ tia) or experiments (experimenta), but upon closer inspection, these ­references are grounded in bookish knowledge rather than in first-hand experience. It is the experience as reported by Aristotle and other philosophers—not experience itself—that plays a role in philosophical reflection. It is for this reason that a noted scholar of medieval philosophy spoke of “empiricism without observation” in reference to scholastic natural philosophy.4 The bookish character of medieval natural philosophy came under attack from the sixteenth century onwards. The so-called Scientific Revolution, with protagonists such as Copernicus, Galilei, and Newton, centered on the idea that a thorough knowledge of nature can only be acquired by strict observation of nature itself. Under the impact of the Scientific Revolution, philosophical reflection on the notion of experience changed significantly. Francis 3 On Aristotle’s ethics, see David Bostock, Aristotle’s Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). 4 Edward Grant, The Nature of Natural Philosophy in the Later Middle Ages (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 195–224.

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Bacon, for example, designed his famous method of induction, an intricate— and hopelessly inadequate—set of rules, prescriptions, and procedures that describe the path from the collection of facts or occurrences to general axioms and their technical application. Though in some sense Bacon remained surprisingly close to Aristotelian empiricism, he and other early modern philosophers clearly broke away from the Aristotelian concept of experience. In Aristotelian philosophy, experience is the everyday, pedestrian observation of occurrences in the natural world. It concerns what happens “for the most part.” The modern notion of experience as it was developed from the seventeenth century onwards involves a closely controlled collection of natural facts. Given its controlled, large-scale nature, this collection of facts can only be a collective endeavor. No longer is experience a matter of loose personal virtuosity but a systematically organized, collective action. Moreover, the scientist came to be seen more and more as someone who gathers experience in the artificial set-up of a laboratory, where nature can be manipulated according to the scientist’s theoretical needs. In other words, the notion of experiment also lost its informal character.5 The Scientific Revolution, and in its footsteps modern philosophy, thus developed a novel notion of experience. This notion, however, was beset with paradox. On the one hand, philosophers such as Bacon stressed the crucial role of sensory experience in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. On the other, Descartes and other early modern philosophers propounded a metaphysics that reduced the natural world to the “mechanical principles” of “matter in motion.”6 This reductionist approach undermined our trust in the senses. Sensible qualities such as color were no longer seen as objective features of natural objects but as subjective fabrications of our mind that, as such, did not represent the world in itself. Thus arose modern epistemology that questioned the nature of experience, its trustworthiness, its role in the acquisition of knowledge, and its philosophical principles. The so-called British Empiricists—John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume—advocated the idea that knowledge can only be gained through the senses, downplaying the role of reason. On the contrary, the socalled rationalists, such as Descartes and Spinoza, thought that true knowledge can only come from the intellect, though it may certainly be supported 5 On the evolution of the concept of experience in the Scientific Revolution, see Peter Dear, Discipline and Experience: The Mathematical Way in the Scientific Revolution (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995). 6 On the notion of “mechanical philosophy,” see Daniel Garber and Sophie Roux, eds., The Mechanization of Natural Philosophy (Dordrecht: Springer, 2013).


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by the senses. In retrospect, the opposition between rationalism and empiricism is a distortion of historical reality that is always more complex than these simple historiographical categories suggest.7 Nevertheless, it is true that the debate about the nature of human knowledge has often been cast in the form of the opposition between experience and reason. These debates came to a certain culmination in the philosophy of I­ mmanuel Kant. In his Critique of Pure Reason the notion of experience (Erfahrung) has an all-encompassing character. Experience refers to the whole of scientific knowledge that we can acquire about the natural world. According to Kant, experience is the result of so-called syntheses on the sensory and intellectual level. It is the human mind that, through its various faculties, produces experience. Kant stressed the role of pure concepts, or “categories,” in the production of experience. The categories organize the haphazard material that is given to our senses. Without these a priori principles of reason, experience would remain without direction and would therefore be impossible. On the other hand, the categories can only apply to what Kant calls “possible experience” and do not allow for any scientific knowledge if they are detached from such reference to experience.8 Modern philosophy notoriously forms the background against which the phenomenological movement developed its research program by putting special emphasis on the question of experience. It therefore comes as no surprise that Franz Brentano, who was also deeply familiar with Aristotle’s works, called his major work Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint with a clear reference to the concept of experience as developed by the British Empiricists.9 Edmund Husserl, Brentano’s disobedient pupil, presented his phenomenology as an attempt to overcome various unsatisfactory accounts of experience, most notably those resulting from positivism, biologism, anthropologism, and psych­ ologism. It is true that Husserl’s approach to the question of experience is ­clearly in line with a large part of modern philosophy—especially with Descartes and Kant. Despite Husserl’s more or less justified claims to originality and his attempt to provide philosophical knowledge with a new radical beginning, his focus on the ego cogitans and a Cartesian- or Kantian-like ­philosophical

7 For a revisionist approach to these labels, see Anthony Kenny, ed., Rationalism, Empiricism, and Idealism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986). 8 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 112 (B ix–xx). 9 Franz Brentano, Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt (Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1874), translated into English as Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, trans. Antos C. Rancurello, D.B. Terrell, and Linda McAlister (London: Routledge, 1973).

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a­ genda are indeed highly symptomatic of his modern orientation.10 Nonetheless, Husserl’s phenomenology has introduced a radically novel way of understanding and conceptualizing experience as it has put forward a fundamental alternative both to influential philosophical approaches in modernity—such as British empiricism and Kant himself—and to positivistic accounts of experience that came up in the second half of the nineteenth century.11 Let us mention just a few innovations Husserl brought about with respect to earlier accounts of experience. First, Husserl’s introduction of the concept of life-world (Lebenswelt) overcomes the dominance of scientific experience. By studying experience as it forms part of our everyday lives, Husserl’s concept of experience in a way reconnects to Aristotelian accounts. Second, Husserl’s studies on time-consciousness and the temporal structure of experience form a very significant departure from modern epistemology, which had largely neglected the temporal horizon of human experience. Third, Husserl studies embodiment as a condition for experience, another aspect that modern philosophy had been more or less blind to. Finally, Husserl deliberately overcomes traditional dualisms such as idealism versus realism, rationalism versus empiricism, and subjectivism versus objectivism. For instance, his notion of categorical givenness cannot be understood along the lines of the traditional opposition between observation and intellectual reasoning. From a philosophical point of view, experience is thus at the forefront of the phenomenological method. This comes clearly to the fore whenever one tries to define what phenomenology is. One quickly realizes that it is indeed experience that forms the core of the research domain explored by phenome­ nologists. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Lázsló Tengelyi, among others, emphasizes the concept of experience when he suggests a possible definition of phenomenology.12 One can also mention the definition of phenomenology presented by David Woodruff Smith in the entry “Phenomenology” of The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view” or “Phenomenology is the study of our experience—how we experience.”13 10 11 12 13

See, e.g., Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenome­ nology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. David Carr (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 73–100. See, e.g., Husserl, Crisis, 5–7. See Lázsló Tengelyi, Erfahrung und Ausdruck: Phänomenologie im Umbruch bei Husserl und seinen Nachfolgern (Dordrecht: Springer, 2007), xiii. Tengelyi also identifies the question of experience as a matter of great concern to early phenomenology (ibid., 44). David Woodruff Smith, “Phenomenology,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta, accessed June 12, 2017, https://plato.stanford .edu/archives/win2016/entries/phenomenology/.


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Despite the v­ arieties of phenomenological research that have appeared since Husserl, the defining role of experience is present in all of them—whether it is explicitly mentioned or not. It is true that the three basic components of Husserl’s phenomenological method—namely, phenomenological reduction, reflection, eidetic reduction—have never gone uncontested in the phenomenological movement. Nonetheless, there has been a more or less explicit consensus that phenomenology is expected to explore, analyze, and conceptually articulate the various ways in which we experience the world, our self, others, and the things that become apparent within the horizon of the world. The account of phenomenology given by Husserl in The Idea of Phenomenology has therefore remained the groundbreaking horizon within which different generations of phenomenologists or phenomenologically oriented thinkers and researchers have worked until today: Phenomenology proceeds by “seeing,” clarifying, and determining meaning, and by distinguishing meanings. It compares, it distinguishes, it forms connections, it puts into relation, divides into parts, or distinguishes abstract aspects. But all within pure “seeing.” It does not theorize or carry out mathematical operations; that is to say, it carries through no explanations in the sense of deductive theory. […] Hence it is a science in a completely different sense, and with completely different problems and methods. The procedure of “seeing” and eidetic abstraction within the strictest phenomenological reduction is exclusively its own: it is the specifi­ cally philosophical method, insofar as this method belongs essentially to the meaning of the critique of cognition and so generally to every sort of cri­ tique of reason (hence also evaluative and practical reason).14 This quote from The Idea of Phenomenology draws our attention to two fundamental aspects of any phenomenological investigation into the varieties of experience. First, phenomenological research requires a direct, intuitive grasp of phenomena that dispenses with quantitative or formal methods. The phenome­nologist is expected to conduct her research on the basis of her own first-hand experience. Not only does experience form the field of research the phenomenologist has to explore with particular reference to its intentional structures, experience is also of great importance from a methodological point of view, as phenomenological analyses have to be based on a direct acquaintance with phenomena. Husserl refers to this direct acquaintance as “seeing.” 14

Edmund Husserl, The Idea of Phenomenology, trans. William P. Alston and George Nakhnikian (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990), 46.

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In other words, phenomenology is a philosophy of experience both in the sense of a genitivus objectivus and as a genitivus subjectivus. This “seeing,” that is, a direct experience or acquaintance, cannot be understood in a commonsensical way as a mere gaze. Rather, it has the character of an intuitive experience.15 Husserl’s notion of intuition also leads us to the second aspect we can derive from the previously quoted passage, that is, his anti-positivistic stance, which becomes particularly apparent when he introduces the idea of a direct grasp of essences. We can read that passage against the background of what Husserl says in the Crisis: Thus the positivistic concept of science in our time is, historically speaking, a residual concept. It has dropped all the questions which had been considered under the now narrower, now broader concepts of metaphysics, including all questions vaguely termed “ultimate and highest.” Examined closely, these and all the excluded questions have their inseparable unity in the fact that they contain, whether expressly or as implied in their meaning, the problems of reason—reason in all its particular forms. Reason is the explicit theme in the disciplines concerning knowledge (i.e., of true and genuine, rational knowledge), of true and genuine valuation (genuine values as values of reason), of ethical action (truly good acting, acting from practical reason); here reason is a title for “absolute,” “eternal,” “supertemporal,” “unconditionally” valid ideas and ideals.16 Thus, Husserl enlarges the notion of experience in two directions. The first direction is methodological. Husserl refines his phenomenological method with the aid of a more encompassing understanding of experience, so as to account for the intuitive grasp of the essential features of phenomena—that is, their noetic and noematic structures. What can be experienced goes beyond what is merely factual, and phenomenology is precisely a method that leads us to the experience of essences. The second direction concerns the thematic scope of phenomenology. The domain of phenomenology encompasses all forms of experience. The epistemological orientation of the early Husserl is quite clear in his first (proto)phenomenological writings, which deal mainly with the questions of theoretical reason, that is, the foundations of logic and scientific experience—as is the case with the Logical Investigations and The Idea 15

For an informative analysis of the Husserlian notion of intuition, see Jakko Hintikka, “The Notion of Intuition in Husserl,” Revue internationale de philosophie 224, no. 2 (2003): 57–79. 16 Husserl, Crisis, 9.


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of Phenomenology. Nonetheless, The Idea of Phenomenology, albeit devoted to the question of the critique of cognition, lets us see the extent to which Husserl does not want to confine phenomenology to an analysis of theoretical experience. If the thematic scope of phenomenology is the correlation, or the intentional interrelationship, between the experiencing subject and what is experienced, the domain of phenomenological research encompasses not only scientific experience but all forms of experience, including, for example, the experience of ethical or aesthetic values. The comprehensive scope of phenomenology, which is briefly mentioned in The Idea of Phenomenology, is outlined very clearly and forcefully in subsequent writings. For example, in the Crisis Husserl points out a number of new problems that he considers to be essential parts of the phenomenological research program. He mentions the problems of genesis [Generativität], the problems of transcendental historicity [Geschichtlichkeit], the problems of the transcendental inquiry which starts from the essential forms of human existence in society, in personalities of a higher order, and proceeds back to their transcendental and thus absolute signification; further, there are the problems of birth and death and of the transcendental constitution of their meaning as world occurrences, and there is the problem of the sexes.17 If one looks at the copious and multifaceted production of twentieth- and twenty-first-century phenomenologists, one can easily realize the extent to which this ambitious program has been carried out—despite the various and diverging lines of research that have defined the vicissitudes of the phenomenological movement.18 The question of experience remains a crucial problem for virtually all post-Husserlian phenomenologists. Maurice Merleau-Ponty is a representative example in this connection. His analysis of perception is indeed illustrative of the extent to which phenomenology can provide us with insightful descriptions when it comes to exploring the multiple dimensions 17 Husserl, Crisis, 188. 18 On the phenomenology of sexual difference, see, e.g., the contributions provided by Sara Heinämaa (Toward a Phenomenology of Sexual Difference: Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Beauvoir [Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003]) and Silvia Stoller (Existenz, Differenz, Konstruktion: Phänomenologie der Geschlechtlichkeit bei Beauvoir, Irigaray und Butler [Paderborn: Fink, 2010]). On phenomenology and intersubjectivity, see, e.g., Hans Bernhard Schmid, Subjekt, System, Diskurs: Edmund Husserls Begriff transzendentaler Subjektivität in sozialtheoretischen Bezügen (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2000), and Raymond Kassis, De la phé­ noménologie à la métaphysique: Difficultés de l’intersubejctivité et ressources de l’intropathie chez Husserl (Grenoble: Millon, 2001).

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of experience.19 Another example is Jean-Luc Marion, who develops his philosophy of givenness by drawing inspiration from the concept of the given, which plays a central role in Husserl’s and Heidegger’s phenomenological accounts of experience.20 The aim of this volume is to show the extent to which the varieties of phenomenological research have subscribed to the basic intention of the Husserlian research program (i.e., exploring the multiple dimensions of experience from a philosophical point of view), albeit perhaps in forms and ways Husserl himself would not have approved of. If phenomenology is the philosophical study of “how we experience” our self, the world, others, and the various things in the world, the contributions presented in this volume demonstrate the extent to which phenomenology has to be understood as a philosophy of experience (Alloa) or transcendental experience (Ainbinder); how phenomenology paves the way for hermeneutical conceptions of experience (Backman, Van der Heiden) or accounts for the historicity of our experience (D’Angelo, Girardi, Miettinen); and how phenomenology helps us understand the motivations and normativity that define our experience (Uemura and Salice, Loidolt) or articulates the transformation of our experience when we are confronted with, for example, works of art (de Warren) or pregnancy (Staehler). The ambition of these contributions is therefore to illustrate how phenomenology still remains a very fruitful approach that plays a crucial role in current philosophical and interdisciplinary debates on experience. It is no coincidence that experience is, whether explicitly or not, a pivotal topic of recent phenomenological or phenomenologically inspired publications. It is well known, for example, that neuroscientists and phenomenological philosophers are working together to solve the numerous puzzles surrounding human cognition.21 But the fruitfulness of phenomenology goes largely beyond the domains of epistemology and philosophy of cognition. One may dare to say that there is no aspect of human experience that remains unexplored by phenomenologists. The variety of research domains to which phenomenology has been contributing fresh and ­refined 19 20


Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Donald A. Landes (London: Routledge, 2012). Jean-Luc Marion, Reduction and Givenness: Investigations of Husserl, Heidegger, and Phe­ nomenology, trans. Thomas A. Carlson (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1998); Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness, trans. Jeffrey L. Kosky (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002). See, e.g., Shaun Gallagher and Dan Zahavi, The Phenomenological Mind: An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science (London: Rutledge, 2008). See also Shaun Gallagher and Daniel Schmicking, eds., Handbook of Phenomenology and Cognitive Science (Dordrecht: Springer, 2010).


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analyses of the nature of experience is quite impressive: psychoanalysis,22 philosophy of history,23 sociology,24 philosophy of emotion,25 environmental studies,26 philosophy of religion,27 aesthetics,28 and animal studies,29 just to name a few examples.30 The present volume intends to provide a twofold contribution to this line of research. First, the following contributions emphasize the central role of experience as a key theme of phenomenological research in general, so as to present phenomenology as a philosophy of experience both in the sense of a genitivus objectivus and as a genitivus subjectivus, as already mentioned above. Thus, experience is not just a phenomenological theme among others, but the unifying field of investigation in which we can locate multiple lines of research (in epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, etc.) and themes (e.g., perception, intentionality, value, etc.) specific to phenomenological research. Second, the book attempts to corroborate this bold claim both from a historico-philosophical perspective and from a systematic point of view. In this vein, the contributions complement one another both thematically and methodologically in a manner that we hope enables the reader to understand the seminal meaning of phenomenology: phenomenology is in a position to philosophically capture and articulate the multiple (cognitive, ethical, aesthetical, historical, etc.) 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

See, e.g., Dieter Lohmar and Jagna Brudzińska, eds., Founding Psychoanalysis Phenomeno­ logically: Phenomenological Theory of Subjectivity and the Psychoanalytic Experience (Dordrecht: Springer, 2012). See, e.g., David Carr, Experience and History: Phenomenological Perspectives on the Histori­ cal World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). See, e.g., Harvie Ferguson, Phenomenological Sociology: Experience and Insight in Modern Society (London: Sage, 2006). See, e.g., Matthew Ratcliffe, Experiences of Depression: A Study in Phenomenology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). See, e.g., Bryan Bannon, ed., Nature and Experience: Phenomenology and the Environment (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). See, e.g., Anthony J. Steinbock, Phenomenology and Mysticism: The Verticality of Religious Experience (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007). See, e.g., Shawn Loht, Phenomenology of Film: A Heideggerian Account of the Film Experi­ ence (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2017). See, e.g., Corinne Painter and Christian Lotz, eds., Phenomenology and the Non-Human Animal: At the Limits of Experience (Dordrecht: Springer, 2007). See also Rolf Kühn, “Ungeteiltheit” – oder Mystik als Ab-Grund der Erfahrung: Ein radi­ kal phänomenologisches Gespräch mit Meister Eckhart (Leiden: Brill, 2012); Denis Seron, Apparaître: Essai de philosophie phénoménologique (Leiden: Brill, 2017). It is also worth mentioning that in recent introductions to phenomenology, experience even serves as a guiding theme through the key aspects of phenomenological research. See David Detmer, Phenomenology Explained: From Experience to Insight (Chicago: Open Court, 2013); Joel Smith, Experiencing Phenomenology: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2016).

Phenomenology and Experience


sides of human experience by disentangling philosophical reflection from traditional oversimplifications and sterile dualisms, most notably the oppositions between empiricism and rationalism, idealism and realism, subjectivism and objectivism.

What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch Emmanuel Alloa The philosophical line of inquiry opened by Edmund Husserl remains one of the most inspiring ones for contemporary thinking insofar as it places the experiential dimension at its center. Yet this initial disposition rests upon a fundamental misunderstanding. While phenomenology contests traditional representationalist accounts—which maintain that we never have things themselves, but only internal representations of them—its major advance consisted in stressing that in experience, we have things in themselves and not just emissaries or representatives of those things. However, this advance, which we will qualify as the “principle of selfhood,” has led some to an imprudent assumption, that is that in experience, not only do we have the things themselves (principle of selfhood), but that we also have them immediately (principle of immediacy). A deconstructive analysis of experience renders such a postulation problematic: what appears (phainestai) is never given right off the bat, but rather appears through something else (dia phainestai). The paper indicates where a deconstruction of Husserl’s theoretical framework is necessary and sketches the transformations of phenomenology into a kind of thinking that makes space for the intermediaries of experiences. Diaphenomenology is based on the assumption that whatever appears appears through something. Experience must be conceived of as transphenomenality. A diaphenomenological perspective moves away from both a foundationalist account of subjectivity (where the ego is grounds for all appearances) and a merely accusative account of it (where the ego is nothing but a pole of affections). It describes the modes in which the subject is actor, albeit not author of its experiences. 1

Phenomenology as a Science of Experience: The Principle of Selfhood

Phenomenology boasts of being the philosophy of experience. What remains to be clarified is what is meant by such a broad claim. As a matter of fact, experience can mean many different things. In everyday language, experience refers to a certain acquaintance with a certain topic or field, knowledge about something or a particular skill. Such experience is generally acquired over a long period of time and eventually becomes habit, thereby characterizing an

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What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch


individual as “experienced.” But individuality is not necessarily required for experience. In many cases, experience is rather transpersonal and represents what is considered common knowledge. This is the kind of experience that one generally refers to when saying, for example, that “experience has shown …” Besides these ordinary understandings of experience, the sciences offer yet another: the concept of scientific experience has to do with principles that have been empirically observed and can be verified over and over again, thus suggesting that experience must be thought of in terms of repeatability. Opposed to such a conception is the philosophical notion of experience provided by the tradition of empiricism (Hume, Locke): experiences are equivalent to sensory impressions that act upon a receptive mind and, as such, are fundamentally unrepeatable. Kant’s notion of experience still strongly builds on such an empiricist understanding of receptivity, although he reserves the notion of experience (Erfahrung) to the result of working through raw impressions, which eventually become objects of knowledge. Where does phenomenology stand with regard to all these different approaches? Is it on the side of mineness or transindividuality, repetition or unrepeatability, passivity or elaboration? At some level, all these various aspects come into play. Indeed, Husserl sounds very Kantian when he roots cognition within the strict boundaries of experience (“Natural cognition begins with experience and remains within experience”1), while he seems close to the empiricists when stressing that the “experiential data” (Erfahrungsdaten) are the substratum of all higher mental acts. Experience clearly starts from an individual, first-hand experience, but from an intersubjective perspective, experience also stands for the sedimented, transindividual knowledge of a community. So what is specific about the phenomenological approach to experience and does it add anything new to existing approaches? Husserl’s position is that phenomenology leads “back to experience” (Zurück zur Erfahrung)2—a position which already implies that experience has been lost. If the causal hypothesis is true that all higher acts are necessarily rooted in experience, then the task is to return to the direct forms of access to the world. Instead of means of knowledge based on analogy (deduction or inference), Husserl calls for recuperating direct intuition (Anschauung). Unlike Kant and the empiricists, however, Husserl does not restrict intuition to sensible 1 Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, trans. Fred Kersten (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1983), 5. 2 Edmund Husserl, “Philosophy as Rigorous Science” [1925], in Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy, trans. Quentin Lauer (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 96.



i­ntuition; to intuit a geometrical figure or an intellectual category can be as direct as the evidence yielded by sense perception. According to Husserl, experience is defined by two criteria: firstly, it always refers to an individual, that is, to something particular, and secondly, its reference is direct (or as the formulation in Experience and Judgment goes: “Experience in the first and most pregnant sense is accordingly defined as a direct relation to the individual.”3) In other words, wherever an individual is given in direct self-evidence, she is given in experience. Now how does all of this qualify for a different understanding of experience? Husserl’s phenomenology clearly diverges from those approaches that assert that we only experience that which is necessarily true. While other philosophies would draw a distinction between experience and representation on the precincts of truth and error (i.e. as a question of reference to the truthvalue of what the act is about), Husserl only defines the experiential nature by virtue of its modality: when a subject appears itself, and not its representation, there is immediacy, and hence experience. As a matter of fact, there is no phenomenal difference between veridical and misleading appearances, which are very much alike: whether we are in deceptive or nondeceptive situations, the nature of the phenomenon is not altered. In other words, if any strong statement is to be made about the concept of experience in Husserl’s phenomenology, it is that it is essentially built upon the principle of selfhood: experience is supposed to be direct instead of analogical; it is of something itself, not of something derived. In this sense, Husserl’s concept of experience is certainly not that of taking experiences to be some kind of “emissaries of the world” or to act as their “intermediaries,” as Donald Davidson puts it.4 But on the other hand, it does not amount to a mere “openness to the layout of the world” either, as McDowell points out.5 By returning to experience, Husserl’s primary aim is to secure solid epistemological grounds. Originary experience has to be accepted as the only basis for knowledge, or as the famous principle formulated in Ideas states: “every originary presentive intuition is a legitimizing source of cognition, that everything originally (so to speak, in its ‘personal’ actuality) offered to us in ‘intuition’ is to be accepted simply as what it is presented as being, but also only 3 Edmund Husserl, Experience and Judgment: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic, ed. Ludwig Landgrebe, trans. James S. Churchill and Karl Ameriks (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 27. 4 See the discussion in Donald Davidson, “A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge,” in Truth and Interpretation: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson, ed. Ernest LePore (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1986), 307–319, here 312. 5 John McDowell, Mind and World (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 26.

What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch


within the limits in which it is presented there.”6 Not content with positing the principle of selfhood, Husserl also establishes it as the absolute precinct of phenomenology that shall not be transgressed: only within the limits of what is intuitively given in experience. However, one major problem arises right away, a problem observed by many of Husserl’s predecessors. Hegel aptly baptized it the “negativity of experience,” that is, the fact that what the object is about always already exceeds the realm of a particular, given experience. The experienced individuals do not coincide with the way in which they appear in experience. At the point where the immanentist perspective would run into unsolvable aporias, another structure comes into play: intentionality. 2

The Structure of Intentionality: Experience as Meaning

“It is paradoxical,” Husserl remarks in a later manuscript, “and yet lies beyond any doubt that there is no experience in the primary straight sense of a thingexperience which, in grasping the thing at first, does not know already more than what is given to knowledge.”7 The experienced object is not exhausted by experience; in any given experience, that which is experienced exceeds its givenness. This point will be stressed by many later phenomenologists. Merleau-Ponty, for instance, formulates it as follows: “to see is always to see more than one sees.”8 What is perceived exceeds the sum of its appearing aspects, the sensible object is sensible by virtue of the fact that it only ever presents itself partially. On the other hand, the process through which the sensible object permanently escapes full grasp by receding into the background creates the depth that turns the experience into a sensory one. If experience is to mean more than what happens within an inner citadel and is supposed to be an embodied, practically situated experience, then any experiential act must transcend its own immanent sensory content towards something it is an experience of. The solution that representational theories would devise would be quite simple: experiential contents are “representations” of individuals or states of affairs. Since such an option would patently contradict the principle of 6 Husserl, Ideas, 44–45. 7 Edmund Husserl, Die Lebenswelt: Auslegungen der vorgegebenen Welt und ihrer Konstitution. Texte aus dem Nachlass (1916–1937), ed. Rochus Sowa (Dordrecht: Springer, 2008), 126 (my translation). 8 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, ed. Claude Lefort, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968), 247.



s­ elfhood, Husserl takes a different direction: the “suchness” of experience is not an imperfect copy of the experienced object, it is just the way in which it is given to us. What is sensed is, for example, a string of sounds (produced by a pianist), yet what we perceive is a melody we recognize. Through immanent sensations we intend something else. Sensations are not representations; through them, the experienced object itself is present. However—and this distinction is crucial—while the perceived object is given itself (and not just a representational, secondary appearance of it), it is not necessarily given as itself. (A colorblind patient can only perceive a red apple as grey, and yet it is the red apple she sees and not some illusion of it.) As a result, experiences are no more theorized as epistemological units but rather as differential acts. When something is experienced, it demarcates itself in a background, it distinguishes itself from something else. By virtue of this process of differentiation, the object (or state of affairs) acquires its distinctness: it is presented as such and such, it has some kind of “suchness.” Nevertheless, suchness should not be confused with propositionality: sensory “suchness” is rather the material for subsequent propositional assertions or judgments. Once some sort of recognizable stability is reached, objects can then subsequently become the objects of judgments: that which differs from its background will be identified as this and that; the string of sounds will be recognized “as” the well-known tune, etc. While some phenomenologists differ on whether any “taking-as” is already an interpretive act or not (Heidegger would possibly be more inclined to this claim than Husserl), there is a consensus around the fact that it is through this contrastive, differential moment that meaning arises. If to experience is tantamount to experiencing something as something, as the other principle, that of intentionality, holds, then the emergence of something as something is equivalent to the emergence of meaning. There is no neutral, abstract way to apprehend an object other than to apprehend it in a certain light, under a certain aspect, or else for a certain purpose. Heidegger has repeatedly stressed that we do not encounter objects in their pure being; they appear already in certain respects, as practical tools, as invitations or affordances. It is by taking them in a specific way that they are experienced as meaningful. But Husserl too already described what Heidegger in Being and Time calls the “as-structure” (Als-Struktur):9 Husserl is rather explicit as well when he states that “things are experienced as trees, bushes, animals, snakes, birds; specifically, as pine, linden, lilac, dog, viper, swallow, sparrow, and so on.”10 9

Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper, 1962), 190. 10 Husserl, Experience and Judgment, 331.

What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch


Parting with philosophical positions that surmise a kind of pure, untainted experience, such as in post-Berkeleyan idealism, Husserlian phenomenology thus defines experience not only through its principle of selfhood, but also through its relation to meaning. “Taking-as” may have many forms, from the most basic (simply gesturing to something not yet very definite by saying “look over there, something is moving between the trees!”) all the way to the most elaborate assertions (“This is not a monkey, but a ring-tailed lemur”). Such a definition also has effects on our understanding of what phenomena are. ­Unlike the phenomena studied in natural sciences, the kind of phenomena phenomenology studies are nothing but phenomena of meaning. When something appears, it appears as something, and this appearing as something is what gives the appearance its very meaning. Or to put it somehow differently: what I see is more than an optical impression; it has a consistency of its own. That paper on the table, I see as a sheet of paper. However, as a result of perspectival distortion, I don’t see any square angles, I take it as a rectangular object. This process, which allows objects to come to the fore in their own right is a process that Husserl called sense-bestowing (Sinngebung). From an analysis of experience and its correlate of immediacy, Husserl extends the structure of sense-bestowing to all acts, whether directly experiential or not. Sense-bestowing is common not only to all intuitive acts, but also to analogical or mediated acts. The question that needs to be addressed is how this sense-bestowing comes about, which is something Husserl does in a famous passage in Ideas. As it will become clear, this is one crucial moment where diaphenomenology diverts from classical Husserlian phenomenology. 3

Sense-bestowal and Its Origin: Husserl’s Double Claim

In Section 55 of Ideas, Husserl makes two essential claims: The first one is that all phenomenal unities are unities of meaning. The second one is that phenomenology is an investigation of how this meaning comes about. This first claim has hardly ever been questioned by anyone availing him- or herself of the phenomenological approach; it is the second claim, which Husserl immediately links to the first, that has stirred most of the subsequent controversies. The second claim stated in Section 55 holds that the process of sense-bestowal (Sinngebung) is a result of a “constituting consciousness” (sinngebendes Bewusstsein) which “exists absolutely.” To many later phenomenologists, this “egological” turn betrays what Husserl had discovered as the “universal apriori of correlation” (Korrelationsapriori)— namely, that beyond the fact that all objects are correlated to a specific mode of consciousness, consciousness is nothing without the objects of its acts of



consciousness.11 In the egological version, the consciousness is more than a mere “pole” of the apriori; it becomes an I in its full concreteness, which is “continuously constituting itself as existing.” A shift occurs, which moves from intuitive “evidence” as the ultimate ground of certainty to the “self-evidence” of the ego, from which all other phenomena will then be derived as modifications. By the time of the Cartesian Meditations, the shift from the matter of constitution towards the matter of self-constitution had already been completed and Husserl states unmistakably that as of now, “phenomenology of this self-constitution (Selbstkonstitution) coincides with phenomenology as a whole.”12 This egological shift has often been described, and its consequences pinpointed: if the only ego whose phenomenality displays the required evidence is my own, then all the others will merely be tantamount to modifications of my own ego, nothing more than alter egos. Paul Ricoeur has aptly summarized Husserl’s shift as a slithering from a phenomenology investigating the appearances for me to a phenomenology investigating appearances as something drawn from me. Indeed, such slithering becomes conspicuous as the argumentation of the Cartesian Meditations proceeds: Anything belonging to the world, any spatiotemporal being, exists for me that is to say, is accepted by me in that I experience it, perceive it, remember it, think of It somehow, judge about it, value it, desire it, or the like.13 Yet if everything that appears only appears insofar as it has relevance within my field of meaning, then indeed the field of appearance is an immanent field that is coextensive with the field of consciousness itself. 4

Correlationism and Foundationalism

Here we find two theoretical moves. The first move can be described as Husserl’s correlationism and it corresponds to the first part of the twofold 11

Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 166 (footnote): “The first breakthrough of this universal a priori of correlation between experienced object and manners of givenness (which occurred during work on my Logical Investigations around 1898) affected me so deeply that my whole subsequent life-work has been dominated by the task of systematically elaborating on this a priori of correlation.” 12 Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, trans. Dorion Cairns (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1960), 68. 13 Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 21.

What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch


claim in Section 55 of Ideas. While all acts of consciousness are intentional acts insofar as they relate to something (this can be called their aboutness), they inversely also refer back to the instance for which this aboutness is meaningful, a subject defined here at first by nothing but a purely structural definition, as the correlative pole of a for-meness. Yet as Husserl continues unfolding his line of thought, the definition of the subject of consciousness shifts and we witness the second theoretical move: the for-meness slowly turns into a from-meness. This shift can already be observed in the First Meditation: “By my living, by my experiencing, thinking, valuing, and acting, I can enter no world other than the one that gets its sense and acceptance or status [Sinn und Geltung] in and from me, myself.”14 As if that did not make any difference, Husserl sides the immanence of meaning (in me) with the identification of its source (from me). As the Cartesian Meditations continue, this second part of the claim becomes more and more central: “The Objective world, the world that exists for me [für mich], that always has and always will exist for me, the only world that ever can exist for me – this world, with all its Objects, I said, derives its whole sense and existential status, which it has for me, from me myself [aus mir selbst].”15 This and similar passages seamlessly exemplify what Ricoeur meant when he was talking about the “rather disconcerting glide from the ‘for me’ (für mich) into the ‘from me’ (aus mir).”16 What was initially nothing but a structural demand, resulting from the thesis of correlationism – a demand that installed the subject as an “operative I” (fungierendes Ich) – has now turned into a demand for causal grounding, whereby the subject has now become a “founding I” (fundierendes Ich). As it has often been stressed, the “egological” turn which can be found in Husserl’s later thought is not the only strand in his texts. Some commentators stressed the existence of a parallel way, the turn to the life-world, while still some others turned to genetic analyses, whereby passivity would be given far greater importance than in the egological, Cartesian variant. Most postHusserlian phenomenologies take their stance on this, privileging one way or the other and considering that one of the various procedures of “transcendental reduction”—the Cartesian way, the psychological way or the life-worldly way (to name only the three isolated by Iso Kern17)— must be given priority. For 14 Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 21. 15 Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 26. 16 Paul Ricoeur, Husserl: An Analysis of His Phenomenology (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1967), 89. 17 Iso Kern, “Three Ways to the Phenomenological Reduction,” in Husserl: Expositions and Appraisals, ed. Frederick Elliston and Peter McCormick (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 1977), 126–149.



the purposes of this paper, I will disregard the question of how these various ways or paths relate to each other and rather focus on another aspect, which I believe has not yet been sufficiently highlighted: the fact that all of these ways, far from securing an ultimate, positive ground which could be evidently intuited, epitomize the inherently mediated character of what appears. 5

World, Body, Sensation

This begins with the life-world, as authors such as Heidegger and Fink have convincingly argued: the life-world is never something given in itself, the world is not a thing, it does not exist in itself; rather, it is on its background that things appear, or in the words of Jan Patočka: “The world is, throughout its being, a milieu, in contrast to that of which it is a milieu. For that matter, the world is never an object.”18 Instead, we would be well advised to say that it is by virtue of their being in the world that things appear; the world cannot be addressed directly, except through worldly objects. It acts as a background, a horizon or a milieu of appearing. Interestingly, the arguments put forth against the Cartesian way are quite similar. As Heidegger, Sartre or Merleau-Ponty have stressed, my subjectivity is nothing I can face in the way I could face a sensory object. The ego is adverbial rather than substantive, as Husserl already points out, when he speaks of the “mineness” (Ichlichkeit) of appearances. Only in exceptional moments can the ego be addressed directly (such as the Cartesian moment of the ego cogitans). Yet, as we know well since Jaakko Hintikka, the ego is the result of a performative act—not an inference—and it is only consistent throughout the duration of the utterance.19 Rather than being a cause, the ego is what Husserl would call a Leistung, an achievement. Jan Patočka has taken this to the most radical conclusions in the kind of phenomenology he called “asubjective.” In “asubjective phenomenology,” says Patočka, “we take the subject, like everything else, to be a ‘result.’”20 Now of course it would be equally misleading to take the Leistung or achievement as a positive outcome or a resulting datum. The fact that Husserl does not 18 19 20

Jan Patočka, Papiers phénoménologiques (Grenoble: Millon, 1995), 114. Jaakko Hintikka, “’Cogito, Ergo Sum’: Inference of Performance?” [1962], in Knowledge and the Known, (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1974), 98–125. Jan Patočka, “Corps, possibilités, monde, champ d’apparition,” [1972], in Papiers phénoménologiques (Grenoble: Millon, 1995), 127 (my translation). See also Jan Patočka, “Husserl’s Subjectivism and the Call for an Asubjective Phenomenology” [1970], in Asubjective Phenomenology: Jan Patočka’s Project in the Broader Context of his Work, ed. Lubica Ucnik, Ivan Chvatík and Anita Williams (Nordhausen: Bautz, 2015), 17–40.

What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch


want to disconnect the transcendental ego from a worldly ego and that he continuously stresses that the transcendental ego is no different from the embodied I (Leibich) has been rightly taken by many Husserl readers as evidence of the need to regard subjectivity not from the point of view of a datum but from its operation: Vollzug, as Heidegger puts it; moi opérant, “operative I” in the words of Merleau-Ponty. Rather than being an ego that extends itself into the predicate of existence, Patočka claimed, it is the ego which appears as the appendix of the sum. A subject can never appear as an isolated item; a subject is the result of the very responses to affordances. The sum takes the form of an embodied I (Leibich), which responds to “appearing affordances that open up before us” (erscheinende Sachforderung, sich vor uns auftut).21 As a result, “the sum is no such thing as an object, insofar as it is never autonomous, but fundamentally only ever appears in connection with and in the context of object-oriented actions.”22 Now the subjective side of this engagement is indeed persistently present throughout all that appears. My embodied, situated perspective informs the way in which things can appear to me. It is bodily movement that produces permanent contrasts in the perceptive field, making things appear in the b­ ackground of others. In that respect, the body lets things appear as things, and thus Levinas is right when highlighting the fact that the body “is a permanent contestation of the prerogative attributed to consciousness of ‘giving-meaning.’”23 However, this presence of the body is very different from the presence of the originary givenness of the sensory object. Whatever I do, I will never be able to objectify my body, cut it off from myself and place it in front of me. I do not see my body, I see in and through my body, just as I do not have anything like a self-standing I, but it is rather through my subjective situation that I have access to that which I am not. Patočka expresses this aspect as follows: In the phenomenal field, I thus appear to myself as an inexpressible connect of means and ends, in which the appearing things and the body operating as their realizer are two inescapable and correlated moments of meaning. […] It can thereby be said that although I am present in this causal connect and play an active part in it, I’m not objectively given.24 21 22 23 24

Jan Patočka, “Der Subjektivismus der Husserlschen und die Forderung einer asubjektiven Phänomenologie,” 25 (my translation). Patočka, “Der Subjektivismus der Husserlschen und die Forderung einer asubjektiven Phänomenologie,” 25. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969), 129. Patočka, “Forderung,” 25 (my translation).



Subjectivity thus essentially refers to what is not given, an orientation or tension to what is lacking in the field of the given. This non-positivity of the world, upon which a certain strand of post-Husserlian phenomenology has insisted (Fink, Merleau-Ponty, Patočka, Barbaras, etc.) and the non-positivity of the ego, which yet another strand emphasizes (Sartre, Levinas, Waldenfels, etc.), finds an echo in a third instance on which Husserl himself has reflected upon extensively: that of the non-positivity of sensation. Here again, in order to securely ground the phenomenological axiom of originary donation, the phenomenological investigation exceeds its limits. While the so-called “principle of all principles” holds that only what presents itself “originarily (so to speak in its ‘personal’ actuality) […] is to be accepted simply as what it is presented as being, but also only within the limits in which it is presented there,”25 then clearly sensations—or rather, what Husserl calls hylè—do not meet these requirements. By recapturing a conceptual pair of Aristotelian provenance (hylē and morphē, matter and form), Husserl aims at analytically dissociating two aspects in the cognitive process: “this remarkable duality and this unity of sensuous hylè and intentive morphè plays a dominant role in the whole phenomenological sphere.”26 The point is that hyletic sensations do not present themselves: we do not see patches of red, but a red ball; we do not perceive acoustic vibrations, we hear a melody. As early as in the Logical Investigations, Husserl draws a clear division between all that can be subject to intentional consciousness, that is, all that has object-like features, and that which serves as the material or medium of such intentional aboutness. While perception would be always already intentional, its sensory “stuff” or substrate (i.e., the hylē) is not. This explains, says Husserl, why we never perceive sensations, but rather perceive by the means of sensations. As Husserl writes: “Sensations [Erlebnisse] […] are experienced but they do not appear as objects […] Objects, on the other hand, appear and are perceived, but they are themselves not e­ xperienced [erlebt].”27 It goes without saying that when Husserl talks about sensations, he fundamentally departs from the concept of sensory data as we know it from the empiricist tradition. The hyletic levels cannot be isolated, just as the world or the ego cannot be isolated; rather, they are transient moments in an act that, by virtue of its intentional structure, reaches beyond the immanence of the given. Following on this, Husserl gives a very precise definition of sensation as 25 Husserl, Ideas, 44. 26 Husserl, Ideas, 204. 27 Edmund Husserl, Logical Investigations, trans. J.N. Findlay, ed. Dermot Moran (London: Routledge, 2001), 1:250.

What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch


“the intuitively presentative contents of outer perception.”28 The emphasis is on presentative, as opposed to present: sensation is not perceptible, it makes something perceptibly present. In that sense, it is pertinent to mention, as Jean-Luc Marion does, that sensation is not given, but giving.29 Or to borrow Jan Patočka’s phrase, which seems even more appropriate: sensation does not appear, it lets something else appear.30 6

Diaphenomenology: Experience as Transphenomenality

Let us now return to the starting point. If phenomenology claims to be a philosophy of experience and experience has to be regarded not as an empirical datum, but from the vantage point of meaning, this happens to have implications not only for a concept of experience, but also for a concept of meaning. Meaning is not a matter of eternal entities, mental grids, or an intellectual superstructure. Meaning is something which appears; it is yielded in the phenomena themselves. Conversely, says Husserl, losing phenomenal intuitivity immediately leads to a loss of meaning—that is the guiding thread throughout the Crisis of the European Sciences. But if one takes a closer look, the subordination of meaning to an issue of phenomenal intuitivity produces a divide within meaning: true meaning is originally intuited meaning, whereas mediated, derived meaning is meaning that is only intentionally referred to, lacking any intuition (such would be the formula of the geometrician). As Husserl puts it: the object is only “meant” (vermeint), it is not held in intuitive evidence (angeschaut). What to do with these remarks? What Husserl says about the derived, mediated contents of consciousness comes paradoxically close to that which enables true, originary evidence. What is seen here as that which needs to be excluded from an attempt to secure true grounds for knowledge (the mediated or derived content), bears the same features as those instances we have analysed as being the operating instances that let objects appear in their own right. What bestows meaning is not meaningful in itself, it is the very lack of meaning of the hyletic moments that allow for the intentional act to traverse them and reach the meaningful content of the meant object (the patch of 28 Husserl, Logical Investigations, 2: §22, 235. 29 Jean-Luc Marion, Reduction and Givenness: Investigations of Husserl, Heidegger, and Phenomenology, trans. Thomas A. Carlson (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1998), 32. 30 Jan Patočka, Die Bewegung der menschlichen Existenz: Phänomenologische Schriften ii, ed. Klaus Nellen (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1991), 297 (my translation).



sensory red is insignificant, but constitutes the meaning of the perceived red ball). While Husserlian phenomenology is a permanent attempt to circumscribe a field where originary self-givenness would secure true meaning, this attempt constantly exceeds its self-imposed limits. If, for a finite being, any meaning is deemed to be only momentary and needs to be permanently reinstantiated, this can only happen through instances that are themselves insignificant. While Husserlian phenomenology sets off as an exclusion of all mediations, the very return to the things themselves forces him to take mediations into account. No appearing which is not an appearing-through, no phenomenology which is not always already contaminated by the dia, the medium. What is diaphenomenology then? These remarks only sum up some results of a more in-depth analysis of the shortcomings of the phenomenological tradition,31 and given the format, they certainly cannot pretend to be more than just a sketch of a program. Regarding the question of subjectivity, however, while diaphenomenology follows certain readings of Husserl’s egological turn, such as that made by Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur or Patočka, some of these readings tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Jan Patočka pinpointed that what was initially thought of as the appearances’ “pole” of address (that to which something appears, its “accusative” address) has now been turned into the agent of appearances (that through which something appears, its “subject”). It is probably fair to say that by moving from a purely structural description of the correlation of phenomena and the subject to whom they appear to an investigation of their transcendental conditions, the ego has shifted from being an accusative “to which” to a causal “through which.” One solution would be to revert to a mere structural description, such as that suggested by Jean-Luc Marion. In such an account, the subject is nothing but an adonné—namely, the instance to whom a phenomenon is given, the subject as something that does not precede phenomenalization but is instituted through the very event of the phenomenon being “given.”32 But this does no justice to Husserl’s radical attempt to address the issue of the transcendental conditions of appearing. Heidegger repeatedly stresses the point that the modern word “phenomenon” translates something the Greeks called phainestai. It is noteworthy that 31 32

Emmanuel Alloa, Das durchscheinende Bild: Konturen einer medialen Phänomenologie (Berlin: diaphanes, 2018). See also my Resistance of the Sensible World, trans. Jane Marie Todd (New York: Fordham, 2017), ch. “Toward Dia-Phenomenology,” 87–103. Jean-Luc Marion, Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness, trans. Jeffrey L. Kosky (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002). A similar proposal has been made by Claude Romano, who speaks of the subject as advenant, i.e., as that to which something happens and which comes about through this event. See Claude Romano, Event and World (New York: Fordham, 2009).

What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch


phainestai, which is used in perfectly everyday contexts (“it appears that,” “it seems,” “that appears obvious,” and so on), is always in the middle voice, the metaxy or “medium,” a grammatical form that modern European languages have lost, located between the active and the passive. Experiencing a phenomenon is neither a matter of a private cinema inside the mind nor of a merely receptive process where the consciousness would function as a passive, sensible plate. Husserl already mentioned in his Analyses on Passive Synthesis that a certain disposition is needed for receptivity, a certain “turning towards” (Hinwendung) that makes experience something that we not only undergo,33 but that has to be enacted by us (experience from Latin ex-periri, where per stands for a causal or medial “through”). We have to face this disconcerting finding: the ego is nothing but one of the many operations conditioning that which appears. Rather than taking the ego as the originary, absolute grounds that instrumentally extends its reach through ancillary mediations (writing, representations, tradition, etc.), we see the ego as but one of the instances of mediation of appearance. A diaphenomenological perspective would thus move away from both a foundationalist account of subjectivity (where the ego is the ground for all appearances) and a merely accusative account of it (where the ego is nothing but a pole of affections). It would describe all the ways in which the subject is actor, albeit not author of her experiences. But a diaphenomenological perspective also moves past questions solely related to the issue of subjectivity in order to address the role of all media of appearing. Husserl might be right when asked to return to the things themselves (principle of selfhood), but the fact that it is the things themselves that are experienced, and not their representations, does not mean that the things are experienced directly. Perception itself is permanently mediated: we look through glasses, lenses, mirrors, air or water; we look through technical media or media of nature. While every vision is thus always already tele-vision, a seeing-through means that disregards that through which we see. As a matter of fact, most of the things we have in mind come to us by roundabout means so to speak. The discovery of the mediated structure of perceptual experience would have to be generalized to the sensible world as a whole. We do not perceive sensations; it is through them that we perceive; we do not perceive aspects; it is through their intervention that we grasp the thing. We never possess ourselves entirely; it is through the elements, which we will never be able to completely elucidate, that we have access to ourselves. Just as we did not witness our own 33

Edmund Husserl, Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Syntheses, trans. Anthony J. Steinbock (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2001).



birth, we cannot return to ourselves without others who serve as witnesses to that which escapes our immediate grasp. Our present situation gives itself through the mediation of memories, both personal and intersubjective, and against the ground of a future into which we project ourselves individually and collectively. The same goes for our finitude, which Heidegger wanted to make into a new “originary.” But our own death always comes second; it is other people’s deaths that we encounter first. The same is true regarding the encounter with the Other, which a certain ethical philosophy would like to isolate from any social context. There is no immediacy of the encounter; the encounter with the Other is already mediated by the relationship with third parties. Moreover, this holds true for the norms that govern behaviors: a norm is never directly in front of us—it is not a thing; it is through it that social relations are organized, and it is only through these relations that the coherence of the norm shines through. The institution of something unheard of or unprecedented (a scientific discovery, an artistic creation, a historical revolution) and its profoundly innovative character are perceptible only through the previous state, which one moved through unconsciously and which suddenly appears in broad daylight as past, obsolete, outmoded. However disruptive the event may be, it is rooted in a specific configuration that makes it emerge. Every creation, however radical, remains a matter of mediation, inasmuch as it discovers, in what is there, the means to go forward toward something that no one had been able to see before because it appeared meaningless. Merleau-Ponty has formulated this succinctly: “There is no vision without the screen: the ideas we are speaking of would not be better known to us if we had no body and no sensibility; it is then that they would be inaccessible to us.”34 The material media of appearing are not what sullies its meaning; they are its precondition. As meaningless, insignificant devices, it is through these media that significance emerges. Heidegger was right when criticizing ­Husserl’s excessive focusing on the binary pair of intentio and intentum. When very early on, he called for a broader account of what he called “Sinnführungen,” or guidances of sense, he rightly underlined that beyond the “contentsense” (Gehaltssinn) and the “referential sense” (Bezugssinn) there is also an “enacting sense” (Vollzugssinn)35 which alas has remained underestimated in phenomenology to this day. The “enaction” or “performance” of what is should be addressed in a broader sense, beyond issues of transcendental subjectivity. 34 Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, 150. 35 Martin Heidegger, Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (1919/1920), ed. Hans-Helmuth Gander (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1993), 261.

What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch


Hence the proposal to start with describing the media of appearances. Whenever something occurs to us, it occurs through media and it is instantiated on their behalf. Insofar as media impinge on what they instantiate, any sensebestowal (Sinngebung) implies “displacements of meaning” (Sinnverschiebungen). Every recapturing of meaning always defers its final grasp, and in this respect, every iteration is an alteration, as suggested by the root of the word (iter, “again,” is related to the Sanskrit word itara, इतर, “other”). In the wake of Merleau-Ponty’s and, even more so, Derrida’s reading of Husserl,36 we would like to suggest a reshaping of phenomenology towards medial ­phenomenology—or simply: diaphenomenology. While phenomenology has done a great deal to show that it is possible to recapture things as they present themselves (principle of selfhood), this does not necessarily mean that they present themselves directly. Whatever appears: it appears through something else; phenomenality never was but transphenomenality. 36

See my “Writing, Embodiment, Deferral: Merleau-Ponty and Derrida on ‘The Origin of Geometry,’” Philosophy Today 58, no. 2 (2014): 219–239.

Transcendental Experience Bernardo Ainbinder 1

Transcendental Philosophy and Phenomenology: A Dangerous Liaison1

Transcendental philosophy since Kant can be broadly characterized as the inquiry into the conditions of possibility of any possible experience. A univocal definition of the transcendental method is hard to find given that its development is spread out among several authors spanning across at least three centuries (and that is just counting those who explicitly and consciously claim to be proceeding transcendentally). Be that as it may, a typical image of transcendental thought comes to the fore if we pay attention to its critics— whether they are to be found on the naturalistic or postmodern side, or within recently popular speculative realism. According to this image, transcendental philosophy is typically associated with an appeal to subjectivity as the very field in which experience is constituted or made possible. This image often involves a sharp distinction between transcendental and empirical forms of inquiry—both in terms of their object and method—which explains the naturalist’s rejection of any form of transcendentalism. Moreover, transcendental conditions are taken to be a priori, ahistorical and immune to revision in light of empirical findings. This image underlies both the naturalist’s and historicist/relativist’s suspicions against transcendental philosophy. Insofar as phenomenology aims to provide a universal account of the way in which our experience of the world is constituted, it can easily be seen as a variety of transcendental philosophy. Nevertheless, the way in which phenomenology is said to be transcendental is controversial. The devices that phenomenologists have appealed to in order to account for the way we experience the world are diverse and do not always involve subjectivity. It is true that Husserl, especially in the middle period of his career, identified the very field of constituting operations with subjectivity itself. But this is true neither of his earlier work, where formal ontology or logical relations played such role, nor of his later work, where that role is played by one’s normatively informed engagement in a diverse set of practices in a shared world. Moreover, postHusserlian ­phenomenologists such as Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty 1 The research resulting in this paper was funded by a grant from the Chilean State Research Fund FONDECYT PD no. 3150148.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���9 | doi:10.1163/9789004391031_004

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strongly criticized the subjective orientation in Husserl’s phenomenology and suggested that the way in which experience makes sense to us should rather be accounted for in terms of the practices of embodied agents capable of skillful performances and situated in a historical, factical world with a cultural background. However, it is not difficult to raise an objection to the image I have just presented. Such an objection may be as follows: Husserl’s work in the middle period is precisely the work that could be identified as transcendental phenomenology. And this is because of his endorsement of subjectivism, which identifies the conditions for the givenness of experience with the subjective realm. This is why we usually speak of a transcendental turn that led him from the Logical Investigations to Ideas I, as his former Munich and Göttingen students were wont to lament. Regarding his later writings, the so-called genetic and generative phenomenology, they are precisely to be understood as a way of moving beyond transcendental philosophy and its perils. The same could be said of Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. They all rejected Husserl’s subjectivism as the source of many philosophical misunderstandings and this entailed an eo ipso rejection of Husserl’s transcendental approach altogether. As popular as it may be, this way of describing the history of phenomenology is misguided. Rather than a close analysis of the texts, it is based on the picture of transcendental philosophy I have sketched at the beginning of this paper. It is true that sometimes Husserl himself describes his philosophical program in terms of a transcendental turn, just as it is true that Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, among others, raise suspicions regarding Husserl’s transcendentalism. But it is also true that this way of approaching the problem is mostly based on the identification of transcendentality with subjectivism, and that these post-Husserlians more or less explicitly endorse a transcendental approach in several significant places in their work. What, then, is transcendental about Merleau-Ponty’s flesh (chair), Heidegger´s being-in-the-world (In-der-Welt-sein) or Sartre’s for itself/in itself (pour-soi/en-soi) dynamics? Even if these notions cannot be identified with transcendental subjectivity, they share with it a distinctive feature that is at the basis of a transcendental approach: namely, the fact that inquiring into the way the world is amounts to inquiring into the very field where the experience of such a world takes place. This is what Crowell has defined as the key difference between a metaphysical and a transcendental approach:2 while the former is based on the assumption that the contribution of the experiencer to 2 Steven Crowell, “Transcendental Life,” in Phenomenology and the Transcendental, ed. Sara Heinamaa, Mirja Hartimo, Timo Miettinen (London: Routledge, 2014), 21–48.



the description of the world is accidental and irrelevant—and it should thus be left aside to gain proper insight into the very structure of the world—the transcendental standpoint assumes that the way the world is experienced is essentially and indelibly tied to the way the world is and that the question about the latter can only make sense in terms of the question about the former. In short, despite their differences, phenomenologists all share the idea that inquiring into the world requires inquiring into the field in which the world is given to us. Let us call this the “transcendental field” and the question about it the “thematic question.” Insofar as the thematic question is concerned, phenomenology can be easily seen as a case of transcendental philosophy. However, transcendental investigation is not only defined in terms of the acknowledgment of a specific field distinct from the one where empirical sciences carry out their explorations. After all, metaphysicians also share this same assumption. In addition to this thematic question, transcendental investigation must face two additional methodological challenges, which I will call the “access question” and the “justificatory question.” The access question concerns the way in which the transcendental field is accessed. Importantly, the access must be such that it does not open up a gap between the transcendental and the empirical. If so, what is accounted for in transcendental terms would lose its explanatory force regarding the features that ordinary experience exhibits and would thus not count as a specification of the conditions of possibility of experience. Hence, special kinds of intuitive access divorced from ordinary experience (including both the mystical faculties as in Jacobi or sui generis intuitions as in Bergson) are excluded. The transcendental field must be accessible from the empirical field, even if it is distinct from it. The justificatory question, in turn, concerns the way in which transcendental descriptions can be said to be true. Kant’s deduction, Fichte’s derivation from principles, or the Marburg Neo-Kantians’ regressive procedure can be seen as ways of answering such a question. The issue of justification is especially pressing for a transcendental approach considering that it is paramount to any transcendental inquiry that transcendental statements (i.e., those concerning the conditions of possibility of experience) not be confused with empirical statements—on pain of being reduced to mere empirical generalizations without any normative force, as Hume classically showed. Hence, transcendental statements cannot be true or false in the same sense in which empirical statements are. This concern seems to underlie the sharp distinction between transcendental and empirical inquiry both in terms of object and method as well as the view that transcendental statements are a priori, ahistorical and immune to revision in light of empirical findings.

