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Contributions To Phenomenology 89

Véronique M. Fóti
Pavlos Kontos Editors

and the Primacy
of the Political
Essays in Honor of Jacques Taminiaux
Contributions To Phenomenology

In Cooperation with The Center

for Advanced Research in Phenomenology

Volume 89

Series Editors
Nicolas de Warren, KU Leuven, Belgium
Dermot Moran, University College Dublin, Ireland

Editorial Board
Lilian Alweiss, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
Elizabeth Behnke, Ferndale, WA, USA
Rudolf Bernet, Husserl Archive, KU Leuven, Belgium
David Carr, Emory University, GA, USA
Chan-Fai Cheung, Chinese University Hong Kong, China
James Dodd, New School University, NY, USA
Lester Embree, Florida Atlantic University, FL, USA
Alfredo Ferrarin, Università di Pisa, Italy
Burt Hopkins, Seattle University, WA, USA
José Huertas-Jourda, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada
Kwok-Ying Lau, Chinese University Hong Kong, China
Nam-In Lee, Seoul National University, Korea
Rosemary R.P. Lerner, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Peru
Dieter Lohmar, University of Cologne, Germany
William R. McKenna, Miami University, OH, USA
Algis Mickunas, Ohio University, OH, USA
J.N. Mohanty, Temple University, PA, USA
Junichi Murata, University of Tokyo, Japan
Thomas Nenon, The University of Memphis, TN, USA
Thomas M. Seebohm, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Germany
Gail Soffer, Rome, Italy
Anthony Steinbock, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL, USA
Shigeru Taguchi, Hokkaido University, Japan
Dan Zahavi, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Richard M. Zaner, Vanderbilt University, TN, USA
The purpose of the series is to serve as a vehicle for the pursuit of phenomenological
research across a broad spectrum, including cross-over developments with other
fields of inquiry such as the social sciences and cognitive science. Since its
establishment in 1987, Contributions to Phenomenology has published more than
80 titles on diverse themes of phenomenological philosophy. In addition to
welcoming monographs and collections of papers in established areas of scholarship,
the series encourages original work in phenomenology. The breadth and depth of
the Series reflects the rich and varied significance of phenomenological thinking for
seminal questions of human inquiry as well as the increasingly international reach
of phenomenological research.
The series is published in cooperation with The Center for Advanced Research in

More information about this series at

Véronique M. Fóti  •  Pavlos Kontos

Phenomenology and the

Primacy of the Political
Essays in Honor of Jacques Taminiaux
Véronique M. Fóti Pavlos Kontos
Pennsylvania State University University of Patras
Pennsylvania, USA Patras, Greece

ISSN 0923-9545     ISSN 2215-1915 (electronic)

Contributions To Phenomenology
ISBN 978-3-319-56159-2    ISBN 978-3-319-56160-8 (eBook)
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8

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Part I  Reading the History of Political Philosophy

 he Struggle for Recognition and the Return
of Primary Intersubjectivity........................................................................... 3
Shaun Gallagher
I ntuition and Unanimity. From the Platonic Bias
to the Phenomenology of the Political............................................................ 15
Fabio Ciaramelli
 hronêsis and the Ideal of Beauty.................................................................. 29
Danielle Lories

Part II  Political Facets of Phenomenology

 he Ethical Dimension of Transcendental Reduction.................................. 43
Rosemary R.P. Lerner
I ndividuation and Heidegger’s Ontological “Intuitionism”......................... 69
Mark A. Wrathall
 istoricizing the Mind: Gadamer’s “Hermeneutic Experience”
Compared to Davidson’s “Radical Interpretation”...................................... 87
Pol Vandevelde
 n the Metamorphoses of Transcendental Reduction:
Merleau-Ponty and “the Adventures of Constitutive Analysis.”................. 107
Stephen Watson
 n Merleau-Ponty’s Crystal Lamellae:
Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics............................................................ 125
Babette Babich

vi Contents

Part III  Phenomenology in Political Concreteness

 oercion by Necessity or Comprehensive Responsibility?
Hannah Arendt on Vulnerability, Freedom and Education......................... 155
Sharon Rider
 dmund Husserl, Hannah Arendt and a Phenomenology of Nature.......... 175
Janet Donohoe
Symbols and Politics........................................................................................ 189
Paul Bruno

Part IV  The Political Vision of Taminiaux’s Phenomenology

Poetics and Politics........................................................................................... 209
Françoise Dastur
 ature, Art, and the Primacy of the Political: Reading Taminiaux
with Merleau-Ponty......................................................................................... 219
Véronique M. Fóti
 he Myth of Performativity: From Aristotle
to Arendt and Taminiaux................................................................................ 233
Pavlos Kontos

Notes on the Editors and the Contributors.................................................... 253

Index of Names................................................................................................. 257


This volume has the twofold objective of providing a forum for a contemporary
discussion of the primacy of the political within phenomenology and of offering a
Festschrift in honor of Jacques Taminiaux. Although distinct, these objectives sup-
port each other, in that Taminiaux’s own intellectual itinerary brought him increas-
ingly to an affirmation of the irrecusable importance of the political.
The phrase “the primacy of the political” echoes the “primacy of perception” as it
was famously defined by Merleau-Ponty (1989). But what we want to stress is not
the “foundational” character of the political, but rather its inescapability, that is, the
fact that almost any sort of philosophical research, whatever its specific object, will
find itself confronted by the mirror of the political. The metaphor of the mirror is here
particularly suggestive,1 for we mean to explore the ways in which various itineraries
of thought, explored in different fields of phenomenological research, give rise to
politically relevant reflections. For this reason, the “primacy of the political” will not
be, first and foremost, confirmed by studies with a direct focus on the political dimen-
sion. Likewise, it would be inappropriate to limit the scope of our inquiry to an
explicitly political discussion, such as phenomenological appropriations of Arendt’s
or Schutz’s thought, or perhaps critical assessments of Heidegger’s political blind-
ness and lapses, as attested to once again by the publication of his Black Notebooks, of
which three volumes have appeared to date within the Gesamtausgabe.
We seek instead to highlight the political import of phenomenological practice.
For instance, phenomenological reduction as the main vehicle of phenomenological
research needs to be re-examined against the background of the realization that
phenomenology cannot espouse the attitude of the uninvolved spectator but must
enact a fundamental attitude of judgment and respect. Likewise, phenomenological
aesthetics—no matter whether its focus is trained on literature, the visual or per-
forming arts, or elsewhere—cannot exempt itself from being reflected in the mirror
of the political, for poetics and politics are mutually entangled. Strong political con-
notations also haunt the phenomenological sense of concepts such as world, self,
nature, intersubjectivity, or language, even though at first sight these may seem to be

 For its use in Merleau-Ponty, see for instance: Merleau-Ponty (1964), 181, 303.

viii Introduction

politically neutral. This volume seeks therefore to point out and elucidate such polit-
ical connotations, tracing them to a broad range of approaches, concepts, and meth-
ods, and therefore also to an inclusive range of thinkers, including, but not limited
to, Bergson, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Arendt.
We hope to clarify why phenomenology, as a contemporary framework of thought,
remains uniquely capable of indicating the range of “hermeneutical links (maillons
herméneutiques),” to use Taminiaux’s expression,2 that reveal the philosophical irre-
cusability of the political dimension of life and thought.3
This volume is organized in four sections which engage with different aspects of
the political dimension of phenomenology, aspects that may also overlap in com-
plex ways. The First Section, “Reading the History of Political Philosophy,” focuses
on classic political texts from Aristotle to contemporary thinkers, though it goes
without saying that Aristotle’s and Kant’s intellectual perspectives remain promi-
nently in focus throughout the volume. It attempts to show how the phenomenologi-
cal tradition engages with its prefigurations in the history of thought and brings
classical philosophical texts into conversation with phenomenological themes.
In “The Struggle for Recognition and the Return of Primary Intersubjectivity,”
Shaun Gallagher re-examines the issue of intersubjectivity in its political dimen-
sion, by analyzing Axel Honneth’s understanding of the distinction between pri-
mary and secondary intersubjectivity. To bring to light the implications of this
distinction, he offers a brief hermeneutical tracing of the concept of recognition,
beginning with Fichte, and following a few twists and turns through Hegel, Honneth,
and Ricoeur. His main thesis is that we should abandon the model of perfectly recip-
rocal recognition achievable by a dialectical struggle that would lead beyond an
imagined non-differentiation to well-defined individuality and then onward to a uto-
pian politico-economic justice. Rather, we should opt for a model of primary inter-
subjectivity which is concomitant with imperfect relations that sometimes require
giving recognition and sometimes require receiving forgiveness or living with the
fact that there can be no repayment.
Fabio Ciaramelli, in “Intuition and Unanimity. From the Platonic Bias to the
Phenomenology of the Political,” offers a fresh phenomenological reading of a clas-
sic text of modern political theory, namely, the mid-sixteenth-century Discourse on
Voluntary Servitude by Etienne de La Boétie, universally known because it
denounces political subordination to the power of the One. Ciaramelli detects in this
text the traces of the metaphysical privilege of intellectual intuition and of its politi-
cal implications, such as they have also been pointed out by Arendt and emphasized
by Taminiaux. The seduction of unanimity and the appeal of immediacy are both
present in La Boétie’s text; a sort of Platonic bias drifts to unanimous solutions in
the social and political field and to the repression of plurality in the name of a cer-
tain totality. La Boétie’s theory is presented as a prominent example of the puzzles

 See Taminiaux (2009), 7.
 The present volume intersects with a number of studies which either lack its inclusiveness or
propose an analysis of the political realm as such, not an analysis of how political considerations
permeate phenomenological research (e.g., Villa (1999); Thompson and Embree (2000); Gurley
and Pfeifer (2016); Jung and Embree (2016)).
Introduction ix

and the hazards contemporary political philosophy still faces, and Ciaramelli’s
reading is meant to show why the heirs of Arendt’s legacy are less prone to suc-
cumbing to these hazards.
In “Phronêsis and the ideal of Beauty,” Danielle Lories revisits two classic texts
of political thought: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Kant’s Third Critique.
These are examined together on the basis of Arendt’s interlinkings of Aristotelian
phronêsis with the Kantian judgment of taste. Lories attempts to explore this affinity
by putting to test the hypothesis that a brief passage of the Critique of Judgment,
namely §17, may contribute to understanding one particular problem that Aristotle’s
discussion of phronêsis in Book VI of the Nichomachean Ethics poses for politics.
In the relevant text, Kant describes—from a psychological, that is to say, non-­
transcendental, point of view—the mental process by which the judging subject
obtains an ideal of beauty relevant to the human face. Lories’ study is to be read as
an attempt to explore and corroborate Arendt’s suggestions in her Lectures on
Kant’s Political Philosophy.
The Second Section, “Political Facets of Phenomenology,” turns to well-known
phenomenological texts—other than Arendt’s political writings which are discussed
in the next two sections—to bring to light their hidden political implications. It sug-
gests that Heidegger, Husserl, Gadamer, and Merleau-Ponty provide us with valu-
able indications concerning the political realm, even though they did not themselves
articulate a unitary and fully elaborated political philosophy. Merleau-Ponty’s con-
tribution might be the most suggestive at this juncture, since it is not in his political
writings that one will find his most interesting and phenomenologically inspired
perspective on the political, but also where one may not look for it; for instance, in
his treatment of phenomenological reduction or in his analyses of perception and
In “The Ethical Dimension of Transcendental Reduction,” Rosemary R.P. Lerner
starts out from Taminiaux’s investigations on the relation between poiêsis and praxis
to bring into view the ethical dimension of Husserl’s transcendental reduction.
Lerner presents phenomenological reduction as an eminently practical, and thus
ethical, accomplishment, driven by the virtue of responsibility. To this aim, Lerner,
on the one hand, pays attention to published and unpublished material attesting to
Husserl’s commitment to the primacy of the ethical. On the other hand, she seeks to
explain the ethical stakes of phenomenological reduction with a view to both its
motivation and its objectives. She argues that the reduction has significant ethical
import, in that it yields lucidity concerning one’s fundamental “sense-constituting
activity.” In conclusion, she points out a critical change in our ethical attitude which
is consequent upon performing the phenomenological reduction.
In “Individuation and Heidegger’s Ontological Intuitionism,” Mark A. Wrathall
builds on Taminiaux’s thesis that Heidegger is an intuitionist and on his account of
the way Heidegger takes up Husserl’s notion of categorial intuition so as to arrive at
a considerably broadened notion of what can be intuited—broader than what can be
found in the post-Humean Anglo-American tradition. But Heidegger does more
than simply expand the range of “objects” of intuition. He also, Wrathall suggests,
develops a rich account of different ways of seeing, undercutting the priority
accorded to focal seeing. To grasp Heideggerian authenticity (Eigentlichkeit),
x Introduction

Wrathall argues, we need to develop more systematically both the kind of “object”
and the way of seeing that makes for transparency (Durchsichtigkeit) and to explain
its substantive role in our becoming individuals. Doing so leads to a fresh under-
standing of the nature of individuation and to a better understanding of
In “Gadamer’s Historicizing of the Mind,” Pol Vandevelde points out that both
Hans-Georg Gadamer and Donald Davidson seek to do justice to the political char-
acter of interpretation and recognize the primacy of ethos over logos. Whereas for
Gadamer understanding is reached dialogically and is profoundly indebted to lan-
guage and history, for Davidson, it is reached through an a-historical, causally
based, and empirical process of interpretation, with language functioning as a mere
tool. Moreover, whereas the “happening” of understanding is, for Gadamer, onto-
logically basic to human existence, Davidson’s process of interpretive “triangula-
tion” negotiates quasi-mechanically between the subjective, objective, and
intersubjective positions, none of which can claim priority. Although Davidson’s
theory can be perceived, from a certain perspective, to have the advantages of
bypassing language as well as neutralizing potential relativism, it threatens, so
Vandevelde argues, with an absolutization of the dominant view, while it also deper-
sonalizes the concrete historical individuals who accomplish interpretation. Its
quasi-mechanistic neutrality thus reveals itself politically and distressingly as eth-
nocentric or even imperialistic.
In “On the Metamorphoses of Transcendental Reduction: Merleau-Ponty and
‘The Adventures of Constitutive Analysis’,” Stephen Watson offers a meditation on
Merleau-Ponty’s acknowledgment of the necessary incompleteness of the reduc-
tion. As Watson shows, this incompleteness is not an unsurpassable failure fully to
grasp an originary self-evidence, but attests rather to the inexhaustible transforma-
tions involved in the work of making origins manifest. Watson discusses the link
between this realization and Merleau-Ponty’s ultimate rejection of a tacit cogito as
still indebted (in its disregard for language) to an ideal of cognitive coincidence, and
thus to a philosophy of consciousness. As the late Merleau-Ponty himself puts it,
“the originary breaks open.” In consequence of this insight (richly spelled out in its
motivations and implications by Watson), phenomenology itself becomes an open
practice of plurivocal institution.
Babette Babich, in “Merleau-Ponty’s Lamellae: Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and
Politics,” draws on the full scope of Merleau-Ponty’s thought—and its dialogues
with a spectrum of interlocutors—to reveal, firstly, its sustained engagement with
the sciences (particularly, psychology and biology) and, more fundamentally, its
“crystallography in words.” Articulating one’s bodily engagement with the life-
world, his phenomenology traces dimensionalities, depth strata, spacings, and
lamellae within a multi-faceted topography that is ultimately the true site of thought.
It is also the site of intercorporeal life, for instance, of the “electric tension” and
flare-ups of anger. Babich concludes with a trenchant meditation on the relevance of
Merleau-Ponty’s Humanism and Terror to an understanding of current political cri-
ses, stressing his warning against pursuing inhuman violence, imperialism, and
capitalist exploitation of animal and natural resources as well as of labor under the
rhetorical disguise of noble ideals.
Introduction xi

The Third Section, “Phenomenology in Political Concreteness,” seeks to fore-

stall some possible objections against the supposedly purely theoretical character of
phenomenological analysis. Phenomenological praxis—be it reduction itself or its
wider implications—seems not to be practical in the strict sense of the term. The
most cogent and direct reply to such objections is to show how one can draw on
phenomenological concepts and insights to make valuable contributions to the dis-
course concerning much-debated and compelling socio-political issues. The contri-
butions of this section should, then, be considered as case studies.
Sharon Rider, in “Coercion by Necessity or Comprehensive Responsibility?
Hannah Arendt on Vulnerability, Freedom and Education,” explores Arendt’s argu-
ments in Between Past and Future in the perspective of the philosophy of education.
In particular, she envisages a number of changes in current ideas about thinking,
learning, and judging, and tries to understand the idea of an “institution of truth” as
something conceivable and perhaps even viable within the present political context.
The alleged antinomy between authority and freedom and its connection to specific
historical conditions of the institutions of education is what Rider investigates. She
thereby takes a stance against current trends in “progressive education” that either
glorify a false image of children’s autonomy or set up a supposed science of teach-
ing purely as teaching, detached from the mastery of any specific subject matter.
In “Edmund Husserl, Hannah Arendt, and a Phenomenology of Nature,” Janet
Donohoe draws on phenomenological insights to address issues of earth ethics and
animal ethics in dialogue with contemporary thinkers, such as Kelly Oliver. Starting
from Husserl’s distinctions between lifeworld, homeworld, and alienworld, she
teases out the ways in which phenomenology and Arendt’s insights can help us to
understand nature not as something over against which we define ourselves, nor as
being entirely self-contained, but rather as that with which we are intimately inter-
twined and without which we are nothing. The objective of this analysis is to provide
us with new conceptual tools to revisit animal ethics in its political implications.
Paul Bruno, in “Symbols and Politics,” takes inspiration from two incidents on
the campus of Framingham State University in Massachusetts that had provoked
fierce debates about the Confederate Flag. What is intriguing to Bruno is that the
incidents pivot on the issue of what constitutes a symbol. Since symbol is the pur-
view of aesthetics, he proposes as a point of entry to this political discussion a pre-
liminary excursus of symbols in aesthetic experience. Aesthetics addresses art, but,
more broadly, it is concerned with the meanings of objects as they present them-
selves to humans, which is to say, as they present themselves to historical beings
who live in language. Bruno explores these themes on the basis of a phenomeno-
logical reading of Kant’s concepts of symbol and imagination as developed in the
Third Critique but also in their impact on critical thinking in general.
The Fourth Section, “The Political Vision of Taminiaux’s Phenomenology,”
offers a critical appraisal of Taminiaux’s own engagement with the political.
Although the importance of Taminiaux’s work is recognized internationally, his
contribution to the phenomenology of the political has not been explicitly addressed
in the scholarly literature prior to this volume. It thus constitutes a suitable focus for
the final (and forward-looking) section of this Festschrift, all of whose contributors
have, at some stage of their professional development, worked under Taminiaux’s
xii Introduction

guidance. At the same time, it offers an exploration of intertwining, if different,

approaches to the political, given that Taminiaux’s thought relies on both exacting
and insightful readings of the history of philosophy and on original and challenging
confrontations with phenomenological thinkers such as Husserl, Heidegger,
Levinas, Merleau-Ponty, and Arendt.
In “Poetics and Politics,” Françoise Dastur traces the complex itineraries of
Taminiaux’s political thought by examining his interpretation of tragedy from his
first landmark book La Nostalgie de la Grèce à l’aube de l’idéalisme allemand
(1967) to his well-known turn to Arendt, exemplified by Le théâtre des philosophes
(1995). Dastur praises Taminiaux for his insistence on highlighting the connection
between poetics and politics from Aristotle to German Idealism and to Heidegger’s
successive efforts to analyze the work of art. However, she is also critical of
Taminiaux’s distinction between praxeological and speculative readings of Greek
tragedy and of the notion of the political that they imply. In particular, she wonders
whether a merely praxeological approach to tragedy does justice to its multiple
speculative aspects and makes room also for its Dionysian element. Dastur interro-
gates the very core of Taminiaux’s thesis according to which poetics and politics
are, as it were, just two sides of the same coin.
Given the importance of Merleau-Ponty’s thought for Taminiaux, Véronique
M. Fóti, in “Nature, Art, and the Primacy of the Political: Reading Taminiaux with
Merleau-Ponty,” argues that the philosophy of nature is indissociable from an
understanding of the primacy of the political. In his three late lecture courses on
Nature, Merleau-Ponty emphasizes the failure of efforts at an intellectual subjuga-
tion of nature as well as the kinship of an understanding of nature with the thought
of radical contingency. In the first Nature course (1956–1957), he takes up the
thought of Whitehead to envisage an “ether of events” refractory to any unique
spatio-temporal emplacement—as well as to any privilege of mind over the process
character of manifestation. In Merleau-Ponty’s tracings of the “inter-being” of self
and other, or the intercorporeality of animal being and humanity (referred to as
“inter-animality” in the Nature courses), the emphasis on lateral rather than hierar-
chical relationships repudiates structures of domination. The study’s final focus is
trained on the interrelation between political philosophy and the philosophy of art,
and, in particular, on Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of institution in its difference
from Heidegger’s Stiftung.
In “The Myth of Performativity: from Aristotle to Arendt and Taminiaux,” Pavlos
Kontos argues for the bold claim that Taminiaux’s concern throughout his work
remains one and the same, namely, to alert us to the politically dangerous attractions
of the “Myth of Performativity.” By the “Myth of Performativity,” Kontos
­understands the conception according to which actions constitute pure performances
that do not leave behind them concrete traces in the world. The Myth becomes a
pitfall for philosophers—such as Heidegger and even some contemporary phenom-
enologists—once one distorts the performativity proper to actions and, instead, cel-
ebrates pure performativity. Notwithstanding his critique of what he considers to be
both Arendt’s and Taminiaux’s misreading of Aristotle’s ethics and politics, Kontos
is appreciative of Taminiaux’s understanding of political action, for Tamianiaux
Introduction xiii

casts doubt on the legitimacy of the Myth and the way it misuses the politically criti-
cal notions of solidity, power, and memory.
To use the very last words of his La fille de Thrace et le penseur professionnel,
words that Taminiaux addresses to us with regard to Arendt’s legacy, “we cannot go
about as though [Taminiaux] had not spoken.”4

Pennsylvania State University Véronique M. Fóti

Pennsylvania, USA
University of Patras Pavlos Kontos
Patras, Greece


Arendt, Hannah. 1992. Lectures on Kant’s political philosophy, ed. R.  Beiner. Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press.
Gurley, West and Pfeifer, Geoffrey, eds. 2016. Phenomenology and the political. Lanham: Rowman
& Littlefield International.
Heidegger, Martin. 2014. Überlegungen II–VI (Schwarze Hefte 1931–1938). Her. von Peter
Trawny. Frankfurt a.m.: V. Klostermann.
Jung, Hwa Yol and Embree, Lester, eds. 2016. Political phenomenology: Essays in memory of
Peter Jung. Dordrecht: Springer.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1964. Le visible et l’invisible. Paris: Gallimard.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1989. Le primat de la perception et ses conséquences philosophiques.
Grenoble: Cyrana. English edition: M. Merleau-Ponty. 1964. The primacy of perception (trans.
J.M. Edie). Evanston: Northwestern UP.
Taminiaux, Jacques. 1967. La Nostalgie de la Grèce à l’aube de l’idéalisme allemand. Kant et les
Grecs dans l’itinéraire de Schiller, de Hölderlin et de Hegel. La Haye: Martinus Nijhoff.
Taminiaux, Jacques. 1992. La fille de Thrace et le penseur professionnel. Paris: Payot. English
Edition: J. Taminiaux. 1997. The Thracian maid and the professional thinker (trans. and ed.
M. Gendre). Albany: SUNY Press.
Taminiaux, Jacques. 1995. Le théâtre des philosophes. Grenoble: Million.
Taminiaux, Jacques. 2009. Maillons herméneutiques. Paris: PUF.
Thompson, Kevin and Embree, Lester, eds. 2000. Phenomenology of the political. Dordrecht:
Villa, Dana. 1999. Politics, philosophy, terror: Essays on the thought of Hannah Arendt. Princeton:
Princeton UP.

 Taminiaux (1992), 246 [as it appears in Taminiaux (1997), 197.]

Part I
Reading the History of Political Philosophy
The Struggle for Recognition and the Return
of Primary Intersubjectivity

Shaun Gallagher

Colwyn Trevarthen has indicated numerous times that his distinction between pri-
mary and secondary intersubjectivity had been motivated by his reading of Habermas
(e.g., Trevarthen 2008). One could argue that Axel Honneth (2012), who makes
reference to the distinction between primary and secondary intersubjectivity, re-­
appropriated Trevarthen’s enriched account of intersubjectivity back into critical
social theory. How the concept of primary intersubjectivity gets re-incorporated, or
indeed, re-cognized in Honneth’s conception of recognition, however, is a complex
issue that I want to explore in this essay. It is linked to questions not only about child
development, but also about whether one should understand recognition in terms of
a summons (Aufforderung), following Fichte, or in terms of a struggle, as Honneth,
following Hegel, suggests, or in terms of a gift, as Ricoeur, following Hénaff
I’ll start with a brief hermeneutical tracing of the concept of recognition, begin-
ning with Fichte, and following a few twists and turns through Hegel, Honneth, and
Ricoeur. This reading will circle around questions of development with respect to
how recognition takes hold in life, and it is not meant to be anything close to an
exhaustive account, which would be impossible in a short essay.1

 Research on this paper was supported by the Humboldt Foundation’s Anneliese Maier Research

S. Gallagher (*)
Department of Philosophy, University of Memphis (USA),
Faculty of Law, Arts and the Humanities, University of Wollongong (AU), Memphis and
Wollongong, USA and Australia

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 3

V.M. Fóti, P. Kontos (eds.), Phenomenology and the Primacy of the Political,
Contributions To Phenomenology 89, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8_1
4 S. Gallagher

1  The Summons: Fichte

In his Foundations of Natural Right Fichte argues that mutual recognition

(Anerkennung), as a relation between free rational beings, is a necessary condition
for the possibility of each subject’s self-consciousness and autonomy. In order for
me to be free – to be aware of my freedom and to act freely, I require being recog-
nized as free by others and I must recognize others as free. The autonomy of an
individual subject depends on an intersubjective mutual recognition, such that if we
deny the freedom of others, we short-circuit our own freedom. For Fichte an autono-
mous agent is a self-positing reflective self-conscious agent, and this gets expressed
in rational deliberation about reasons for action. Not only is our agency limited by
our capacity for self-reflection, but also our self-reflection is limited by the types of
actions and interactions in which we can engage, and specifically by relations of
intersubjective recognition.
Recognizing agents other than myself involves recognizing them as summoning
me to self-conscious agency. The subject is determined as “self-determining”
through “a summons [eine Aufforderung] to the subject, calling upon it to resolve to
exercise its efficacy.”2 The other person summons me to act, or to refrain from act-
ing, in what Stephen Darwall (2005) suggests is a second-personal address. Michael
Nance describes it as follows:
When someone makes such a demand on us, it occurs to us that we may choose how to act
on the basis of reasons. It is up to us to conform to the summons or not, and just this realiza-
tion is the first moment of awareness of oneself as an agent. An experience of such a sum-
mons is a necessary condition for the I to posit itself as an agent; it is no coincidence that
Fichte uses the term Erziehung (‘upbringing’ or ‘education’) to describe the process of
summoning at the level of ordinary experience.3

According to Fichte, the agent cannot assume the existence of other agents
“without positing itself as standing with those beings in a particular relation, called
a relation of right [Rechtsverhältnis],”4 which just is the relation of mutual, i.e.,
reciprocal, recognition.
Thus the relation of free beings to one another is a relation of reciprocal interaction through
intelligence and freedom. One cannot recognize the other if both do not mutually recognize
each other; and one cannot treat the other as a free being, if both do not mutually treat each
other as free.5

If we ask how mutual recognition gets off the ground, for Fichte the notion of the
summons appears to be central. Do I come to recognize the other’s autonomy and
my own autonomy through the other’s summons directed at me, or do I first have to
recognize their autonomy for the summons to count as significant? To avoid a prob-
lematic circularity here, Nance (2012), following Siep (1981), suggests that the

 Fichte (2000), 31.
 Nance (2012), 612.
 Fichte (2000), 39.
 Fichte (2000), 42.
The Struggle for Recognition and the Return of Primary Intersubjectivity 5

summons is a “one-sided recognition” that transitions us into mutual recognition.