Transcendental Experience


It is precisely this point that brings the transcendental status of phenomenological inquiry more urgently into question. As it is apparent, most phenomenologists seek a hybrid transcendental and empirical inquiry, not only by conferring methodological relevance to empirical sciences for transcendental descriptions (e.g., Husserl’s emphasis on psychology and Merleau-Ponty’s interest in psychopathology or neurophysiology) but also by including empirical elements in transcendental research (e.g., Heidegger’s analysis of facticity). This is no accident. Rather it responds to the phenomenological orientation towards concrete experience that is already announced in Husserl’s motto “Back to the ‘things themselves’!”3 But, at the same time, this seems to jeopardize the transcendental character of phenomenological inquiry. In my view, a reason for this lies in the fact that a description of transcendental conditions cannot fulfill a central methodological requirement of the phenomenological method: the constraint that one not accept as a valid phenomenological description anything that cannot be verified or, rather, attested to (ausgewiesen) in experience through intuitive fulfillment.4 As has been obvious since Kant, transcendental conditions cannot be experienced—at least not in the way empirical facts are—on pain of conflating the transcendental and the empirical and turning the transcendental into the inductive result of empirical generalizations. Hence, a phenomenological transcendental approach seems to leave us facing a dilemma: either we abandon the so-called “Principle of all Principles”5 or we abandon the attempt to make sense of transcendental conditions as a senseless, unwarranted quest. Each horn of the dilemma has given rise to specific trends in phenomenology: while the former led to attempts à la Fink to move beyond reduction and towards a constructive phenomenology,6

3 Edmund Husserl, Logical Investigations, ed. Dermot Moran, trans. J. Findlay, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (London: Routledge, 2001), 1: 168; original edition: Edmund Husserl, Logische Untersuchungen. Erster Teil: Prolegomena zur reinen Logik, ed. Elmar Holenstein (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1975) and Edmund Husserl, Logische Untersuchungen. Zweiter Band: Untersuchungen zur Phänomenologie und Theorie der Erkenntnis, ed. Ursula Panzer (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1984). I will always follow the existing English translations and will specify the German terms if necessary. 4 See Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, trans. Fred Kersten (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1982) 44–45; original edition: Edmund Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Erstes Buch: Allgemeine Einführung in die reine Phänomenologie, ed. Karl Schuhmann (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1977). 5 Husserl, Ideas, 44–45. 6 See Eugen Fink, Sixth Cartesian Meditation: The Idea of a Transcendental Theory of Method, with textual notations by Edmund Husserl, trans. Ronald Bruzina (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985), § 7.



the latter led to the so-called naturalized phenomenology.7 In this paper, I would like to explore a third alternative beyond this alleged dilemma. In particular, I will argue for a way in which phenomenology can deal with this difficulty by providing a notion of the transcendental that can be the content of a particular kind of experience, hence satisfying the demands of the principle of phenomenology. Before starting, it would be useful to take a closer look at the nature of transcendental statements and the kind of justification involved. In order for transcendental descriptions to find justification, we must at least be able to point to an experience whose content we know when we know the description in question is justified. So for a transcendental statement such as “Time is the form of intuition,” we would need to be able to specify what we know as its content, as in what would be the case if it were true. It is worth noting that the discussion is usually laid out in terms of what that knowledge justifies (that is, it is not about our mental facts but about the epistemic justificatory potential of what we know). So, for instance, a Humean would say that all we know is that we have experienced things as being in time until now or some empirical truth like that. But this would not ground our usual cognitive practice of assessing our experience, including our future experience, in light of what such statements describe. In a nutshell, if something does not adjust to time, it will not count as a legitimate object of experience. So what we know is not just how things stand but rather how things ought to be. But how can we justify statements about this ought? In the example above, what makes me acknowledge that time is a condition to which any object must adjust in order to even count as an object at all? Therefore, the kind of experience we are searching for in order to justify transcendental statements is an experience of an ought. But is there such an experience? Drawing on some Husserlian and Heideggerian ideas, I will claim that in order to find such an experience, we need to shift our attention to the realm of practical philosophy. It is precisely through the peculiar way in which we grasp the reasons that govern our agency as rational beings that we can find a model for the right kind of transcendental experience. This will have some interesting consequences for the methodological import of what is sometimes taken to be a minor contribution of phenomenology, namely, its conception of agency. In the next section, I will examine a typical phenomenological description of ordinary perception. This will bring to the fore a basic trait that is often overlooked in phenomenological literature, namely, its normative character. This 7 See, e.g., David Carr, “Husserl, Kant and the Non-Empirical Ego,” The Journal of Philosophy 74 (1977): 690, who draws such a conclusion on precisely these grounds.

Transcendental Experience


provides a way of understanding the transcendental as the multi-layered network of norms that govern our evidentiary practices. Hence, the way in which our experience is governed by norms can provide a good model for thinking about the relation between the empirical and the transcendental. Once we acknowledge this relation, the question about how we experience the transcendental can be posed on new grounds. In the last section, I will turn towards this by considering Husserl’s account of reason and the ethical ideal of justificatory responsibility (Rechtfertigung). This, in turn, will bring to the fore some interesting connections between truth and autonomy that lie at the very heart of the transcendental endeavor.8 2

Back to the Things Themselves: The Phenomenological Idea of Experience

I will start by considering a very simple case of perceptual experience. Let’s imagine there is a matchbox in front of me. From where I am standing, only the upper part and one of the sides are visible. Husserl calls such ways in which an object is exhibited “adumbrations” (Abschattungen). Nevertheless, as Husserl once remarked to a skeptical Dorian Cairns, I have no trouble seeing the matchbox, in the sense that what I am seeing is the matchbox itself and not just a side of it that adumbrates something that is not visible.9 But how are we to understand this? Husserl repeatedly emphasizes that this should not be understood as involving an inference. If the object as a whole were not somehow given in each and every adumbration of it, we could not even make sense of what is conveyed in such adumbrations as belonging to one and the same object, nor could we perceptually distinguish between one object and the one right next to it.10 It is in this sense that the object—what Husserl calls the “noema”—functions as a rule that governs the way we organize the different aspects of the world that are given to us.11 This already brings 8 9 10


On my reasons for translating Rechtfertigung as “justificatory responsibility” or “answering for oneself,” see note 34 below. Dorian Cairns, The Philosophy of Edmund Husserl, ed. Lester Embree (Dordrecht: Springer, 2012), vi. “Of necessity a thing [Ding] can be given only ‘one-sidedly’; and that signifies, not just incompletely or imperfectly in some sense or other, but precisely what exhibition through adumbrations [Darstellung durch Abschattungen] prescribes” (Husserl, Ideas 1, 94; Husserl, Ideen 1, 100). “The thing is a rule of possible appearances. This means that the thing is a reality as a unity of a manifold of appearances connected according to rules. “Edmund Husserl, Ideas



to the fore the fact that even the simplest perceptual experiences are normatively infused. Moreover, if the unity of the object is a key transcendental notion, this normative character of perception could be characterized as a way of shedding light on the transcendental idea of unity in terms of the way in which our perceptual experience is governed. Nevertheless, it is far from clear how the object as unity is capable of playing such a role. Is it a psychological tendency only describable in Humean terms? Is it an a priori logical principle? Bringing in an old distinction may help clarify this point. Traditionally, we distinguish between the content of one’s personal individual sensory experience—say, one’s sensing of red—and the content of one’s experience as referring to an objective world and involving a claim to truth. Using a well-known distinction in ordinary German, which has had some significant philosophical consequences, we could refer to the former as Erlebnis, a (mere) experiencing as living, and to the latter as Erfahrung, that is, experience proper.12 This distinction underlies the Kantian one between judgments of perception (such as “This rock looks big”) and judgments of experience (such as “The rock is big”).13 The orthodox Kantian explanation states that only the latter involve subsuming the sensible manifold under the categories, that is, that only judgments of experience involve objective rules that go beyond the mere psychological association involved in pure sensibility.14 This has an important upshot: we can have a sort of experience (i.e., lived experience, Erlebnis) without there being norms involved. Of course, some kind of synthesis takes place, but no rules and hence no objectivity are in play. This is precisely what phenomenology calls into question. And that is because there is no way, so it goes, of making sense of the idea that I see a red vase over there if I admit that something like its looking red to me is just part of

12 13 14

Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. Second Book: Studies in the Phenomenology of Constitution,” trans. Richard Rojcewicz and André Schuwer (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1989), 91; German edition: Edmund Husserl, Ideen zur einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Zweites Buch: Phänomenologische Untersuchungen zur Konstitution, ed. Marly Biemel (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1952), 86. This way of characterizing the noema aims to be neutral as to the ontological status of the noema as such, which was the topic of a well-known debate between the so-called East and West Coast phenomenologists. See John Drummond, Historical Dictionary of Husserl’s Philosophy (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2007), 90. See Immanuel Kant, “Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Come Forward As Science,” in Philosophy of Material Nature, trans. J.W. Ellington (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1985), 38–40. See Béatrice Longuenesse, Kant and the Capacity to Judge (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 170–180.

Transcendental Experience


a ­subjective experience that needs to be overcome to attain objectivity. As Wilfrid Sellars argued in a similar vein,15 I can only make sense of something being red as a property that is exhibited in its looking red to me. Of course, this would require further qualifications in order to make room for its merely looking red to me (while actually being orange), which I will address in a moment. But the important point is that what I myself experience (erlebe) is the way in which the world, the objective world, as it is, is accessible to me. But how are we then to make sense of the distinction between something merely seeming red to me and something actually being red? Something merely seeming red to me may be understood in at least two different senses. First, I may refer to something seeming red to me, or rather as my having a mere sensation of red, as a way of having an indeterminate experience of redness that I cannot ascribe to any object. Disregarding the question of whether such experiences are possible at all for human perceivers in normal circumstances, the relevant point here is that such an experience would be experienced as lacking completion, as being indeterminate.16 If I happened to just experience red without specifying anything that is presented as such, I would be puzzled about where that sensation came from; but, more interestingly, I would be inclined to see that color as a presentation of something or as not presenting anything at all—as a mere reflex or a spasm.17 It is worth noting that although something may seem red to me, it may actually be orange, and of course this is a situation that needs to be accounted for. To borrow Sellars’s example, imagine I am looking at a tie I would like to buy in a shop and it looks red. Since I want to buy a red tie that goes well with my white shirt, I buy it. But once I get home, I see that it looks orange. I rub 15 16


Wilfrid Sellars, “Empiricism and the philosophy of mind,” Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 1 (1956): 140–153. Husserl refers to such experiences when he talks about the emergence of our experience of objects by tracing their genesis back to more originary layers in Edmund Husserl, Experience and Judgement: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic, trans. James Churchill and Karl Ameriks (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 72–79; German edition: Edmund Husserl, Erfahrung und Urteil: Untersuchungen zur Genealogie der Logik, ed. Ludwig Landgrebe (Hamburg: Claassen, 1964). It would be difficult in my opinion, though I cannot develop the argument here, to make sense of such an idea were it not as the result of a progressive abstraction of what our actual experience actually looks like. It should be noted that this case is different than the one in which an adumbration is considered in isolation as an object per se. I can, for instance, shift my attention from the apple in front of me to its green, and then focus my attention on the patch of green that is so exhibited. But in that case, the object that would be exhibited by each and any of my experiences of it is the patch of green itself, which will no longer be considered an adumbration but an object itself presented through adumbrations.



my eyes, turn my desk light on, and it still looks orange. I go closer to the window and now it definitely looks orange. So I conclude that it is actually orange and that there was something odd with the lighting conditions at the shop. I go back to return it and ask for a refund. What the example clearly shows is that the difference between the tie’s looking red and its being orange is to be explained in terms of a normative assessment which involves both the conditions under which I perceive it, my own bodily state and certain norms related to color perception (such as that the color of the object does not change if I take it home, that seeking out better lighting conditions is a good way of seeing the actual color of something, that distance is relevant but taste is not, etc.).18 This assessment takes place as part of a process where the “true” color of the object functions as an optimum that organizes the course of my experience.19 What this shows is that perceiving something—and in general, every other intentional relation to the world though perception is taken to be the simplest and most basic case—involves a claim to objectivity that is based on normative constraints that govern perception as such. As it may be apparent, the above description could be framed in more Husserlian terms as the relationship between different adumbrations of the same object and a demand for them to be coherent (einstimmig). This calls for a much more sophisticated analysis of experience. Even in the most basic perceptual cases, it involves time, space and a horizon of other objects and their adumbrations. Future and past adumbrations are, for example, important for assessing what the object is really like. The same goes for space: turning the object around or getting closer to it are ways of confirming or revising one’s previous beliefs about it. But such an assessment may also include other objects, as when I say “there was something at 18

A number of authors have recently underlined the normative character of perception in phenomenology. As to Husserl’s phenomenology, see Steven Crowell, Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Maxime Doyon, “Perception and Normative Self-Consciousness,” in Normativity in Perception, ed. Maxime Doyon and Thiemo Breyer (London: Palgrave, 2015), 38–55; Charles Siewert, “On Getting a Good Look: Normativity and Visual Experience,” in Normativity in Perception, ed. Maxime Doyon and Thiemo Breyer (London: Palgrave, 2015), 17–37; Zachary Hugo, “Horizon, Modality, and Reason: Another Look at Husserl and the Normativity of Perception,” Phenomenological Studies/Études Phénoménologiques 1 (2017): 65– 93. As to Heidegger’s see Sacha Golob, Heidegger on Concepts, Freedom and Normativity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), Crowell, Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Bernardo Ainbinder, “Dasein is the Animal That Sorts Our Colors,” in How Colours Matter to Philosophy, ed. Marco Silva (Dordrecht: Springer, 2017), 175–193. However, to my knowledge, none has drawn the consequences of this conception of experience for the transcendental status of phenomenology. 19 Husserl, Ideas 2, esp. 64–66, 81–82; Ideen 2, esp. 59–60, 77.

Transcendental Experience


the shop that made me see the tie as red, maybe the red wall in the background created an illusion.”20 This normative network is the essential structure of experience that determines what counts as an object and what counts as an aspect under which the object is seen. This in turn grounds the possibility of judgments. In this sense, this normative network is the way in which phenomenology makes sense of the Kantian question about the conditions under which something is given and, in particular, provides an answer to the two main questions underlying Kant’s transcendental project: namely, the one about the unity of the object (and the unity of experience)21 and the quaestio juris regarding how we are entitled to attribute categories to experience. The horizonal relationship between object and adumbrations—but also the unity of the lived body, underscored by Merleau-Ponty, and the unity of a given practical environment, as described by Heidegger—is a phenomenological answer to the former, while the satisfaction of the normative constraints that govern the different kinds of experiences is the answer to the latter. Of course, unlike Kant and some of his heirs, phenomenologists acknowledge that the normative network that articulates our experience is multilayered. It includes general ontological norms (such as those distinguishing the mode of being of material beings and the way of being of equipment, animals, nature, etc.22). These norms are related to specific ontological regions (say, those that define what counts as an object for mathematics or religion) and have a determinate empirical content, such as those specifying what it is to count as a color or a chair. Two important consequences follow from here: (1) The consideration of the normative dimension involved in ordinary experience is grounded in consistently following the phenomenological lemma “To the things themselves!” We can now better understand the sense of this slogan. It is not a matter of some form of naïve empiricism but rather of taking 20

21 22

Assuming this normative character of perception does not necessarily mean taking sides in the conceptualism-non-conceptualism debate regarding phenomenology. Even if I am sympathetic to the conceptualist side, one may very well think that the norms involved are more basic than concepts or that the capacity for rational assessment is broader than the one involving concepts. This is a central claim in Hugo, “Horizon, Modality and Reason.” Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 249 (= B137). This is the right way of understanding Heidegger’s modes of being. I agree here with Kris McDaniel, “Ways of Being,” in Metaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology, ed. David Chalmers et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 290–319.



at face value our ordinary conception of what we experience in our everyday natural attitude. If there is anything wrong with the natural attitude, it is not the fact that we assume we are seeing matchboxes or apples—and not sensedata or mental images of them—but rather that we are not puzzled by how that is possible. We move beyond the natural attitude when we notice that there is a question to be asked regarding, for example, how we can be entitled to say we see an apple despite only causally interacting with a side of it under certain specific, temporally indexed conditions. But we do not pose this question in order to arrive at a better way of experiencing the world—there is nothing wrong with our ordinary experience—but rather to find legitimation for the pretenses involved in such experience. This is precisely what the normative structure of the world allows us to do. In this sense, the way in which phenomenology includes empirical inquiries in the realm of ordinary experience does not involve abandoning the transcendental stance, but rather, it calls us to take the transcendental question itself seriously. In the same vein, it should not surprise us that Husserl considers psychological inquiries as “a way into phenomenology” or that Merleau-Ponty considers psychiatric and other bodily disorders key elements in his account of the lived body. Psychology and psychopathology manifest how the things themselves appear to us—and, in pathological cases, how they would appear to us if some of our capacities were to fail—and hence provide an insight into what needs explaining in our experience. (2) The reading I am putting forward explains two key features of the phenomenological method, namely, its metaphysical neutrality and its first-person character.23 The former is to be understood in a very specific sense.24 Metaphysical neutrality can be typically characterized as the idea that whether or not something exists is not a matter of our intention. The doormat outside that I can merely picture in my mind and the one that I actually see when I step outside are the same, that is, both acts have the same intentional object. And I can speak of objects I imagine, even if they do not exist or have never existed. This does not mean that I cannot distinguish between a non-existent unicorn and the horse I am riding or between my imagined doormat and the real one. It just means that whether or not an object exists is not an aspect of the object itself, and hence the question of whether there is an object independently of my intending it is irrelevant. As Husserl would put it, the problem of existence 23 24

See Dan Zahavi, Husserl’s Phenomenology (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002). See Husserl, Logical Investigations, 1: 16; Logische Untersuchungen, 1: 27 and Dan Zahavi, “Husserl’s Noema and the Internalism-Externalism Debate,” Inquiry 47, no. 1 (2004): 42–66.

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is a problem related to the positing (Setzung) of the act,25 of how we posit the object. This means that the metaphysical question about what there is should be replaced by the normative question regarding the conditions under which we can say something exists.26 Much has been said about why the first-person character of phenomenological inquiry is not to be understood in terms of introspection or of the epistemic privilege of the first-person description of one’s mental states. But how are we to understand the insistence on the first-person character of phenomenological research once introspection is ruled out? Crowell has convincingly shown that once we adopt a normative reading of phenomenological inquiry, the first-person privilege finds a deeper significance.27 The importance of the first-person perspective should not be understood in terms of epistemic privilege, i.e., that I know best how I experience the world, but rather in terms of accountability and responsiveness. In other words, only I can be held accountable for my normatively articulated experience. The proper way of responding is thus to let myself be governed by the normative network that articulates experience. This means that, for example, I would have to cancel out my previous belief in the existence of the apple in front of me were it to slip between my fingers when I try to touch it; or that I should confirm my experience of the tie as being orange after I manage to get a better look at it under a brighter light. In allowing myself to be swayed in this way, I am exercising reason and, at the same time, letting the world appear as objective. It is in this sense that we are to understand Husserl’s statement in the Crisis that philosophy is nothing but “humanity struggling to understand itself.”28 Following this thread will lead us to delineate a possible answer to the third and most difficult question regarding the transcendental status of phenomenology, namely, the one concerning how transcendental statements could find

25 Husserl, Ideas 1, 259; Ideen 1, 223–224. 26 Notice that while Husserl and Heidegger both echo the Kantian statement that “Being is not a real predicate” (“Sein ist kein reales Prädikat”), they do not necessarily share the Kantian upshot that existing means being given as a spatio-temporal manifold to our sensibility. If we assume a kind of ontological pluralism such as Heidegger’s, that would not be a right way of thinking the sense in which numbers or items of equipment exist. This is controversial in Husserl’s case, since he still endorses a primacy of sensory givenness. 27 Crowell, Normativity, 81–100. 28 Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 14; German original: Edmund Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie: Eine Einleitung in die phänomenologische Philosophie, ed. Walter Biemel (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1976), 13.



legitimation in a phenomenological sense. In other words, it is now time to make sense of the possibility of a transcendental experience itself. 3

Transcendental Experience: From Fulfillment (Erfüllung) to Justificatory Responsibility (Rechtfertigung)

In my prior discussion of the way in which phenomenology highlights the normative character of experience, I have not accounted for how truth comes into the picture. Of course, in discussing the red-orange tie case, I have stated that upon closer inspection and assessment, I would be justified in claiming that the tie is actually orange, that orange is its true color. But it is now worth noting that unlike more traditional renditions of the problem of truth in terms of correspondence, the truth of the judgment “The tie is orange” is not merely a result of the tie’s being orange and my seeing it. Of course, the fact that the judgment is true depends on the tie’s being orange. But the tie’s being orange cannot be accounted for purely in terms of the intentional content of a perception—after all, I thought the tie was red, which of course means that I thought it was true that the tie was red, and I did so because I was seeing it as red. Even if a significant aspect of what “true” means involves comparing our judgments and the world, such a comparison is part of a process in which truth is an ideal towards which we tend or, as Husserl would put it, towards which we strive.29 In this sense, fulfillment, that is, bringing what is posited with some determinate sense or meaning to intuitive fulfillment—be it a judgment, a desire or, more generally, an empty intention—is to be thought of as part of a more complex, temporally extended, open-ended process that involves progressively gaining new evidence. As Thomas Nenon puts it, “being truly” and “rationally being able to be confirmed [vernünftig ausweissbar-sein]” go necessarily hand in hand.30 Such a process is characterized as the process of rational life itself that is oriented towards correction (Rechtigkeit). The interesting thing about this notion of Rechtigkeit is that it radically transforms the overall sense of truth and evidence. As Crowell has convincingly shown,31 Husserl’s notion of evidence is not to be understood primarily in terms of an epistemological ideal but rather in terms of the need for the 29

Husserl speaks of truth as an “idea of absolute adequacy as such” in Husserl, Logical Investigations, 2: 263 / Logische Untersuchungen, 2: 652 see also Roberto J. Walton, Intencionalidad y horizonticidad (Bogotá: Editorial Aula de Humanidades, 2015), 163. 30 See Thomas Nenon, “Husserl’s Conception of Reason as Authenticity,” Philosophy Today 47 (2003): 65, see also Husserl, Ideas 1, 360; Ideen 1, 314. 31 Crowell, Normativity, 82ff.

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subject to account for her beliefs and other intentional states in terms of her engaging in a process of inquiry governed by an absolute idea of responsibility. Let us go back to the tie example. Why is it that I engage in the painstaking process of looking at the tie under different lighting conditions, of making sure that my eyes are not blurry, etc.? An obvious answer is that I do so because something went wrong in my cognitive experience: the tie that I saw as red a couple of hours ago now looks orange. Since I know that ties do not magically change color, I need to account for what I saw. Naturally, I could choose to simply live with that perplexity and move on. But if I cannot just let it go, it is because what is at stake is not just the tie and its color but my own rationality (and, in this specific case, my being a good perceiver). This ultimately shows that intuitive fulfillment is not to be equated with justification. If I intend to buy a red tie and I see the tie in the shop as red, that amounts to a fulfillment of my intention but not to a rational justification for my claim that the tie is really red. That would require me to engage in an open-ended rational process of accounting for my intentional states and their contents, which, as Husserl repeatedly warns us, is always presumptive and open to revision.32 What is precisely missing is a transcendental understanding of truth as the basis for any assessment. Sophie Loidolt makes the point quite clearly when she states: “Thus, truth or rather evidence as the livedexperience of self-givenness must not only be conceived naively as the measure of the correctness of the content, but also transcendentally as the ground of all validity.”33 This is what Husserl calls justificatory responsibility (Rechtfertigung).34 Justificatory responsibility is a key topic in Husserl’s reflection on ethical life. This 32

33 34

See Edmund Husserl, Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis, trans. Anthony Steinbock (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001), 79–83 (German original: Edmund Husserl, Analysen zur passiven Synthesis, ed. Margot Fleischer [The Hague: Nijhoff, 1966], 34–44); Edmund Husserl, Thing and Space, trans. Richard Rojcewicz (Dordrecht: Springer, 1997), 248–249 (German edition: Edmund Husserl, Ding und Raum, ed. Ulrich Claesges [The Hague: Nijhoff, 1973], 287). See Sophie Loidolt, Anspruch und Rechtfertigung (Dordrecht: Springer, 2009), 93. My translation. The notion of Rechtfertigung as it will become apparent has the advantage of combining both the notion of justification as providing evidence, which is the standard in theoretical contexts, and the broader notion of proving oneself right, in the sense of exhibiting one’s rational credentials as the grounds for one’s own values. This is why Husserl can articulate rightness (Rechtheit) and authenticity (Echtheit) under the notion of Rechtfertigung. See Edmund Husserl, Aufsätze und Vorträge (1922–1937), ed. Tom Nenon and Hans Sepp (The Hague: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989), 33; no English translation of the whole Kaizo articles is available; a partial translation of the first article is to be found in Edmund Husserl, Shorter Writings (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981). I will



does not mean that Husserl lets the question concerning epistemic justification dissolve into the realm of practical philosophy in general and ethics in particular, but rather that the disclosure of truth is to be seen as part of an overall conception of rationality as an ideal for human life. The series of papers Husserl wrote for the Japanese journal Kaizo are especially illuminating in this respect.35 There, Husserl defines Rechtfertigung as the process of rational striving, which not only tends toward truth and justification but also at the same time toward giving “one’s personal life the form of insight to (…) its position-takings or rather to bring them in an appropriate relationship with what gives them correctness (Rechtmässigkeit) or rationality.”36 This rational demand is expressed on the subjective side as a requirement for renewal, Erneuerung. This ideal of renewal draws together many significant Husserlian methodological topics—such as the immer-wieder, i.e. the iterability of experience, and the presumptive character of evidence, among others—in the form of an ethical maxim and a call to answer for oneself as a rational being. The idea of renewal involves a call for willing in each occasion to provide new evidence, to seek out further experience, to revise our prior



translate it as “justificatory responsibility,” although “answering for oneself” would be a more colloquial expression that rightly captures the meaning of Rechtfertigung. This brings to the fore important coincidences between Husserl and Heidegger. For a reading of Heidegger’s notion of authenticity (Eigentlichkeit) and the role of moral consciousness (Gewissen) in terms of grounding oneself as a rational subject, see Steven Crowell, “Sorge or Selbstbewußtsein: Heidegger and Korsgaard on the Sources of Normativity,” European Journal of Philosophy 15, no. 3 (2007): 315–333; Steven Crowell, “Heidegger on Practical Reasoning: Morality and Agency,” in Crowell, Normativity: 282–303.; Alejandro Vigo, “Autorreferencia Práctica y Normatividad,” in Practical reason: Scope and Structures of Human Agency, ed. Ana Marta González and Alejandro Vigo (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 2011), 198–222. This has been underlined by Nenon, “Husserl’s conception,” 66ff. McGuirk provides a very inspiring reading of Husserl’s notion of rationality and brings to light interesting coincidences with Heidegger based on a reading of the Kaizo papers; see James McGuirk, “Husserl and Heidegger on Reduction and the Question of the Existential Foundations of Rational Life,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 18, no. 1 (2010): 31–56. See Husserl, Aufsätze und Vorträge, 26: “So versteht sich das Eigentümliche des Vernunftstrebens, als eines Strebens, dem persönlichen Leben hinsichtlich seiner jeweiligen urteilenden, wertenden und praktischen Stellungnahmen die Form der Einsichtigkeit bzw., in anmessender Beziehung auf sie, die der Rechtmassigkeit oder Vernünftigkeit zu geben.” Nenon translates this passage as follows and provides a detailed account of it in Nenon, “Husserl’s conception,” 67: “This helps us understand what is unique about striving for reason as a striving to give one’s own personal life the form of insight, or rather the appropriate relationship to it, the form of rightness or rationality, in each of one’s position-takings, be it in a judgment, a value, or a practical decision.”

Transcendental Experience


beliefs, to change ourselves in the quest for rightness (Rechtheit).37 This makes the exercise of reason an exercise of freedom, of autonomy. Being rational does not amount to only believing what we are completely justified to believe on perfect evidential grounds but to be willing to question our evidence and our justification at any given time.38 This relation between reason, justificatory responsibility, freedom and autonomy allows us to finally tackle the justificatory question affecting phenomenology as a transcendental form of inquiry. In the first section of this paper, I construed transcendental philosophy so that some phenomenologists’ suspicions regarding subjectivity would not entail the impossibility of conceiving phenomenology as a sort of transcendental inquiry. As I presented it, in order to be considered transcendental, phenomenology needs to be able to answer three questions: (1) that of the thematic field (the field of the conditions of possibility of experience) with which it engages; (2) that of how such a field could be accessed; and (3) that of how descriptions of such a field can be justified given the fact that they cannot be justified in the same way empirical statements are. I have provided a preliminary answer to the first question by analyzing the way in which phenomenology maintains the world be understood in terms of how we experience it, or, more precisely, how it appears to us. In the second section, this purely formal definition was complemented by an account of the object of phenomenological inquiry in terms of the normative network that governs our experience. Given that this network involves multiple levels, some of them purely a priori, some of them involving empirical content, this picture has provided a way of understanding phenomenology’s hybrid strategy for accounting for the access to the transcendental structure of the world in terms that combine both conceptual a priori analysis and empirical research. This opens up a way of answering the second question concerning access. We gain insight into the transcendental structure of experience when we make the rules that govern the processes of revising our position-takings in the further course of our experience explicit. The philosophical attitude consists of gaining awareness about the dependence of the modes in which we posit objects and, in general, of truth and justification of our norm-governed practices. But that which motivates this self-critical process cannot merely be grounded in our desire to attain empirical truth. Rather, it involves an ideal of 37


In the same vein, Jacobs understands the life-changing experience mediated by the conquering of the phenomenological attitude in terms of an attitude of epistemic modesty, which nonetheless does not involve skepticism but a constant striving for truth. See Hanne Jacobs “Phenomenology as a Way of Life? Husserl on Phenomenological Reflection and Self-Transformation,” Continental Philosophy Review 46 (2013): 365ff. See Ullrich Melle, “Husserl’s Personalist Ethics,” Husserl Studies 23, no. 1 (2007): 7.



rationality that is exhibited in striving to answer for oneself (this is the proper sense of justificatory responsibility) and a demand for renewal (Erneuereung). It is here where what Loidolt called the transcendental grounding of truth as the ground for any assessment comes into the picture.39 Because the question that arises is not what makes a statement true or what makes an experience truthful, but rather why we are to pursue truth (or rightness, Rechtheit, or authenticity, Echheit) as the aim of our lives. As it may become apparent, this is another way of posing the justificatory question for transcendental philosophy, which I formulated earlier as follows: What makes me acknowledge a condition (we can now say: a norm) as a condition any object must adhere to on pain of not being an object anymore? Justificatory responsibility is precisely an answer to this question. It is because of who we are that we need to acknowledge such a condition. As I said, the rational pressure to reassess my experience when the tie I saw as red now looks orange is not grounded in my urge to find out what color the tie is, but rather in the fact that my own credentials as a rational perceiver are at stake.40 So the kind of experience that underlies and grounds transcendental descriptions is an experience of ourselves. This should come as no surprise. Indeed, it is the very core of Kant’s Copernican revolution. But is there not a risk of relapsing into some form of Humean psychologism once we accept this? Are these not just laws concerning the way we actually are, which we then counterfeit in terms of transcendental truths? To conclude, I would like to consider such an objection. In a sense, it is true that transcendental conditions are exhibited as psychological properties of the empirical I. This is one reason why Husserl acknowledges a path from psychology to phenomenology and why pathological cases are especially illuminating when it comes to what constitutes normal experience. But this could be understood in two different senses. In one sense, it means that in the natural attitude, we just live according to rational norms without any need to be aware of them. We have been trained to adhere to them; we have been enculturated in them and they simply govern our behavior without any need to make them explicit. This is a basic fact about who we are. But when what is meant is that transcendental conditions are nothing more than psychological properties with a casual impact on us, like the relationship between photons and the structure of our retina, we miss an important point. Because, as it should be 39 Loidolt, Anspruch und Rechtfertigung, 93. 40 Of course, I could discover that ties change colors under specific circumstances and as a result, the content of the norm will change. Since there is a multilayered normative structure, parts of it can change without the notion of rationality, object, or experience changing dramatically. This allows for empirical revisability without abandoning the transcendental standpoint.

Transcendental Experience


obvious, no causal fact could function as a criterion for assessing what is right and what is wrong. It may be true that I cannot but experience objects perspectivally; but if I happened to experience such sides as coming together incoherently, I would need to revise my experience, my position-takings, and my positings, and that requires assessing my actual experience in light of norms that determine what experience ought to be like. And this is where an explicit acknowledgment of the relevant norms comes into play. This is where we need to adopt a transcendental attitude that is not limited to professional philosophers. As Drummond points out, “We are all called to be, if not necessarily philosophers, philosophical”41 when we engage in the practice of answering for ourselves and the rational credentials of our experience. So, the experience of an ought that justifies transcendental descriptions is the experience of norms that govern our experience. Even if we do not always explicitly endorse them, we should acknowledge these norms as that which makes us rational beings. In this sense, we will be part of the “authentic humanity,” part of those who not only have the disposition to reason, but also turn it into a principle of absolute value and determine themselves by it.42


John Drummond, “Moral Objectivity: Husserl’s Sentiments of the Understanding,” Husserl Studies 12 (1995): 181. 42 Husserl, Aufsätze und Vorträge, 33.

Encountering Finitude: On the Hermeneutic Radicalization of Experience Jussi Backman 1

The Perils of Experience1

“However paradoxical it may seem,” Hans-Georg Gadamer writes in Truth and Method, “the concept of experience [Erfahrung] seems to me one of the most unelucidated [unaufgeklärtesten] concepts we have.”2 Indeed, the claim is striking. After all, few terms have been more central to the Western epistemological tradition, which, ever since Aristotle, has conceived of experience as an indispensable stage in the ascent to comprehensive knowledge and understanding. With the increasing doubts that late medieval and early modern philosophy cast upon the capacity of discursive reason to penetrate the innermost essence of nature on its own strength, experience emerged as the watchword with which modern science distinguished itself from the Aristotelian model of epistēmē, which is focused on intuitive insight and deductive reasoning. In his manifesto for an experimental scientific method, Novum Organum (1620), Sir Francis Bacon describes the incipient modern age as an age of experience (experientia), one in which “the store of experiences has grown immeasurably” in comparison to antiquity, thanks to a greatly expanded perspective on history, unforeseen technical innovations, and the discovery of the New World and its peoples.3 Since Bacon and the British empiricists, the emphasis on experience as the foundation of human knowledge has reverberated throughout modern philosophy. Kant begins the introduction to the second edition of his first Critique by stating: “There is no doubt whatever that all our cognition [Erkenntnis] begins with experience 1 For valuable comments, I would like to thank Anniina Leiviskä and Harri Mäcklin. For financial support, I am grateful to the Academy of Finland research project The Intellectual Heritage of Radical Cultural Conservatism. 2 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode: Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik [1960], Gesammelte Werke, vol. 1 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1990), 352; Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marschall, 2nd ed. (London: Continuum, 2004), 341. Translation modified. 3 Francis Bacon, Novum Organum [1620], ed. Thomas Fowler, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1889); The New Organon, ed. Lisa Jardine and Michael Silverthorne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 1.72.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���9 | doi:10.1163/9789004391031_005

Encountering Finitude


[Erfahrung]”—even though, he adds, this is so only in the chronological order, not in the sense that all knowledge would derive from experience.4 Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, intended as the first part of his absolute system of science, is the “science of the experience of consciousness.”5 For Husserl, one of the last representatives of this classical modern tradition, the life-world (Le­benswelt) in which we are “always already living and which furnishes the ground for all cognitive performance and all scientific determination” is precisely the “world of experience.”6 Nonetheless, according to Gadamer, the full implications of the concept of experience have remained insufficiently elucidated, due to a one-sided “epistemological schematization that . . . truncates its original content.”7 The Western philosophical tradition has considered experience in a teleological framework as a means to an end, as a faculty from which knowledge and truth can be extracted through the proper implementation of a scientific method, a systematic pursuit (methodos) of higher forms of knowing.8 Superior knowledge can be attained only when the inherent shortcomings of “raw” or “ordinary” experience are overcome through proper methodical discipline. For Gadamer, this methodical drive towards overcoming the vicissitudes, the risks and perils of experience, is, to a certain extent, inherent in the nature of experiencing itself: experience “naturally” seeks repetition, confirmation, and certainty in order to consolidate itself and restrict the possibility of further, unpredictable experience. We learn from experience when, through our encounters with things, we become prepared for what may come, that is, when the accumulation of experiences prevents further encounters from taking us by surprise. Learning can only be achieved by systematizing and synthesizing the historical multiplicity of shifting experiences into increasingly constant unities. In this sense, “by its very essence, experience merges [aufhebt] its history into itself and thus obliterates it.”9 4 Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft [1781/1787], ed. Jens Timmermann (Hamburg: Meiner, 1998), 43; Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 136 [B 1]. 5 G.W.F. Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes [1807], ed. Wolfgang Bonsiepen and Reinhard Heede, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 9 (Hamburg: Meiner, 1980), 29, 61; Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J.B. Baillie, 2nd ed. (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2003), 20, 53. 6 Edmund Husserl, Erfahrung und Urteil: Untersuchungen zur Genealogie der Logik [1939], ed. Ludwig Landgrebe, 7th ed. (Hamburg: Meiner, 1999), 38; Experience and Judgment: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic, trans. James S. Churchill and Karl Ameriks (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 41. 7 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 352; Truth and Method, 341 (trans. modified). 8 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 353; Truth and Method, 342. 9 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 353; Truth and Method, 342 (trans. modified).



However, it is precisely the historical multiplicity, singularity, and unpredictability of experience, which is seen as a weakness from the point of view of scientific method, that Gadamerian hermeneutics seeks to explore and elucidate. Taking our cue from several seminal texts highlighted by Gadamer himself, first and foremost, Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Posterior Analytics, Bacon’s Novum Organum, and Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, we will sketch an outline of certain key stages in the conceptual history of experience in the epistemological tradition in the coming sections.10 This will enable us to place the Heideggerian and Gadamerian hermeneutic radicalization of the concept of experience into a historical context as an attempt to overcome the limitations of the methodical approach to experience and to grasp experience anew as the finite human being’s finite—that is, inherently singular and transformative, and, in that sense, risky and perilous—encounter with reality. 2

Aristotle: Experience between the Particular and the Universal

The Presocratics Parmenides and Heraclitus generally depreciate experience. For them, philosophical thinking constitutes a radical break with the multiplicity of situated, particular perspectives or “acceptances” (doxai) of ordinary “mortal” experience and entails an insight into the fundamental unity of all beings in the mode of intuitive beholding (noos) or discursive articulation (logos).11 Parmenides’ goddess exhorts the thinker not to let “custom [ethos] force you upon the way of much experience [polypeiron hodon], / heeding the unregardful eye and the roaring hearing / and the tongue; rather, discern through discursive articulation [krinai … logō].”12 Plato, too, mainly views empeiria in a derogatory manner, as a mere business or occupation (epitēdeusis, tribē), such as rhetoric, that does not constitute an art (technē) based on rational insight but rather requires proficiency acquired through mere habituation.13 10 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 353–362; Truth and Method, 343–350. For more detailed and comprehensive conceptual histories of experience, see Fritz-Peter Hager, “Empeiria,” in Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, vol. 2, ed. Joachim Ritter (Basel: Schwabe, 1972), 453–454; Friedrich Kambartel, “Erfahrung,” in Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, vol. 2, 609–617. 11 Jussi Backman, “Towards a Genealogy of the Metaphysics of Sight: Seeing, Hearing, and Thinking in Heraclitus and Parmenides,” in Phenomenology and the Metaphysics of Sight, ed. Antonio Cimino and Pavlos Kontos (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 9–34. 12 Parmenides, DK 28 B 7.3–5, in Hermann Diels and Walther Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, vol. 1, 6th ed. (Berlin: Weidmann, 1951). 13 Plato, Gorgias, in Platonis opera, vol. 3, ed. John Burnet (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903), 462b10–463b4.

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Aristotle, however, takes a different approach. For him, there is a relationship of continuity between experience and rational insight. In his genealogy of human knowledge and understanding in the first book of the Metaphysics and in the Posterior Analytics, Aristotle describes empeiria as the point of divergence between the cognitive capacities of the human being and those of nonhuman animals. Animals are distinguished from plants by sense perception (aisthēsis), the innate capacity for apprehending their environment through the senses; some animals further possess memory (mnēmē), that is, the ability to retain sensations beyond the immediate act of perceiving them.14 Of the animals that remember, some (first and foremost, humans) are further capable of discursively articulating their sensations with the help of a conceptual determination (logos), which then allows them to identify certain perceptions as sharing one and the same object with previous perceptions retained in memory.15 It is this latter perception of identity, the attainment of a “universal [katholou] that has come to rest in its entirety in the soul, a unity that is apart from the many [retained sensations] and is present in all of them as one and the same,” that grounds experience (empeiria).16 Experience is, for Aristotle, an essentially discursive capacity for accumulating notions (hypolēpseis) regarding particular cases (kath’ hekaston) with some degree of identity. Experience tells us, for example, that patient A with a certain kind of ailment benefited from a certain treatment and that this was also the case for patients B and C with similar ailments, which then encourages us to apply the same treatment in the similar case of patient D.17 The sufficient accretion of such individual experiences finally allows us to move to a new level of abstraction, formulating a general rule—for example, that treatments of a certain type will benefit a certain type of patients with certain symptoms. This step from habitual familiarity to the possession of a universal principle is the step from experience to technē, technical expertise or “art.”18 What distinguishes the expert or master craftsperson (architektōn) possessing technē from the experienced worker (cheirotechnēs), whose hability is an incommunicable “manual” routine (ethos) acquired by doing, is the former’s insight into formal

14 Aristotle, Metaphysics, vol. 1, ed. W.D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924), 1.1.980a27– b25; Posterior Analytics, in Analytica priora et posteriora, ed. W.D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), 2.19.99b32–100a1. 15 Aristotle, Posterior Analytics 2.9.100a1–3, 15–b1. 16 Aristotle, Posterior Analytics 2.19.100a3–8; cf. Metaphysics 1.1.980b25–981a1, 5–7. 17 Aristotle, Metaphysics 1.1.981a7–9. 18 Aristotle, Metaphysics 1.1.981a1–12.



principles and her ability to teach her expertise (verbally and discursively) to others.19 Experience is thus the necessary preliminary to the more comprehensive, discursive, and systematic forms of knowledge constituted through the human soul’s natural capacity to discursively synthesize and articulate sensations and to abstract from them more and more comprehensive conceptual unities. Aristotle is no empiricist in the modern sense: even though sense perception and the accumulation of experience necessarily precede in time the higher, more abstract levels of knowledge concerning the ideal structures of reality, such knowledge is not reducible to individual perceptions. For the Aristotelian tradition, “induction,” epagōgē, does not mean simply the logical derivation of the universal from particular cases, but more generally the literal “guidance,” the agōgē or ductio, provided by experience of particulars toward an intuitive grasp of the universal.20 We thus find in the Aristotelian account a teleological and methodological instrumentalization of experience as a pathway to a level of certainty and necessity that is itself, in some sense, beyond experience. For Aristotle, the important epistemological limitation of experience in the ordinary sense is its contingency, its dependence on random individual encounters with particular phenomena. Experience is exclusively awareness of facts, of the bare contingent “that” (to hoti), without their underlying principles or grounds, the “because” (dioti).21 Knowledge, however, cannot be satisfied with the contingent. Philosophy as a theoretical project starts from wonder (thaumazein), inspired by things that happen to be at hand (ta procheira), but ultimately seeks the grounds of everything that there is.22 The path of knowledge must thus lead from sensible particulars, “better known and more evident to us” in the genealogical and developmental order, to the most universal determinations, “better known and more evident in the order of nature.” In Kantian terms, this refers to that which is known after the fact, a posteriori, to that

19 Aristotle, Metaphysics 1.1.981a12–b10. 20 Aristotle, Topics, in Topica et Sophistici elenchi, ed. W.D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), 1.12.105a13–16, 18.108b9–11; cf. Physics, ed. W.D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936), 1.2.185a12–14. Cf. Posterior Analytics 2.5.91b34–35: “For the one who shows something by induction [epagōn] does not demonstrate by argument [apodeiknysin], but, nonetheless, makes something evident [dēloi].” See also Rudolf Ružička, “Induktion i,” in Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, vol. 4, ed. Joachim Ritter and Karlfried Gründer (Basel: Schwabe, 1976), 323–329. 21 Aristotle, Metaphysics 1.1.981a24–30. 22 Aristotle, Metaphysics 1.2.982b11–28.

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which is known before all facts, a priori, and is necessarily true regardless of the situation.23 3

Bacon: From Experience to Experiment

The Aristotelian understanding of experience held sway throughout the Aristotelian tradition up to Thomas Aquinas.24 It is not until early modernity that an upheaval in the status of experience takes place. The important philosophical difference between the Aristotelian and the early modern thinkers was that the latter had largely, if often implicitly, accepted the consequences of the theological voluntarism of the late medieval via moderna, represented in various forms by scholastics such as John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Gabriel Biel. Voluntarists saw the rational, moral, and physical order of created nature, to which God’s “ordained power” (potentia ordinata) has normally been committed since creation, as ultimately contingent and constantly capable of being overridden by God’s exercise of the primordial absolute freedom of his will, his absolute power (potentia absoluta).25 This approach was closely linked 23 Aristotle, Physics 1.1.184a16–21; Posterior Analytics 1.2.71b29–72a5. Note, however, that while according to the Posterior Analytics, what is closest to us are sensible particulars, from which we proceed toward universals, in the Physics (1.1.184a21–b14), Aristotle states that what we actually initially encounter in sense perception is a confused and indeterminate general notion (e.g., “animal”) which is then defined and analyzed into more specific kinds (horses, cows etc.). The latter description fits Aristotle’s historical account of the development of philosophy in the first book of Physics as the emergence of increasingly sophisticated conceptual distinctions. Both accounts stress that knowledge essentially strives for a grasp of the causes (aitia) and principles (archai) of things, which are universals in the true sense of the word. Bacon (Novum Organum 1.19, 1.104) criticizes the Aristotelian method precisely for leaping too quickly over the passage from particulars to universals, which for him is the only true path of science. 24 Thomas Aquinas, for example, simply reiterates Aristotle’s definition of experience (experientia) as a synthesis of many remembrances; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Pars Prima, Quaestiones l–cxix, Sancti Thomae Aquinatis opera omnia, vol. 5 (Rome: Polyglotta, 1889), 1.58.3. 25 See William J. Courtenay, “Potentia absoluta/ordinata,” in Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, vol. 7, ed. Joachim Ritter and Karlfried Gründer (Basel: Schwabe, 1989), 1157–1162. For this thesis concerning the influence of the Christian doctrine of creation and its radicalization in late medieval philosophy on the foundations of modern empirical science, see, e.g., Michael B. Foster, “The Christian Doctrine of Creation and the Rise of Modern Natural Science,” Mind 43 (1934): 446–468; Francis Oakley, “Christian Theology and the Newtonian Science: The Rise of the Concept of Laws of Nature,” Church History 30 (1961): 433–457. For a critical modification of this view, emphasizing that not only early modern empiricism but equally the rationalism of Descartes was based on the voluntarist



to the nominalist ascription of a purely intramental existence to the forms and structures of human understanding, which gradually became “ideas” in the modern sense.26 With these theological and metaphysical views operating in their background, the early moderns were beset by a new skepticism: they could no longer simply regard natural philosophy as a straightforward matter of discovering, by means of reason alone, directly accessible rational principles inherent in nature itself. For Descartes, who considers even mathematical truths to be contingent upon the divine will, there is a plausible danger that the workings of our created reason are inherently distorted.27 In order to avert this risk, our reason has to be provided with a guarantee: indubitable proof of the existence of God as a perfect being who would not will to deceive our reason as long as it operates with the simple, clear, and distinct ideas placed in it by its creator.28 The British empiricists will, of course, accept the same general predicament of reason—that it is not in a position to claim direct access to the “mind of God” and the intelligible foundations of his creation—but go on to reject the Cartesian way out, denying the existence of pregiven necessary ideas in the human mind, famously viewed by Locke in its initial state as “white paper, void of all characters.” According to Locke, whatever ideas arise in the mind are to be regarded as the result of experience, which he understands in a general sense comprising the mind’s individual sensory encounters with reality,

26 27


understanding of the primacy of the divine will, see Peter Harrison, “Voluntarism and Early Modern Science,” History of Science 40 (2002): 63–89. Cf. John Henry, “Voluntarist Theology at the Origins of Modern Science: A Response to Peter Harrison,” History of Science 47 (2009): 79–113. On the emergence of the modern concept of “idea,” first and foremost introduced by Descartes, see Wilhelm Halbfass, “Idee iii,” in Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, vol. 4, 102–113. In his letter of April 15, 1630 to Marin Mersenne, Descartes defends the view that even “eternal” truths, such as those of mathematics, were created by God because he willed thus; René Descartes, Correspondance avril 1622 – février 1638, ed. Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, Œuvres, vol. 1 (Paris: Vrin, 1897), 145–146; The Correspondence, trans. John Cottingham et al., The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vol. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 23. The famous hypothetical “evil demon” argument regarding the possibility of complete deception is presented in Descartes’s First Meditation; Meditationes de prima philosophia [1641], ed. Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, Œuvres, vol. 7 (Paris: Vrin, 1904), 20–23; Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 14–15. This proof is given in the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Meditations; Descartes, Meditationes, 34–90; Meditations, 24–62.

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its reflective encounters with itself, as well as the imprints and lasting syntheses produced in the mind by these encounters.29 The first outline of what developed into the modern scientific method was famously drawn by Sir Francis Bacon in his Novum Organum (1620)—a work purporting to present a “new organon,” a new “instrument” or methodology of science to replace the “old organon” of Aristotle’s logic and forming part of Bacon’s unfinished overarching project Instauratio Magna, the “great renewal” of science. The aim of his new logic of scientific inquiry, Bacon declares in his dedicatory letter to King James i, is to ensure that “after so many ages of the world” without adequate progress, science and philosophy will no longer “float in the air, but rest upon the solid foundations of every kind of experience [experientiae] properly considered.”30 In their modern rebirth (regeneratio) envisioned by Bacon, the sciences will be “raised up in a sure order from experience and founded anew, which no one . . . would affirm has yet been done or contemplated.”31 Like his younger contemporary Descartes, Bacon emphasizes the distance between human notions and the ideas of the divine mind according to which the true essences or forms of things are created.32 Only God has immediate access to these forms; we finite beings must discover them gradually and incompletely through the study of nature.33 Such a study should not attempt to simply leap from the particulars of experience to intuitive and abstract axioms of reason, as Bacon accuses traditional (Aristotelian) induction of doing. The Aristotelian method has resulted in a natural philosophy that is basically a mere self-reflection of the human mind on its own vague and deficient concepts and, for the most part, simply “voices dialectical terms.”34 Its basic fault is to regard the constitution of knowledge as a natural process to which the human mind is inherently suited. Rather, Bacon maintains, certain innate tendencies and inclinations of the human mind hamper and distort its access to nature. These are the four famous “idols” or “illusions” (idola) of our reason, which are related to the inherent limitations of the human sensory and cognitive capacities, the specific situatedness of the individual human being, the limits imposed by the shared language and discourse of human communities,


John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding [1689], ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 104 [2.1.2]. 30 Bacon, Novum Organum, dedicatory letter. 31 Bacon, Novum Organum 1.97. 32 Bacon, Novum Organum 1.23. 33 Bacon, Novum Organum 2.15. 34 Bacon, Novum Organum 1.63, 1.104.



and misleading intellectual doctrines and traditions.35 The different prejudices arising from these tendencies must be acknowledged and obliterated in order to gain access to the hidden truths of creation. Thus, experience in itself does not guide us toward higher forms of knowing, but must first be subjected to a systematic and methodical procedure. Our ordinary mode of experiencing, Bacon argues, is “blind and stupid,” errant and wandering in that it takes its lead from mere random encounters with things (ex occursu rerum): the objects of further investigation are simply come across (inveniunt) in a casual manner.36 This leaves knowledge to the “waves and winding of chance [casus] and casual, unregulated experience [experientiae vagae et inconditae].” Dependence on experiences that merely occur by chance is like groping around in the dark in hopes of stumbling upon the right path. Experience must be undiluted by human idols, but not passive; in addition to actively purging our own understanding of hindrances, we must also take an active stance towards nature. The student of nature must interrogate nature, pose questions to it. Only experience that is actively sought after, “requested” (quaesita), deserves the name of “experiment” (experimentum).37 Bacon likens such active, productive experiencing to the divine act of creation: just as God created light before any determinate thing, scientific inquiry must be illuminated by the light of the proper “experimental” method that eliminates randomness and contingency before embarking on particular experiments.38 Methodical experimenting allows us to overcome the great inherent weakness of experience: the uncertainty and fallibility due to the constant possibility of a negative experience. Bacon is fully aware of this negative dimension of experience and its importance with regard to the inherent bias of the mind in favor of positive instances that confirm prejudices and superstitions.39 However, in order to extract positive results from experience, this negativity must be appropriately managed. The manifest problem with inductive reasoning from experience, in the traditional sense of simply enumerating instances that support a given generalization, is that it is constantly “exposed to the danger [periculo] of the contrary instance.”40 In the method elaborated by Bacon in the second book of the Novum Organum, termed “written” or “literate” experience (experientia literata), this risk is controlled by a systematic separation of 35 Bacon, Novum Organum 1.39–69. 36 Bacon, Novum Organum 1.70. 37 Bacon, Novum Organum 1.82. 38 Bacon, Novum Organum 1.70, 1.82. 39 Bacon, Novum Organum 1.46. 40 Bacon, Novum Organum 1.105.

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positive and negative instances.41 For any natural phenomenon whose nature we wish to understand (in Bacon’s example, heat), we carefully draw a table of instances in which the phenomenon in question is present and another table of relevant negative cases, in which it is absent. By comparing these lists, it is ultimately possible to come up with a conjecture concerning the fundamental nature, form, or source of the phenomenon for which there is no contradictory instance.42 In this way, negative experience is systematically charted and subordinated to the attainment of positive knowledge concerning the causal laws of phenomena, which Bacon understands in terms of Aristotelian “formal causes” or essences.43 4

Hegel: The Negativity of Experience

Humean skeptical empiricism, of course, takes the danger or peril of the negative instance even more seriously than Bacon. While the latter thinks that the danger can ultimately be overcome through methodical experiencing that will allow us to map the necessary causal grounds of phenomena, Hume calls into doubt whether any observed causal regularity, no matter how strongly corroborated, can rationally entitle us to exclude the constant possibility of a contrary instance. But let us focus for a moment on the danger as such. Claude Romano draws our attention to the fact that experience (experientia) and peril (periculum) are cognates; together with a host of related words, such as the English “fear,” the German Erfahrung and Gefahr “danger,” and the Greek empeiria and peira “trial, attempt,” they allegedly go back to the Proto-IndoEuropean root *per- “to try, to risk.”44 Experience, experientia, empeiria is thus literally knowledge that has undergone a peira, a risky trial or test—it is tested knowledge, “imperiled” knowledge. But what does this putting-to-the-test, this trial, consist of precisely? In experience, it is clearly we ourselves—our knowledge and know-how, our capacity for coping with the things that face us—who are put to test. As Romano puts it, the “danger” of experience is “such that I put myself at risk in it in

41 Bacon, Novum Organum 1.101, 1.103, 1.110. 42 Bacon, Novum Organum 1.105, 2.1, 2.11–20. 43 Bacon, Novum Organum 2.1–2. 44 Claude Romano, L’événement et le monde (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1998), 195–196; Event and World, trans. Shane McKinlay (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009), 145. On the etymology of experience, see, e.g., Calvert Watkins, ed., The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000), 66.



the first person, . . . in what constitutes me essentially as such: in my selfhood.”45 What tests and tries us in experience are precisely the singular and contingent situations in the context of which we encounter reality and are compelled to cope with it. The risk or “peril” involved in such situations is precisely the risk of failure—the risk of a negative instance in which our knowledge does not pass the test of the encounter but rather fails to cope adequately and is consequently compelled to transform and modify itself. This structure of experience through trial and error is presupposed by Aristotle as well as Bacon; and yet, as Gadamer emphasizes, the teleology inherent in their respective scientific ideals focuses not on the negativity of the test, risk, or peril as such, but rather on the positivity of its outcome, on the knowledge that, by virtue of its superior universality, ultimately survives the process of experiencing and is thus alleged to be increasingly immune to further experience, to the peril of future contingent encounters.46 For axiomatic-deductive as well as experimental-inductive science (even though the latter is, in principle, committed to empirical fallibilism, to an ultimate falsifiability of all assumptions by experience), the basic function of experience is to increasingly immunize knowledge against further experience. This is so, Gadamer adds, even for the last great architect of a purely speculative system of science—Hegel, who lays perhaps more weight on the inherent negativity of experience than any other thinker of the tradition. The “science of the experience of consciousness” charted in The Phenomenology of Spirit is the study of the development and unfolding of the spirit (Geist) to itself as spirit, that is, as absolute subjectivity, as the fundamental self-conscious “substance” of reality. In its different developmental stages, the spirit’s consciousness contains two fundamental moments: that of knowledge (Wissen) and that of the object (Gegenstand) known. The latter is “negative” with regard to knowledge in the sense that it is never completely immanent to knowledge. The experience of consciousness is, in each instance, its awareness of this disparity or opposition between its current state of knowledge and the object of this knowledge, between knowledge and truth, between the “for us” and the “in itself.”47 In other words, experience is fundamentally a negative experience of the current finitude of our knowledge. However, against Kant’s critical philosophy, Hegel presupposes that this disparity and finitude is a position in which knowledge, in its inherent will towards the absolute and the infinite, cannot and will not remain. Experience 45 Romano, L’événement et le monde, 196; Event and World, 145. 46 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 355–359; Truth and Method, 344–348. 47 Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, 29–30, 58–62; Phenomenology of Mind, 20–21, 50–53.

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consists of testing (Prüfung) our knowledge with regard to the object; the discovery that there is more to the object than our current, inadequate cognitive grasp of it can access necessitates a dialectical movement towards a new perspective, a passage to a new stage of consciousness in which the current disparity is resolved in an enlarged, synthetic grasp of the object that includes the prior negativity within itself. With this movement, not only knowledge but also its object and the very criterion of knowledge are transformed.48 Thus, for example, in the first dialectical step of the Phenomenology, the most elementary form of consciousness—the immediate sensory awareness of the here-and-now—is dialectically transformed into an articulate perception of a determinate object that retains its identity throughout a temporal and spatial manifold of sensations. Experience is, for Hegel, the “dialectic process which consciousness executes on itself—on its knowledge as well as its object—in the sense that out of it the new and true object arises.”49 While the inherent negativity of experience, the disparity between the conscious ego and the object of consciousness, can be regarded “as the defect [Mangel] of both opposites,” it is nonetheless “their very soul, that which animates them [das Bewegende].”50 Experience is thus, for Hegel, more than knowledge encountering reality, more than simply testing knowledge with regard to something fundamentally external to it. Rather, experience is the process through which the spirit, absolute subjectivity, gradually encounters itself as spirit and tests itself. Through experience, the spirit’s internal contradictions and disparities are gradually resolved as it gains a more and more comprehensive and mediated grasp of itself as the fundamental rational, discursive, conceptual, and ideal structure of reality. At the end of this process stands the spirit’s complete reconciliation with itself: absolute knowledge, a purely positive perspective of the spirit upon itself that leaves no residual disparity or negativity, and consequently, no room for further experience. The experience of consciousness culminates in the impossibility of further experience in the strict sense. On this absolute level of knowledge, the remaining task in the system of absolute science is the elaboration of the conceptual architecture of the discursive contents of knowledge, a task that is performed by the purely speculative science of logic.51

48 Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, 59–60; Phenomenology of Mind, 51. 49 Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, 60; Phenomenology of Mind, 51. 50 Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, 29; Phenomenology of Mind, 21 (trans. modified). 51 Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, 30; Phenomenology of Mind, 21.

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Hermeneutic Experience as Experience of Finitude

In his 1942–43 reading of the Introduction to The Phenomenology of Spirit, Heidegger highlights the way in which Hegel’s concept of experience is determined by the absolute teleology of his dialectic, which Heidegger sees as a point of culmination in the history of Western “ontotheological” metaphysics.52 “Ontotheology” here designates the Platonic and Aristotelian foundationalist approach in which the ontological question concerning being qua being— that which determines everything that is insofar as it is—is considered in terms of the ideal, supreme, and perfect, “divine” (theion), manifestation or instance of being. For Plato, this is the Idea of the Good, for Aristotle, the metaphysical divinity as the perfectly actualized, simple, and self-identical substance.53 In Hegel’s Phenomenology, the experience of consciousness is the process of the spirit’s unfolding presence to itself—the unfolding of the fundamental and ultimate level of meaningful reality, which Hegel ultimately understands as the self-consciousness of absolute subjectivity, as the subjectity or subjectness (Subjektität) of all conscious subjects. As Heidegger interprets it, the “experience” articulated in The Phenomenology of Spirit is the process by which this absolute comes to be “with us” (bei uns), by which it gradually sheds its transcendence with regard to finite knowledge and becomes accessible to “us,” to 52


On Hegel as the “completion” (Vollendung) of ontotheological metaphysics, see, e.g., Martin Heidegger, “Überwindung der Metaphysik” [1936–46], in Vorträge und Aufsätze, 9th ed. (Stuttgart: Neske, 2000), 72; “Overcoming Metaphysics,” in The End of Philosophy, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 89; “Der europäische Nihilismus” [1940], in Nietzsche, vol. 2, 6th ed. (Stuttgart: Neske, 1998), 177–180; “European Nihilism,” in Nietzsche, vol. 4: Nihilism, trans. Frank A. Capuzzi, ed. David Farrell Krell (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 147–149; “Hegels Begriff der Erfahrung” [1942], in Holzwege, ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, 8th ed. (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 2003), 192–203; “Hegel’s Concept of Experience,” in Off the Beaten Track, trans. Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 144–152; “Brief über den ‘Humanismus’” [1946], in Wegmarken, ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, 3rd ed. (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1996), 335–336; “Letter on ‘Humanism,’” trans. Frank A. Capuzzi, in Pathmarks, ed. William McNeill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 255–256; “Die onto-theo-logische Verfassung der Metaphysik” [1957], in Identität und Differenz [1957], 12th ed. (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2002), 31–67; “The Onto-theo-logical Constitution of Metaphysics,” in Identity and Difference, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), 42–74; “Hegel und die Griechen” [1958], in Wegmarken, 432– 433; “Hegel and the Greeks,” trans. Robert Metcalf, in Pathmarks, 327. On ontotheology, see, e.g., Martin Heidegger, “Die seinsgeschichtliche Bestimmung des Nihilismus” [1944–46], in Nietzsche, vol. 2, 311–315; “Nihilism as Determined by the History of Being,” in Nietzsche, vol. 4: Nihilism, 207–210; “Die onto-theo-logische Verfassung,” 31–67; “The Onto-theo-logical Constitution,” 42–74.

Encountering Finitude


finite subjectivity. The absolute reveals itself as the absoluteness inherent in subjectivity itself—as the intelligible and rational, conceptual and discursive structure that comprehends everything that is.54 As the coming-into-presence, the Parousia, of the absolute, Hegelian “[e]xperience is that being [Sein] in accordance with which the absolute wills to be with us.”55 Once the experience of consciousness is completed in absolute knowledge and the absolute thus becomes accessible within the immanence of selfconsciousness, ontotheology has reached its fullest possible extent. Heidegger’s later thought, following his Contributions to Philosophy (1936–38), was centered on exploring his notion of the contemporary possibility of another beginning or inception (Anfang)—a new, postontotheological starting point for a postmetaphysical, radically hermeneutic thinking that would call into question certain fundamental presuppositions of the Presocratic and Platonic “first beginning” of Western metaphysics.56 In contrast to the ontotheological drive toward an absolute point of view, postmetaphysical thinking would embrace the finitude, that is, the temporal and spatial situatedness and the historical, cultural, and linguistic context-sensitivity of human thought—more specifically, of the dynamic and reciprocal correlation between being and the human being that the later Heidegger captures in the title Ereignis, “event.” Gadamer’s outline of a hermeneutic concept of experience should be understood in the context of this Heideggerian break with ontotheology that renounces the Hegelian teleological aspiration to an absolute and infinite grasp of being in the sense of the accessibility and intelligibility of beings. Gadamer’s particular contribution in this regard is his attempt to reappropriate the concept of experience for a radical hermeneutic philosophy of the irreducibly historical and interpretive character of all understanding. The resources for this reappropriation can be found within the philosophical history of the concept 54 55 56

Heidegger, “Hegels Begriff der Erfahrung,” 202–204; “Hegel’s Concept of Experience,” 151–153. Heidegger, “Hegels Begriff der Erfahrung,” 204; “Hegel’s Concept of Experience,” 153 (trans. modified). On the “other inception” (der andere Anfang), see, e.g., Martin Heidegger, Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis) [1936–38], ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, Gesamtausgabe, vol. 65 (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1989); 4–6, 55, 57–60, 167–224; Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event), trans. Richard Rojcewicz and Daniela Vallega-Neu (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2012), 6–8, 44–45, 46–48, 131–176; Grundfragen der Philosophie: Ausgewählte “Probleme” der “Logik” [1937–38], ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, 2nd ed., Gesamtausgabe, vol. 45 (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1992), 124– 125, 184–190; Basic Questions of Philosophy: Selected “Problems” of “Logic,” trans. Richard Rojcewicz and André Schuwer (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994), 108–109, 158–164.



of experience itself, in the intrinsic dimensions of experience that the epistemological tradition certainly acknowledged but regarded as weaknesses or deficiencies that must be overcome by truly scientific thinking: (1) its contingency, that is, its essentially uncontrollable and unrepeatable nature; (2) its singularity or situated particularity, that is, its irreducible relativity to individual experiential situations with their varying prejudices and expectations; and (3) its negativity, that is, its potential for undermining and transforming all pre-established judgments and cognitive frameworks. As we have seen, the Aristotelian, Baconian, and Hegelian notions of experience as a method, as a pathway to science, all sought to immunize scientific knowledge against these aspects of experience by envisioning a transition from experience to the most universal and fundamental intuitive principles or axioms of intelligibility, to the discovery of the hidden truths or essences of nature through the systematic experimental management of empirical data, or to the absolute selfconsciousness in which there is no longer any disparity between knowledge and its object. In other words, all three thinkers of the tradition ultimately seek to attain, through experience, a kind of knowledge that is no longer susceptible to experience. Gadamerian philosophical hermeneutics, by contrast, discovers the true hermeneutic fruitfulness of experience in precisely these aspects. Hermeneutic experience is historical experience enacted in singular historical situations of meaningfulness. Such situations are, as articulated in Truth and Method, always entered in terms of our individual prejudices, of a pre-existing cultural understanding, of discourses and conceptual and linguistic frameworks inherited from our tradition.57 When making sense of any meaningful phenomenon encountered in the situation, we primarily interpret it in terms of our preunderstanding, applying the discourses and concepts that we already possess. However, according to the Heideggerian and Gadamerian model of the hermeneutic circle, if approached in a proper manner—in the form of a genuine question that acknowledges the finitude of our knowledge—these phenomena can, in turn, work retroactively on our preunderstanding and disclose its insufficiency, its inability to make sense of certain aspects of what is read, heard, or encountered.58 This discovery of insufficiency then encourages us to reconsider and revise our prejudices, our existing conceptual framework—and it is 57 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 270–312; Truth and Method, 268–306. 58 On the hermeneutic circle, see Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit [1927], 18th ed. (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2001), 150–153; Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh, revised by Dennis J. Schmidt (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2010), 145–149; Gadamer, Wahr­ heit und Methode, 270–281; Truth and Method, 268–278. On the hermeneutic priority of the question, see Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 368–384; Truth and Method, 356–371.

Encountering Finitude


­ recisely this feature that makes this discovery an “experience.” In the context p of the hermeneutic circle, the capacity for experience is precisely the capacity for being tested and “imperiled” by situations of interpretation in unpredictable ways, for encountering the irreducible negative otherness in phenomena that our current preunderstanding and our current conceptual framework are in some respect inadequate for making sense of. Thus, openness to hermeneutic experience means accepting, ever anew, the necessity of undergoing a transformation, of reconsidering and revising our current mode and our current discursive tools for understanding, interpreting, and making sense. In this sense, as Gadamer points out, a truly meaningful—that is, transformative—experience is analogous to an encounter with another person in the second person singular, as a “thou” (Du) with whom we are engaged in a genuine conversation. A “thou” always carries a foreign element irreducible to the “i” and therefore can never, in an encounter that takes place within the ethical dimension, be a simple object. Interpreting a text, a discourse belonging to a textual tradition, cannot be carried out in the role of an impassive and neutral observer—it always compels the interpreter to engage, from out of her specific historical and discursive position, with another “speaker,” another historical and discursive position which, if genuinely questioned and properly “listened” to, cannot avoid affecting the questioner herself. This is the Gadamerian model of “historically effected consciousness” (wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewußtsein), a consciousness of history not as a mere object of study but as the living network of a tradition in which we ourselves are caught and involved.59 Through a transformative discursive exchange with the “thou,” we can ultimately become incorporated into a new “we,” an entirely new shared perspective on the world. In such a hermeneutic “fusion of horizons” (Horizontverschmelzung), which is something entirely novel with regard to the horizons fused in it, our self is irreparably transformed.60 But only a finite self can encounter another as a genuine “thou”; only a finite self is susceptible to contingent, singular, and transformative encounters with that which comes from beyond its proper realm, in other words, to experiences. “Hermeneutic consciousness culminates not in methodological sureness of itself, but in the same readiness for experience that distinguishes the experienced person from the one captivated by dogma.”61 Among more recent contributions to the theory of hermeneutic experience, the subtle account articulated in Claude Romano’s Event and World (1998) 59 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 363–368; Truth and Method, 352–355. 60 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 311–312, 380, 383, 392; Truth and Method, 305–306, 367, 370, 390. 61 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 367–368; Truth and Method, 355.



approaches experience as exposure to events, to the singular takings-place of meaningfulness that have no substantial and repeatable identity. These events are precisely moments of transformation and rupture with previous identities after which nothing has exactly the same meaning as it did before.62 This singularity and unrepeatability of the events of experience is the fundamental reason that experience, unlike technical expertise, cannot be taught to others, as Aristotle emphasized: experience only truly addresses us in the singular. “[N]obody can teach their experience to another, for the experience they teach is always their own.” While “[o]nly events teach in the strict sense,” they do not transmit any knowledge or even empirical data. Experiences only teach us “to unlearn, to undo our prior knowledge and certitudes, by holding ourselves ready to learn anew from events themselves.”63 They hold us open to the “non-sense” inherent in every meaningful encounter with reality, to the inexhaustible excess of meaningfulness that always makes our comprehension or grasp of the situation inevitably finite and partial.64 Ex-per-ience, hyphenated by Romano in order to highlight the root *per-, is fundamentally an encounter with one’s limits, one’s essential finitude. In this sense, the limit-experiences of suffering and mortality—encounters with the limits of our physical and mental capacity to endure reality as well as the essential temporal limitedness and inescapable incompleteness of our capacity for meaningful encounters in general—are experiences par excellence.65 All in all, we see that even hermeneutic experience is “methodical” in the sense of being a dialectical process of transformation and development; but it is a dialectic without ultimate reconciliation, a method without teleology, without end or telos, a path followed indefinitely for its own sake in order to keep our thinking alive. As recapitulated by Gadamer, hermeneutic experience is experience of human finitude [Endlichkeit]. The truly experienced person [Erfahren] is one who has taken this to heart, who knows that she is master neither of time nor the future. . . . Genuine experience is that whereby the human being becomes aware of her finitude. In it are discovered the limits of the power and the self-knowledge of her planning reason. . . . Genuine experience is experience of one’s own historicity [Geschichtlichkeit].66 62 Romano, L’événement et le monde, 193–255; Event and World, 143–189. 63 Romano, L’événement et le monde, 199; Event and World, 147. 64 Romano, L’événement et le monde, 208–209; Event and World, 154–155. 65 Romano, L’événement et le monde, 233–255; Event and World, 173–189. 66 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 363; Truth and Method, 351 (trans. modified).

Poverty and Promise: Towards a Primordial Hermeneutic Experience Gert-Jan van der Heiden 1 Introduction What does experience mean from a hermeneutic point of view and what is hermeneutic experience? It is not difficult to ask this question, and in a c­ ertain sense it is not difficult to reproduce the basic, dialectical meaning awarded to this phenomenon in philosophical hermeneutics. Yet, a more pressing problem arises when we confront this understanding of philosophical hermeneutics with (some of) its limits and criticisms. Is it possible to think of ­hermeneutic experience in a different way so that it can overcome these limits or offer the means to address these criticisms? In this paper, I shall explore these basic questions in discussion with several passages from Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method in order to outline the meaning of experience in philosophical hermeneutics. I will also draw on Walter Benjamin’s short essays “Experience and Poverty” and “The Destructive Character” to offer one striking ­criticism of hermeneutic experience, which I will discuss in terms of the notion of the poverty of experience, and Martin Heidegger’s On the Way to Language to show in which sense this poverty may be incorporated in a new, primordial sense of hermeneutics and hermeneutic experience. To facilitate the transition from Benjamin and Heidegger and to describe an intermediate position between Gadamer and Heidegger, I have also included an intermediary section to discuss a small passage from Claude Romano’s Event and World in which the traversal and peril of experience are elucidated. Along these lines, this essay hopes to offer an exploratory understanding of the limits, the scopes and the different senses of hermeneutic experience. 2

The Negativity of Experience

There is an obvious place to start our discussion of the hermeneutic conception of experience, namely the part of Gadamer’s Truth and Method that ­examines

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this concept in a critical discussion with Aristotle and Hegel and develops an account of the essence of hermeneutic experience.1 Aristotle’s concept of empeiria positions experience as a mediation between the sense-perception (aisthēsis) of mere and multiple particulars (hekaston) and the scientific knowledge (epistēmē) of the universal (katholou).2 This mediating function is necessary, according to Aristotle, to explain how human knowledge can arise from sense-perception.3 In between the sense-perception of the particular and the knowledge of the universal, experience is thus the name for the first descrying of a unity within a multitude of particulars; yet, this unity does not have the universal status of epistēmē. In fact, Aristotle understands this type of unity in terms of repetition: “Thus sense-perception [aisthēseōs] gives rise to memory [mnēmē], as we hold; and repeated memories of the same thing give experience [empeiria].”4 While sense-perception and memory together only provide a multitude of memories, these memories constitute an experience if they are recognized as repetitions “of the same thing.” Due to this repetition, Gadamer stresses, experience does not offer us proper knowledge—for instance, of the reasons why Socrates and Callias are sick and why, therefore, certain remedies are more effective than others—nevertheless, it does offer us an insight into the sickness we discern in both Socrates and Callias alike and reveals that similar remedies are effective for both of them. While Gadamer affirms the mediating role of experience as middle term between the one and the many, the universal and the particulars, he criti­ cizes Aristotle’s account of experience in one respect—and he offers a similar criticism of Hegel and Husserl’s accounts as well. In the final instance, Hegel and Husserl understand experience in terms of its result, which is scientific ­knowledge—of either the first principles in Aristotle’s case or absolute knowledge in Hegel’s case—and which surpasses the realm of experience: “The nature [Wesen] of experience is conceived in terms of something that surpasses 1 Namely, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1999), 352–368. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (London: Verso, 2004), 341–355. Translated quotes will be referred to as #a/#b, where #a is the page number in the original and #b the page number in the translation. 2 Gadamer refers to two exemplary texts of Aristotle on empeiria, namely Metaphysics, Volume 1, Books 1–9, trans. Hugh Tredennick, Loeb Classical Library 271 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1933), 1.1.980b25–981b7, and Posterior Analytics. Topica, trans. Hugh Tredennick, E.S. Forster, Loeb Classical Library 391 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960), 2.19.99b15–100b17, see Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 356. 3 “Experience [empeiria] seems very similar to science [epistēmē] and art [technē], but actually it is through experience that men acquire science and art” (Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1.1.981a3– 5). See also Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, 2.19.100a9–10. 4 Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, 2.19.100a3–5.

Poverty and Promise


it; for experience itself can never be science.”5 In this way, however, by interpreting experience in light of its ahistorical result (absolute knowledge or knowledge of the universal), one runs the risk of losing sight of its “historical element.”6 Thus, Gadamer aims to think of experience without reference to its result and to value the kind of insight experience offers in its own terms. He does so for two reasons. First, even if experience turns out to have been on its way to scientific knowledge, this is not known in the process of becoming experienced itself.7 Second, although not all experience results in knowledge, all experience does offer insight, allowing humans to orient themselves in the world. Therefore, it is imperative for Gadamer to capture the process of experience in order to understand both the insight experience offers and its historical nature. To this end, he refers to an image by Aristotle. To understand how experience arises, Aristotle compares the multitude of sense-perceptions to the soldiers of a retreating army in which the order or the rule of a commander (archē) is no longer visible: The soldiers retreat without any order. Yet, as Aristotle writes, when one soldier comes to a halt and resumes his proper position, he is followed by another and yet another, until a certain order seems to reappear. Experience is seeing the unity that is expressed in the position of the first, the second, and the other soldiers that come to a standstill despite that the army has not yet adopted its proper order as a whole: each subsequently adopted position is grasped as a repetition of this unity that announces itself in the re-formation of the army.8 While Gadamer problematizes the reference to an ultimate archē that is presupposed in Aristotle’s example—the original order of the army—he adopts one element of this image: experience is the experience of an order arising “unpredictably, and yet not without preparation” from disorder; experience is “an event over which no one has control [dessen niemand Herr ist]” and “in which everything is coordinated [zusammenordnet] in a way that is ultimately incomprehensible.”9 The two main characteristics Gadamer adopts here from Aristotle’s account of experience—insight into the unity of multiple repetitions and unity as an unpredictable event that is ­nevertheless not without preparation—will return in the coming sections. Nevertheless, he does not yet find the historical nature of experience fully elaborated in Aristotle. Therefore, he turns to Hegel and his account of the negativity of experience. 5 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 361/349. 6 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 352/342. 7 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 357/346. 8 Aristotle, Posterior Analytics 2.19.100a10–15. 9 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 358/347.



For Gadamer, this negativity brings us to the genuine historical sense of e­ xperience. Looking back on the importance of repetition in Aristotle’s conception of experience, it is remarkable to read now, in relation to Hegel’s, the following: We use “the word ‘experience’ in two different senses: the experiences that conform to our expectation and confirm it and the new experiences that occur to us. This latter—‘experience’ in the genuine [eigentlich] sense—is always negative.”10 A genuine or proper experience is the experience that truly deserves to be called an “event” since it negates previous experiences and initiates a new horizon of meaning and understanding that “changes one’s whole knowledge.”11 It remains to be seen how much one should insist on the difference between a genuine and a non-genuine experience in Gadamer’s text. What is clear, though, is that the non-genuine experience marked by repetition offers us a sense of the development of insight, whereas the content of a genuine experience does not concern an insight with positive content but rather the insight that “it is nothing like I thought it was,” which, at the same time, discloses a new horizon in which another insight may be developed. Both senses of experience correspond to a particular meaning of its historical meaning: the genuine experience concerns the discontinuity in a historical process, that is, the revolution or the event constituting the historical, whereas the non-­genuine experience describes the continuity in a historical process of deepening and developing an insight. For Gadamer, the genuine experience, which displays the inherent negativity of experience, leads to a particular conception of “being experienced.” To be experienced does not mean that one has so much experience in a certain field or practice that one is capable of foreseeing everything, but rather that one is “radically undogmatic” and “particularly well equipped to have new experiences and to learn from them.”12 Whereas one might argue that the non-genuine experiences, since they constitute a continuous development, are moving toward a final knowledge that fully captures them, a genuine experience shows in which sense the essence of experience cannot be understood in terms of a resulting knowledge: “The dialectic of experience has its proper fulfillment not in definitive knowledge but in the openness to experience that is made possible by experience itself.”13 10 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 359/347. 11 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 359/348. 12 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 361/350. 13 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 361/350; therefore, “experience is experience of human finitude” (Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 363/351).

Poverty and Promise


The different characteristics of experience Gadamer discerns in Aristotle and Hegel will return in different ways throughout the other sections as well. Gadamer himself, however, sees his analyses as preparations of his own account of hermeneutic experience, which is an experience that “is concerned with tradition”; and, as he adds, tradition does not offer knowledge, principles or order, but “it is language—i.e., it expresses itself like a Thou.”14 To be a Thou means that tradition is like a conversation partner who speaks to us and makes a claim on us, namely that he or she has something meaningful to say to us: I must allow tradition’s claim to validity, not in the sense of simply acknowledging the past in its otherness, but in such a way that it has something to say to me. This too calls for a fundamental sort of openness.15 Thus, to experience tradition is to experience that which is handed down to us as offering new insights into the world: it expands and alters our understanding of the world and of ourselves. Tradition is thus postulated as the inexhaustible source of experiences. Consequently, to be experienced in a hermeneutic sense is to be open to the significance of tradition. At first sight, this all may seem unproblematic: who has not stumbled upon books, paintings, plays or music from the past that offered a genuine experience? Yet, there is something fundamentally vague in the sense of historicality that characterizes the experience of tradition. If a genuine experience is marked by negativity—“it is nothing like I thought it was”—and thus opens up a truly new horizon, would it not be possible to think of, as a limit case, an even more genuine experience, namely the one that negates the tradition to which the experiencers themselves belong and that renders this tradition meaningless? Perhaps rather than speaking here of an even more genuine experience, I should mention that, at this point, the difference between a genuine and nongenuine experience becomes problematic: The possibility of a hermeneutic experience, that is, of a particular tradition, depends on the repetition of one basic experience—namely, the experience that this tradition has something to say to me, that it offers something meaningful. This is affirmed by Gadamer’s notion of Wirkungsgeschichte, effective history: The history of tradition is a history in which tradition is effective, active, and operative. Yet, there is one experience that this sense of Wirkungsgeschichte excludes—namely, the ­experience 14 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 363–364/352. 15 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 363–364/352.



that the tradition has nothing to say to me. This latter experience is not identical to the experience that “it is nothing like I thought it was,” but it is a limiting case of it: The experience that tradition itself becomes meaningless means that tradition is nothing like it was experienced before. In this sense, Gadamer’s account of hermeneutic experience depends on a p ­ resupposition—the effectiveness of tradition—that does not play any particular role in Gadamer’s reading of experience in Hegel and Aristotle.16 This requires us to ask what the limits of hermeneutic experience are in light of the broader account of experience developed in relation to Hegel and Aristotle. To this end, I will turn now to an example in which the effectiveness of tradition is actually suspended. 3

The Poverty of Experience

In contrast to Gadamer’s presupposition of the effective history of tradition, Walter Benjamin speaks of a “poverty of experience” (Erfahrungsarmut).17 The poverty of experience concerns the very suspension of the effectivity of tradition. For Benjamin, this is not a theoretical construction, but rather it marks the contemporary experience of tradition and its authority: They are no longer effective but deactivated by the experiences of the First World War and, as part of these latter experiences, the technological developments that have interrupted the previous sense of humanity in which human beings are understood to thrive in tradition and to be formed by tradition, that is, Bildung. In such a situation, the traces of tradition are still around us; they are handed down as the sediments of the past. Yet, they lack the capacity to become effective again; they no longer speak to those who engage with these traces: they no longer give meaning to their opinions on subjects that matter in their world and no ­longer



As Agamben puts it, “the infinity of sense” offered by tradition (Giorgio Agamben, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen [Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999], 56). The relation established here between Gadamer and Benjamin is inspired by parts of Giorgio Agamben, “Language and History: Linguistic and Historical Categories in Benjamin’s Thought,” in Potentialities, 48–61. See also Gert-Jan van der Heiden, “The Abandonment of Hermeneutics and the Potentialization of the Past: Nancy and Agamben on the Loss of Tradition,” Philosophy & Social Criticism 41, no. 9 (2015): 929–944. Walter Benjamin, “Erfahrung und Armut,” in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. ii.1, ed. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991), 213–219; at 218. Walter Benjamin “Experience and Poverty,” in Selected Writings, vol. 2, part 2, trans. Rodney Livingstone and others, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999), 731–736; at 734.

Poverty and Promise


orient their actions.18 In “Experience and Poverty,” Benjamin captures this alienation from tradition and its resulting poverty of experience as follows: Where has it all gone? […] Where do you still hear words from the dying that last, and that pass from one generation to the next like a precious ring? […] And who will even attempt to deal with young people by giving them the benefit of their experience?19 It is interesting to confront Benjamin’s sense of poverty and alienation of tradition with Gadamer’s own understanding of alienation at the heart of the texts handed down to us in order to capture the true difference between them. For Gadamer, “the real hermeneutic task” is as follows: [A]ll writing is a kind of alienated speech, and its signs need to be ­transformed back into speech and meaning. Because the meaning has undergone a kind of self-alienation through being written down, this transformation back is the real hermeneutic task.20 While Gadamer acknowledges the “self-alienation” of meaning in the process of sedimentation that constitutes tradition, he nevertheless uncritically presupposes the possibility of undoing this alienation—in this example, the possibility of transforming back writing into speech and meaning. Yet, exactly this presupposition cannot be fulfilled in the situation Benjamin sketches. Here, the traces from the past, incapable of being transformed back into speech and meaning, are nothing but a meaningless burden for the present. As Benjamin writes: “For what is the value of all our culture [das ganze Bildungsgut] if it is divorced from experience?”21 Let us be honest, he continues, and “declare our bankruptcy. Indeed (let’s admit it), our poverty of experience is not merely poverty on the personal level, but poverty of human experience in general. Hence, a new kind of barbarism.”22 The term “barbarism” does not only refer to a lack of culture. In Greek, the barbaros is the one who does not speak Greek; the barbaros has no access to the Greek language, and it is impossible to engage in a dialogue with the barbaros. The barbarism is thus that of the barbaros who no longer speaks the language of the culture handed down. 18

See Giorgio Agamben, The Man Without Content, trans. Georgia Albert (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 111. 19 Benjamin, “Erfahrung und Armut,” 214/731. 20 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 397/394–395. 21 Benjamin, “Erfahrung und Armut,” 215/732. 22 Benjamin, “Erfahrung und Armut,” 215/732.



Tradition has become incomprehensible, and the encounter with its language is not the encounter with an effective language that speaks to us but rather with a language that we recognize as language, as an intention to signify or give meaning, but which refuses to give this meaning.23 Benjamin elaborates this poverty of experience in reference to the work of Paul Scheerbart and shows how tradition becomes meaningless in two ways. First, in relation to the strange depictions of humans that one may find in Scheerbart’s work—“completely new, lovable, and interesting creatures” transformed by technological developments—Benjamin notes that these “people” indeed “talk in a completely new language.”24 This language is different from the one of tradition and is engaged in “changing reality instead of describing it.”25 This means that the poverty of experience does not only refer to tradition’s absence of meaning but also to the appearance and the creation of something new. In this latter sense, recalling Gadamer’s emphasis on negativity as the core characteristic of a genuine experience, one might wonder whether Scheerbart’s artworks do not offer an experience in a genuine sense, going beyond the limits of hermeneutic experience. Second, interpreting what exactly is created by Scheerbart and others, Benjamin refers to Scheerbart’s reflections on glass architecture. The type of space the transparency of glass creates is a space that does not allow for traces. Benjamin contrasts these spaces with the houses that are so marked by their traces and the habits they exemplify that they even demand their inhabitants to adopt these habits so that their lives themselves become marked by these traces. Here, tradition is compared to these houses marked by traces, habits, and meanings that force a form on their inhabitants. The glass houses, on the other hand, are not a type of space that represents another, different tradition. Rather, they represent the very space arranged in accordance with the poverty of experience. If the traces of tradition are only a burden, the space in which no traces can be left behind liberates us from this burden. Indeed, as Benjamin quotes Brecht, the poverty of experience is, in a positive sense, concerned with the erasure of traces: “‘Erase the traces!’”26 People who experience this poverty are not “yearning for new experience.” By contrast, as Benjamin argues: “No, they long to free themselves from experience […]. They have ‘devoured’ everything, both ‘culture and people,’ and they have had such a surfeit that it has 23 24 25 26

See Walter Benjamin, “Erfahrung,” in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. ii.1, ed. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991), 54–55. Benjamin, “Erfahrung und Armut,” 216–217/733. Benjamin, “Erfahrung und Armut,” 216–217/733. Benjamin, “Erfahrung und Armut,” 217/734.

Poverty and Promise


exhausted them.”27 In this sense, the poverty of experience goes hand in hand with the renunciation (Verzicht) of culture and tradition and the preparation “to outlive culture, if need be.”28 Thus, Benjamin questions Gadamer’s understanding of “the real hermeneutic task” at its most basic level: Why, actually, do we need to experience tradition? Those who “have ‘devoured’ everything” and thus attempted to experience tradition are exhausted by it.29 Therefore, to the poverty of experience belongs a particular ethos, namely, that of renunciation and the erasure of traces. Let me emphasize that to erase traces does not require, for instance, the destruction of every letter handed down to us, but rather simply to erase their character as trace, that is, to disconnect them from the order or tradition within which they are handed down to us so that they can be rejuvenated and used in a new way. In “The Destructive Character,” written two years before “Experience and Poverty,” Benjamin more clearly describes this ethos—or character—of those who are poor in experience.30 He writes: “The destructive character is young and cheerful. For destroying rejuvenates, because it clears away the traces of our own age.”31 This ethos strives towards a clean sheet, a tabula rasa on which everything can be written, and towards an empty space, as Benjamin describes the destructive character: “He has few needs, and the least of them is to know what will replace what has been destroyed. First of all, for a moment at least, empty space—the place where the thing stood, or the victim lived.”32 This space is not emptied in order for another tradition to occupy or appropriate it, but it is rather emptied of a particular ruling tradition so that it becomes a free space that can be used freely, as Benjamin writes: “Someone is sure to be found who needs [braucht] this space without occupying [einzunehmen] it.”33 27 28 29


31 32 33

Benjamin, “Erfahrung und Armut,” 218/734. Benjamin, “Erfahrung und Armut,” 219/735. As Agamben writes on the relation of Gadamer and Benjamin: “If the interpreter looks toward the unsaid and the infinity of sense, for Benjamin the purpose of doing so is certainly not to preserve them but rather to put an end to them” (Agamben, Potentialities, 56). Walter Benjamin, “Der destruktive Charakter,” in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. iv.1, ed. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991), 396– 398. Walter Benjamin, “The Destructive Character,” in Selected Writings, vol. 2.2, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Others, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999), 541–542. Benjamin, “Der destruktive Charakter,” 397/541. Benjamin, “Der destruktive Charakter,” 397/541. Benjamin, “Der destruktive Charakter,” 397/541.



The empty space is thus not an image of sheer nothingness; rather it refers to another relation to history and language that is no longer marked by tradition but by possibility. This is the basic trait of the destructive character: It sees new possibilities everywhere. “But because he sees a way everywhere, he has to clear things from it everywhere. […] Because he sees ways everywhere, he always stands at a crossroads.”34 The latter image—“he always stands at a ­crossroads”—captures the type of experience that marks this ethos. The destructive character detaches from tradition for the experience of the possibility of new ways. The resulting empty space is the space of a potentiality of alternative ways. If it makes sense to call the poverty of experience an experience, then in the limiting sense discussed in the previous section, it is a genuine one since the negativity and alienation of experience are here pushed to their limit, and the final presupposition of any belonging to a tradition and its effectivity is deactivated. As opposed to Gadamer’s presupposition of the infinity of sense of tradition from which every hermeneutic experience draws, Benjamin’s poverty of experience arises in “an interpreter who does not want to shelter the infinity of tradition,” as Agamben writes.35 If Gadamer is right that “[e]very experience worthy of the name thwarts an expectation,”36 then the experience of this thwarting itself—that is, of the negativity or the destructive core of experience as making room for other experience, or the experience of the very potentiality of experience—is the only experience that deserves to be called genuine experience. Then the poverty of experience and its erasure of tradition’s traces is truly an “experience worthy of the name.” 4

The Peril of Experience

While it is not difficult to see the importance of Benjamin’s comments for establishing the limits of what Gadamer calls hermeneutic experience, it is less clear whether they can be recuperated in hermeneutics itself. Does the end of the basic presupposition of hermeneutics, the effective history of tradition, not also mark the end of hermeneutics per se? The answer to this question is not as straightforward as one might think. If we stretch our account of what hermeneutics is beyond the limits of Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, some other perspectives open up. In the remainder of this text, I aim to sketch two 34 Benjamin, “Der destruktive Charakter,” 398/542. 35 Agamben, Potentialities, 56. 36 Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 362/350.

Poverty and Promise


of these alternatives. In the rest of this section, I will address some of Claude Romano’s concerns related to what he calls the primordial phenomenological sense of experience. Then, in the next section, I will go one step further and inquire into Martin Heidegger’s account of the experience with language. The reconstructed debate between Gadamer and Benjamin concerns the question of the true nature of the negativity of experience. Which experience deserves to be called a genuine experience, that is, an experience that thwarts an expectation? In relation to this question, Romano’s phenomenological account of experience in Event and World offers some important suggestions.37 He adopts the distinction Gadamer introduces between a genuine experience and a repetitive experience, but he phrases it in terms of the difference between undergoing an experience (“faire expérience” and “Erfahrung machen”) and having an experience (“avoir expérience” and “Erfahrung haben”).38 By doing so, he also attributes this distinction and the sense of a genuine experience to Heidegger’s On the Way to Language, from which the expression “eine Erfahrung machen” stems. In this sense, Romano offers a natural transition between Gadamer and Heidegger in phenomenological hermeneutics, which is why his work will be briefly discussed here. For Romano, the second expression, “to have an experience,” refers to experiences that presuppose a particular horizon of meaning and understanding; these are the ones that are repeated and allow me to have a stable insight into or knowledge of things in the world. The first one, however, refers to a unique experience that is not repeatable and in which, in Romano’s vocabulary, an event in the strongest sense of the word is experienced, that is, an event that overthrows the human’s world and the horizon of meaning within which the human understands the world.39 Such an event is to be understood as the closure of a previous horizon of understanding and the disclosure of a new, unheard-of horizon. The experience of such an event is therefore the experience of a transformation or, better still, the experience of the traversal between these two horizons. Clearly, since the other horizon is in no way comprehensible in terms of the old, an experience in this sense of the word cannot be said to belong to a given tradition and its effective history. In this sense, we see that although Romano adopts the distinction between the two types of experience that Gadamer introduces in his discussion of Hegel’s concept of experience, his 37

Claude Romano, L’événement et le monde (Paris: Presses Universitaire de France, 1998), 193–201. 38 Romano, L’événement et le monde, 194–195. 39 For a more extensive discussion of Romano’s concept of the event, see Gert-Jan van der Heiden, Ontology after Ontotheology: Plurality, Event, and Contingency in Present-Day Philosophy (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2014), 188–204.



e­ xplication immediately shows that the application of this distinction to what Gadamer calls hermeneutic experience misses the crucial point.40 In order to consider the negativity and the transformative dimension of experience without approaching it in terms of its result (“absolute knowledge”), Romano’s concept of the event is helpful because the event is not the marker of a continuous effectiveness of tradition but rather of a fundamental discontinuity; thus, its experience is marked by unexpectedness. For Romano, this is the primordial sense of experience. To explicate this sense, he points out that experience is etymologically related to the Greek verb peirō (to traverse), as well as to the nouns peras (limit or boundary), poros (passageway), and peratēs (traveler or emigrant).41 Experience in a primordial sense is thus not the experience of the same, but rather the experience of the boundary, of the threshold that is crossed, and of the unforeseeable space one is about to enter and of which one cannot yet have experiences or insights related to. This is no longer concerned with the experience of an effective history of a tradition, but rather with the experience of traversing a threshold and its intrinsic difficulty, the experience of being on the way to another country, another realm and another horizon of understanding. It is an experience that does not know where it is going or what is about to happen to the one who is experiencing and whose world and self-understanding will be transformed in the process. In this sense, playing with the etymological relation between experience and peril, Romano insists that this experience poses a danger and a risk since we truly do not know what is happening.42 These different aspects that Romano brings into play, but which at the same time remain underdetermined in his text, do show a certain proximity of his analysis of a primordial experience to Benjamin’s poverty of experience and the related destructive character. Also for Benjamin, the closure of tradition’s horizon of meaning implies that tradition’s conception of experience does not offer anything meaningful anymore and that, rather, something undetermined, unforeseen and uninterpretable announces itself. “The destructive character,” as Benjamin writes, “has the consciousness of historical man”; yet this historical consciousness has nothing to do with Gadamer’s ­hermeneutic consciousness that always hears and acknowledges the meaningfulness and effectiveness of tradition. In fact, as Benjamin continues, the 40

Although Gadamer is not mentioned in this section of Romano’s book, also Romano refers here to Hegel’s notion of experience and its negativity, see L’événement et le monde, 199. 41 Romano, L’événement et le monde, 195–196. 42 Romano, L’événement et le monde, 200.

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“deepest emotion [Grundaffekt; of historical man] is an insuperable mistrust of the course of things and a readiness at all times to recognize that everything can go wrong.”43 The ethos of the destructive character is marked by a sense of the risk and the danger posed by history rather than its effectivity and meaningfulness: “No moment can know what the next will bring.”44 Yet, in (at least) one respect, Benjamin’s analysis goes beyond Romano’s. Benjamin distinguishes between the threshold itself—for instance, in the figure of the many ways the destructive character sees and the space that is reached by the erasure of traces—and a possible new horizon of meaning that may be opened up later. Romano’s sense of the event does not distinguish between these two and therefore thinks of the experience of the threshold as the experience of the disclosure of another horizon. This, however, is explicitly problematized by Benjamin. For him, Scheerbart and others are those who are “preparing to outlive culture, if need be.”45 Romano’s account of the traversal is anticipating a new horizon, and in this sense, a disclosed horizon within which a person’s understanding of him or herself is the goal of the event.46 Benjamin, on the other hand, insists on the threshold itself, on the space in between horizons and traditions as the space of potentiality itself that makes traversal possible but only in and as perilous traversal; not only is traversal perilous because one does not know which horizon, tradition or culture one will end up in, but also, in a much more basic sense, because this threshold might “outlive culture.” 5

The Promise of Experience

My analysis in the previous section suggests there is a difference between, on the one hand, the poverty of experience as the deactivation of the effective history of a tradition and, on the other, the experience of the disclosure of an other horizon of understanding. In this sense, while not affirming the effectivity of one, given horizon or tradition, Romano’s phenomenological concerns do seem to presuppose the effectivity of horizons. In his account, this presupposition can be traced in the fact that the experience of the event is always “après-coup,” or after the fact. Does this imply that, from a hermeneutic point of view, it is indeed not possible to truly be in the position of the poverty of 43 Benjamin, “Der destruktive Charakter,” 398/542. 44 Benjamin, “Der destruktive Charakter,” 398/542. 45 Benjamin, “Erfahrung und Armut,” 219/735. 46 Romano, L’événement et le monde, 201.



experience, the empty space of potentiality corresponding to it, and its accompanying ethos of the “renunciation” (Verzicht)? (As Benjamin writes on artists such as Scheerbart, “who have adopted the cause of the absolutely new and have founded it on insight and renunciation.”47). To see to which extent this perspective might be included in hermeneutics, let us recall that for Benjamin, the suspension of tradition and culture is connected to barbarism, that is, to a certain poverty of experience with language. Recall also that Gadamer’s definition of hermeneutic experience identifies tradition and its effectiveness with language. This identification, however, depends on the presuppositional structure on which Gadamer builds his hermeneutics. In terms of language, this presupposition means that language is the medium in which we always already understand (the world, ourselves, and so on). Yet, what remains out of reach in this presuppositional structure is the experience of language itself. As long as one belongs to an effective language and tradition, language itself is not experienced or understood, but always as this or that subject matter.48 This suggests that if there is a space or locus where one may undergo an experience with language itself, it is concerned with the space opened up by the suspension of the effectivity of language or, in Benjamin’s terminology, the poverty of language. At this point, Heidegger’s essay “The Nature of Language” (Das Wesen der Sprache) imposes itself on us.49 Romano refers to this text as the origin of the expression “Erfahrung machen,” and it is clear from “The Nature of Language” that this concerns the experience of language itself and the attempt to bring language itself to speech.50 Given what I argued above, this means that this essay by Heidegger—and this is affirmed by other remarks in On the Way to ­Language—offers another sense of the experience of language than Gadamer’s hermeneutics offers. Yet, Heidegger still describes this experience as “hermeneutic”—not in “The Nature of Language” but in “A Dialogue on ­Language”—; and before Romano, Heidegger speaks here of the hermeneutic in a primordial sense.51 47 48 49

50 51

Benjamin, “Erfahrung und Armut,” 219/735. See Agamben, Potentialities, 43–44. Martin Heidegger, “Das Wesen der Sprache,” in Unterwegs zur Sprache, Gesamtausgabe, vol. 12 (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1985), 147–204. Martin Heidegger, “The Nature of Language,” in On the Way to Language, trans. Peter D. Hertz (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 57–108. In “Das Wesen der Sprache,” Heidegger uses the expression “eine Erfahrung mit der Sprache machen” (or variations of it) at least eighteen times. Martin Heidegger, “Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache,” in Unterwegs zur Sprache, 79–146; at 114–116. Martin Heidegger, “A Dialogue on Language,” in On the Way to Language, 1–54.

Poverty and Promise


If we consider how Heidegger introduces the problem or the attempt of undergoing an experience with language, at which “The Nature of Language” aims, it is clear that this experience requires the suspension of the normal effectivity and understanding of language and indeed confronts us with a particular poverty of language. He first notes that many subjects come to language in language, but in this type of speaking, language itself does not come to language, and he continues: But when does language speak itself as language? Curiously enough, when we cannot find the right word for something that concerns us, carries us away, oppresses or encourages us. Then we leave unspoken what we have in mind and, without rightly giving it thought, undergo moments in which language itself has distantly and fleetingly touched us with its essential being.52 Language is effective when we successfully speak about something: The meaning of our subject matter offers itself in the medium of language. Yet, as this occurs, language itself is not addressed or spoken of. In fact, as Heidegger notes, it is exactly because our belonging to language does not impose itself on us in our everyday speaking that we can speak about other things. The medium in which we understand withdraws itself from the understanding. Only in those moments in which language refuses us the right word and in which we thus experience a poverty of language do we experience language itself in a fleeting touch. Thus, exactly in those moments in which we are barbarous, when we have no access to language but experience the renunciation of language, we are somehow on our way to an experience of language in Heidegger’s sense of the word. To elucidate such an experience of language—which, in the experience described above, is only offered in a fleeting touch and definitely not thoughtfully—Heidegger turns to Stefan George’s poem The Word because, according to him, this poem expresses poetically the poet’s experience of language. Although poetry is not thinking, the poetic expression of this experience might offer some hints on how to experience language itself thoughtfully (rather than poetically). Heidegger’s essay offers many different approaches to this poetic experience of language. For my own purposes, I will offer only a very limited exploration, focusing on one word from the poem, namely the word Verzicht or renunciation, which George’s poem uses in its last two lines: “So I renounced 52

Heidegger, “Das Wesen der Sprache,” 151/159.



and sadly see: // Where word breaks off no thing may be” (“So lernt ich traurig den verzicht: // Kein ding sei wo das wort gebricht”).53 What is this renunciation concerned with, according to Heidegger? He writes the following: What the poet learned to renounce is his formerly cherished view regarding the relation of thing and word. His renunciation [Verzicht] concerns the poetic relation to the word that he had cultivated until then. [His renunciation [Verzicht] is the preparedness for another relation.]54 For Heidegger, the poem thus offers a poetical expression of the relation of being and language. The poet apparently has to renounce one particular understanding of this relation. Yet, he renounces it not in light of a new, already established, understood or experienced relation; rather, the renunciation, as Heidegger writes, expresses the preparedness for another relation. Thus, this renunciation expresses that the poem is engaged in an experiment in which the hermeneutic experience of language is suspended and in which the poem is on its way to another experience with language itself. Yet, this being on the way is nothing but being prepared for another experience, for the possibility of experiencing language differently. Consequently, the poem expresses for Heidegger a poverty of experience that consists in being prepared for the paving of new ways as the very essence of poetical and thoughtful language. The following quote phrases this in the following terms: By learning that renunciation, the poet undergoes his experience with the word’s lofty sway. He receives primal knowledge [Ur-Kunde; original tidings, GJvdH] of what task is assigned to the poetic saying, what sublime and lasting matters are promised [zugesagt] to it and yet withheld [vorenthalten] from it.55 More than a resulting new relation between being and language, the stakes of the poem are to be found in the poet learning the renunciation which, in fact, constitutes the very experience of language the poem expresses. Here, the renunciation is explicated in terms of the double bind of promise and refusal: 53 54 55

The poem is quoted in Heidegger, “Das Wesen der Sprache,” 152–153/60. Heidegger, “Das Wesen der Sprache,” 157/65. I have added a translation of the sentence that is left out from the translation I am using here. In the original, this sentence reads: “Der Verzicht ist die Bereitschaft zu einem anderen Verhältnis.” Heidegger, “Das Wesen der Sprache,” 159/66.