Mutual recognition is not presupposed by the summons; rather the summons, which
is by definition a recognition of me as an agent, is the initiation of my own reflective
self-consciousness of that agency, and my reflective consciousness of the other as an
agent. Franks (2005) argues that this emergence of mutual recognition is a natural
event that happens automatically and regardless of any practical response that I
make (to answer or to ignore the summons). Recognition gains a normative pur-
chase only later in socio-political or legal contexts. As Nance (2012) points out,
however, this interpretation draws a distinction, that Fichte doesn’t make, between
the analysis of a natural recognition as a summons, which “turns out to have more
to do with child development and up-bringing (Erziehung) than with rightful politi-
cal relations,” and a normative recognition that is part of a theory of right.
In light of Fichte’s analysis of recognition, I want to emphasize four strongly con-
nected points that I think are important for any theory of recognition, regardless of
the debates about how to interpret Fichte, although these points are clearly consis-
tent with Nance’s interpretation. (1) The notion of the summons is central to the
emergence of mutual recognition; (2) it concerns child development and upbringing;
(3) to the extent that autonomy emerges in such intersubjective relations, autonomy
is relational and (4) achieved in a gradual way. On this last point, Nance explains:
“the extent [or degree] to which one engages in relations of reciprocal recognition
with other free agents determines the extent to which one can be free oneself.”6

2  The Struggle: From Hegel to Honneth

Although Hegel was critical of Fichte for providing only a formal approach to natu-
ral law, Hegel, as Honneth points out, found Fichte’s concept of recognition to be a
model for thinking about “the internal structure of those forms of ethical relations
that he wished to presuppose as a fundamental first of human socialization.”7 As
Honneth suggests, however, there is a contrast between Fichte’s analysis of recogni-
tion in The Foundations of Natural Law, with it’s transcendental and formal start,
and its application to legal relations, and Hegel’s analysis which introduces psycho-
logical considerations and opens up multiple dimensions. Hegel is concerned to
understand a “practical intersubjectivity in which the movement of recognition
guarantees the complementary agreement and thus the necessary mutuality of
opposed subjects.”8 Thus, Honneth argues, in Hegel, “Within the framework of an
ethically established relationship of mutual recognition, subjects are always learn-
ing something more about their particular identity, and since, in each case, it is a
new dimension of their selves that they see confirmed thereby, they must once again
leave, by means of conflict, the stage of ethical life they have reached, in order to

 Nance (2012), 622.
 Honneth (1995), 16.
 Honneth (1995), 16.
6 S. Gallagher

achieve the recognition of a more demanding form of their individuality.”9 In con-

trast to Fichte’s account in which mutual recognition may gradually, and perhaps
even automatically, emerge from the other’s summoning, for Hegel there is a con-
flict or tension that involves a struggle for recognition constrained by the particular-
ity of the subject’s distinctive identity. The struggle, as Honneth indicates, also
implies a constant transcendence or movement and reconciliation with the other.
According to Honneth, Hegel thus uses “a theory of conflict to make Fichte’s
model of recognition more dynamic. Hegel gains not only the possibility of provid-
ing a first determination of the inner potential of human ethical life but also the
opportunity to make its ‘negative’ course of development more concrete.”10 The
struggle is not the Hobbesian struggle for self-preservation within a state of nature,
but already a struggle that involves ethical and psychological identity (see Taminiaux
1985). Hegel’s most famous analysis is found in his master-slave dialectic in the
Phenomenology. Hegel shows that when intersubjective interaction involving two-­
way reciprocal relations is eliminated, as in slavery, even a one-way recognition is
undermined; this is destructive not only for the victim, but self-destructive for the
victimizer. In denying the autonomy of the slave, the autonomy of the master is
compromised because the master refuses to recognize the other, the slave, as an
autonomous subject. The slave, who is treated as a reified object and denied status
as a subject, is then in no position to recognize the master’s status as master; that
status depends, as such, on just that possibility of recognition.
For Honneth, denials of recognition can be just as real in our everyday lives, in
our relations with others, as well as in reifying bureaucratic, administrative and
institutional arrangements that are externally imposed, deliberately or not. Such
arrangements are reflected in just those cases where, as Honneth puts it, social rela-
tionships give way to a “climate of cold, calculating purposefulness”11 where arti-
sans’ care for their creations gives way “to an attitude of mere instrumental
command; and even the subject’s innermost experiences seemed to be infused with
the icy breath of calculating compliance.” For Honneth, cases of reification are
social pathologies because they freeze, or at least distort, interaction and rob indi-
viduals of autonomy.
The origins of recognition and its pathologies, for Honneth, and for Hegel too,
can be traced back to the early development of first relations.
Hegel initially describes the process by which the first social relations are established in
terms of the release of subjects from their natural determinations. This growth of ‘individu-
ality’ occurs in two stages of mutual recognition, which differ from each other in the dimen-
sions of personal identity that receive practical confirmation. In the relationship between
‘parents and children’ … subjects recognize each other reciprocally as living, emotionally
needy beings. Here the component of individual personality recognized by others is ‘practi-
cal feeling’, that is the dependence of individuals on vitally essential care and goods. The
‘labour’ of raising children … is directed towards the formation of the child’s ‘inner nega-
tivity’ and independence, so that, as a result, ‘the unification of feeling’ must be ‘super-
seded’. Hegel then follows this (now superseded) form of recognition with a second stage,

 Honneth (1995), 17.
 Honneth (2008a), 17.
The Struggle for Recognition and the Return of Primary Intersubjectivity 7

still under the heading ‘natural ethical life’, of contractually regulated relations of exchange
among property owners.12

What is important, for both Hegel and Honneth, is the transition from “the practi-
cal relations to the world that subjects had in the first stage” to a “second stage” as a
realm of universal (less particularistic) legal relations. Honneth dwells on the first
stage more than Hegel does. He also runs this analysis through George Herbert Mead,
and makes reference to developmental psychology, including the work of Trevarthen,
to gain some empirical ground. Furthermore, he links the analysis of the transition
from the first stage to the second, through Donald Winnicott to psychoanalysis.
I’ve argued elsewhere that Honneth’s account of recognition starts too late in the
developmental story (Gallagher 2017). As he indicates, “The starting point of these
investigations consists in the same transition from primary to secondary intersubjec-
tivity that the cognitivist approaches also have in mind.”13 In other words, it starts
with joint attention and secondary intersubjectivity, which suggests that he over-
looks, or at least discounts, the embodied dynamics of social interaction that begins
in primary intersubjectivity.
Primary intersubjectivity, as Trevarthen and a number of others develop the con-
cept, includes basic, unmediated sensory-motor and emotional aspects of behavior
that are apparent from the very beginning of postnatal life (Trevarthen 1979; Hobson
2004; Reddy 2008). Infants enter into embodied and affective interactions with their
caregivers, responding to movements, gestures, facial expressions, etc., that they not
only directly perceive but to which they also enactively respond in dynamic and, as
Trevarthen shows, rhythmic ways. Honneth conceives of primary intersubjectivity
as a stage through which an infant passes, but for Trevarthen and colleagues it’s not
a stage since primary intersubjectivity continues to characterize human interaction
throughout the life span. One does not find a transition out of primary intersubjectiv-
ity into secondary intersubjectivity; rather, secondary intersubjectivity builds upon
primary intersubjectivity. Secondary intersubjectivity includes joint attention and
joint action with others in pragmatic and social contexts that involve reference to a
common world (Trevarthen and Hubley 1978). Whereas primary intersubjectivity is
paradigmatically dyadic (self-other), secondary intersubjectivity is triadic (self-
other-world). It involves precisely what Honneth calls “the practical relations to the
world” that emerge sometime during the first year of life and are found typically in
joint-attentional contexts where the infant perceives and starts to understand the
world and objects in its environment through the behavior and actions of others.
I acknowledge that Honneth changes his account a number of times across his
developing and complex theory of recognition. In his book Struggle for Recognition,
for example, as cited above, what he identifies as the “first stage” seems to be
described in terms that fit secondary intersubjectivity. In later works, however, he
recognizes primary intersubjectivity as a prior stage of emotional attachment, but
takes it to be a necessary antecedent to recognition which simply serves what he
takes to be primary in recognition – the disclosure of a world: “it is through this

 Honneth (1995), 19.
 Honneth (2008a), 43.
8 S. Gallagher

emotional attachment to a ‘concrete other’ that a world of meaningful qualities is

disclosed to a child as a world in which it must involve itself practically.”14 Even in
these later works, however, there is a consistent downplaying of primary intersub-
jectivity insofar as he equates it with emotional attachment.
What I hope to have been able to show by this point in my account is that in ontogenesis …
recognition must precede cognition…. [T]he individual’s learning process functions in such
a way that a small child first of all identifies with its figures of attachment and must have
emotionally recognized them before it can arrive at knowledge of objective reality by
means of these other perspectives.15

Here one can distinguish between emotional attachment (primary intersubjectiv-

ity), emotional recognition (as a transition to secondary intersubjectivity) and knowl-
edge of objective reality (based on secondary intersubjective relations). It’s also the
case that, more so than on social interaction per se, Honneth focuses his analysis on
the status of the self or self-relation – specifically, distinguishing in recognition aspects
that involve self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem (Honneth 1995, 131; see
Honneth 1998, 2007, 2008a; also see Varga and Gallagher 2012). There’s more to be
said about his concept of ‘elementary recognition’ which, in later texts (e.g., Honneth
2008b), is clearly tied to primary intersubjectivity and which precedes, both ontoge-
netically and conceptually, second-order and more normative patterns of recognition
where the other person’s particular characteristics are affirmed. Indeed, the use of the
term ‘recognition’ to encompass both the elementary aspects and the more developed
normative aspects of social interaction has confused some commentators, who have
univocally criticized Honneth’s account, maintaining that the elementary level of rec-
ognition is depicted as a positively loaded condition, which involves an overly opti-
mistic anthropology (e.g., Butler 2008; Geuss 2008; Lear 2008).16
For my purposes here, however, I set aside these discussions. I want to focus
instead on the notion that there is a struggle for recognition, and on how Honneth’s
analysis of this struggle takes over a concept from Winnicott in order to characterize
primary intersubjectivity. Specifically, Honneth associates the concept of primary
intersubjectivity with the classic psychoanalytic notion of undifferentiated oneness,
which he finds in Winnicott: “One can plausibly assume that every human life
begins with a phase of undifferentiated intersubjectivity, that is, of symbiosis.”17
This initially experienced behavior unit, for which ‘primary intersubjectivity’ has estab-
lished itself, raises the central question that occupied Winnicott during his life: how are we
to conceive of the interactional process by which ‘mother’ and child are able to detach
themselves from a state of undifferentiated oneness in such a way that, in the end, they learn
to accept and love each other as independent persons? … Since both subjects are initially
included in the state of symbiotic oneness in virtue of their active accomplishments, they
must, as it were, learn from each other how to differentiate.18

 Ibid., 45.
 Ibid., 46.
 Honneth’s (2008a) citation of Tomasello in this regard might reinforce this view. See Larsen (2014).
 Honneth (1995), 98; emphasis added. See Winnicott (1998).
 Honneth (1995), 98–99.
The Struggle for Recognition and the Return of Primary Intersubjectivity 9

On this view, in primary intersubjectivity, mother and child “are incapable of indi-
vidually demarcating themselves from each other”  – or, at least, during “the first
months of life, the child is incapable of differentiating between self and environment.”19
Moreover, Honneth again characterizes this ‘phase’ as something that the child gets
over – something that finally comes to an end when the child gains the capacity for
“cognitive differentiation between self and environment” at around 6 months of age.20
At this point there begins a transition to secondary intersubjectivity.
There is a clear contrast between this view of primary and secondary intersubjec-
tivity and the concepts found in Trevarthen, and others (see Meehan 2011; Varga
and Gallagher 2012). First, as Trevarthen construes it, even in primary intersubjec-
tivity there is a very basic self-other differentiation, and that’s the only way there
can be genuine interaction between mother and child. Interaction, per se, depends
on differentiation. This self/non-self differentiation, understood in its most minimal
terms, can be found in non-human animals, and in the human fetus (Castiello et al.
2010), because it’s built into bodily movement. Even the fetus can feel the differ-
ence between being moved and moving itself. It’s also built into touch, so that the
sensory-motor system of the infant can register the difference between someone
else’s hand touching its face (eliciting the rooting reflex) and it’s own hand touching
its face (no rooting reflex) (Rochat and Hespos 1997). Thus, we find characteriza-
tions of primary intersubjectivity in terms of improvement of gesture (via practice)
in neonate imitation, which requires self-other differentiation (Gallagher and
Meltzoff 1996), turn-taking in proto-conversation, and differential kinematic
responses to self versus non-self (Reddy 2008). Second, as already indicated, the
embodied (sensory-motor) processes of primary intersubjectivity do not constitute
a phase or stage that a human goes through and leaves behind; they continue as an
important part of social interaction throughout one’s lifetime.
Honneth’s Winnicottian interpretation of primary intersubjectivity, which argu-
ably misconstrues the embodied dynamics of intersubjective interaction, supports his
conception of recognition as involving a struggle. Recognition is accomplished only
after struggling through the phase of undifferentiation, that is, only as the child gets
beyond the indistinguishability between self and other. This is precisely the idea of
the “struggle for recognition.”21 Recognition is accomplished in transition from pri-
mary to secondary intersubjectivity, which, for the infant, is a struggle for indepen-
dence – an independence from the undifferentiated unity and an establishment of an
identity differentiated from the other – ultimately resulting in a legal recognition in
civil society, where independent individuals are dependent on each other in a different

 Honneth 1995, 99. Honneth (2012) also writes: “It is true that infants’ early experiences of fusion
do not have an intersubjective structure owing to the fact that they lack a sufficiently differentiated
partner with whom a relationship would need to be formed; but paradoxically, we can only grasp
this early state by employing the concept of primary intersubjectivity.” For Honneth it is paradoxi-
cal to call it primary ‘intersubjectivity’ precisely because, on Winnicott’s view, it is not
 Honneth (1995), 100; emphasis added.
 Ibid., 101.
10 S. Gallagher

way. In later works, to be sure, Honneth revises his view of undifferentiated oneness –
he qualifies it, claiming that it is not absolute, and there are always moments when
differentiation breaks through. Nonetheless he retains the idea that recognition begins
as the child’s struggling transition out of primary intersubjectivity.
Honneth thus pushes his interpretation of Hegel further by making the intersub-
jective aspect more apparent and by his continued appeal to Winnicott (e.g., Honneth
2012, 13ff). Indeed, this carries over into his account of more complex forms of
recognition involved in institutions, for example. If institutions of objective spirit
were simply externalizations or extensions of my individual mind, the only prob-
lems we might run into would be cases that involve self-deceit or self-contradiction.
But what we find are differentiated responses to our actions from others. Winnicott
shows this to be the case even in early development. He shows that the mother or
other caregiver will respond to the infant’s actions, sometimes by showing under-
standing, other times by showing disapproval or indifference. The infant learns that
the other’s response will depend not entirely on what the infant will do, but on the
other’s own intentionality, situation, or emotional state. Once more, Honneth sug-
gests that this motivates a transition from desire to recognition, which incorporates
a reciprocity, which in Hegel’s terms involves negativity or a restriction. “In the
encounter between two subjects, a new sphere of action is opened in the sense that
both sides are compelled to restrict their self-seeking drives as soon as they encoun-
ter each other…. [I]n the process of interaction both subjects undergo a
transformation.”22 As Honneth notes, Hegel calls this ‘recognition’, “the reciprocal
limitation of one’s own egocentric desires for the benefit of the other.”23

3  T
 he Gift: From Taminiaux and Arendt Back to Fichte,
Through Ricoeur

Paul Ricoeur, in The Course of Recognition, draws on both Taminiaux and Honneth –
specifically, “the work of Jacques Taminiaux in his two translations of and com-
mentaries on Hegel’s Jena writings: Systeme de la Vie ethique and Naissance de la
philosophic hegelienne de I’Etat, as well as on the historical summary that consti-
tutes the first part of Axel Honneth’s Struggle for Recognition, devoted essentially
to the ‘systematic reactualization’ of themes relating to the two fragments dealt with
in Taminiaux’s books.”24 Marcelo points out that the attentiveness with which
Ricoeur read these two authors “is proven by the personal copies of the books we
can find at his library, now at the Fonds Ricoeur. They are heavily underlined and
commented on the margins.”25 There is much more in Taminiaux than Ricoeur actu-
ally draws on, however.

 Honneth (2012), 15.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ricoeur (2005), 174.
 Marcelo (2011), 117.
The Struggle for Recognition and the Return of Primary Intersubjectivity 11

In his work on Hannah Arendt, for example, Taminiaux offers a critique of the
later Sartre’s notion of recognition. Sartre’s concept of praxis is, Taminiaux claims,
modeled on poiêsis, and is thoroughly modern (i.e., non-Greek) – his “idea that the
total unbridling of laboring activity and the production of abundance in consumer
goods would lead to a properly human interaction.”26 When scarcity is removed, we
gain autonomy and become “the author of our history to the same extent that the
maker is the lucid master of the work.” Yet, in poiêsis, plurality is not essential, and
this determines Sartre’s concept of recognition. As Sartre suggests: in recognizing
the other, plurality is inessential and “the unity of praxes as such is what is
essential.”27 Taminiaux, in effect, rejects a concept of recognition that either dimin-
ishes the individual (the sine qua non of an intersubjectivity that would issue in
some form of autonomy) or reduces it to a form of economic sameness (where
praxis is reduced to poiêsis), or even social fusion. In agreement with Arendt,
Taminiaux emphasizes that philia, as well as other social and political phenomena
of plurality, are agonistic – nothing near a fusion or full harmony.28 He favors a view
of human affairs as “an adventure experienced by humans in their interaction”
rather than “a fabrication process carried out by a single one.”29
It is possible to think of this adventure, however, not as a struggle for recogni-
tion, even if there are agonistic features involved. Ricoeur (2005) finds inspiration
here in Taminiaux, as well as in the Greeks, and in Hannah Arendt’s notion of par-
don and reparation. Arendt sees the possibility of an intersubjective plurality that is
never fusion, or undifferentiated unity, or an identity that either motivates struggle
or resolves struggle – in contrast, not only to the later Sartre but also to Hegel who
describes “[t]he reconciling ‘Yes’ in which the two ‘I’s renounce their exclusive and
opposing existence” as an “existence of the I which has been expanded into a dual-
ity, and therein remains identical with itself.”30 In contrast to any such fusion, for
Arendt, forgivenness/releasement, the “remedy against the irreversibility and unpre-
dictability of … action,” allows for reconciliation  – but this is possible only in
­conditions of sustained intersubjective plurality, since it depends “on plurality, on
the presence and acting of others, for no one can forgive himself ….”31
Ricoeur brings us back to the Fichtean concept that autonomy is not only rela-
tional, but a matter of degree. A full-out reciprocal mutual recognition is never
entirely possible. Accordingly, the self-recognition that Fichte makes central for
autonomy “requires at each step, the help of others, in the absence of that mutual,
fully reciprocal recognition that will make each of those involved a ‘recognized
being’.”32 Ricoeur rejects the concept of the struggle of recognition because it leads

 Taminiaux (1997), 55.
 Sartre (1976), 131.
 Taminiaux (1997), 177.
 Taminiaux (1997), 55.
 Hegel (1997), 409.
 Arendt (2013), 237; see Williams (1992), 208 ff. for discussion on this point.
 Ricoeur (2005), 69.
12 S. Gallagher

to unending demands for recognition; he wants “to question the importance of the
idea of struggle at each stage along the way” because it leads to a “bad infinity.”33
The thesis I want to argue for can be summed up as follows: The alternative to the idea of
struggle in the process of mutual recognition is to be sought in peaceful experiences of
mutual recognition, based on symbolic mediations as exempt from the juridical as from the
commercial order of exchange.34

Ricoeur, in contrast to Hegel and Honneth, and building on notions of philia

(Taminiaux) and forgiveness (Arendt), prefers the model of the gift, as he finds it
developed in Marcel Hénaff, which, in other terms, is not the model of justice, but
of agapê, where one gives or bestows recognition without the demand for recogni-
tion in return (Ricoeur).
But do we have to go so far as to believe in agapê in order to find a model for a
workable interaction? I think not. Williams (2008) and Marcelo (2011), for exam-
ple, suggest that Ricoeur’s “interpretation of recognition as gift-exchange is strik-
ingly similar to Fichte’s Aufforderung.” Marcelo continues: “This interpretation is
not without merit, because this notion of ‘summons’ in Fichte indeed assumes the
character of an injunction that invites the other to respond but does not necessarily
force a response.”.35
If not as a gift, which, as Ricoeur in agreement with Hénaff, characterizes it, is
“without price,”36 I want to suggest that we can cash out the notion of Aufforderung
in empirical terms of primary intersubjectivity, interpreted not as undifferentiated
unity (on the Winnicott-Honneth reading), but according to Trevarthen’s conception
which involves self-other differentiation. This nonetheless seems consistent with
Ricoeur since, as Marcelo notes, for Ricoeur mutuality never involves a state of
fusion.37 More than this, primary intersubjectivity gives us the four points that we
found in Fichte’s notion of summons:
1. Primary intersubjectivity is central to the emergence of mutual recognition. It
does not presuppose mutual recognition; it begins with an initial, response to the
other that is immediately (and in some cases automatically38) met with a response
that moves gradually to the possibility of mutual recognition.
2. Although primary intersubjectivity operates in our social interactions throughout
our lifetime, this response is found first in infancy and is the driving force in

 Ibid., 216, 218.
 Ibid., 219.
 Marcelo (2011), 116; see Williams (2008).
 Ricoeur (2005), 235.
 Marcelo (2011), 116.
 On some explanations primary intersubjectivity is hardwired in the activation of mirror neurons,
so that a basic motor resonance or a basic empathy is automatic. There are various debates about
this issue, as well as debates about the nature of neonate imitation. For the young infant, however,
whether the response is spontaneous or automatic, it involves a process that draws the infant into
what eventually becomes full-fledged intersubjective interaction. As Reddy (2015) suggests, as the
infant develops, she (the infant) comes to recognize the other’s response as a response to (or rec-
ognition of) her.
The Struggle for Recognition and the Return of Primary Intersubjectivity 13

development. The caregiver’s initial response to the infant elicits the infant’s
response. This can be seen, for example, in an early manifestation of primary
intersubjectivity, neonate imitation, where infants less than an hour after birth
can respond to the facial gestures of the caregiver (Gallagher and Meltzoff 1996).
3. The autonomy that emerges in such intersubjective relations is relational, and
4. is achieved in a gradual way. Clearly, in early development the infant is not
autonomous in any real sense; but this changes only through interactions with
others that allow the infant to develop independence – not as an escape from an
undifferentiated unity, but as something that develops only within an interdepen-
dence with others. A caregiver is, in principle, just that – someone who gives care
and nurturing which in turn allows for the gradual achievement of autonomy that
continues to require others to be sustained.
What we get in primary intersubjectivity is not a model of perfectly reciprocal
recognition achieved by some dialectical struggle that leads beyond an imagined
indifferentiation towards well-defined individuality (defined well, perhaps, in
dimensions of self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem, as Honneth would have
it), and then onward to a utopian politico-economic justice. Rather, with primary
intersubjectivity, we get a way of finding ourselves where we are, summoned to
interact with one another in imperfect relations that sometimes require giving rec-
ognition and sometimes require receiving forgiveness, and sometimes just living
with the fact that there can be no repayment. Not a bad infinity that demands some-
thing we cannot give; but perhaps a good infinity of a continuous response to


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Intuition and Unanimity. From the Platonic
Bias to the Phenomenology of the Political

Fabio Ciaramelli

1  T
 he Speculative Privilege of Intuition and Its Political

When he received the Francqui Prize (in 1977), which is probably the most presti-
gious Belgian scholarly and scientific prize, Jacques Taminiaux declared that, with
regard to his investigations, he belonged “to a generation that took finitude seri-
ously”. On the same occasion, he pointed out that “two works have imposed the
phenomenological details of my itinerary and have virtually placed it under the sign
of finitude: that of Martin Heidegger and of Maurice Merleau-Ponty”. By placing
himself within their legacy, he added, in the same statement, that: “They were both
prominent philosophers. I have not had the presumption to want to be a philosopher,
but at most to practice the study of the history of modern and contemporary philoso-
phy in a way that was itself a philosophical one”.1

 This passage from his speech for the solemn presentation of the Francqui Prize deserves to be
quoted in extenso in its original French: «Concernant mes travaux, je dirai d’abord que j’appartiens
à une génération qui a pris la finitude au sérieux. Au lendemain de la guerre, à l’époque où
l’interrogation philosophique a commencé de prendre corps à mes yeux et de me requérir, deux
œuvres phénoménologiques ont imposé les coordonnées de mon itinéraire et l’ont pour ainsi dire
placé sous le signe de la finitude: celle de Martin Heidegger et celle de Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Ils
étaient philosophes, et des plus grands, l’un et l’autre. Je n’ai pas eu la présomption de le vouloir
être, mais tout au plus de pratiquer l’étude de l’histoire de la philosophie moderne et contempo-
raine d’une manière qui fût elle-même philosophique. A cet égard, qu’on me permette de dire que
je me suis reconnu dans un mot de Jean Hyppolite dont j’ai eu le privilège de suivre l’enseignement
à Paris, et qui disait: ‘Ne parvenant pas à être poète, je décidai d’être philosophe, et n’y parvenant
pas davantage, je me contentai d’être historien de la philosophie.’ Prendre au sérieux la finitude
dans l’étude de l’histoire de la philosophie, ce fut là le principe qui m’amena à me concentrer sur
certains moments et certains rapports privilegiés de cette histoire et à les aborder d’une manière
spécifique » (Taminiaux 1977a).
F. Ciaramelli (*)
Philosophy of Law, Università “Federico II”, Naples, Italy

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 15

V.M. Fóti, P. Kontos (eds.), Phenomenology and the Primacy of the Political,
Contributions To Phenomenology 89, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8_2
16 F. Ciaramelli

In his first books – namely La nostalgie de la Grèce à l’aube de l’idéalisme alle-

mand (1967), Le regard et l’excédant (1977), and Recoupements (1982) – “taking
finitude seriously in the study of the history of philosophy” meant essentially two
things: first of all, to show, within or behind the theoretical achievement of absolute
knowing, the indelible trace of finitude; but secondly, to find an unsuspected shift
toward a dialectical access to the absolute, even in the most convinced testimony to
finitude. In Heideggerian terms, this project consisted in interrogating the “rapport
d’empiètement” (relationship of overlapping) between Gestell and Ereignis.2 And it
was precisely through a close and critical reading – or rereading – of Heidegger’s
teaching, that it became possible for Jacques Taminiaux to detect a Platonic bias
even in the Heideggerian analysis devoted to finitude. This bias showed itself in the
project to achieve an ontological insight into the absolute, notwithstanding the finite
condition of humans. Its vehicle was the speculative privilege accorded to intellec-
tual intuition, charged with providing  – ultimately, even for Heidegger, in close
proximity to the speculative tradition of Western metaphysics – direct access to the
Being of beings.3
As is well know, Kant held that human mind was only capable of sensible intu-
ition. In his view, human intuition is never an intuitus originarius but only an intui-
tus derivativus. Hence, in the name of finitude, Kant rejected the human capacity of
intellectual intuition. And it is equally known that, immediately after Kant, German
idealism overcame this limitation of human reason.4
According to Taminiaux, the Idealist rehabilitation of intellectual intuition
allowed, in advance of the Hegelian dialectic and subsequent to Husserlian phenom-
enology, for the persistence of a Platonic bias in the history of philosophy, and such
is also the case for Heidegger’s progression from “fundamental ontology” to the
meditation of the history of Being or, to put it in Arendtian terms, from the “quest
for meaning” to the “quest for truth”.5 This terminology continued to engage
Taminiaux so that, whereas for Heidegger these quests are one and the same,
Taminiaux gradually realized that the import of the speculative legacy brought with
it a problematic failure in understanding human affairs.
Indeed, after the Discourse for the Francqui Prize, it was the “discovery” of
Hannah Arendt  – of her evident self-distancing from Heidegger, notwithstanding

 It is not by chance that “Gestell et Ereignis” is one of the most important essays collected in
Taminiaux (1982), 118–141. For a large selection of Taminiaux’s essays written in this period in
English, cf. Taminiaux (1985a).
 Cf. Taminiaux (1977b, 1993a).
 Cf. Tilliette (2005).
 Cf. Arendt (1978a), 15: “The need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest
for meaning. And truth and meaning are not the same. The basic fallacy, taking precedence over
all specific metaphysical fallacies, is to interpret meaning on the model of truth. The latest and in
some respect most striking instance of this occurs in Heidegger’s Being and Time, which stars out
by raising ‘anew the question of meaning of Being’. Heidegger himself in a later interpretation of
his own initial question, says explicitly: ‘Meaning of Being and Truth of Being are the same’”
(emphasis in the original).
Intuition and Unanimity. From the Platonic Bias to the Phenomenology of the Political 17

the acknowledgement of her debt to him6  – which gave a new orientation to

Taminiaux’s philosophical interrogation of the history of philosophy. For him,
henceforth, “taking finitude seriously in the study of the history of philosophy”
began to take on a different and new meaning. The main goal of Taminiaux’s critical
re-reading of philosophical texts was, in effect, no longer to reveal the reciprocal
encroachments of traditional notions, opposed to one another in the history of phi-
losophy (such as “finitude and absolute”, “empiricism and speculation”, “dialectic
and difference”, and so on). From now on, the rehabilitation of finitude will more
and more imply a radical contestation of the normative position of what Plato called
theoria, speculation or contemplation. This Platonic notion was understood by
Heidegger as signifying an extreme possibility of Dasein and “thus conceived in
existential terms, as a comportment, a way of life”.7
Hence the normative position celebrated by Heidegger and denounced by
Taminiaux’s rereading of his teaching is one that privileges the bios theorêticos, with
its political implications. These involve, first of all, a subordination of the vita activa
to the vita contemplative because of the essential and irreducible “tension between
the life of the sage and the life of the polloi”.8 Such a tension becomes a real hostility,
culminating in the subordination of plural action to solitary thinking, which “aspires
to self-sufficiency and, consequently, validates a view disparaging human plurality as
well as the world of appearances to which this plurality is connected”.9
Detecting a Platonic bias in Heidegger’s teaching implies for Taminiaux to pay
particular attention to the political bearing of Heidegger’s ontological insight, above
all its pretension to reach what is ultimate and a totality. In this case, the speculative
axis of thought prevails and marginalizes its judicative axis. Indeed, in the history of
speculative philosophy, from Plato to Hegel and Heidegger, plurality – in its norma-
tive position  – is most of the time subordinated to totality, as well as action to
knowledge, judgment to speculation. Consequently, the rehabilitation of the bios
politikos implies a profound distancing from Heidegger and from his way of reading
and interrogating the history of philosophy – especially the Greeks and Hegel.10

 Cf. Taminiaux (1985b). This is probably the first nucleus of Taminiaux (1997) (original French
edition: Taminiaux 1992).
 Taminiaux (2007), 13. Cf. Taminiaux (1991) (original French edition: Taminiaux 1989).
 Taminiaux (2007), 17. In The Fragility of Goodness – cited by Taminiaux at least in Le théâtre des
philosophes (1995)  – Martha Nussbaum makes some similar considerations concerning the
Platonic image of Socrates, who –she says– “is put before us as an example of a man in the process
of making himself self-sufficient” (Nussbaum (1986), 184). Plato’s privileging the self-sufficiency
of the sage, according to Nussbaum, is “intimately connected with his imperviousness to happen-
ings in the world”; for this reason his “soul, self-absorbed, pursues its self-sufficient contempla-
tion” (ibid., 183).
 Taminiaux (1993b), vii.
 The gradual abandoning of the Heideggerian reading of Hegel is evident in the evolution of
Taminiaux’s confrontation with him, starting from La nostalgie de la Grèce (1967), passing
through his introduction to G.W.F. Hegel Système de la vie éthique (1976), and climaxing with
Naissance de la philosophie hégélienne de l’État (1984). The culmination of this axis of his
research is Taminiaux (2005).
18 F. Ciaramelli

In my view, Taminiaux’s stress on the metaphysical pretension of intellectual intu-

ition has important political implications. We can trace a guiding political thread in his
philosophical essays. The anti-speculative momentum of his research aims at decon-
structing the modern metaphysical reaffirmation of the bios theorêtikos in its priority
over the frailty and contingency of human affairs. In fact, the very notion of intellec-
tual intuition, in its strong speculative sense, connotes an immediate and direct know-
ing of universal truth, which is supposed to be capable of governing human plurality,
and thus the structure of political action. In this sense, Taminiaux’s reply to the specu-
lative rejection of human plurality makes a fundamental contribution to a phenomeno-
logical safeguarding of the political, insofar as the latter constitutes a premise (and not
a consequence) of democratic debate among plural and irreducible opinions.
Taminiaux’s most original contribution to dismantling this Platonic bias promi-
nent in the history of modern and contemporary philosophy and prevalent, in par-
ticular, in the speculative depreciation and marginalization of judgment, consists in
showing the strategic role of intellectual intuition. This means, in my view, that the
mainspring of speculative reason is the attractiveness of immediacy (direct access to
the Being of beings).
As my homage to Jacques Taminiaux, I here seek to show the fecundity of his
investigations on the theoretical privilege of intuition by pointing out the political
implications of the seduction of unanimity. The latter implies a deep depreciating of
multiplicity of opinions, and consequently a virtual destruction of political space.
The internal link between immediacy and unanimity implies the short-circuit
between inter-locution and inter-action in favor of the purported objectivity and
universality of theoria, retained capable of seizing, in its solitary gaze, the truth of
Being. More precisely, I here suggest that the preference for unanimous solutions
concerning social and political issues reveals its motivation in the ontological para-
digm of an ideal truth directly communicated to the solitary philosophical gaze. I
will do so through a critical reading of a classical text of classical political philoso-
phy never cited or engaged with, to the best of my knowledge, by either Arendt or
Taminiaux, namely the Discourse of Voluntary Servitude by Etienne de La Boétie.