Poverty and Promise


the renunciation promises (zusagen), yet refuses to give or withholds (vorent­ halten) what it promises.56 This refusal marks the poverty of the experience with language. The promise marks the peril of this experience. The promise is not anchored anywhere or in anyone, and it is not clear that language will give what it promises. In On the Way to Language, Heidegger suggests several times that we describe the essence of language as saying (Sage). Here, this essence of language is determined more precisely as Zusage: the saying of language is a promising to offer other ways; that is, it is the mere possibility of other ways not yet paved by any effective language—promising the poet access to language but at the same time refusing it. The particular nature of this poetic expression of the experience with language itself is confirmed by Heidegger’s repetitive use of the words preparation (Vorbereitung) and possibility (Möglichkeit) to describe what the poem actually offers and what his thoughtful experiment with this poem provides.57 It only prepares to bring us before the possibility of an experience with language itself. In sum, these words together—poverty, peril, preparation, preparedness and possibility—express most clearly what the “negativity” of experience (to which Gadamer guided our attention) ultimately is in Heidegger’s hermeneutic exploration. At the end of “The Nature of Language,” Heidegger finally offers his thoughtful expression in addition to George’s poetic expression, “Where word breaks off no thing may be” (“Kein ding sei wo das wort gebricht”). It reads as follows: “An ‘is’ arises where the word breaks up” (“Ein ‘ist’ ergibt sich, wo das Wort zerbricht”).58 This pithy formulation indicates that where the word breaks down or falls apart—that is, where language and tradition stop speaking to me and lose their meaningfulness—we do not encounter a pure nothingness, but an “is” gives itself to be experienced. This experience is not expressible in a language that remains intact. One rather undergoes such an experience where the word breaks down and withdraws itself in “stillness” or silence (Stille); this silence before an effective language and tradition is, for Heidegger, the very provenance of the word.59 To conclude, one is perhaps tempted to ask Heidegger the same question as we asked Benjamin: In which sense can this renunciation of the effectivity of language, of the names and words it has at its disposal, still be called 56 57 58 59

Cf. also: “Nein, in der Absage ist ihm schon etwas zugesagt, ein Geheiß, dem er sich nicht mehr versagt” (Heidegger, “Das Wesen der Sprache,” 158). See for these terms, e.g., Heidegger, “Das Wesen der Sprache,” 159, 163–164, 167, 170, 187, 202. Heidegger, “Das Wesen der Sprache,” 204/108. As he writes: “Das verlautende Wort kehrt ins Lautlose zurück, dorthin, von woher es gewährt wird” (Heidegger, “Das Wesen der Sprache,” 204/108).



hermeneutic? Does hermeneutics not depend on the effectivity of language? Heidegger’s “A Dialogue on Language” offers us a rather clear answer to this question. He emphasized that, by the time he wrote these essays, he had abandoned the term “hermeneutics” in the sense of the art of interpretation, as well as the term “phenomenology” to characterize his own path of thinking.60 This abandonment, he writes, “was done, not—as is often thought—in order to deny the significance of phenomenology, but in order to abandon my own path of thinking to namelessness.”61 He renounced the names and the words the tradition of philosophy has at its disposal in order to be able to prepare an experience that announces itself in the wake of the breaking down of names and words—a preparation which he calls “the proper step back on the way of thinking” in “The Nature of Language.”62 Yet, this other experience of language can still be called “hermeneutic.” In fact, as Heidegger claims, it is hermeneutic in a primordial sense of the word; this sense, derived from Hermes’s activity, concerns the bringing of messages and tidings. To experience the poverty of language is to hear language’s redemptive promise to speak and to name whatever is refused to enter language—what cannot speak, what lies beyond the boundaries of a horizon of meaning, or what cannot be expressed in a particular discourse—so that it is no longer banned from language but attested to in language.63 This is the primordial hermeneutic experience of language.

60 61 62 63

Heidegger, “Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache,” 94. Heidegger, “Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache,” 114/29. “Dieses Zerbrechen des Wortes ist der eigentliche Schritt zurück auf dem Weg des Denkens” (Heidegger, “Das Wesen der Sprache,” 204). Heidegger, “Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache,” 115–116.

Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis Lorenzo Girardi 1 Introduction The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An ­Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy (hereafter: Crisis) is the culmination of Husserl’s later thought, introducing many topics absent from previous works. Its overall focus is more historical, existential even, but the rationalism of Husserl’s prior thought is never abandoned. Despite its importance, it is an unfinished work. Many of its themes are not fully developed, allowing for multiple interpretations of its concept of the life-world, its use of history and the nature of the crisis Husserl places at the center of his last work. The publication of supplementary material to the Crisis has been helpful in shedding light on some of these matters.1 This article will look into one issue that has been clarified greatly by the further publication of Husserl’s writings, that is, the solution he proposes to the crisis. It will specifically look at the way Husserl attempts to establish the fundamental notion of unity on the basis of his account of experience. Husserl, as self-proclaimed heir to Renaissance philosophy, strove for a united humanity that has transcended its particularisms under the guiding light of reason. Despite the crucial place of this idea in his thought, its exact functioning largely remains implicit. This article will aim to show the place it has in Husserl’s solution to the crisis, how it is connected to Husserl’s teleological account of experience, and why this is ultimately problematic. To do so, an account will be given of what the crisis consists of and of the role of the life-world in it. The central claim is that Husserl’s goal of a rational, universal life-world seems to rely on a category mistake. Seemingly derived from the teleology of experience, his goal actually exceeds the boundaries of what can strictly 1 Many of the Husserliana volumes published over the past decades contain highly relevant material. Noteworthy in particular for the topic at hand is the recent publication of material on metaphysics and Husserl’s late ethics which date to the same period as the Crisis. See Edmund Husserl, Grenzprobleme der Phänomenologie: Analysen des Unbewusstseins und der Instinkte. Metaphysik. Späte Ethik (Texte aus dem Nachlass 1908–1937), ed. Rochus Sowa and Thomas Vongehr, Husserliana, vol. 42 (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014).

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���9 | doi:10.1163/9789004391031_007



speaking be justified through experience. With his own justifications for the unity of this goal falling short, whether experientially based or otherwise, it will be shown that it is a practical faith in reason on which Husserl relies for the realization of his ideal. 2

Crises and Solutions

Although the idea of crisis became an increasingly central theme of Husserl’s work, it is not always clear exactly which crisis he is talking about. In fact, there are at least two notions of crisis in play in his later work. The first is a crisis of the sciences whereas the second is a crisis of spirit or culture (Geist). It is important to distinguish these two crises to see exactly what is at stake in them and what solution Husserl provides for them.2 This is not to say that these ­crises—or their solutions—are unrelated to each other, but the relation between them only becomes clear when they are properly understood as ­distinct issues. The idea of a crisis of the sciences is a theme of virtually all of Husserl’s work in one form or another. He has always shown a concern for the foundations of the sciences and their scientific rigor, or rather the lack thereof.3 In the Crisis, he sketches an account of natural-scientific procedure in which idealization plays a central role. The crux is that the sciences substitute an idealized, mathematically constructed world for the world given in experience, the world in which we actually live. In Husserl’s words, they “take for true being what is actually a method.”4 It is not idealization as such that is problematic, but its misinterpretation. Husserl would fully agree that idealization is one of the main contributors to the flourishing of the sciences since the beginning of modernity. The issue is rather that idealization allows ideal objects a certain independence through which they can be known without repeating this idealizing accomplishment. One can thus rely on what can be seen as a ­passive ­understanding, using ready-made concepts and successful practical 2 Emiliano Trizio has clearly identified the distinction between the two crises and the importance of distinguishing them. See Emiliano Trizio, “What is the Crisis of Western Sciences?,” Husserl Studies 32 (2016): 191–211. 3 Husserl’s first book published in 1891 already addresses what he sees as the lack of a proper foundation for mathematics. See Edmund Husserl, Philosophy of Arithmetic: Psychological and Logical Investigations with Supplementary Texts from 1887–1901, trans. Dallas Willard (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003). 4 Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. David Carr (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 51–52.

Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis


application rather than a genuine understanding of scientific procedure. This has made it possible to overlook both the concrete world, which forms the basis for any idealization and the subjectivity that accomplishes it. Somewhat paradoxically, the lack of insight into its own procedure did not impede the progress of science, though it has made it possible to question its scientificity. The latter is where the problem lies for Husserl: how can a science that is oblivious to its own mode of operating be called scientific in any proper sense? The crisis of spirit is not directly related to this crisis of the scientificity of the sciences. Unlike the latter, the idea of a crisis of spirit only became a focal point of Husserl’s philosophy in reaction to the First World War. It can broadly be conceived as the consequence of the loss of rationality in the domain of spirit. In his Vienna Lecture Husserl provides an apt analogy with medicine: whereas the natural sciences have developed medicine for physical illness, there is no scientific equivalent for ailing culture.5 But it is not just that the human sciences and philosophy have failed to provide a rational manner for dealing with the human spirit, a rational approach to the human spirit is not on their agenda anymore at all.6 The natural sciences are incapable of addressing the theme of spirit, because they precisely abstract from and overlook subjectivity and the life of the spirit. Insofar as the human sciences and philosophy try to model themselves on the natural sciences, they too are not up to the task. Any possible other approaches are deemed irrational, because rationality is equated with the perspective of the natural sciences. The result is that neither science nor philosophy has anything to say regarding the meaning or meaninglessness of human existence. This is a far cry from the Renaissance ideal of science and philosophy—which Husserl considers exemplary—which made human existence its focus. It is precisely the faith in this ideal, a faith in the ability of reason to guide human life, which has been lost. Although these two crises are distinct, they are clearly related. If it was not for the utter dominance of the natural sciences and their forgetting of the actual, thoroughly human, world of experience, the possibility of a rational approach to human existence would perhaps not have been lost. Yet, for Husserl, the fault lies not with the sciences themselves. It is philosophy which has failed to properly respond to this disenchantment. It is, then, also up to philosophy to find a solution. As with the crises themselves, their solutions are distinct, but related. Although the spiritual crisis is not limited to the sciences, they play 5 Husserl, Crisis, 270. 6 Husserl, Crisis, 272–273. In the Vienna Lecture Husserl is more negative about the human sciences than in the Crisis (cf. Husserl, Crisis, 4; 270–271). He even suggests that the crisis is a problem purely of the human sciences (273). Further in the lecture, it becomes clear that the problem lies with philosophy’s inability to properly clarify the domains of the natural and human sciences (296).



a major role in it by covering up the meaningful world in which we live. Accordingly, Husserl’s solution starts by looking at a way to undo this. This means bringing to the fore the world which the sciences overlook. That is, one must bring the sciences to full self-evidence by showing how they have their source in the world of pre-scientific experience, what Husserl refers to as the life-world. Of course, this would merely address the crisis of the sciences. It would secure their scientificity, but not yet fix the spiritual crisis which consists in a lack of rational opposition to the naturalistic interpretation of the world, that is, the lack of a rational-scientific way of dealing with human affairs. But when the life-world is thematized as the pre-given ground of the sciences, it can subsequently itself be made into a proper domain of inquiry.7 The life-world is not just defined by its function as ground for the sciences. It is a meaningful region in its own right as the world to which all human activity is related. As such, it is precisely the realm of spirit which was abandoned as a domain of reason, leaving it vulnerable to relativism, mysticism and barbarism. These threats can be staved off by showing that there can be a rational unanimity (Einstimmigkeit) regarding the life-world, that is, by demonstrating the possibility of a rational, universal culture. Before going on to look at how Husserl attempts to achieve this goal and what place the life-world has in it, it is important to be clear on what this entails for him. His solution lies in reinstating and again taking up the task of philosophy. As already alluded to, the Renaissance (or Greek—his emphasis on the importance of one or the other changes from text to text) ideal of philosophy is normative for Husserl. This ideal consists of nothing less than universal philosophy, what we can even call metaphysics, as encompassing “in the unity of a theoretical system, all meaningful questions in a rigorous scientific manner, with an apodictically intelligible methodology, in an unending but rationally ordered progress of inquiry.”8 Paul Ricoeur has summed up Husserl’s aim quite well: “Reason is more than a critique of cognition; it is the task of unifying all the significational activities, speculative, ethical, aesthetic, etc.”9 While Husserl does not exactly want to go back to the rationalism of the Renaissance philosophers, as it is this very rationalism which ultimately led to the crisis, he is clear about one thing: “[T]heir intention, seen in its most general sense, must never die out in us.”10

7 Husserl, Crisis, 121–123. 8 Husserl, Crisis, 8–9. 9 Paul Ricoeur, Husserl: An Analysis of His Phenomenology, trans. Edward G. Ballard and Lester E. Embree (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2007), 157. 10 Husserl, Crisis, 197.

Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis


Attributing such a strong notion of metaphysics to Husserl might seem to go against the grain of many of his writings. There is definitely some truth to, for example, Jean Grondin’s characterization of him as “the godfather of antimetaphysical thought.”11 Yet, Husserl does not dismiss metaphysics as such, and it has a determinate and important place in his philosophy—although he never got around to systematically working it out. It is telling that Eugen Fink’s outline of the continuation of the Crisis culminates in a “phenomenological concept of metaphysics.”12 This is corroborated in other writings where ­Husserl speaks quite positively about metaphysics, perhaps most explicitly in the Cartesian Meditations and the research manuscripts collected in the Grenzprobleme volume of his work.13 What is clear from these texts is that Husserl’s endeavor to relate the various domains of knowledge and experience to each other is fundamentally tied up with problems of human existence and meaning, the so called “ethico-religious problems.”14 This is already present in the earlier Logos essay, where it is stated that philosophy traditionally “claimed to be the science that satisfied the loftiest theoretical needs and renders possible from an ethico-religious point of view a life regulated by pure rational norms.”15 Far from disagreeing with this definition of philosophy, Husserl laments the fact that philosophy hitherto has failed to live up to this ideal; the ideal of providing a total, unified account of the world on the basis of which we can address and resolve questions regarding our existence. In what follows, it is precisely the possibility of such an ultimate unity or harmony, which is so central to Husserl’s overall philosophy, that will be called into question. 3

Back to and Beyond the Life-world

The concept of the life-world is essential to Husserl’s later work and in particular to his solution to the crisis. It is developed in various stages and, even within the Crisis, we can find different conceptions of it. To some extent Husserl acknowledges this, as when he speaks of the concept being taken in a narrower


Jean Grondin, Introduction to Metaphysics: From Parmenides to Levinas, trans. Lukas Soderstrom (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 199. 12 Husserl, Crisis, 400. 13 See Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology, trans. Dorion Cairns (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 2013), 139, 156; Husserl, Grenzprobleme. 14 Husserl, Crisis, 8–9; Cartesian Meditations, 156. 15 Edmund Husserl, “Philosophy as Rigorous Science,” in Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy, trans. Quentin Lauer (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 71.



or broader sense and of different levels or strata of the life-world.16 Difficulties arise when the term is used to designate incompatible concepts.17 Providing an exhaustive overview between the many different uses of the term exceeds the scope of this article. Instead, the focus will be on the life-world insofar as it has a place in Husserl’s account of and solution to the crisis. In general, for Husserl, the life-world is “what we know best, what is always taken for granted in all human life.”18 It is the world in which we live precisely as we live in it, as opposed to the abstraction of the world that science provides. It is this world, as taken for granted both in everyday life and by science, that Husserl wants to investigate as it is concretely experienced. As Bernhard Waldenfels has aptly put it, though this world is “[d]rowned out by science, it is brought to voice by philosophy.”19 Despite Husserl’s emphasis on the life-world, it should not be forgotten that his inquiry into it is the starting-point, not the end-goal of his philosophy. This goes for both the question of the sciences and that of the spirit. An ultimate clarification of the sciences cannot stop at the life-world, but has to take into account the constitution of the life-world by transcendental subjectivity. Likewise, the thematization of the life-world is only a first step in solving the spiritual crisis, because Husserl is not interested in any life-world whatsoever but in one that fits his ideal of reason. Despite the centrality of the life-world in his later work, it is not only a matter of going back to it, but also of going beyond it, towards a universal sense of the world. What, then, is the life-world as the lived world before scientific thematization? At times when Husserl talks about the life-world, he is talking about a world of things distributed in space-time available to us through perception.20 It is tempting to understand this as the physical world, but we should be careful to distinguish this world from the world as discussed by the natural s­ ciences. The latter is already an abstraction from the bare perceptual level. Even the perceptual world, however, is just one layer of the life-world.21 Husserl is not always clear about this due to his emphasis on perception. This emphasis is justified by the prominence of sensible intuition: everything that exhibits itself in the life-world as a concrete thing has a bodily character, even if it is not a 16 Husserl, Crisis, 122, 168. 17 See David Carr, “Husserl’s Problematic Concept of the Life-World,” American Philosophy Quarterly 7, no. 4 (1970): 331–339. 18 Husserl, Crisis, 123–124. 19 Bernhard Waldenfels, “The Despised Doxa: Husserl and the Continuing Crisis of Western Reason,” Research in Phenomenology 12 (1982): 25. 20 Husserl, Crisis, 142. 21 Husserl, Crisis, 168.

Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis


mere body.22 In this sense, the perceptual world is a privileged layer of the lifeworld. All the more so, because even in bare perception, we do not perceive objects individually but as belonging to an intersubjective world that exceeds any single object.23 Despite the emphasis on perception in many of Husserl’s accounts of the life-world, the bare perceptual world is not the life-world as we are most intimately acquainted with it. We do not live in a world of mere things. As we experience it in everyday life, the life-world is a cultural world. It is precisely as a cultural world that the life-world provides the pre-given ground on which all human activity relies. This is the world as “changing, surrounding life-world of peoples and periods.”24 The fact that it is the cultural world that Husserl is after as foundation of the sciences and not a bare perceptual world is further suggested by the fact that while the cultural world is founded on the latter, he cannot properly conceive of them as separated.25 The life-world as it is immediately given thus has to include the full garb of culture, lest we already distinguish between the perceptual world and the cultural world in a theoretical maneuver, which is something Husserl precisely wants to avoid. Furthermore, it would be unclear how thematizing the perceptual world would contribute to solving the spiritual crisis. Remaining on the level of the cultural world, however, is also insufficient to address the spiritual crisis. As mentioned, there is a plurality of cultural worlds. While all of mankind to some extent shares a common perceptual world, it is evident that there are various cultural worlds with their own norms for life. Only in some cases are these cultural worlds defined by norms of reason.26 Thus, a return to the life-world as cultural world is a return to a cultural relativism that runs counter to Husserl’s rationalist project. He wants to go beyond the plurality of cultural worlds towards a rational, universal idea of the world. The life-world as cultural world is what needs to be made rational. The step back from the world of science to the everyday, cultural life-world is followed by a step beyond it in the direction of the “true” world. This idea of a true world is central to what Husserl takes philosophy to be. He sees it as the goal of philosophy ever since its inception with the ancient 22 Husserl, Crisis, 106. 23 Husserl, Crisis, 163. 24 Husserl, Crisis, 147. 25 Edmund Husserl, Die Krisis der Europäischen Wissenschaften und die Transzendentale Phänomenologie. Ergänzungsband. Texte aus dem Nachlass. 1934–1937, ed. Reinhold N. Smid, Husserliana, vol. 29 (The Hague: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992), 260. 26 Husserl sees rationality as unique to Europe and those nations which have been “Europeanized.” Other nations are characterized as pre- or extrascientific. See Husserl, Crisis, 275.



Greeks. In Husserl’s account, it was the ancient Greeks who first discovered the world in the proper sense. The clash between different worldviews experienced by the Greeks led them to the idea of a single world for all, and the same still goes for all of us: “[E]ach of us has his life-world, meant as the world for all. Each has it with the sense of a polar unity of subjectively, relatively meant worlds which, in the course of correction, are transformed into mere appearances of the world, the life-world for all. This is the world; another world would have no meaning at all for us.”27 The importance of the Greeks, for Husserl, lies in the fact that instead of succumbing to relativism, they reacted against the plurality of different worldviews, of different cultural worlds, by postulating one, true world distinct from any particular view on it. It is not hard to see Husserl as a descendent of these Greek philosophers, operating within a climate of relativism and skepticism, but seeing this not as a reason to give up the dream of universality, but as a reason to rationally rethink it. How, then, can this dream be realized? The various cultural worlds might share a foundation in a common perceptual world, but there is no such thing as a universal culture that they all reflect. Husserl’s solution lies in their common structure. Although there exist many different cultural worlds, they are all based on a universal a priori of the life-world.28 What is crucial is not some object or region of objects given in the life-world, cultural or otherwise, but the structure of the life-world itself as a pre-given horizon for any object. This horizon embraces all layers of the life-world and can perhaps be seen as its most fundamental layer. The life-world as common to all cultural worlds is thus not any given, concrete world, but the world as pre-given in the alterations of its manners of givenness.29 It is this horizon-structure which points towards the idea of a universal world for all. The world in this sense of horizon is distinct from any particular cultural world in that it is infinite and indeterminate. It is the background against which things can become determinate in the first place, that is, against which our intuitions can be fulfilled. This means that there is, in principle, always at least an incipient extension of the world beyond the limits of any particular cultural world. It is clear that there are two very distinct senses of “world” at play here. Husserl is fully aware of this, at times distinguishing between the life-world and what he calls the “world in general,” that is, the world as horizon.30 This distinction allows him to take up the project of actively shaping the 27 Husserl, Crisis, 254–255. 28 Husserl, Crisis, 139. 29 Husserl, Crisis, 154. 30 Husserl, Crisis, 382.

Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis


life-world in terms of the world as horizon, suspending the contrast between them. This is precisely what Husserl says took place in the shift of culture in ancient Greece from a finite to an infinite mode of historical existence; the shift from a self-enclosed society in a particular world to a form of universalization that incorporates the sense of the world as horizon into its very being.31 Concretely, this takes place in a double move of critique and rationalization. The first is a “universal critique of all life and life-goals, all cultural products and systems that have already arisen out of the life of man; and thus it also becomes a critique of mankind itself and of the values which guide it explicitly or implicitly.”32 But it is not merely critique. Its “aim is to elevate mankind through universal scientific reason, according to norms of truth of all forms, to transform it from the bottom up into a new humanity made capable of selfresponsibility on the basis of absolute theoretical insights.”33 This is a c­ ontinual process and, in line with the idea of the world as horizon, it is something that is never fully completed. It is a teleological idea related to a struggle for everincreasing rationality, and it is this struggle which is to give our lives meaning as we work towards the universal world for all. 4 Teleology The teleological nature of the world is an essential part of Husserl’s solution to the crisis. It provides mankind with an “infinite task,” a continual striving for ever-increasing rationality, never leaving us satisfied with the current state of affairs.34 The end goal, the telos, is not something we can ever fully arrive at, because it only exists in the very progression toward it. It is an “infinitely distant and unattainable idea, of which only the form, as an absolute norm for the construction of all starting points, is given.”35 This means we can distinguish between the world as horizon itself, which guarantees the possibility of a continual extension of the world beyond its particular givenness; and the idea of the realization of the universality this entails in a concrete life-world that is always still to be achieved. As noted, Husserl’s solution to the crisis lies in a double move of critique and rationalization. The critical aspect of this teleology is clear. Less clear is 31 Husserl, Crisis, 279; Edmund Husserl, Erste Philosophie (1923/24). Zweiter Teil, ed. Rudolf Boehm, Husserliana, vol. 8 (Dordrecht: Springer, 1965), 200. 32 Husserl, Crisis, 283. 33 Husserl, Crisis, 283. 34 Husserl, Crisis, 279. 35 Husserl, Crisis, 305.



what it is working towards. In the Crisis, we find no discussion of what the world corresponding to his ideal would look like. It is a purely formal idea without any defined content. Nonetheless, Husserl gives some indications. He calls it “a supranationality of a completely new sort,” a “spreading synthesis of nations,” and an “ideally directed total society.”36 What he aims for is not any definite state of society, but a shape which best suits the further pursuit of this infinite task. However, it is clear that this teleology converges on unity. In relation to the various cultural worlds, this is a unity between all nations and peoples; in relation to the task of philosophy, this is a “complete synthesis of possible experiences.”37 This unitarian aspect is crucial to Husserl’s solution to the crisis of spirit, because it functions as his safeguard against relativism. It allows him to overcome the idea of an ultimately fragmented mankind through the universality of reason. However, this guiding idea of unity is problematic. In the Crisis, Husserl does not give explicit arguments for why rationality entails unity, for why there can be only one rational conception of the world. His teleology is based on the world as horizon, which allows for the superseding of any particular cultural world, but this by no means automatically entails the possibility of a single, universal world for all. There might be different, equally rational ways the world can take shape without these ways converging on each other. Guided by the same formal idea of reason, different nations can go in different, even clashing directions. An example is to be found during the First World War. In support of their respective sides, both French and German philosophers, ­Husserl included, claimed it was their nation that truly represented reason and universality. Although this use of philosophy was largely propagandistic in nature, it is telling that men supposedly guided by a universal idea of reason were so staunchly opposed to each other’s conception of it. This idea of a unitary telos is perhaps Husserl’s greatest presupposition, and one that remains unclarified in his work.38 It seems that the idea of unity enters Husserl’s solution through a category mistake. As several commentators have noted, he treats the world in the sense of horizon, that is, as constituting or constitution-guiding, as a single world to 36 Husserl, Crisis, 289. 37 Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 62. 38 See Jan Patočka, An Introduction to Husserl’s Phenomenology, trans. Erazim Kohák (Chicago: Open Court, 1996), 169; Gail Soffer, “Philosophy and the Disdain for History: Reflections on Husserl’s ‘Ergänzungsband’ to the ‘Crisis,’” Journal of the History of Philosophy 34, no. 1 (1996): 115.

Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis


be constituted.39 This allows Husserl to treat his ideal world as an object, that is, as something with a coherent, unified sense. Even if he acknowledges the essential impossibility of a completed constitution of this world, this still goes against the very idea of a horizon. A horizon is precisely not an object with any form of synthetic unity. Treating it as such nonetheless, even as an ever-to-beconstituted object, means transforming it into a possible unified, closed, final state. Although the actual closure of this teleology is constantly deferred, the very idea of a closure is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of the world as horizon. This closure or unity is hinted at, but not actually provided by experience. Despite the fact that Husserl’s telos is mainly a formal notion devoid of content, he still attributes too much to it by making it unitary. The problem is that Husserl’s teleology can only work as he needs it to work if one relies on this idea of unity provided by treating the world as an object. If there is literally nothing, no final state at the end, what would this teleology be converging upon? The telos is regulative and provides the rule for the entire teleology, that is, for going beyond the limits of the particular cultural world. If the unity this telos is to provide is not justified, neither is the move from the life-world as a plurality of cultural worlds to a singular, universal sense of the world. We could imagine the dominance of a single cultural world over all of mankind, and this might even be a rational world, but it would not be the world in the universal sense Husserl is after. It would be universal in fact, but not in principle. The nature of the category mistake that Husserl seems to be making can be highlighted by showing the difference between two kinds of teleology that are to be found in his work. These correspond to what he has called the internal and external horizons of objects of experience.40 A central idea in Husserlian phenomenology is that objects are never fully given in experience, but always in perspective. We always only perceive a particular side, a particular aspect, etc. Nonetheless, we have an awareness of the object as a whole. This predelineation of the object as a whole is its internal horizon. On the basis of it we go beyond what is actually given in experience “toward a unity which ‘appears’ 39


See Ludwig Landgrebe, “A Meditation on Husserl’s Statement: ‘History is the Grand Fact of Absolute Being,’” The Southwestern Journal of Philosophy 5, no. 3 (1974): 124; Don Welton, “Husserl and the Japanese,” The Review of Metaphysics 44, no. 3 (1991): 605; Anthony J. Steinbock, Home and Beyond: Generative Phenomenology after Husserl (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1995), 101. Edmund Husserl, Experience and Judgment: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic, ed. Ludwig Landgrebe, trans. James S. Churchill and Karl Ameriks (London: Routledge & ­Kegan Paul, 1973), 33.



continually in the change of the modes of its givenness.”41 It is this unity— the object that we perceive ‘through’ the manifold flux of experience, the object that allows for a “continuing realizing directedness of the ego toward the ­object”—which can always be fleshed out further.42 Already on this very fundamental level, we find that subjectivity is structured teleologically. In this respect, it is important to note that although we can never have a “complete” view of the object, the object itself is there “in person” (leibhaftig), as “a pole of identity, always meant expectantly as having a sense yet to be actualized.”43 This actualization can never be complete, but in it we do approach the object itself. In fact, it is the object that provides the rule which guides further synthesis as an Idea in the Kantian sense.44 This object-guided element of Husserl’s phenomenology entails that we cannot constitute the object in any way whatsoever, but only on its own terms. Moreover, it guarantees the possibility of a harmonious synthesis of experience. It is precisely the correspondence with an actual object that distinguishes the internal horizon from the external horizon. The latter provides a synthesis between objects of experience. The external horizon allows for the extension of experience from object to object and region to region, indicating the idea of a total synthesis of all possible experience.45 Indeed, our experiences are only linked together insofar as they manifest an underlying unity, because that is what it means to experience something horizonally.46 The crucial difference with the internal horizon is that although both the internal and external horizon are regulative principles ordering experience, only the former has an actual object corresponding to it, guaranteeing the possibility of a harmonious synthesis of experience. Of course, the synthesis of either horizon may fail. We may have seen something wrongly, a certain perspective may have been misleading, and in extreme cases, our experience may break up into a confused discordance of sensations. But if there is an object involved, it is this very object which showed us we were wrong. It can push back against our mistaken views on it. The ideal unity presupposed by the external horizon, however, 41 Husserl, Experience and Judgment, 80. 42 Husserl, Experience and Judgment, 80. 43 Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 45–46. 44 Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book. General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, trans. Fred Kersten (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1983), 342–344. 45 James Mensch has shown that this idea of total synthesis can ultimately be led back to the temporal constitution of experience. James R. Mensch, Intersubjectivity and Transcendental Idealism (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1988), 355. 46 Mensch, Intersubjectivity and Transcendental Idealism, 353.

Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis


lacks any such guarantee for the possibility of an ultimate coherence. It is a unity which is experienced as immanent to our coherent experience, but this currently experienced coherency can fail. Where the internal horizon has the object as a transcendent unity to fall back on, the external horizon has no such external measure. At times, Husserl fails to properly distinguish between the two kinds of horizon, in one stroke calling both object and world “infinite ideas correlating to a complete synthesis of possible experiences.”47 This should not lead us to overlook the fact that the constitution of an object and the synthesis between objects are two distinct processes despite both taking the form of an infinite teleology. As László Tengelyi has pointed out, there are two different kinds of infinity at play here: actual and potential.48 The former, corresponding to the teleology of the internal horizon, allows for an ever-increasing adequation of the object. With every new perspective on it, we get closer to the thing itself despite never reaching it. The external horizon, however, operates according to a potential infinity. This is an infinity without any limit that can be approached and that could structure it, that is, without any principle guaranteeing harmony among its parts.49 Tengelyi is completely correct in claiming it is one of the most important features of Husserl’s account that “it is not the world as a whole but each single thing in its particular reality which is considered by him as an Idea in a Kantian sense.”50 As we have seen, Husserl himself does not always strictly adhere to this distinction between different kinds of horizon. It is their conflation that provides him with the idea of a unitary telos for all of experience. Yet, when accounting for this telos, he does not explicitly rely on this teleological structure of subjectivity. Perhaps this is because, in the end, he is aware that the world as horizon cannot be treated as an object. But if the notion of horizon is insufficient to account for his telos, and he does not explicitly make use of his account of subjectivity in arguing for it, how does he try to justify it? Two ways he goes about doing this are through an account of intersubjectivity and an appeal to history. 47 Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 62. 48 László Tengelyi, “Experience and Infinity in Kant and Husserl,” Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 68 (2005): 480. 49 Husserl himself seems to point toward this when he says that unlike the internal horizon, the external horizon is a prefiguring of experience “devoid of any intuitively given framework that would require only more differentiated ways of sketching it in.” In the case of the internal horizon, this is precisely provided by the object. Edmund Husserl, Analyses concerning Active and Passive Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic, trans. Anthony J. Steinbock (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2013), 43. 50 Tengelyi, Experience and Infinity, 493.

94 5


Justifying Unity

In the Cartesian Meditations Husserl explicitly addresses the intersubjective constitution of the one world for all.51 Intersubjectivity is crucial to his account of experience, because the synthesis of experience is not achieved by isolated egos. The fundamental incompleteness of our experience of the world requires others to fill it out and to provide a stable background that is independent of my individual, finite constituting capacity. That is why it is “ultimately a community of monads, which, moreover, (in its communalized intentionality) constitutes the one identical world.”52 If the world is constituted intersubjectively, then all egos must be taking part in the shaping of the same world, even though no individual ego possesses it as a whole. This seems to fit the idea of the world as an infinitely distant idea of which each particular world is only a relative approximation. However, this argument for the unitary nature of the world as telos relies on the impossibility of a plurality of separate monadic communities. If there were separate communities, and without an object to guide their progression in the same direction, they would ipso facto be constituting separate worlds. Although Husserl is quite insistent on the idea that there can only exist a single community of monads, this is not all that evident. The existence of multiple communities is inconceivable to him, “a pure absurdity.”53 But can we not say that it is only recently that mankind became aware of itself as a whole? Even now there exist isolated communities in South America and Southeast Asia that have never been in contact with other cultures. It seems problematic to hold that they somehow take part in the constitution of our world or we in theirs. Why, then, is the very idea of a plurality of monadic communities an absurdity for Husserl?


In the context of the Cartesian Meditations, it might seem Husserl is only talking about a unified physical world, not any cultural world, because of his emphasis on “only one Objective world, only one Objective time, only one Objective space, only one Objective Nature” (Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 140). However, later in the text he makes it explicit that the monadic sphere he invokes involves “all the problems of accidental factualness, of death, of fate, of the possibility of a ‘genuine’ human life demanded as ‘meaningful’ in a particular sense among them, therefore, the problem of the ‘meaning’ of history, and all the further and still higher problems. We can say that they are the ethico-religious problems, but stated in the realm where everything that can have a possible sense for us must be stated” (156). In other words, what Husserl addresses here is precisely the world insofar as it has a place in his solution to the spiritual crisis. 52 Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 107. 53 Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 140.

Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis


The argument Husserl provides is an answer to Ricoeur’s question: “‘In’ which consciousness is the plurality of consciousnessess posited?”54 Husserl’s answer: “[I]n my sphere of ownness, naturally.”55 Despite his emphasis on transcendental intersubjectivity, he cannot conceive the plurality of monads except on the basis of a “constitutive primal monad relative to them.”56 This primacy of a single monad is crucial in his argument for the impossibility of a plurality of communities: “Accordingly they belong in truth to a single universal community, which includes me and comprises unitarily all the monads and groups of monads that can be conceived as co-existent.”57 While this accounts for the unity of the community of monads, this community is not that of all monads, but of all monads insofar as they are conceived by the primal monad. Again, unity is presupposed by relying on the synthetic activity of subjectivity, but not justified insofar as there can be communities of monads not conceived by the primal monad, as in the case of communities closed off from the rest of mankind of which we are unaware. The mere thought of being in communion with these communities does not entail any real co-constituting of the same world. In the Crisis, Husserl takes a different approach, attempting to show that his teleology is inherent to the development of history. He outlines a path from the Greek birth of philosophy to the Renaissance, into modernity, and up to the establishment of phenomenology itself. This entire development, he claims, is working towards the realization of a unitary telos. Yet, there are many remarks that show Husserl was not at all concerned with the factual accuracy of his historical account. He says we need to take its accuracy with a grain of salt and explicitly rejects a scientific concern for history.58 What ultimately matters for Husserl is the way history can be a source of motivation, the way past philosophers can inspire him regardless of the historical truth of his interpretation of them.59 This precludes any attempt to justify his telos by referring to (factual) history. Husserl’s account of history is widely considered to be lacking and this is not surprising considering his own comments regarding his interest in history.

54 Ricoeur, Husserl, 150. 55 Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 107. 56 Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 140. 57 Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 140. 58 Edmund Husserl, Aufsätze und Vorträge. 1922–1937, eds. Thomas Nenon and Hans Rainer Sepp, Husserliana, vol. 27 (The Hague: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988), 393. 59 Edmund Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität. Dritter Teil, ed. Iso Kern, Husserliana, vol. 29 (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973), 49.



Husserl needs to show that his teleology is real, that it is a universal project that anyone can take up. A personal motivational account will not suffice for this, as it by no means provides a rational basis for his project. Gail Soffer has suggested that we can read the Crisis as Husserl’s attempt to bring his personal motivational history and factual history together.60 Of course, this is not how history is to be done. As Ricoeur has said: “If philosophy whispers the password into the historian’s ear, what good is this detour through history?”61 There is another reason why an appeal to the course of history can never show the reality of Husserl’s telos. This telos is invoked in a struggle for a better world, indeed, an infinitely better world. By definition, it exceeds anything history has to offer. We should therefore keep it separate from any account of history, including any account that serves to motivate us to realize this telos in history. It would be nothing but a fiction that serves to encourage us in realizing a teleology that only becomes real when we actively strive to make it so, as Husserl himself makes clear.62 Husserl’s use of history, then, is not to be read as a philosophy of history, but as a contribution to human liberation or a maxim for acting in history.63 But as James G. Hart has noted, the semi-fictitious nature of Husserl’s ­account of history does not make his telos itself fictional.64 This means that despite Husserl’s questionable use of history, his teleology itself as a task for mankind is not discredited. Moreover, understanding his detour through history has shed light on the impossibility of supporting his telos by any historical or experiential fact. Instead of any fact in which it can be grounded, it relies on a motivation, a will to be rational and to make history rational. Rather than looking for a ground outside of itself, we can say that Husserl’s teleology is a consequence of man “understanding that it is rational in seeking to be rational.”65 60 Soffer, “Philosophy and the Disdain for History,” 114. 61 Ricoeur, Husserl, 154. Ricoeur has also noted the fact that although Husserl gives precedence to his teleology over factual history, the latter cannot be completely disregarded. Otherwise there could be no crisis. In some sense, crisis is the precise moment where history overtakes teleology, where it is shown that the latter is not (yet) real. See Ricoeur, Husserl, 171. 62 Husserl, Krisis Ergänzungsband, 397. 63 Jan Patočka, “Edmund Husserl’s ‘Die Krisis der Europäischen Wissenschaften und die Transzendentale Phänomenologie,’” The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility. Formalisation and the Life-World, ed. Lubica Učník, Ivan Chvatík and Anita Williams (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015), 28; Landgrebe, “A Meditation on Husserl’s Statement,” 125. 64 James G. Hart, “From ‘Mythos’ to ‘Logos’ to Utopian Poetics; An Husserlian Narrative,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 25, no. 3 (1989): 164. 65 Husserl, Crisis, 341.

Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis


But how can man sustain this understanding when confronted with a historical situation in which it is rationality itself that has been called into question? 6 Faith Justifications for the unity of Husserl’s telos by way of the horizonal nature of experience, intersubjectivity, or an account of history all seem unworkable. It seems this unity cannot be justified theoretically. Indeed, when we look into Husserl’s later writings on metaphysics, we find that he relies on practical, rather than theoretical reason. He invokes Kant’s theory of postulates as containing a deep truth and providing a source of strength for his thinking.66 Quotes such as the following are telling: The world must have a “sense” [„Sinn“]. In all individual and communal [völkischen] destiny there must lie a unitary and intelligible sense – ­philosophy must construct this sense in relation to the irrationality of the fact [of the world]. This is irrationality over and against theoreticalpractical rationality. What must be believed, so the world can still have a sense, so that life can remain reasonable within it? The content of this faith cannot be justified through “theoretical” knowledge, but this faith is justifiable from the motive of a possible practical life of reason.67 Husserl’s idea of a teleology as a rational bulwark against relativism is thus deeply connected with a faith in reason that is not itself theoretically justifiable. Throughout the Crisis, he makes use of the terminology of faith, which, in light of the quoted remarks, seems to be more than mere rhetoric.68 He speaks of “the faith in ‘absolute’ reason, through which the world has its meaning” and 66 Husserl, Grenzprobleme, 217. 67 Husserl, Grenzprobleme, 238. All translations from the German editions are my own. 68 Aside from the terminology of faith in the Crisis, there are also many references to God in relation to Husserl’s teleology throughout the Husserliana volumes. Husserl, Intersubjektivität iii, 381, 385; Husserl, Aufsätze und Vorträge, 33–34; Husserl, Grenzprobleme, 203. On the relation between theology and teleology in Husserl, see Louis Dupré, “Husserl’s Thought on God and Faith,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 29, no. 2 (1968): 201–215; Klaus Held, “Gott in Edmund Husserls Phänomenologie,” Philosophy, Phenomenology, Sciences, ed. Filip Mattens, Hanne Jacobs and Carlo Ierna (Dordrecht: Springer, 2010), 723–738. For a more extensive account of the idea of God in Husserl’s work, see Lee Chun Lo, Die Gottesauffassung in Husserls Phänomenologie (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2008).



identifies a lack of such a faith as the cause of the crisis.69 It is important to note that this is not a sudden irruption of irrationality in an otherwise rational project, but a practical necessity for its realization. The world is not rational, but Husserl simply refuses the possibility that the world is ultimately not one of reason, but of unreason: “It cannot be, that absolute life ultimately is irrational, that mankind is an ethical (a worthy, value-creating) mankind only by coincidence, that the world embodies beauty and reason only by coincidence and partially and temporarily.”70 7 Conclusion Husserl’s reliance on practical reason or faith makes sense if we look at how he accounts for this inception of his teleology: the clash of different worldviews and the subsequent positing of the one, universal world. While it is easy to see how the experience of such a clash leads to the relativization of our worldviews, it does not automatically lead to the idea that they must be views of a single world. This overcoming of a plurality of relative worlds through the positing of a single world is a second step requiring its own justification. As ­argued, Husserl seems to do this by treating the world as horizon as a to-be-constituted object. But while this is motivated through the teleological structure of experience itself, there is no such object to actually provide the unity his teleology requires. As such, this unity is a speculative idea. It is not supported by experience, but by a practical faith in reason. The question is whether this is enough to justify the ideal of the world Husserl strives for.

69 Husserl, Crisis, 10, 13. 70 Husserl, Grenzprobleme, 379.

Forgetfulness of Experience: Ideality and Necessity in Merleau-Ponty’s Reading of Husserl’s “Origin of Geometry” Diego D’Angelo Whereas Jacques Derrida’s Introduction to Husserl’s Origin of Geometry has ­enjoyed a wide reception in today’s phenomenological discourse,1 the same has not held true for Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s reading of the same Husserlian text. This is partly due to the style of Merleau-Ponty’s observations: Husserl’s Appendix on the origin of geometry (the third Appendix from his Crisis of the European Sciences2) is interpreted by Merleau-Ponty in an ensemble of scattered notations used as the basis for a course offered at the Collège de France in 1959 and 1960. The often cryptic style of the notes renders the text particularly difficult and challenging. These notes are an ideal follow up to Merleau-Ponty’s essay about H ­ usserl entitled The Philosopher and His Shadow,3 but their genesis dates back to ­Merleau-Ponty’s stay at the Husserl Archives of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in 1939. At the time, he was mostly interested in Husserl’s late philosophy. This can also be seen in the fact that Husserl’s third appendix to the Crisis is mentioned in the Phenomenology of Perception4 although it does not play a major role in the book. Although difficult to read, these notes allow an in-depth grasp of Husserl’s own thought as interpreted by Merleau-Ponty, but most importantly, they allow us to better understand the importance of a confrontation that influences Merleau-Ponty’s entire path of thinking. Merleau-Ponty is particularly

1 Jacques Derrida, Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction, trans. John P. Leavey (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978). 2 Edmund Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie: Eine Einleitung in die phänomenologische Philosophie (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1976); Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970). 3 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signs, trans. Richard McCleary (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964). 4 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge, 2005), 208.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���9 | doi:10.1163/9789004391031_008



interested, in these course notes, in understanding Husserl’s text within the overall context of transcendental phenomenology. He discusses some of Husserl’s key concepts in the light of the question of language. He does this by explicitly linking Husserl’s reflections to Heidegger’s late text on Language (Die Sprache), which had been published a few years before in On the Way to Language.5 In order to limit the scope of my analysis, I will follow a particular conceptual path. In general, I intend to analyze the connection of ideality and necessity and examine the role that the two concepts play in the origins of reason in Merleau-Ponty’s reading of Husserl’s text. According to Merleau-Ponty, our experience is settled at the threshold between ideality, necessity, and rationality. The main claim of my interpretation is that rationality is bound to a forgetfulness of the experiential, empirical roots of ideality. More specifically, I will address the following points: I will give (1) a general introduction to Merleau-Ponty’s text on Husserl, highlighting the main differences between it and Derrida’s interpretation of the same text.6 I will primarily focus on the concept of “Stiftung” or institution of ideal meaning, which is a key aspect of rationality in Husserl’s view.7 In order to elucidate this origin of the European “style” (as Merleau-Ponty puts it) of thinking, I will (2) address two fundamental concepts in this text: ideality and necessity,8 describing how they relate to each other. For Husserl,

5 Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language, trans. P.D. Hertz (New York: Harper & Row 1982). 6 On this, see Leonard Lawlor, “The Legacy of Husserl’s ‘Ursprung der Geometrie’: The Limits of Phenomenology in Merleau-Ponty and Derrida,” in Merleau-Ponty’s Reading of Husserl, ed. Ted Toadvine and Lester Embree (New York: Springer, 2002), 201–225. 7 The term “institution” is taken by Merleau-Ponty from Husserl. In a more systematic vain— or perhaps simply more in harmony with other works by Merleau-Ponty—we could argue that the birth of scientific meaning is a bodily act of expression and creation. On this, also in relation to contemporary issues in the philosophy of mathematics, see Marjorie Hass and Lawrence Hass, “Merleau-Ponty and the Origin of Geometry,” in Chiasms: Merleau-Ponty’s Notion of Flesh, ed. Leonard Lawlor and Fred Evans (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2000). The authors claim that Merleau-Ponty’s account of geometry and Husserl’s are “radically different” (Hass and Hass, “Merleau-Ponty and the Origin of Geometry,” 184). It seems that this is due to a misunderstanding of Husserl’s position (reduced to an analytic understanding of mathematics, see Hass and Hass, “Merleau-Ponty and the Origins of Geometry,” 185) which is quite untenable from a phenomenological standpoint and to overlooking the importance of Husserl’s Origin of Geometry for Merleau-Ponty’s own thought. 8 Leonard Lawlor too stresses the role of necessity in Merleau-Ponty’s reading, but he argues that this relates mostly to the necessity of writing and is also to be found in Derrida (Lawlor, “Legacy,” 207). The concept of necessity I’m working with in the following is not (only) the necessity of writing, but mostly the necessity of negation, which does not play a central role

Forgetfulness of Experience


as he shows using the example of geometry,9 the form of rationality which is typical of the scientific enterprise arises from the transformation of pretheoretical praxis (i.e. lived experience itself) within the life-world (Lebenswelt) into a pure theoretical attitude (die theoretische Einstellung). Merleau-Ponty underplays the role of this pure theoretical attitude and instead stresses the dialectic that exists between praxis and theoria. In this sense, experience itself has to be understood as a kind of dialectic movement. Precisely because of this emphasis on the dialectic, the origins of reason and of European rationality are traced back to the connection between ideality and necessity. I will stress, along with Merleau-Ponty,10 the necessity of the forgetfulness of experiential origins in order for sense itself to become ideal. I suggest calling this necessity an “a priori necessity” in order to emphasize that it is a transcendental condition for ideality itself. It is therefore one aspect of the so-called “material a priori” of experience itself, as Husserl is developing it from the third Logical Investigation onwards, and not a Kantian a priori condition of possibility to be located in the faculties of subjectivity. As a way of concluding, I will (3) ask, using Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation of the text, if and how the very concept of European rationality is bound to the necessity of forgetfulness in our experience, and I will analyze how this can cope with Husserl’s conception of the “question-in-return” (Rückfrage).11 1

General Introduction to Merleau-Ponty’s Course Notes

To begin, I would like to point out, very briefly, some distinguishing features of Merleau-Ponty’s reading of Husserl’s Origin of Geometry. The course notes on this text, which were used by Merleau-Ponty as a draft for his lessons at the Collège de France in 1959–1960, are to be understood as a complement for another 9



in Derrida’s Introduction. Lawlor’s considerations and my own start from a common point, but are developed in quite different directions. Merleau-Ponty’s interest in geometry is due not only to his reading of Husserl, since he explores the question of mathematical and geometrical truths already in the Phenomenology of Perception. On this see Lawrence Hass, “Expression and the Origin of Geometry,” in Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy, ed. Lawrence Hass (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008), 146–169. In the following, it will be not possible to use either Husserl’s concept of ideality, or ­Merleau-Ponty’s own, as it is defined in other texts. The reason for this is that the concept itself is precisely what they are looking for. Therefore, I will define ideality for the scope of the following inquiry, in a kind of operative way, as a shared or common meaning, that is, a meaning we all (the problem is, of course, to define this “we all”) understand. Husserl, “Origin of Geometry,” 301.



course, which bears the title La philosophie aujourd’hui (“Philosophy today”) and was held in early 1959. The title of the 1959–60 lessons at the Collège was Husserl aux limits de phénoménologie (“Husserl at the limits of phenomenology”), which was afterwards taken up as the title of the English edition. It is the penultimate course held by Merleau-Ponty before his untimely death in May 1961. The original French text of the course on the Origin of Geometry was published in a volume in 1998 along with contributions from several scholars on the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty.12 In 2002, Leonard Lawlor published a revised English translation of these notes. As he says, his “translation of the Course Notes […] is based on a revised French version by Dominique Darmaillacq of [Frank] Robert’s original transcription. Thus, the English translation offered here differs in significant ways from the version originally published in France in 1998.”13 In the following, I will stick to this English version not only to avoid continuous references to the French text, which would make this contribution unnecessarily long, but also because this version of the text is improved with respect to the original French edition.14 It therefore allows a reading which is actually more correct from a philological point of view. It is also interesting to note in passing that the more famous introduction to Husserl’s text by Jacques Derrida appeared only two years after MerleauPonty’s course, and the similarities between the two readings are fascinating. The attention to writing and sedimentation,15 to the problem of the writer’s death, and to many other themes are common to Merleau-Ponty and Derrida,16 12 13 14



Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Notes de cours sur L’origine de la géométrie de Husserl. Suivi de Recherches sur la phénoménologie de Merleau-Ponty, ed. Renaud Barbaras (Paris: puf, 2008). Leonard Lawlor, “Editor’s note,” in Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Husserl at the Limits of Phenomenology, ed. Leonard Lawlor and Bettina Bergo (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2002), xxxix–xliii, here xxxix. Françoise Dastur too says that “ces notes, retranscrites par Frank Robert” have “un certain nombre de fautes de transcription, y compris en ce qui concerne allemands.” For her essay, she had access to the original manuscripts and had to correct a “considerable number” of errors in order to have “un texte considérablement plus fiable que celui qui a été publié en 1998.” Françoise Dastur, Chair et langage: Essai sur Merleau-Ponty (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2001), 181. A collection of essays on this topic was published in 1997, when Merleau-Ponty’s course notes were still unknown to the public, but it still provides useful background readings: Martin Dillon, ed., Ecart and Différance: Merleau-Ponty and Derrida on Seeing and Writing (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1997). Cf. also Emmanuel Alloa, “Writing, Embodiment, Deferral: Merleau-Ponty and Derrida on The Origin of Geometry,” Philosophy Today 58, no. 2 (2014): 219–239. Lawlor writes that “nothing is more confusing than to examine, side by side, MerleauPonty’s late writings with Derrida’s early writing; it almost seems as though we are reading the same philosopher” (Lawlor, “Legacy,” 201).

Forgetfulness of Experience


a­ lthough it is unlikely that there was any kind of personal exchange between the two philosophers at the time. Indeed, it has always been a problem for scholars of contemporary French thought that no kind of explicit confrontation between Merleau-Ponty and Derrida is to be found in the texts of Derrida himself. In his works, Derrida hardly quotes any line written by Merleau-Ponty. One could argue, reading Merleau-Ponty’s notes, that Derrida committed parricide as Socrates did to Parmenides, or as Merleau-Ponty in these very Course Notes describes Heidegger doing to Husserl: “[T]he law of the ParmenidesSocrates parricide; with one’s master, one also learns how to do something other than what they do, something other which is the same thing,” as painters do, Merleau-Ponty adds.17 This does not amount to the claim that there was some kind of direct affiliation between Merleau-Ponty and Derrida at the time, but simply that the striking similarities should be analyzed from a philosophical standpoint and that, by doing so, a strong connection between Derrida’s deconstruction and Merleau-Ponty’s later ontology of the flesh could come to light. But this needs to remain an open suggestion in order for our contribution to focus on the main issue at stake here, namely the origin of reason out of the necessity of forgetting the experiential roots of ideality. Although, as just stated, it would be rewarding to compare the two readings in detail, the following contribution is going to focus on an immanent reading of Merleau-Ponty’s text in order to approach his considerations in a systematical way. The most distinguishing feature of Merleau-Ponty’s reading lies in the fact that he – far more than Derrida – is interested in the question of the genesis of ideal sense. He wants to show that ideality is possible only because of the fact that, in this genesis, a kind of necessity is at play. The novelty of Merleau-Ponty’s approach consists in stressing this kind of necessity, and in specifying that this necessity consists in a necessary forgetting of the original experience. The origin needs to be forgotten to allow for the genesis of ideal meaning. But for Merleau-Ponty, the concept of Stiftung (as precisely this kind of “origin” or Ursprung) does not generate a semiotic “differencing” between signifier (the material side of a sign) and meaning (the “ideal” side of a sign) which is always already postponed in time, as it does for Derrida. In MerleauPonty’s understanding, the original Stiftung or institution of meaning is “the positing of a style,”18 that is of the “a priori space” in which ideality can settle. This style is—as I will argue—dictated by the forgetfulness which is necessary to the genesis of concepts. I would like to draw attention to this necessity of

17 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 13. 18 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 26.



forgetfulness which is, in Merleau-Ponty’s opinion, proper to experience itself and to the rationality of science in general. 2

Ideality and Necessity

Merleau-Ponty explicitly links the general theme of Husserl’s analysis, that is, the crisis of the European sciences, to two different questions: the question of Sinnentleerung and the question of ideality. Husserl is interested in the fact that the sciences have lost meaning or sense (Sinn) since they cannot rationally justify their ideal presuppositions.19 So Merleau-Ponty states: “[T]he question that needs to be clarified: the Crisis of European science is due to Sinnentleerung (devoiding of sense). The immediate remedy is historical Besinnung (meditation) in order to reawaken the Urstiftung (original foundation) and all of its horizons. To unveil the Lebenswelt (life-world), the being of the horizon. To take up contact with what in us understands the Urstiftung, with the interior of the history which bears the ideality—but can we still do this? Isn’t total reactivation in principle impossible?”20 According to Merleau-Ponty, the scope of Husserl’s analysis is problematic. Husserl argues for the possibility of a total reactivation of the original Urstiftung in order to find a remedy to the devoiding of sense, but—as Merleau-Ponty shows—such a total reactivation is impossible.21 19 Husserl, Crisis, 3. 20 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 32. 21 To what extent Husserl himself recognizes the need for negativity and forgetfulness in the constitution of tradition must be left open in the context of the present contribution. In other words, I do not think Merleau-Ponty is right in arguing that Husserl really aims at a total reactivation of sense. Merleau-Ponty claims in The Philosopher and His Shadow that “establishing a tradition means forgetting its origins, as the aging Husserl used to say” (Merleau-Ponty, Signs, 159), but no text reference is given. Some pages later, he goes on making the same point he also makes in his reading of The Origin of Geometry, and precisely this point will be at the center of this essay: “between the deeper and the higher levels of constitution, we perceive the singular relationship of Selbstvergessenheit that Husserl already names in Ideen ii, and that he was to take up again in the theory of sedimentation. Logical objectivity derives from carnal intersubjectivity on the condition that it has been forgotten as carnal intersubjectivity, and it is carnal intersubjectivity itself which produces this forgetfulness by wending its way toward logical objectivity. Thus, the forces of the constitutive field do not move in one direction only; they turn back upon themselves. […] It displaces and changes the situation it set out from, and the spring of constitution can no more be found in its beginning than in its terminus” (Merleau-Ponty, Signs, 163). Merleau-Ponty quotes Husserl, but the word “‘Selbstvergessenheit”’ is used by Husserl only to designate the fact that the subject, who wants to ­reflect on the ­constitution

Forgetfulness of Experience


Why is this the case? I think we can single out three different reasons. (1) On the one hand, a complete reactivation is impossible because of our limited capacities. Merleau-Ponty argues that a “reactivation of everything” is impossible because “the individual and even a cultural group have finite capacities of reactivation.”22 Indeed, a total reactivation would imply that we can reconstruct the entire development of an ideal entity once and for all. This, in turn, would imply taking into account all possible nuances and variations of that meaning along its history, and also that we are able to return “in person” to its factual origin. But both are obviously impossible due to our limited capacities: we cannot go back in time, and an account of all possibilities connected to an ideal meaning would be an infinite task. A total reactivation would imply that we can grasp “truth” in itself—a presupposition ruled out by Husserl, who held that truth is “eine unendliche Idee,” an infinite idea in the Kantian sense.23 (2) On the other hand—which is far more important from a philosophical point of view—the origin is always for us, for the present; it is an origin insofar as we, today, are looking for it and conceptualize it precisely as an origin. This is the reason why Merleau-Ponty states that “every spiritual production is a response and an appeal, a coproduction,”24 so that every origin, every Urstiftung, is always already an answer to preceding instances, such as our contemporary issue with finding the origin of rationality. This, in a dialectical fashion, shows the impossibility of grasping an absolute beginning.25 (3) But there is yet a third level in the impossibility of reactivation which deserves a closer look. There is an intrinsic impossibility in total ­ of material things, has to forget himself; and Husserl seems to correct himself as he says, on the same page, that “Indessen für die Herstellung einer vollen Gegebenheit eines materiellen Dings […] ist diese Selbstvergessenheit nicht wohl angebracht,” because the constituted thing points back “auf das Subjekt” (Edmund Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Band ii: Phänomenologische Untersuchungen zur Konstitution, ed. by Marly Biemel [The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff 1952], 55); Husserl even says that “wir müssen die vorhin berührte Selbstvergessenheit des Ich […] in einem entscheidenden Punkt aufheben” (Husserl, Ideen ii, 80–81). There is, in the quoted passages, no reference to tradition. Some remarks about the Selbstvergessenheit of the ego can be found in Inga Römer, Das Zeitdenken bei Husserl, Heidegger und Ricoeur (Dordrecht: Springer, 2010), 95–116, also in relation to similar concepts in Heidegger. 22 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 65. 23 Husserl, Crisis, 373. 24 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 66. 25 In this sense, it even becomes problematic to speak of an “Urstiftung,” since stricto sensu there is no such thing. An Urstiftung becomes an Urstiftung only afterwards, thanks to our present quest for an origin.



r­ eactivation that bears on the necessity of forgetfulness, and to this I will dedicate some analysis in what follows. For Merleau-Ponty, the very historical transformation which idealities undergo in their becoming is based on a necessary presupposition that has a double face. Husserl explicitly recognizes only one aspect of the necessary structure of the historical becoming of idealities: “sedimentation is necessary.”26 That is, an ideal meaning has to sediment, such as in writing, in order to be accessible to everybody at different times, even after the death of the author. As Merleau-Ponty puts it: “there is sense, and particularly fruitful sense, sense capable of founding always and founding always new acquisitions, only through sedimentation, trace.”27 Trace, in turn—as a marginal notation says—is “presence of an absent: experience of an absence.”28 In order to institute a fruitful ideal sense, this sense has to undergo a peculiar transformation, which is at the same time a gaining and a losing. Husserl has very little to say about this second face of the problem. This gaining and losing can be explained as follows. On the one hand, the sense gains a new, ideal and public dimension through sedimentation: it becomes accessible (at least de jure) to everybody at any given time. On the other hand, precisely in this sedimentation (i.e., in this process of becoming ideal) the ideal sense loses something of itself. It loses its relation to lived experience, to empirical facticity. It becomes nothing more than a trace of itself, a kind of presence of an absent: it becomes experience of an absence insofar as, to use the example of geometry, we can reactivate the sense of Pythagoras’s Theorem on the sides of a right triangle without the actual presence of Pythagoras himself. Indeed, the ideal meaning of Pythagoras’s Theorem relies precisely on the possibility of being reactivated in the absence of Pythagoras. Therefore, the process of becoming ideal is based on the a priori necessity of a loss, the loss of the author himself, the loss of immediate presence itself. This also brings Merleau-Ponty to the aforementioned claim regarding the “impossibility of total reactivation.”29 We can notice a particular tension in this way of reading Husserl’s text. The “cure” against the loss of sense, which causes the modern crisis of European science, relies upon the reactivation of the original foundation of the ideal meanings in which the different sciences are founded—for example, for 26 Husserl, Crisis, 370. 27 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 32. 28 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 80. Since Merleau-Ponty himself uses the word “trace” in this sense of “experience of an absent,” here we have another remarkable parallel to Derrida. 29 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 26.

Forgetfulness of Experience


geometry Pythagoras’s Theorem. But this loss of sense that characterizes modern European sciences is not just an epiphenomenon which can be overcome by reactivating the original sense: it is the very nature of ideality that necessarily implies this kind of loss. Therefore, total reactivation of the origins is impossible precisely because it would imply making ideality non-ideal, that is, making it empirical again. A total reactivation would require the presence of Pythagoras himself, and thereby the meaning of his theorem would lose precisely that ideality which it had gained by being detached from its author. A total reactivation of the origins of the ideal sense would presuppose—to put it in other words—to lose this very ideality we are trying to reactivate. As Husserl would put it, we can only reactivate the original experience of the Urstiftung independently from the author, and for Husserl, although Merleau-Ponty does not explicitly say so, this kind of reactivation (which is not total) would still remain possible. The necessary “loss” of the author is but one aspect of the necessary ­negativity implied in the genesis of ideal meanings. In a more general fashion, tradition itself functions through forgetfulness. Merleau-Ponty argues: “[T]his forgetfulness of origins by means of what survives in the present is traditionality […]. Tradition is forgetfulness of origins in order to be an eternal origin.”30 Indeed, this forgetfulness is not to be understood as something to be overcome, as some kind of error to be avoided: “[S]edimentation, forgetfulness, is not a defect of ideality: it is constitutive of ideality.”31 Therefore, by way of concluding, we can say with Merleau-Ponty that there is the possibility of error, and that this possibility “is also possibility of truth: we cannot reactivate everything.”32 In stressing the constitutive function of forgetfulness (which I would call the a priori necessity of forgetfulness), Merleau-Ponty is able to show that the origin of ideality itself is a dialectical movement of loss and gain. The loss is constitutive for a meaning to become ideal. But if this is true, why would Husserl say that overcoming the 30 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 28–29. Alia Al-Saji (“The Temporality of Life: Merleau-Ponty, Bergson, and the Immemorial Past,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 45/2 [2007]: 177–206) has argued that the interest of the later Merleau-Ponty in forgetfulness derives from Bergson and she links it to the concept of “immemorial” or of a “time before time” in The Visible and the Invisible (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis [Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968]). In my opinion, a further linkage between the later Merleau-Ponty and Bergson lies in the latter’s idea of “retrograde movement of the true,” a point which we cannot address further in the context of the present text. 31 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 54. 32 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 58.



“­Sinnentleerung” of modern sciences presupposes this reactivation which is, if taken strictly, impossible?33 3

The Origins of Reason and the Forgetfulness of Experience

This intertwining of ideality with the necessity of forgetting the experiential sources lies not only at the origin of every singular ideal meaning or sense on which the sciences are working, but also at the very origin of rationality itself. Once we have grasped the a priori necessity of forgetfulness, the problem becomes explaining how reason can be based on the necessity of forgetting. Therefore Merleau-Ponty asks, at the end of the course: “[T]he problem of reason: is there a universal a priori and a total reactivation?”34 In my interpretation of the text, the answer is that a total reactivation is impossible, but that there is indeed a universal a priori—the a priori necessity of forgetfulness—which is the grounds of what we usually call “European rationality.”35 The impossibility of total reactivation, which is the same as the a priori necessity of forgetfulness, is itself a universal a priori. This is confirmed by what Merleau-Ponty finds in Heidegger’s ­interpretation of language as groundless abyss (Abgrund): “[I]t [language] is exactly an ­absolute emptiness, which means that it is not the search for a bottom of the precipice, a lack.”36 By reading Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty acknowledges the role of negativity and of forgetfulness, that is, of lack, of emptiness. And at the same time, he recognizes Husserl’s call for a reactivation. Although we are not able to reach the “bottom of the precipice,” we can ask the question in return (Rückfrage) concerning the origins of reason without searching for a definitive origin, for the absolute beginning. The inner tension of the history of ideal meanings is called by Merleau-Ponty in this text “the chiasm” or dialectics of reason, and “the chiasm (this dialectics) would be clarified only through the thematization of the negativity.”37 33

A similar stressing of the impossibility of total sense for scientific propositions can be found in Adorno and Horkheimer, who write that “the loss of memory is a transcendental condition for science. All objectification is a forgetting” (Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectics of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming [New York: Continuum, 2003], 230). 34 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 60. 35 The question concerning the role of forgetfulness in the origin of other kinds of rationality or other traditions goes beyond the scope of the current analysis. 36 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 49. 37 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 45.

Forgetfulness of Experience


As we can see from this, Merleau-Ponty is implicitly criticizing Husserl while developing his own account of the “cure” for European rationality and for Europe’s scientific enterprise. This “cure” does not consist in a total reactivation of the original grounds of meaning, but rather in the thematization of the very negativity (the negativity of forgetfulness) that is immanent to the process of becoming ideal.38 Merleau-Ponty seems to suggest that understanding the negative dialectic at work in the constitution of meaning is the primal way of escaping the cultural crisis of Europe. This would mean that the task of philosophy lies in actively describing the historical movement that brings about the transcendental loss that is proper of ideality. In other words, the task of philosophy lies in developing a theory of the a priori necessities that are at work in the constitution of sense. The negativity of forgetfulness is precisely such an a priori necessity, the necessity of a transcendental loss. In Merleau-Ponty’s notes, this history of negativity is called “depth history” or a “third dimension,” which exists as a middle term between “the series of events” in their empirical materiality and “the intemporal sense.”39 Philosophy is the discovery of this third dimension: “[P]hilosophy is nothing other than the unconcealment of the depth dimension of all other activities.”40 This philosophy of the “third dimension,” that is, the philosophy of depth history, is the history of what is necessary to reason: “[W]hat is at issue is really an explication of the necessary sense,”41 and the necessity of sense, as shown earlier, implies the necessity of forgetfulness. As Merleau-Ponty claims in a very Derridean fashion, “the main effect of every ideation, which is dated and signed, is to make its literal repetition superfluous, to launch culture toward a future, to achieve forgetfulness.”42 The a priori necessity of forgetfulness is stated once more: ideality itself tends toward achieving forgetfulness of its origin; indeed, ideality is this very 38

Speaking of the negativity of forgetfulness stresses the phenomenological aspect of negation which is necessary for thinking about forgetfulness itself. It does not mean in any way that this phenomenon plays no positive role; quite on the contrary, our inquiry aims precisely at showing its role in the constitution of science and scientific meaning. In the same vein, the very possibility of remembering is based, for Merleau-Ponty, on forgetfulness since remembering is found “at the moment where memory forgotten and kept by forgetfulness returns” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Themes from the Lectures at the Collège de France 1952–60, trans. John O’Neill [Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970], 51). For a recent survey of the history of the concept of memory in philosophy see Dmtri Nikulin ed., Memory: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). 39 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 6. 40 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 33. 41 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 19. 42 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 6.



forgetfulness of origins. Therefore, European reason has to thematize forgetfulness if it is to remain rational. Reason has to acknowledge its own irrationality, its own negativum—or its own blind spot. Merleau-Ponty claims that “the sedimentation which makes it possible for us to go further is also responsible for us being threatened by hollow thoughts and for the sense of origins becoming emptied out. The true cannot be defined outside of the possibility of the false.”43 Sedimentation and forgetfulness are conditions of ideal meaning and at the same time imply its very crisis. The crisis of European reason and European reason itself have the same condition of possibility—an a priori that Derrida would call the “condition of (im)possibility” or “double bind”: where A is the condition of B and at the same time states its impossibility.44 A longer quotation from Merleau-Ponty’s course notes makes this point clear: the tradition is forgetful of origins, relation to an origin which is not possessed by the present, and which works in us and provokes geometry in advance, precisely because it is not possessed by thought. What I have in my presence in order to understand the past is a tradition, that is, a fullness made out of a certain emptiness (out of a certain ‘forgetfulness’), a circumscribed negativity, which therefore makes a reference to the outside.45 Here, Merleau-Ponty is saying that a purely positive description of origins is impossible;46 in order to grasp tradition, and scientific traditions such as geometry as well, a certain emptiness or forgetfulness has to be taken into account. In this quotation, Merleau-Ponty specifies this element further as a “circumscribed negativity,” which refers to the outside, that is, to the outside of this tradition itself. The absolute origin, the absolute beginning, is, as the inception of tradition, outside of this tradition itself. There is a necessary dialectical problem here. We are always already in tradition, but we try to grasp 43 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 8. 44 The idea of (im)possibility is developed primarily in Jacques Derrida, Given Time I: Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992). 45 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 20. 46 As Jacques Garelli has pointed out, “la conception merleau-pontienne du ­commencement [est] sans Arché ni Princeps, parce qu’elle se fait du milieu du Monde, de son ouverture enracinée dans sa chair.” (Jacques Garelli, “Héritage husserlien et expérience merleaupontienne du commencement,” in Merleau-Ponty, Notes de cours sur L’origine de la géométrie de Husserl, 95–122).

Forgetfulness of Experience


an absolute origin which is a reference to the outside of tradition (or to the outside of the text, as Derrida would say in this context). But in doing so, we try to go beyond a necessary condition for tradition itself, that is, that the origin can be and is indeed forgotten. This very relation between forgetfulness and tradition is at stake in a passage of The Prose of the World where Merleau-Ponty individuates “the noble form of memory”47 as a memory imbued with forgetfulness. This is the kind of tradition and memory that painters live in (we have briefly touched upon this point earlier, in our reference to the “parricide”): always linked to tradition but also always trying to forget this very tradition in order to create something new. Merleau-Ponty goes on to argue that the world as soon as he [the painter] has seen it, his first attempts at painting, and the whole past of painting create for the painter a tradition, that is, Husserl says, the power to forget origins, the duty to start over again and to give the past, not survival, which is the hypocritical form of forgetfulness, but the efficacy of renewal or ‘repetition,’ which is the noble form of memory.48 This noble memory is linked to Husserl’s notion of Stiftung: Husserl has used the fine word Stiftung—foundation, institution—to designate, first, the unlimited fecundity of each present which, precisely because it is singular and passes, can never stop having been and thus being universally. Above all, he has used Stiftung to designate that fecundity of the products of culture which continue to have a value after their historical appearance and open a field of work beyond and the same as their own.49 But now, how can we think of a philosophical inquiry into the necessary a priori origin in its historical development? Is Husserl’s “question in return” and, in general, any genealogical inquiry such as the questions posed by Nietzsche, Heidegger and Foucault condemned to failure from their very beginning, since they are questions about the origin? This is not what Merleau-Ponty is saying. But what is the starting point of a “question in return” that doesn’t fall prey to 47

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Prose of the World, trans. John O’Neill (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press 1973), 68. 48 Merleau-Ponty, Prose, 68. 49 Merleau-Ponty, Prose, 68.



the naïveté of supposing an absolute origin that can be grasped in itself? How to think of a question in return that is aware of the necessity of forgetfulness, emptiness, and negativity? The answer lies in the question itself. This necessity of forgetfulness is precisely the starting point of the question in return: the beginnings are “buried,” but “they had to be necessarily.”50 In other words, the starting point (for us today, so to speak) is not the origin itself, but the necessity that such an origin must have been, since we need to forget it for instituting a fruitful tradition, and we can only forget something that was present once.51 If there really is a primacy of the necessity of a forgotten origin, then we can ask about it without hypostatizing something outside of our reach. The origin becomes a possible subject of inquiry from our point of view (as opposed to “absolutely” or “in itself”), because we are aware of its necessity. The “empirical origin has become obscure” Merleau-Ponty writes in a very enigmatic but at the same time logically and argumentatively sound way, but “not knowing who is a knowledge that someone …”52 In this context—which is clearly quite different from Husserl’s context— we can search not for the origin itself as some kind of “historical fact,” but for “hinges, matrixes of possibilities, negative equivalents or traces of positive acts, things forgotten that are fruitful, that is, operative negations.”53 As already pointed out, Merleau-Ponty differentiates between three separate layers: on the one hand, the world of empirical facts; on the other, the world of ideal meanings; and, as a third stratum which is in the middle, the level of a priori historical necessity. In light of the impossibility of grasping the absolute, empirical beginning, the only possible question is not how is it possible to go from empirical experience to ideality through sedimentation, but rather what sedimentation is. And sedimentation is the a priori necessity of negativity. “The investigation therefore looks for the originary in a certain idea that we have of what these beginnings had to be necessarily.”54 We have this idea insofar as we are determined by the tradition these beginnings originate. Therefore the “source of sense is not empirical history,” but “endows the advances of the 50 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 21. 51 On a negative sense of “forgetting” as “hypocritical forgetting” in its relation to the concept of institution, most notably under the perspective of the problem of a democratic political system, see Darian Meacham, “The ‘Noble’ and the ‘Hypocritical’ Memory: Institution and Resistance in the Later Merleau-Ponty,” Philosophy Today 53, no. 4 (2009): 233–243. 52 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 28. The omission is in the original text. Lawlor interprets this “knowledge of non-knowledge” as a hint to the concept of faith (Lawlor, “Legacy,” 218). 53 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 26. 54 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 27.

Forgetfulness of Experience


investigation with its necessity—what is at issue is an emergence such that it was not able not to be.”55 As we can see here, the origin understood in this sense is already ideal: it is our idea, and it is something that, essentially, is not able not to be—which is traditionally the characteristic of God as the summum ens. In order to be “graspable” from within tradition, origins must become ideal: the origins of tradition are nothing more than the way in which we, as sons and heirs of that tradition, want to re-tell their story. The narration of the genealogical history becomes history itself because there is no history beyond this narration. Does this mean falling prey to an absolute relativism of everyone “telling her own story”? In my reading of Merleau-Ponty this is not the case precisely because this narration is a narration of the necessary a priori and, as such, does not fall prey to empirical contingency. For example, the invention of writing, as thematized by Husserl and Derrida, is this kind of ideal history, and identifying forgetting as such a necessary condition for ideality is itself ideal.56 Rationality itself, and the European “style” of thinking that is expressed in the scientific λόγος, is precisely the unfolding of this ideal and necessary history. It is not a factual history of scientific practices, but develops the (im)possible, necessary history of rationality:57 rationality is, indeed, its own ideal history. What we call “European rationality” is the end-product of a history which rationality itself writes and that cannot try to go beyond itself to some kind of original empirical Urfaktum. Being rational means continuing to develop rationality by writing its a priori history even if a definitive question-in-return to the original experiences themselves is necessarily impossible.

55 Merleau-Ponty, Limits, 28. 56 Whereas Renaud Barbaras insisted on the “implication originaire du dérivé dans l’originaire” (Renaud Barbaras, “Le dédoublement de l’originaire,” in Merleau-Ponty, Notes de cours sur L’origine de la géométrie, 289–303, here 302), we are arguing for what we could call “the implication of the original within the derived.” 57 For the sake of space, I have to set aside the question of the necessity of scientific thought as such. On this, see a passage from Dermot Moran’s interpretation of Husserl’s Crisis: “Husserl tries to get to what is essential to the life-world by engaging in an imaginative free variation from existing worlds. Through this he claims to see that, for example, science is an essential possibility for human worlds, even if it is not factually realized. As we shall see, both Merleau-Ponty and Derrida seized on this issue in Husserl and questioned whether a genuine free variation is possible in terms of human culture and historicity or whether, as Merleau-Ponty believed, Husserl came to acknowledge the limits of free imaginative variation and turned instead to the factual plurality of life-worlds available through the anthropological studies of Lévy-Bruhl and others.” Dermot Moran, Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 202–203.

Conditions of Historical Experience: Husserlian Reflections Timo Miettinen We ourselves have developed historically; as historians we ourselves create world history and world science in every sense […]. The world for us is itself a historical structure belonging to us, who are ourselves in our being a historical structure.

edmund husserl, The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology1

1 Introduction Historical experience is a fundamentally modern idea that has referred to at least two competing doctrines. First, historical experience has meant the acknowledgement of the temporal uniqueness of one’s own time, the idea that a particular moment—the “just now” (Lat. modo) at the heart of m ­ odernity— holds a special position in the overall development of human culture. In modern times, this idea was first articulated by Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) whose Scienza nuova (1725) envisioned world history as a recurring, cyclical interplay of different stages: the divine, the heroic, and the human. At the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this cyclical view of history was challenged by several linear accounts, which followed the Augustinian model of world history as proceeding from creation to redemption, from a beginning to an anticipated end. The peculiar uniqueness attributed to the present moment in modern times is a result of this development. Second, historical experience 1 “Wir, die wir universale personale Betrachtung durchführen, in sie universale Betrachtung der Umwelt etc. einbeziehen, sind selbst Menschen, europäische Menschen, sind selbst historisch geworden, wir erzeugen selbst als Historiker Welthistorie und Weltwissenschaft jedes Sinnes, ein historisches Kulturgebilde in der Motivation der europäischen Geschichte, in der wir stehen. Die Welt, die für uns ist, ist selbst ein historisches Gebilde von uns, die wir selbst nach unserem Sein ein historisches Gebilde sind.” Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. David Carr (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 334 (orig. publ. as Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie: Eine Einleitung in die phänomenologische Philosophie, 2nd ed. [The Hague: Nijhoff, 1962], 313).

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���9 | doi:10.1163/9789004391031_009

Conditions of Historical Experience


has also referred to the idea that the human being itself is a historically developing category. Following Herder and Hegel, it has become common to speak of the historical character of human nature in the sense that what we mean by humanness is defined by different social, cultural, and political conditions and discourses. According to this view, it is the experience or the subject itself that is embedded in history; it is history that provides the key for philosophical understanding of the human being in the first place. History, of course, is not only a property of the world or the human person. In addition to things that have happened (res gestae), history is also a reflexive activity of the human mind, a conscious representation of what took place (historia rerum gestarum). In this sense, history involves a peculiar relation to past experiences that are transmitted to us through historical evidence such as books, documents, and other portrayals. While history itself is an academic discipline that is a matter of experts and employs a variety of methods, a recognition of the gap between past and present experience is one of the conditions of historical experience as such: we are historical beings because we acknowledge that the experience of past generations is not the same as ours. From the early nineteenth century onwards, the concept of hermeneutics has been used to describe the growing reflexivity to historical experience in both philosophy as well as individual disciplines. One of the central ideas in the hermeneutical tradition has been that our relation to the past is never a matter of pure description but involves an interpretative element between the whole and its parts. A particular text, for instance, cannot be understood without reflecting the overall context (or the “world”) in which it has emerged. Within phenomenological scholarship, this premise has contributed to a wider understanding of experience itself: experience—understood as that medium through which the world is given to us—cannot be understood with such traditional concepts as sensation and reflection, but it involves a relation to a pregiven horizon of meaning. Husserl called this horizon with the concept of life-world. Especially in his later works, the life-world gained a prominent position as one of the guiding themes of phenomenology in general. Particularly in The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology and its manuscripts, the lifeworld was introduced as a novel “path” to transcendental phenomenology that was to accommodate within itself also the genetic or “generative” dimensions of meaning.2 Although Husserl never gave up on the epistemological primacy of the first-person perspective, he began to acknowledge that not all forms 2 Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences, 103ff. (Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften, 105ff.).



of experience can be understood on the basis of simple givenness. What we mean by the human person is inseparable from the fact that we are born into a world, which has existed before us and which sets several provisions for our existence. Historical experience, understood in this phenomenological sense, is not merely an accomplishment of a historian but rather the way in which we fasten ourselves to the historical world. As Hans-Georg Gadamer succinctly put it in Truth and Method: “In fact history does not belong to us but rather we to it. […] The self-awareness of the individual is only a flickering in the closed circuit of historical life.”3 This article addresses the idea of historical experience in Husserl’s phenomenology. It addresses three basic conditions for historical experience on the basis of Husserl’s later writings: teleology, communality, and finitude. With teleology, I refer to the temporally structured and unified character of human experience. What was unique about Husserl’s own approach was not only what Bergson called the “duration” of human experience but rather an idea of unity through disruption. The “inner historicity” of human experience was not to be understood solely as a process of accumulation of meaning but rather as a process of instituting and eliminating, of remembering and forgetting. Communality, in its turn, refers to the basic idea that without a membership in a human community, all talk about historical consciousness seems unfounded. History is, moreover, one of the central practices through which we participate in communal life. Lastly, I will discuss the idea of finitude as one of the key conditions for historical experience. It was exactly the idea of finitude that enabled Husserl to develop a phenomenological theory of generativity, which outlined an understanding of the ways we participate in the culturally and socially defined course of generations. 2 Teleology Although Husserl’s earliest analyses on time-consciousness date back to the early 1900s, it was not until the 1920s that Husserl started conceptualizing the temporal permanence of the human person and the world. This transition was linked to the idea of genetic phenomenology and the genetic method, 3 “In Wahrheit gehört die Geschichte nicht uns, sondern wir gehören ihr. […] Die Selbstbesinnung des Individuums ist nur ein Flackern im geschlossenen Stromkreis des geschichtlichen Lebens.” Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (London: Sheed and Ward, 1988), 245 (orig. publ. as Wahrheit und Methode: Grundzüge einer Philosophischen Hermeneutik, 2nd ed. [Tübingen: Mohr, 1965], 289).

Conditions of Historical Experience


which were to focus on the dynamic and evolving character of experience and ­meaning-constitution.4 Husserl presented the genetic method as complimentary to the so-called “static” approach, which analyzed the form and content of different acts and modes of consciousness.5 In addition to the analysis of types of acts (e.g., predicative, axiological, and practical) and their respective modes of intuitive fulfillment, Husserl presented “a universal theory of genesis” that investigated these acts and structures in regard to their origin and the process or origination.6 Husserl spoke of genetic analyses as “explanatory” (erklärende) and distinct from the “descriptive” (beschreibende) analyses of static phenomenology. Instead of describing the nature of the acts themselves, the genetic approach focused on questions of why and how: Why are there certain forms of experience? How are they possible?7 This form of explanation was not interested in empirical causality but in what Husserl called relations of motivation, that is, those founding relations that make possible the emergence of different attitudes.8 Husserl wanted to understand how exactly different types of acts make each other possible and how particular experiences and instituted meanings acquire a temporally lasting character for themselves. Husserl called the general form of this set of relations by the concept of “teleology” (Teleologie).9 Introduced as a part of the static analyses of 4 Edmund Husserl, Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic, trans. Anthony J. Steinbock, Collected Works, vol. 9 (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2001), 624ff. (orig. publ. as Analysen zur passiven Synthesis: Aus Vorlesungs- und Forschungmanuskripten 1918–1926 [The Hague: Nijhoff, 1966], 336ff.). 5 Edmund Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität: Texte aus dem Nachlass, 2. Teil: 1921–1928 (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1973), 34–43. See also Edmund Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität: Texte aus dem Nachlass, 3. Teil: 1929–1935 (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1973), 613ff. On the relation between static and genetic phenomenology, see especially Ichiro Yamaguchi, Passive Synthesis und Intersubjektivität bei Edmund Husserl (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1982), 11–14; Donn Welton. The Other Husserl: The Horizons of Transcendental Phenomenology (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000), 1–10, 221ff. 6 Husserl, Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis, 628ff. (Analysen zur passiven Synthesis, 340ff). 7 Husserl, Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis, 628–629 (Analysen zur passiven Synthesis, 340). See also Anthony Steinbock, “Husserl’s Static and Genetic Phenomenology: Translator’s Introduction to Two Essays. Essay 1: Static and Genetic Phenomenological Method,” Continental Philosophy Review 31, no. 2 (1998): 128. 8 Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology, trans. Dorion Cairns (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997), 75 (orig. publ. as Cartesianische Meditationen und Pariser Vorträge [The Hague: Nijhoff, 1950], 109). 9 Husserl, Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis, 627–628 (Analysen zur passiven Synthesis, 339).



c­ onsciousness, teleology referred to the basic associative or synthetic structure of conscious life, which constitutes the basic unity of experience. To say that our conscious life is “teleologically oriented” simply means that we do not live through mere fleeting experiences, but our conscious life aims at creating concrete beings as unities. For instance, individual perceptions of particular “sides” of a thing have their telos in the constitution of “complete” objects.10 Instead of a separate category of being, teleology was to be understood as the “form of all forms” (Form aller Formen), that is, as the general structure of all meaning-constitution that we are constantly living through.11 The human person is “teleological through and through”, which means that it always embodies a certain constitutive history that delineates a horizon of possibilities for further development.12 Husserl understood teleology as being structured by acts of institution (Stiftung). Although the concept referred to the positing of a particular validity or sense, it was practically absent from static analyses of constitution.13 Although this notion was very close to what Husserl called “positing” (Setzung) or “thesis” (Thesis) in the first volume of Ideas, it differed from these by focusing on the temporal aspect of meaning-institution. The notion of Stiftung denotes the abiding character of a particular affect, act, or meaning-content, and as such, it opened up the problematic of the temporal genesis of sense. The notion of Stiftung also introduces a whole family of notions (Urstiftung, Nachstiftung, Neustiftung, and Umstiftung), which refer to the dynamic transformation of meaning-institution, its development both in the conscious life of an individual as well as in the field of cultural accomplishments. 10 Husserl, Cartesianische Meditationen und Pariser Vorträge, 12–13; Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1983), 248–249 (orig. publ. as Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie [The Hague: Nijhoff, 1976], 213). 11 Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität 3. Teil, 380. 12 Edmund Husserl. Phänomenologische Psychologie: Vorlesungen Sommersemester 1925 (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1962), 254. 13 “Und so ist es also Gesetz: daß jede ‘Meinung’ eine Stiftung ist […]” (Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. Second Book: Studies in the Phenomenology of Constitution [Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic ­Publishers, 1989]), 120 (orig. publ. as Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. 2. Buch: Phänomenologische Untersuchungen zur Konstitution, Husserliana, vol. 4 [The Hague: Nijhoff, 1952], 113); “So lebe ich in einem Milieu immerfort sich aneinander fügender, sich immer neu ergänzender In-Geltung-Setzung (Stiftung einer Seinsgültigkeit für mich, oder, in der geraden Blickrichtung auf das Gegenständliche, Stiftung für mich „daseiender” Erfahrungsgegenstände)” (Husserl, Phänomenologische Psychologie, 462–463).

Conditions of Historical Experience


The notion of Urstiftung, “original institution,”14 was the most common formulation that Husserl employed while speaking of meaning-constitution in genetic terms. With this notion, Husserl simply meant the constitution of sense that takes place for the first time—for instance, as in Husserl’s own example of familiarizing with a previously unknown object—that creates a lasting validity and a horizon of expectation for future experience.15 After this kind of institution, I do not necessarily have to renew this act, but the institution of sense remains an “abiding possession.”16 Of course, the original sense that we have bestowed on an object or an event does not necessarily stay the same. As this happens, the original institution undergoes what Husserl calls Nachstiftung or Neustiftung, “re-establishment” or “novel establishment,” that is, a transformation of sense that carries the former meaning with it.17 Husserl called this accumulation of sense “sedimentation” (Sedimentier­ ung).18 The concept referred to the layered character of the temporal ­development of sense and meaning whereby individual “institutions” or “establishments” follow and ground each other. What was characteristic of this process was a peculiar lack of transparency: although our convictions or 14

See, e.g., Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 85, 113–117 (Cartesianische Meditationen, 118, 143– 146); Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology 2. Book, 124 (Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie, 117); Husserl, Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis, 254–258 (Analysen zur passiven Synthesis, 203–207); Edmund Husserl. Die Lebenswelt. Auslegungen der Vorgegebenen Welt und ihrer Konstitution: Texte aus dem Nachlass (1916–1937) (Dordrecht: Springer, 2008), 1–6. Urstiftung as a generative notion, see Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences, 12–13, 71–72 (Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften, 10–11, 72–73); Edmund Husserl, Erste Philosophie (1923/24). 2. Teil: Theorie der phänomenologischen Reduktion (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1959), 17ff.; Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie, Ergänzungsbd. Texte aus dem Nachlass 1934–1937 (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1993), 15ff. At times, Husserl makes a distinction between an “absolute” and a “relative” Urstiftung—the first denoting the creation of a completely novel type of meaning, while the latter stands for a inception which is more or less conformed with an existing framework of sense (Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften, Ergänzungsbd., 421). 15 See Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 111 (Cartesianische Meditationen, 141). 16 Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 59–60 (Cartesianische Meditationen, 95). “Aber jeder Akt, ‘erstmalig’ vollzogen, ist ‘Urstiftung’ einer bleibenden Eigenheit, in die immanente Zeit hinein dauernd (im Sinne eines dauernden Identischen)” (Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology 2. Book, 324–325 [Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie, 311]). 17 See esp. Husserl, Phänomenologische Psychologie, 212–215. Cf. Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften, Ergänzungsbd., 417. 18 See esp. Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften, 371ff. Cf. Husserl, Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis, 229ff. (Analysen zur passiven Synthesis, 180ff.); Husserl, Erste Philosophie 2. Teil, 22ff.; “sedimentation of sense,” Sinnsedimentierung (Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften, 380).



­ ractices are often founded on more original institutions of meaning, these p founding institutions may be forgotten or remain completely unreflected. Take for instance scientific theories: the development of a new theory, a concept, or a hypothesis often presupposes that we set aside many of the foundational questions characteristic of a particular discipline. When developing his laws of motion, Newton presupposed the Galilean understanding of space as a homogenous and uniform vacuum where no single point occupies a privileged position in regard to others. In classical economics, economic growth is often seen as a synonym for increased well-being and prosperity. There is understandably nothing wrong with this as such. The tendency to forget merely indicates that the temporal development of meaning and sense is not one of simple accumulation, but rather a complex process of activation and de-activation, of forgetting and remembering. As Husserl himself put it: “Inherited tradition (Erbschaft) is not repetition, but intentional agreement, conversion, concealment, and even transformation through this concealment.”19 Thus, in most cases, traditions are born out of an explicit or implicit consensus of what the past is about. In other cases, the fact that certain historical events are forgotten make it possible for a community to keep on existing. For historical experience in general, the sedimented character of meaning provides several provisions. As I would argue, it is exactly this lack of transparency with regard to the tradition that constitutes one of the central features of historical experience. To experience my situation as historically unique is to recognize not only its dependence from events that took place, but also the fact that these origins are not completely evident. Historical experience is thus essentially a recognition of the past, but one that also acknowledges a certain distance from it: I can only really speak on the basis of my own historical situation in the sense that it is the only situation to which I have a genuine experiential access. Phenomenologically speaking, the non-givenness of the past and the recognition of this non-givenness is what constitutes the uniqueness of historical experience. Speaking from this point of view, it can be argued that attempts to ­overcome this lack of transparency have played a significant role in modern philosophies of history. Although it is undeniable that most of what happens remains undocumented and beyond our grasp, history nevertheless embodies a deeper structure and a more profound sense that can be uncovered with the help of philosophical reflection. From the nineteenth century onwards, G ­ erman 19

“Aber Erbschaft ist nicht Wiederholung, sondern intentionale Einigung, Wandlung, Verdeckung und eben Wandlung durch diese Verdeckung” (Husserl, Erste Philosophie 2. Teil, 436).

Conditions of Historical Experience


­ hilosophy approached this distinction with the help of two concepts: Historie p vs. Geschichte. Whereas Historie referred to the factual side of historical events, it was Geschichte that was to provide a theoretical framework for a purpose-­ oriented understanding of history. As Kant put it in his essay on the idea of universal history, while it is difficult to assume any kind of shared purpose in the “senseless course of human events,” the philosopher must set out to find “a history with a definite natural plan for creatures who have no plan of their own.”20 What Kant and Hegel understood with the concept of teleology was exactly this idea of a hidden purposefulness that characterizes the unfolding of history. “The only thought that philosophy brings with it,” Hegel wrote in his lectures on world history, “is the simple thought of reason, that reason rules the world, and that world history has therefore been rational in its course.”21 In Husserl’s view, however, all talk about teleology without reference to the experience itself is fundamentally unfounded. From a phenomenological standpoint, teleology is nothing other than the inherent structure of becoming that characterizes the temporal development of sense and meaning. Thus history, according to Husserl, is “nothing else than the vital movement of the co-existence and the interweaving of original formations and sedimentations of meaning.”22 This development is rational to the extent that it forms a continuum of ideas that are grounded on previous ideas—not because it would comply with a particular pre-established narrative of how things ought to be. What Husserl called the “teleological-historical reflections” in his later works was essentially nothing other than a coming to grips with this historical embeddedness of experience and the present moment. The basic aim of this reflection or “questioning-back” (rückfragen) was not justification but liberation: it is only by understanding the historical uniqueness of our experience— and the presuppositions governing it—that we are able to resist the idea that thinking itself would be a mere product of its times.

20 “[A]us welcher von Geschöpfen, die ohne eigenen Plan verfahren, dennoch eine Geschichte nach einem bestimmten Plane der Natur möglich sei.” Immanuel Kant, Kant’s Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 42, translation modified (orig. publ. as Gesammelte Schriften, Akademie-Ausgabe, vol. 8 [Berlin: Karsten Worm, 1998], 18). 21 G.W.F. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte, Theorie Werkausgabe, vol. 12, ed. Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Michel (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970), 20–21. 22 “Geschichte ist von vornherein nichts anderes als die lebendige Bewegung des Miteinander und Ineinander von ursprünglicher Sinnbildung und Sinnsedimentierung” (Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften, 380).

122 3


Communality and the World

Ideas of community and history are fundamentally intertwined. Although we sometimes speak of individual histories of particular persons, this sense seems to be a derivation from the more typical use of the concept of history as that of individual communities and cultures, their accomplishments, practices, and ways of life. In this regard, historical experience is closely tied to being with others. To belong to a particular community often means the sharing of a common past, whether it is a family lineage, a common environment or a shared cultural heritage. This is not to say that this past would be uncontested: particularly in contemporary societies, the disputes concerning competing historical narratives and the diverging micro-histories of individual communities are at the heart of social and political debates. Husserl’s own phenomenology of communities was based on his understanding of intersubjectivity as one of the defining features of human existence. This line of investigation—sometimes also called the phenomenology of “socialities” (Sozialitäten)23—was based on Husserl’s basic perception on the two-sided character of these relations: unlike other forms of intentionality, intersubjective relations embody within themselves a specific sense of reciprocity through which the social objectivities acquire their unique objectivity. Already in Husserl’s early manuscripts, this approach was developed into a theory on the specific social “functions” entailing an intrinsic practical ­relevance: my relation towards the others is fundamentally characterized by different kinds of responsibilities and practical anticipations that are ­fundamentally different than in the case of nature or cultural objects.24 Social relations, besides that they contain elements that are characteristic of all experience (e.g., seeing, listening), are characterized by uniquely interpersonal experiences such as friendship, love, and persuasion—but also the use of power and violence. Thus, the being-together of a community depends on intentional acts. As Husserl put it, the unity of a community does not rest upon the “similarity of manners, forms of personal dealings, ways of thinking, opinions, scientific activity, etc.” but on “persons who stand within a unity of a spiritual communion 23


As Husserl puts it in C-manuscripts, for the constitution of “socialities,” the community of empathy is like what “the spatial form is for reduced nature,” that is, the “social space” which allows the temporal simultaneity and succession of individual subjects. See Husserl, Erste Philosophie 2. Teil, 317. Edmund Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität: Texte aus dem Nachlass, 1. Teil: 1905–1920 (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1973), 104.

Conditions of Historical Experience


of action.”25 This unity is essentially a temporal one: it is built on a series of reciprocal acts on the basis of which individual subjects commit themselves to the same cultural world. As Husserl put it in one of his late texts, the whole cultural world is essentially tradition—a “passing forward” of different accomplishments in the course of worldly time—that is given to certain subjects at a certain period of time as an essentially incomplete formation.26 This incompleteness becomes manifest, first of all, on the level of givenness: tradition provides us with meanings that are at least partially empty and call for their reactivation in lively intuition. Further, they are also incomplete in another sense, namely, as goals that point towards their future development. To put it more succinctly, culture is essentially inheritance: it appoints its subject as an heir, as someone who is requested or obliged to carry on certain accomplishments, practices, values and so on. Husserl analyzed these problems under the rubric of generativity (Generativität).27 With generativity, Husserl basically denoted the temporal modes of meaning-constitution that take place in the interpersonal and intergenerational forms of co-existence—in different associations, communities, cultures and all kinds of traditions. In this regard, the domain of generativity denoted nothing less than the “unity of historical development in its widest sense”28—namely, those structures of genetic development that constitute the unified character of traditionality and historicity in general. Against the Hegelian idea of universal history proceeding through the development of spirit, Husserl did not conceive generativity primarily as a universal, formal principle of historical development. Instead, as in the case of individual consciousness, generativity was to be approached through its particular instantiations in individual traditions. As human subjects, we are constantly participating in several generative traditions, which, despite their variations (e.g., family, nation, civilization), all share the general structure of descending and evolving, that is, they are all something passed forward. 25

“Gemeinschaft besagt nicht Gleichheit von Arten, Formen personaler Handlungen, von Denkweisen, Meinungen, wissenschaftlichen Betätigungen etc., sondern in Gemeinschaft stehen Personen, die in solcher Hinsicht in der Einheit eines geistigen Wirkungszusammenhanges stehen, mag im einzelnen die Wirkung überall sichtlich werden oder nicht” (Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität 2. Teil, 183). 26 “Die gesamte Kulturwelt ist nach allen ihren Gestalten aus Tradition da” (Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften, 366). 27 On the idea of generativity, see Introduction. Before introducing the notion of generativity, Husserl occasionally referred to problems of “communal genesis” (Gemeinschaftsgenesis), see Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität 2. Teil, 221. 28 Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften, Ergänzungsbd., 63.



What does this mean for historical experience? From a phenomenological perspective, the experience of history is more than an awareness of time. It presupposes an awareness of the continuity of the human person and of the persistence of the world itself. History is always a story of a particular human community located in space and time, a story that concerns both the process as well as the milieu of originating. The history of France, for instance, is both the narrative of the becoming of the French people—its lineages, rulers, and so on—as well as an account of the historical transformation of the ­landscape: cities, villages, roads, human-made monuments and natural formations. ­Historical experience—understood as the recognition of the uniqueness of one’s own time—is thus essentially linked to the social, cultural, and geographical provisions of this community. In short, it is a phenomenon that concerns the “phenomenological correlation” between the subject and the world. Husserl employed the concept of the life-world to describe the communally and historically defined correlate of experience. In its “horizonal character,” the life-world does not denote a specific intentional correlate of consciousness; rather, it functions as the necessary background of sense through which individual things acquire their meaningful character. As such, the life-world is “constantly pre-given, and constantly valid in advance”29—the life-world is what structures our experiential field by offering a comprehensive pre-view of the surrounding world. It is for the sake of life-world that individual things, objects, events and practices have their “default value,” that is, they are always projected with regard to a certain idea of expectancy and normality, of familiarity and routine.30 With the help of the concept of the life-world, Husserl wanted to refute the idea according to which historical experience would reside merely in the acceptance or construction of a common narrative. Although stories and myths may have a special role in strengthening the sense of unity within different social bodies, these narratives have their foundation in the idea of common world that functions as the indispensable horizon of communal activity. Thus, life-world is “nothing but the historical world.”31 Without this belonging in a community and a common world, all talk about historical experience remains abstract. 29 Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences, 461. 30 Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität 2. Teil, 623–624. See also Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität 2. Teil, 228; Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität 3. Teil, 214. 31 Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften, Ergänzungsbd., 426.

Conditions of Historical Experience


4 Finitude Birth and death are issues that usually fall outside the scope of Husserlian phenomenology. The alleged dismissal of human finitude has been one of the major weaknesses of Husserl’s project—an accusation that can be traced back to the first overviews of Husserl’s phenomenological project, such as Levinas’s 1940 essay “The Work of Edmund Husserl.”32 These conceptions rely often on the view that Husserl, while recognizing the unquestioned finitude of human existence, had to exclude the topics of birth and death from the field of the transcendental. As Husserl put it in his analyses on passive synthesis: “Transcendental life and the transcendental ego cannot be born; only the human being in the world can be born”33—the transcendental ego stands always between the horizons of past and future, of retentional and protentional awareness, without which no idea of consciousness would be conceivable. Consequently, we can imagine neither its inception nor cessation in a strictly phenomenological sense, for the givenness of birth and death would of course presume the intentional flow of a transcendental ego to which they are given. Thus mortality, according to this view, stands as the final gatekeeper between the transcendental ego and the empirical person. With regard to the topic of finitude, however, we should acknowledge a certain shift of position in Husserl’s thinking. From the beginning of the 1930s, Husserl came to realize that both birth and death do indeed connote a certain transcendental significance, that is, they both have an essential role in the process of world-constitution. They do so, however, not as occurrences within experience—death cannot be intuitively experienced—but as a kind of horizontal structure delimiting the span of our lives within a socio-historical, generative context.34 In the Cartesian Meditations, Husserl referred to the “genetic problems of birth and death and the generative nexus of psychophysical being” as belonging to a “higher level” of investigation, presupposing “a tremendous labor of explication pertaining to the lower spheres.”35 It is particularly through 32 33 34 35

Emmanuel Levinas, “The Work of Edmund Husserl,” in Discovering Existence with Husserl, ed. Richard A. Cohen and Michael B. Smith (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988), 75. “[…] transzendentale Ich, nicht das empirische Welt-Ich, das sehr wohl sterben kann” (Husserl, Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis, 428–469 [Analysen zur passiven Synthesis, 379]). On birth and death as limit-phenomena, see Steinbock, “Husserl’s Static and Genetic Phenomenology,” 305ff. “Nur daß damit freilich noch die oben bezeichneten generativen Probleme von Geburt und Tod und Generationszusammenhang der Animalität nicht berührt sind, die ­offenbar



the dimension of intersubjective generativity that birth and death have any significance for me as transcendental categories. It is not until I grow into the idea of historical community that this horizontal structure of finitude is realized.36 I grow into my own mortality through others—without this intersubjective dimension, the transcendental significance of finitude falls short. Thus, from the perspective of phenomenological theory of the subject, the topic of generativity entails a significant distention of the scope of meaningconstitution. Alongside the forms of meaning-constitution that have their origin in the conscious life of the individual, Husserl discussed those forms of meaning and sense that have their genuine origin outside of the activity of the individual ego. These forms, rather than being actively instituted through particular Urstiftungen, are essentially “appropriated” (übernehmen, aufnehmen). This means that they involve an element of asymmetry and partiality in regard to the original institution of sense—an asymmetry that originates from our mortality and finitude.37 But it is exactly this partiality that endows the human traditions their unique character as something “passed forward.” To put it in simpler terms, what the dimension of generativity opened up was the idea of inheritance as the essential condition of human existence.38 Becoming a part of a human community that transcends my finite being means that we are swept into this complex process of tradition precisely in the form of “passing forward” (Lat. tradere) of sense: we find ourselves in a specific historical situation defined by a nexus of cultural objectivities and practices, a certain socio-symbolic order and political institutions. The whole idea of inheritance means that as finite beings, we are never fully on our own but necessarily forced to carry the weight of the past. The inherited sense and meaning is never given to us in full intuitive evidence; we are in touch with signs and symbols whose world has permanently deceased, we are addressed by narratives that have been handed down to us. Thus, as Husserl states in a late manuscript: “The development of the future is the task of the living, but the future einer höheren Dimension angehören und eine so ungeheure auslegende Arbeit der unteren Sphären voraussetzen, daß sie noch lange nicht zu Arbeitsproblemen werden können” (Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 142 [Cartesianische Meditationen, 169]). 36 Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität 3. Teil, 140. On Husserl’s critique of Heidegger’s concept of death, see Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften, Ergänzungsbd., 332. 37 See especially Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität 2. Teil, 222; Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology 2. Book, 126 (Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie, 119). Cf. Anthony Steinbock, Home and Beyond: Generative Phenomenology after Husserl (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1995), 196. 38 See Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften, Ergänzungsbd., 51.

Conditions of Historical Experience


is realized only through a permanent form of activity, which has the character of reawakenment of the spirit of the deceased […].”39 In other words, since our embeddedness in a world of sense is dependent on the process of origination, the only way of bringing this condition to light is to engage in a conversation with the past. Seen from this communal perspective, historical experience is more than a reactivation of the past. It is also a practical idea that realizes itself in the continuation of a tradition, in the process of taking up previous accomplishments and forming a relation to them. This relation can, of course, be simply affirmative, or it can also be a critical one. A membership in a scientific community, for instance, is a matter of both: it means that one learns from and builds on previous theories and concepts and forms a critical relation to them. As in the case of science, a critique of the past is actually one of the central practices through which the individual participates in the unified tradition of this community. 5 Conclusion In this essay, I have discussed the idea of historical experience in the context of Husserlian phenomenology. I argued that on the basis of Husserl’s analysis, the experience of history is basically defined by three central conditions: teleology, communality and finitude. First, I showed that the idea of teleology was to be seen as one of the central conditions of historical experience. It was exactly the concept of teleology, rather than temporality, which opened up the question of duration in experience and formed the basis for genuinely historical experience. Instead of being defined by complete transparency, Husserl defined this type of experience in terms of activation and reactivation, of forgetting and remembering. Secondly, I argued for the constitutive significance of communality as the basic generative horizon through which the historical transmittance of sense takes place. By doing so, historical experience was seen in connection to the general idea of the life-world without which all talk about historical experience remains unfounded. Lastly, I highlighted the role of human finitude as a central condition for the experience of history. It was exactly Husserl’s late phenomenology of generativity that was able to fully reconcile 39

“Die Entwicklung der Zukunft ist Sache der Lebenden, ihre Fortbildung ist es, die Zukunft schafft. Aber die Zukunft wird durch eine ständige Aktivität, die den Charakter einer Wiederverlebendigung des Geistes der Verstorbenen hat […]” (Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften, 489).



with this experience of finitude. We are historical beings because we recognize our own finitude and the fact that the world will go on existing without us. This extended view on the historical character of experience had important consequences not only for Husserl’s phenomenological theory of subjectivity but also for his ethics of the human person. As Husserl began to emphasize during the 1920s, without taking into account the temporally developing character of the human person all ethical considerations are doomed to remain abstract. Ethical and moral reflection, rather than being a Kantian rule-oriented process, should be understood as a fundamentally critical praxis that realizes itself on the basis of our own, acquired capabilities and our embeddedness in a historical situation. What we should do and aspire to accomplish is always relative to concrete possibilities. Renewal (Erneuerung), both personal as well as communal, is the ultimate aim of all genuine ethics.40 What history does, quite concretely, is provide the necessary tools for the execution of this type of reflection. Historical reflection, besides being a study of the past, is a way to uncover our own historical presuppositions and to increase understanding of ourselves. Phenomenology, as a science of the experience and the world, cannot execute its task without taking into account the historical descending of both experience and its correlate, the life-world. 40

Edmund Husserl, Aufsätze und Vorträge (1922–1937) (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1989), 57ff.

Motives in Experience: Pfänder, Geiger, and Stein Genki Uemura and Alessandro Salice 1 Introduction1 When I do something intentionally, I am often, if not always, motivated by something: I have a motive for my action. This makes the notion of motivation an important part of our everyday understanding of others and ourselves. In the tradition of phenomenology, motivation and its importance for our mental life did not remain unnoticed: it is well known that Husserl discusses motivation as a core topic of phenomenological investigations and that he adopts it as an important conceptual tool for his analyses. In Ideas I, Husserl expands the everyday notion of motivation and claims that the natural world is nothing but a correlate of motivational connection of (possible) consciousness.2 Motivation, hence, is conceived of by Husserl not as a merely actionrelated phenomenon but as an essential feature of mental life: mental states of different kinds can and do enter relations of motivation with each other. In Ideas ii, he refines his idea, claiming that motivation is a mark of what he calls “Spirit [Geist],” as opposed to “Nature,” which by contrast is governed by causality.3 Regardless of whether or not a consistent view underlies these and other relevant statements by Husserl, they reveal the crucial relevance that Husserl assigns to motivation for his research project on a regional ontology of nature and of spirit.4

1 Uemura’s research is supported by Grants-in-aid for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for Promotion of Science (Project no. 26770014). 2 Edmund Husserl, Ideas for a Pure Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, trans. Daniel O. Dahlstrom (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2014), 85–87 (orig. publ. as Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Erstes Buch. Allgemeine Einführung in die reine Phänomenologie [Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1913], 87–91). 3 Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. Second Book. Studies in the Phenomenology of Constitution, trans. R. Rojcewicz & A. Schuwer (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989), 231–265 (orig. publ. as Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Zweites Buch. Phänomenologische Untersuchungen zur Konstitution, ed. Marly Biemel [The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1952], 220–253). 4 For a brief overview of Husserl’s view on causality and motivation, see Andrea Staiti, “Kausalität/Motivation,” in Husserl Lexikon, ed. Hans-Helmuth Gander (Darmstadt:

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���9 | doi:10.1163/9789004391031_010


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Less known, however, is the discussion of motivation promoted by the philosophers from the early phenomenological tradition and especially by ­Alexander Pfänder, Moritz Geiger, and Edith Stein. This discussion has already attracted some attention in the literature. For instance, Schuhmann has examined Pfänder’s paper “Motives and Motivation” and its influence on Husserl.5 More recently, Mulligan has dealt with Stein’s investigations into the motives of attitudes (Stellungnahmen) by referring to some other classical phenomenologists (such as Husserl, Reinach, Hildebrand, and Scheler) and by putting them in relation to contemporary discussions.6 However, Geiger’s contributions to this topic have been almost neglected. To the best of our knowledge, no extensive attempt has been made to explicate his account. A fortiori, it seems fair to say that a reconstruction of the debate on motivation among these three phenomenologists is still missing in the relevant literature. The present paper aims at filling this gap in the history of early ­phenomenology. In what follows, we reconstruct the positions of Pfänder, ­Geiger, and Stein by gathering them into a single picture. On the one hand, Geiger’s and Stein’s discussions of motivation will be presented as two different reactions to Pfänder’s view on motivation. On the other, all these accounts will be assessed in the light of the contemporary philosophy of action. As we will see, each of them has its counterpart, or something close to it, in the contemporary debate about reasons for action. It is true that what is commonly at stake among the three phenomenologists are motives and/or reasons for mental attitudes of different kinds (emotions, decisions, cognitions, etc.) rather than reasons for action more specifically. But as far as the ontological status of motives/reasons are concerned, it is hard to overlook the parallel between ­Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2010), 168–170. For a detailed reconstruction of Husserl’s constitutive analysis of causation, see Takeshi Akiba, “Things and Reality: A Problem from Husserl’s Constitution,” in Phenomenology in Japan, ed. Shigeru Taguchi and Nicolas de Warren (Dordrecht: Springer, forthcoming). 5 Karl Schuhmann, Dialektik der Phänomenologie I. Husserl über Pfänder (Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973) 64–65, 94–115. For the relationship between Husserl and Pfänder, see also Marta Ubiali “Die Willensakte und der Umfang der Motivation: Eine Gegenüberstellung von Pfänder und Husserl,” In Geist – Person – Gemeinschaft: Freiburger Beiträge zur Aktualität Husserls, ed. Philippe Merz, Andrea Staiti, and Frank Steffen (Freiburg: Ergon, 2011), 241–267; Genki Uemura and Toru Yaegashi, “Alexander Pfänder on the Intentionality of the Willing,” in Intentionality: Historical and Systematic Perspectives, ed. Alessandro Salice (München: Philosophia Verlag, 2012), 269–272. 6 Kevin Mulligan, “Acceptance, Acknowledgment, Affirmation, Agreement, Assertion, Belief, Certainty, Conviction, Denial, Judgment, Refusal and Rejection,” in Judgement and Truth in Early Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology, ed. Mark Textor (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 97–136.