2  Totality Versus Plurality

The seduction of unanimity and the appeal of immediacy are both evident, at least
as temptations, within theoretical or metaphysical accounts of bios politikos cen-
tered on the reduction of human plurality to totality. It has not, in particular, been
noticed that this seduction still prevails, at least as an essential risk, at the core of a
classic text of modern political theory, the Discourse of Voluntary Servitude by
Etienne de La Boétie. This mid-sixteenth century text is recognized, by scholarly
consensus, for its vehement denunciation of the political subordination to the One.
Even in this case, I would like to suggest that a Platonic bias to unanimous solutions
in the social and political field prevails. Once again, the privileging of immediacy
Intuition and Unanimity. From the Platonic Bias to the Phenomenology of the Political 19

allegedly attained by speculative intuition implies a repression of plurality and of its

always aleatory search for shared political solutions to the advantage of a totality.
As to the specific meaning and context of this extraordinary text by de La
Boétie – a very young French humanist and one of Montaigne’s close friends – let
me only recall that his trope of “voluntary servitude” does not form part of the tra-
ditional political vocabulary. Plato had, to be sure, spoken of ethelodouleia, but only
in the context of his analysis of private submission within sexual life. Such a free
espousal of personal servitude is, according to Symp. 184, b-c, acceptable only
when its object is the attainment of aretê.
La Boétie, facing the nascent transformation of the young French national mon-
archy into the absolute State, speaks again of “voluntary servitude”, but in a differ-
ent perspective from Plato’s. Indeed, his analyses and considerations limit
themselves to social and political relationships. Therefore, for La Boétie, willing
collective submission to a unique centre of power is in no case acceptable. According
to him, the domination of one over a plurality of persons is in itself a radical nega-
tion of community, “since it is hard to believe that there is anything of common
wealth in a country where everything belongs to one master [pour ce qu’il est mal-
aisé de croire qu’il y ait rien de public en ce gouvernement où tout est à un]”.11
Throughout this transition, from the Platonic consideration of private or personal
relationships to the general analysis of political relations taking place within a pub-
lic space, the philosophical reflection on bios politikos – on its intrinsic plurality, on
its irreducibility to the domination of the One  – plays a leading role. La Boétie
avoids legitimizing willing submission, whatever its object, because of his strong
conception of both individual and collective responsibility in political affairs. In
order to safeguard its essence and plurality, human community has to guarantee
room for each individual intervention. La Boétie’s main originality consists in
stressing precisely such a responsibility through a vision of power as based on a
“bottom up” conception, opposed to the traditional and hierarchical top-down one.
Thus, if power is based on the will of the people, they need to take action against
oppression and violence as undermining their power. Because of this, La Boétie
strongly criticizes the apparently passive attitude of people, which in reality consists
in their voluntary acquiescence to domination. If political power necessarily rests
on popular consent, “then the remedy to power is simply to withdraw that consent”.12
His fundamental point, however, is that insofar as people do not withdraw consent
to domination, insofar as, instead of opposing the tyrant, they lend him their own
eyes to spy with, their own arms by which to be beaten, and their own feet for their
cities to be trampled down, it becomes clear that, despite the people’s oppression
and suffering, their own will proves to be what is really responsible for and the pro-
ductive of the One’s despotic domination.
It is necessary to stress here the role of will and desire. I quote: “It is therefore
the inhabitants themselves who permit or, rather, bring about, their own submission,

 de La Boétie (2008), 40. Cf. de La Boétie (2002), 26.
 Rothbard (2008), 16.
20 F. Ciaramelli

since by ceasing to submit they would put an end to their servitude”.13 If they do not
cease to submit, it means that they prefer servitude to liberty. This self-damaging
and self-destructive aspect in human desire is hard to accept and to understand. “Let
us therefore understand by logic, if we can, how it happens that this obstinate will-
ingness to submit has become so deeply rooted in a nation that the very love of
liberty now seems no longer natural”.14
Through submission, the people accomplish a kind of social and political rela-
tionship whose model is characterized by the dominion of the One over all individu-
als. They actualize a holistic model of community, that is to say a violent reduction
of plurality to a totality. This holistic model, which as such disregards the autono-
mous initiatives of singularity, is opposed to a pluralistic model of human commu-
nity, which La Boétie considers to be natural, and which is characterized by the
flourishing of uniqueness. Only this second model brings out “companionship
(compagnonnage)”. In contrast, the holistic and non-natural model of community
produces “conspiracy (complot)”. Governed by the rule of domination, conspiracy
is fed by a mutual mistrust among citizens. Here, morality and character are threat-
ened and corrupted. La Boétie shows that the holistic perspective of conspiracy
constrains singular attitudes to unanimity and therefore steers plurality toward a
totalized set of unanimous individuals. Thus, the holistic aim of unanimity is
achieved through the violent reduction of plurality. In this sense, La Boétie speaks
of the “all one [tous un]” attitude, while the “natural” respect of the free initiatives
of distinct and unique members of human plurality takes place in the alternative “all
ones [tous uns]” attitude.
This opposition between two models  – the first ensuring plurality as the true
political community of unique beings, the second accomplishing the holistic reduc-
tion of community to totality – is at the core of the following passage: “Hence, since
this kind mother has given us the whole world as a dwelling place, has lodged us in
the same house, has fashioned us according to the same model so that in beholding
one another we might almost recognize ourselves; since she has bestowed upon us
all the great gift of voice and speech for fraternal relationship, thus achieving by the
common and mutual statement of our thoughts a communion of our wills; and since
she has tried in every way to narrow and tighten the bond of our union and kinship;
since she has revealed in every possible manner her intention, not so much to make
us one organic whole as to make each of us a unique being, [elle a montré en toutes
choses qu’elle ne voulait pas tant nous faire tous un (tous unis) que tous uns] there
can be no further doubt that we are all naturally free, inasmuch as we are all com-
panions. Accordingly it should not enter the mind of anyone that nature has placed
some of us in slavery, since nature has actually put us all in a state of company [nous
ayant tous mis en compagnie]”.15
There is, therefore, a strong and profound distinction, both in ethical and politi-
cal terms, between, on the one hand, the kind of community achieved by the model

 de La Boétie (2008), 43.
 Ibid., 47.
 de La Boétie (2008), 50. Cf. de La Boétie (2002), 31–32.
Intuition and Unanimity. From the Platonic Bias to the Phenomenology of the Political 21

of “all ones”, which provides the opportunity for the flourishing of uniqueness and,
on the other hand, the totalizing movement achieved by the “all one” model, which
dominates individualities and produces uniformity. Only the first and “natural”
model, which implies the safeguarding of personal initiatives and attitudes, does
justice to uniqueness in human plurality and allows us to think of a true political
community.16 The “all one” attitude, in contrast, is constituted by the model of
fusion, of a totalizing communion, which is seduced by immediacy, and for this
reason accomplishes its essence in a unanimous way.

3  T
 he Dismissal of a Universal and Totalizing Model
of Plurality

I submit now a critical question concerning La Boétie’s very project of opposition

to voluntary servitude.17 Is his Discourse always faithful to the “natural model” and
to the “all ones attitude”? Is La Boétie’s text, in its performative opposition to vol-
untary servitude, always faithful to this safeguarding of pluralism? I mean to
respond negatively, showing that, in some of his rhetoric and reasoning at the very
core of his opposition to the power of the One, La Boétie in his turn proves to be
seduced by immediacy, and that it is the “all one attitude” that ultimately shapes the
very escape from servitude celebrated by his Discourse.
Before addressing this, however, it is necessary to reflect more deeply on what
we have called the “all ones model”, the one implying the pluralistic attitude based
on “natural” companionship which rejects the totalization of singular individuals
and thereby makes possible the flourishing of their uniqueness. This model, the
“good” one, so to speak, is for La Boétie rooted in nature. Nonetheless, in his text,
nature does not provide immediate fulfillment to the human desire for freedom.
Accordingly, there is no eidos, paradigmatic model, ontological essence available
for the philosophical gaze; there is no room for speculative intuition to be exercised.
Its pretension to grasp immediately the universal and necessary meaning of the
political is bound to fail. Political space is inevitably given over to the search for
shared solutions among people, without any warranty granted by a preliminary
ontological background.
As we have seen in the quoted passage, La Boétie stresses the fact that nature
appeals to human intervention in order to protect uniqueness in each singular indi-
vidual. According to his Discourse, equality within human plurality is equality
among companions: only this kind of equality has a natural ground. He says that
“nature” wanted to make us all ones, neither all one nor all unified. If “nature” had
a project, it was to safeguard plurality through uniqueness; but this “natural project”

 In this sense, and in a strong reference to La Boétie, Miguel Abensour speaks of political com-
munity of “all ones”: cf. Abensour (2014).
 I have analysed and discussed La Boétie’s Discourse, without developing this critical point, in
Ciaramelli (2001).
22 F. Ciaramelli

exceeds nature and calls for human initiatives. Nature, this “kind mother”, limits
itself to giving us some indications. The concrete actualization of such a natural will
is the task of social institutions. This original transition from the purported natural
immediacy to the necessity of historical and cultural mediation exceeds the totaliz-
ing power of speculative intuition.
Human equality is, for La Boétie, the equality of singularities rooted in natural
will. Each human being is a unique one, but he or she is also capable of relations,
and this aptitude to be in touch with and to cultivate relations with other singulari-
ties is first of all mediated by language. Consequently, the community that estab-
lishes relations among our singularities, the common space which makes us equal,
is not external to us, nor transcendent to society. This pluralistic community is in no
way an essential origin that would pre-exist somewhere, in an independent way with
regard to our concrete Zusammenleben: on the contrary, the common element is
here the effect of common practices, it is produced by our interlocutions and inter-
actions. Without this originary mediation, which is not preceded by any immediacy,
there would be no plurality and no equality.
In this sense, the only “natural” ground, which shows itself as a possible ground
for human societies, must be exclusively a negative one. Of course, in La Boétie we
find a radical rejection of any naturalistic justification of servitude. Nevertheless,
nature does not give us a positive model of freedom or equality: nature has only
shown that we are all ones, and it means that human plurality is – according to the
excellent formula of Hannah Arendt – “the paradoxical plurality of unique beings”.18
Nature, however, in its alleged immediacy, delivered to the totalizing philosophical
gaze, does not contain a standard or a positive model of society. Consequently, con-
crete and positive ways to safeguard the uniqueness of individuals have to be
socially instituted.
In order effectively to safeguard this “plurality of unique beings” in the concrete
life of human societies, the “all ones model” seeks to avoid the preliminary assump-
tion of an objective ideal of human plurality that would pre-exist and would, for this
reason, be characterized by universality. If the fundamentals of human plurality
constituted an objective order, whose universality were immediately accessible to
the human mind, each individual member of plurality would not be a unique being,
but only an empirical articulation of an universal structure  – objective Nature or
transcendental Reason – containing in itself both archê and telos of the human.
In order to avoid this conformist and holistic exigency – implying an essential
subordination of wills to a unitary content as the only one corresponding to its very
rational nature –, it is necessary to reject the existence and the immediate accessibil-
ity of an objective and universal model (eidos), valid for human plurality in all its
social and historical experiences. In other words, it is necessary to reject the Platonic
bias culminating in the despotism of some universal truth.

 “In man, otherness, which he shares with everything that is, and distinctness, which he shares

with everything alive, become uniqueness, and human plurality is the paradoxical plurality of
unique beings” (Arendt 1958, 176).
Intuition and Unanimity. From the Platonic Bias to the Phenomenology of the Political 23

4  O
 n the Theoretical Pretension to Universal Truth. Two
Different Examples

“Traditional civilizations are based on intellectual intuition of the transcendent and

sacred truth: all living and past civilizations are traditional ones, and such was the
case for the West until the Middle Ages. But beginning in the 14th century, the only
non-traditional culture, modern Western civilization, has arisen in the West”.19 The
main feature of this civilization, as it is a prerequisite of modern democracy, is the
“dissolution of the markers of certainty”20; and it presupposes the breakdown of
intellectual intuition. In fact, it would be impossible to acknowledge the absence of
an ontological model of human plurality, if one continued to think of the human
mind as naturally able to have a direct access to intelligible reality. If an intellectual
intuition of universal and necessary truth were possible, this should be the unique
objective ground of theoretical and practical reason. By way of consequence, any
form of pluralism of opinions would lack legitimacy and would be false and
The rejection of pluralism is connected at least with a philosophical rehabilita-
tion of speculative intuition, or at least to the pretensions of theôria to give a direct
and universal access to truth. I should like to show this movement on the basis of
two different examples, not without paying attention to the fact that these very pre-
tensions can always have virtually or actually despotic outcomes.
The enlargement of human reason proposed by Benedict XVI in his famous dis-
course at the University of Regensburg (in September 2006), where he strongly
rehabilitated classical and Christian conceptions of natural law (ius naturale, in its
ontological objectivity, very different from the modern version of natural rights), is
ultimately based on a recognition of the natural light of reason [lumen naturale],
capable of fulfilling itself in an immediate gaze of objective and universal truth, and
for this reason also able to ground a profound – universal and necessary – commu-
nion of particular wills in the public sphere. If the “specifically human questions
about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, […] have
no place within the purview of collective reason” and finally must be “relegated to
the realm of the subjective”, then, according to the pope,21 the danger is that “the
subject decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters
of religion, and the subjective ‘conscience’ becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethi-
cal. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community
and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for
humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which

 “Le civiltà tradizionali si fondano sulla intuizione intellettuale della verità trascendente e sacra:
tutte le civiltà viventi e scomparse sono tradizionali, e tale è stato l’occidente fino al medioevo. Ma
dal 300 in poi, in occidente ha avuto inizio la nascita dell’unica civiltà antitradizionale esistente, la
civiltà occidentale moderna” (de Martino (1977), 496). For a general presentation of de Martino’s
contribution to a philosophical anthropology, see now Ferrari (2014).
 Lefort (1988), 19.
 Cf. Benedict XVI, pope (2006).
24 F. Ciaramelli

necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no
longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from
psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate”.22
The modern political theory of general will, even if in the context of secular mes-
sianism, shows an analogous risk of theoretical despotism. In his book on the ori-
gins of totalitarian democracies, contemporaneous with Arendt’s book on the origins
of totalitarianism, Jacob Talmon has shown that the historical and political tendency
towards unanimity is philosophically based on the theoretical postulate concerning
the natural order. And in a very remarkable way, he stressed the role of the imme-
diacy of intellectual intuition in this process. Indeed, in Talmon’s deconstruction,
the theoretical postulate culminates in the assertion of an objective and universal
truth, whose direct accessibility is supposed to accomplish freedom without any
constraint. Talmon writes: “Nature has so arranged that there should be a direct and
unerring correlation between objects and our powers of cognition. Helvetius,
Holbach and Morelly repeatedly say that error is an accident only. We all would see
and judge rightly if it were not for the ignorance or the particular passions and inter-
ests that blind our judgment, these being the result of bad education or the influence
of vested interests alien to man. Everyone is capable of discovering the truth, if it is
presented to him in the right light. Every member of Rousseau’s sovereign is bound
to will the general will. For the general will is in the last resort a Cartesian truth”.23
So, in a paradoxically comparable way, the ethical subjectivism of a single con-
science, denounced by Benedict (who strangely forgot to denounce the equally
inhuman effects of objective homologation of individuals to religious and political
authorities) and the political resistance of particular subjects to a general will (cen-
sored by political theories of sovereignty of the modern State) are both an effect of
a lack of intuition. The homologation of human plurality – the overcoming of self-­
reference of particularities – is, in both perspectives, a matter of seeing. Only if it is
possible to have a direct access to a universal truth should each singular will adjust
its behavior to this universal fit. Hannah Arendt stresses the theoretical foundation
of this traditional trust in compelling truth: “Only truth can compel” without “coer-
cion imposed by an outside agent”, because only such a coercion would be “repug-
nant to the will”.24 Finally, the very compulsion of truth is different from coercion
because it is based on “sheer intuition”.25 This primacy of theoretical access to truth
makes each individual resisting it in name of his or her uniqueness guilty.
However, in such a compulsion of unique beings and particular wills by universal
truth, we cannot avoid detecting  – in the form of an avatar of the Platonic bias
denounced by Taminiaux in modern philosophy – the despotic role of intellectual

 Ibid. (emphasis added).
 Talmon (1960), 52.
 Arendt (1978b), 115.
 Arendt (1978b), 124.
Intuition and Unanimity. From the Platonic Bias to the Phenomenology of the Political 25

5  A Critical Question Concerning La Boétie’s Project

Now, it is time to go back to La Boétie, in order to develop the critical question I had
announced. The essential point I would like to stress becomes very clear in the fol-
lowing emblematic quotation (which is in accord with many other similar passages):
“What then? If in order to have liberty nothing more is needed than to long for it, if
only a simple act of the will is necessary, is there any nation in the world that consid-
ers a single wish too high a price to pay in order to recover rights which it ought to
be ready to redeem at the cost of its blood, rights such that their loss must bring all
men of honor to the point of feeling life to be unendurable and death itself a
Here, I think, the subordination to the One returns under the cover of a vehement
appeal to the people’s responsibility with regard to domination. In a passage like
this, the rhetorical seduction of immediacy  – showing freedom as if it were the
automatic interface of a desire supposedly able to reach its immediate fulfillment –
threatens human plurality, its irreducibility to the image of the One and to the com-
pulsion to reach unanimity.
The “all one model” of plurality comes back under the cover of an immediate
way out of servitude. It returns through the misrecognition of plurality, too. For it is
exactly plurality, its unpredictability, its inherent unrest and competition, its being
uprooted in singularities impossible to totalize, which makes the immediate fulfill-
ment of desire impossible, especially when the latter addresses itself to an object or
to a signification as political freedom, which takes place and makes sense only
through social relations. In this context, the risks and the unknown dimensions of
the independent and unforeseeable attitudes of other unique beings are inevitable.
To be sure, La Boétie knows that “the mainspring and the secret of domination,
the support and foundation of tyranny” – shown in the last part of his Discourse27 –
is the mimetic reproduction of submission within the entire extension of society.
“Thus the despot subdues his subjects, some of them by means of others, and thus
is he protected by those from whom, if they were decent men, he would have to
guard himself”.28 The reason for this submission is the mimetic hope to be promoted
in rank, to acquire at least a portion of power and well-being. Finally “all those who
are corrupted by burning ambition or extraordinary avarice, these gather around him
[the tyrant] and support him in order to have a share in the booty and to constitute
themselves petty chiefs [tiranneaux] under the big tyrant”.29 In this way, voluntary
servitude acquires a structured social stability and it would be necessary to recog-
nize, against La Boétie’s fundamental argument, that no single resolution, even if
characterized by decisiveness, could provoke the immediate upturn of social

 de La Boétie (2008), 55 (emphasis added).
 Ibid., 71f.
 Ibid., 73.
 Ibid., 79.
26 F. Ciaramelli

There is only one way to imagine this immediate upturn of domination, and it is
to postulate a coincidence of myriad analogous single decisions, all simultaneously
resolved to abandon servitude. Through a totalizing that seeks to shape the social,
such a coincidence ultimately restores the unanimous subordination to the One in
the same gesture that seeks to extricate the individual from it and that contests its
violence. Instead of withdrawing from voluntary servitude, the Discourse risks con-
firming it. The seduction of immediacy emerges again in this phantasm of a libertar-
ian tension that is able to propagate itself suddenly in the entire space of the social.
This is indeed a paradoxical outcome, insofar as it was precisely the Discourse
which had taught us to recognize the fundamentals of domination in the negation of
plurality in the name of immediacy. Nevertheless, the oratorical ardor of his
Discourse leads its young humanist author to reproduce in his criticism of voluntary
servitude the phantasmatic attraction of unity that has always been its deep well-
spring. People enslave themselves to the tyrant because (the representation of) his
unity offers assurance and determination to the otherwise indeterminate tension of
their desire.
In Claude Lefort’s important text on La Boétie, which is probably the most pro-
found philosophical commentary on the Discourse, we read that here “the question
of desire undermines the fundamentals of classical humanism”.30 This is certainly
true with regard to the discovery of the self-damaging aspect of desire. Yet, the
rhetoric of the text and the recourse to oratorical effects probably still belong to
classic humanism, namely to its optimistic and reassuring consideration of a pro-
found “naturality” – and for this reason of an immediate rationality – of desire.
The presumed escape from servitude through “a simple act of will”, supposedly
able to give immediate fulfillment to the natural desire for freedom, now constitutes
the strategy in which the same desire for freedom is rhetorically presented by La
Boétie as susceptible of immediate fulfillment, rather than of experiencing its lack
of determinacy in a free but aleatory relationship with the other – who, in reality,
might always disappoint expectations of desire.
Behind this pretension we can recognize the objective ideal of social relations
based on the “all one model” of community – an objective ideal assured by its sup-
posed universal and direct accessibility to the human mind. This amalgam between
political despotism of the One and logico-ontological necessary access to the thing
in itself (to pragma auto, die Sache selbst), is a representation that reveals itself, as
Claude Lefort says, “engendered in the desire for servitude”.31 Indeed, it is
­engendered by this desire as a quest for identification that submits the lack of origi-
nary determination in our social experience to the assurance afforded by the posit-
ing of ontological unity. Only by intending its immediate fulfillment can desire
claim to gratify the intention that animates it in and through the originally endowing
intuition of its adequate object. Through this seduction of immediacy, which still

 «La question du désir érode le fondement de l’humanisme classique auquel il se croyait arrimé»
(Lefort 1978, 263).
 «Cette représentation [du peuple ou de tous] s’engendre dans le désir de la servitude» (Lefort
1978, 273).
Intuition and Unanimity. From the Platonic Bias to the Phenomenology of the Political 27

remains as a risk and a temptation at the core of the Discourse, the very desire for
freedom submits itself to the privilege of speculative intuition, thereby confirming
the domination of unanimity and its ontological reach.32


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———. 1978b. The life of the mind. Vol. 2: Willing. San Diego/New York/London: Harcourt Inc.
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———. 2008. The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. Trans. H. Kurz.
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établi par P. Léonard, 247–307. Suivi de La Boétie et la question du politique. Paris: Payot.
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 I would like to express my thanks to Véronique Fóti, Pavlos Kontos, Ferdinando Menga and

Ashraf Noor for their comments on a first version of this paper.

28 F. Ciaramelli

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Phronêsis and the Ideal of Beauty

Danielle Lories

Only that which has the end of its existence in itself, the human
being, who determines his ends himself through reason, or,
where he must derive them from external perception can
nevertheless compare them to essential and universal ends and
in that case also aesthetically judge their agreement with them:
this human being alone is capable of an ideal of beauty.
CJ, § 17, 117; Ak V, 233 (See Kant (2000))

In a number of studies, Jacques Taminiaux focuses on the Aristotelian concepts of

bios politikos and phronêsis, that is, the intellectual excellence in the domain of
praxis. Here I would like to address in particular his insightful and textually close
commentary on Hannah Arendt’s essay entitled: “The Crisis in Culture: Its Social
and Political Significance,” Chapter VI of Between Past and Future. There Taminiaux
insists on the joint and finely articulated roles of the Ancients—Pericles, Aristotle,
and Cicero—and of Kant in the development of Arendt’s notion of judgment.1 At
my own risk, my present task involves exploring the possibility of deepening the
Arendtian rapprochements between Aristotelian phronêsis and the Kantian judg-
ment of taste, which, among other things, is the object of Taminiaux’s analysis.
More precisely, my hypothesis will be that a brief passage of the Critique of the
Power of Judgment may contribute to understanding a crucial problem that
Aristotle’s discussion of phronêsis in Book VI of the Nichomachean Ethics poses to

 See Taminiaux (2009, Chap. XII): “Sur la genèse de la problématique arendtienne du jugement.”
Taminiaux (2008) is the first version published of the same essay.
 To avoid misunderstandings about my purpose here, which is very narrow, let me clarify that I do
not want to compare Aristotle and Kant on ethical questions. Neither do I want to propose a new
interpretation of Aristotle’s ethics. I only hope to find in a small psychological description by Kant
some indications that may prove useful in order to understand a little bit better, and from a psycho-
logical point of view only, how to conceive the phronimos’s particular way of judging. My object
is a psychological phenomenon, neither the letter of Kant’s text nor Aristotle’s.
D. Lories (*)
Professor of Philosophy, Université Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 29

V.M. Fóti, P. Kontos (eds.), Phenomenology and the Primacy of the Political,
Contributions To Phenomenology 89, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8_3
30 D. Lories

In this text,3 Aristotle circumscribes the virtue of the phronimos as an intellectual

excellence4—critical and ordering action (NE 1143a5-10)5—and he bequeaths us
several difficulties, among which is the question of knowing how to conceive of this
aptitude’s relationship to the universal and the particular (NE 1141b20-22), aptitude
which he compares to vision: “because they have an eye formed from experience,
they see correctly” (NE 1143b13-14).
Throughout this text, and beyond the definitions at 1140b5 and 1140b20,6 several
characteristics brought to light refine the question guiding us here: (1) the connec-
tion the phronimos establishes of a universal to a particular in his or her perspica-
cious glance is not that of the demonstrative deduction of epistêmê7; (2) the accuracy
of the phronimos’s grasp is found in his or her ability to deliberate well on what is
good with regard to the good life as a whole (holôs) (NE 1140a 25-29), that is as an
“absolute” (nonrelative) (haplôs) end (NE 1142 b 30), rather than as partial or par-
ticular; and (3) phronêsis is the true hupolêpsis of what is suited to an end (NE
1142b30-33).8 It is thus in the context of what the good deliberation belonging to
the phronimos is—bearing on the action that brings a good, on what, how, and when
something should be done, and all in reference to an absolute end (NE 1142b25-­
28)—that we must try to clarify our question: how is this vision, which concerns a
particular act to be done, related to a universal?
Indeed, it is the accent placed on deliberation that leads to the assertion of the
phronêsis’s connection not only to particulars but also to the universal: nobody,
Aristotle reminds us, deliberates over what cannot be other than it is, nor over what
is unrelated to an end (telos ti), an end which is a good that can be done (touto prak-
ton agathon) (NE 1141b10-15). The good deliberator, taken absolutely
(unconditionally)—ho d’haplôs euboulos—is thus one who can, by reasoning, aim
at and attain the best for human being of the things that can be done in action.9

 The analysis begins in NE 1140a25. NE (Nichomachean Ethics) refers to Aristotle (2014).
 Phronêsis and sophia are the two virtues of thought (intellectual virtues) analysed in Book VI of
the Nichomachean Ethics.
 Phronêsis is kritikê (discerning) but also epitaktikê (prescriptive): “what should be done or not is
its end.”
 Respectively: “a true state involving reason, a practical one, concerned with what is good or bad
for a human being”; and “a true state involving reason, concerned with human goods, and
 On epistêmê as knowledge of the necessary and its demonstrative use of universal principles: NE
 There is a debate among interpreters as to the most suitable translations. Pierre Rodrigo translates
in referring to “rectitude concernant ce qui convient à une fin, ce dont la prudence est. l’aperception
vraie” (Rodrigo (1995), VII, 130 (note 22); italics ours). The suggestion made here accords with
an interpretation maintaining, as does Rodrigo’s, that one cannot separate the means from the end,
and that a vocabulary of means is misleading. See also Rodrigo (2006, Chap. 2). Along similar
lines it would seem, Reeve (Aristotle (2014)) translates: “the sort of correctness that is in accord
with what is advantageous in furthering the end about which practical wisdom is true
 Reeve (Aristotle (2014)) translates: “The unconditionally good deliberator, however, is the one
capable of aiming at and hitting, in accord with rational calculation, the best for a human being of
things doable in action”.
Phronêsis and the Ideal of Beauty 31

Aristotle goes on, phronêsis does not just deal with the universal, it must also know
the particulars: oud’estin hê phronêsis tôn katholou monon, alla dei kai ta
kath’hekasta gnôrizein; for it is related to action (praktikê) and praxis deals with
particulars (peri ta kath’hekasta) (NE 1141b14-17). Thus it is better, he continues,
to have people of experience (hoi empeiroi) in these affairs than people who have
acquired epistêmê (that is knowledge of universals): “Some people who lack knowl-
edge—most of all, those with experience—are more effective doers of action than
others who have knowledge” (NE 1141b15-20). Because it is practical, phronêsis
necessarily involves the two types of knowledge and even above all that of particu-
lars: dei amphô echein, ê tautên mallon (NE 1141b18-25).
Yet we still have to determine how a situation here and now where we must act
is placed in relation to a universal in such a way that the decision taken on what
should be done or the judgment made on the action accomplished be the best,
whereas the particular (what is to be done) cannot be deduced from the universal, as
it is in science (dealing with what cannot be other than it is).10
Now Hannah Arendt indicates a possible path in establishing a parallel between
the Aristotelian phronimos’s judgment and the Kantian reflective judgment (Arendt
1977). This rapprochement is justified precisely because, in the presence of a par-
ticular case, the question involves seeking the general or universal principle it
should be subsumed under and, according to the definition Kant gives of reflective
judgment, that universal is not given preliminarily.11 Neither the demonstrative,
deductive, nor the theoretical inductive model are enough for either Aristotle or
Kant. It is impossible to deduce the act to be done—or the judgment of taste—here
and now from a theoretical statement similar to a universal mathematical law. As for
theoretical induction, it consists merely in drawing a form or general “law” from
particular cases, common but abstract and lacking any specific content: we cannot
in this way end up with an act or a judgment that is a singular adapted to my situa-
tion here and now, good—valid—for me and this community I live in and wherein
I act or judge.
But, for Kant, the blueprint of the reflective judgment is the aesthetic judgment.
However, aesthetic judgment that is pure and without a determinate concept (of the
understanding) could not directly be the most enlightening model here. Nevertheless,
§17 from the Third Critique can help us in representing the intellectual operation
suited to the discriminating excellence of the phronimos, as it considers an aesthetic
judgment that is not concept-free.12 But the intervention of concept is not

 See NE 1139b19-21: “what we know scientifically does not at all admit of being otherwise”.
 See CJ, 67, Ak, V, 179: “If (…) only the particular is given, for which the universal is to be found,
then the power of judgment is merely reflecting.”
 We might wonder why the most informative model might not be teleological judgment, which
shares taking an end into consideration with the phronimos’s judgment (but, as we shall see, that is
also the case of the special aesthetic judgment considered here), and to a certain extent at least
applies to historic events, and hence to human actions (See The Conflict of the Faculties, II, the
example of the French Revolution). Yet, §17, which we shall focus on, is to my knowledge the only
place where Kant tries to provide a psychological account of a reflective judgment and that is the
aspect we are most particularly interested here. In the case of teleological judgment, we meet the
32 D. Lories

“­ determinant” as in science and we are asked to construct an ideal, an ideal of the

imagination to serve as a standard in judging beauty. That ideal cannot be repre-
sented by concepts. Hence it is differentiated from the ideal of pure reason as defined
by the First Critique, for there “the aim of the reason with its ideal is (…) a thor-
oughgoing determination in accordance with a priori rules.”13
In 1790, Kant described the mental operation at work between multiple singular
cases and the unicity of an ideal of beauty. That description does no more than blaze
a trail in the direction of a psychological elucidation of the process. Kant shows that
he is completely conscious of the limits of his approach, even concerning its proper
object at that moment: the beauty of the human being. However, with his assistance
we can hope to refine the understanding of relations between, on the one hand, the
judgments and decisions to act in such a way here and now and, on the other, the aim
of the holôs good life, of eudaimonia, as a successful life.14
Let us specify the working hypothesis. In §17 of the Critique of the Power of
Judgment, from a psychological standpoint, that is to say, a non-transcendental
point of view, Kant describes the mental process by which the judging subject
obtains an ideal of beauty relative to the human being.
Now, the situations are comparable when one must here and now judge what one
should do (or about what has been done) or when one must here and now judge the
singular beauty of a given human being.15 Consequently, the Kantian description
might be enlightening transposed to the phronimos’s decision making.
1. “The archetype of taste,” which allows us to judge as regards beauty, Kant writes,
“is a mere idea, which everyone must produce in himself.” Recalling that the
ideal is “the representation of an individual being as adequate to an idea” and
that the archetype in question “rests on reason’s indeterminate idea of a

example of the eye, but it is clear that in that example the end to be considered—seeing—is a
conceptually well determined particular end (an end as to which nature leaves hardly any doubt),
rather than global (holôs) and unconditional (haplôs). For that example, see CJ, 36–37 (First
Introduction, IX), Ak XX, 236.
 Kant (1998), 553 (AK, III, 384 (A 569/B 597)). From this moment on, Kant distinguishes that
ideal of reason from ideals of sensibility. AK, III, 384-85, A 570/B 598: “That is how it is with the
ideal of reason, which always rests on determinate concepts and must serve as a rule and an origi-
nal image, whether for following or for judging. It is entirely otherwise with the creatures of imagi-
nation, of which no one can give an explanation or an intelligible concept; they are, as it were,
monograms, individual traits, though not determined through any assignable rule, constituting
more a wavering sketch, as it were, which mediates between various appearances, than a determi-
nate image, such as what painters and physiognomists say they have in their heads, and is supposed
to be an incommunicable silhouette of their products or even of their critical judgments. These
images can, though only improperly, be called ideals of sensibility because they are supposed to be
the unattainable model for possible empirical intuitions, and yet at the same time they are not sup-
posed to provide any rule capable of being explained or tested.”
 Eudaimonia as a whole, we may think, contains eupraxia (doing well) in each single act.
 Perhaps it is useful to specify that the attempted parallel seeks to clarify what Aristotle says about
the practical judgment of the phronimos, and that here we in no way at any moment seek to clarify
the Kantian conception of moral judgment in situations. That would be quite another task.
Phronêsis and the Ideal of Beauty 33

­ aximum,” which maximum “cannot be represented through concepts, but only

in an individual presentation,” Kant proposes talking about “the ideal of the
beautiful” (CJ, § 17, 117, Ak V, 232). The indeterminate idea of a maximum cor-
responds, in the Aristotelian context, to the very general and indeterminate con-
cept of the fully human person,16 actualizing in him or herself to the highest
degree the aptitudes most proper to humanity (at least the aptitudes of the phron-
imos as regards praxis and the judgment concerning it). The representation of a
singular being but not given to experience (see point 2 below) of an ideal, then,
can in this respect serve as a useful intermediary for thinking our way of realiz-
ing this maximum to the greatest extent possible and may be used as a standard
with whose aid we evaluate actions accomplished—or likely to be—by ourselves
or others.
2. According to Kant, we are not at the outset in possession of this ideal. It is not
given to us,17 but in part depends on sensory intuition of the real, of our experi-
ence: it is, Kant writes, “something that we strive to produce in ourselves.” That
is also to say that it is not in us as a fixed entity, because the representation we
have of it is nourished by our experiences; thus it evolves.
3. And what is more, this ideal belongs to the imagination: its singularity is that of
a sensory representation. We are far from the abstracted, universal and immuta-
ble concept, or from the pure Idea of pure reason.18 The first component of the
ideal for Kant is what he calls “the aesthetic normal idea,” meaning “an indi-
vidual intuition (of the imagination) that represents the standard for judging it as
a thing belonging to a particular species of animal”—it is not yet the standard of
human beauty. The second component is the Idea of practical reason in the strict
Kantian sense, which makes humans the beings of ends: “The Idea of reason,
which makes the ends of humanity insofar as they cannot be sensibly represented
into the principle for judging of its figure, through which, as their effect in
appearance, the former are revealed” (CJ, § 17, 118, Ak V, 233). For Aristotle,
this would correspond to the general understanding of the end of eudaimonia and

 For the sake of argument, this could be admitted in Aristotelian practical context if we under-
stand this “indetermination” as follows: there exists no rule that can be stated, nor ready-to-use
“recipe” for use by one and all; or, if there is one, human beings do not know it (the possession of
a “recipe” would reduce praxis to poiêsis).
 The definition of reflective judgment is such that the universal is not given preliminarily, as we
have already pointed out.
 The Kantian Idea is of avowedly Platonic inspiration (even if undetermined). This distancing
from the idea accords with the Aristotelian rejection of the Platonic idea of the good (NE I 6). It
should be kept in mind that the ultimate aim in the phronimos’s judgment of a particular situation
is certainly referred to a universal, but to a universal whose hic et nunc representation preserves
something of the situation’s particularity. And, for Kant, it is always the imagination which estab-
lishes the bond between the (intelligible) concept, the universal, and the sensed particular which is
the object of intuition. The imagination effectuates the mediation, either by a schema or symboli-
cally, depending on whether it involves a concept of the understanding or an unpresentable (non
schematizable) concept of reason. The case in §17 should be compared with what is said about
symbolic presentation in “The Dialectic of the Power of Judgment” (CJ, §§ 57–59). Yet the
approach here (in § 17) is only psychological and not transcendental.
34 D. Lories

eu zên that imposes itself on human beings as rational beings—logon echôn,

Aristotle says (NE, 1102a 30).19
Concerning the normal idea, it should be noted that for Kant it is aesthetic since
it involves appreciating the beauty of a human being. But one might well conceive
that by the same type of procedure it is quite possible to construct a standard of
eupraxia—of morally beautiful action, if you wish—through examples; examples,
not of human individuals we see, but of human acts we do or see others doing, in
short, of which we have sense experience.
Moreover, this component of the ideal is not reserved to the human species. For
Kant, this may concern all sorts of species (or even objects): “the normal idea must
take its elements for the figure of an animal of a particular species from experience”;
on this basis the imagination constructs “a model image” “in concreto”.20
Although how the imagination operates remains in the end mysterious, it proves
itself able “to reproduce the image and shape of an object out of an immense num-
ber of objects of different kinds, or even of one and the same kind.” “The mind is set
on making comparisons,” Kant writes, and we may suppose that “it even knows
how, by all accounts actually if not consciously, as it were to superimpose one image
on another and, by means of the congruence of several of the same kind to arrive at
a mean (ein Mittleres) that can serve them all as a common measure (Mass)” (CJ,
§17, 118, Ak V, 234). A normal “mean”—for Kant as for Aristotle—contributes to
revealing a “summit”—beauty for one, virtue for the other.21
This superposition process can be easily imagined in referring to
individuals’external physical looks. I will progressively transpose to human beings
as acting beings or, more precisely, as judging actions to accomplish, whose
Aristotelian model is the phronimos. “Someone,” Kant continues, “has seen a thou-
sand grown men.” From the point of view of action, we would say: a thousand situ-
ations of praxis of a given kind, situations either of the soldier, or the magistrate, or
the father dealing with his children, or the citizen in the assembly, etc. Kant writes:
“Now if he would judge what should be estimated as their comparatively normal
size,” “then (in my opinion) the imagination allows a great number of images (per-
haps the whole thousand) to be superimposed on one another, and, (…) in the space
where the greatest number of them coincide and within the outline of the place that
is illuminated by the most concentrated colors, there the average size becomes rec-
ognizable, which is in both height and breadth equidistant from the most extreme
boundaries of the largest and smallest statures; and this is the stature for a beautiful
man” (CJ, § 17, 118, Ak V, 234). In transposing, we would say: if we were to judge

 We could think here of Aristotle’s teaching about what human being’s ergon is (see NE
 The particularity of the human figure (because human beings are ends in themselves) is not what
is concerned by the first component of the ideal. See below for the second one.
 NE 1107a5-9: mesotês estin hê aretê, kata de to ariston kai to eu akrotês. “Virtue is medial, but,
in relation to the best and doing well, it is extreme.” See the definition in 1106b35-1107a1: “Virtue,
then, is a deliberately choosing state, which is in a medial condition in relation to us, one defined
by a reason and the one by which a practically-wise person (phronimos) would define it.”
Phronêsis and the Ideal of Beauty 35

their “normal” way of acting, etc. and we will read here the “mean” action instead
of “the average size”. We see that this has more to do with “median” value than an
arithmetical “mean.”22 And in the situation of action we would have to say: equally
distanced from contrary excesses, which deviate from the “suitable” median, of
what “is done” in the type of situation considered. This has to do with an “average”
term, not yet with excellence properly spoken of. We are taking the measure of the
morally “average” human act, which probably means conforming to the shared
ethos resulting from “correct” habit and usage and customs. “And this is the stature
for a beautiful man,” Kant concludes. If we transpose: it is in this zone of “light,”
equally distanced from the opposite extremes, that the (morally) beautiful act in this
type of situation is to be sought.
There is indeed a sense in which the morally good act is “a mean term” for
Aristotle. We can thus, Kant continues, determine such an average for each part of
the body, and in this way we obtain “[the] shape [which] is the basis for the normal
idea of the beautiful man in the country where the comparison is made.” The fact
that we can do it for each part of the body suggests, for praxis, that we could, for
example, determine an average for each ethical virtue, an average that is for each
type of action situation too (situations wherein virtue is expressed as courage or as
temperance or as justice or as generosity, etc.). According to our transposition, this
average would be determined in such a way that it is only by putting all of these
images together, in making them converge again and “superpose” on one another,
that we can provide ourselves with the “image” of virtue or of the virtuous, of the
good human life as a whole (holôs), meaning of its telos in the fullest sense. On the
one hand, what is particularly significant is that, for Kant and for Aristotle, we are
not dealing with an arithmetical mean (see NE 1106a29-b5) since it is our imagina-
tion which produces the median form,23 starting from multiple impressions left in
the “internal sense.” On the other hand, the result obtained is relative to us—
Aristotle’s pros hêmas in the definition of virtue (NE 1107a1)24—for everything
depends on what we have been given to see. We will not have the same “normal-­
idea” of man (or of woman) depending on whether we live in Europe, Black Africa
or China, as Kant observes (CJ, §17, 119, Ak V, 234). For Aristotle, the mesotês of
the definition of virtue of character (and which the phronimos indicates) is expressly
not arithmetical, and is also relative to us (an “us” located in an empirical

 But, of course, the result of the psychological process in the Kantian description is neither arith-
metical mean nor any sort of calculable median.
 It matters little whether, in the example chosen by Kant about the height of men, it would really
be possible to calculate the arithmetical mean (and also the median value) he is referring to on a
thousand people measured. What matters here, what is significant for our question, is that no cal-
culation is possible for “beauty”: neither an arithmetical mean, nor, obviously, a statistical median
 See also: supra note 23.
 Even if interpreters think that for Aristotle, there is a correct mesotês, and that the ergon of man
is not relative to us, we have to keep in mind here that we are talking about what corresponds to
Kantian “normal idea” and not yet to the Kantian “Ideal”. Because of the role of the universal (in
36 D. Lories

Kant writes: “This normal idea is not derived from the proportions taken from
experience, as determinate rules,” it is not a matter of calculable proportions; on the
contrary, “rather it is in accordance with it that rules for judging first become pos-
sible.” It is like “the image for the whole species, hovering among all the particular
and variously diverging intuitions of the individuals (…),” an image so to speak
“which nature used as the archetype underlying her productions in the same species,
but does not seem to have fully achieved in any individual.” Kant insists that this
image—never given in any individual—is not “the entire archetype of beauty in this
species,” it is “only the form that constitutes the indispensable condition of all
beauty, and so merely the correctness in the presentation of the species.” In the case
of action, we can say that it is an indispensable condition for a morally good, virtu-
ous action, to be in the “normality” of human action, or even in the “normality” of
a specific community. Virtue could be neither in the infra-human, nor in the divine
(the radically superhuman)26; it is remarkable no doubt, but non-extravagant, non-­
incomprehensible to the “average” individual in that community. It is “shareable,” it
can be understood. The figure thus traced by the imagination, Kant remarks, has
nothing specific or characteristic, it does not please us by its beauty, “but merely
because it does not contradict any condition under which alone a thing of this spe-
cies can be beautiful” (CJ, 119, Ak V, 235). Concerning Aristotelian praxis, the
action thus represented does not contravene any of the conditions necessary for a
human life to be able to be regarded as successful in this empirical community.
But for there to be an ideal of beauty, in relation to which to gauge the beauty of
human individuals (and only them), we must, according to Kant, join to that the
Ideas of reason, “the expression of the moral,” which gives the ideal its scope at
once properly universal and properly human. In the Aristotelian context, this would
correspond to what pertains to the aim of praxical excellence holôs, the aim of the
fulfilled (achieved) life, the general aim of acting kalôs or eu (NE 1122b5-10), as
well as to “conceptions” (or representations) of ethical virtues like courage, temper-
ance, generosity, justice, etc.
No more than it does for Kant regarding judging human beauty, this does not
answer all the questions about the mental operation under consideration, and even
less does it teach us how to judge, or how to act in such and such particular case.
Based on experiences that are always singular but multiplied, it is, however, signifi-
cant that there thus appears here what may be a telos, an aim, which is not satisfied
in being an abstract general concept (which might be taught to children: one must
be just, courageous, etc.; which, we moreover note, can only be learned through

Kant: the human beings as ends in themselves) (or telos), the Ideal is less relative than the normal
idea in Kant, just as in Aristotle the ergon may be less relative than the mesotês (of the virtue hic
et nunc).
 The more we distance ourselves from the mean image which emerges, the more we distance
ourselves from the properly human, from that median where the virtue of action is situated, and the
more we approach the confines of humanity. See Rodrigo (1995), 134, who quotes from
NE1151a15, and indicates that “we might go so far as to assert (…) that the school of vice is a cata-
strophic education which makes one radically imprudent, that is to say inhuman and despicable”
(italics ours).
Phronêsis and the Ideal of Beauty 37

examples garnered in common experience), but whose representation is a singular

image emerging from the “superposition” of a multitude of cases. This image,
joined to general representations relating to the good of humankind, to a will to act
well and to manage to become an excellent human being—and here the impact of a
philosophical and ethical teaching, such as Aristotle’s, might find a role to play in
the very formation of the phronimos and the virtuous individual, in addition to an
ordinary moral education aimed at stabilizing good dispositions and habits by a sort
of training based on each individual’s natural dispositions—may guide individuals
in their choices, in their judging how to act in particular situations. This image
evolves with each person, it remains related to him or herself. It will be different for
an Athenian and for a Spartan. It will be different for Socrates and for Pericles and
for each individual, according to everyone’s experience (according to the situations
s/he is given to encounter and deal with). And yet, the difference does not induce a
relativism in the strong sense, because there is a sharing of experience and because
the most general guiding lines remain, the most general trends—what corresponds
to Kantian Ideas—as to the human being’s eudaimonia or ergon, as Aristotle is able
to teach them, working in conjunction with common experience, for example to the
Athenians (their ethos).
As a result of this analysis, we understand better that the practical truth discerned
by the phronimos has its own specificity,27 and indeed at least in part relies on a
universal—the conception of eu zên holôs—but this universal assumes its form
from a superposition worked by the imagination to give it its unity based on an
experienced multiplicity of singular and changing things, that is, a universal which
is neither an Idea in its purity nor in and by its abstraction “separated from
We understand more clearly too why it is also impossible to separate the means—
always singular—within situations themselves and the end of moral action in gen-
eral: the eu zên’s realization can only take place in situations that are always
different. And if we have to provide ourselves with an image of that end, which can
serve as a guide to our particular judgment, this can be done only on the basis of
multiple situations which are superposed to crystallize (if we may use the metaphor)
into an optimal image which may “inspire” action in the moment.29
We also see clearly that under these conditions certain individuals stand out in
our experience as most closely approaching that ideal. If the phronimos so desig-
nated serves as a model and provides us with the mesotês, the mean, the rule of
virtue, this takes place in practice, that is in his or her acting and judging in situa-
tions. It is in contributing to the construction of the model-image, the archetype, in
everyone’s imagination. Yet even so, any particular example (of phronimos) must
always be interpreted and readapted to anyone wanting to take it as a guide in ­acting,

 For example, see NE 1139a26-36 and b12-13.
 Rodrigo 2006, 15 refers to the nomothetic as a “knowledge focusing on a universal without for
all that separating it from becoming,” (our translation) and recalls the close tie between this nomo-
thetic knowledge and phronêsis, see NE, 1139a26-36, b12-13, 1181b12-15.
 The verb “inspire” purposefully leaves the relationship of the image to action indeterminate.
38 D. Lories

it must be readapted to the various situations one has to deal with, it must be rein-
terpreted according to one’s own character, making one more apt to one type of
action than another, etc. And this adaptation can only take place by means of a sort
of model-image, simultaneously informed by a rich and varied experience (resulting
from the individual itinerary of the very person who must act or judge), as well as
penetrated by the customs prevalent where s/he lives (but not reduced to them). The
image in question is not restricted to “mechanically”30 extracting itself from the sur-
rounding customs and from the experience of an individual, like an arithmetical
mean. Just as, in Kant’s text, the human being’s beauty is “raised” by the Idea of
humanity, in the same way, that image resulting from a multiplicity in the domain of
action is “raised” or drawn towards excellence by a concept or general thought of
that human practical excellence or of an eudaimonia through eupraxia, and by a will
to act that way because it is beautiful to do so and for no other reason (NE 1144a13-­
20). Upon which a certain formation, perhaps even theoretical instruction can, here
again, have an effect. Superposing images, closer and closer to the optimal image to
be reached can help in “seeing” more clearly—and according to Aristotle there is
indeed an “eye” for these things—how to go from the situation as it is seen here and
now towards this “ideal.” This “ideal,” in its singular being, understandably has
nothing abstract about it. All these images, closer and closer to the optimal situation
the imagination “figures out” for itself, let us see, so to speak, step by step the steps
likely to lead from the situation as we see it here and now to an “ideal” situation of
the same type (the one the imagination provides itself with). There is certainly a
qualitative leap whose secret remains hidden in the imagination’s properly “inven-
tive” (more than “synthetic”) or creative aptitude.31 The cutting edge of the secret is
this passage to optimal starting from the multiple data of experience, a passage
which is not that of theoretical abstraction, which qualitatively provides nothing
(since it rather emerges through subtraction). The optimal pertains to reason’s inter-
vention, which rises to the absolute (or at the very least to the “maximum”), accord-
ing to the proper character of the Kantian Idea.
Let us note further that in constituting this kind of optimal image, not only may
personal experience intervene but also do the experiences of others, whose testi-
mony we receive, along with their opinions. Aristotle underlines the political scope
of phronêsis and takes care to analyse relevant hexeis linked to taking others into
consideration: sunesis, gnômê, suggnômê. Likewise, Kant refers to taste as “a fac-
ulty for judging that in its reflection takes account (a priori) of everyone else’s way
of representing in thought” (CJ, § 40, 173, Ak V, 293).
From the point of view of the individual acting and judging the action, the con-
stituted ideal transcends every case by its optimal character, but far from being
abstract, it is related to each individuated image while designating a good in relation
to each of them because it shows the better that it is in relation to each of them. By

 This is Kant’s word.
 Kant’s text suggests that it acts “in a way entirely incomprehensible to us” (CJ, §17, 118, Ak, V,
234). Suggestively, even Aristotle’s ethics provides us with a sort of education towards the acquisi-
tion of ethical virtues, not towards practical wisdom.
Phronêsis and the Ideal of Beauty 39

dint of comparisons, and gradually, through superimposed images, a path of action

appears here and now as the best path towards the ideal. Step by step, we “figure”
the way from here to the ideal (the telos).
Aristotle obviously did not think of the phronimos’s reflection the way Kant
thought the ideal of beauty much later,32 but, with the help of this Kantian image, we
may perhaps be able to elucidate a little bit (or at least figure out) the operation of
the phronimos’s thought when the particular and the general are at stake. Obviously
too, Aristotle did not equip the human soul with a faculty equivalent to the imagina-
tion as it is conceived by Kant. But in concluding we may recall certain features of
the phantasia suggesting that it may accomplish an operation comparable to that
described by Kant. On this subject we may refer to an interesting article on the role
of the phantasia in the political form of the phronimos’s excellence (Bodéüs
(1990)).33 This article points out that the De anima associates a properly human
phantasia with a deliberative aptitude and there mentions this faculty’s aptitude “to
form one sole image from several” (“hen ek pleionôn phantasmatôn poiein”)
(Aristotle, 434a7-10), and that is because they need only one standard of measure
(“anagkê heni metrein”),34 which, with regard to the references made to the Kantian
text here, cannot help evoking the imagination’s construction of an “ideal.”
Thus Kant helps in representing the necessary passage from a multitude of sin-
gular images to a unitary image that may be a representation of a “practicable”
improvement of what each singular image is. Kant allows us to have a representa-
tion of the relationship of singularity to general, a generality that, unlike that of the
concept or the Idea, remains riveted to the singularity of one image: the ideal to be
aimed at here and now. This ideal is not a concept nor an Idea but a representation
of the imagination, which represents, rather than a universal, a singularity inasmuch
as it is adequate (an adequacy which technically is moreover always only approached
or indirect, for Kant) to an Idea—meaning, for Kant, always an object of thought,
which has an absolute and total character: haplôs and holôs, in Aristotle’s terms.


Arendt, Hannah. 1977 [1961]. The crisis in culture: Its social and its political significance. In
Between past and future: Eight exercises in political thought, chapter VI. New York: Penguin
Aristotle. 2014. Nichomachean Ethics. Translated with introduction and notes by C.D.C. Reeve.
Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

 For example, it could be argued that Aristotle’s conception of examples is different from Kant’s,
because, for Kant, it is impossible to get an empirical example of what is ideal, while for Aristotle
experience can provide reliable examples in both the ethical and the political realm.
 Bodéüs is particularly reliant on Nussbaum (1978), especially the pages on the phantasia in the
De Anima, and on the practical syllogism.
 The major texts are all to be found in De Anima III; in particular: 427b15-429a 9, 431a15-b 20,
40 D. Lories

Bodéüs, Richard. 1990. L’imagination au pouvoir. Dialogue XXIX: 21–40.

Kant, Immanuel. 1998. Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. and ed. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
———. 2000. Critique of the Power of Judgment. ed. Paul Guyer, Trans. Paul Guyer and Eric
Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (“CJ” refers to Kant (2000), “Ak” refers
as usual to the German reference edition, the ‘Academy Edition’).
Nussbaum, Martha. 1978. Aristotle’s De Motu Animalium. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Rodrigo, Pierre. 1995. Aristote, l’eidétique et la phénoménologie. Grenoble: Millon.
———. 2006. Aristote. Une philosophie pratique: Praxis, politique et bonheur. Paris: Vrin.
Taminiaux, Jacques. 2008. Phronêsis, cultura animi et jugement réfléchissant. Remarques sur
Hannah Arendt. In Le jugement pratique. Autour de la notion de phronêsis, ed. D. Lories and
L. Rizzerio, 333–348. Paris: Vrin.
———. 2009. Maillons herméneutiques. Études de poétique, de politique et de phénoménologie.
Paris: Presses universitaires de France.
Part II
Political Facets of Phenomenology
The Ethical Dimension of Transcendental

Rosemary R.P. Lerner

1  T
 he Framework of Phenomenological Reduction: Poiêsis
or Praxis?

The interests that have pervaded Jacques Taminiaux’s lifelong work have chiefly
revolved around ontological, political, and aesthetic issues. The relevance that the
political axis acquired in his reflections and publications—motivated among others
by his increasing interest in Hannah Arendt’s political phenomenology, including
both her indebtedness to and her critique of Heidegger’s thought—allows us to
point out that one of the main problems that has continually caught Taminiaux’s
attention is the role of theory and praxis in philosophy as well as the relationship
between them. This is quite clear, for example, in his focus on the retrieval of Greek
tragedy by modern and contemporary German philosophers.1
In his view, most German thinkers manifest—above and beyond their differences—
an ontological reading of Greek tragedy (with the exception of Hölderlin), thus
distorting its deepest and original sense as a “human intrigue.” In spite of the fact
that, in contrast to such German thinkers, Plato deprives tragedy of its philosophical
dignity and ontological rank, Taminiaux attributes their ontological interpretation to
the fact that they re-enact Plato’s gesture: namely, the complicity that Plato estab-
lishes between theôria and poiêsis, thus interpreting tragedy as a preeminent meta-
physical document. The relationship of this primal doublet (theôria-­poiêsis) to
politics—a relationship that distorts its essential practical character—is that the
bios theorêtikos reserved for the wise is incarnated in the excellence of the polis,
whereby the different strata carry out their different roles in view of the ­harmony of

 See especially Taminiaux (1995). Yet his concern for the relationship between modern and con-
temporary German philosophy and classical Greek thought is traceable ever since Taminiaux
R.R.P. Lerner (*)
Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, Lima, Peru

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 43

V.M. Fóti, P. Kontos (eds.), Phenomenology and the Primacy of the Political,
Contributions To Phenomenology 89, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8_4
44 R.R.P. Lerner

the whole. Rather than reviewing Taminiaux’s acute and close examination of
German idealism, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, let us briefly focus on his reading
of Heidegger on these issues. As in the other modern German philosophers he
examines, Taminiaux observes a “Platonic filiation” ever since Heidegger’s early
proposal of a “fundamental ontology” in Being and Time (1927), tracing it to his
Rector’s Address (1933), Introduction to Metaphysics (1935), and Hölderlin’s
Hymn: The Ister (1942). Taminiaux observes not only that Heidegger seems to
interpret praxis beyond all relation to interaction and interlocution, but also that his
revaluation of the role of art in politics is due to the fact that he confers the utmost
importance upon poiêsis as an “internal potency in the human understanding of
Being, of the Lichtblick,” namely, as a “high-ranked theôria” (Taminiaux 1995,
176). Summing up, if technê is related to inauthentic life and Vorhandenheit, there
is another form of vita activa “intimately welded to an ample ontological theôria”
(ibid., 179). And even in later texts (Hölderlin’s Hymn: The Ister), Heidegger still
excludes the bios politikos and the vita activa, continuing to privilege theôria (ibid.,
Now our question on this occasion is how these reflections regarding the various
faculties of the soul and their corresponding virtues, in their relatedness and opposi-
tions (theôria-sophia, praxis-phronêsis, poiêsis-technê), are connected with our
subject matter—the “ethical” (practical) dimension of transcendental reduction. Let
us orient ourselves by considering some preliminary hints from Taminiaux’s (2004)
reflections on Heidegger’s “metamorphosis” of Husserl’s phenomenological reduc-
tion (both eidetic and transcendental). Indeed, in spite of clearly distancing himself
from Husserl’s account and its dualistic framework inherited from Plato and
Descartes, Heidegger’s early Marburg and Freiburg courses prove that “reduction
was at the core of his theoretical project” (Taminiaux 2004, 32). Taminiaux also
stresses that for Heidegger, “reduction,” as the scientific and “basic component of
phenomenological method,” is “never a technique. As soon as it becomes one, it has
fallen away from its own proper nature.”2 Heidegger himself—closely following
Husserl on this issue—rightly points out that the Methodenbegriff does not charac-
terize the “what of the philosophical research’s object-contents, but its how” (SZ,
27). Yet Heidegger leaves no doubt at all regarding what is and must be the only
relevant Grundthema of philosophy, the correctly understood “Phänomen der
Phänomenologie”: not “das sachhaltige Was der Gegenstände,” but the “Being of
being, its meaning.”3 Thus on the one hand, the negative component of his version
of reduction (“deconstruction” = Destruktion) must suspend “what blocks the way
to the phenomenon,” namely, the concepts inherited from ancient ontology, in order
to access the “original experiences” from which they stem; on the other hand, the
positive component must launch “a construction in which the ontological struc-
tures”—the “existentials” that bring Being “into view in a free projection”—“are
made visible” (Taminiaux 2004, 34).

 Taminiaux (2004), 33; see also Heidegger (1972), 27 (henceforth SZ).
 “Der phänomenologische Begriff von Phänomen meint als das Sichzeigende das Sein des
Seienden, seinen Sinn, seine Modifikationen und Derivate” (SZ, 34–39; here 35).
The Ethical Dimension of Transcendental Reduction 45

There would be an alleged advantage in Heidegger’s approach to reduction, for

it is based on Dasein’s “radical individuation” rather than on the “universal and
neutral criterion” of the cogito. Yet Taminiaux asks whether Heidegger’s version
does not entail the same difficulties as Husserl’s. Indeed, his close analyses of
Heidegger’s indebtedness to Husserl’s first and sixth Logical Investigations—
analyses inspired by Derrida’s (1967) account in La voix et le phénomène, although
differing somewhat from the latter’s conclusions—show that new yet similar con-
trasts and dualities rend apart “the discourse of the speaking Dasein,” introducing a
radical chasm between indication (logos sêmantikos) and genuine meaning (logos
apophantikos), between ordinary (communicative) discourse (Gerede) and authen-
tic (solitary) primordial monologue, or even between Sicht and ontological
Durchsichtigkeit.4 Thus even if, according to Taminiaux, Heidegger’s question
“who is the Dasein” replaces Husserl’s basic question “what is Bewusstsein,”
Heidegger’s conclusion is arrived at only within “the solitary vision by Dasein of its
own mortality”; moreover, Taminiaux is of the opinion that “it is not an exaggera-
tion to claim that the contrast” he has just sketched “entails as many difficulties as
those implicit in Husserl’s concept of reduction” (Taminiaux 2004, 44).
Thus the primal motivation for the following proposal stems from my interest in
finding out whether this appealing and well-argued reading of the Greek and
Platonic connivance between theôria-poiêsis in contrast to the fragility and contin-
gency of human practical judgments and the human intrigue of our worldly abode—
a reading retrieved by modern and contemporary German philosophers, including
Heidegger—is in seamless consonance with the canonical contemporary interpreta-
tion of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology and reduction. Or do we already
find ourselves in a situation in which an alternative reading could be risked? In my
view, what has characterized the success of Taminiaux’s original and piercingly
acute reading of the history of philosophy is above all his close and severe scrutiny
of texts transmitted by the tradition, in dialogue with our experience of the “matters
themselves.” It is in the wake of this essential and everlasting teaching that I risk an
alternative reading of the phenomenological reduction, and specifically of its tran-
scendental version, as an eminently practical—namely, ethical—achievement
(Leistung), driven by a practical virtue, responsibility.