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their phenomenological positions on the one hand, and three major positions in the contemporary debate on reasons for action on the other. In other words, the three phenomenologists approach the same problem discussed in the contemporary debate from a different route, namely the experiential route. The structure of this paper is as follows. In the first section, we reconstruct Pfänder’s account of motivation in his “Motives and Motivation” and point out a difficulty it faces. In sections two and three, we deal with Geiger’s and Stein’s accounts and with their relations to Pfänder. In the fourth section, we compare these accounts with three positions in the contemporary debate about reasons for action. This will allow us to better assess Pfänder’s position in the light of the criticisms raised by the other two phenomenologists. In the final section, we summarize the paper’s main insights and conclude by developing some general remarks. 2

Pfänder on Motivation

In his “Motives and Motivation” (1911), Pfänder attempts to show “that the ground of will must be distinguished from its cause just as strictly as the ground of knowledge is set apart from its cause; that the grounding of willing is completely different from the causation of willing; and hence that the two must be kept well apart in our thinking.”7 He calls this grounds or reason (Grund) of the will a “motive.” Before explaining this distinction in greater detail, two important points need to be noted. First, in “Motives and Motivation,” Pfänder leaves it open whether his notion of motivation is applicable to other domains of experience than volition. This is due to the fact that his main aim in that paper is modest and limited. As he makes explicit, he tries to persuade his readers that the term “motive” is used ambiguously and that it is imperative to get rid of the confusions stemming from such an ambiguous usage.8 Consequently, his phenomenological analysis of motivation in 1911 must be understood as a means to this specific end. Against this background, it would not be fair to consider his exposition of motivation as a full-fledged theory. This is why Pfänder might agree with the following claim: Provided one is careful enough about the potential ambiguity 7 Alexander Pfänder, “Motives and Motivation,” trans. Herbert Spiegelberg, in Phenomenology of Willing and Motivation (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1967), 14–15, translation modified (orig. publ. as “Motive und Motivation,” in Phänomenologie des Wollens: Motive und Motivation [München: J.A. Barth, 1963], 125). 8 Pfänder, “Motives and Motivation,” 14 (orig. 125).


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of the term “motive,” there is no problem with a theory of motivation that is applicable not only to volition but also to other kinds of experience. We will come back to this point several times in the present paper. Second and more importantly, in discussing motives, Pfänder extracts them from the realm of the mental in a narrow sense. Motives are regarded as objects of mental acts rather than as mental phenomena as such. In the rest of this section, we reconstruct how Pfänder de-mentalizes motives, as it were, to the extent that is required for the aim of the paper. Pfänder begins by distinguishing three sub-classes within the sphere of volition: act of willing (Willensakt), voluntary action (Willenshandlung), and impulse of willing (Willensimpulse).9 Act of willing is the experience of deciding to do something.10 The process of realizing the decided action, taken as a whole, is called “voluntary action.” Impulse of willing is also an act of willing in a certain sense, but it is different from the act of willing that constitutes a decision. Unlike the latter, the former is an element of the process of voluntary action. Now, even though grounds (i.e., motives) are to be found in each of these classes of volition, Pfänder confines his investigation to grounds of act of willing in the proper sense.11 For, he claims, we must have solved the question concerning grounds of acts of willing first if we are then to ask what are grounds of voluntary action or impulse of action. As already pointed out, Pfänder denies that motivation is a causal relation. According to him, such a causal conception of motivation rests on confusions. He sees one of these confusions in the fact that a decision may be causally influenced by a preceding striving (Streben). Suppose, for instance, that after one hour of cycling on a summer day, I find a bottle of beer in the fridge and decide to have it. At this moment, my conduct may be causally influenced by a striving for the beer, which has been aroused by my (visual) experience of the bottle. Does this suggest that my decision has the striving as its motive? According to Pfänder, the relation between the striving and my decision is not ­motivation— and this for two reasons. First, I can make a decision that c­ ontrasts my striving. No matter how difficult, I can decide not to have the beer in the given situation. Second, we can make a decision even in the total absence of striving. I can decide to have a glass of beer to join the toast at a boring social party, which I attend only for some external reasons and without being in the mood 9 10 11

Pfänder, “Motives and Motivation,” 15 (orig. 126). For this point, see Alessandro Salice, “Practical Intentionality: From Brentano to the Phenomenology of the Munich and Göttingen Circles,” in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Phenomenology, ed. Dan Zahavi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 604–622. Pfänder, “Motives and Motivation,” 15 (orig. 126).

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for drinking. One might object here that decision-making in the second case is explained by the victory of a striving of which I am not aware. But Pfänder refuses this objection as a prejudice.12 His contention, it seems, is that postulating an unconscious striving is justified only if one has already presupposed that the motive of a decision is striving. After distinguishing motives from causes, Pfänder turns to the nature of the former. To elucidate what motives are, he deals with the following case of motivation: “A person enters a room, perceives the chill in it, and decides on the grounds of the perceived chill to leave the room.”13 By analyzing this situation in detail, he gives phenomenological support for the claim that the motive for the person’s decision is a demand from the perceived chill on which she relies when she decides to leave the room. The given case can be depicted as a deliberation consisting of four stages:14 1. I enter the room and perceive the chill in it. 2. The perceived chill causes not only an attention to it, but also mental listening to it at the I-center. This mental listening involves a questioning intent or attitude toward the perceived chill. 3. I receive a demand to leave this room that comes from the perceived chill and acknowledge it. I thereby obtain knowledge about what I ought to do by relying on the perceived chill. 4. Relying on the demand from the perceived chill, I decide to leave the room. At the first stage (which Pfänder does not deal with as a separate stage), I enter the room and perceive the chill in it. This needs no further explication. It is obvious that nothing relevant for motive and motivation happens here. The second stage is analyzed as the initial point of my deliberation, in which I have not been motivated yet. At this stage, I come to notice that the room is too cold, and I try to figure out how to deal with the chill. To describe such a change in my experience without appealing to the notion of motivation, Pfänder talks about the “causation [Verursachung]” of attention and that of “mental listening [geistiges Hinhören].” While the former explains how I come to notice that the room is too cold, the latter is meant to pin down what is going on in my experience when I start to deliberate in the current situation. I take a 12 13 14

Pfänder, “Motives and Motivation,” 25 (orig. 139). Pfänder, “Motives and Motivation,” 27 (orig. 141). Pfänder, “Motives and Motivation,” 28–30 (orig. 142–144). To underline the fact that phenomenology of motivation is at issue, we restate Pfänder’s claims by using the first person singular pronoun.


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certain stance toward the perceived chill in which I ask it for what I should do right now. In this sense, my stance is said to contain a “questioning intent or attitude [fragende Zielung oder Haltung].” This stance is called “mental [geistig]” at least in part because it is a non-sensory experience.15 At the third stage, I receive a response from the perceived chill to my question: “What should I do (right now)?” Since the question concerns ought in a broader, non-moral sense, the response to it takes the form of a demand (Forderung) for me to do a particular type of action. In the present case, the perceived chill demands me to leave the room. Then, I eventually acknowledge (anerkennen) the demand. But, according to Pfänder, the acknowledgement of the demand to leave the room does not yet amount to the decision to leave the room. “For the decision of the will is no mere apprehension of ought [­Sollen-Erkenntnis].”16 This is a plausible claim: I may acknowledge the demand to leave the room and yet not decide to do so at the same time, because, say, I am looking for an important document that is supposed to be somewhere in the room. For Pfänder, therefore, it is at the fourth stage that I get motivated. As I make a decision to leave the room, he claims, the demand from the perceived chill becomes a motive for the decision. In other words, the demand is not a motive if it is not connected to the act of deciding. To account for such a connection, Pfänder posits an extra act in my experience at the present stage, which he calls “relying-on.” “This relying on something in the performance of an act of willing is a peculiar mental doing.”17 At first glance, Pfänder’s introduction of a further act may seem unjustified. If a decision is always made on some grounds, why is it necessary to add an extra element that connects the decision and the grounds? Pfänder remains silent about this issue, but his idea can find support in the following consideration. Let us suppose I enter a room, smell smoke, and take the stance of mental listening to the felt smoke too. Accordingly, the felt smoke demands me to leave the room as it indicates a potential threat or danger. However, my decision to leave the room is not based on this demand for I know that a window of the room is open and that there is a fire outside. Hence, my decision is solely based on the demand coming from the perceived chill. In this situation, I receive two demands, but I experience only one of them as the motive for my decision. To explain the ­experiential 15

16 17

A similar use of “geistig” as opposed to “sinnlich” is found also in Conrad-Martius. See Hedwig Conrad-Martius, “Zur Ontologie und Erscheinungslehre der realen Außenwelt,” in Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung, ed. Edmund Husserl, vol. 3 (Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1916), 403–404. Pfänder, “Motives and Motivation,” 29 (orig. 143), trans. modified. Pfänder, “Motives and Motivation,” 29 (orig. 143), trans. modified, our emphasis.

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difference in this c­ ircumstance, one has to posit an experience that turns the ­demand from the perceived chill into the motive. It is this experience that Pfänder calls “relying-on.” In this way, according to Pfänder’s analysis, the reason for my decision is out there; when I am deliberating on what I ought to do, I find a motive not in my mind, but in the world. But why, one might ask, should we believe that his phenomenological description of the above case is the correct one? Does he manage to exclude alternative phenomenological analyses? Unfortunately, we do not find any answer or hint of an answer to these questions in “Motives and Motivation.” But we think his claim can be supported. As Gareth Evans points out, “in making a self-ascription of belief, one’s eyes are, so to speak, or occasionally literally, directed outward—upon the world.”18 For instance, he continues: If someone asks me “Do you think there is going to be a third world war?” I must attend, in answering him, to precisely the same outward phenomena as I would attend to if I were answering the question “Will there be a third world war?”19 In short, it is the world that tells us what we believe. It is in accounting for such a circumstance that Theodor Lipps, Pfänder’s teacher, makes use of the notion of demand some years earlier than his student. According to Lipps, the occurrent belief, say, that the philosopher from Stagira and the teacher of Alexander the Great are one and the same is the consciousness of a demand from the object (namely, Aristotle) to be identified as the philosopher from Stagira and as the teacher of Alexander the Great.20 Now, just like the case of belief provided by Evans, if we are asked what we ought to do in a given situation, we would very likely consider the situation we are in rather than looking into our mind. In this way, it seems, the world tells us not only what we believe but also what we should realize in a given situation. This point would be very well captured 18

Gareth Evans, Varieties of Reference, ed. John McDowell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 225. 19 Evans, Varieties of Reference, 225. 20 This is the original passage in German: “Es besteht im Bewußtsein, daß der Gegenstand eines möglichen doppelten Denkaktes, etwa der ‘Philosoph von Stagira’ und der ‘Lehrer Alexanders d. Gr.,’ in sich selbst einer ist, d h. nur einmal gedacht zu werden fordert. Es ist das Bewußtsein der Forderung, daß zwei subjektiv mögliche Apperzeptionsakte objektiv durch einen einzigen ersetzt, oder daß sie miteinander zur Deckung gebracht werden.” Theodor Lipps, Leitfaden der Psychologie, 1st ed. (Leipzig: Verlag von Wilhelm Engelmann, 1903), 132.


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if the notion of demand is applied to volitional experience. And this is exactly what Pfänder does in “Motives and Motivation.”21 At this juncture, our reconstruction of Pfänder’s account would face a problem if this account were to be understood as an exhaustive account of volitional motivation. In fact, Pfänder does not clarify the ontological status of motives so as to be able to deal with cases of ill-motivated decision. Having perceived the chill in the room, for instance, I might decide not to leave the room. Presupposing Pfänder’s idea of demand, one may claim that such a decision is ill-motivated in so far as it does not conform to what the perceived chill has demanded of me. At the same time, however, there is a sense in which the decision is motivated anyway. Being a decision, it must have a reason that grounds it. To put it differently, the reason here must be something numerically distinct of the demand from the perceived chill in order for there to be a discrepancy between them. Where is, then, such a reason of decision to be found in Pfänder’s discussion of motivation? As far as “Motive und Motivation” is concerned, this problem is not addressed, and Pfänder’s account does not even seem able to solve it. Pfänder makes no room for the possibility of a discrepancy between the reason for a decision and the demand. (But this verdict is premature: we will come back to Pfänder’s position at the end of Section 4, where we identify a strategy able to solve this problem.) To be fair, we should note here that the insufficiency of Pfänder’s account of motivation is intelligible given that, as highlighted above, his aim in “Motive und Motivation” is limited. The analysis of good cases of motivation would suffice to show that motives are not causes, which is Pfänder’s main target in that piece. Since in these cases reasons for decision match perfectly with the relevant demands, it is no wonder that the possibility of the mismatch between the two items is not taken into consideration. As we will see, it is difficult to determine whether Geiger and Stein notice such a circumstance when they discuss motivation by referencing Pfänder. Be that as it may, now we are prepared to turn to their views, which will be presented as two different attempts to refine, rather than to replace, Pfänder’s account. 21

To be sure, Lipps already gives a short remark on the relationship between the will and demand (see Lipps, Leitfaden, 1st ed., 62). Therefore, there is a sense in which “Motives and Motivation” is Pfänder’s attempt to develop an idea from his teacher. This does not mean, however, that there is no conflict between the basic ideas of the two philosophers. By 1911, Pfänder no longer agrees with Lipps’s claim that the will is a kind of striving (see Lipps, Leitfaden, 1st ed., 202) or that striving is the will in a wider sense (see Lipps, Leitfaden der Psychologie, 3rd ed. [Leipzig: Verlag von Wilhelm Engelmann, 1909], 258). For the development of Pfänder’s phenomenology of willing, see Uemura and Yaegashi, “Alexander Pfänder on the Intentionality of the Willing.”

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Geiger on Motivation

In his paper “Contributions to Phenomenology of Aesthetic Enjoyment,” Geiger addresses the notion of motivation in a brief, but dense and fairly articulated passage.22 Geiger’s investigations on this topic are highly interesting especially in the light of two different considerations that will guide our reconstruction. First, in Geiger’s view, motivation is not confined to volition but also applies to the affective dimension. Said another way, emotions have motives and, as such, they are subject to certain norms of rationality: emotions—not only volitions—can be well- or ill-motivated. The second consideration is that he consciously draws upon Pfänder’s notion of motivation in his work but modifies it in an original and interesting view, as we will see. Before elaborating on these ideas more extensively, however, it may be important to emphasize that our reconstruction is contingent on an important caveat: although Geiger refers to “Motive und Motivation” in several places, he does not discuss Pfänder’s position in much detail. In fact, when he introduces the notion of “affective motive [Gefühlsmotiv]”, he carefully states that Pfänder’s conclusions “obviously have to be applied to the current problem only to a limited extent [nur zum Teil] because here we have to deal with affective, not with volitional motives.”23 This passage leaves unspecified which insights secured by Pfänder would not apply to Geiger’s analysis (and, to the best our knowledge, Geiger does not seem to come back to this issue in any other publication). This exegetical point, however, is important for the following reason: on one reading of that quotation, Pfänder’s insights are such that, based on their non-applicability to the affective dimension, they lead Geiger to introduce a new kind of motivation for affects. Were this the case, Geiger would not have been operating with the same notion of motivation in the volitional and the emotive life, but he would just have introduced a new kind of motivation in addition to the one already investigated by Pfänder with respect to volition. On this reading, there would be no point in arguing that Geiger consciously modifies Pfänder’s notion of motivation—simply because his considerations about

22 23

Moritz Geiger, “Beiträge zur Phänomenologie des ästhetischen Genusses,” in Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung, ed. Edmund Husserl, vol. 1 (Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1913), 584–591. Geiger, “Beiträge zur Phänomenologie des ästhetischen Genusses,” 588n2. The idea that emotions have motives is discussed also by Scheler. See Kevin Mulligan, “Max Scheler: Die Anatomie des Herzens oder was man alles fühlen kann,” in Klassische Emotionstheorien: Von Platon bis Wittgenstein, ed. Hilge Landweer and Ursula Renz (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008), 587–612.


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affective motivation would not pertain to volitional motivation (and hence to Pfänder). However, it is possible to offer a second reading of that quote. As a matter of fact, that very passage leaves open the possibility that Geiger holds his considerations about motivation to be compatible with Pfänder’s analysis to a certain extent. On this second reading, affective and volitional motives share certain determinations that, indeed, make both of them motives. Said another way, affective and volitional motives are of the same kind. This reading would safeguard our interpretation and, specifically, the idea that Geiger’s insights about affective motivation are relevant for the volitional dimension and, thus, that he consciously modifies Pfänder’s account. In what follows, we presuppose the second reading of that passage. But it is time to leave exegetical issues aside and get back to the things themselves: In which sense can one say that emotions have motives? Let us begin with an example: consider your joy at (Freude über) your friend’s arrival. The first thing Geiger acknowledges about this experience is its intentional directedness, that is, the fact that the emotion is about something: the friend’s arrival.24 However, the intentional relation is only one of the many relations that this experience enters with the world (and with other experiences). In particular, and to paraphrase Anscombe,25 a certain sense of the question “why?,” which targets the reason (not the cause)26 of the experience, can be given application to this emotion. Geiger writes in this vein: “Why [weshalb] do you feel joy at his arrival? The answer could be: because I like him or because he will act in my place at my office and hence I can go on the planned trip – therefore I feel joy.”27 When we raise the question “why” (in this specific sense), ­Geiger claims, we do not ask about the intentional object of the emotion (Gefühlsobjekt), rather we question the affective motive (Gefühlsmotive). Now, what is the motive? Geiger’s straightforward answer is: “The affective 24

25 26


Geiger discusses affective intentionality in another paper, see his “Das Bewußtsein des Gefühlen,” in Münchener Philosophische Abhandlungen, ed. Alexander Pfänder (München: J.A. Barth, 1911), 125–162. For a discussion of his view (especially in relation to Husserl), see Mariano Crespo, “Moritz Geiger on the Consciousness of Feelings,” Studia Phaenomenologica 15 (2015): 375–393. G.E.M. Anscombe, Intention (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 9. In addition to the motive (and to the grounds, as we will see) of an emotion, Geiger also identifies the cause of an emotion, which comes in two kinds: The phenomenal cause has to be distinguished from the real cause of an emotion (see Geiger, “Beiträge zur Phänomenologie des ästhetischen Genusses,” 590–591). Although interesting, a thorough discussion of this notion would exceed the purpose of this paper. Geiger, “Beiträge zur Phänomenologie des ästhetischen Genusses,” 586.

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­ otive is  an immediate experience.”28 In other words, whereas for Pfänder m the ­motive is a mind-transcendent element, it is distinctive of Geiger’s view that  motives are mind-internal. This, however, generates the question as to what motives are  experiences of. In the example above, the object of joy is related to a certain state of affairs (the possibility of going on vacation), which “appears behind the affective object”29—possibly, this metaphor has to be taken in the sense that, whilst the subject is thematically aware of the affective object, she generally is non-thematically or peripherally aware of the motive. The friend’s arrival is related to that state of affairs, and it is precisely experiencing that relation that, according to Geiger, motivates the emotion of joy in you. More precisely: such experiencing is motivation.30 Often, Geiger maintains, because of the constant association of the affective object with the affective motive, the motive “evaporates [sich verflüchtigt].”31 It volatilizes, as it were, in the sense that the subject does not grasp the relation between affective object and motive anymore. As a consequence, the object immediately appears to the subject as having an enjoyable character (in the example at stake). To illustrate this idea, imagine further that it has become a working routine that the arrival of your friend marks the fact that you go on vacation. In this case, the arrival assumes a character that makes it immediately enjoyable, while the relation between the object and the further facts fades in the background. It is only when, say, another individual, instead of your friend, comes and replaces you at your workplace that such a relation becomes salient again and you realize: I am enjoying the arrival of this individual because I can now have my holiday (where the “because” expresses the experience of motivation). When the experience of motivation lacks, as in the example just portrayed, the emotion can be said to be no longer motivated (motivlos). But this is not to say that it would be no longer possible to assess the emotion’s “rationality” in some other respect—quite the contrary. Geiger draws a distinction between 28

29 30 31

Geiger, “Beiträge zur Phänomenologie des ästhetischen Genusses,” 589. In the quote above, Geiger refers to the possible motive of the emotion of joy with the causal sentence “because he will act in my place at my office and hence I can go on the planned trip.” At first glance, this may seem to contradict the idea that motives are experiences given that being replaced by somebody at work is a state of affairs (not a mental state). However, putting that state of affairs in relation to the object of the emotion (the friend’s arrival) is an experience according to Geiger, and this experience is what he calls “motivation.” We will come back to this issue soon. Geiger, “Beiträge zur Phänomenologie des ästhetischen Genusses,” 588. Geiger, “Beiträge zur Phänomenologie des ästhetischen Genusses,” 588. Geiger, “Beiträge zur Phänomenologie des ästhetischen Genusses,” 587.


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the motive and the grounds (Begründung) of an emotion: emotions that lack a motive can still have grounds. The possibility to go on vacation—this very state of affairs (as distinguished from the experience of this state of affairs, which, as we saw, identifies the motive of the emotion)—is the grounds of the emotion of joy. Here it becomes evident how Geiger modifies Pfänder’s account of motivation: For both of them, grounds are something objective. However, in Geiger’s view, by considering motives as objective, Pfänder conflates them with grounds. Geiger, by contrast, distinguishes (subjective) motives from (objective) grounds. Further, Geiger maintains that the grounds of the emotion are not phenomenologically evident: it is not immediately clear to us what the grounds of our emotions are, and we generally need to engage in (often counterfactual) reasoning to get a grip on that. For instance, to identify the grounds of the emotion of joy in the example above, one could reason as follows: if being replaced by my friend at my workplace would not open up the possibility for me to go to vacation, then I would not have grounds for rejoicing at my friend’s arrival. Geiger emphasizes that the experiences that lead us to ascertaining the grounds of an emotion do not yet coincide with the motive of that emotion. And although he does not develop this claim, he at least mentions the possibility that, even though the object of the motive (as experience)—namely, a specific state of affairs—and the grounds coincide, they can also fall apart.32 This last remark leads us to speculate how to assess cases of affective illmotivation according to Geiger. He does not discuss the possibility of emotions lacking grounds. But if such emotions are possible, then they would instantiate a first form of ill-motivation and a particularly severe one at that (possibly to be associated with certain forms of affectivity in mental disorders—e.g., the manic and depressive episodes in bipolar disorder that do not seem to have grounds in the world). Further, as we have seen, Geiger describes grounded emotions as lacking a motive. Such emotions may suffer from phenomenological opacity—if confronted with question “why?,” the subject would not be able to answer it—but it appears that these cases escape the charge of irrationality. In fact, and at least in principle, there seems to be nothing rationally wrong to be detected in these cases: provided the adequate psychological circumstances are in place, the subject would be able to experience motivation again. This leads us to the identification of a second form of ill-motivation—one in which the emotion is grounded and the subject experiences motivation, but the object of the experience diverges from the ground of the emotion. Suppose you feel joy upon your friend’s arrival and you associate this with the fact that it 32

Geiger, “Beiträge zur Phänomenologie des ästhetischen Genusses,” 587.

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is precisely your friend’s arrival that makes you rejoice. In reality, however, what grounds your emotion is the fact that your friend’s arrival gives you the possibility to go on vacation (and this to the effect that if another individual were to show up, you would still emote in a similar way). In this case, one may conclude that the emotion is ill-motivated—for, if confronted with the question “why,” the subject would give an answer which (although perhaps phenomenologically adequate) misidentifies the element that normatively justifies the emotion. Thus, this implies that the experience of being motivated does not yet guarantee whether the subject is in the good or in the bad case. In fact, as we have highlighted, grounds are not phenomenologically evident—that is, whether the object of a motive coincides with the grounds is not reflected in the phenomenology of our emotion but has to be ascertained by means of reasoning. 4

Stein on Motivation

Stein’s phenomenological analysis of motivation appears in the first treatise of her Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities originally published in 1922. Her discussion, when compared to Pfänder’s, shows two striking features. First, she expands the notion of motivation. She admits that motivation is at work not only in volitional or affective, but also in cognitive and perceptual experiences. On this point, she is in agreement with Geiger, but remarkably, she applies the notion of motivation to a much wider domain of experience. Second, she distinguishes the content from the object of an experience and regards motives as a kind of the former.33 It is precisely this point that makes her position interesting in comparison with Geiger’s and Pfänder’s views. On the one hand, in virtue of the content/object distinction, she is in agreement with Geiger to a certain extent: as we will illustrate below, her account, too, seems able to accommodate the distinction between well- and ill-motivation. On the other hand, the distinction enables her to hold that motives are mind-transcendent. 33

The idea of distinguishing contents and objects of experience was a sort of communis opinio at the time when Stein was developing her consideration. In the early phenomenological tradition, this distinction is made explicit by Twardowski and, under his influence, advocated by Husserl and Meinong in the late 1890s. For Twardowski and Meinong on the contents/objects distinction, see Dale Jacquette, “Brentano’s Concept of Intentionality,” in The Cambridge Companion to Brentano, ed. Dale Jacquette (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 98–130, here 111–115. For the relationship between Husserl and Twardowski on this matter, see Robin D. Rollinger, Husserl’s Position in the School of Brentano (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999), 140–147.


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On this point, she is in a way closer to Pfänder, although they disagree on the ontological status of motives. This section explains why Stein’s position could be reconstructed in this way. As the original German title, Beiträge zur philosophischen Begründung der Psychologie und der Geisteswissenschaften, suggests, one of Stein’s aims in the book is to demarcate the realm of Spirit (Geist) as the research field of the Geisteswissenschaften. Following Husserl, she attempts to characterize that realm as governed by motivation as opposed to causality. It is hence not surprising that she does not consent to Pfänder’s restricted notion of motivation. By contrast, she contends that motivation is to be found not only in volition, but also in varieties of experiences such as (occurrent) beliefs, perceptions and emotions.34 To see how Stein manages to admit such an almost ubiquitous presence of motivation in our experience, we start with her initial definition of motivation: “Motivation, in our general sense, is the connection acts get into with one another: […] the emergence of the one act from the other, an act’s being performed [Sichvollziehen oder Vollzogenwerden] on the basis of other, for the sake of the other.”35 As she quickly notes, however, the “performance” of an act does not always indicate the spontaneity of the act. “What is characteristic about the relation of motivation is that it takes place in various forms: it can be performed explicitly or it can be present only implicitly.”36 Thus, to put it less misleadingly, when an experience of a certain type is motivated, “the I performs the one experience—or it takes part in that experience—, because it has the other experience, [namely,] for the sake of the other experience.”37 In this way, Stein holds an idea conducive to Geiger’s view: we can properly talk about 34

Edith Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, ed. Marianne Sawicki, trans. Mary Catharine Baseheart and Marianne Sawicki. (Washington, DC: ics Publications, 2000), 40 (orig. publ. as “Beiträge zur philosophischen Begründung der Psychologie und der Geisteswissenschaften,” in Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung, ed. Edmund Husserl, vol. 1 [Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1922], 35; reprinted as Edith Stein Gesamtausgabe, vol. 6, ed. Beate Beckmann-Zöller, [Freiburg: Herder, 2010], page numbers of the original edition are indicated on the margin). We will not deal with motivation of emotion: on this topic Stein only makes a brief remark in passing: “The grasp of value can motivate an emotional attitude [Gemütsstellungsnahme] (for example, joy in beauty)” (Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 42 [orig. 36], trans. modified). Here Stein seems to have Scheler’s discussion in mind. See footnote 23. 35 Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 41 (orig. 35), trans. modified. As we will see below, this definition is only an initial, imprecise one. 36 Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 41 (orig. 35), trans. modified. 37 Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 42 (orig. 36), trans. modified, our emphasis.

Motives in Experience


motivation in any type of experiences to which a certain kind of non-causal why-question is applicable. Given this characterization, it is not difficult to see how Stein argues for her claim that motivation is found in (occurrent) beliefs. It appears obvious that we can apply why-questions to them. To use her example, when we make an inference, our belief about the conclusion is motivated in the above sense by the belief about the premises.38 Arguably, this motivation takes place explicitly, for the premises and conclusion are made thematic in the inference.39 What about motivation in perception? According to Stein, it is thanks to motivation that, when I perceive a three-dimensional object such as a table, I am not confined to what is sensually and momentarily given to me, namely the front side of the table. “Because I [perceptually] grasp a spatially extended thing, I ‘co’-perceive the backside as well, which itself I do not grasp.”40 This means that it makes sense for someone to ask me “why do you perceive the table as a whole rather than anything else in the given situation?” and that we can understand this question as not asking for the cause of my perception. In other words, if Stein is correct, there must be a sense in which it is inappropriate in the present context to say, “because my eyes received the light reflected from the table” or “because the information is processed in my brain in such and such way.” What is noteworthy about Stein’s expansion of the notion of motivation is that she, unlike Geiger, does not neglect to clarify how her position is different from Pfänder’s. On the one hand, Stein accepts Pfänder’s restrictive use of the notion to a certain extent, admitting that motivation in a narrow sense is not to be found in belief and perception. She writes: [I]n the realm of free acts motivation acquires a pregnant sense—in distinction to the broader concept we initially pictured to ourselves. With regard to this pregnant sense, we can understand Pfänder when he claims to understand by motivation ‘only the peculiar relation that holds between the demanding ground of the will and the act of will relying on it.’41

38 Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 41 (orig. 35–36). 39 For a detailed exposition of Stein on the motivation of attitudes, see Mulligan “Acceptance,” 111–116. 40 Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 41 (orig. 36), trans. modified, our emphasis. 41 Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 59 (orig. 53), trans. modified, our emphasis.


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On the other hand, however, she disagrees with Pfänder concerning the range of experience to which the notion of motivation in the narrow sense is applicable. She defines free acts as something “in which the I does not only have experience, but appears as the ruler [Herr] of the experience.”42 In other words, we have certain control over these acts and we can refrain from performing them if there are motives to do so.43 This does not hold true for attitudes (Stellungnahmen), which we have or do not have independently of our volition. Characterized in this way, free acts include not only deciding but also asserting, lying and other acts that we perform spontaneously. Thus, calling such spontaneous acts “voluntary acts [willentliche Akte],” Stein concludes that “the motivation in the pregnant sense, which Pfänder has in mind, is not confined to the act of willing [Willensakt] proper, but it extends to the whole sphere of the voluntary act.”44 Against Stein’s expansion of the notion of motivation, one might object that she over-intellectualizes perception: When we are seeing a table, are we really responding to reasons or norms? To answer this objection, we should note that Stein conceives of motivation as taking place implicitly in (simple) perception.45 When I co-perceive the backside of the table, she would claim, I am not thematically aware that my co-perception is motivated by the act of grasping the front side of the table. Stein’s distinction between explicit and implicit motivations is closely related to her idea that motives are contents of experience.46 In order to accommodate the fact that motivation may be implicit, she must reject Pfänder’s 42 Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 52 (orig. 46), trans. modified. 43 Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 55 (orig. 48). 44 Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 60 (orig. 53). The idea that some acts are “spontaneous” in the sense that they are under the voluntary control of the I (insofar as the I is their “phenomenal originator [phänomenaler Urheber]”) stems from Reinach. See Adolf Reinach, “The Apriori Foundations of the Civil Law,” trans. John F. Crosby, in The Apriori Foundations of the Civil Law along with the lecture, “Concerning Phenomenology” (Frankfurt: Ontos Verlag, 2012), 18 (orig. publ. as “Die apriorischen Grundlagen des bürgerilischen Rechtes” in 1913, reprinted in Sämtliche Werke, ed. Karl Schuhmann and Barry Smith [München: Philosophia Verlag], 158). 45 Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 41 (orig. 36). We read the phrase “ichliche Wahrnehmung” in the relevant passage from the Gesamtausgabe edition as “schlichte Wahrnehmung,” following the original Jahrbuch edition. 46 It is noteworthy that Husserl also holds that motive is the content (Gehalt) posited in the motivating act in his lectures on ethics in the 1920s (see Edmund Husserl, Einleitung in die Ethik. Vorlesungen Sommersemester 1920/1924, ed. Henning Peucker [Dordrecht: Springer, 2004], 82–83). We owe this reference to Kevin Mulligan. According to Walsh, the notion of the content (Inhalt) of acts plays a role already in Husserl’s account of motivation in Logical Investigations. See Phillip J. Walsh, “Husserl’s Concept of Motivation: The ­Logical

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position, according to which motives are objects of experience, for such objects are something we are thematically aware of when we undergo an experience. But then, does she agree with Geiger concerning the ontological status of motives? It might seem so, because, as indicated by some passages we have quoted, Stein herself sometimes talks as if motives are experiences as such. As a matter of fact, this would be an imprecise way of formulating her position. Pointing out that consciousness is always directed towards an object with a sense-content (Sinnesgehalt),47 she describes how we can make implicit motivation explicit: Living in the performance of an act, the I is turned toward the object and intends it, progressing from act to act with a steadily changing subsistence of sense (Sinnesbestand) … , the I does this without being turned thereby to the sense itself and to the framework of motivation. Nevertheless, there exists the possibility at any time of making the sense into an object, unfolding it, and from it inferring norms for the process of motivation.48 According to Stein, when we explicate a motivational connection between experiences, we do not thematize these experiences as such but their contents. With this idea at hand, Stein could explain how good cases of motivation are different from bad ones. As she points out, there are cases of assertions that are not sufficiently grounded. When this happens, the assertion is motivated by my conviction (Überzeugung), but the motive for my assertion does not ­coincide with the objective grounds for the assertion.49 Let us illustrate this claim with an example. Assume that I make the false assertion that the deadline for submitting this paper has been postponed. In this case, my ­assertion obviously does not have objective grounds given the fact that the deadline has not been extended. At the same time, as long as my assertion is motivated by the conviction that the deadline has been postponed, the assertion is ­motivated ­anyway—even though this is a case of ill-motivation. In other words, my assertion is well-motivated only if its motive, namely the content of my conviction, corresponds with the fact as its objective grounds. This can shed light on the difference between Stein’s and Geiger’s views. As we saw, for Geiger, motives are experiences. If one applies this idea to the Investigations and Beyond,” Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy/Philosophiegeschichte und logische Analyse 13 (2013): 70–83. 47 Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 42–43 (orig. 37). 48 Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 43 (orig. 37), trans. modified, our emphases. 49 Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, 53 (orig. 47).


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example at stake, then one should conclude that when my assertion is motivated by my conviction, it is the conviction as such that serves as the motive. If this is correct, then when someone asks me why I assert that the deadline for submitting this paper has been postponed, the proper way of expressing my answer would be to say, “because I believe that the deadline for submitting this paper has been postponed.” For Stein, in contrast, motives are contents of experience. Thus, she would contest the above sentence as the adequate expression of my answer. According to her, the correct answer would be “because the deadline for submitting this paper has been postponed.” This point leads to an important difference between the two phenomenologists. Stein understands motives as repeatable entities and thus as mind-transcendent. This claim is not available for Geiger who identifies motives with non-repeatable (token-) experiences.50 5

Comparison with the Contemporary Debate

So far, we have shown how Geiger’s and Stein’s accounts avoid the difficulty faced by Pfänder. In this last section, we consider the three phenomenologists’ positions in light of the contemporary discussion about reasons for action. Through this, we will not only see that Geiger’s and Stein’s insights have their counterparts respectively in current debates, but also show that, in fact, Pfänder may have a way out of the impasse faced by his theory of volitional motivation. Geiger’s conception of motives as experiences could be understood as a pendant of what, nowadays, is sometimes called psychologism about reasons for action. According to this position, which has been widely accepted as the standard position since Davidson’s influential paper “Actions, Reasons, and Causes” in 1963,51 the reasons for action are beliefs, desires (pro-attitudes), or 50


To put it differently, it is incorrect to characterize the novelty of Stein’s position solely in terms of the introduction of the content of experience. Geiger could accept this idea while still maintaining his view that motives are experiences as such. According to Geiger, my assertion is ill-motivated because my conviction, which is the motive for my assertion, is not veridical. But his account does not explain what the non-veridicality of my conviction consists of. To refine his account further, he could claim that my conviction is nonveridical because its content is false. However, this would not challenge his conception of motives – which, in his view, would still have to be equated with experiences. Donald Davidson, “Action, Reasons, and Causes,” reprinted in his Essays on Actions and Events (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

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pairs of a belief and a desire.52,53 One way to motivate such a position is to appeal to the case in which the reason for decision cannot be found in the world. Suppose that I explain an action of mine by saying “I left the room because the room was chilly.” Further, suppose that the room was warm, and I was merely hallucinating the chill. Then, neither the chill in the room nor the fact that the room was chilly can be the reason for my action. Hallucination, by definition, has no object in the world. It is quite implausible, however, to conclude that there was no reason for my action in the present case, for there certainly is a sense in which I acted on some reason when I left the room. Given this, it seems tempting to buy the psychologistic idea that the reason for my action is a mental item, for instance, the (wrong) belief that the room was chilly, or a desire to keep myself away from the chill in the room, or the desire plus the belief that I could keep myself away from the chill in the room by leaving there. Now, what about Stein’s position? To answer this question, we have to point out, first, that the above move of psychologism is, in fact, not without problems. Since “the room was chilly” is false, psychologists maintain that it does not amount to the explanation of my action when I say, “I left the room because it was chilly.” However, as Dancy points out, the explanation for an action may not be factive; in other words, the reason for the action may not be something that is true or the case54 given that the following statement seems to offer an adequate explanation for my action: “My reason for leaving the room was that it was chilly, but in fact I was quite wrong about that.” Thus, Dancy proposes to consider the reason for an action as the thing the agent believes when she acts rather than her mental state of belief.55 Extracting reasons from the 52 53

54 55

For an overview of varieties of psychologism from a critical standpoint, see Eric Wiland, Reasons (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), ch. 2–3. Although more complex than the belief-desire model propounded by Davidson, a psychologistic account of volitional motivation is put forward by Hildebrand in his 1916 work on moral action. See Dietrich von Hildebrand, “Die Idee von der sittlichen Handlung,” in Die Idee von der sittlichen Handlung. Sittlichkeit und ethische Werterkenntnis, ed. Karla Mertens (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1969), 1–126. See also Alessandro Salice, “Actions, Values, and States of Affairs in Hildebrand and Reinach,” Studia Phaenomenologica 15 (2015): 259–280. Roughly, Hildebrand’s idea is that the will is motivated by an experience (Wertfühlen), which tracks the goal’s values. Jonathan Dancy, Practical Reality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 131–137. “It is not our believing that things are so that motivates us, I shall eventually be saying, but rather what we believe, namely their being so, or that they are so. We have, that is, to look through the believings to the things believed if we are to find the real source of motivation” (Dancy, Practical Reality, 77, our emphasis).


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realm of mental phenomena in this way, he characterizes his own position as ­anti-psychologistic.56 Now, one way to understand Dancy’s anti-psychologistic proposal is to say that reasons—things we believe, and which may or may not be true—are contents of beliefs. Here, one could find the contemporary counterpart of Stein’s position.57 The problem to which psychologists/Geiger and Dancy’s a­ nti-psychologism/ Stein give solutions would seem to undermine Pfänder’s position. Since he conceives of motives as something in the world, how can they provide a reason for my actions (e.g., for my action of leaving the room) or for my decisions (e.g., for my decision to do so based on the hallucinated chill)? It is at this point that comparison with the contemporary discussion may provide an illuminating suggestion. To solve the problem, Pfänder could adopt yet another form of anti-psychologism, namely disjunctivism (even though he himself arguably does not appear to be aware of this option). According to disjunctivism, as advocated by Hornsby, for instance, the reason for an action is either a fact as a mind-transcendent item in the world or something else.58 Disjunctivists appeal to the former when they are to explain cases in which an agent performs an action with no relevant beliefs being false. When it comes to cases like the present example, however, the minimal claim of disjunctivism is that the ­reason for an action is not anything in the world in these cases. Likewise, Pfänder could rescue his position if he grants the disjunctivist idea that motives— reasons of the will—are either mind-transcendent objects or something else.

56 Dancy, Practical Reality, 157. 57 But the situation is in fact more complicated. If we understand by “contents” propositions, Dancy would definitely reject our interpretation. According to him, propositions are too detached from the world and too abstract to be reasons (see Dancy, Practical Reality, 114–115). However, and no matter how convincing this claim of him is, it is logically independent from the claim that the explanation of an action may not be factive; it is possible for one to accept the latter claim and hold, against Dancy, that reasons are propositions. Thus, if we regard Dancy’s claim about the explanation of reason in terms of things we believe as his main point, it is not implausible to say that his position is a contemporary counterpart of Stein’s. We owe Yudai Suzuki for his comments on Dancy on this point. 58 Jennifer Hornsby, “A Disjunctive Conception of Acting for Reasons,” in Disjunctivism: Perception, Action, Knowledge, ed. Adrian Haddock and Fiona Macpherson (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 227–243. In fact, Hornsby specifies the second disjunction as “what an agent believes” (Hornsby, “A Disjunctive Conception,” 247). But this is only optional for disjunctivists, for disjunctivism consists in the claim that there are two different kinds of reasons of action and that they have no common factor.

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6 Conclusion Let us recapitulate. Pfänder’s discussion of motivation paves the way for the investigations put forward by Geiger and Stein on this very same topic. In a sense, these investigations can be said to start precisely where Pfänder’s reflection ends: on the one hand, Pfänder delimits the treatment of motivation to the sphere of volition; on the other, he does not discuss cases of ill-motivation. Both points are tackled by Geiger and Stein. First, they both expand the domain of motivation: in their view, all experiences that can be subjected to a certain sense of the question “why?” have motives and, whereas Geiger is mainly interested in the affective dimension, Stein focuses on cognitive acts as well. In principle, this move may be considered as compatible with Pfänder’s account given that his project never meant to exclude the possibility of experiences of a kind other than volition being motivated. However, the three views diverge in some important respects: in order to account for cases of ill-motivation, Geiger and Stein reform the very notion of motive Pfänder operates with. In fact, Pfänder seems to ambiguously conflate two different notions under the title “motives”: motivating reasons and normative reasons. Geiger and Stein set these two notions apart but explain them in a different manner. Geiger opts for a psychologistic explanation, according to which motives are experiences. Stein, by contrast, endorses an antipsychologistic theory by arguing that motives are contents (qua abstract objects). In conclusion, we have claimed that logical space opens up a possibility for Pfänder to impugn the charge of ambiguity about motives. Pfänder could embrace disjunctivism about motivation, according to which the motive of an action either is a mind-transcendent item (if the action is well-motivated) or is something else (if the action is ill-motivated). Although we suspended our judgment about which view of motivation is the correct one, we believe that the debate within early phenomenology we reconstructed in this chapter once again signals the fruitfulness of this neglected philosophical tradition.

Experience and Normativity: The Phenomenological Approach Sophie Loidolt 1

The Relation between Experience and Normativity

The relation between experience and normativity is often conceived as a ­hierarchical one. In practical life, norms and normative principles are supposed to enable us to evaluate the experiences we have, thereby leading us to actions that are consistent with these norms. In theoretical life, normative guidelines such as logical, methodical and argumentative reasoning help us to sort out which experiences are the ones that allow us to formulate true statements about the world. Both sets of norms, practical and theoretical, are taken to be gained from a faculty that differs from experience. In rather classical terms, this faculty would be called “reason” or “rational insight” as opposed to “sensibility” or “experiential input.” This conception, employed by rationalists as well as by empiricists, can have problematic implications. One is that experience by itself does not tell us anything about the world or about what we ought to do. The former has been famously criticized by Wilfrid Sellars as the “myth of the given.”1 The category mistake of this myth is that experience is conceived as blind, causally induced “input,” which is, at the same time, supposed to deliver justifications for our judgments. Without being part of the “space of reasons,” however, neither justification nor normativity can be achieved. This critique has generated two diverging positions in the contemporary debate that are interesting with respect to the different ways in which they reconceptualize the relation between experience and normativity: while the more Kantian-inspired John McDowell2 aims at reformulating the notion of experience as pervaded by rationality, the more pragmatism- and Davidson-inspired Robert Brandom3

1 Cf. Wilfrid Sellars, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997). 2 John McDowell, Mind and World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994). 3 Robert Brandom, Making it Explicit (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994).

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Experience and Normativity


denies experience (qua “causal impact”) any role in the normative practice of employing concepts by being committed to inferences.4 But even if we look at the more sophisticated conception of experience in McDowell’s work, we can still see that it is conceptuality which warrants normativity, having always already structured what would otherwise be “blind intuition.” Like Brandom, McDowell hence sees conceptuality as rooted in language and linguistic practices and takes experience to be informed or formed by it. This Kantian picture has been criticized by phenomenologists for a long time, in the theoretical as well as in the practical field. Husserl,5 Heidegger,6 and Scheler7 have univocally objected that experience is not “formed” by conceptuality and therefore normatively permeated, but that it yields and carries these normative structures within itself thanks to its intrinsic feature of intentionality. In more recent times, Hubert Dreyfus8 has drawn on phenomenological accounts of experience by Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger to criticize McDowell’s notion of a conceptualizing mind as being too intellectualist and ignorant of the “phenomenology of bodily coping.” By this, he understands the immersed and non-conceptual response to affordances which, according to the phenomenological position, opens up a world in the first place. Without going into this debate,9 known as “The Myth of the Mental,” I would like to explore what characterizes phenomenological approaches to 4 Brandom is indeed quite explicit about his stance: “‘Experience’ is not one of my words. […] I do not see that we need […] to appeal to any intermediaries between perceptible facts and reports of them that are non-inferentially elicited by the exercise of reliable differential responsive dispositions. There are, of course, many causal intermediaries […]. But I do not see that any of these has any particular conceptual or (therefore) cognitive or semantic significance.” Robert Brandom, Articulating Reasons (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 205–206. From this, it is quite clear that “experience” for Brandom means extraconceptual causal impact outside of the space of reasons that can be “cancelled out” for the game of giving reasons. 5 Edmund Husserl, Vorlesungen über Ethik und Wertlehre (1908–1914), Husserliana, vol. 28 (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1988), 402–417. 6 Martin Heidegger, History of the Concept of Time. Prolegomena, trans. Theodore Kisiel, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985), 70. 7 Max Scheler, Formalism in Ethics and Non-formal Ethics of Values, trans. Manfred S. Frings and Roger L. Funk (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 6–8. 8 Hubert Dreyfus, “Overcoming the Myth of the Mental,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 79, no. 2 (2005): 47–65. 9 Most of the debate on the “Myth of the Mental” between McDowell and Dreyfus can be found in the journal Inquiry 50, no. 4 (2007). For further reading, including papers by other scholars, consult Joseph K. Schear, ed., Mind, Reason, and Being-In-The-World (New York: Routledge, 2013). With respect to Dreyfus’s contributions, I have my reservations that his



the relation of experience and normativity. Although these approaches are ­manifold, there is one common trait which unites them: normativity is gained from experience. Or, to put it more precisely: normativity is explained as emerging from different features and structures of experiencing and of that which is experienced. What this means concretely will be spelled out in the next sections. Generally, it can be claimed that for phenomenologists, there is no faculty “beyond” experience. The very broad notion of experience that is at work here implies that everything we live through, be it the perception of an airplane crossing the sky, an abstract thought, or concrete interaction with others, is something we experience. Consequently, concepts as well as norms are rooted in this intentional relation to the world. Experience is not conceived as causal, blind impact but as presenting us with something: objects and subjects in the world, the world itself in its infinite horizon, our thoughts and feelings, mathematical and eidetic insights, etc. This acquainting or presenting mode where something is “given” or “appears” is the core feature of experience which Husserl called by the Brentanian term “intentionality.” All phenomenological claims about normativity can be traced back to the intentionality of experience which has been reformulated as being-in-the-world (Heidegger), as transcending (Heidegger, Levinas), or as the operative intentionality of our lived body (Merleau-Ponty)—without losing its general characteristic of being responsible for our fundamental openness to the world, which is always already a normatively structured openness. However, there are very different kinds of givenness: the way I experience the glass of water I am drinking from is different from the way I appreciate the value of freedom, and again, different from the way I experience the alterity of and responsibility for the other. Consequently, there are also different kinds of normativity to be gained from an analysis of intentional experience. The most important distinction we know from the tradition is that between theoretical normativity, the normativity of truth, and practical normativity, the measures we can live up to or fail to live up to. The latter can either be relative to the goals I pursue, or they address me categorically with what ought to be done. Kant famously decided to argue for an embeddedness of normativity within experience through the concepts of the understanding in the rather bluntly drawn distinction between “phenomenologists” and “conceptualists” helps to avoid the old dichotomies between an unconscious body (providing non-conceptual content) and a conceptualizing mind (providing conceptual content), which, especially in Dreyfus’s account, is reduced to “self-monitoring.” For a more elaborate account of these reservations, see my paper in a volume on phenomenology and pragmatism: Sophie Loidolt, “On Dreyfus’s Naturalization of Phenomenological Pragmatism: Misleading Dichotomies and the ­Counter-Concept of Intentionality,” in Pragmatic Perspectives in Phenomenology, ed. Ondrej Švec and Jakub Čapek (London: Routledge, 2017), 122–140.

Experience and Normativity


t­ heoretical field, whereas in the practical field, he fiercely rejected that a pure and ­universally valid moral principle could ever be gained from experience. This, of course, is only consequent, given that for Kant all normativity is located exclusively in reason and understanding. The absolute ought that should guide my actions can never be deduced from the mix of sensible affection and concepts that makes up “experience” in the Kantian sense. Phenomenologists, by contrast, do not think of experience along these lines. Instead, they maintain that normativity springs from experience in both cases (theoretical and practical). This not only takes us beyond the dichotomy of rationalist and empiricist approaches in the practical field. It also makes us perceive the difference between “is” and “ought” in a new way. To spell out what an experience of an ought is (which Kant certainly did without acknowledging it10) blurs this difference. At the same time, it holds that experience is not just contingent affection but that there are apriori structures that make it an experience of this sort. In the following, I will systematize and spell out three different forms of normativity that all relate to our engagement11 with the world and others (hence, I will not discuss the normativity of logic or other ideal entities as elaborated by Husserl in the Logical Investigations12). I start out with the normativity in perception and bodily experience. This involves a discussion of the experiential relation of mind and world I invoked above. Then, I move on to another kind of normativity in experience that confronts me with an “ought.” Finally, I take a look at how the proto-normative and normative structures gained from experience become norms with a “critical” function. This means that they become norms which we actively apply to our practical lives and which we constantly have to re-examine. I do not claim to give an exhaustive picture of the forms of normativity phenomenology can disclose. Instead, I see this as a first attempt to examine how different forms of normativity emerge from our engagement 10



I have argued elsewhere that Kant’s analysis of the “fact of practical reason” is indeed such an analysis (of experiencing an ought), since Kant conceives of it as the “consciousness of the moral law.” Cf. Sophie Loidolt, “Husserl und das Faktum der praktischen Vernunft: Phänomenologische Ansprüche an eine philosophische Ethik,” in Philosophy – Phenomenology – Sciences: Essays in Commemoration of Edmund Husserl, ed. Carlo Ierna, Hanne Jacobs, and Filip Mattens (Dordrecht: Springer, 2010) 483–503. This engagement can be called “practical,” since it is always guided by practices, e.g. the habitualized praxis of perception (cf. 2.1). If I use the term “practical” in this context, I do not mean to limit the scope to “practical philosophy.” Instead, I intend to indicate a “pragmatist” or practice-orientated approach. To be sure, Husserl argues for the theoretical nature of logic against psychologist accounts. The theoretical insight into the laws of logic, however, does have normative consequences. Cf. Edmund Husserl, Logische Untersuchungen. Erster Teil. Prolegomena zur reinen Logik, Husserliana, vol. 19/1 (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1975).



with the world and others, how they hang together, and how they potentially interrupt each other. 2

Forms of Normativity and Corresponding Structures of Experience

I will call the three forms of normativity I address “operative normativity,” “imperative normativity,” and “critical normativity.” My aim is to show how each of these forms is rooted in a respectively different kind or structure of ­experience.  This will give us a panorama of phenomenology’s conceptions of experience with respect to questions of normativity. Certainly, one can question to which extent the different phenomenological authors and approaches I interweave here can be interwoven at all. I believe that they should be brought into d­ ialogue since they work out different registers of experiences which are all present in our lives. One register should not be cancelled out in favor of emphasizing the importance of the other. Instead of presenting a unified account of experience and normativity, I hence opt for a pluralistic approach. 2.1 Operative Normativity Operative normativity guides our everyday practices and is also acquired by a practice: the basic practice of bodily perception and movement, in which others are involved from the very beginning. The claim here is that already on the passive level of bodily spatial orientation a meaningful embeddedness is at work that implies normativity: there is a successful and a non-successful way of responding to affordances that are simply there by walking down a crowded street. Or, to give a genetically relevant example emphasizing the crucial relevance of intersubjectivity for being initiated into meaningful practices: there are successful and non-successful ways of playful interaction in joint attention between a toddler and a caretaker. The cases of passively responding to affordances have been spelled out extensively by pragmatist interpreters of Heidegger’s and Merleau-Ponty’s work, first and foremost by Hubert D ­ reyfus and his students.13 Many of their discussions, however, revolve around an ­argument that rejects the picture of a detached “Cartesian mind” and aims to replace it with the embeddedness of “mindless coping.” Unfortunately, the continuity of the phenomenological tradition concerning the issue of normativity and experience got obscured in this debate, since Dreyfus can only see Husserl as “the Cartesian” and Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty as “the pragmatists.” However, there are far too many investigations by Husserl on passive 13

See Hubert Dreyfus, Being-in-the-World (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 1991).