2  A
 Unitary View of Husserl: Beyond the “Conventional”
Versus the “New” or the “Other”

Before briefly addressing the specific matter of the transcendental reduction, I will
first sketch a rough draft of my general view of the main purposes and scope of
Husserl’s idea of philosophy, in order to provide the framework for my

 Taminiaux (2004), 43–44; Taminiaux is referring to SZ, §§16, 18, and 31.
46 R.R.P. Lerner

Since the first publications of Husserl’s posthumous works in the Husserliana

volumes in the 1950s, the “conventional” view of Husserl’s transcendental phenom-
enology as an intellectualistic Cartesian philosophy, in rough contrast to Lebens-
and Existenzphilosophie, has slowly started to change.5 In my view, the publication
of Husserliana LXII, entitled Problems at the Frontiers of Phenomenology:
Analyses of the Unconscious and of Instincts, Metaphysics, Late Ethics. Texts from
the Nachlass,6 will finally enable a coherent, unitary view of his thought that inte-
grates all of its various dimensions.7 It is well known that the so-called “conven-
tional” view stemmed from Heidegger’s appraisal and critique of transcendental
phenomenology and its concept of reflection, a critique underway ever since his
1923–1924 Marburg Lectures.8 Burt Hopkins (2015) has recently demonstrated that
in these lectures Heidegger retrieves Natorp’s 1914 neo-Kantian critique of Husserl’s
account of the “scope” of phenomenological reflection—namely, that it is simply
impossible to gain access to the living stream of consciousness without freezing and
distorting it—for his own very different hermeneutical purpose, which is the “indict-
ment of the very possibility of Husserl’s conception of transcendental phenomenol-
ogy as radical philosophy.” In spite of the fact that Heidegger’s early interpretations
stemmed from a fragmentary (albeit keen and acute) reading of a small percentage
of Husserl’s work,9 his brilliant teaching and the impact of Being and Time, as well
as his skilful manipulation of his proximity to the “Master” in order to obtain the
latter’s support to succeed his chair in Freiburg, may easily explain why these inter-
pretations spread so rapidly as the most authoritative and canonical among his dis-
ciples and followers. Husserl’s own initial and quite severe terminological and
expository deficiencies in introducing his nascent transcendental phenomenology,
and his incapacity to convey his idea of philosophy by integrating his lifelong inves-
tigations into a coherent “philosophical system” wherein transcendental phenome-
nology was supposed to be only one—albeit basic—component, isolated Husserl
from many of his contemporaries. So in spite of the timid allegiance to Husserl and
his phenomenology expressed in Being and Time, this may also explain some of

 This expression—the “conventional comprehension” of Husserl’s thought—was introduced by
San Martín (2015), especially 31 ff., inspired by Welton (2000), who introduced the contrast
between the “established interpretations” and the “new Husserl.” These views were later developed
by the contributors in Welton (2003).
 Volumes from Husserliana—Edmund Husserl Gesammelte Werke, Husserliana Dokumente, and
Husserliana Materialien—are cited as Hua, Hua Dok, and Hua Mat, respectively, with Roman
volume numbers and Arabic page numbers, followed parenthetically by the page number of the
translation, where available. Full information for individual works is included in the References,
listed by volume number in the series concerned.
 I have started drafting this attempt myself in several recent papers: Lerner (2015b, c, 2017).
 For example, Heidegger minutely criticizes Husserl’s Ideas I (Hua III/1) in his 1923/24 and sum-
mer 1925 lectures (Heidegger (1994, 1979), respectively).
 Indeed, he seems to have read only the Logical Investigations (Hua XVIII, XIX/1, XIX/2), Ideas
I (Hua III/1), and—according to his own testimony—some manuscripts, among them those post-
humously published as Ideas II (Hua IV) and, during the 1920s, the 1904/05 lectures on time-
consciousness (Hua X), which he published in 1928.
The Ethical Dimension of Transcendental Reduction 47

Heidegger’s harshest expressions, registered in his correspondence, regarding the

“Master’s” allegedly zero philosophical value.10 Indeed, Heidegger wrote to Karl
Jaspers in 1923: “Husserl has arrived totally out of control—indeed, if he ever was
‘in control,’ which more and more I have begun to doubt of late. He goes from pillar
to post, uttering trivialities that would make you weep. He lives off his mission as
‘Founder of Phenomenology’, but nobody knows what that means” (Hopkins 2001,
127; San Martín 2015, 33).
In sum, Heidegger’s appraisal was retrieved and transmitted mutatis mutandis in
Germany by Georg Misch (1929) and the hermeneutical tradition, such as Gadamer
and followers. Jean-Paul Sartre (1943) introduced it in France, alongside the opin-
ion that the Husserlian notion of reflection is essentially objectifying, whereas our
most original phenomena or experiences are either non-objective or pre-reflexive
(Sartre 1948). In Spain and later Latin America this reading was spread by José
Ortega y Gasset and José Gaos.
Very early, before the first Husserliana volume was published in 1950, the con-
trast among Husserl’s publications produced their first bewilderments; one example
was the contrast between the (1900–1901) Logical Investigations and the work pub-
lished in 1913. Indeed, parallel to his 1900 demolition of logical psychologism,
Husserl first understood phenomenology as descriptive psychology, meant to eluci-
date the correlation between the objective validity of (logical-mathematical) scien-
tific discourse, on the one hand, and its realization in mental, subjective processes
on the other, or between logical truth and epistemological certainty. But soon after,
facing the unresolved difficulties of his psychological-descriptive method, he real-
ized that the problem of correlation concerns the intertwined totality of human
experiences (theoretical, volitional, and emotional) in their universal correlation
with the surrounding world. Thus quite early the scope of his philosophical project
became considerably broader, and his descriptive method was radicalized in the
direction of a transcendental phenomenology. However, his attempt in Ideas I to
begin to disclose what he had achieved by 1913 was understood neither by those
who were seeking objective validity at the expense of the subject’s “exile” or “ban-
ishment” (namely, by logicians such as Frege), nor by those who had already vindi-
cated a new approach to metaphysical problems and to the concretion of existence,
life, or history, an approach that set the course of twentieth century continental
philosophy (triggered mainly by the Baden school of neo-Kantians, Dilthey, and
Heidegger himself).
When Husserl published his lectures On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness
of Internal Time (Hua X) in 1928, Formal and Transcendental Logic (Hua XVII) in
1929, and the first four Cartesian Meditations (Hua I) in French in 1931, his readers
did not wholly perceive how these new works were connected with Ideas I. The
bewilderment was even greater since on the one hand, Husserl requested Heidegger—

 This he clearly states in a 1923 letter to Karl Löwith that Hopkins (2001), 127 transcribes:

“Looking back from this vantage point to the Logical Investigations, I am now convinced that
Husserl was never a philosopher, not even for one second in his life. He becomes ever more ludi-
crous.” Also cited by San Martín (2015), 33.
48 R.R.P. Lerner

who had published Being and Time the previous year—to take care of the edition of
his time lectures, but on the other hand, both Formal and Transcendental Logic and
the Cartesian Meditations seemed to radicalize the logistic and idealist project of
transcendental phenomenology. For decades, Husserl’s interpreters therefore failed
to understand either how and in what sense the exposition of transcendental phe-
nomenology during the 1920s acquired increasing depth and scope beyond what he
had expounded in 1913, or why this did not mean a mere “change of course” regard-
ing the former stage, let alone its rebuttal. Finally, in 1936, when Husserl published
the first two parts of the Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental
Phenomenology (Hua VI) in Belgrade, interpreters were even more perplexed.
Some believed that Husserl had undergone a decisive spin abandoning his initial
transcendental phenomenology, his alleged anti-historicism, and his logicism of
With the publication of his posthumous work in the Husserliana volumes, sev-
eral interpretations ensued: first, the sheer denial of the possibility of “another” or a
“new” Husserl; second, the detection of contradictions such as paradoxes or ten-
sions within Husserl’s philosophy (a view earlier anticipated by Merleau-Ponty);
and finally, the allegations of an “evolution” in his thought (coherent or not, opin-
ions have differed), and according to some scenarios, an evolution that had even
been influenced by his brilliant disciple—Heidegger himself.
The first interpretation was that by José Gaos, who translated the Logical
Investigations into Spanish in 1929, the Cartesian Meditations in 1942, and Ideas I
in 1949 (“destined to the ‘philosophers’ museum’”), as well as Heidegger’s Being
and Time (“the summit of a still living and current philosophy, bustling with a con-
ceptual gestation”).11 Ortega y Gasset and Gaos were influenced by Heidegger’s
interpretation of Ideas I thanks to Georg Misch, as Nelson Orringer suggests.12
Ortega y Gasset even purported that Husserl’s Crisis had not been written by him,
but by his assistant, Eugen Fink.13 Similarly, in the 1963 XIII International
Philosophy Congress in Mexico, where a “Symposium on Husserl’s Notion of the
Lebenswelt” took place, attended by Ludwig Landgrebe, Enzo Paci, and John Wild,
Gaos—sticking to his Cartesian view of Husserl—refused to admit that transcen-
dental phenomenology had any relationship with the historicity of the Lebenswelt

 See Zirión (2013), 6, 9. In contrast to the careful and excessively literal translation of Being and
Time, and to the years Gaos dedicated to this work (he had finished it by 1947, but continued to
work on it until its publication in 1951), the Gaos translation of Ideas I proved to be inaccurate and
hastily done (Zirión 2013, 8, n. 8, 9).
 Orringer (2001), 149, cited by San Martín (2015), 64. In the abstract that heads this paper,
Orringer asserts that “the influence of Georg Misch, disciple of Dilthey, explains since 1932
Ortega’s views on Husserl’s epoché and Heidegger’s analytics of Dasein” (see http://dialnet.uniri-
 See San Martín (2015), 35: “Ortega (…) insists that (…) the text published by Husserl is in truth
not his, but belongs to his disciple Fink, as can be deduced by the language and proposals.” San
Martín quotes Ortega’s text “Notes on Thought: Its Theurgy and Demiurgy” initially published in
1942  in Argentina (Ortega 2006, 3–29), where his Husserl critique—previously known in his
classes since 1929—appeared in print for the first time.
The Ethical Dimension of Transcendental Reduction 49

(Landgrebe), with the lived body (Wild), or with Marxism (Paci), which flustered
him the most (Zirión 1999, 35; San Martín 2015, 53).
The second interpretation concerns the difficulty some interpreters have had in
reconciling what appears to be contradictory and inconsistent directions that the
author of Ideas I arbitrarily and belatedly introduced into his philosophical project
with the Crisis. This is the case with Merleau-Ponty, the first external researcher at
the Husserl Archives in Leuven in 1939. Concerning the very difference between
Husserl’s published works and his posthumous manuscripts, Taminiaux remarks
that, for Merleau-Ponty, “to interpret Husserl’s evolution means to underscore the
contrast between the clear program of transcendental phenomenology and the
obscure and infinite patience of the manuscripts and to recognize in them an at least
tacit rupture with the logicism of the philosophy of essences and the growing aware-
ness that the phenomena resist any return to the classical effort at intellectual ade-
quation.” (Taminiaux 1985, 117–118).
Finally, when authors such as Nam-In Lee (1993) observed that Husserl attempted
to give a unitary explanation to the thematic spectrum that stretches from neuronal
levels to monadological intersubjectivity, this apparent “evolution” has been inter-
preted by some, like Gérard Granel, as a consistent yet “absolutely paradoxical” and
“desperate” attempt to resuscitate and update an “ancient scene” of an “ancient
theatre,” an endeavour that is only possible due to the “total indeterminacy” in
which Husserl leaves the “concept of life”: “Surely, the perpetual transition of one
constitutive ‘stratum’ to the other (…) allows one to make everyone happy (conten-
ter tout le monde et son père), as the story-teller ironically says. (…) Thus after first
having satisfied the scientistic tendencies of that which he claims to be philosophy,
Husserl immediately dedicates himself, thanks to the oscillating game of constitu-
tion, to a comforting interpretation for the opposed (and co-ruling) tendencies of the
personalistic-spiritualist kind” (Granel 1995, 141–145).
However, with the 2014 publication of Husserliana XLII, we have at our dis-
posal texts that allow us a glimpse into the Husserlian philosophical project from
1908 to 1937  in its full scope and complexity. Indeed, many of its topics had
appeared in puzzling dispersion in previous volumes of the collection. However, the
project now appears as a “philosophical system,” not in the traditional speculative
sense, but as a first draft of a “systematic field of work” (an Arbeitsphilosophie). In
this “idea of philosophy” as a “universal and ‘rigorous’ science in a radical sense,”14
“transcendental phenomenology”—in “radical self-meditation” and thus devoted to
the eidetic description of the “constitutive transcendental life” laid open by tran-
scendental reduction (in its static and genetic modalities)—occupies a central place
as “first philosophy” (Hua VIII, 4), for it offers the “ultimate foundation”—that of
“ultimate self-responsibility”—upon which such a “system” or “idea of philoso-
phy” should be built (Hua V, 139 [406]). Already in 1914, in a draft of a letter to
Karl Joël, Husserl states that he is “in no case reducing philosophy to a theory of
knowledge and a critique of reason in general, much less to a transcendental

 “Philosophie gilt mir, der Idee nach, als die universale und im radikalen Sinne ‘strenge’

Wissenschaft” (Hua V, 139 [406]).

50 R.R.P. Lerner

phenomenology.”15 In his 1929 article for the Encyclopaedia Britannica he pin-

points an idea that he had been pondering since 1908: that “phenomenology rigor-
ously and systematically carried out (…) is divided into eidetic phenomenology (or
all-embracing ontology) as first philosophy, and second philosophy, the science of
the universe of facta, or of the transcendental intersubjectivity that synthetically
comprises all facta. First philosophy is the universe of methods for the second, and
is related back into itself for its methodological grounding” (Hua IX, 298–299
[177]). On the other hand, “second philosophy” corresponds to one of two senses
that the concept of “metaphysics” has for Husserl, namely, as a “philosophy of real-
ity” (Wirklichkeitsphilosophie) or a “factual philosophical science” of “existences”
(Metaphysik als absolute Wissenschaft von der faktischen Wirklichkeit—Hua XLII,
229) that will allow a metaphysical interpretation of the world given in experience.
But “a factual philosophical science” can provide “the guidelines pointing to the
metaphysical ideas of God, freedom, and immortality, etc.,”16 namely, to “meta-
physical” problems in a second, “ultimate and higher sense,” to the “highest and
ultimate questions” that correspond to the Kantian postulates and to the properly
ethical problems that have been dealt with by the great philosophers of the past.
Husserl already starts sketching this metaphysical and ethical horizon when he
begins to develop transcendental phenomenology, but he keeps it in reserve in his
courses (in the case of ethics) and in his manuscripts from 1908 to 1909 on.17 The
reason for this is that he first wishes to lay down the basis of an “elementary gram-
mar” for his transcendental phenomenology, which is precisely not only what he
attempts in Ideas I, but is also the task to which he voluntarily limits himself
(Selbstschränkung). However, the metaphysical and ethical problems lie “much
closer to [his] heart,”18 and comprise the “realm of desire” (Reich der Sehnsucht)
towards which his work had been oriented since the beginning.19
Now those ethical and metaphysical problems are high-level problems
(Höhenprobleme) lying at the “frontiers” and “limits” of transcendental

 “Ich reduziere keineswegs die Philosophie auf Erkenntnistheorie und Vernunftkritik überhaupt,
geschweige denn auf transzendentale Phänomenologie” (Hua Dok III/6, 205).
 See the letter to Dietrich Mahnke, 25.02.1917: “All das ist vorausgesetzt, damit wir die aktuell
gegebene Welt der Erfahrung, des Geisteslebens, die Welt, die da wirklich ist und die in den
Wissenschaften in naiv-natürlicher Weise erforscht wird, absolut auszuwerten <vermögen>, ihren
Sinn zu bestimmen und die Linien zu finden, die zu den metaphysischen Ideen Gott, Freiheit,
Unsterblichkeit usw. hinleiten. Also zu einer absoluten Interpretation der gegebenen Welt, die zwar
gegeben, aber philosophisch unverstanden ist” (Hua Dok III/3, 410).
 Husserl discovers his “transcendental reduction” in 1905, and in 1908 he already describes his
phenomenology in terms of a “transcendental idealism” (see Hua XXXVI). Simultaneously, in two
texts from 1908 to 1909 strongly inspired by Leibniz, he begins to outline his “metaphysics” on
monadological, teleological, and theological problems (see Hua XLII, Text Nr. 10 from 1908 to
1909 and Text Nr. 11 from 1908).
 See the letter to Dietrich Mahnke, 5.09.1917: “[…] beschränke ich mich jahrzehntelang auf reine
Phänomenologie und auf die Ausbildung ihrer Methode, auf die Lösung ihrer echten
Grundprobleme, statt mich vorwiegend den meinem Herzen soviel näher gehenden religionsphi-
losophischen und sonstigen Transzendenzproblemen zuzuwenden” (Hua Dok III/3, 418).
 See the letter to Hans Driesch, 18.07.1917 (Hua Dok III/6, 60).
The Ethical Dimension of Transcendental Reduction 51

p­ henomenology, namely, “problems that lie at the ultimate and highest levels”
whereby Husserl aims to “complete” his “philosophical system.” These “plausible
metaphysical constructions” lie “beyond the limits of phenomenological descrip-
tion,” and may even modify the original concepts of the monad that are based in
intuitive givennesses.20 Thus they lie beyond what transcendental phenomenology
can offer within the limited scope of the reduction. Ideas I nevertheless offers an
initial “map” (eine erste Landkarte) of the infinite labour involved in building up,
“from bottom to top” (from the “intuitive givennesses” to the “abstract heights”),
the topics related to birth and death, to the beginning and end of transcendental
constitutive life, to the meaning of the world and of history, to the ultimate being of
the objectified human “I” and “we,” to God as creative principle of the universe and
of its teleological development, to the sense of the relation of the world with God,
to the factum of transcendental intersubjectivity, to the ethical-religious problems,
and finally, to the universal teleological problem that includes all of these themes.
In the opposite direction, other deeper Grenzprobleme typified as Randprobleme
are also connected with transcendental phenomenology. They too lie beyond what
is “normally” experienceable and intuitively describable (including such topics as
birth, death, generativity, animal existence, drives, instincts, the unconscious, the
sedimented background of consciousness, sleep without dreams, and the “after-
life”), and are attained by the “archaeological”—deconstructive and reconstruc-
tive—work of genetic and generative analyses, namely, by an Abbau and an
Aufbau.21 In Husserl’s view, both types of Grenzprobleme, in spite of finding them-
selves moving in opposite directions, are inwardly connected by the umbilical cord
of a universal teleology giving Husserl’s philosophical project a Leibnizian profile
(cf. Hua XLII, xxx–xxxi). This teleology makes possible the connection between
the problems of birth and death and the questions concerning our origin and destiny,
the finitude of life, and its final end. It also makes possible the connection between
the problems of the unconscious, sleep, and wakefulness, on the one hand, with the
idea of a “last sleep” or the “last fall into unconsciousness” or death on the other.
And finally, it enables the phenomenologist to deal with the domain of drives and
instincts, since unconsciousness and early childhood are teleologically oriented
towards adulthood—namely, towards conscious, rational, and responsible modes of
life whereby humans are able to raise the big teleological questions regarding indi-
vidual and communal development, the final sense of humanity, and the ultimate
meaning of the world as a whole.

 Respectively, Hua XLII, xix (“die die Grenzen phänomenologischer Deskription überschre-
iten”); lxviii.
 See Hua XXXIX, 480: “(…) man bedarf einer Rekonstruktion von solchem (aber eine evident
wesensmäßige), was nicht direkt erfahren und erfahrbar ist; und die originale Form der fraglichen
Wesensstücke, der zu rekonstruierenden, ist natürlich die primordiale. Hier ist die große Frage die
nach der Methode der indirekten Konstruktion, aber doch Rekonstruktion eines Reiches unerfahr-
barer Konstitution.”
52 R.R.P. Lerner

3  Not a Mere Methodological Tool

Hence ethics has a systematic locus in Husserl’s proposed “idea of philosophy,”

which is to be developed upon the basis of transcendental phenomenology, yet tran-
scends its boundaries. His conception of what this discipline should look like also
undergoes a radical but consistent development since its first formulation in his
Göttingen lectures (Hua XXVIII, 136–137), which have also been deeply misun-
derstood. Indeed, his initial conception of ethics as a Kunstlehre—namely, as a
group of rules that serve to attain the supreme goals of action—is founded upon the
formal a priori laws and principles of a “pure ethics,” understood as a “formal axiol-
ogy and practice” that hold the conditions of possibility of every rightful valuation,
action, and orientation to rightful goals—parallel to the formal laws and principles
of “pure formal logic” that hold the formal conditions of possibility of all true
knowledge and objective being. However, the “formal categorical imperative” in
accordance with the laws of “formal axiology” (especially its “law of absorption”)
requires a material complement to determine what is the “best possible” course in
concrete situations. Husserl does not propose a material hierarchy of values (accord-
ing to their contents) with universal validity for all times and places, without regard
for “situation and contingency.” Only circumstances determine in each case what
kind of good should be regarded as the “best possible.” Later, when his phenome-
nology incorporates genetic analyses, his notion of ethics evolves into the “life form
of an authentic humanity” that takes into account the decisions that affect the future
of individual and collective persons, and of historical nations and cultures. The cat-
egorical imperative is then formulated differently: “Be a truthful human being; lead
a life such that you may justify it in a reasonable (einsichtig) manner, a life out of
practical reason” (Hua XXXVII, 36). Finally, still struck by the loss of his youngest
son in Verdun and in his later period, Husserl’s confidence in reason—albeit in “rea-
son” always broadly understood as an intertwining of faculties, and as teleologically
connected with instincts—becomes shaken. He argues that rationalism, with all of
its justifications—no matter how broadly or diversely rationalism may be con-
ceived—is inevitably erected upon the dark irrational background of nature and
history, of the deaths of individuals and of humanity, and of the ominous possibility
of the universe’s destruction. It is even erected upon the possibility of revealing the
ultimate futility of every action and production, and of humanity’s possibility of a
“permanent accumulation of rational values.” Thus in his final texts, Husserl consid-
ers that the ethical motivation of right and valuable actions, in every case and in
concrete situations, is love in its diverse forms, motherly love but also the love for
our neighbour being its paradigmatic forms (Hua XLII, cii).
This, in short, would be the extremely condensed itinerary of Husserl’s notion of
ethics as a philosophical discipline. However, the issue on this occasion is the ethi-
cal dimension of Husserl’s “transcendental reduction.” And here any misunder-
standing surrounding this concept seriously compromises the reception of Husserl’s
phenomenological project, for it is not possible to understand one without the other
(Hua V, 139–140 [406–407]).
The Ethical Dimension of Transcendental Reduction 53

Indeed, one can easily conclude that it is a concept severely burdened by an

inherited and unacknowledged metaphysical dualism. Or one might claim that it is
an epistemological technique at the service of an intellectualistic philosophy that
prioritizes theoretical over practical and evaluative reason, and is thus a mere technê
at the service of the classical doublet theôria-poiêsis, cleanly cut off from all human
praxis enmeshed in doxic (contingent, finite) conditions. Transcendental reduction’s
subjective turn inevitably seems to lead to an egological solipsism whereby the
subject is cut off from the world and its human plural condition, thereby dissociat-
ing the philosopher’s task from all intermingling with a pre-given transcendence.
Furthermore, in connection with the eidetic reduction (which is frequently confused
with the transcendental reduction), one can wonder whether its “neutral universal-
ism” overwhelmingly dissociates the philosopher from all factical conditions, addi-
tionally entrapping philosophy in a sceptical subjectivism and relativism. In fact,
some philosophers of ethics—for example, Max Scheler (see Hart 1992, 46) or
Bernhard Waldenfels—have characterized the transcendental reduction as incom-
patible with ethics, because they assume it to be essentially egocentric. Waldenfels
(1971, 308), is even of the opinion that “a radical ethics shatters the transcendental
But since these matters are essential philosophical problems that Husserl himself
continuously re-examined, never offering conclusive and satisfying theses to be
simply repeated or directly applied, we may reassume his “work in progress” by
bringing his different analyses into relation with our own reflective examination of
the various ways in which we experience the surrounding world, others, and our-
selves. This is also possible “when one confronts and supplements a thinker’s well-­
known and central thoughts with his or her less well-known or seemingly peripheral
ones,” as James Hart (1992, xii), once indicated when he developed, in the spirit of
a transcendental phenomenological scholasticism, an ethics and a social philosophy
secundum sententias Edmundi.
In my view, the ethical dimension and the notion of responsibility are not sec-
ondary, but essential to the transcendental reduction, and a fortiori to Husserl’s
transcendental phenomenology, for an ethical pathos underlies all his theoretical
interests. I also believe that this phenomenological pathos, this passion of thinking
driven by responsibility, remains faithful to the world of human affairs—as
Taminiaux seems to demand, in the wake of Hannah Arendt—and does not inevita-
bly remain dissociated from it. This is what I hope to show in what follows.

4  T
 he Idea of Philosophy as a Self-Responsible Rigorous

To show this I must first recall that according to Husserl, philosophy is co-extensive
with reason. In §73 of the Crisis he states that philosophy “is ratio in the constant
movement of self-elucidation,” namely, a “struggle of ‘awakened’ reason to come to
54 R.R.P. Lerner

itself, to an understanding of itself (…). <To say that> philosophy, science in all its
forms, is rational—that is a tautology” (Hua VI, 273–274 [338–339]). Undoubtedly,
a Hegelian reading of these passages is quite possible due to their teleological atmo-
sphere, as if Husserl were referring to a historical process wherein individuals are
submerged, driving the irrational “in itself” towards the ultimate transparency of a
spiritual “for itself.” But Husserl’s thought is quite unlike Hegel’s mainly concep-
tual, speculative teleology; in Husserl’s view, sensuous intuitiveness is the basic
component of phenomenological experience. A theoretical primacy could also be
read into these passages. If one follows the Kantian hiatus and compartmentaliza-
tion between the “form and principles” of “pure speculative reason” and those of
“pure practical reason,” and characterizes the vita contemplativa and the vita activa
as essentially different (as Hannah Arendt apparently does), then one could speak of
a dominance or subjugation of one over the other. Yet it could be that here Husserl
is actually erasing the Kantian hiatus. Let me explain. Indeed, since 1902–1903 he
is quite aware that if he ever wishes to shape his idea of philosophy, he has to carry
out a radical “critique of reason.”22 In 1906 he clearly states that such a critique must
embrace every sphere of reason: the theoretical, practical, and evaluative in gener-
al.23 And until the end he unwaveringly maintains “that reason allows for no differ-
entiation into ‘theoretical,’ ‘practical,’ ‘aesthetic,’ or whatever,” and that humankind
“is rational in seeking to be rational,” in “striving toward reason,” since “reason is
precisely that which [humans] qua [humans], in [their] innermost being, [are] aim-
ing for, that which alone can satisfy [them], make [them] ‘blessed’” (Hua VI, 275
[341]). His Crisis also points out that the problems of reason—of true knowledge,
true valuation, truly good deeds, of history’s sense or reason, of God as absolute
reason, of the immortality and freedom of the rational soul—are all metaphysical
problems in the broadest sense, precisely those that positivism “decapitates” (Hua
VI, 7 [9]). In his view, “knowledge, when seen in its full extension, contains reason
and unreason, the intuitive and non-intuitive, etc., the total sphere of judgment, the
predicative and pre-predicative, all sorts of egological acts of belief, (…) and all the
modalities of belief. (…) <Nevertheless> (…) there still remains a fairly rich resi-
due of other genres of egological acts, such as loving and hating, feeling pleasure or
rejection, desiring, longing, willing” (Hua VIII, 193).
In this way the cognitive and non-cognitive domains are teleologically inter-
twined in Husserl’s notion of the “rational.”24 As Taminiaux remarks, however, since
“for phenomenological reasons,” the most important continental thinkers of the
twentieth century “judged it necessary to explain themselves with Heidegger”

 According to Ullrich Melle, Husserl already registered the parallel tasks assigned to the different
branches of a critique of reason in his 1902–1907 lectures (Ms. F I 26), partially reproduced in Hua
XXIV, Hua Mat III, and Hua Mat V, as well as in a letter to W. Hocking from Oct. 11, 1903 (see
Hua XXVIII, xxi–xxii).
 See the 1906 notes in Husserl’s personal diary (Husserl 1956, reprinted in Hua XXIV, 442–449),
as well as other documents of that time; see also Hua VIII, 23, 26. This conviction is already docu-
mented in 1902.
 “Here, on the other hand, all of those egological functions do not lie alongside one another, but
interpenetrate each other” (Hua VIII, 193).
The Ethical Dimension of Transcendental Reduction 55

(Taminiaux 2002, 7), Husserl’s phenomenology has been criticized for defending an
intellectual rationalism or an imperialism of theoretical reason over the rest of the
life of the mind. Admittedly, Husserl did argue that knowledge—“in the attitude of
judgment and its logical forms”—is what “guarantees the authenticity of the value
and virtue of the goal attained” (Hua VIII, 25). But in those same contexts he asserts
that the “supreme justification,” the “highest and ultimate responsibility corre-
sponds, in knowledge, (…) to the achievements (Leistungen) of affectivity, which
are ultimately constitutive”.25
In addition, at a deeper level, the “motivation of the beginning philosopher” is
“responsibility,” a function of practical reason. It is interesting that in a 1919 letter
to Arnold Metzger, Husserl explicitly states: “I do not consider truth and science as
the supreme values. On the contrary, ‘the intellect is the servant of the will,’ in the
same way that I am the servant of those that configure our practical life, as leaders
of humanity” (Hua Dok III/4, 409 [361]; cf. Hua VIII, 201). And earlier, in his
1910–1911 lectures on Logic and Theory of Knowledge—notwithstanding his
avowal that he has nothing yet in the direction of a scientific ethics, praxiology and
axiology—he points out that the highest interests of humanity depend on building
these disciplines. Thus the most valuable personality is the one that orients and
configures itself and the world through practical reason, in conformity with the
highest rational ideals (see Hua XXX, 303–304; Hua XXVIII, xliii–xliv).
Consequently, “theoretical reason is itself a particular form of practical reason, and
nevertheless one that can as such take charge of practical reason (and also of
itself).”26 And thus “theoretical reason is theory of practical reason and is itself a
component of actual practical reason” (Ms. E III 4, 13b).
Now if philosophy is servant of the will and philosophers are the “functionaries
of [humanity]” (Hua VI, 15 [17]; Hua VIII, 198, passim), this does not mean that
philosophers should immediately dedicate themselves to political life, but rather
that they should “provide a solid foundation for the practical philosopher’s
Zielgebung,” and set the “bedrock of the essential structures of being human, on
which authentic moral philosophy can be built” (Husserl 1981, 359). The call to an
ethical-cultural renewal, being nourished by philosophical responsibility, is oriented
towards the theoretical goal of an absolutely founded knowledge and towards the
practical goal of forging a humanity that “continually wishes to live and be in truth
and genuineness” (Hua IX, 299 [177]).

 Hua VIII, 25, 194. “Herewith universality emerges, whereby the reign of knowledge includes
every sort of activity that originates in a sentient and willing subjectivity; admittedly a correlative
similar involvement also <emerges here>, whereby the evaluative disposition (wertende Gemüt)
and the striving will and action embrace the totality of subjectivity and all of its intentional func-
tions” (Hua VIII, 193–194, italics mine; see also 23–25). If there were still to be any doubt, these
lectures on First Philosophy stem from 1923 to 1924, thus before the publication of Being and
Time whereby Husserl first becomes acquainted with his former assistant’s real work.
 See Ms. A V 22, 19; see also Hart 1992, 21. We thank Ullrich Melle for allowing us to quote from
this and the manuscripts referred to in the following for a preliminary version of this paper pub-
lished in Lerner (2015a), 87–106.
56 R.R.P. Lerner

The idea of philosophy, insofar as it concerns the life of reason itself (Hua VIII,
17–26), understood in this holistic sense, has an absolute value and is an absolute
idea. In consequence, it embraces in one synthetic unity (Ms. E III 4, 13b) every
human achievement endowed with sense or validity, whether scientific, practical,
axiological, artistic, or other (namely, concepts, values, or norms). Despite their
“compartmentalization” since modern times (especially by Kant and the neo-­
Kantians), all of the special sciences are in Husserl’s view parts—as living
branches—of the unique tree of philosophy or of the authentic universal science
(Hua XXIV, 241; Hua I, 44, 46 [2, 4]). Thus theoretical philosophy deals with the
cognition of things; practical philosophy deals with human action or praxis as well
as with norms and obligations; and axiology deals with ethical and aesthetic values.
Yet cognition is never devoid of valued decisions, decisions are never devoid of
valued cognitions, and valuations are never devoid of cognitive volitions. Husserl’s
Leibnizian sense of a universal ontology as the concrete theory of “possible being,”
etc., embraces precisely this sense of reason (Hua V, 139 [406], Hua XXVIII, 170–
176, passim).
If philosophy as transcendental phenomenology is the source of a double ulti-
mate justification—a justification not only of the totality of knowledge and culture,
but also of itself—it is because it draws its ultimate rational justification from the
most radical and absolute self-responsibility, which is itself of an essentially emo-
tional and practical character (Hua VIII, 195–196). But its task is endless—never
fully satisfied—and can only be conceived as a limit-idea or telos that lies in infinity,
achieving only partial, imperfect, and temporal validities during an endless histori-
cal process. It thus resembles Plato’s eros in the Banquet. Husserl himself compared
transcendental phenomenology to love (Hua VIII, 14, 196). Thus he believes that he
shares with Plato a similar view of philosophy—both at its archê (as the “motivation
of the beginning philosopher”) and at its telos (as a life devoted to the tasks of rea-
son)—such that the theoretical dimension is founded on the practical dimension of
an absolutely responsible will.27 Thus “philosophy (…) finally (…) discovers that
this rationality is an idea residing in the infinite and is de facto necessarily <only>
on the way” (Hua VI, 274 [339]). Furthermore, “phenomenology demands that the
phenomenologist foreswear the ideal of a philosophical system and yet as a humble
worker in community with others, live for a perennial philosophy [philosophia
perennis]” (Hua IX, 300–301 [179], first italics mine). In Husserl’s view, Descartes
gave this idea a new impulse at the beginning of modern times (Hua VI, 71–74,
76–80 [70–73, 75–78]; Hua VIII, 3–4), renewing it with the element of a “supreme
and ultimate self-meditation (Selbstbesinnung)” related to a supreme and ultimate
self-responsible striving out of a spirit of theoretical autonomy and practical free-
dom (Hua VI, 5–6 [7–8]; Hua I, 44 [2]; Ströker 1991).
In sum, ever since 1905, when Husserl first began formulating his idea of phi-
losophy as a rigorous, universal science of apodictic knowledge and absolute begin-
nings or ultimate foundations, the misunderstandings of his project as intellectualist

 See, for example, Hua VIII, 197–198; Hua V, 138–140 (405–407); Hua IX, 299–301 (177–179);

and Hua VI, 16, 273–276 (17–18, 338–341).

The Ethical Dimension of Transcendental Reduction 57

have continually been reinforced (Hua XXV, 3–62 [71–147]; Hua V, 148 [415]).
And this was so in spite of the fact that ever since 1900–1901 he had seen not only
that the discourse of objective and modern sciences, whether theories of science or
formal logic (Hua XVIII, 230–258 [144–161]), excludes all reference to a respon-
sible, intersubjective cognitive community at the basis of their achievements, but
also that such sciences are unable to ensure a radical justification for the unity of
knowledge. Instead, the truly radical philosophical task is to interrogate the essen-
tial and common origin of all of these scientific and cultural achievements in the
human sense-giving lived experiences (such as cognitions, volitions, and feelings)
without which there would be neither science nor culture.
Husserl’s teacher, Franz Brentano (1971/1973/1974), had thought that since the
psyche and its mental experiences are found at the basis of all possible theoretical,
normative, or evaluative concepts, this philosophical task belonged to a descriptive
psychology. This was the origin of Husserl’s interest in the “subjective turn,” yet he
rapidly detected the flaws involved in the current interpretations of his time. Indeed,
philosophical psychologism—whereby psychology was considered the philosophi-
cal discipline founding all other sciences, including logic—was popular in the nine-
teenth century. Its main arguments were as follows. (1) Psychology is the natural
science of the psychic cognitive processes, experiences, and mental data at the basis
both of formal logic and of the rest of scientific disciplines. As such, it imitates the
model and methods of physics. (2) If physics deals with bodily nature, psychology
deals with psychic or mental nature; as a consequence, knowledge is considered a
causal, thing-like relation between an immanent, mental reality and a transcendent
reality. Finally, (3) the scientific and cultural disciplines infer their concepts, axi-
oms, theories, norms, and values by induction and generalization from the individ-
ual mental processes dealt with by empirical psychology, so that their sense and
validity depends on contingent facts of psychic life. “Logical psychologism” is thus
born from a naturalistic rendering of Kant’s thesis, of which two main modalities
may be distinguished: the “weak” one—according to which the theoretical founda-
tions of logic derive from psychology, making the latter the necessary but not suf-
ficient condition of logic—and the “strong” one, according to which logical laws
describe mental processes (for instance, J.S. Mill had stated that logic is a branch of
psychology). A consequence of logical psychologism was the non-distinction
between subjective presentations and their objective correlates.
But in his 1900 Prolegomena to Pure Logic, Husserl pointed out several prob-
lems and paradoxes in philosophical psychologism, such as the following. (1)
Psychology is supposed to found physics (as well as all other sciences), yet psychol-
ogy is moulded after physics. Aristotle called this type of reasoning husteron-­
proteron, a fallacious argument in which the proposition to be proved is assumed as
the premise. (2) The mind-body dualism leads to the “paradox of transcendence”
(Hua II, 27, passim [22, passim]; Hua XXIV, 208–211) and to scepticism, a prob-
lem that affects every classical theory of knowledge. Husserl summarizes it as fol-
lows: “How are we to understand the fact that the intrinsic being of objectivity
becomes ‘presented,’ ‘apprehended’ in knowledge, and so ends up by becoming
subjective? What does it mean to say that the object has ‘being-in-itself,’ and is
58 R.R.P. Lerner

‘given’ in knowledge? How can the ideality of the universal qua concept or law
enter the flux of real mental states and become an epistemic possession of the think-
ing person?” etc. (Hua XIX/1, 12–13 [169], italics mine). (3) If the objective and
transcendent conceptual system of scientific disciplines is being inferred from indi-
vidual and contingent subjective psychic processes, such disciplines should
renounce their claim to any a priori meaning and validity. Naturalistic psycholo-
gism, which demands general and apodictic validity for its own theses, thus implic-
itly annuls itself, denying reason in reasonable terms. The paradox of transcendence
cannot be solved by natural science.28
Thus the subjective turn must be totally reinterpreted in a threefold way in order
to carry out the idea of philosophy: (1) beyond any data obtained from biology,
physiology, or empirical science, subjectivity should be examined as the transcen-
dental origin of all sense and validity of being, revealing science, culture, and his-
tory as human products; (2) the mystery of the transcendental correlation between
the cognitive, evaluative, and practical life of the subject and their corresponding
correlates (the latter understood both as unities of meaning and as objectivities
sensu stricto) should be interrogated; and (3) the ideal nature and status of values,
norms, concepts, and scientific objectivities should be recognized.
The origin of transcendental phenomenology’s framework—as eidetic science of
the correlation between transcendental consciousness and the world29—is the
attempt to solve “the enigma of all enigmas” (Hua VI, 12 [13]) related to the cor-
relation between transcendence and immanence in general, thereby definitively
shaping the very idea of philosophy. Husserl believes that it is only when this
enigma is solved that the authentically philosophical issues can be resolved: the
“questions of the meaning or meaninglessness of the whole of this human existence,
(…) about reason and unreason or about us [humans] as subjects of this freedom
(…),” namely, the “problems of reason,” such as true knowledge, genuine values,
truly good ethical deeds, “the meaning or reason in history,” the sense of a divine
absolute reason, the reason of the world, or in sum, all the “metaphysical” questions
in the widest sense of the word (Hua VI, 5, 7 [6, 9]).

 Hua XXV, 8–15 (79–89). It should be remarked that in Husserl’s view, epistemological scepti-
cism offers no real danger for science, for scientists pay no attention to it and simply continue in
their endeavours. On the contrary, however, “concerning ethics, this doubt is more serious” (Hua
XXIV, 216).
 In a 1906 manuscript in which he refers to Descartes, Husserl already includes the intentional
object (see Ms. B II I, 47a, entitled Die Phänomenologie und Kritik der Vernunft. Phänomenologische
Kritik der Vernunft). Nevertheless, he does not use the term “transcendental” in a proper phenom-
enological sense until 1908.
The Ethical Dimension of Transcendental Reduction 59

5  The Vicissitudes of Reduction

Simple introspection does not suffice to resolve the mystery of the correlation
between subjectivity and objectivity. Husserl believes that it is necessary to abandon
the natural attitude by adopting a critical-sceptical attitude. This goal is attained by
the much discussed transcendental phenomenological reduction (Hua XXIV, 184–
188)—the first aspect of the phenomenological method—that is to allow us to gain
access to and then to describe the subject’s transcendental life. Within the natural
attitude we only attain the mind as a worldly entity or event, different from physical
bodies (though cognitively connected to them by externally observable relations).
With the reduction, however, once the sceptical epochê disconnects the natural atti-
tude, the anonymous functioning life of the subject is uncovered as a complex,
stratified, intentional correlation between subjectivity and objectivity, temporally
stretching out along an open-ended infinity of synthetic experiences.
Another aspect of the phenomenological method consists in intentional analysis
based on an intuitive description of the multiple threads of sense-constituting sub-
jective life. Additionally, such description seeks to be “eidetic”—namely, it strives
to highlight the essential structures and functions of the Heraclitean flux of con-
sciousness, infinitely open to the past and to the future, and especially the structures
of intentionality and temporality.30 Such analysis does not entail a “disengagement”
from its factical individuation, but focuses on its structural (typological)
Always dissatisfied with his formulation of the transcendental reduction, Husserl
explores several ways to implement it, all of them related to his debate with modern
philosophy, such as the ontological way, inspired by Kant’s “Copernican turn,” and
the psychological way, inspired by modern English empiricism (from Locke to
Hume). Better known—albeit abandoned by Husserl himself, yet falsely interpreted
as the oldest and weightier approach, and moreover, as an approach that could
rightly be termed “intellectualist”—is the Cartesian way, inspired by Descartes’
first two Meditations on First Philosophy. However, since 1906–1907 Husserl grad-
ually but explicitly distances himself from Cartesianism, for his reduction is not
undertaken in the service of building a new science according to a mathematical
paradigm, as is the case with Descartes. Transcendental reduction is neither a doubt,
nor a thesis, nor a judgment (Hua XXIV, 214; Hua III/1, 64 [59]). It only “seeks to
‘elucidate,’ it does not seek to ‘deduce’ nor lead towards laws as explicative founda-
tions, but simply tries to understand what lies in the sense of knowledge and its
objectivity” (Hua XXIV, 190, italics mine). An additional departure from Descartes
takes place around 1910–1911 (Hua XIII, 159–183 [53–78]) when Husserl becomes
aware that the immanence attained by the reduction has the form of an unlimited
temporal flux that stretches beyond the actual and immediately given intentional
experiences, thereby embracing their absent past and future components, which are

 See, respectively, Hua IX, 284 (165); Hua XXIV, 387; Hua XXV, 78–79; Hua III/1, §§71–75;

Hua II, 49 (39); Hua III/1, §§76–86.

60 R.R.P. Lerner

potentially implied and synthesized with the actual components. Husserl accord-
ingly remarks that if the realm of the “given” is reduced to the purely actual, pres-
ent, and adequate experiences, we have “nothing whatsoever” (Hua XIII, 160 [54]).
Husserl clearly formulated his misgivings regarding the Cartesian way around
1923–1924, anticipating many of the later critiques addressed to the transcendental
reduction by his followers. Indeed, he acknowledges that the Cartesian way gives
the false impression that phenomenology is not able to recover the objective world
after the reduction declares its hypothetical annihilation, whereby only transcenden-
tal subjectivity remains as a sort of residual portion of the world (Hua VIII, 432–
433, passim). The fictional hypothesis of world-annihilation can only make sense
within the phenomenological attitude as a mode of understanding how our belief in
the world is forged. He also adds that it gives the false impression of leading to
solipsism, for it does not describe how the world in its totality is in fact the correlate
of intersubjective experiences. In spite of that, the title of his 1929 “Paris Lectures”
and his 1931 Cartesian Meditations could lead one to believe that Husserl was still
using the Cartesian way, reinforcing Heidegger’s reading of Ideas I.
Husserl is certainly indebted to Descartes for two inspiring ideas: (1) the exem-
plary nature of the subjective turn, and (2) the idea of reforming philosophy as a
universal and autonomous science based on ultimate foundations. However, he
never simply retrieves the Cartesian way, for the aim of his reduction is not to anni-
hilate the world, but to clarify its sense. He also radically distinguishes between the
psychological ego (a worldly residue) and the transcendental ego. Furthermore, the
ideal of a universal science of ultimate foundations also stems from the Greek tradi-
tion, and it is not modelled after an existing science such as mathematics. The inten-
tional and temporal implications of transcendental experience prevent any
phenomenologist from attempting an immediate or adequate approach to the tran-
scendental realm. Finally, Descartes did not even imagine the need for a “transcen-
dental critique of experience” that would justify the extension of the limited and
apodictic validity of certain indubitable experiences to the open-ended totality of
transcendental experiences.31
In sum, the transcendental notion of foundation is alien to the mathematical type
of rational inference that places the ego—immediately grasped in an intuitus

 Hua I, 177–178 (151–152). The naïveté in question concerns the notion of “absolute givenness”
(introduced in 1907 in his five lectures on the Idea of Phenomenology, Hua II) that, as mentioned
before, he identified as a problem in his 1910/11 lectures on the “Basic Problems of Phenomenology”
(see Hua XIII, 160–169 [54–63])—namely, the fact that consciousness and self-consciousness are
both temporal flows, so that “as soon as I want to seize what I have thus actually given as now, (…)
it has already passed by. The Now has become a new Now, and what I wanted to find appears in it
as gone by,” so that “the entire project of disengaging loses its meaning” (Hua XIII, 160 [54]). In
my view, Husserl subsequently understands that the notion of “absolute self-givenness” must itself
be interpreted and justified differently. In any case, Husserl recognizes the need for this “self-crit-
icism” the moment that he actually starts working on his “first philosophy” (announced since the
Introduction of Ideas I, 8 [22]), in Hua XXXV. The 1922 “London Lectures” (Londoner Vorträge
1922), entitled “Phenomenological Method and Phenomenological Philosophy,” were originally
published by Berndt Goossens as Husserl 1999; however, I will quote passages from those lectures
as retrieved in Hua XXXV.
The Ethical Dimension of Transcendental Reduction 61

­mentis—as the axiomatic premise of mediate deductions. Thus Husserl’s strategy

carries out “a fundamentally essential deviation from the Cartesian course” (see
Hua I, 68–70 [29–31], especially 69 [31]). Rather than employing what is tradition-
ally understood as the “Cartesian way” (which evokes the vices of dualism, scepti-
cism, and solipsism), these later texts use an alternative strategy—also inspired by
Descartes’ first two meditations—that is guided in general by the idea of a univer-
sal, ultimately founded science, and characterized by employing a radical self-­
meditation. Such characterizations are formulated by Eugen Fink in 1932 with
Husserl’s approval (Fink 1988, Hua Dok II/2, see 10–63, 134–192, passim).

6  Transcendental Reduction as Ethical Renewal

Although I have highlighted the ethical dimension of Husserl’s idea of philosophy

as transcendental phenomenology, the ethical character of transcendental reduction
is not yet justified, and to do that we have to go beyond Husserl’s initial intentions
and expressions. In the first of his 1922 London Lectures, he wishes “to characterize
this turn towards subjectivity as an ethical-cognitive one, although it was not intro-
duced by Descartes as authentically ethical. Precisely what is lost with him is the
specifically ethical side of Plato’s philosophical ethos: in Descartes, theoretical phi-
losophy becomes sufficient unto itself.” However, “(…) the Cartesian notion of the
philosopher preserves the radicalism that belongs to the essence of ethical con-
sciousness, and has a form that I wish to value, one that truly admits of being inter-
preted ethically or founded ethically.”32 Descartes does indeed proclaim that every
human being is summoned once in his or her lifetime to abandon a naïve mode of
existence and decide, by means of a radical, autonomous, and responsible medita-
tion, to take charge of his or her life. Thus even though Descartes does not thematize
the connection between his epistemological project and an ethical renewal, his work
opens the only way “whereby human beings can become truthful and ethical human
beings” (Hua XXXV, 58), resolving themselves for a new way of life, absolutely
justified and expressed by an ethical-cognitive regulative idea. For Husserl, a conse-
quence of that decision is the Cartesian demand to overthrow (Umsturz) all former
unfounded and unjustified convictions. Thus “what the beginning philosopher first
requires are ‘meditationes de prima philosophia,’” which are to provide the entrance
gate to philosophy (Hua XXXV, 60). Seen from the natural attitude, transcendental
reduction seems to be a merely epistemological resource whereby we abandon our
essential engagement with the world, leaving us in a sceptical solipsism.
Paradoxically, however, it can only be fully understood once we have attained the
transcendental attitude to which it gives access. Obviously an ethical reduction is
also possible within the natural attitude, such as is expressed by the Socratic motto

 Hua XXXV, 314–315; to put it another way, “a specific form of human life is included, as it were,
in the sense of an absolute ethical requirement, [belonging to it] as an original regulative model”
(Hua XXXV, 58).
62 R.R.P. Lerner

“know thyself” (gnôthi seauton). This takes place each time we resolve not to live
passively, being carried away by pre-given validities or blind instincts. Thus even
within the natural attitude one can abandon the passivity whereby one lets oneself
go and blindly follow one’s inclinations, and one can strive to ascend towards activ-
ity, towards a critical and evaluative life whereby one is able to choose consciously
(see Ms. F I 24, 70b). Yet it is only thanks to the ethical dimension of transcendental
reduction that one is able to perceive the continuity between ethical life within the
natural attitude and the self-responsible awareness brought about by transcendental
life. The possibility and actuality of ethical responsibility in the natural attitude is
neither denied nor diminished; it simply does not have the same sense, nor it is
interchangeable with the ethical responsibility pertaining to transcendental life, in
the sense that, in Husserl’s view, the latter is comparable to a total existential trans-
formation, similar to a religious “conversion” (Hua VI, 140 [137]).
Indeed, it is only thanks to transcendental reduction, which may be understood
as a resolution to adopt an authentic life in this radical sense, that the subject—and
this includes the subject who lives a good and responsible life in the natural atti-
tude—first discovers that its life is transcendental, namely, sense-constitutive.
Transcendental reduction unveils this sense-constitutive activity and enables the
subject to take responsibility for it. In this precise sense, it differs from any worldly
responsibility, bearing “within itself the significance of the greatest existential
transformation which is assigned as a task to [humankind] as such” (Hua VI, 140
[137]). The metaphor of the opposition between the “life of surface” and the “life of
depth” illustrates the contrast between the natural attitude and the transcendental
attitude.33 Husserl implicitly refers in the Crisis to Helmholtz’s well-known image
of a cylinder projecting its shadow from two of its sides upon two plane surfaces:
from one of the cylinder’s sides the projected shadow will appear as a rectangle;
from its bottom, the projected shadow will appear as a circle. None of the cylinder’s
surface projections represents its true nature. Thus only the “life of depth” promises
to unveil the primary sources of meaning, “the realm, never before entered, of the
‘mothers of knowledge,’” according to a myth of Goethe’s Faust.34 Transcendental
reduction is therefore more than a mere methodological tool to gain access to a new
region of experience; it also involves the decision to become conscious of our own
universal productivity in our relation to the world’s horizon, namely, it is an invita-
tion to “know what we’re doing,”35 a somewhat violent summons to authenticity
calling us to assume, in an act of bravery, the “risk” of “dying” (meletê thanatou) to
the natural life of constituted objectivities or graspable certainties, in order to be
“born” to the difficult commitment to the ethical ideal of absolute
Two problems still remain to be mentioned. The first concerns the practical
nature of the reduction. Reduction introduces us into the phenomenological attitude

 Here what is at stake is an opposition between surface (superficiality) and depth, rather than the
Heideggerian opposition between authentic and inauthentic existence.
 Hua VI, 156 (153); see also Goethe, Faust, “Finstere Galerie”, Part II, Scene 4, Act 1, 6216.
 “To know what we’re doing” is Hannah Arendt’s renowned expression.
The Ethical Dimension of Transcendental Reduction 63

as the attitude of an impartial spectator who merely “describes,” but does not “con-
stitute,” transcendental life itself. Instead, a sense-constitutive, active, and transcen-
dental life is a fundamentally practical one. Thus Husserl understands, for example,
that the sciences’ theoretical activity is a theoretical praxis; this is one of the mean-
ings of “constitution.” An impartial spectator, on the contrary, would only contem-
plate and describe such constitutive activity. Therefore we must distinguish between
the voluntary resolution to perform the transcendental reduction in order to reflec-
tively adopt the phenomenological attitude, and the transcendental phenomenologi-
cal attitude itself that performs the description.36 In other words, after the
transcendental reduction, the phenomenologist (namely, the divided or split tran-
scendental subject) recognizes and describes the essentially practical character of
his or her own life. However, Husserl believes that although the phenomenologist
can freely change attitudes at will, returning to his or her daily chores and interests
in the natural attitude (as a family member, etc.), once someone has accomplished
the transcendental reduction, he or she will never remain the same: the epochê in
question is entirely different from, for example, that of the mathematician who
returns home after having worked at the office in the “mathematical attitude,” or
from that of a cobbler who returns to home and family after working with custom-
ers’ shoes in the shop (Hua VI, 140 [137]). If the transcendental reduction is para-
mount to an “existential conversion,” the phenomenologist’s daily theoretical,
practical, or evaluative “position-takings” (in the natural attitude) will have a deeper
sense of self-awareness and self-responsibility. I believe this is the sense in which
Husserl speaks of phenomenologists as “functionaries of humanity.”
The second problem concerns the pertinence of qualifying the act of reduction as
“morally good,” especially inasmuch as it is able to reveal the radical self-­
responsibility involved in transcendental correlation only after it has been accom-
plished. Once again the “motivation of the beginning philosopher” comes to the
fore. As Husserl points out at the beginning of the Cartesian Meditations, once all
existing knowledge has been overthrown, there still remains the “ideal of an apodic-
tic life”—at least as a general and guiding final goal. “The reduction is thus an act
of fidelity to the real possibility of the ideal” (Hart 1992, 34). And if it is excessive
to qualify transcendental reduction as a morally good act, the reduction does at least
act as servant of the will by playing the responsible role of elucidating the cognitive,
practical, or axiological constitution of sense. As Donn Welton formulates it in one
of my favourite characterizations, the purpose of transcendental reduction “is not to
dissolve the world but to break its fetishism (…) in order to gain its presence and to
open its meaning” (Welton 1977, 54–55), while at the same time forestalling every
naïve commitment to the world in order to interpret it under a new light. Thus
although transcendental reduction is an act of solitary resolution that splits the ego
into a subject that is naïvely interested, on the one hand, and an uninterested specta-
tor on the other, it is only from the standpoint of the latter and its new “interest” that

 “As is the case with all undertakings which are new in principle, for which not even an analogy
can serve as guide, this beginning takes place with a certain unavoidable naïveté. In the beginning
is the deed” (Hua VI, 158 [156]); once again Husserl is referring to Goethe’s Faust, Part I, 1237.
64 R.R.P. Lerner

one can learn how this transcendental life is intersubjectively committed to the
world. Indeed, this procedure is quite the reverse of Heidegger’s movement from
inauthentic existence (the “towards-which” of the being-in-the-world-with-others)
towards authentic existence (in the solitary, primordial monologue “for-the-sake-of-
which,” “the very Being of Dasein”). Instead, Husserl proposes a seemingly solip-
sistic procedure that involves momentarily suspending the general thesis of the
natural attitude (wherein communities are merely perceived as “the serious mutual
exteriority of ego persons,” “in a pregiven world”) in order to discover our transcen-
dental life as “intentionally related” to our “surrounding world” in an intentional
intertwining with the lived experiences of others—both synchronically in the pres-
ent and diachronically in a historical “being-in-another, being-with-another, being-­
for-­another” throughout the generations37—or in other words, in “an inward
being-for-one-another and mutual interpenetration” (Hua VI, 346 [298]).
Finally, I believe that the unveiling of the sense-constitutive life through the
reduction may in principle foster political and intercultural tolerance, not only
because the habit of displacing attitudes disposes us to displace or shift our own
initially held sedimented standpoints towards different and alien ones, but also
because it reveals the unilateral, incomplete, provisional, perspectival, and open-­
ended character of the subject’s encounter with the world and with others:
The Delphic motto, ‘Know thyself!’ has gained a new meaning. Positive science is a science
lost in the world. I must lose the world by epochê, in order to regain it by a universal self-­
examination. ‘Noli foras ire,’ says Augustine, ‘in te redi, in interiore homine habitat


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Individuation and Heidegger’s Ontological

Mark A. Wrathall

1  The Problem of Individuation

At the end of his introduction to Being and Time, Heidegger sums up his case for
giving priority in his fundamental ontology to an analysis of existent beings like
us  – of Dasein. The Dasein or “existent”  – the entity “that in each case I am
myself”  – is distinctive in that its transcendence “implies the possibility and the
necessity of the most radical individuation.”1 The word “individuation” contains a
process/product ambiguity. That is, it might mean
(1) the condition of being an individual.
Or it might mean
(2) the process of distinguishing an individual from other entities.
Meaning (1) names the “product” that is produced by the process named in (2).
Meaning (2) – the “process” alternative of the process/product ambiguity – is itself
ambiguous between
(2a) a process of constituting an individual as such, of forming or creating a distinct
individual, and
(2b) the process of picking out something as an individual, of discriminating an
individual who is disguised or covered up in his or her individuality.
So when Heidegger insists that each of us is distinctive because “the most radical
individuation” is both possible and necessary for us, he might mean:

 Heidegger (1977), 38. Citations to Heidegger (1977) are to the marginal page numbers; all trans-
lations have been modified.
M.A. Wrathall (*)
University of California, Riverside, CA, USA

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 69

V.M. Fóti, P. Kontos (eds.), Phenomenology and the Primacy of the Political,
Contributions To Phenomenology 89, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8_5
70 M.A. Wrathall

(1) it is possible and necessary to be an individual in the most radical way; or

(2a) it is possible and necessary to engage in the project of becoming a distinct
individual in the most radical way; or
(2b) it is possible and necessary to see the distinct individual that I am, and to do so
in the most radical way.
Or – in my opinion, the most likely option – Heidegger has in mind some com-
bination of all three readings. That is, he believes that it is indeed possible for each
of us to be an individual in a radical sense. And it is both possible and necessary to
engage in the project of becoming a distinct individual in a radical sense. It is neces-
sary, not because I can’t help but realize my individuality in the most radical way,
but because I stand under an obligation to strive for individuality. I am existentially
blameworthy if I default on this obligation.2 And finally, this project of striving for
individuality depends on my ability to catch a glimpse of or hear the call of radical
individuality. Some kind of perception of myself as an individual is a necessary
prerequisite, on Heidegger’s account, to owning up to the obligation to realize my
highest potential as an existing being: being an individual in the most radical way.
Although all three readings are possible and defensible, I’d like to explore in this
paper a (2b)-type reading of Heidegger’s claim.3 What would it mean to see the
distinct individual that I am in the most radical way?