Experience and Normativity


bodily i­mmersedness and the passive constitution of normality to make this dichotomic configuration in any way plausible.14 Therefore, I suggest integrating Husserl’s, Heidegger’s and Merleau-Ponty’s positions to get a clearer picture of why it is so crucial that phenomenologists conceive experience through intentionality and thereby account for its inherent normativity. The intentional relation is world-opening and can only be world-opening and world-presenting by being, from the very first moment, a meaningful relation. Meaning is not something which is beside, beyond or behind the thing itself but simply the way it is consciously present. There is no “outside” of this “space of meaning,”15 as Steven Crowell has called it. Crowell’s interpretation of Heidegger, which also draws on Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, emphasizes that meaning and understanding are intrinsically intertwined with normativity. A meaningful practice, like drinking coffee from my cup, is something I can fail at. It holds an inherent measure. The normative embeddedness goes even deeper: I only directly see a cup of coffee on the table (and not a yellow patch before a brown patch or an unknown object), because I understand what it is, which equals being embedded in a certain (bodily) practice. Heidegger calls this the “as-structure”: to always take something as something.16 This entails that we are always already embedded in a meaningful whole: a “world.” In Heideggerian terms, any form of significance of worldly objects is disclosed through practices that are inherently normative. Significance is thus bound up with normativity and with a holistic structure called “worldliness”—which we disclose, to add Merleau-Ponty to the picture—with our living and perceiving bodies.17 Heidegger replaced the term of intentionality (which Merleau-Ponty again reactivated) with being-in-the-world, since he wanted to account for the dynamic structure of our experience as always being ahead of ourselves. Heidegger takes this to be ontologically rooted in the temporal structure of Dasein, which is more a “project” than a “subject.” However, what he retains from the concept of intentionality, just like Husserl, is that it is experience itself that is disclosive of the world. 14

15 16 17

See Edmund Husserl, Analysen zur passiven Synthesis, Husserliana, vol. 11 (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1966); Edmund Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität iii. 1929–1935, Husserliana, vol. 15 (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1973); Edmund Husserl, Erfahrung und Urteil (Hamburg: Meiner, 1985). Steven G. Crowell, Husserl, Heidegger, and the Space of Meaning (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2001). Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962), § 32. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. C. Smith (London/New York: Routledge 2005).



Now, in Husserl, operative normativity can be traced down to the most basic features of intentionality, which he already develops in the “Sixth Logical Investigation”: the structure of signitive intention and fulfillment.18 A “signitive intention” meaningfully intends something, however the intention is “empty,” and not intuitively filled. By putting myself in the fitting epistemic situation, the empty intention can become intuitively fulfilled—or not, depending on whether the signitive intention “got it right.” A very basic example illustrates that Husserl does not only mean high-level cognition-functions here but something that happens in perception all the time: for example, in the simple perception of a chair or a tree, signitive intentions passively anticipate that there is a backside to the presented perspective I see, and even that this backside looks like such and such (ergo, these signitive intentions are not totally empty but pre-structured by the experience and original givenness that has already occurred). By going around the chair or tree, these intentions will be fulfilled or disappointed. They can be deliberate, attentive signitive intentions but do not at all have to be. Rather, this is just the way we smoothly and normally perceive. Mostly, we only realize that these intentions were at work at all if they are disappointed. For example, when we are surprised that a billiard ball is not round and red on the backside, as we expected (given its front), but rather green and dented. The condition of being able to be surprised at all is the minimal expectation inherent in the signitive component of intentionality. For Husserl, this movement of intending and fulfilling, and thus of a certain normativity in intentionality itself,19 permeates the whole of intentional life. In his later genetic phenomenology, he spells out this basic motivational structure of experience in what he calls the “pre-predicative” sphere.20 The body plays a constitutive role here, as do the intersubjectively constituted forms of “normality” and normativity we grow into by sedimentation and habitualization.21 Husserl’s statement “I am what I am as an heir”22 speaks for his 18

Edmund Husserl, Logische Untersuchungen. Zweiter Teil. Untersuchungen zur Phänomenologie und Theorie der Erkenntnis, Husserliana, vol. 19/2 (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1984). 19 In my dissertation Recht und Anspruch, I have tried to spell out how this “normative intentionality”—which I called “rechtliche Intentionalität”—genetically emerges. My thesis is that legitimizing structures that pervade our life-world can be traced back to an originary appeal that consciousness is exposed to by experience. Legitimizing structures are thus to be understood as a predicative answer to this prepredicative appeal. See Sophie Loidolt, Anspruch und Rechtfertigung: Eine Theorie des rechtlichen Denkens im Anschluss an die Phänomenologie Edmund Husserls (Dordrecht: Springer, 2009). 20 Husserl, Erfahrung und Urteil, §§ 15–46. 21 Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität iii. 22 Edmund Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität ii. 1921–1928, Husserliana, vol. 14 (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1973), 223.

Experience and Normativity


awareness of the culturally, historically, and linguistically preformed nature of experience. However, this formation is only possible because intentional experience itself is guided by “expectancies of normality,” by types, models and patterns that were built up in our previous experiences. Normativity hence comes from the experiencing subject—but it is also dependent on the experienced object. This not only concerns the fulfillment of a signitive intention that does not depend on me but on the real properties of the object. In addition to this kind of objective epistemic normativity, a whole system of optimal and less optimal forms of givenness is constituted in the experience of an object. Consider, for example, listening to a violin playing while moving in a room, then out of it, and then in again. The objectivity of the played tune, the fact that it is “out there” and not in your head, is constituted precisely by its becoming louder and quieter in relation to your movement and in relation to the room. This constitutes whole systems of normativity in the sense of “optimal givenness.” Finally, this basic structure of experience itself allows one to comprehend how norms and reasons can emerge from it. In contrast to norms that are imposed on experience in order to measure it, phenomenological approaches take the measures as well as the structure of measuring itself to originate in intentional experience. In a dynamic movement (which Husserl spells out in his genetic phenomenology), these measures again apply themselves to experience and have to prove themselves in experience through the structure of fulfillment and disappointment. We can now also see why phenomenology does not fall prey to the “myth of the given” (if the similar vocabulary of the “given” and “givenness” might have suggested this). To speak about givenness in phenomenology does not at all mean to speak about an untouched piece of natural, causal input. On the contrary, it addresses the meaningful structure of appearance. Appearance is always appearance of something for someone. This space of appearance is, from the outset, a potential space of reasons. Why? Neither meaning, nor reasons, nor information simply occur, but they presuppose intentionality. When it comes to the question whether experience itself can hold reasons or not, to put all the weight exclusively on content (be it conceptual or non-conceptual), as done in contemporary debates, not only prolongs the problematic Kantian picture of a subject forming an unformed matter, it also ignores the phenomenological insight that no matter how ­structured, how conceptually “loaded” some “content” might be, if it is not consciously taken up as something—directly in experiencing and not in a belief-structure—it remains as meaningless as a structured carpet is in itself. For something to be information, it is not enough that it is just structured; there



must be a conscious relation to it that takes it as information. Phenomenology thus urges us not only to look at the what but at the how of experience.23 Although McDowell wants to emphasize our “taking in” of the world, this aspect misses. My claim is thus that the normative aspect constitutive of justificatory practices is not only there in concept use but already in the intentional relation to the object. Reasons do not add to the world by language or social practices. That the world is a “reasonable”/intelligible one (i.e., that we are, as McDowell says, “open to reasons”), is not just a language game we play. It must principally be prefigured in our very openness to the world. This is not to deny that we act out the world’s understandability by playing language games. It is to say that we are put in a potential space of reasons by experiencing in the first place. 2.2 Imperative Normativity Operative normativity does not confront us with an “ought.” In order for this new form of “imperative normativity” to emerge, a different kind of experience and experiential structure is needed. In the phenomenological tradition, it has often been described as the experience of a “call”: Heidegger famously speaks of the “call of conscience.”24 But also for Scheler25 and Husserl,26 a “call” is at the center of their ethics, namely in form of a “vocation” to which the person lovingly responds. Finally, Levinas27 explains the encounter with the other as the experience of having always already been called into responsibility. But are these not very different experiences? It is indeed true that Scheler and Husserl speak of values calling me and affecting me as this unique person. For Heidegger, by contrast, it is Dasein itself issuing the call of conscience, demanding to become one’s own true self and to escape the fake moral complacency of “the they” (das Man). In Levinas’s case, again, it is the other that interrupts the self with a call. 23

Dan Zahavi, “Mindedness, mindlessness and first-person authority,” in Mind, Reason and Being-in-the-World, ed. Joseph K. Schear (London: Routledge, 2013), 320–343. 24 Heidegger, Being and Time, §§ 54–60. 25 Scheler, Formalism in Ethics, 490. 26 Edmund Husserl, Grenzprobleme der Phänomenologie: Texte aus dem Nachlass (1908–1937) Husserliana, vol. 42 (New York: Springer, 2014), 194, 200, 358, 378. 27 Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969); Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo, trans. Richard A. Cohen (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1985); Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Dordrecht: ­Nijhoff, 1991).

Experience and Normativity


One can hardly claim that vocational values, self, and other belong to the same category of being, let alone that they yield unifiable forms of experiences. However, my claim is rather that imperative normativity is instituted through a particular interrelated experiential structure to which all three cases belong: an affective encounter with something other than the (present) self, where a specific structure of the self is disclosed that it can fail at or succeed in. This makes ethical relevance possible in the first place—and thus the experience of a vocation and an ought.28 As especially Levinas is eager to show, subjectivity is permeated by alterity and is only instituted as a self by responding to the other. Levinas carefully demonstrates this by examining all sorts of experiences: the experience of caress, of time-consciousness, of affectivity, of the face-to-face encounter, of speech, etc. The common feature he identifies in all these experiences is that subjectivity is always there “too late.” This means that it is radically open in the sense of being interrupted and separated from itself. This confronts subjectivity with a withdrawal that cannot be articulated in terms of classic or existential ontology. Rather, the interrupting absence of the other presents itself as a trace to which only a “metaphysical desire” can respond. Levinas thereby describes how “the very node of the subjective is knotted in ethics understood as responsibility.”29 Like in the previous section on operative normativity, it is essential to see that experience can only play such a central role in investigating imperative normativity, because it is conceived as the intentional openness of s­ ubjectivity—even if that conception is modified through the impact of analyzing the experience in question. One of Levinas’s central aims is to show how the classic notion of objectifying intentionality gets inverted by taking the encounter with ­alterity seriously. Since intentionality can never make the other “fully present,” it is ruptured in its return to the self. Instead of “getting a grip on the world,” it loses itself in the constant withdrawal of the other and fails in constituting the 28

In a forthcoming article, I argue in detail how phenomenological approaches to ethics are shaped respectively by their different notions of intentionality, subjectivity, and, consequently, ethical experience. What still unifies them is that these notions allow them to explain how ethical issues can gain relevance for us in the first place. Phenomenologists analyze the structure of those experiences that essentially constitute us as ethical beings and claim that normative questions can only arise in this venue. Some of the questions I develop in this paper have emerged from this investigation and directly relate to it; I also use a few formulations I have employed there. Cf. Sophie Loidolt, “Value, Freedom, Responsibility: Central Themes in Phenomenological Ethics,” in The Oxford Handbook for the History of Phenomenology, ed. Dan Zahavi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 696–716. 29 Levinas, Ethics and Infinity, 95.



other as other.30 Thus, the only mode for appropriately encountering alterity is responding to the experienced appeal of its withdrawal, which means fully entering into the encounter with the other. For Levinas, this amounts to not being able to cease responding in a completely unreserved way, beyond oneself. The openness to the other is thus different from the openness to the world. I want to claim that this difference is to be captured precisely in the different forms of normativity that are respectively instituted. Whereas the other summons me in the form of a command, my normatively loaded openness to the world allows me to pursue myself in (more or less trivial) practices I can succeed in or fail at: the practices of gaining knowledge, of catching the streetcar, of being a good parent, of riding a bicycle, of being my true self, etc. It should be clear that there is a decisive difference here: while the mentioned examples indicate a somewhat self-sufficient and self-related normativity (although very different in its aims), the normativity tied to the other happens in and as an encounter—in German, one could use the word “Widerfahrnis” which, in contrast to “Er-fahrung” (experience), is something that resists me or runs against me as I experience. In two recent papers, Steven Crowell has called for a “second-person phenomenology” to investigate this specific situation of being “the addressed,” and has elaborated on the normative significance that is instituted in the encounter with the other.31 Crowell argues that already in Sartre’s analysis of shame, the normative significance of the other is discovered.32 In the embarrassment felt before the other’s gaze, s/he is recognized as someone who judges me. Thus, others are not only there as transcendental co-constituters. Rather, I become “responsive to norms” through the concrete encounter with the other. ­However, Crowell also argues that Sartre fails to grasp the establishment of n ­ ormativity correctly, because he still conceptualizes the situation from an “ontological” point of view (i.e., as a symmetrical encounter of two ­consciousnesses) and not, like Levinas, in a strictly asymmetrical first-person ­perspective.33 For L­ evinas, ethical experience is precisely characterized by being a radical 30 31

32 33

It should be mentioned that Levinas still conceives of the relation to the other in terms of a phenomenological concept of “intentionality”—calling it “a ‘wholly other’ intentionality” (Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 126) even if he criticizes Husserl’s classic notion. Steven G. Crowell, “Why is Ethics First Philosophy? Levinas in Phenomenological Context,” European Journal of Philosophy 23, no. 3 (2015): 564–588; Steven G. Crowell, ­“Second-Person Phenomenology,” in The Phenomenology of Sociality: Discovering the “We,” ed. Thomas Szanto and Dermot Moran (New York: Routledge 2016), 70–89. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: An Essay in Phenomenological Ontology, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Washington Square Press, 1992). Crowell, “Why is Ethics First Philosophy?,” 578.

Experience and Normativity


­experience of asymmetry: to be in the position of the addressed. Only from a first-person perspective converted into the position of the addressed—that is, the second person—can the appeal of the other be understood as a command, an imperative which comes “from a height”34 and which constitutes me normatively: “Thou shalt not commit murder.”35 This command does not limit my freedom in the factical sense—I can kill the other—but it calls my freedom into question normatively and so puts me under its obligation.36 Since imperative normativity in phenomenology is frequently addressed through an investigation of experiential and subjective structures, it is often affective, passive, and proto-normative elements that play an important role. Levinas, for example, does not aim at sketching out a normative theory. Rather, he seeks to describe the fundamental structure of subjectivity in ethical terms.37 This neither generates a catalogue of moral norms, nor a moral principle like the categorical imperative. Hence, what I mean by “proto-normative” in connection to the term “imperative normativity” is that these analyses do not result in prescriptive judgments but rather take up a descriptive effort: that of capturing how the ethical or the normative can gain meaningful relevance for a subject in the first place.38 Or, to put it differently: How subjectivity is ethically instituted in the first place. To show this means to subvert the strict separation of “is” and “ought,” as the “ontology” of subjectivity itself is shown to transcend toward the normative (which is why Levinas ultimately rejects ontology as a possible approach to capture the ethical). The experience of being “second person” yields a phenomenology that explores how imperative normativity is possible at all, how we can be ethical beings at all—without yet coming up with a set of justified norms. This will be the task of the third kind of normativity I would like to address here. 2.3 Critical Normativity Finally, I come back to the sort of normativity I mentioned at the very ­beginning. It is a consciously employed normativity that has a guiding function ­rather than an operative one. It helps me to judge according to measures 34 Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 35, 67. 35 Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 199. 36 Crowell, “Why is Ethics First Philosophy?,” 578. 37 Levinas, Ethics and Infinity, 95. 38 I have spelled out more explicitly what kinds of experiences this involves in the cases of Arendt and Levinas in this paper: Sophie Loidolt, “Alterity and/or Plurality? Two Prenormative Paradigms for Ethics and Politics in Levinas and Arendt,” in Ethics, Society, Politics: Proceedings of the 35th International Wittgenstein Symposium 2012, ed. Hajo Greif and Martin G. Weiss (Berlin: De Gruyter 2013), 241–259.



I have actively endorsed. Furthermore, it implies that not only my actions and convictions can be justified according to these measures, but that the measures themselves can be justified. This is why I call it critical normativity, implying not a static set of norms but rather the activity that constantly affirms or questions them. I have, in a more detailed study,39 tried to describe this constant demand for justification as the “dynamics of normative intentionality” which is genetically rooted in the basic structure of anticipation and disappointment, introducing the normative possibilities of “getting it right” or “getting it wrong.” Since even basic perception is never a purely harmonious and smooth process, but one that is irritated again and again by resistances, disappointments, and surprises, the question of justification slumbers at the heart of this basic activity. The experience of actively endorsing it amounts to a conscious and reflective engagement in the continuous movement of normative intentionality, unceasingly pushing the critical question further to its own measures that it employs. Both aspects, the critical activity as such, as well as the dynamics of justification are classic characteristics of reason. For Husserl, a “phenomenology of reason”40 comes down to investigating different forms of evidences and the degree of justification they can provide (apodictic, assertoric, inadequate, adequate, etc.). Here again it is central to emphasize that justification for phenomenology occurs in experience and that it can only occur intersubjectively. Both elements are crucial and not to be substituted. Just to give a very rough account of a complicated matter:41 the experience of evidence is the experience of the intuitive fulfillment of the signified intention (both are intentionalities, so this is not a correspondence theory). Without this experience, a critical assessment of any statement by myself will not be possible. Moreover, my own evidences need to be assessed intersubjectively. Finally, since even apodictic evidences pass in time, and evidences concerning the world are by definition always inadequate, George Heffernan is right to speak of a “relativity theory of evidence”42 in the late Husserl.43

39 40 41 42


See Loidolt, Anspruch und Rechtfertigung. Edmund Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Erstes Buch, Husserliana, vol. 3/1 (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1976), §§ 136–145. Again, I allow myself to refer to my dissertation here, where I have elaborated on these issues in more detail (see Loidolt, Anspruch und Rechtfertigung, 264–284). George Heffernan. “On Husserl’s Remark that ‘[s]elbst eine sich als apodiktisch ausgebende Evidenz kann sich als Täuschung enthüllen …’ (xvii 164: 32–33): Does the Phenomenological Method Yield Any Epistemic Infallibility?” Husserl Studies 25 (2009): 15–43, here 27. Edmund Husserl, Formale und transzendentale Logik: Versuch einer Kritik der logischen Vernunft, Husserliana, vol. 17 (: Nijhoff, 1974), 284, 288.

Experience and Normativity


J­ustification is hence a constant and infinite process, one that accompanies the very process of experiencing and belongs to it. The same holds for the practical field. What Husserl articulates as “critique” and “justification” in theoretical matters, he calls “renewal” in his ethics. Although his “Essays on Renewal”44 read like a perfectionist ethics close to a Korsgaardian approach and combined with the ultimate telos of anticipating an “ethical mankind,” one also has to consider his—until recently—­unpublished writings about ethics.45 If one holds this together, Husserl can be taken as a good starting point for giving a comprehensive phenomenological account of normativity, starting with the very passive and affective experiences of a person up to her active critical engagement in leading a life according to justified norms. As mentioned in the last chapter, the experience of a “call” is a strongly affective and passive one. In describing it, Husserl finds unusually drastic words, entitling it the “deepest center of the person,” the “deepest interiority of the I” that “instinctively” responds to the call, confronting it with an “absolute ought.”46 Yet, for Husserl this does not go without justification. He ­instantly adds that this affective and passive experience “calls me to new ‘selfresponsibilities’ and ‘self-justifications’”.47 I would thus like to claim that the experiential structure from which critical normativity emerges is that of actively answering to either a passively experienced call or a passively experienced disappointment. To be sure, disappointment in perception is a lot less urgent than experiencing an ethical call. As I have argued, the “ought” is only to be understood from experiencing oneself in the position of the “second person.” The question I have to leave open here is whether critical normativity in the theoretical field is in need of that “ought.” One prominent phenomenologist arguing in favor of this thesis is Emmanuel Levinas. For Levinas, all reason, theoretical and practical, as well as all justification, is to be traced back to the ethical responsibility for the other. Levinas gives us a twofold answer concerning the genealogy and universality of reason: he claims that the imperative normativity of practical reason opens up in the other’s interrupting command (“Thou shalt”). Its critical normativity and universalizing capacity unfolds in answering to plural appeals, for which Levinas has coined the term “the third (party).”48 With the figure of the “third,” who is “other than the neighbor but also another neighbor, and also a neighbor of the 44

Edmund Husserl, “Fünf Aufsätze über Erneuerung,” in Aufsätze und Vorträge (1922–1937), Husserliana, vol. 27 (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1989), 3–124. 45 See Husserl, Grenzprobleme der Phänomenologie. 46 Husserl, Grenzprobleme der Phänomenologie, 358. 47 Husserl, Grenzprobleme der Phänomenologie, 358. 48 Levinas, Otherwise than Being, 158.



other,” the cry for justice emerges and with it, the need for “comparison, coexistence, contemporaneousness, assembling, order, thematization, the visibility of faces, and thus intentionality and the intellect”—in short: “a copresence on an equal footing as before a court of justice.”49 The criterion of universalization, and with it, the capacities of practical as well as theoretical reason are hence invested by the relation of proximity to the other. This is why, for Levinas, universalizations must constantly let themselves be irritated and questioned in order to resist a closure or self-immunization of reason. In this sense, the universalism of reason is never enough; it is just as “reasonable” to let the experience of “proximity” speak.50 Does this not make me completely heteronomous?—an urgent question if we are to speak about critical normativity. It seems that the Kantian setup of autonomy and heteronomy generally has to be rethought in phenomenological, and not only in Levinasian, terms. For Kant, the demand for autonomy, and thus, for a principled independence from experience with respect to moral judgments, is motivated by his conception of experience being contingent affection. Consequently, moral judgments informed by experience can only be heteronomous, contingent, and ultimately hedonistic. We have seen, however, that phenomenologists propose a very different conception of experience, which is intentional and disclosive of a priori structures. Consequently, phenomenologists see the range of autonomy and heteronomy lying within experience itself, namely in how I relate to it: by mere passive affection or by taking an active stance toward it (Husserl); by being open and actively responding to that which manifests itself, or by fleeing it (Heidegger); by taking over myself or by veiling a situation (Sartre), etc. All of these “disclosing” attitudes do not come out of nowhere. They originate in normatively relevant experiences and are motivated by them. In this sense, the phenomenologists’ focused attention on experience is precisely a break with the “natural attitude” and, by itself, an engagement with critical normativity from the standpoint of reflecting on experience itself. In fact, one could claim that many of the prominent phenomenological motifs—the transcendental reduction (Husserl), the distancing from “das Man” (Heidegger), the condemnation to freedom (Sartre), the evasion from Being (Levinas)—are connected with normative demands concerning theory and practice and with concepts of critique, renewal, and a consciously undertaken relation to our existence.

49 Levinas, Otherwise than Being, 157. 50 Levinas, Otherwise than Being, 159.

Experience and Normativity


3 Conclusion I have argued that a phenomenological notion of experience allows us to understand normativity as being an intrinsic part of it, on a passive as well as on an active level. This is possible because experience is conceived through intentionality, that is, as givenness of something for someone in an act of experiencing. Normativity is hence rooted in the intentional relationship to the world. In the phenomenological tradition, intentionality has been spelled out differently with different emphases. In most cases, the reason for these reformulations was to do justice to different forms of experience and, respectively, to diverging structures of “givenness” as they occur, for example, in cognitive processes, in bodily immersedness, in the encounter with the other, etc. Since I have presented a pluralistic account here, I have abstained from arguing for the priority of one approach. Instead, I have tried to show how these different forms of experiences and experiential structures yield different forms of normativity, respectively. I have proposed that a key to understanding the difference in the respective intentional relation is to pay attention to the specific form of normativity it institutes. The three forms of operative, imperative, and critical normativity I have elaborated on are three basic features of our normatively loaded openness to the world. How they relate to one another, as well as how they interrelate in our practical engagement with the world and others has yet to be spelled out.

The Specificity of Medium: Painting and Thinking in Merleau-Ponty’s “Eye and Mind” Nicolas de Warren Merleau-Ponty’s very brilliant thesis is very pleasant to read, but it hardly makes one think of painting—which he nevertheless appears to be dealing with. rené magritte1


The Philosopher’s Painter

Ever since its publication in 1960, Merleau-Ponty’s Eye and Mind has cast a singular spell on philosophers concerned with art and aesthetics, especially within the phenomenological tradition. Much of this fascination with Eye and Mind stems from Merleau-Ponty’s suggestive style of writing and delirious evocation of the “fundamentals of painting” and its “figured philosophy of vision.” Art historians, by contrast, have tended to adopt a more guarded attitude towards Merleau-Ponty’s statements concerning the truth of painting. In one of the first reviews of Eye and Mind, the art historian Robert Klein observed that despite a detailed analysis of the formal characteristics of Cézanne’s paintings, “Merleau-Ponty se propose franchement d’utiliser l’art de Cézanne et de ses successeurs comme illustration de ses propres théses sur la perception.”2 This suspicion that Merleau-Ponty projects his own philosophy onto Cézanne’s paintings and thus essentially fails to approach—to see—Cézanne’s painting as paintings was further endorsed by Meyer Shapiro in his influential essay “Cézanne and the Philosophers,” in which he critically challenges any attempt to identify any kind of philosophy with any given style of painting.3 As Shapiro recognizes, Cézanne’s paintings have exercised a fascination on philosophers; numerous are the attempts “to give to his painting some of

1 Letter to Alphonse de Waelhens, April 28, 1962, in Magritte: Signs and Images, ed. Harry Torczyner (New York: Abrams, 1977), 55. 2 Robert Klein, “Peinture moderne et Phénoménologie” (1963), in La forme et l’intelligible (Paris: Gallimard, 1970), 411–429, here 414. 3 Meyer Shapiro, “Cézanne and the Philosophers,” in Worldview in Painting—Art and Society (New York: George Braziller, 1999), 75–103.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���9 | doi:10.1163/9789004391031_012

The Specificity of Medium


the interest and value of a particular philosophy.”4 These attempts to match a style of painting with a particular kind of philosophical world-view assume an underlying kinship of structure and intention between paintings and philosophical discourse. In Cézanne’s case, an array of philosophical identifications have been proposed: Hamilton’s discovery of Bergson in Cézanne; Bürger’s discovery of Kant in Cézanne; and William’s discovery of Husserl in Cézanne.5 Every philosopher seems to find an image of herself in Cézanne, with the consequence that Cézanne’s paintings remain unseen for what they are: paintings, not philosophies. This projection of a philosophical world-view onto paintings obscures, moreover, the kind of world-view a painting might itself express as well as, in this instance, Cézanne’s own articulated philosophical views as they might be reconstructed from the evidence at hand, and which Shapiro usefully identifies with a form of French Lockean empiricism. Shapiro’s reservation towards the matching of a certain style of painting with a certain kind of philosophical world-view hangs on calling attention to the difference between painting and the philosophy as essentially a difference of medium. As Shapiro writes: “But a painting is not discursive; it cannot be put into words; it does not represent a sequence of events. It is rather difficult to find equivalents to a philosopher’s ideas without doing injustice to the qualities of the paintings, taking you away from them into a region that is not that of the actual substance of painting.”6 Even if painting would share with a philosophy a “metaphysics,” namely, an underlying sense of reality, as Shapiro remarks with specific reference to Merleau-Ponty, the philosophical expression of such a “metaphysics” (or world-view; the terms are roughly synonymous for Shapiro) could still not “achieve the beauty, the concreteness, the immediacy of the work of art; they are limited to the field of verbal abstractions.”7 This emphasis on the difference in medium between philosophical thinking as discursive and painting as the “immediacy” of visual presentation has recently been evoked again in a pointed criticism of Merleau-Ponty’s Eye and Mind by Paul Crowther, who claims to have identified what he considers “the fundamental limitation of Merleau-Ponty’s entire approach to the arts, and painting in particular.”8 In the same spirit as Klein and Shapiro, Crowther 4 Shapiro, “Cézanne and the Philosophers,” 75. 5 Fritz Bürger, Cézanne und Holder: Einführung in die Probleme der Malerei der Gegenwart (Munich: Delphin, 1918); George Heard Hamilton, “Cézanne, Bergson and the Image of Time,” in College Art Criticism 16, no. 1 (1956): 2–12; Forest Williams, “Cézanne and French Phenomenology,” in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 12, no. 4 (1954): 481–492. 6 Shapiro, “Cézanne and the Philosophers,” 75–76. 7 Shapiro, “Cézanne and the Philosophers,” 77. 8 Paul Crowther, The Phenomenology of Modern Art: Exploding Deleuze, Illuminating Style (London: Continuum, 2012).


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­ onders: “might it not be said, reasonably, that Merleau-Ponty’s interpretaw tion, in effect, reduces Cezanne’s [sic] work to a mere bearer of theory?”9 As an alternative approach, he observes that “philosophical content is basic to Cezanne’s [sic] style, but only insofar as that style is constituted aesthetically,” thus echoing Shapiro’s view that even if a metaphysics of reality (to use his terms) did underlie the formulation of a world-view in painting and in philosophy, the latter would still lack any presentational immediacy due to the inherent abstractness of its medium of expression, namely, written discourse.10 For Crowther, however, Cézanne’s paintings nevertheless present a “complex” kind of “intuitive knowledge” that is “basic to how we negotiate the world.” This “ontological disclosure” of the world is “inseparably embodied in the concrete particular” such that it is “accessible only through direct visual perception,” namely, in the concreteness of Cézanne’s paintings. Crowther believes that the ontological content of painting is expressed in a “style that is constituted aesthetically,” but which has been essentially missed by Merleau-Ponty. As Crowther contends: “Merleau-Ponty himself has very little to say about the aesthetic, except in passing.” Hence, Merleau-Ponty’s “fundamental” limitation: “There is little or no sense of how painting transforms its subject matter through the act of representing it in a specific medium.”11 What is specific to the medium of painting is “planarity,” by which Crowther understands, both a “bracketing off” of the “phenomenal flow of real time” through the “pictorial composition” (recall Shapiro’s own suggestion: a painting does not represent a sequence of events) as well as the “planar basis of pictorial depth” as an “intervention on, and transformation, of visual perception.”12 In contrast to Shapiro, Crowther proposes that Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation of Cézanne is “a sustainable one,” despite its “fundamental limitation.” More precisely, Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical notion of painting would be sustainable if “completed” with the recognition of the transformative power of paintings specific to the medium of its “planarity.”13 Against Shapiro’s suspicion and Crowther’s contention, I shall argue in this paper that Merleau-Ponty has in fact much to say about “the aesthetic” and, moreover, repeatedly calls attention to the medium specificity of painting. Both the “transformative” power of painting and its “planarity” (its medium) are central to Merleau-Ponty’s thinking in Eye and Mind. Whereas Crowther believes that Merleau-Ponty failed to recognize the specificity of painting’s 9 Crowther, The Phenomenology of Modern Art, 118. 10 Crowther, The Phenomenology of Modern Art, 120 11 Crowther, The Phenomenology of Modern Art, 121. 12 Crowther, The Phenomenology of Modern Art, 123. 13 Crowther, The Phenomenology of Modern Art, 128.

The Specificity of Medium


medium, I shall demonstrate that this recognition is indeed central to the ­argument of Eye and Mind, and thus, that Eye and Mind, in this regard, develops an argumentatively completely self-sustaining interpretation of Cézanne and painting. 2

Painting Thinks

The specificity of painting’s medium is formulated as a focal point of MerleauPonty’s reflections in the opening section of Eye and Mind. In announcing that art and especially painting “draws upon [the] fabric of brute meaning which operationalism would prefer to ignore,” Merleau-Ponty introduces a distinction between painting and writing/philosophy. Eye and Mind begins with this inaugural distinction; indeed, the space of argumentation for Eye and Mind is constituted within this distinction. Whereas the painter draws upon the fabric of brute being and the flesh of the world “in full innocence,” the writer and the philosopher are each bound to the requirement of expressing “opinions and advice,” and thus of occupying a stance towards the world defined by the responsibility of speaking to others. Both the writer as well as the philosopher are bound to the chosen medium of their expression: discourse. The painter, by contrast, does not speak about the world to others; instead, the world speaks through the painter with an ambiguous lack of reference to an intended or specifiable audience. Paradoxically, as Merleau-Ponty insists, painting in this primordial sense is more fundamental than and thus beyond human culture and symbolic significance. This recognition of the difference between painting and philosophy (and writing as such) as a difference in medium is situated in the context of MerleauPonty’s characterization of painting as the realization of the phenomenological reduction. In the opening section of Eye and Mind, Merleau-Ponty positions Cézanne’s achievement within a phenomenological framework and further connects this implicit realization of the phenomenological reduction in Cézanne’s paintings with the medium specificity of paintings as handled in Cézanne’s style of painting. Discourse inhibits the total suspension of the world: “we will not allow them [the writer and the philosopher] to hold the world suspended.”14 The painter is uniquely able to suspend the world as a totality and draw upon the “brute fabric” of being in its nascent plenitude. This peculiar character of the world’s immediacy to the world or, in other words, of 14

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting, ed. Galen A. Johnson and Michael B. Smith (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1993), 121–149, here 123.


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the painter’s radical openness to the world’s sheer givenness, has often been acknowledged in the case of Cézanne. Already in the 1920s, Roger Fry spoke of Cézanne’s “acceptance and final assimilation of appearances” and rejection of the “willed and a priori inventions of the ego.”15 The medium specificity of painting is thus essential to Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological argument that painting is a “figured philosophy of vision” that uniquely gives expression to the flesh of the world. This attentiveness to the medium specificity of painting is critical for a clear understanding of Merleau-Ponty’s central claim in Eye and Mind that painting thinks. As Merleau-Ponty already suggested in Phenomenology of Perception, Cézanne’s paintings are “animated […] not when he expresses opinions about the world but in that instant when his vision becomes gesture, when, in Cézanne’s words, he ‘thinks in painting.’”16 Painting thinks. But, what does it mean to think? Without entering into a full discussion here, Merleau-Ponty remained committed to the idea that Husserl’s great discovery with the method of the phenomenological reduction was to bring philosophy back to the centrality of the problem of thinking by bringing thinking back into contact with the world.17 In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty considered the reduction along with a theory of essences as the original contributions of Husserl’s phenomenological revolution. It is not enough, in other words, to emphasize that Merleau-Ponty “accepted the fundamental moment of the phenomenological reduction, the epoché.”18 One must equally stress that Merleau-Ponty accepted the inseparability of the reduction from a theory or vision of essences. This emphasis on essences, or, in other words, on phenomenology as a science of essences, is significant since it is only once the reduction is coupled with a vision of essences that a distinction between philosophy and thinking emerges, where the latter represents the “actualization of truth” through the method of reduction and vision of essences. This distinction between philosophy and thinking is found as early as Phenomenology of Perception: Merleau-Ponty writes that philosophy “is not

15 16 17 18

Roger Fry, Cézanne: A Study of his Development (New York: Kessinger, 1927), 77. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Donald Landes (London: Routledge, 2012), 138–139. I have elaborated this interpretation in my essay “Flesh Made Paint,” Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 44, no. 1 (January 2013): 78–104. For example as argued by Joel Smith, “Merleau-Ponty and the Phenomenological Reduction,” Inquiry 48, no. 6 (December 2005): 553–571, here 568. For an appreciation of the problem of essences for Merleau-Ponty’s thinking in The Visible and the Invisible, see Marc Richir, “Essence et ‘intuition’ des essences chez le dernier Merleau-Ponty,” in Phénomènes, Temps et Etres (Brussels: Jerome Millon, 1987), 65–103.

The Specificity of Medium


the reflection of a prior truth, but rather, like art, the actualization of truth.”19 But, if philosophical reflection on the logos of the perceptual world actualizes a truth of the world “like art,” this implies that thinking in the manner understood here by Merleau-Ponty can equally become actualized in art. In fact, there is a three-fold distinction between philosophy in the sense of a philosophy that fails to think with the method of reduction and essences (operational thinking; philosophy of reflection), thinking in the form of the actualization of the reduction and vision of essences, and art as itself a possibility of actualizing “truth.” In his 1948 radio lectures The World of Perception, Merleau-Ponty renders more explicit the convergence of philosophy (qua phenomenology) and modern arts. As he observes: “One of the great achievements of modern art and philosophy (that is, the art and philosophy of the last fifty to seventy years) has been to allow us to rediscover the world in which we live, yet which we are always prone to forget.”20 In what is clearly one of the more dramatic changes in the evolution of ­Merleau-Ponty’s thinking from Phenomenology of Perception to The Visible and the Invisible, this three-fold distinction between philosophy, thinking (phenomenology), and art, in which art and phenomenology are converging towards the actualization of truth, becomes reconfigured. This reconfiguration occurs in Merleau-Ponty’s lectures courses during the years 1959–1961. During these years feeding into the conception of The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty increasingly considers the present situation of philosophy as defined by a historical crisis. This crisis of contemporary philosophy is characterized by a failure to actualize “an ontological interrogation of savage being,” or “thinking,” due to the proliferation and entrenchment of a “philosophy of reflection” and “operational thinking.” In contrast to this waywardness of “official philosophy,” Merleau-Ponty argues that modern aesthetics actualizes his sought after ontology of “wild being” and fundamental experience of thinking. With this claim, Merleau-Ponty abandons a traditional conception of “philosophy of art,” where philosophy speaks the truth of art. Instead, MerleauPonty proposes that philosophy must enter into contact with its own questions as manifest in the arts. Rather than pose the question of art to philosophy, ­Merleau-Ponty poses the question of philosophy to art. As Merleau-Ponty argues with reference to painting, “Cézanne thought painting” in such a manner that his paintings embody a “revelation of the world without a separate thinking.” What distinguishes modern aesthetics from modern philosophy is 19 Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, lxxxv. 20 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The World of Perception, trans. Oliver Davis (London: Routledge, 2004), 39.


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the embodiment of a “revelation of the world” in its specific medium; thinking is materialized in the medium of painting. This embodiment of an ontological form of thinking in the medium of its expression defines for Merleau-Ponty the very meaning and accomplishment of “modern ontology.”21 Unlike in Eye and Mind, Merleau-Ponty considers in these lectures that modern ontology has been actualized in different forms of modern art: in the paintings of Cézanne and Klee; in the poetry of Mallarmé and Rimbaud; in the prose of Proust and Simon. In this regard, what is striking about Eye and Mind is how it begins by stressing a fundamental difference between painting and the other arts. The specificity of its medium gives painting an ontological singularity as a revelation of the world or, in other words, a thinking of the world. This stress on the ontological specificity of painting in Eye and Mind raises a series of significant questions regarding Merleau-Ponty’s thinking as whole. Is the distinction between painting and writing/philosophy a distinction within the scope of Eye and Mind or does it signal a significant departure from the line of thinking (simultaneously) pursued in his lecture courses? Without entering into this broader question, what is important for the present purpose of this essay is that Merleau-Ponty clearly calls attention to the specificity of the medium of painting in Eye and Mind such that the guiding question of his reflections can be stated in the following form: what specifically about the medium of painting gives it an ontological uniqueness as a thinking? Much of the argument of Eye and Mind is developed precisely to answer this question. 3

Phenomenological Painting

Throughout his development, Merleau-Ponty remained philosophically committed to the phenomenological reduction, not in its original Husserlian form as a reduction of the world to transcendental consciousness, but as the reduction of consciousness to the “wild being” or “logos of the world.” Painting thinks in the sense that it actualizes the phenomenological reduction and reveals “une essence alogique du monde” in its own material embodiment as a painting.22 Two aspects of Merleau-Ponty’s identification of painting as phenomenology are here important: not only the claim that painting is the secret fulfillment of phenomenology’s promise, but that painting realizes the phenomenological method through the specificity of its medium. This difference 21

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Notes de cours au Collège de France: 1958–1959 et 1960–1961 (Paris: Gallimard, 1966), 206. 22 Merleau-Ponty, Notes de cours au Collège de France, 503.

The Specificity of Medium


and distance between the phenomenological reduction in Husserl’s thinking and the painterly reduction in Cézanne’s paintings can be seen by placing Merleau-Ponty’s essay “The Philosopher and his Shadow” side-by-side with Eye and Mind. Both were composed during Merleau-Ponty’s writing of The Visible and the Invisible. What is especially striking about “The Philosopher and his Shadow” is the recurrence of the basic question “what is phenomenology?”, here approached once again (as in Phenomenology of Perception) with a focus on the meaning of the reduction. As Merleau-Ponty remarks, the phenomenological reduction represents the “enigmatic possibility” of an “unthought” or “secret” dimension in Husserl’s thinking, and, more specifically, in Husserl’s analysis of the lived-body in Ideas ii. Merleau-Ponty implicitly contrasts the reduction of Ideas i with the more radical reduction of Ideas ii, the meaning of which eluded Husserl himself. In Ideas i, Husserl conceived of the reduction as disclosing the field of transcendental subjectivity by means of a radical suspension or “destruction” of the world, by which Husserl understood a neutralization of the general thesis of the world that characterized the natural attitude. The reduction thus opens a field of transcendental consciousness or “new region of being” as the object for a new science of phenomenological thinking: an eidetic science of the structures of appearances or “phenomena” for consciousness. In Merleau-Ponty’s own characterization, the reduction of Ideas i discloses the “closed and transparent milieu” of absolute consciousness. In Ideas ii, however, Merleau-Ponty identifies a departure from and an internal, if unspoken, critique of the phenomenological reduction of Ideas i with Husserl’s seminal analysis of the lived-body and its function in the constitution of material nature. Absolute consciousness becomes fractured from within through a reduction to the lived-body. Merleau-Ponty here recognizes a displacement of the reduction from the axis of consciousness as well as an extension of the reduction to a more primordial sense of the world or “third dimension of nature.” This “third dimension” is argued to be more primordial than the distinction between consciousness and world (the intentionality of noesis and noema) that structures Husserl’s thinking in Ideas i. In Ideas i, Husserl’s identification of the natural attitude entailed the notion that the general thesis of the world could in principle be targeted by an appropriate change of attitude and thus neutralized or suspended. Husserl’s insight here is that something like an “attitude” underpins our ordinary experience of the world—an attitude that in turn can be modified and temporarily suspended. Moreover, the world beholden in the natural attitude is something akin to an object for which a specific kind of belief or “positing” obtains: much as an object of perceptual experience is posited as actual, so is the world as such posited in a general way as actual. The passage from the natural attitude


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to a ­phenomenological attitude represents the transformation of the world through a transformation of attitude. The phenomenological attitude actualizes a stance of contemplation towards the world in terms of which pure consciousness is discovered in its intentional comportment towards the world. Yet, Merleau-Ponty argues that this shift in attitude rests on the assumption that the world can be conceived as something akin to an object—whether the unquestioned positing of the general thesis of the natural attitude or the reflective positing of the world as the object of the fundamental phenomenological Betrachtung (the opening of the field of pure consciousness). In both cases, the world is taken as a theoretical object, as something standing in front of consciousness, as objectified. As a further implication, Merleau-Ponty suggests that the world is given as a phenomena for the phenomenological spectator in an analogous manner to standing in front of a picture, much as with the Renaissance construction of perspective. In both instances, as Foucault brilliantly discussed in his analysis of Las Meninas in The Order of Things, the representation of the world is given to a subject who stands outside of it while at the same time seeing himself reflected and posited within the picture-frame. In the analysis of the lived-body in Ideas ii, Merleau-Ponty argues that Husserl implicitly operates with a more radical form of reduction that has broken with the idealism of the “closed milieu” of absolute consciousness in Ideas i. In the operations of the lived-body, the world is presented or given not as an object but in a perceptual faith “which is not even in principle translatable in terms of clear and distinct knowledge, and which—more ancient than any attitude or point of view—gives us not a representation of the world but the world itself.”23 When formulated in these terms, Husserl’s phenomenological reduction in Ideas i remains beholden to a representation of the world. Whereas in Ideas ii, Husserl’s analyses of the lived-body “brings to light a network of implications beneath the ‘objective material thing’ in which we no longer sense the pulsation of constituting consciousness.”24 In Merleau-Ponty’s celebrated interpretation of Husserl’s insight into the lived-body as both “constituting subject” and “constituted object,” the third dimension of nature becomes primordially disclosed in the interlacing of the horizons of the lived-body and horizons of the world, as exemplified in the two hands touching each other. The axis of reduction is displaced to an “ecocentric” axis of “savage nature.” Yet, as Merleau-Ponty clearly emphasizes, the radicalization of the reduction in the analysis of the lived-body in Ideas ii remains nonetheless ­incomplete; 23 24

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “The Philosopher and his Shadow,” in Signs, trans. Richard ­ cCleary (Evanston, IL: Northwest University Press, 1964), 159–181, here 163. M Merleau-Ponty, “The Philosopher and his Shadow,” 166.

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the limitations of Husserlian phenomenology are traced upon the outlines of a promise that it itself cannot adequately fulfill. The completion of the reduction of the lived-body would not require, moreover, a more radical attitude towards the world but, as Husserl himself glimpsed, a “comprehension of all attitudes” or, in Merleau-Ponty’s inflection, of “being itself speaking within us.”25 This proposed reduction represents in fact a “counter-reduction,” if we understand a reduction of consciousness to the world in such a manner requiring a neutralization of any possible stance or attitude towards the world. In this fashion, the reduction is not motivated by an interest to know or to speak. It is, on the contrary, a silence in which the world comes to speak. Merleau-Ponty suggests that in Ideas ii, “Husserl awakens a ‘wild-flowering world’ and mind. Things are no longer there simply according to their projective appearances and the requirements of the panorama, as in Renaissance perspective.”26 Viewed from Eye and Mind, the “unthought” in Husserl is thought in Cézanne. The “secret science” which Cézanne seeks in the “fundamental of painting, perhaps of all culture” is the science of phenomenology itself that Husserl had originated without ultimately completing.27 4

The Medium Specificity of Painting

Eye and Mind opens with a clear statement regarding the medium specificity of painting. Whereas the writer and the philosopher are each bound to the responsibility of speaking and thus of having an attitude towards the world, the painter looks at the world in an indifference that has suspended any and all attitudes. Practical needs and theoretical interests are neutralized in a total fascination for the presentness of the world that breaks with the world of human artifice, culture, and meaning. As Merleau-Ponty remarks: We live in the midst of man-made objects, among tools, in houses, streets, cities, and most of the time we see them only through the human actions which put them to use. We become used to thinking that all this exists necessarily and unshakeably. Cézanne’s paintings suspends these habits of thought and reveals the base of inhuman nature upon which man has installed himself.28 25 26 27 28

Merleau-Ponty, “The Philosopher and his Shadow,” 179. Merleau-Ponty, “The Philosopher and his Shadow,” 181. Mearleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” 123. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Cézanne’s Doubt,” in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, 66.


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The language of reduction employed in Merleau-Ponty’s description of ­Cézanne’s paintings is unmistakable: “suspension of habits of thought” is an expression repeatedly found in Husserl (for example in “Philosophy as Rigorous Science” and Ideas i). Yet, the reduction performed in Cézanne’s paintings reveal an “inhuman” or “savage nature” or, in a formulation from “The Philosopher and his Shadow,” “a wild-flowering world.” This disclosure of nature in painting has the form of a thinking that makes contact with the “fabric of brute meaning.” The painter is a pure eye or seeing without any theoretical pretense or practical interest: he looks at “everything without being obliged to appraise what he sees,” such that “knowledge and action lose their meaning and force.”29 But, an eye that would look onto the world without orientation or interest, without any guiding sense, would arguably be an eye rendered inhuman or an eye unrecognizable from a human point of view. It would indeed not be an eye that directs itself towards the world in selecting and organizing what it sees, but an eye given up to the world in a form of stupor. This reduction to “inhuman nature” is inseparable from the medium of painting given that Merleau-Ponty identifies the medium of discourse as inseparable from the having of an attitude towards the world. Language inhibits (as Eugen Fink had already suggested) the completion of the reduction; it is this limitation that painting ignores in its visionary silence. This opening stress on the medium specificity of painting already signals a problem with Crowther’s claim that Merleau-Ponty ignores (or fails to emphasize adequately) “how painting transforms its subject matter through the art of representing it in a specific medium.” This claim is clearly untenable. In fact, the entire argumentative thrust of Eye and Mind demonstrates precisely this point. If there is any “great irony here,” it is not as Crowther believes that “central factors are especially pronounced in Cezanne [sic]” and not in MerleauPonty, but that the centrality of the transformation of the world into painting is emphatically pronounced in Eye and Mind, even as Crowther professes that it not to be. When Merleau-Ponty begins section two of this essay by quoting Paul Valéry that “the painter takes his body with him” in lending it to “the world that the artist changes the world into paintings” (my emphasis), it is unclear what clearer statement could have been made that painting transforms the world. This transformative power of painting and artistic creativity is explicitly identified by Merleau-Ponty as a “metamorphosis of being into its vision.”30 This aesthetic transformation of “being” or the “world” in and into painting

29 30

Mearleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” 123. Mearleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” 128.

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o­ ccurs through the lived-body and, moreover, requires an ontological conception of the image for which Merleau-Ponty reserves the term of icon. Let me begin with the first point (elided in Crowther’s analysis) regarding the transformative medium of the lived-body in painting. Merleau-Ponty here creatively re-formulates Husserl’s central insight into the ontologically split status of the lived-body as both “subject” and “object” (to speak here in phenomenological shorthand). This non-(self)-coincidence of the lived-body is a resonance chamber for the affective impressions of the world. As Cézanne himself describes: “I breathe the virginity of the world […] A sharp sense of nuances works on me. I feel myself colored by all the nuances of infinity. At that moment, I am as one with my painting.”31 These “nuances” or sensations of the world “works” within the lived-body produce an “internal equivalence” or “diagram” (Merleau-Ponty must surely have Bergson’s Matter and Memory in mind) of the world within the lived-body. This diagram of the world within the lived-body is, on the other hand, expressive and expressed through actions of the lived-body: a hand tracing a line, a brush stroke, etc. The image or painting thus produced is not a “window” onto the world but a manner of seeing born from the world through transformations of the lived-body. It is as if the world comes to see itself through the act of painting. Merleau-Ponty thus clearly considers the creativity of painting as an aesthetic transformation where the lived-body of the painter as well as the “flesh of the world” each becomes transformed through the other. It is surely in this sense that Merleau-Ponty would understand Cézanne’s statement “I feel myself colored by all the nuances of infinity. I am as one with my painting.” The ontologically fissured lived-body produces an image that produces a rupture in the heart of being; but this “rupture” is not a “hole” but a concentrated “conflagration of being.” Merleau-Ponty characterizes the act of painting as a “second power” and “carnal essence or icon of the first,” namely, as the primordial power of visibility of the world itself. The image as an icon is an ontological fissure within the world that sets itself as an image apart from the world. Merleau-Ponty has effectively fashioned the notion of an “iconic difference,” and clearly in response to Heidegger’s “ontological difference,” long before Gottfried Boehm and Axel Müller.32 In the sense of an “iconic difference,” Merleau-Ponty offers his knotted definition of the image as “the inside of the

31 32

Joachim Gasquet, “What He Told Me …” in Conversations with Paul Cézanne, ed. Michael Doran (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 107–160, here 114. See Gottfried Boehm, Was ist ein Bild? (Munich: Fink Verlag, 1997) and Axel Müller, Die ikonische Differenz, Das Kunstwerk als Augenblick (Munich: Fink Verlag, 1997).


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outside and the outside of the inside.”33 The image is the outside of the world inside the picture plane; yet this picture plane and its representation is the outside of the inside in the sense that it is outside the arrangement of space and flow of time. The image possesses in this regard, to adopt here Crowther’s own terms, “no previous history, nor subsequent history, except what the artist and spectator project for it, in the imagination”34—a nearly verbatim reflection of Merleau-Ponty’s own view in Eye and Mind: the imaginary is much farther away from the actual because the painting is an analogue or likeness only according to the body; because it does not offer the mind an occasion to rethink the constitutive relation of things, but rather it offers the gaze traces of vision, from the inside, in order that it may espouse them; it gives vision that which clothes it within, the imaginary texture of the real.35 Further confirmation for this emphasis is found Merleau-Ponty’s comment that history and culture become suspended in the act of painting; hence, his rejection of the charge against Cézanne’s “escapism” during the 1870–1871 Franco-Prussian War. Merleau-Ponty’s point is not that the medium or incarnation of painting is just like our own bodily existence. On the contrary, it is not. It is only through the transformation of our bodies (the physical movements of the body and its affective temperaments that produce an aesthetic object) that the painting is made and that in this made-object something becomes manifest that is unlike objects as we ordinarily perceive and interact with them. Again, it is striking how Crowther adopts specific terms from Merleau-Ponty while believing that he is saying something different from Merleau-Ponty. As Crowther insists: “We are offered [in a painting] a reality that is manifestly made, and, as such is an avenue into an order of imaginary events different from those of our actual embodied existence.”36 In order to grasp more clearly the originality of Merleau-Ponty’s “iconic difference,” it is important to highlight the polemical context of Merleau-Ponty’s debate in Eye and Mind with Sartre’s conception of the imaginary. For Sartre, the image, as with any form of the imaginary, is understood as a fissure or perforation of “nothingness” in the massiveness of being. The imaginary is 33 Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” 126. 34 Crowther, The Phenomenology of Modern Art, 214. 35 Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” 126. 36 Crowther, The Phenomenology of Modern Art, 125.

The Specificity of Medium


c­ onnected to a topology of “holes.” In the act of painting, the body becomes itself “irrealized” and thus magically transformed much as the physical qualities of the medium of painting: color pigments, flatness of surface, lines, etc.37 Contrary to Sartre’s understanding, Merleau-Ponty argues that the “magical” transformation of the body through the imaginary does not remove the livedbody from an immediate contact with the world. In fact, the imaginary opens into an intimacy with the world which Merleau-Ponty repeatedly understands in terms of the painter’s vision as fascination.38 This fascination is characterized as a vision of the world that “emanates” from “the things themselves.”39 Expressed in Merleau-Ponty’s appropriation of Sartre’s vocabulary of the imaginary: “The painter, any painter, while he is painting, practices a magical theory of vision […] His [Cézanne’s] Mont Sainte-Victoire is made and remade from one end of the world to the other in a way different from but no less energetic than in the hard rock above Aix. Essence and existence, imaginary and real, visible and invisible—painting scrambles all our categories, spreading out before us its oneiric universe of carnal essences, actualized resemblances, mute meanings.”40 This passage provides a robust statement of how Merleau-Ponty connects what is specific to the medium of painting with its “magical theory of vision.” Painting spreads out before us the universe of carnal essences. The word “déployant” (“spreading out”) resonates with another expression: “The ‘world’s instant’ that Cézanne wanted to paint, an instant long since passed away, is still hurled toward us by his paintings.”41 Taking both of these thoughts together, each echoes the other: the painting is a “spreading out” or deployment of the world taken or seen in an instant. The expression “instant du monde” is an allusion to a critical term in the aesthetic theory of Paul Claudel. It corresponds to Claudel’s notion of “the total hour” (“l’heure totale”) by which he understood an aesthetic or poetical evocation of the universe in a non-temporal simultaneity of wholeness. Indeed, much of Merleau-Ponty’s effort in Eye and Mind can be understood as an attempt to rehabilitate the notion of simultaneity, or the “eternal,” in which multiple perspectives and elements are presented 37 38 39 40 41

See Sartre’s own description of painting in The Imaginary, trans. Jonathan Webber (­London: Routledge, 2004), 188 ff. Compare with Sartre’s discussion of fascination in Being and Nothingness. Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” 129. Mearleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” 130. Identical with Crowther’s own emphasis: “What is in the picture is so, primarily as an imaginative presentation by the artist” (Crowther, The Phenomenology of Modern Art, 128). Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” 130. In the French original, what is given in English as two separate sentences (quoted here together) forms in fact one sentence.