2  Heidegger’s Intuitionism

Heidegger explicitly and repeatedly ties our ability to become an authentic indi-
vidual to a specific kind of sight that he calls “perspicuity” (Durchsichtigkeit).4 This
is an instance of Heidegger’s more general practice of according to “intuition,
immediate seeing … a noteworthy priority [over conceptual or propositional
thought] in comprehending being.”5 Like Husserl before him, Heidegger under-
stands intuition as “the giving and having of an entity in its concrete presence.”6
Following Jacques Taiminiaux, we can refer to the privileging of perception over

 For a discussion of authenticity as a demand to which we are subject, see Wrathall (2015).
 There is something paradoxical about the idea of a radical self-perception, given that Heidegger
seems to think that my ability to discern my individuality is a precondition to becoming an indi-
vidual, “ownmost” self. How can my ability to see myself in my individuality precede my indi-
viduation? Although I won’t pursue this point in this essay, understanding what is involved in
perceiving ourselves as individuals should shed some light on the other two readings. That is, if we
know what is involved in discerning myself as an individual, then we will get some insight into the
project of becoming an individual, and into the nature of a radically individuated being.
 Durchsichtigkeit is commonly and legitimately translated “transparency.” But the usual transla-
tion obscures the sense in which Heidegger’s term is ambiguous between an act of seeing through,
and a condition of being see-through-able. “Perspicuity,” however, names both the power of insight
or clarity of perception, and a state that admits of being seen through clearly.
 Heidegger (1976), 57. All translations are modified.
 Heidegger (1976), 113.
Individuation and Heidegger’s Ontological “Intuitionism” 71

thought as “intuitionism.” Heidegger’s intuitionism is most evident in the fact that

for him, as Taminiaux puts it, “understanding Being is a matter of seeing.”7 So far
as I am aware, no one has more rigorously addressed the connection between self-
hood, individuation, and intuitionism in Heidegger’s thought than Jacques
Taminiaux. In essays like “The Husserlian Heritage in Heidegger’s Notion of the
Self” (1994), or “Speculative Individuation and the Life of Somebody,”8 Taminiaux
offers a trenchant account of Heidegger’s appropriation and radicalization of
Husserlian intuitionism in the project of offering a phenomenology of selfhood.
Heidegger’s intuitionism means, Taminiaux explains, that “the Self has to be
approached not at all by means of the symbolic, but rather of the intuitive.”9 This
suggests that what individuates me is something to which I have direct access. I
don’t arrive at myself inferentially. Nor is self-constitution a discursive process, a
matter of telling a story about myself.
Taminiaux has always had a keen eye for the presuppositions, impulses, and
theoretical privileges that surreptitiously guide philosophical arguments. As a
Master’s student at Boston College in the late 1980s, I was captivated by the
Auseinandersetzung between philosophical giants that Taminiaux would enact on a
weekly basis in his graduate seminars. He would painstakingly tease out the most
fundamental presuppositions that anchor a philosophical position, the prejudices
that surreptitiously underwrite the argumentative moves and leaps that a philoso-
pher makes. By demonstrating the theoretical privileges that ground the work of
different thinkers, Taminiaux demonstrates deep dependencies and affinities
between thinkers that spring from the way one reappropriates and metamorphizes
the other’s fundamental distinctions. For instance, despite Heidegger’s critique of
Husserl’s delimitation of the thematic field of phenomenology in terms of con-
sciousness, Taminiaux shows that Heidegger preserves the basic structure of
Husserl’s understanding of the domain of phenomenology by substituting his dis-
tinction between “the everyday mode of being and the ownmost mode of being” in
the place of Husserl’s fundamental distinction between transcendence and
Paying attention to the most fundamental theoretical privileges of a thinker also
allows deep and perhaps unexpected convergences between thinkers to emerge. For
example, Taminiaux argues that Heidegger’s approach to selfhood aligns him with
Plato in opposition to Arendt and Aristotle11  – a perhaps surprising result, given
Heidegger’s deep and abiding suspicion of Platonic metaphysics. But, Taminiaux
argues, we can recognize the alignment by attending to the way each thinker under-
stands the relationship between reticence and speech:

 Taminiaux (1997), 64.
 Taminiaux (1997, Chap. 2).
 Taminiaux (1997), 62.
 See Taminiaux (1991), 42.
 Heidegger, of course, tries to enlist Aristotle as an ally in giving priority in the account of self-
hood to human practices and habituation. But, Taminiaux argues, Heidegger’s reliance on Aristotle
is a result of his “very unusual reading of Aristotle” (Taminiaux 1996, 207).
72 M.A. Wrathall

Whereas Heidegger, because of his emphasis on death, divorces individuation from any link
whatsoever with human interaction, [Arendt] situates individuation within human plurality.
Whereas Heidegger separates authentic πϱα̑ξις from any communication, she insists, in a
quite opposite direction, on an essential link between πϱα̑ξις and λέξις: “When I insert
myself into the world, it is a world where others are already present. Action and speech are
so closely related because the primordial and specifically human act must always also
answer the question asked of every newcomer: ‘Who are You?’ The disclosure of who
somebody is is implicit in the fact that speechless action somehow does not exist, or if it
exists, it is irrelevant.” I cannot conceive of a more forceful way of saying how far she is
removed from Heidegger. One last feature confirms this divergence. At the beginning of the
introduction to the ontology of Dasein Heidegger insists, in full agreement with Plato in the
Sophist, that the first philosophical step consists in not μυ̑θόν τινα διηγει̑σθαι, in not telling
a story. On the contrary, in a move that is a sort of revival of Aristotle’s Poetics against both
Plato and Heidegger, Arendt insists that “it is precisely in stories that the actual meaning of
a human life finally reveals itself.”12

In his work, as he did in his graduate seminars, Taminiaux patiently, relentlessly

excavates the sources disagreements such as this one over the priority of reticence
to speech. He shows how those disagreements are rooted in different paradigms of
the consummate form of human activity. Those who (like Heidegger and Plato)
think that we arrive at the most fundamental articulation of the world and the most
authentic individuation of ourselves in reticence, draw support for their view from
the paradigm of a skillful craftsman, fluidly moving through the workshop and han-
dling her equipment without a word wasted as she produces her work. On the other
hand those who (like Aristotle and Arendt) think of speech and language as essential
to the articulation of the world and the individuation of the self, take persuasive
activities to be the paradigmatic form of human action.
Of course, the examples I’ve chosen –Taminiaux’s account of Heidegger’s meta-
morphosis of Husserl’s fundamental distinction between transcendence and imma-
nence, or of Heidegger’s alignment with Plato against Aristotle on the place of
language in the hierarchy of human activities – have not been selected haphazardly.
Both of these examples illuminate the nature of the intuitionism that Taminiaux
attributes to Heidegger. One of Taminiaux’s most significant contributions to the
interpretation of Heidegger’s project in Being and Time consists precisely in his
recognizing how integrally Heidegger’s account of authentic selfhood in Division
Two turns on a privilege accorded to intuition – the same privilege which sustains
the account and critique of everyday modes of being that is developed in Division
The key aspects of Taminiaux’s reading of Heidegger’s intuitionist account of
selfhood – aspects with which I am in full accord – are these:
* authentic selfhood requires an intuitive apprehension of the self;
* this intuitive apprehension bypasses discursive modes of understanding the self to
achieve an intuition that is unmediated by an everyday, shared form of intelligi-
bility; and

 Taminiaux (1996), 206–7, quoting Arendt (1987), 39–41.
Individuation and Heidegger’s Ontological “Intuitionism” 73

* our ability to transcend in this way everyday intelligibility to arrive at an intuition

of the self makes problematic a continued reliance on publically articulated
social roles as the basis for our self-understanding.
It is on the foundation of these aspects of Taminiaux’s reading of Heidegger that
I want to develop in more detail the interpretation of the claim outlined in 2(b)
In the course of trying to say more carefully what, exactly, an intuition of the self
amounts to, I would like to address a loose set of misgivings that Taminiaux has
about the implications of Heidegger’s intuitionism. Taminiaux’s worry seems to be
that Heidegger’s intuitionist individuation  – achieved in a “solitary vision”
(Taminiaux 2004, 45), in a “clear view of an ultimate meaning” that is found in
one’s “ownmost potentiality-for-being” (Taminiaux 2004, 44) – leads to a “hyper-­
transcendental characterization of Dasein” (Taminiaux 1997, 77). And this “specu-
lative,” “hyper-transcendental” vision of selfhood leads Heidegger to overlook or
dismiss the importance of the social, ethical, and natural dimensions of human exis-
tence in the constitution of our identity. “When ownmost transcendence is faced in
the transparency of a solitary conscience,” Taminiaux worries, “it looks as though
Dasein has become disembodied” (Taminiaux 2004, 48). Or, following Hans Jonas,
Taminiaux suggests that “the Heideggerian focus on a purified self induces … a sort
of contempt for our belonging to organic life and even for nature as a whole”
(Taminiaux 2004, 49). Or, following Levinas, Taminiaux worries that the focus on
the intuition of the self closes us off to the “demand coming from the Other, who is
my ethical teacher” (Taminiaux 2004, 56). Heidegger’s individuating intuition
leaves us closed off to the ethical demand, both because our vision is self-oriented,
but also because the “invisible” Other is not intuitable (Taminiaux 2004, 55).
Finally, Taminiaux suggest that Heidegger errs in thinking that the self is consti-
tuted independently of relations to others (since it bypasses the discursive practices
through which we constitute each other). There’s an important political dimension
to this aspect of Taminiaux’s critique of Heidegger. Heidegger’s catastrophic
involvement with National Socialism, Taminiaux alleges, “is a distant consequence
of the Platonic bias” in favor of an intuitionist account of authentic selfhood
(Taminiaux 1996, 208). Taminiaux elaborates: “Arendt gradually discovered that
this concept of the mind as a seeing ἄνευ λόγου is the most fundamental fallacy of
metaphysics…. The one who claims, like Plato or Heidegger, to have achieved the
status of an ultimate seer aneu logou cannot but fallaciously nihilate the world of
common appearances that human beings share in common with their fellows. Such
a person cannot but sustain some version of the two-world theory, cannot but over-
look or even despise human plurality and the faculty of judging.”13 However apt this
is as a criticism of the historical or biographical Heidegger, it seems to me to mis-
understand something fundamental about Heidegger’s thought. I shall argue that a
seeing aneu logou – that is, an intuition unmediated by concepts – is misunderstood
(perhaps even by Heidegger himself) if one thinks that there can be “an ultimate

 Taminiaux (1996), 208–9.
74 M.A. Wrathall

seer” who is in a position to dispense with shared forms of intelligibility and thus
“nihilate the world of common appearances.”14 The transcendental moment in the
intuition of the self can never dispense with shared, everyday modes of
In advancing this argument, I think of myself as following through on the trajec-
tory of Taminiaux’s own work. After all, he is the one who showed us that, in appro-
priating and metamorphizing Husserl’s account of categorial intuition, Heidegger
arrives at a considerably broader notion of what can be intuited – broader than one
finds, for instance, in the post-Humean and post-Kantian Anglo-American tradition.
Heidegger does more than simply expand the range of possible “objects” of intu-
ition. He also develops a rich and variegated account of different modes of intuition.
Before we can properly appreciate the significance of Heidegger’s intuitionism for
his account of individuation, then, we need to develop more systematically this

3  Different Modes of Seeing

A note of caution needs to be sounded about the label “intuitionism”: in his earlier
works, Heidegger embraced the Husserlian notion of intuition as “originarily pre-
sentative seeing,”15 which Heidegger glosses as “intuition that presents bodily its
subject.”16 But by the time he writes Being and Time, Heidegger has come to reserve
the term “intuition” (Anschauung) for derivative modes of seeing  – namely, the
concrete apprehension of the occurrent (das Vorhandene) which, he argues, is
dependent on modes of seeing like circumspection (Umsicht) and perspicuity
(Durchsichtigkeit). But it would be a mistake to think that, in “depriv[ing] pure
intuition of its priority,” Heidegger has repudiated an intuitionist approach to under-
standing being (See Heidegger 1977, 147). Instead, he adopts “sight” and “seeing”
in Being and Time as terms that cover all the different modes of intuitive
Like the concept of sight, ‘seeing’ will not be restricted to awareness through ‘the eyes of
the body’. Perception (Vernehmen) in the broader sense lets what is available (das
Zuhandene) and what is occurrent (das Vorhandene) be encountered ‘bodily’ in themselves
with regard to the way they look.17

Thus, Heidegger uses the term “seeing,” as well as other terms built up on the
root word “sight,” to name a wide range of perceptual interactions with the world.
To “see” or “intuit” in the sense intended here, then, means to let something bear
on and affect the way the perceiver comports him- or herself in a situation. “‘Sight’

 Taminiaux (1996), 208.
 “das originär gebende ›Sehen‹” (Husserl 1976, 282/315).
 “die Sache leibhaft gebende Anschauung” (Heidegger 1976, 114).
 Heidegger (1977), 346.
Individuation and Heidegger’s Ontological “Intuitionism” 75

was grasped,” Heidegger explains in the course of reviewing his terminology, “in
view of the basic type of all disclosure that is characteristic of an existent (alles
daseinsmäßigen Erschließens), namely, understanding, in the sense of the genuine
appropriation of those entities towards which the existent is able to comport itself in
accordance with its essential possibilities of being.”18 Heidegger further elaborates
on the fact that the understanding he has in mind as the paradigm for grasping the
nature of sight is “neither a definite type of cognition … nor a cognition at all.”19 It
is rather a whole, practical grasp of a situation “on the basis of which … the differ-
ent possibilities of sight – [for example] of looking around, of just looking at – can
be developed existingly.”20
Heidegger’s sums up his intuitionism – his commitment to the priority of “see-
ing” over thought – in this way:
‘Seeing’ does not mean just perceiving with the bodily eyes, but neither does it mean pure
nonsensory awareness of something occurrent in its occurrentness. In giving an existential
signification to ‘sight’, we have merely drawn upon the peculiar feature of seeing, that it lets
entities which are accessible to it be encountered unconcealedly in themselves. Of course,
every ‘sense’ does this within that domain of discovery which is genuinely its own … we
may formalize ‘sight’ and ‘seeing’ enough to obtain therewith a universal term for charac-
terizing any access to entities or to being, as access in general.21

As it turns out, in Being and Time Heidegger explicitly invokes five different
types of perceptual “access to entities or to being.” In order to understand the type
of sight that is relevant to authentic individuation, it is helpful to see it in the context
of these other modes of intuition.
Each mode of sight is distinguished by;
(a) the primary target at which it is directed – that is, that which is brought into
view by that mode of intuition so that it can bear on the way the viewer com-
ports herself in the world;
(b) the type of comportment that the mode of intuition sustains – that is, the kinds
of activity supported by that particular perceptual mode; and
(c) the way the mode of intuition proceeds in lifting into salience its primary tar-
get – that is, each mode has a different form of perceptually exploring the world
in order to bring its target into view.
For instance, consider the mode of intuition that Heidegger calls “looking (at)”
or “inspecting” (Hinsehen). The primary targets of “looking at” are occurrent enti-
ties – entities that show themselves as self-subsistent substances bearing objective
properties. One of Heidegger’s key phenomenological insights is his recognition
that objects only show themselves in this way when we approach them with a cer-
tain practical detachment. Heidegger describes this as “concern holding itself

 Heidegger (1977), 170.
 Heidegger (1977), 336.
 Heidegger (1977), 147.
76 M.A. Wrathall

back.”22 When we break with our normal, fluid response to the practical context of
action, refraining from going to work and putting entities to use, when we merely
“tarry alongside” them, these activities are supported by a perceptual engagement
that amounts to a mere looking at the objects in our environment. If we want to
inspect something to see why it is not working, or describe it in such a way that it
can be identified through its optical properties, or perform experiments on it to dis-
cover its non-relational, inherent properties – all such practices depend on percep-
tion in the mode of looking at. Such perception discloses by making the object itself
the focus of one’s attention, so that one can discern clearly and distinctly the proper-
ties it possesses.
We tend to think of “looking at” as the paradigmatic mode of perception of the
things around us. But, as we noted, we only perceive things this way when we hold
ourselves back from practical engagement with them. This fact helps us recognize
that “looking at” is derivative of a practically-engaged mode of sight that Heidegger
names “circumspection” (Umsicht).
Equipment can genuinely show itself only in dealings cut to its own measure (hammering
with a hammer, for example); … the less we just stare at the hammer-thing, and the more
we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become, and
the more unveiledly is it encountered as that which it is – as equipment…. No matter how
sharply we just look at [nur-noch-hinsehen] the ‘outward appearance’ [Aussehen] of things
in whatever form this takes, we cannot discover anything available…. But when we deal
with them by using them and manipulating them, this activity is not a blind one; it has its
own kind of sight, by which our manipulation is guided and from which it acquires its spe-
cific thingly character. Dealings with equipment subordinate themselves to the manifold
assignments of the ‘in-order-to’. And the sight with which they thus accommodate them-
selves is circumspection.23

Unlike a focal looking at occurrent object, then, circumspection has as its pri-
mary target affordances – the invitations to act that a context of available entities
provide when they offer themselves for use – and the solicitations that draw us to
put those affordances to work. Equipment is paradigmatic of the entities picked out
by circumspection. Circumspective perception sustains purposive courses of action,
and is guided by our concern (Besorgen) for putting the equipmental things around
us to work. Circumspection discovers affordances by looking away from an entity
toward the whole context within which it can be used. When I circumspectively
perceive a cutting board in the kitchen, for example, I see it best, not be looking at
the cutting board and observing its properties, but by letting my senses graze over
the situation  – eyes darting from the knife to the carrots to the bowl and back.
“Whenever we see with this kind of sight” – circumspection – “in the mere encoun-
tering of something, it is understood in terms of a whole of affordances.”24 By con-
stantly taking in the whole context of affordances, circumspection allows me to

 Heidegger (1977), 61.
 Heidegger (1977), 69.
 Heidegger (1977), 149.
Individuation and Heidegger’s Ontological “Intuitionism” 77

respond to just that relational and situational feature that is most relevant to the
current moment in the unfolding of my purposive course of activity.
Just as it would be a mistake to think that circumspection – practically-engaged
intuition – sees by looking at an object, so too would we err in thinking that we
ordinarily “look at” or “circumspect” other people. Heidegger identifies two modes
of seeing that have, as their primary target, other agents like myself. He dubs these
modes “regard” (Rücksicht) and “looking out for” (Nachsicht). Unfortunately,
Heidegger says very little about how such modes of intuition work. But we know
that this is the kind of seeing that sustains us in comportments of solicitude – activi-
ties, in other words, in which the focus of what we care about is the ability of other
agents to pursue their own possibilities. So when we pursue cooperative activities,
as well as when we deal with those who oppose us, our action is “guided by regard
and looking out for.”25 Presumably, these modes of perception disclose by allowing
me to discern how a situation solicits another agent to act, and simultaneously by
allowing me to anticipate how the other agent’s intentions will take shape and
develop in the common situation in which I find myself with the other. “Regard” and
“looking out for,” as modes of sight that perceptually respond to others as agents,
must involve the ability to read another’s intentions through her stance and actions.
They must involve the capacity to see what opportunities a situation offers for the
other to carry out her intentions. And they also must allow us to discern how we can
influence the other’s actions.
This brief survey of different modes of perception (summarized in the table
below) has highlighted several important features of Heidegger’s intuitionism. For
one, it is clear that he doesn’t think of intuition as a merely causal transaction
between sensory surfaces of the body and the surrounding objective world. What we
see is not restricted to the images which, in accordance with the laws of geometry
and optics, are projected on the surfaces of our retinas. This, in turn, means that
Heidegger is open to the thought that intuition can be directed at and take in much
more than occurrent objects. We see situations, affordances for action, intentional
poises or stances, and opportunities, just as much as we see hammers and tables and
trees. If we had time to explore this further, we would discover that different forms
of intuition (to a greater or lesser degree) play a role not just in picking out but also
in actually constituting the “target”. There is an intimate relationship between the
mode of seeing and the activity sustained by that mode – each requires and contrib-
utes to the constitution of the other. My perceptual modalities help condition the
possibilities for action that a situation affords me. My intention to act, as I project it
out bodily into the situation, causes certain solicitations to arise and offer them-
selves to the circumspective gaze. Merleau-Ponty described this phenomenon in
some detail, explaining that “the subject’s intentions are immediately reflected in
the perceptual field: they polarize it, put their stamp on it, or finally, effortlessly give
birth there to a wave of significations.”26

 Heidegger (1977), 122.
 Merleau-Ponty (2012), 133/164–5.
78 M.A. Wrathall

(a) Primary (b) Comportment (c) Form of

Mode of sight target sustained exploration
Looking at/inspecting The occurrent Observation and Focally attends to
(Hinsehen) description, made the object itself in
possible by concern its “outward
holding itself back appearance,” so as
(Sichenthalten) from to make salient its
practical coping inherent properties
Looking around/ The available, Purposive engagement “Grazes” over the
circumspection (Umsicht) situations in with equipment, made situation,
the possibilities possible by practical uncovering available
they afford for concern (Besorgen) entities by looking
action away from them
toward the active
relations with other
entities that they
Regard (Rücksicht) & looking Other agents Cooperative and Reads the other’s
out for (Nachsicht) like me (i.e., contrary action, made intentions off her
other existents) possible by solicitude stance, poise, and
(Fürsorge) – i.e., activities as she
caring for the ability engages with the
of other agents like affordances of the
myself to pursue their world
own possibilities
Perspicuity, Durchsichtigkeit Myself

Let’s turn, then, to the main focus of this paper: perspicuity, or the kind of sight
involved in individuating myself as an authentic agent. Being an authentic agent
will, of course, involve the other kinds of perception that we’ve surveyed so far (and
the types of action that correspond to those modes of sight):
The existent is the sight that is existentially together with the disclosedness of the “there,”
and it is it equiprimordially in each of those basic ways of its being which we have already
noted: as the circumspection [Umsicht] of concern, as the regard [Rücksicht] of solicitude,
and as that sight which is directed upon being as such [Sicht auf das Sein als solches], for
the sake of which any existent is as it is. The sight which is related primarily and on the
whole to existence we call “perspicuity” [Durchsichtigkeit].27

But the question now is, what is perspicuity? How do we see “the whole of exis-
tence,” and what role does such vision play in individuating us? What and how do
we see when we see ourselves?

 Heidegger (1977), 146.

Individuation and Heidegger’s Ontological “Intuitionism” 79

4  Perspicuity and Seeing the Self

Let’s start with some observations about the term “perspicuity” itself. As Heidegger
uses it, the term serves double duty as a name both for a specific mode of intuition,
but also for a general quality (one that can characterize understanding, thought,
comportment, and of course perception). Perspicuity in general means: “to have an
understanding relation to the whole, … to its basic components, and to their
interconnections.”28 The philosophical tradition tends to equate perspicuity regard-
ing a thing with a conceptual grasp if it, an ability to articulate linguistically its
essence and the laws that govern its interactions. But this is a theoretical as opposed
to an intuitive model of perspicuity. Heidegger does not think of authentic existence
as something that requires such conceptual clarity.29 Still, the more general sense of
perspicuity applies to intuition as well: we see perspicuously when we have the
whole target of perception in view, when its basic components stand out in their
interconnectedness, and when we grasp its interrelations with its surroundings with
a clarity that allows us to engage successfully with it.
When used to name the specific kind of intuition involved in grasping the self,
then, “perspicuity” involves an ability to take in the whole of the self, the fundamen-
tal components of that whole self, and the self’s interconnectedness with its
We choose this term [perspicuity] to designate ‘knowledge of the self’ in a sense which is
well understood, so as to indicate that here it is not a matter of perceptually tracking down
and inspecting a point called the “self,” but rather one of seizing upon the full disclosedness
of being-in-the-world throughout all the constitutive items which are essential to it, and
doing so with understanding.30

So let’s consider more carefully the structure of a perspicuous view of the self.
Continuing with the pattern established when considering the other modes of intu-
ition, we’ll ask about the target of perspicuity, the form that a perspicuous explora-
tion of the self-in-its-world takes, and the comportment sustained by perspicuity.
The target of perspicuity is the self as an existing being. But what is the relevant
“whole” of selfhood, and what are the basic components of the self? To be a self on
Heidegger’s view is to be an entity that opens up or discloses the world as a setting
for existence. The existential self is, as I’ve put it elsewhere, a specific style of polar-
izing the affordances of a situation into solicitations to act.31 The “components” of
the self – the different aspects in virtue of which a situation is polarized into solicita-
tions to act – include a certain disposedness (our thrown embodiment in particular

 Heidegger (1976), 16.
 See, for example, Heidegger (1977), 12 (translation modified): “The question of existence never
gets straightened out except through existing itself. This does not require the theoretical perspicu-
ity of the ontological structure of existence.”
 Heidegger (1977), 146.
 For a more detailed discussion of Heidegger’s account of selfhood, see Wrathall (2016) and
Wrathall (Forthcoming).
80 M.A. Wrathall

skills, preferences, desires, etc.), a certain purposiveness (our projecting onto defi-
nite possibilities), and a certain involved engagement with the current environment
and the demands and restrictions it places on us. But the way in which we open up
avenues of action is also socially structured. “In existing,” Heidegger explains, “an
entity sights ‘itself’ [sichtet ‘sich’] only insofar as its being amidst the world and its
being-with with others have become perspicuous equiprimordially as the constitu-
tive moments of its existence.”32 In addition, the responses a situation calls for are
shaped and constrained by the historical tradition in which a particular agent is
embedded. A perspicuous grasp of the self will see this as well.33 To view myself
perspicuously, then, would involve intuiting how my socially and historically
informed thrownness into facticity, projection into possibilities, and involvement in
affordances, are intermeshed to produce the particular openness to solicitations that
I am.
What form does an intuitive exploration of the self take? How does one go about
seeing one’s self? Heidegger never countenances the idea that I perceive myself in
an act of instrospection – and it is easy to see why. If the self is a particular polar-
izing of affordances into solicitations to act then I will find my self, not by looking
“in” me, but rather by turning out toward the surrounding world. In fact, it is so
obvious to Heidegger that the self is not perceived in an act of introspection that he
rarely even considers the idea. And when he does raise the possibility of introspec-
tion, he quickly dismisses it. “[T]his becoming manifest of the self is no introspec-
tion in the sense that the ‘I’ would become the object of some cognition or other.”34
Not even an inauthentic, non-perspicuous intuition of the self involves introspec-
tion. To see myself inauthentically, I look to the way I am reflected back to myself
by the surrounding world. That means, I see myself by seeing how other people
respond to me, and how available things appeal to or repel me. When one is
immersed in a shared, public work, “one is ‘oneself’ what one does, together with,
among other things, one’s status, reputation, accomplishments, successes and fail-
ures. In the ‘there’ of the table that we encounter, and other such ‘things’, one is
oneself together with the things that are encountered in a way that doesn’t divide
one off from them (unabgehobener Weise)…. But above all one is oneself there in
this way without reflection, without any introspection that turns back toward an
In an inauthentic vision of the self, then, I see myself in terms of the way situa-
tions offer themselves to me and solicit me to respond. For instance, if I intuit myself
as a surgeon, this is because of the way I am reflected back to myself in the respect
shown to me by the patients who seek my care, the cooperation and coordination of
activities I enjoy with the other staff in the operating room, and the way I am solic-
ited to respond to the equipment in the operating theater  – the scalpels, probes,

 Heidegger (1977), 146).
 See Heidegger (1977), 20.
 Heidegger (1975), 392; translation modified.
 Heidegger (1982), 99; translation modified.
Individuation and Heidegger’s Ontological “Intuitionism” 81

hemostats, sutures, needles, swabs, gloves, monitors, and so on. “One encounters
oneself in this being occupied in coping with the world.”36
But understanding myself solely in terms of the reflections I receive from the
surrounding world misses something important about what it is to be a self.
Perspicuity sees through the reflected identity, and it is this aspect of perspicuity –
the movement beyond the things that we normally think of as defining us  – that
gives rise to Taminiaux’s misgivings about the “hyper-transcendental” character of
Heidegger’s account of selfhood. Taminiaux is right in pointing out that the authen-
tic vision of the self (unlike an inauthentic vision that sees me reflected back to
myself from the things and people around me) transcends or goes beyond the par-
ticular involvements that define me at the moment. Perspicuity sees through this,
and lets me intuit myself as an existentially free, radically indefinite, thrown, fallen,
projecting, historically situated and socially articulated polarizer of solicitations.
But to what do I look to intuit myself as such?
Let me offer an analogy to help illustrate what such vision is like. When we are
absorbed in the experience of watching a movie in a theater, we do not look at the
screen as such, even though the it is right there, “before our eyes” (so to speak). If
we attend to the screen as an object, we would fail to see the movie that is playing.
And yet the properties of the screen itself – its color, texture, its shape and geome-
try – all influence profoundly the quality of the images projected onto it. The exis-
tential self is like the screen in a movie theater in that it provides the background
against which affordances can stand out. I don’t ordinarily attend to my self, even
though it is what gives texture or shape to the possibilities on the basis of which
entities and affordances can give themselves to me. Instead, I attend to the images
playing across the screen, just as in ordinary, everyday existence I attend to the
things and events and affordances around me. Thus things reflect me to myself in a
certain sense. But when absorbed in everday existence, I experience them as consti-
tuted independently of me and my projects (just as the images on a movie screen are
ordinarily not experienced as constituted by the screen).
There is, of course, one important disanalogy with a movie screen. When we turn
off the projector and bring up the house lights, the screen is there – an object to be
studied and scrutinized. We have a means of access to it that is independent of the
images that are projected onto it. There is no comparable way to inspect myself
independently of the pattern of solicitations, affordances, and reactions that other
people and things present to me. But, having seen already that there are forms of
intuition that don’t reduce to “looking at” an object, this shouldn’t distress us. In the
case of circumspection, too, we saw that there are things  – solicitations  – which
don’t show themselves to a direct examination. We intuit them only by taking in the
whole context of affordances. And if we consider again the screen analogy, we can
recognize that there is a real sense in which, while watching the film, we are seeing
the screen. We intuit the screen precisely by not looking at the screen. We have a
mode of seeing movie screens at work that neither looks at them without the images

 Heidegger (1982), 99; translation modified.
82 M.A. Wrathall

projected on them, nor reduces them to the images that happen to be projected on
them at any given moment.
Perspicuity is the mode of seeing myself that neither “looks at” myself, nor
reduces me to the reflection that things and people throw back at me. It looks through
things, affordance, situations, and shared constructs of meaning to achieve a per-
spicuous vision of the self, and yet does so without ever being able to make the self
a focal object of perception. We see the self be seeing it as the background to situa-
tions we encounter (just as we see the movie screen at work by seeing it as a back-
ground to the images projected onto it). This is suggested in Heidegger’s claim that
a lack of perspicuity – Undurchsichtigkeit – “is not rooted primarily and solely in
‘egocentric’ self-deceptions; it is rooted just as much in ignorance of the world.”37
In what sense is an everyday, inauthentic vision of the world “ignorant”? It is not
that it fails to understand how to cope with its surroundings – it might well do so
with great skill. Instead, it is ignorant of the intimate role I play in the constitution
and disclosure of the situation in which I find myself. To see myself, to achieve
perspicuity about what it is to be a self, I need to know that the world and what it
solicits me to do is co-constituted by the dispositions and projects I bring to it: “the
concrete situation is only through resoluteness and in it. The current factical
affordance-­character of the circumstances discloses itself to the self only when that
affordance-character is such that one has resolved upon the ‘there’ as which that
self, in existing, has to be.”38 I only fully arrive at this knowledge, of course, as I
become a resolute individual and own my responsibility for being who I am. I then
achieve a kind of self-constancy so that, moving from one situation to the next, it
becomes possible to intuit myself as a diachronically stable style of polarizing solic-
itations. That means, perspicuity consists in seeing myself as playing a role in co-­
constituting every meaningful situation that I encounter.39
I achieve a perspicuous view of being a self as a whole, then, when I see that the
situation shows up in the way it does because I am in it and responsive to the histori-
cal and social structure of significance in the world. But this means that I also see
the possibility of freedom – that is, I see that the situation need not show up in the
way that it does, that I need not respond to the significations that everyone else does.
I perceive that the situation would solicit me differently if I had different disposi-
tions, or projects, or belonged to a different historical community of agents.
Heidegger describes the fact that I could, in any given situation both disclose myself
differently and uncover the situation differently, the “indefiniteness of my ability to
be.” Perspicuous sight recognizes that we are, as existing entities, “dominated
through and through … by indefiniteness,”40 but this indefiniteness is not a failing.
It is a positive condition of the possibility of becoming responsible for oneself in a
resolute decision to own one’s way of being in the world: “when resoluteness is
transparent to itself, it understands that the indefiniteness of one’s ability-to-be is

 Heidegger (1977), 146.
 Heidegger (1977), 300.
 See Heidegger (1977), 305.
 Heidegger (1977), 308.
Individuation and Heidegger’s Ontological “Intuitionism” 83

made definite only in a resolution as regards the current concrete situation…. [I]t
must itself arise from an authentic disclosure” of the world and its possibilities.41
The purpose served by achieving a perspicuous grasp of myself and an authentic
disclosure of the world, then, is to allow me to comport myself toward my existence
in such a way that I “own” or take responsibility for it. The end goal of owning
myself is to forge a stable, autonomous character in which I achieve “the constancy
of the self in the sense of having achieved a stand” on my own being.42 “The existent
takes action in itself in terms of its chosen ability-to-be. Only in this way can it be
responsible.”43 Thus, a responsible existence ultimately depends on an intuitive
grasp of myself – hearing the call of conscience that reveals to me my existential
guilt, penetratingly seeing into the possibilities in terms of which I decide who I am,
and perceiving the concrete situation as it solicits me to respond in terms of who I
have decided to be. Perspicuity, in other words, is the mode of intuition that sustains
me in the project of owning my existence by taking responsibility for who I am.
This is existential freedom. The possibility of freedom “is perspicuous to itself in
different possible ways and degrees.”44 The highest degree of perspicuity regarding
myself is to recognize that I am “the possibility of being-free for the ability-to-be
that is most my own.”45 And I recognize this as I come to see the variety of possibili-
ties for self-determination that the world affords.
It is with this that we return to the question of individuation. As we suggested at
the outset, intuition of the self is complicated by the fact that the self is constituted
through the process of coming to see itself: “the existent always exists as itself, and
being-a-self is in every case only in its process of realization, as is also existence”
(Heidegger 1978, 175–6). It turns out that the sight of perspicuity plays an intimate
role in the process of the realization of myself as a self, because it allows me to
recognize myself as co-responsible for the opening up of the world.