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together without a linear order of succession or organic sense of unity. This notion is central to Merleau-Ponty’s lectures on modern aesthetics (cited above) and especially with his interest in the writings of Claude Simon. And it is no less central to his view of Cézanne as directly expressed in Claudel’s inspired phrase: “the world’s instant.” Cézanne’s paintings present the world as a total instant but this presentation of the world and revelation of its wild being is not (as Crowther understands with his own notion) a “planar idealization.” Instead, it is useful to adopt a distinction drawn by Simmel between “nature” and “landscape”: a landscape unifies a vision of a whole whereas nature is the intuition of an infinity not encompassed within a unity. The “intuition of infinity” is both a contraction of the infinite within the artwork and its expression through the artwork, as with the contraction and expression of a life as whole in Rembrandt’s portraits.42 As Cézanne himself expressed: “I feel myself colored by all the nuances of infinity.” If the planarity of the painting “intervened” as an idealization “upon visual perception,” as Crowther argues, this would amount to the kind of planar idealization of nature in the modern natural sciences and Renaissance perspective. But as Merleau-Ponty must have clearly understood from Husserl’s trenchant critique of the idealization and intervention of the modern scientific image of the world in the Crisis, the reduction discovers the world in an entirely different sense. The reduction reveals a world in statu nascendi, neither a world in itself nor a world for us, but a world in its becoming as a world imbued with sense. Transcendental subjectivity does not give sense to the world but marks the “hollow” in which a “prise de conscience du monde” occurs.43 In Eye and Mind, Merleau-Ponty argues that painting, given its specific medium but also, as I shall now explore, a certain style of painting in Cézanne, presents a vision of the world in statu nascendi as a world of “meaning” or “sense”: not that subjectivity gives meaning to the world but that subjectivity is the manner in which the world comes to its (own) senses. Merleau-Ponty thus clearly understands the specificity of painting as consisting in the incarnation of a presentation, or “thinking,” that has broken with linear time. This rupture with the linearity of time is further connected to the 42


See Georg Simmel, Rembrandt: An Essay in the Philosophy of Art, trans. Alan Scott and Helmut Staubmann (London: Routledge, 2005) as well as his essay “Rodin (mit einer Vorbemerkung über Meunier),” in Gesamtausgabe, vol. 14 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1998). See the insightful formulation of this critical point in Claudio Majolino, “Des signes et des phenomenes: Husserl, l’intrugue des deux psychologies et le sujet transcendantal,” in Lectures de la Krisis de Husserl, ed. Claudio Majolino and François de Gandt (Paris: Vrin, 2008), 161–195, here 192.

The Specificity of Medium


material support of painting and the flatness of its surface in which the “total hour” of the world can be rendered visible. The painterly surface functions as a “hollow” in the fabric of being in which the “wild-flowering world,” or world in statu nascendi, becomes displayed in its “total hour,” or “infinity.” Crowther’s concern that Merleau-Ponty misses this salient feature of the aesthetic specificity of painting is misplaced; once again, this concern is directly refuted by Merleau-Ponty himself who recognizes fully, albeit expressed in a different idiom, that the act of painting is (to use Crowther’s terms) “bracketed off from the phenomenal flow of real time.” The visibility of the invisible in painting is indeed “consequent upon” the “immobile figures realized through the artist’s activity” such that, in Merleau-Ponty’s terms, “the world’s instant” is “thrown at us.”44 5

The Presentness of the World

Undoubtedly, part of the explanation for why readers of Eye and Mind have been led astray in thinking that Merleau-Ponty fails to give due emphasis to the aesthetic specificity of painting stems from his vocabulary (for example, the expression “the world’s instant,” as noted above, is a specific allusion to Claudel’s notion of “total hour”) and the paucity of discussion of specific works of art, especially the paintings of Cézanne. This lack of detailed consideration of specific paintings (as opposed to the evocation of paintings) in Eye and Mind reinforces the suspicion that Merleau-Ponty projects his own philosophy onto painting at the expense of the very paintings he is so keen to see and allow to be seen in their truth and splendor. Yet, Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical interpretation of Cézanne’s significance tacitly assumes the specific stylistic accomplishments of his paintings. In fact, Merleau-Ponty here quietly relies on an analysis of Cézanne’s stylistic innovations developed by the art historian Fritz Novonty in his 1932 essay “Das Problem des Menschen Cézanne im Verhältnis zu seiner Kunst” (to which Merleau-Ponty’s essay “Cézanne’s Doubt” can be read as a response) and 1938 monograph Cézanne und das Ende der wissenschaftlichen Perspektive.45 44 Crowther, The Phenomenology of Modern Art, 123; Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” 130. 45 All of Novotny’s writings on Cézanne are now available in a single volume: Paul Cézanne. Gesammelte Schriften zu seinem Werk und Materialien aus dem Nachlass, ed. Gabriel Ramin Schor (Vienna: Klever Verlag, 2011). Novotny’s Cézanne haunts this entire debate: Shapiro recognizes explicitly: “Merleau-Ponty has taken over from Novotny certain important ideas. (In his book on the phenomenology of perception, he quotes Novotny’s article of 1932, so there is no question in my mind whether Merleau-Ponty has read


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As Novotny argues, Cézanne developed a “new and unknown language” in which the fundamentals of painting—color, line, and plane—are profoundly transformed. In Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical interpretation of Cézanne’s aesthetic revolution, color, line and surface (or “planarity”) receive a specific ontological significance on the basis of Novotny’s analysis, and especially Novotny’s insight into the expressive power of color in Cézanne’s technique of “modulation.” On the basis of this revolution in style, Merleau-Ponty mounts his argument that the “alogical essence” of the world is materialized in Cézanne’s paintings; painting thus reveals the “brute fabric of meaning” without a separate thinking. Merleau-Ponty, in other words, gives an ontological meaning to Novotny’s basic claim that “das ‘Werden’ in einem Bild Cézannes […] hat den Sinn des ‘Enstehens’ der Objekte.”46 Cézanne brings to visual, painterly expression the world in statu nascendi. Merleau-Ponty stresses in Eye and Mind (but also in The Visible and the Invisible) that color is “the dimension that creates—from itself to itself—identities, differences, a texture, a materiality, a something …”47 This creative power of color is developed through Cézanne’s technique of modulating colors into volumes and spatial forms, as if spatiality emerged through the plastic and ­progressive modulation of color-tones. Rather than model spatial form in a sculptural fashion with clean delineations of borders and volume, spatiality progressively emerges, mosaic-like, through variations of colors, with each color-tone and touch (tache or spot) differentiated from others. In the paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire, for example, the color green is arranged on the canvas through a series of tonal variations that do not center or tend towards a fixed essence of the color green. This modulation of coloration, when placed in the framework of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological thinking, can be seen as performing an eidetic variation of colors for what Husserl himself identified as the “anexact” essence of sensible qualities. However, whereas in a strictly speaking him)” (Shapiro, “Cézanne and the Philosophers,” 89). Merleau-Ponty also cites Novotny’s monograph in Eye and Mind. Crowther writes that “surprisingly, the origin of this idea [Cézanne’s indifference to all things human] is in a thinker other than Merleau-Ponty. It derives from art historian Fritz Novotny whose description of Cezanne’s [sic] paintings as ‘those of a pre-world in which as yet no men existed’ is quoted by Merleau-Ponty in the Phenomenology of Perception” (Crowther, The Phenomenology of Modern Art: Exploding Deleuze, Illuminating Style, 262). What neither Shapiro or Crowther recognize, however, is the extent to which Novotny provides the art historical basis for Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical interpretation while at the same time contesting Novotny’s own philosophical reading of Cézanne through the framework of Kantianism. 46 Novotny, Paul Cézanne. Gesammelte Schriften zu seinem Werk und Materialien aus dem Nachlass, 64. 47 Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” 141.

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Husserlian analysis, the eidetic variation of sensible quality (the color green, for example) progresses towards an identity, in Cézanne’s paintings, variations of sensible qualities are not teleologically animated, but open instead onto what might be termed a fractal infinity. Every touch and modulation of color is the concretion of a possible coloration within an unending expanse of variations. This innovative modulation of color is inseparable, as Merleau-Ponty underlines, from a dynamic conception of line in Cézanne’s paintings. In fact, the distinction between line and color is often blurred. As Merleau-Ponty observes, lines in Cézanne’s paintings are not descriptive: they do not delineate a solid object but instead suggest a trajectory of force or line of becoming. Lines are in this regard “non-prosaic.” In many of Cézanne’s paintings, color modulation and the “serpentine line” interact with each other; a line is delineated through the variation of colors; the color “red” of the apple is both inside and outside the shaping contours of the apple’s spatial form. As the art critic Maurice Denis recognized in article from 1907: “Each modulated object manifests its contour by the greater or less exaltation of its color.”48 Color, line, and spatiality are “diacritical values” for Merleau-Ponty within a system of painting. Within the picture plane, the aesthetic values and functions of color, line and spatiality are assigned and determined topically with regard to the wholeness of the canvas. The diacritical value of color, line, and space is further understood by Merleau-Ponty as a kind of ontologically flattening that paradoxically creates a new form and aesthetic experience of depth within the medium of painting: its material support or “planarity.” Color, line, and space are thus emancipated from the symbolic form of Renaissance perspective as well as from an ontological difference between primary (spatial extension) and secondary qualities (colors). This diacritical flattening of the elements of painting is inscribed within the picture plane and results in an over-all emphasis of the flatness of the picture plane (as especially pronounced in Cézanne’s late watercolors). As Merleau-Ponty writes: “Pictorial depth (as well as painted height and width) comes ‘I know not whence’ to alight upon, and take root in, the sustaining support. The painter’s vision is not a view upon the outside, a merely ‘physical-optical’ relation with the world. The world no longer stands before him through representation; rather, it is the painter to whom the things of the world give birth by a sort of concentration or coming-to-itself of the visible.”49 This flattening of space generates a depth of simultaneous “perspectives” that 48 49

Quoted in Matthew Simms, Cézanne’s Watercolors: Between Drawing and Painting (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 117. Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” 141 (my emphasis).


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do not gravitate around an object or one world. The various “perspectives” of Mont Sainte-Victoire are not a synthetic manifold of different perspectives onto the world—the “real” mountain—but a “conflagration” of simultaneous perspectives that proffers a vision of the world in statu nascendi. The world is seen at once from everywhere and nowhere, and at once in an inhuman delirium of vision. 6

A Painter’s Philosopher

Shapiro and Crowther can each be faulted for committing the kind of fault each sees in Eye and Mind; each fails to recognize the specificity of MerleauPonty’s argument and, most significantly, what we are meant to see about painting through the Eye and Mind’s own philosophical portrait of the truth in painting. Eye and Mind is itself composed something like a painting; it incorporates into its discursive style aspects Cézanne’s own style of painting. In this manner, Eye and Mind must be seen as an innovative philosophical ekphrasis in which paintings themselves come to speak.

Pregnant Embodiment as World Transformation Tanja Staehler 1

Why Phenomenology?

To show the advantages of a phenomenological approach to pregnancy, we will begin with a very schematic review of the predominant approaches to pregnancy and childbirth. This will be done in broad strokes, neglecting much internal diversity within these categories to outline only their main common shortcoming from the perspective of experience. (i.) Psychological and psychoanalytic approaches. While these are obviously not identical, it seems permissible to combine them here since neither can be discussed in any detail. However, from the phenomenological perspective, what they share are their main shortcomings. Our exemplar is a particularly successful attempt of its kind that indeed combines psychology and psychoanalysis (and even feminism as well): Alison Stone’s book Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and Maternal Subjectivity.1 It is, in general, a very clear, scholarly book and thus particularly helpful for our purposes. It features one characteristic of psychological literature quite distinctly: it focuses on the subject, that is, on maternal subjectivity. As such, it is less concerned with the body or corporeality2 and also less concerned with the specific experiences of pregnancy and childbirth. Rather, it focuses on motherhood and its effects on the subject. The social dimension is for the most part eclipsed, except where internal family relations (in this case, specifically mother-daughter-relations) are concerned. Both the social dimension and the corporeal dimension thus remain largely outside of the purview of the psychological approach.3

1 Alison Stone, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and Maternal Subjectivity (London: Routledge, 2012). 2 Stone has a chapter on this (Chapter 1: “From Mothering to Maternal Experience”) in which she suggests that the maternal body can be re-gained by relating to our own past; this is an unusual and interesting way of dealing with the question, yet one which falls into the psychoanalytic domain of going back into one’s past rather than the phenomenological approach of describing current experiences. 3 This is not to say that the approach could not include them; an approach from social psychology would be possible, though it has not been attempted yet to my knowledge, and the body would still be left out.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���9 | doi:10.1163/9789004391031_013



Psychological perspectives like Stone’s are immensely helpful for reestablishing a sense of maternal subjectivity after undergoing the experiences of pregnancy and birth. In order to do so, they require going back to an earlier, less accessible period of one’s life. Psychological approaches can, in a different way, also be very good for dealing with birth trauma, again by going back to before and going beyond. But actually focusing on the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth themselves is not their concern; moreover, their omission of social and bodily dimensions makes it difficult to do so. These approaches are deliberately, and by necessity, concerned with subjectivity, as indicated in the title of Stone’s excellent book. (ii) Medical. Medical research lies on the other side of the spectrum, which focuses on our objective or physical side. Medical research on pregnancy and childbirth is obviously very far-reaching, and there are far too many examples to list here. Yet, a main shortcoming of a medical perspective on childbirth has often been pointed out from a psychological pointof-view: thinking of birth as something medical makes it more difficult for the mother to identify a role for herself in the process since it appears to be something that is out of her control, requiring her to hand her body over to the medical profession. Hence, birth-giving women sometimes express the expectation that medical professionals can “get the baby out.” Yet, as qualitative as well as psychological research has shown, it is crucial that the woman does not give up, not rely on being able to somehow hand the process over. Although it is possible to show how the idea of “active birthing” needs to be supplemented by also thinking about passivity4 and waiting in relation to birth, it is important that the mother stays a communicative subject throughout the process. Further problems with the medical approach concern the way in which they, by definition, focus on problems and pathologies and the physical body. The impression emerges that there is little or nothing to be said about “normal” birth.5 A medical approach, with its emphasis on the physical or objective body, leaves the subject to feel excluded in a situation that is already strange and anxiety-inducing. 4 Tanja Staehler, “Passivity, Being-there and Being-with: Care during birth,” Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy: A European Journal 19, no. 3 (2016): 371–379, doi: 10.1007/s11019-016-9686-5. 5 “Normal Births” is a recent initiative by the Royal College of Midwives. In midwifery studies, a more comprehensive or holistic approach has been taken, exemplified in publications such as Soo Downe and Sheena Byrom, The Roar Behind the Silence: Why Kindness, Compassion and Respect Matter in Maternity Care (London: Pinter & Martin, 2015).

Pregnant Embodiment as World Transformation


In trying to mediate between the extremes, a phenomenological approach has the following advantages:6 – As it has been phenomenology’s goal from the beginning and spelled out quite explicitly by Merleau-Ponty, a phenomenological approach provides a “third way” between common impasses. In this case in particular, some approaches focus predominantly on the object-side or the physical body, others on the subject-side or inner life. There are shortcomings to both. By and large, “object” approaches leave the subject dissatisfied and contribute to anxiety, whereas “subject” approaches make it difficult to relate to general structures such as the body or the social world. – Phenomenology remedies these dilemmas by focusing on the lived body, which has both a subject-side and an object-side, thus taking a comprehensive or holistic approach. While we are not usually thematically aware of the tension between being object and being subject, we do experience it emotionally as a split state of being. A phenomenological approach responds to this experienced yet unexamined tension by concentrating on embodied existence where the two come together. – The body is arguably one of two main points of focus for phenomenology, and with the help of this focus, the relevant themes of emotions, language, communication, care, etc. can be discussed in a much broader fashion. While the smallest units (e.g., words) are still part of the investigation, the 6 In the recent phenomenological literature on pregnancy, there has been a debate between those who emphasize a kind of symbiosis or theory of oneness between mother and infant, whereas the other side is dominated by otherness, difference, duality, twoness. See especially Iris Marion Young, “Pregnant Embodiment: Subjectivity and Alienation,” The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 9 (1984): 45–62 and Johanna Oksala, “The Birth of Man,” in Metaphysics, Facticity, Interpretation: Phenomenology in the Nordic Countries, ed. Dan Zahavi, Sara Heinämaa, and Hans Ruin (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2003), 139–166 versus Sara Heinämaa, “An Equivocal Couple overwhelmed by Life: Phenomenological Analysis of Pregnancy,” Philo-Sophia 4, no. 1 (2014): 12–49 and Lisa Guenther, The Gift of the Other: Levinas and the Politics of Reproduction (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2006). To my mind, this is an unproductive opposition since the alternative is false. In terms of the experience of pregnancy (to which the phenomenological perspective would attend), there are most definitely both: oneness and duality. There is oneness in that it is still one body, my body that I do not just have, but that I am in the sense of a lived, experienced body. The loss of the habit body as explored below means that the body becomes increasingly alien and thereby confirms a basic truth about the body: my body is always already alien to me. The truth of being a subject/object is brought home in pregnancy through the duality which is just as much essential to the experience as the oneness of the body. This duality which the body always harbours becomes apparent, and increasingly so, as the body is touched from the inside by something alien. This experience alerts me to my responsibility for the new world that I am carrying in me.



main accomplishments lie in contextualizing, that is, alerting us that all problems emerging from pregnancy and childbirth are best treated with respect to our being-in-the-world.7 – The other main focus for phenomenology is world. As it has already been indicated, world and body are intricately linked because body is our place of being-in-the-world. Viewing pregnancy and childbirth as part of our beingin-the-world facilitates thinking about “normal,” non-medical birth. World is a fruitful concept: it allows explaining differences of experience as differences of being-in-the-world,8 but it also leads us back to world as the shared ground for all of these experiences. We then also come to see why and how it is that others affect our world, and thus our existence, so strongly, and what it means to be in constant communication with others even if they are not there. On the basis of reflections on discourse, situation, care, etc., the relationships between those present at birth—most importantly, healthcare professionals and parents—can be described.9 – Phenomenology allows us to discuss pregnancy and childbirth as revelatory experiences in terms of our existence, as we will see in what follows. From the perspective of our existence, pregnancy is transformative in the difficulties it creates as well as in the revelations it involves. What we “learn” from pregnancy is the significance and enormous potential to cope with the transformation of the body by way of establishing new world relations.10 7

8 9 10

Helpful qualitative research on childbirth can be found in Gill Thomson, Fiona Dykes, and Soo Downe, Qualitative Research in Midwifery and Childbirth: Phenomenological Approaches (London: Routledge, 2011). However, it proves difficult to establish qualitative research in this area as a coherent field because the diversity of phenomenologists and phenomenological concepts does not easily give rise to a unified methodology. It is our conviction that such a unified phenomenological methodology can be established with the help of key concepts such as world, body, and intercorporeality. See Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge, 1962) with respect to several pathologies and other problems. See Staehler, “Passivity, Being-there and Being-with: Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy.” For an example as to how pregnancy can shed light on other bodily abnormalities, such as sickness and disability, take sickness as a first example. One of the revelations that come from being pregnant concerns the way in which there can be bodily symptoms that initially feel like sickness but turn out to be “normal” within the context of pregnancy. In fact, it is quite amazing to read pregnancy books during pregnancy and find those same symptoms afflicting one’s own body—luckily, in most cases, just some and not all of them. The case of pregnancy is particularly interesting because especially during the first three months, there is always the possibility of miscarriage, and later on, there is still the danger of early labor, etc. Therefore, some of the symptoms take on an alarming status because especially light cramps or stinging sensations in the lower abdomen can initially

Pregnant Embodiment as World Transformation



The Abnormal Body as Disclosive

From the phenomenological perspective, experiences of bodily abnormality often prove disclosive. The main reason why abnormality can be disclosive about our existence is that normality tends to remain hidden. Normality is what we take for granted, and focusing on it requires a special shift. Phenomenology tries to bring about such a shift through the phenomenological epoché; but it is not easy to motivate the epoché unless somebody is already motivated in a different way. There are everyday experiences, and especially everyday problems, that call for such a shift. Pregnancy and birth could very well be considered such experiences, except that they are so abnormal or extraordinary that it is difficult to reflect back on our normality from them. Nevertheless, there are indeed some interesting lessons about the body to be learned, as we will see in the coming sections. The contrast between the normal and the abnormal is used very successfully by Merleau-Ponty to elucidate what we experience as normal when it comes to bodily movements, spatiality, speech, sexuality, and so on. The most frequent abnormal case discussed in Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception is the patient Schneider. Schneider suffered a brain injury in the war, and as a result, he experiences a number of abnormal motor functions for which appear to point to miscarriage, yet usually come about because of the way in which the uterus expands and affects also the tendons and ligaments supporting it. Without entering into a medical discussion, let it suffice to say that pregnancy requires interpreting bodily symptoms of discomfort or even pain as non-threatening. This is a helpful lesson because it shows the extent to which sickness also involves anxieties—about whether it is a sickness, what sickness it is, or if that is known, how severe it is, etc.—which contribute majorly to the negativity of the experience. Once one realizes that the discomfort stems from something that relates to the fetus’s expanding and growing, the sensation is much less painful because it is much less threatening. The experience of sickness-like symptoms can be useful outside of pregnancy in at least two ways. Firstly, it shows that symptoms are much easier to endure, much more bearable, if we know what is behind them and that they are not a sign of something threatening. What consequences to draw from this—whether to see a doctor for reassurance or engage in meditation exercises to counteract anxiety, or whether the experience of pregnancy is just such that any sickness becomes easier to endure without needing to take further action—depends on the person and the situation. Secondly, pregnancy teaches us that some alternative forms of medicine or home remedies are actually quite effective. Given that most forms of pharmaceutical medication have some warning about pregnancy, even those who usually do not worry at all about taking medication will be likely to consider herbal, anthroposophical, or other forms of relief; and once the pregnant woman realizes that almonds (if chewed slowly) indeed help with heartburn, she may perhaps carry a small package in her bag at all times.



e­ mpiricist and intellectualist approaches cannot account. Schneider can still perform concrete movements more or less normally (e.g., lighting his lamp), but he can only perform abstract movements (like tracing a figure in the air) if he is able to watch his limbs and position them as if they were external objects (e.g., he first has to watch his arm and lift it parallel to the floor before commencing the figure). He has lost the ability—possessed by the normal body subject—to carry out movement requests without representing body parts and having to consciously move them into the relevant starting positions. How can pathological cases shed new light on our normal experience? ­Merleau-Ponty warns that it “is impossible to deduce the normal from the pathological, deficiencies from the substitute functions, by a mere change of the sign.”11 Normality and pathology do not exhibit a straightforward relationship of opposition; we cannot deduce the normal from the pathological by way of a mere reversal. Yet by describing how the pathological strikes us as odd, we gain some insight into our normal expectations. This is particularly crucial when it comes to those abilities and activities that we take for granted because we have successfully habitualized them. At the same time, it has to be noted that normality and abnormality are intertwined; there are many moments of abnormality in an overall normal existence, and those who are affected by a more sustained pathology learn to normalize their behavior to a certain extent. We will see how this is the case for pregnancy. However, even if texts like the Phenomenology of Perception provide multiple examples as to how the pathological elucidates the normal experience, an important question for our theme remains open: Is pregnancy a pathology? There may be an intuitive resistance to such a claim. And the examples that Merleau-Ponty discusses indeed stem from a different realm: psychology. For our purposes, it is not necessary to establish pregnancy as a pathology, as long as we can plausibly describe it to be an abnormality—and this designation seems fairly uncontroversial. While pregnancy is certainly a natural process, it is undeniable that it interrupts our normal existence and is not experienced as a state of normality. We will continue to see what it can teach us about our relations to the world and responsibilities towards the other. 3

World Removal

Merleau-Ponty describes the advantages of the phenomenological notion of the world as follows: “Probably the chief gain from phenomenology is to 11 Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 107.

Pregnant Embodiment as World Transformation


have united extreme subjectivism and extreme objectivism in its notion of the world or of rationality.”12 Rationality might be a surprising term in this context, but Merleau-Ponty explains that rationality, rather than being concerned with inwardness, describes our inextricable connection to the world; furthermore, “rationality is precisely proportioned to the experiences in which it is disclosed.”13 While extreme subjectivism and extreme objectivism always lead to a one-sided or insufficient explanation, phenomenology allows exploring existence as being-in-the-world. With respect to pregnancy, this means that phenomenology allows us to describe how our existence is changed in a fashion that is more fundamental than a list of specific features would have us believe. Such features include a variety of changes, given that pregnancy makes it more difficult to get up, bend down, maneuver in space (between people and objects), move or walk quickly, etc. Of course, an objectivist perspective would explain such changes merely as a matter of extra weight or the protruding belly; but this is dissatisfying because the changes differ from those which would be connected to, say, gaining weight. Even when I lie down, the world presents itself to me differently from how it used to be, and simply creating a longer list of the features that have changed does not account for the fundamental shifts in my experience. A subjectivist account would likely stress that my world experience has changed because I try to be more careful and protective due to my changed circumstances. But such an explanation also falls short; even if I do not want to be protective or know that I do not have to be, the world presents itself differently to me than before. Furthermore, the changes are not really experienced in terms of protectiveness: the world does not appear more dangerous. Rather, it might appear more irritating, frustrating, or annoying, at least at certain times. From a phenomenological perspective, the change in world experience can be explained by first considering that our body is not some material entity located in space like any other object. Instead, the body is experienced from within, as a lived body or embodied existence. By way of our body, we are in the world and experience world. The changes during pregnancy can be described from a Merleau-Pontian perspective as a loss of the “habit body” and from a Heideggerian standpoint as a transformation and partial loss of the ready-to-hand. What is the “habit body,” briefly put? It designates our normal expectation of being able to move in the world without accidents and interruptions. Everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, or eating food are habitualized in such a 12 Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, xix. 13 Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, xix.



way that we do not need to reflect on them, and we do not need to be aware of our environment in terms of specifically measured distances or qualities. Only if I have a leg injury or if the stairs are broken will I need to start reflecting on my activity of climbing the stairs. Otherwise, these movements are habitual, where “habit expresses our power of dilating our being-in-the-world.”14 An expansion of my bodily existence can include certain instruments, such as the car in which I drive or the blind man’s cane, which become incorporated into my bodily space. It turns out that “habit is neither a form of knowledge nor an involuntary action” but rather, a “knowledge in the hands” or in the body.15 While the habit body expands my world, the pregnant body gets in the way of itself and disrupts my habitual activities. Those activities which I thought I had learned to master, like walking, driving a car, or riding a bike, either become impossible or have to be reacquired in a modified fashion. My formerly mobile body becomes a lot more “inert,” revealing the phenomenological side of inertia (in contrast to its physical concept as proportional to an object’s mass). The world is thus less accessible to me, more removed; hence, my experiences of the world are more frustrating. While habit “dilates” my being-in-the-world, pregnancy could be described as contracting or diminishing it, despite the fact that the physical volume of my body grows. As a result of my difficulties to move in space, distances expand, and the region that is accessible to me becomes smaller. This effect puts pregnancy in an unexpected contrast to the modern transportation technologies described by Heidegger: these technologies are said to shrink distances. The ways in which pregnancy changes my experience of space will now be examined in further detail since the differences in spatiality show quite well how the ready-to-hand is no longer to hand. Heidegger announces at the outset of his considerations on spatiality that his reflections will serve to show how the spatiality of things in the world is grounded in the worldliness of the world.16 This is an important discovery for our purposes because it indicates how the modification in spatiality is not just a matter of one object or a few objects being less accessible to me, but a change in my environing world (Um-welt) and thus in my existence. When considered in terms of spatiality, handiness presents itself as nearness or as that which is “within reach, grasp, and look.”17 If we also consider Heidegger’s concise and convincing statement, “An essential tendency toward 14 Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 166. 15 Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 166. 16 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell, 1978), 102. 17 Heidegger, Being and Time, 106.

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nearness lies in Dasein,”18 it becomes increasingly plausible how pregnancy creates problems as it inhibits this tendency toward nearness (or toward bringing things close). The world becomes farther removed, and the circle of things that are useful or within reach grows smaller. Furthermore, the world becomes more clearly delineated into regions. Heidegger describes how spatiality in the existential (rather than the objective or the geometrical) sense falls into distinct regions for all of us; for example, “the ‘below’ is what is on the floor.”19 For pregnant existence, the divisions between regions become much sharper since the distance between “what is on the floor” and “what is on the shelf” increases. More deliberation is required: before I sit down, I need to think about what I may need later on and bring it closer. The world appears differently due to these changes to my habit body, the spatiality of my existence, and the character of things around me. I become disorientated and need to find new ways of orientation and organization. One such possibility consists in communication (“Could you please bring me …”); but the disruption of my normal word relation is only confirmed by the need for such mediation and dependence. Overall, the world has become removed from me and proves more difficult to access. The other, positive side of this world removal, however, is my growing nostalgia for the habit body. This growing nostalgia is an important motivation for wanting to give birth. Of course, there is also the desire to see the baby, especially since the creature on the inside does not really feel like a baby while it is on the inside, as we will see in the next section. Yet, while the desire to see the baby might certainly also be a strong factor, it is a constant factor, and there is no particular experiential reason for it to grow stronger as the pregnancy continues. The nostalgia for the habit body, on the other hand, definitely grows stronger and stronger as the huge pregnant body becomes increasingly difficult to handle. On the mundane level, this is sometimes expressed as the urge to wear normal clothes again—but it does not take a person like myself who cares little about clothes to notice that there is a lot more at stake: an entire way of being and of relating to the world, that is, a way of being-in-the-world, that is linked to and dependent on the habit body. Such a strong motivation is helpful and needed to counteract the anxiety that ultimately emerges from the fact that it is inconceivable to give birth. There is yet another lesson about our body that can be learned from pregnancy, which may stay with us even as we reacquire the habit body through 18 Heidegger, Being and Time, 105. 19 Heidegger, Being and Time, 103.



birth. This is the lesson that even the radically modified body can adjust, and we can adjust with it, to the world in a new way. Whether it is a newly acquired liking for being in swimming pools20 or a way of arranging pillows around the body to ease the pain of turning over in bed at night: the challenge of the abnormal body makes us creative. The enormous potential of such creativity and adoptability would certainly also be a good lesson for disability studies. Fortunately, pregnancy gives us an opportunity to gain the habit body back. 4 Transformations Pregnancy transforms our relation to the world by inhibiting our habit body, causing world removal but also our potential for transformation. Even more transformative than pregnancy is giving birth. With giving birth, I gain my habit body back (albeit in certain ways gradually). But I also gain a whole new world, a world opened up by the new human: his or her singular world. It is not only with birth, but already during pregnancy that it becomes noticeable how the other in me imposes the weight of a whole world in me and opens up all the possibilities of a new world. For Emmanuel Levinas, being pregnant is the paradigm case of a kind of otherness in me that has more general significance, as it means ethical responsibility. According to Levinas, the way in which the Other is “in the same” can best be described as the Other being “under my skin.” Levinas wants to show the significance of a “‘contact’ without the mediation of the skin.”21 Pregnancy is the paradigmatic example for encountering the Other without the separation of skin. Pregnancy or maternity is one of Levinas’s models for explaining the Other in me, my being obsessed by the Other, and my being there for the Other. Maternity, Levinas points out, is a “gestation of the other in the same.”22 Is the analogy of pregnancy helpful? Levinas is certainly not retreating to biologism here. The analogy shows that there indeed exists a relation to the Other that does not link two independent beings and a contact that is not mediated by language. Pregnancy is an extreme case in which the Other is literally under


In water, the extra weight gets lifted, and the body feels almost normal, except for the fact that the element of water is presupposed, which only allows for a certain range of activities as diverse as walking, swimming, dancing, relaxing, chatting; but not so diverse as to include cooking, eating, watching TV, etc. 21 Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1981), 199n25. 22 Levinas, Otherwise Than Being, 95.

Pregnant Embodiment as World Transformation


my skin, but beyond this case, there are various ways in which the Other can get under my skin. For a final contribution to this debate, we will call on Derrida, who provides a plausible link between otherness in the same and the ethical responsibility. Firstly, Derrida points out that the important aspect of an otherness in the same is not a matter of a literal otherness in the same, but rather a case of me being for the other—however, this is not to be taken simplistically either. Secondly, the case that seems to be a matter of literally being-in, namely, pregnancy, turns out to be more multi-faceted. It remains an issue of the Other in me, even after the baby is born, and it is already a matter of being  for the Other, even while the Other is still in me. In order to see the deeper level of this responsibility for the Other, it helps to introduce a third element into the relation between me and the Other, between me and you: world. World is an interesting element to introduce into the discussion: it leads us back to the main contribution of a phenomenological analysis of ­pregnancy— namely, that pregnant embodiment can best be described in terms of a modified world relation. Furthermore, the issue of world is exactly the point on which Levinas diverges from classic phenomenologists. Levinas claims that the face of the Other signifies “outside of every order, every world.”23 In the ethical encounter with the Other, the world from which he or she comes is not only irrelevant, but can even be a distraction, perhaps inviting me to renounce my responsibility or deny hospitality. For Derrida, world takes on a more ambiguous role, which he explores with the help of a line from Paul Celan: “Die Welt ist fort, ich muss Dich tragen”— “The world is gone, I must carry you.”24 This line, the last line of a poem from the collection Atemwende (Turn of Breath) is interpreted by Jacques Derrida in Rams, a text devoted to the memory of Hans-Georg Gadamer. Derrida explains how death each time means the end of a world, of a unique world tied to the singular Other. Thus, the death of the Other is phenomenologically more revealing than my own death. While the world becomes irrelevant in anxiety before death, the death of the Other means that I can experience the disappearance of a world. But is it merely a world? One among many? Celan writes, the world is gone, and the phenomenological analysis also shows the situation to be more complex. A bit similar to the way in which anxiety (according to 23 24

Emmanuel Levinas, “Meaning and Sense,” in Collected Philosophical Papers, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1987), 96. Jacques Derrida, “Rams: Uninterrupted Dialogue. Between Two Infinities, the Poem,” in Sovereignties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan, trans. Thomas Dutoit (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005), 136–163.



Heidegger) reveals everything in the world to be irrelevant such that the world disappears—and yet, in disappearing, the world is revealed as it says farewell. There is also an impression that the death of a human being affects not just one world among many, but actually makes the world disappear. As the world disappears, it leaves its traces. It imposes a responsibility on me, the responsibility to carry or bear the Other. Yet this responsibility not only emerges with the death of the Other. It is present throughout life because the death of the Other is always a possibility. In the case of pregnancy, there is also a multi-faceted world-relation. As the world of a new human being originates, my relation to the world is transformed in various ways. These ways are so closely entangled that here, as well, it does not make sense to draw a clear distinction between a world and the world. In order to discern the different modalities of world-relation, we need to first consider Derrida’s explicit description which emerges from his interpretation of the verb “tragen,” “to carry”: Tragen, in everyday usage, also refers to the experience of carrying a child prior to its birth. Between the mother and the child, the one in the other and the one for the other, in this singular couple of solitary beings, in the shared solitude between one and two bodies, the world disappears, it is far away, it remains a quasi-excluded third. For the mother who carries the child, “Die Welt ist fort.”25 Initially, this description struck me as implausible, perhaps somewhat prejudiced and romantic: mother and child as self-sufficient, self-absorbed, not interested in any other human beings or in the world. I wanted to object and ask: Does not the impending arrival of the child return me to the world since I know that the baby will (initially) share my world, and I will need to explain this world to him or her? Furthermore, has our phenomenological description of pregnancy not shown a peculiar transformation of my worldrelation in which world made itself rather present? However, we have also seen that along with the loss of my habit body and my familiar world relations, world actually seemed to move away from me or gain more distance. This experience could in the extreme case coincide with Derrida’s description of a world-disappearance. Since Derrida is interested in the ethical dimensions of the relations between mother, child, and world, there is a shift of perspective in relation to classic phenomenology. We need to examine the situation more closely before 25

Jacques Derrida, “Rams,” 159.

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assessing his statement about the disappearance of world. Ethics should be understood here in a rather broad sense, perhaps best starting from Levinas, who conceives of ethics as follows: “We name this calling into question of my spontaneity by the presence of the Other ethics.”26 The Other calls me into question because he or she always exceeds my expectations and concepts; this holds particularly true for the unborn child whom I cannot really anticipate at all and who will continue to surprise me even after he or she is born. Derrida describes the same findings about the otherness of the Other in different terms: he calls the Other a secret. Two essential features pertain to the Other’s secrecy. Firstly, “I cannot be in the other’s place”;27 this observation refers to the inaccessibility of the Other which shows different dimensions and reflects a basic inaccessibility already at the core of the self, as we have seen above. Secondly, there is an “overabundance of meaning” on the side of the Other, that is, an excess of meaning which surpasses my concepts and expectations. In this sense, the Other resembles the structure of world as a context of meaning which cannot be exhausted. The Other means an origin of world (and death, correspondingly, the disappearance of world, as we have seen). Derrida states this quite explicitly elsewhere, namely, in Psyche: Inventions of the Other: “The other who calls and to whom one must respond is always another origin of the world.”28 If we summarize the findings and bring them to bear on the issue of the relation between mother and child, we have now detected three different dimensions of impact on my world relation, each of which can be explained further with the help of the initial Celan citation. Derrida’s initial statement thus proves to be true, but incomplete. A child relates to world in three ways: 1. As an origin of world, opening up a new context of meanings and possibilities. At the same time, this opens up a realm of responsibilities which do not cease even in death, but acquire an even stronger dimension: “(If) the world disappears, I must carry you.” 26

Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969), 43. 27 Derrida, Sovereignties in Question, 165. 28 Jacques Derrida, Psyche: Inventions of the Other, trans. Peggy Kamuf and Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007), 61. As the terminology of “call” and “response” indicates, Derrida is also providing a corrective to Levinas’s account here. Similarly, he suggests in “Violence and Metaphysics” that the “transcendent alterity” constitutes an origin of the world. Jacques Derrida, “Violence and Metaphysics: An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas,” in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London: Routledge, 2001), 184.




As an eclipse of world, as described by Derrida when he writes that for mother and child, the world disappears or becomes a quasi-excluded third. One reason for this disappearance of world seems to lie in the excess of vulnerability which the child exhibits before being born and in the initial period of life: “If I must carry you, the world disappears.” Derrida proposes that this inversion of the sentence is permissible and plausible.29 3. As a new encounter with world, because I start imagining (already before the baby is born) what it might be like to encounter world for the first time. In this attempt at imagining such initial encounters (which can never quite succeed because I can only partially abstract from my familiarity with world), some essential phenomenological characteristics of world come to the fore: world always precedes me as a meaningful context that I did not bring about, and this is one dimension of the world’s uncanniness. Derrida, following Celan, refers to the “unreadability” of world,30 which becomes manifest in its complexity, preventing full comprehension. To be sure, this is one of those paradoxical moments where it holds true that we have always already read the world and will need to read it to the child despite the ultimate unreadability of world. This time, we need to transform the initial sentence a bit more: “The world is unreadable, I must carry you.” And at the same time, going beyond Celan but following the general phenomenological finding that a disappearance of world (as in anxiety) can mean a revelation of world because concealment and disclosure are in general closely linked: “If I must carry you, the world (re-) appears.” Considering the relations between me, you, and world or, in our case, mother, child, and world, it turns out that pregnancy is not simply about two entities, one being located in the other. Rather, it involves a number of complex relations between these two beings and their respective relations to world. Speaking from the perspective of phenomenology, the above considerations are interesting also because they show different dimensions of the concept of world. While classic phenomenology moved from the concept of the world to that of a world (e.g., the world of a historical people), we have now seen how the world of a singular being can impact our relation to the world in such a way that a simple distinction between world in the singular and a plurality of singular worlds is undermined. Furthermore, Derrida’s considerations come to correct an impression that may have arisen from classic phenomenology, 29 30

Derrida, “Rams,” 158. Derrida, “Rams,” 162.

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namely, an impression that world is a concept that detracts from focusing on the Other in his or her otherness and singularity. Instead, the Other can let world originate. The encounter with the Other, especially in its extreme forms of birth and death, can eclipse world—whereas sharing the newness of world with somebody who experiences it for the first time can be a revelation of world. If these findings are plausible, then Derrida would have shown against Levinas that the notion of world is not an obstacle, but a helpful intrigue in approaching the Other. Being inhabited by a secret of sorts means a strange kind of carrying. It means to carry something which, when I face it, is already different from the creature inside. Carrying means to enter into a process of transformation which transforms both of us as well as the world. It is a kind of carrying which will continue, albeit in a different shape. I must carry you: you, an origin of world, a new world that both eclipses and reveals world. I must carry you, and in turn, you are inviting me to explore the world in all its readability and unreadability yet again. The paradox of pregnancy thus serves as a paradigm for our experience of others and of world, informing us of a more interrelated existence in which we carry the Other and their world.

Index of Names and Subjects action 3, 7, 21, 69, 123, 129–132, 134, 146–150, 153, 162, 175–177, 192 Adorno, Theodor 108n33 Agamben, Giorgio  68n16, 71n29, 72, 76n48 Akiba, Takeshi 130n4 alienation 69, 72 Alloa, Emmanuel 24, 102 Al-Saji, Alia 107 Anscombe, G. E. M. 138 Aquinas 2, 51 Arendt, Hannah 161n38 Aristotle 1–2, 4, 46, 48–51, 53, 56, 58, 62–68, 135 art 48–49, 166–169, 171–172, 176, 181 artwork 70, 180 as-structure 16, 155 Backman, Jussi 48n11 Bacon, Francis 1, 3, 46, 48, 51, 53–56, 60 Barbaras, Renaud 22, 113n56 being-in-the-world 29, 152, 155, 188, 191–193 belief 36, 39, 41, 43, 135, 142–143, 146–148, 157, 173 Benjamin, Walter 63, 68–76, 79 Biel, Gabriel 51 birth 8, 26, 53, 125–126, 185–189, 193–194, 196, 199 body 20–21, 26, 37–38, 87, 152, 156, 173–179, 185–194, 196 Boehm, Gottfried 177 Brandom, Robert 150–151 Bürger, Fritz 167 Byrom, Sheena 186 care 187–188 cause 20, 51n23, 55, 131, 138, 143 Celan, Paul 195, 197–198 Cézanne, Paul 166, 167–173, 175–184 chiasm 108 child 185–186, 188, 196–198 circle, hermeneutic 60–61 Claudel, Paul 179–181 communality 116, 122, 127 conceptuality 151 Conrad-Martius, Hedwig 134n15

consciousness 5, 17–19, 21–23, 25, 42n34, 47, 56–61, 74, 95, 116–118, 123–125, 129, 135, 145, 153n10, 156n19, 159–160, 172–175 constitution 8, 18, 53, 86, 90–94, 104n21, 109, 117–119, 122–123, 125–126, 155, 173 content, conceptual 152n9, 157 contingency 50, 54, 60, 113 conviction 119, 145–146, 162 correlation 8, 17, 24, 59, 124 correlationism 18–19 Courtenay, William J. 51n25 Crespo, Mariano 138n24 crisis 81–86, 89–90, 98, 104, 106, 109–110, 171 Crowell, Steven 29, 36n18, 39–40, 42n34, 155, 160 Crowther, Paul 167–169, 176–182, 184 culture 69–71, 75–76, 82–84, 87–89, 94, 109, 111, 114, 122–123, 169, 175, 178 cure 106, 109 Dancy, Jonathan 147–148 Dastur, Françoise 102n14 Davidson, Donald 14, 146–147 decision 130, 132–136, 147–148 Descartes, René 3, 4, 51–53 dialectic 57–58, 62, 66, 101, 107–110 diaphenomenology 12, 17, 23–25, 27 Downe, Soo 186n5, 188n7 Doyon, Maxime 36n18 Dreyfus, Hubert 151, 154 Drummond, John 34n12, 45 Duns Scotus, John 51 Dupré, Louis 97n68 Dykes, Fiona 188 embodiment 5, 172, 185, 195 emotion 10, 75, 130, 137–142, 187 empiricism 2–5, 11, 13, 37, 55, 167 epoché 170, 189 ethics 2, 10, 42, 128, 158–159, 163, 197 Europe 87n26, 109 Evans, Gareth 135 event 24, 26, 59, 62–63, 65–66, 73–75, 109, 119–121, 124, 167–168, 178

202 evidence 14, 18, 21, 23, 40–43, 84, 115, 126, 162, 167 experiment 2–3, 46, 51, 54, 56, 78–79 fallibilism 56 finitude 26, 46, 56, 59–60, 62, 116, 125–128 Fink, Eugen 20, 22, 31, 35, 176 forgetfulness 99–101, 103–104, 106–113 Foster, Michael B. 51n25 Fry, Roger 170 fulfillment 31, 40–41, 66, 117, 156–157, 162, 172 fusion of horizons 61 Gadamer, Hans-Georg 46–48, 56, 59–74, 76, 79, 116, 195 Garelli, Jacques 110n46 Geiger, Moritz 129–131, 136–143, 145–146, 148–149 generativity 116, 123, 126–127 George, Stefan 77, 79 given, the 9, 22, 150, 157 givenness 5, 9, 15, 21, 24, 29, 39n26, 41, 88–89, 92, 116, 120, 123, 125, 152, 156–157, 165, 170 Guenther, Lisa 187n6 Hager, Fritz-Peter 48n10 Halbfass, Wilhelm 52n26 Hamilton, George Heard 167 Harrison, Peter 52n25 Hart, James G. 96 Hass, Lawrence  100n7, 101n9 Hass, Marjorie 100n7 Heffernan, George 162 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 1, 15, 47–48, 55–60, 64–68, 73–74, 115, 121, 123 Heidegger, Martin  9, 16, 20–21, 24, 26, 28–29, 31–32, 37, 39n26, 42n34–35, 58–60, 63, 73, 76–80, 100, 103, 108, 111, 126n36, 151–152, 154–155, 158, 164, 177, 191–193, 196 Heiden, Gert-Jan van der 68n16, 73n39 Heinämaa, Sara 8n18, 29n2, 187n6 Henry, John 52n26 Heraclitus 48 Herder, Johann 115 hermeneutics 48, 60, 63, 72–73, 76, 80, 115 Hildebrand, Dietrich von 130, 147n53 Hintikka, Jaakko 7n15, 20

Index of Names and Subjects history 10, 46–47, 61, 67–68, 72–75, 81, 93–97, 104–105, 108–109, 112–116, 118, 120–124, 127–128, 130, 178 Horkheimer, Max 108n33 Hornsby, Jennifer 148 Hugo, Zachary 36n18 Hume, David 3, 13, 30, 32, 34, 44, 55 Husserl, Edmund 4–9, 12–29, 31–36, 38–45, 47, 64, 81–130, 141n33, 144, 151–158, 162–164, 167, 170, 172–177, 180, 182 ideality 99–101, 103–104, 107–109, 112–113 induction 3, 50, 53 institution 26, 100, 103, 111–112, 118–120, 126 intention 38, 40–41, 70, 84, 156, 157, 167 intentionality 10, 15–16, 23, 36, 94, 122, 138, 151–152, 155–159, 162, 165, 173 intuition 7, 13–14, 23, 30, 32, 86, 88, 123, 151, 180 Jacobs, Hanne 43n37, 97n68, 153n10 judgment 2, 16, 34, 37, 40, 60, 149–150, 161, 164 Kambartel, Friedrich 48n10 Kant, Immanuel 1, 4–5, 13, 28, 30–31, 37, 44, 46, 56, 97, 121, 152–153, 164, 167 Kern, Iso 19 Klee, Paul 172 knowledge 1–4, 7, 12–15, 20, 23, 32, 46–47, 49–51, 53–58, 60, 62, 64–67, 73–74, 78, 85, 97, 112, 130–131, 133, 168, 174, 176, 192 Landgrebe, Ludwig  14n3, 35n16, 47n6, 91n39–40, 96n63 language 53, 67, 69–70, 72–73, 76–80, 100, 108, 151, 158, 176, 182, 187, 194 Lawlor, Leonard  100n6–8, 102, 112n52 learning 47 Levinas, Emmanuel 21–22, 125, 152, 158–161, 163–164, 194–197, 199 life-world 5, 19–20, 47, 81, 84–89, 91, 101, 104, 113n57, 115, 124, 127–128, 156n19 Lipps, Theodor  135–136n21 Locke, John  3, 13, 52–53n29 Loidolt, Sophie 41, 44, 152n9–153n10, 156n19, 159n28, 161n38–162n39 loss 23, 83, 106–109, 187n6, 191, 196


Index of Names and Subjects Magritte, René 166 Majolino, Claudio 180n43 maternity 194 mathematics 37, 52n27, 82n3, 100n7 McDaniel, Kris 37n21 McDowell, John 14, 135n18, 150–151, 158 McGuirk, James 42n35 Meacham, Darian 112n51 meaning  6–8, 10, 15–19, 21, 23–24, 26–27, 40, 42n34, 58, 60–63, 66–70, 73–75, 77, 79–80, 83–85, 88–89, 97, 100, 101n10, 103–121, 123–124, 126, 154–157, 169, 175–176, 179–180, 182, 197–198 Meinong, Alexius 141n33 Melle, Ullrich 43n38 memory  1, 49, 64, 108n33–109n38, 111 Mensch, James 92n45 Merleau-Ponty, Maurice 8–9, 15, 20–22, 24, 26–29, 31, 37–38, 99–113, 151–152, 154–155, 166–184, 187–192 Mersenne, Marin 52n27 metaphysics 3, 7, 58–59, 84–85, 97, 159, 167–168 method 3, 5–7, 10, 28, 30–31, 38, 46–48, 51, 53–54, 60–62, 82, 115–117, 170–172 mineness 13, 20 Moran, Dermot 22n27, 31n3, 113n57, 160n31 motivation 9, 95–96, 117, 129–147, 149, 156, 193 motive 97, 129–149 Müller, Axel 177 Mulligan, Kevin 130, 137n23, 143n39, 144n46 nature 2, 37, 46, 50, 52–54, 60 necessity 99–101, 103–104, 106–109, 112–113 negation 100n8, 109n38, 112 negativity 15, 54–57, 60, 65–67, 70, 72–74, 79, 104n21, 107–109, 112, 189n10 Nenon, Thomas  40n30, 41n34, 42n35–36, 95n58 normativity 9, 150–165 Novotny, Fritz  181n45–182 Oakley, Francis 51n25 Ockham, William of 51 Oksala, Johanna 187n6 ontotheology 58–59

openness 14, 61, 66–67, 152, 158–159, 160, 165, 170 origin 17, 99–113, 117, 120, 126, 197 origination 117, 127 painting 67, 111, 166–184 Parmenides 48, 103 Patočka, Jan 20–24, 90n38, 96n63 perception  1, 8, 10, 14, 22–23, 25, 32, 34, 36n18–37n20, 40, 49–50, 57, 64–65, 86–87, 118, 122, 142–144, 152–154, 156, 162–163, 166, 168, 180 Pfänder, Alexander 129–149 Plato 48, 58 plurality 87–88, 91, 94–95, 98, 198 poetry 77, 172 potentiality 72, 75–76 poverty 63, 65, 67–80 pragmatism 150 pregnancy 185–196, 198–199 promise 63, 75, 78–80 Proust, Marcel 172 rationalism 4–5, 11, 51n25, 81, 84 rationality 41–42, 44, 83, 89–90, 97–98, 100–101, 104–105, 108–109, 113, 137, 139, 150, 191 reason 2–4, 6–7, 33, 39, 43, 45–46, 52–53, 62, 81–84, 86–87, 89–90, 97–98, 100–101, 103, 105, 108–110, 121, 130–131, 135–136, 138, 146–151, 153, 157–158, 162–164 Reinach, Adolf 130, 144n44 removal 190, 193–194 representationalism 12 Richir, Marc 170n18 Ricoeur, Paul 18–19, 24, 84, 95–96 Rollinger, Robin D. 141n33 Romano, Claude 24n32, 55–56, 61–63, 73–76 Römer, Inga 105n21 Ružička, Rudolf 50n20 Salice, Alessandro 130n5, 132n10, 147n53 Sartre, Jean-Paul 20, 22, 28–29, 160, 164, 178–179 Scheerbart, Paul 70, 75–76 Scheler, Max 130, 137n23, 142n34, 151, 158 Schuhmann, Karl 31n4, 130, 144n44 sedimentation 69, 102, 104n21, 106, 110, 112, 119, 121, 156

204 selfhood 12, 14–17, 25, 27, 56 Sellars, Wilfrid 35, 150 sense-bestowal 17 Shapiro, Meyer 166–168, 181n45, 184 Siewert, Charles 36n18 silence 79, 175–176 Simon, Claude 172, 180 singularity 48, 60, 62, 172, 199 situatedness 53, 59 Smith, Joel 10n30 Socrates 103 Soffer, Gail 90n38, 96 space 36, 70–72, 74–76, 86, 103, 120, 122n23, 124, 149–151, 155, 157–158, 178, 183, 191–192 spirit 56–58, 82–84, 86, 90, 123, 129, 142 Staehler, Tanja 186n4, 188n9 Stein, Edith 129–131, 136, 141, 144–149 Steinbock, Anthony J.,  10n27, 25n33, 41n32, 91n39, 93n49, 117n4–7, 125n34–126n37 Stone, Alison 185–186 striving 42–44, 89, 132–133, 136n21 style 100, 103, 113, 166–169, 180, 182 subjectivity 12, 20–22, 24–26, 28–29, 43, 56–59, 83, 86, 92–93, 95, 101, 128, 159, 161, 173, 180, 186 teleology 56, 58, 62, 81, 89–91, 93, 95–98, 116–118, 121, 127 Tengelyi, László 5, 93 Thomson, Gill 188n7 tradition  25, 61, 67–76, 79, 104n21, 105n21, 107, 110–115, 120, 123, 126–127

Index of Names and Subjects transformation 61–62, 69, 73, 101, 106, 118–120, 168, 174, 176–179, 185, 187–189, 191, 194, 196, 199 transindividuality 13 transphenomenality 12, 23, 27 Trizio, Emiliano 82n2 truth 14, 32–34, 40–44, 46–48, 52, 54, 56, 60, 85, 89, 95, 97, 105, 107, 152, 166, 170–171, 184 Twardowski, Kazimierz 141n33 Ubiali, Marta 130n5 Valéry, Paul 176 Vico, Giambattista 114 Vigo, Alejandro 42n34 Waldenfels, Bernhard 22, 86 Walsh, Phillip J. 144n46 Watkins, Calvert 55n44 Welton, Don 91n39, 117n5 Wiland, Eric 147n52 Williams, Forest 167n5 willing 42, 131–132, 134, 136n21, 144 wonder 50 Yaegashi, Toru 130n5, 136n21 Yamaguchi, Ichiro 117n5 Young, Iris Marion 187n6 Zahavi, Dan 9n21, 38n23, 132n10, 158n23, 159n28