5  Conclusion: Hyper-Transcendental Misgivings

Let’s return to the table of modes of intuition to summarize Heidegger’s account of


 Heidegger (1977), 308.
 Heidegger (1977), 322.
 Heidegger (1977), 288.
 Heidegger (1977), 144.
 Heidegger (1977), 144.
84 M.A. Wrathall

(a) Primary (b) Comportment (c) Form of

Mode of sight target sustained exploration
Looking at/inspecting The occurrent Observation and Focally attends to the
(Hinsehen) description, made object itself in its
possible by concern “outward
holding itself back appearance,” so as to
(Sichenthalten) from make salient its
practical coping inherent properties
Looking around/ The available, Purposive engagement “Grazes” over the
circumspection (Umsicht) situations in with equipment, made situation, uncovering
the possible by practical available entities by
possibilities concern (Besorgen) looking away from
they afford for them toward the
action active relations with
other entities that
they sustain
Regard (Rücksicht) & Other agents Cooperative and Reads the other’s
looking out for (Nachsicht) like me (i.e., contrary action, made intentions off her
other possible by solicitude stance, poise, and
existents) (Fürsorge) – i.e., activities as she
caring for the ability engages with the
of other agents like affordances of the
myself to pursue their world
own possibilities
Perspicuity, Durchsichtigkeit Myself Taking responsibility Seeing the
for my existence, indefiniteness of
made possible by care who I am and how
(Sorge) the world presents
itself; recognizing
the essential but
contribution I make
in grounding
solicitations to
action through my
guilt and projection

We are now in a position to address Taminiaux’s misgivings about Heidegger’s

intuitionist view of the self. As we saw, there is indeed a moment of transcendence
involved in perspicuity as the vision of the self passes beyond the ordinary, every-
day, social and natural ways of identifying who I am. As a result, the sight of perspi-
cuity sees the self by looking away from any fixed, thing-like qualities of the self.
The “what” that I am is an entity that is essentially indefinite and free, and I realize
“who” I am – my ownmost self – by resolutely owning a decision in view of the free
But does this moment of transcendence entail that the self is constituted indepen-
dently of relations to others (since it bypasses the discursive practices through
which we constitute each other)? The answer to this question is complex. Heidegger
Individuation and Heidegger’s Ontological “Intuitionism” 85

insists that the sight of perspicuity never dispenses with the shared practices and
historical tradition of the community:
Even resolutions remain dependent upon the “one” and its world. The understanding of this
is one of the things that a resolution discloses, inasmuch as resoluteness is what first gives
authentic perspicuity to the existent. In resoluteness the issue for the existent is its ownmost
ability-to-be, which, as something thrown, can project itself only upon definite factical pos-
sibilities. Resolution does not withdraw itself from “actuality”, but discovers first what is
factically possible; and it does so by seizing upon it in whatever way is possible for it as its
ownmost ability-to-be in the “one”. The existential attributes of any possible resolute exis-
tent include the items constitutive for an existential phenomenon which we call a “concrete

A complete intuition of the self, then, requires taking in the public significations
in terms of which our lives are lived in concert with our fellows. The authentic self
only comes into view at all when I see how I polarize the shared context of affor-
dances into solicitations that are indexed to me as an individual. The moment of
transcendence is, on this reading, less a matter of dismissing the social, ethical, and
natural dimensions of human existence, and more a matter of owning my way of
taking up those dimensions.
Thus, in individuating myself, I am not cut off radically from others and I’m
never in a position to constitute myself independently of my concrete, historical,
embodied insertion into a share public world. A perspicuous view of the self sees
my embodied familiarity with a shared, public world as the necessary theater within
which I realize myself as an individual.


Arendt, Hannah. 1987. Labor, work, action. In Amor Mundi: Explorations in the faith and thought
of Hannah Arendt, ed. S.J. James and W. Bernauer. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff.
Heidegger, Martin. 1975. Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie. Ga 24. Frankfurt am Main:
V.  Klostermann. English edition: Heidegger, Martin. 1982. The Basic Problems of
Phenomenology. Revised Edition. (trans. Albert Hofstadter). Bloomington: Indiana University
———. 1976. Logik. Die Frage Nach der Wahrheit. Ga 21. Frankfurt am Main: V. Klostermann.
English edition: Heidegger, Martin. 2010. Logic: The Question of Truth (trans. Thomas
Sheehan). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
———. 1977. Sein und Zeit. Frankfurt am Main: V.  Klostermann. English edition: Heidegger,
Martin. 1962. Being and Time (trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson). New  York:
Harper & Row.
———. 1978. Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Logik im Ausgang von Leibniz. Ga 26. Frankfurt
am Main: V.  Klostermann. English edition: Heidegger, Martin. 1984. The Metaphysical
Foundations of Logic (trans. Michael Heim). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
———. 1982. Ontologie (Hermeneutik der Faktizität). Ga 63. Frankfurt am Main: V. Klostermann.
English edition: Heidegger, Martin. 1999. Ontology  – The Hermeneutics of Facticity (trans.
John van Buren). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

 Heidegger (1977), 299.
86 M.A. Wrathall

Husserl, Edmund. 1976. Ideen zu Einer Reinen Phänomenologie und Phänomenologischen

Philosophie, 1st book, Husserliana, vol. III/1. Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 2012. The Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Donald A.  Landes.
London: Routledge.
Taminiaux, Jacques. 1991. From one idea of phenomenology to the other. In Heidegger and the
project of fundamental ontology. Albany: SUNY Press.
———. 1994. The Husserlian heritage in Heidegger’s notion of the self. In Reading Heidegger
from the start, ed. T. Kisiel and J. van Buren, 269–290. Albany: SUNY Press.
———. 1996. Nothingness and the professional thinker: Arendt versus Heidegger. In The ancients
and the moderns, ed. Reginald Lilly. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
———. 1997. The Thracian maid and the professional thinker. Albany: SUNY Press.
———. 2004. The metamorphoses of phenomenological reduction. Milwaukee: Marquette UP.
Wrathall, Mark A. 2015. ‘Demanding authenticity of ourselves’: Heidegger on authenticity as an
extra-moral ideal. In Horizons of authenticity in phenomenology, existentialism, and moral
psychology, Contributions to phenomenology, ed. H. Pedersen and M. Altman, vol. 74, 347–
368. Dordretch: Springer.
———. 2016. Who is the self of everyday existence. In Heidegger and contemporary social the-
ory, ed. Bernhard Schmid and Gerhard Thonhauser. Heidelberg: Springer.
———. Forthcoming. ‘I’ ‘here’ and ‘you’ ‘there’: Heidegger on existential spatiality and the ‘vol-
atilized’ self. Yearbook for Eastern and Western Philosophy 2.
Historicizing the Mind: Gadamer’s
“Hermeneutic Experience” Compared
to Davidson’s “Radical Interpretation”

Pol Vandevelde

In his essay “L’herméneutique de Gadamer et les avatars d’une fascination pré-

coce,” Jacques Taminiaux shows how Gadamer takes a different lesson from Book
VI of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics than Heidegger, despite Gadamer’s recogni-
tion of the long lasting influence Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle had on him
(Taminiaux 2002, 155–202).1 As Taminiaux subtly demonstrates, Gadamer wants to
apply to historical consciousness what Aristotle ascribes to moral consciousness. In
his effort to rehabilitate the role of the tradition in the very functioning of conscious-
ness, Gadamer has to downplay the negative characterization Heidegger gives of the
social environment of Dasein. As Taminiaux points out, “the opposition of the They
and the Selbst, of the common world and the proper world, of everydayness and
solitary authenticity has no place” in Gadamer’s reappropriation of Heidegger’s
notion of “understanding” (Verstehen) (ibid., 173). Hermeneutic experience, for
Gadamer, is permeated through and through by alterity and history.
What I would like to examine in this essay is this permeating presence of history
and alterity in interpretation by contrasting Gadamer’s views with a counterpart in
a different “tradition” of thought who has also made “interpretation” a fundamental
structural component of his thought, Donald Davidson. This comparison and con-
trast has its “political” weight and not only because of the divide between so-called
“continental” and “analytic” traditions, which has “politicized” philosophy for too
long. The political weight is rather literal: interpretation, for Gadamer, is “in situa-
tion,” historical and dialogical. Similarly, Davidson sees interpretation as a process
of inferring from the people observed the beliefs they may have in a process that he
calls “triangulation.” Both types of interpretation—as dialogical and as triangula-
tion—have to navigate the nitty-gritty or grainy political landscape of real individu-
als making the best they can of what, at first, offers resistance to the mind, whether

 See also (Taminiaux 2009, 169–205).


P. Vandevelde (*)
Department of Philosophy, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, USA

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 87

V.M. Fóti, P. Kontos (eds.), Phenomenology and the Primacy of the Political,
Contributions To Phenomenology 89, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8_6
88 P. Vandevelde

it is an utterance by a person, a phenomenon, or a text. Both Gadamer and Davidson

attempt to do justice to the political nature of the process of interpretation—in the
limited sense of a social and historical process—while taming the politicization of
this process. In other words, both recognize the concrete, always specific nature of
interpretation as arising from a polis or a community that situates and nurtures inter-
preters and people to be interpreted. The politics of interpretation in the limited
sense goes hand in hand with an “ethics” of interpretation. In the case of Gadamer’s
position, positively, as Taminiaux shows, “there is indeed an affinity between
hermeneutics and ethics” (Taminiaux 2002, 197) and, negatively, there is the risk of
relativism, as Davidson warns. In the case of Davidson’s position, there is, posi-
tively, a “principle of charity” that is embedded in interpretation, but there is also,
negatively, as Ian Hacking points out, a risk of ethnocentrism or “linguistic imperi-
alism” (Hacking 1975, 149).
When Gadamer turns “understanding” and “interpretation” into ontological cat-
egories that describe the situation of human beings in the world, he, in a sense,
historicizes the mind to the extent that consciousness or the mind is seen as being
always situated and always functioning within history. In such an ontological refor-
mulation, the task of interpretation can no longer be to extract a content of meaning
of what would be an object, an event, or a text existing in itself and external to the
process of interpretation. Rather, interpretation is now a way of being: it is through
interpretation that objects, events, and texts come into their own as relevant, salient,
meaningful to human beings. If the object of interpretation is not external to inter-
pretation but revealed through it, the subject doing the interpretation is in turn trans-
formed in the process. Yet, despite this view that interpretation transforms both the
object and the subject, Gadamer maintains for philosophical hermeneutics a claim
to universality and thus rejects relativism or historicism.
What is striking is that we find in Donald Davidson an analogous effort to grant
interpretation the task of elucidating the world: interpretation is an epistemic tool
that does not merely record what would be available in itself outside interpretation,
but does not fabricate its objects either. Thus, for both Gadamer and Davidson real-
ity is considered as a correlate of interpretation in the sense of what gains its onto-
logical relevance within interpretation. Reality is a matter of transaction.
I would like to explore their views on interpretation by focusing on the notion of
“hermeneutic experience” (hermeneutische Erfahrung) in the case of Gadamer and
the notion of “radical interpretation” in the case of Davidson. The advantage of their
respective views, coming from two rather different traditions of thought, is that
interpretation is freed from the psychological turmoil of either divining an author’s
intent or projecting the reader’s expectations. Gadamer accomplishes this by char-
acterizing the “hermeneutic experience” that interpretation is as an “event.”
Davidson’s “radical interpretation” circumvents the issue by eliminating the need to
figure out what is going on in the head of people to be interpreted. Instead, under the
principle of charity, he offers a reconstruction of what the observer would believe if
reacting to the same physical environment as the observed. Both Gadamer and
Davidson bypass the psychological intentions or states of the observed by substitut-
ing to the original meaning the construing of what makes sense to the observer.
Historicizing the Mind: Gadamer’s “Hermeneutic Experience” Compared to Davidson’s… 89

Thus, both Gadamer and Davidson dispense with any recovery operation—of
what was really meant—and instead focus on a rescue operation: how to handle
what is observed. The hermeneuticist as well as the radical interpreter treat subjects’
speech as an event that is contemporary with the interpreter. As David Hoy puts it,
Gadamer and Davidson are “at least engaged in the same enterprise, however much
they differ in philosophical style and background” (Hoy 1997, 126). For, there are
obvious differences. “There is no such thing as a language,” Davidson provocatively
says, adding “not if a language is anything like what many philosophers and lin-
guists have supposed” (Davidson 2005a, 107). By contrast, Gadamer claims that
“being that is understood is language” (Gadamer 1998, 474).
The advantage of comparing these two authors is not so much that it may bridge
two traditions, analytic and continental, whose divorce several decades ago was
pronounced on grounds of irreconcilable differences, but rather to show what, if
anything, is irreconcilable. As Ramberg puts it, “Davidsonian theory of interpreta-
tion and Gadamerian hermeneutic ontology respond to different intellectual pres-
sures and serve different philosophical purposes … Davidson and Gadamer are
rising to different challenges; their accounts are designed to overcome quite differ-
ent obstacles” (Ramberg 2003, 220–221). The fact that both have actually discussed
each other’s views on “interpretation” may help bring out the points of contention.
Let us start with the commonalities.

1  The Debate Between Gadamer and Davidson

There is, first, the remarkable fact that both wrote on Plato’s Philebus at the begin-
ning of their careers. It was the topic of Davidson’s PhD and it represents the second
part of Gadamer’s habilitation under Heidegger. When Davidson received the Hegel
Prize from the city of Stuttgart in 1991, he was, he said, “unaware that the title I had
given this talk was nearly identical with the English title of a book of essays on Plato
by another recipient of the Hegel prize, Professor Hans-Georg Gadamer” (Davidson
2005b, 252). Davidson’s title is “Dialectic and Dialogue” and Gadamer’s title was
“Dialogue and Dialectic.”
As Davidson says in an essay titled “Gadamer and Plato’s Philebus,” they both
started with Plato, specifically the same dialogue Philebus, and ended with a focus
on interpretation. Although Gadamer’s path was, Davidson says, “already quite
clear” at the time he wrote on Philebus, his own path was somewhat indirect. He
The dialogue [Philebus] touched both of us near the beginnings of our professional careers,
and it connects with our present interests. The difference is that Gadamer appreciated from
the start what was in the dialogue for him, and though his views developed, and his inter-
pretation of Plato underwent some change, he never backed away from the thesis that free
discussion is the source of human understanding, nor from his recognition that Plato had
revealed and exploited this truth. I, on the other hand, lost my fascination with Plato over a
period of decades, and only recently, and by a very different path from Gadamer’s, have
90 P. Vandevelde

come to grasp some of what I dimly, if at all, understood the first time around. (Davidson
2005c, 264)

It is, Davidson says, “by what seems to me a largely accidental but commodius
vicus of recirculation [that I] arrived in Gadamer’s intellectual neighborhood”
(Davidson 2005c, 261). Let us note that the expression Davidson uses “commodius
vicus of recirculation”—a pleasant neighborhood to revisit—is the first sentence of
Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce, Davidson having written an essay on “James
Joyce and Humpty Dumpty”.2
Davidson addresses two fundamental differences that he sees between Gadamer
and himself, first, regarding the role of language and, second, regarding the status of
interpretation. Regarding the former, Davidson writes in his essay on the Philebus:
“I am in agreement with almost all of this. Where I differ (and this may merely show
I have not fully understood Gadamer) is that I would not say a conversation presup-
poses a common language, nor even that it requires one …3 Coming to an agreement
about an object and coming to understand each other’s speech are not independent
moments but part of the same interpersonal process of triangulating the world”
(Davidson 2005c, 275).4
Davidson’s critique is directed at Gadamer’s apparent hierarchy that places lan-
guage as a presupposition for understanding. However, in Gadamer’s text, which
Davidson quotes, after Gadamer indeed says, “every conversation presupposes a
common language,” he adds “or better, creates a common language,” which he
explains further down the page: “Hence reaching an understanding on the subject
matter of a conversation necessarily means that a common language must first be
worked out in the conversation” (Gadamer 1998, 378–379). Thus, in response to
Davidson’s critique, it can be said that if agreement requires the working out of a
language, it does not seem to be the case that language “precedes” the agreement.5
They rather go together. Yet, the difference between Davidson and Gadamer remains.
Although, for both, language is linked to interpretation, for Davidson the link is
secondary and language functions only as a tool, whereas for Gadamer language
fulfills the ontological function of forming our thoughts and beliefs. The difference
is about the mediation and what Davidson calls the “more basic claim” that says that
“thought itself depends on language” (Davidson 2005c, 275). For Gadamer, under-
standing takes place in an always specific historical context and the language used

 The passage in Joyce reads: “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay,
brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs” (Joyce 2012,
 The quote continues: “Understanding, to my mind, is always a matter not only of interpretation
but of translation, since we can never assume we mean the same thing by our words that our part-
ners in discussion mean. What is created in dialogue is not a common language but understanding;
each partner comes to understand the other. And it also seems wrong to me to say agreement con-
cerning an object demands that a common language first be worked out. I would say: it is only in
the presence of shared objects that understanding can come about.”
 Jeff Malpas comments on this quote in (Malpas 2002, 209).
 On a similar critique, see (Malpas 2002, 209).
Historicizing the Mind: Gadamer’s “Hermeneutic Experience” Compared to Davidson’s… 91

is one that carries meanings, connotations, and overtones that have accrued to words
overtime without speakers being fully aware of them. As a consequence, speakers
often say more than they consciously intend, letting their history resonate through
their speech. Quoting Truth and Method, where Gadamer says that “language has its
true being only in conversation, in the exercise of understanding between people
[404],” Davidson, first, remarks that “this saying of Gadamer’s goes far beyond the
linguist’s insistence on the primacy of spoken over written words, for it implies that
it is only in the context of discussion that language comes to have a content, to be
language. (This is a view often attributed to Wittgenstein)” (Davidson 2005c, 275).
Davidson summarizes his agreement with Gadamer: “We must conclude that it is
only in interpersonal communication that there can be thought, a grasping of the
fact of an objective, that is, a shared, world. Not only is it the case that the aim of
conversation is ‘shared understanding’; we must also acknowledge that without
sharing there is no understanding” (Davidson 2005c, 274). This means, for
Davidson, that “our thoughts and words carry us out into the world; this is why we
can have true and false beliefs and say what is false as well as what is true. This
connection with the world can be established only by shared reactions to a shared
environment” (ibid., 275). Now, this last point is not Gadamerian. The sharing for
Gadamer takes place in speech and dialogue, whereas for Davidson it is an empiri-
cal process of reacting to stimuli in the same way.
Besides their difference about the role of language, Davidson sees a second
important difference between Gadamer and himself. It is about the status of inter-
pretation. In an essay on “Locating Literary Language,” Davidson takes issue with
a passage from Truth and Method in which Gadamer says: “A text is understood
only if it is understood in a different way every time” (Gadamer 1975, 275f).6
Davidson asks: “Should we then agree with Gadamer when he says that what the
text means changes as the audience changes?” and he answers:
I think not. There can be multiple interpretations, as Freud suggests, because there is no
reason to say one rules out others. Gadamer has in mind incompatible interpretations. It is
true that every person, every age, every culture will make what it can of a text; and persons,
periods, and cultures differ. But how can a significant relativism follow from a truism? If
you and I try to compare notes on our interpretation of a text we can do this only to the
extent that we have or can establish a broad basis of agreement. (Davidson 2005e, 181)

Gadamer briefly responded to Davidson on two occasions. In his first response to

Davidson’s paper on Plato’s Philebus, Gadamer does not address the basic disagree-
ment Davidson expresses, but only talks about their respective interpretation of the
Philebus. In the second response to a paper by David Hoy comparing him, Gadamer,
to Davidson, Gadamer writes: “What is fundamentally at issue is not primarily sci-
ence and epistemology but … the ‘ontology’ of life communicating itself through
language” (Gadamer 1997, 129; quoted in Vessey 2012, 37). This is indeed the key.
For Davidson, understanding is reached through a mixture of causation and

 The revised translation reads: “We understand in a different way, if we understand at all”
(Gadamer 1998, 297).
92 P. Vandevelde

inferences. For Gadamer, understanding is not so much a matter of empirical condi-

tions or of inferences by interpreters in terms of beliefs, but rather a matter of dia-
logue through language. Because language is historically sedimented, it allows
history to permeate our thoughts and beliefs by inserting in them a layer of sense or
meaning that exceeds our conscious intentions and in part gives form to those very
Dialogue is the locus where all these external historical forces come into play
and can find an equilibrium in the sense that the interactions between partners or
between readers and texts allow the partners in dialogue to identify their own preju-
dices and reach an understanding with others. The issue for Gadamer is not about
relativism7 at the epistemological level—the only one he says Davidson considers.
It is not that different interpreters understand differently the “same” text or utter-
ance, but rather that texts and utterances, because of their existence in language, will
be carved out differently by interpreters who will see different aspects as salient or
will even see the boundaries of texts and utterances differently. Taking as example
the history of pre-Socratic thought, Gadamer writes: “Every interpretation brings
particular prejudices into play: in Joel the scientific religious prejudice, in Karl
Reinhardt the prejudice of the logical enlightenment, Werner Jaeger’s unexamined
religious monotheism, as W. Bröcker in his Aristotle has shown, and my own preju-
dices when I myself attempt to understand the ‘divinities’ in light of classical phi-
losophy and philosophical thought, inspired certainly by Heidegger’s exposition to
the question of being” (Gadamer 1989, 283). These different perspectives are not
various “takes” on what would be identical—the same text or the same phenome-
non. Each encounter is a “fusion of horizons” between the horizon of the interpret-
ers and the horizon of the object interpreted. Both subject and object come to be
identified from within the fusion. Thus, the stability in interpretation lies neither
with interpreters—Reinhardt, Jaeger, and Gadamer have their own pre-Socratics—
nor with the texts or phenomena to be interpreted. Rather, the stability lies in the
fusion, which is a dialogue and which invites dialogue with other “fusions” by other
What we can appreciate in Gadamer’s response is how ahistorical Davidson’s
enterprise is, a point that Davidson himself fully acknowledges. For him, interpreta-
tion is a purely synchronic process taking place between an interpreter who builds a
theory for understanding subjects based on causal effects of a shared environment
and inferences of beliefs. By contrast, for Gadamer, the enterprise of understanding
is historical through and through as an interaction or dialogue—in a living lan-
guage. Let us try to make their differences more salient by focusing on

 McDowell has discussed this issue of relativism in Gadamer and Davidson from another perspec-
tive (McDowell 2002, 173f).
Historicizing the Mind: Gadamer’s “Hermeneutic Experience” Compared to Davidson’s… 93

2  Gadamer’s “Hermeneutic Experience”

With his notion of “hermeneutic experience” (hermeneutische Erfahrung), Gadamer

wants to offer an alternative to the philosophies of consciousness in the Diltheyan
and Husserlian traditions. At the same time, he wants to save the specificity of a
consciousness situated in history, which was central to Dilthey’s project,8 against
scientific objectifying encroachment. Gadamer recognizes the merit of Erlebnis to
be a kind of reconciliation between subjectivity and history: it is an expression of
something objective and at the same time it is lived through by the experiencer.
Gadamer quotes Dilthey: “the first condition of possibility of a science of history is
that I myself am a historical being, that the person studying history is the person
making history” (Gadamer 1998, 222). However, the difficulty of such a view is to
show how one can go beyond the individuality of the Erlebnis and move out of the
psyche of an individual in order to reconnect the experience with historical realities
in a way that the experience is not solely individual, but is a stand-in for the histori-
cal realities themselves.
When retracing the history of the word Erlebnis, Gadamer discerns two direc-
tions indicated by the word. On the one hand, there is immediacy: “Erleben means
primarily ‘to be still alive when something happens.’ Thus the word suggests the
immediacy with which something real is grasped” (Gadamer 1998, 61). But, on the
other, das Erlebte—what is experienced—is a content that “is like a yield or result
that achieves permanence, weight, and significance from out of the transience of
experiencing” (ibid., 61). As Gadamer notes, “both meanings obviously lie behind
the coinage Erlebnis: both the immediacy, which precedes all interpretation, rework-
ing, and communication, and merely offers a starting point for interpretation—
material to be shaped—and its discovered yield, its lasting result” (ibid., 61).
Gadamer claims that Dilthey could not overcome this tension between the sub-
jective aspect of Erlebnis—an individual experience—and its objective aspect—a
content that can be objectified and studied scientifically. Husserl, Gadamer believes,
offered a solution to this problem through a transcendental turn in Ideas I, which
can indeed accommodate intersubjectivity, but by introducing a new difficulty. The
bridge between Erlebnis and historical reality is made by a form of subjectivity—a
transcendental subject—that is no longer flesh and blood and thus no longer within
history or from history, as Dilthey wanted it to be.
What Gadamer calls “hermeneutic experience” can avoid the difficulty of
Dilthey—of reconciling the subjective and objective sides of Erlebnis—and offer a
better solution than Husserl’s transcendental enterprise. Gadamer takes a radical
view, rejecting as a false dichotomy the opposition of the subject and the object.
Understanding, he says, is a basic ontological feature of human existence and it is a
“happening” (Geschehen) (ibid., 400). As is well known, Gadamer found his

 See the following essays by Gadamer on Dithey: “The Problem of Dilthey: Between Romanticism
and Positivism (1984)” (Gadamer 2016b), “Dilthey and Ortega: The Philosophy of Life (1985)”
(Gadamer 2016c) and “Hermeneutics and the Diltheyan School (1991)” (Gadamer 2016d).
94 P. Vandevelde

­ otivation for his own hermeneutic project in Heidegger, as he acknowledges in the

foreword to the second edition of Truth and Method. “Heidegger’s criticism of tran-
scendental inquiry and his thinking of ‘the turn’ form the basis of my treatment of
the universal hermeneutic problem” (ibid., xxxvi).9
This notion of “happening” or “event” is central to Truth and Method and philo-
sophical hermeneutics in general. As Gadamer notes, “I had initially planned to
publish [my book], not with the title ‘Truth and Method,’ but with the title
‘Understanding and Happening’ [Verstehen und Geschehen]. For, it is not so much
our doing that matters as what happens to us when thinking leads us on the way of
thinking” (Gadamer 2016a, 225). With regard to the subject-object dichotomy,
Gadamer considers that both subject and object originate from within understanding
and interpretation. On the side of the object, being an object is nothing else that
being “disclosed” as an object through understanding and interpretation. This is a
reformulation of Husserl’s fundamental discovery of intentionality—consciousness
is always “of” something. On the side of the subject, instead of being a free floating
mysterious device or a mind freely roaming the world, it is rather a person engaged
in a historical world in dialogue with others. All this is a reformulation of Heidegger’s
hermeneutic view of consciousness as “being-in-the-world” and “being-with,”
albeit with a significant twist: dialogue.
Gadamer acknowledges that he had a “problem” with the way Heidegger pres-
ents “discourse” [Rede] in Being and Time. “From early on,” Gadamer says, “what
was lacking for me in this analysis was the experience one has of others, of their
resistance, of their objection, and the guiding force that originates here” (Gadamer
2016a, 115). As a student of Heidegger, he was similarly taken aback by Heidegger’s
negative formulations of any social dimension of human existence. Gadamer writes:
“Heidegger always maintained the equiprimordiality of authenticity and inauthen-
ticity. In his lectures … this always produced a surprising effect when he concluded
his rather wrathful analysis of ‘the They’ and of ‘idle talk’ with the reassurance: ‘All
of this is said without any pejorative meaning’” (ibid., 113). Gadamer came to see
that it is difficult to find a positive place for the other in Heidegger’s ontological
project because “the others could only manifest themselves in their own existence
as a limitation” (ibid., 135). As Gadamer came to recognize,
it was only when the others are starkly held up against me that the authentic possibility of
understanding opened up to me. To let the other stand against oneself—and it is from there
that all my hermeneutic works slowly arose—does not only mean to recognize in principle
the limitation of one’s own project. It also demands simply going beyond one’s own possi-
bilities in a dialogical, communicative, and hermeneutic process. (ibid., 135)

Because both subject and object originate from within understanding, hermeneu-
tics avoids the tension found in Erlebnis between the subjective mode of being of
consciousness—a direct “living through”—and the objective nature of the content
of what is simply experienced, supposed to be expressible in a public medium and

 The “turn” is when Heidegger understands the question of being no longer from the vantage point
of Dasein, which is still human existence, but from the vantage point of history. It is the thinking
of the “event” (Ereignis).
Historicizing the Mind: Gadamer’s “Hermeneutic Experience” Compared to Davidson’s… 95

understandable by others. At the same time, Gadamer wants to reclaim experience

from the sciences, which have schematized it in a reproducible and controllable
experiment. The hermeneutic experience is thus neither subjective, as what a subject
has or owns—as Erlebnis is—nor objective—as experiment is. Rather, experience
is that through which a subject is formed and becomes such, and this means: from
within a tradition.
Consciousness is thus to be envisaged in terms of experience. Consequently, it is
of a dialogical nature and never in an overarching position. We are each an “I”
because we were, first, a “you.” Our position is always on the receiving end or as a
response. Gadamer wants to remain faithful to what he learned from Plato and
Aristotle: “the primacy of ethos over logos.” This, he says, “led me to the sense of
performance [Vollzugssinn] that a dialogue has” (Gadamer 2016a, 118). One feature
of the performance is the indeterminacy of the course the dialogue may take. “No
one knows in advance what will ‘come out’ of a dialogue. Coming to an understand-
ing [Verständigung] or its failure is like an event that happens to us” (Gadamer
1998, 383). A second feature is its situatedness and singularity. What is said at the
level of sentences or propositions is enacted in a concrete social and historical
framework. A third feature is that this performance in dialogue allows history to
enter into the workings of consciousness. In a dialogue, a claim is made on us as
subjects and we speak as those who are, first, addressed. Our response brings the
past back into the present, giving thickness to our present.
Once we apply this nature of “dialogue” or “dialectic” dynamism within experi-
ence to interpretation, thus once interpretation is seen through dialogue and as a
performance, the interpreter becomes like someone in a dialogue: as someone who
responds to a problem, for example by being taken aback by an event or unsettled
by a text read. This is how interpretation, functioning through the logic of question
and answer, is both “experience”—as reconstruction of the question—and “event”—
it happens that we have to answer.10 As Gadamer explains further,
a person who wants to understand must question what lies behind what is said. He must
understand it as an answer to a question. If we go back behind what is said, then we inevi-
tably ask questions beyond what is said. We understand the sense of the text only by acquir-
ing the horizon of the question—a horizon that, as such, necessarily includes other possible
answers. Thus the meaning of a sentence is relative to the question to which it is a reply, but
that implies that its meaning necessarily exceeds what is said in it. (Gadamer 1998, 370)

The logic of question and answer is a peculiar logic in the sense that it is not
transitive from a question that would come first and an answer that would subse-
quently be provided. The question is actually framed by the interpreter so that the
question is what the answer posits as its motivation. The notion of a claim that the

 See also the following passage: “Reconstructing the question to which the text is presumed to be
the answer itself takes place within a process of questioning through which we try to answer the
question that the tradition asks us” (Gadamer 1998, 21. Translation modified).
See also: “That a historical text is made the object of interpretation means that it puts a question
to the interpreter. Thus interpretation always involves a relation to the question that is asked of the
interpreter. To understand a text means to understand this question” (Gadamer 1998, 370).
96 P. Vandevelde

tradition makes on us describes this position of the interpreter who responds from
being addressed (challenged, unsettled, or impressed). Now, this means that the
standpoint of the author to be interpreted can never be fully re-occupied as such
because this standpoint of the author only exists within the response the interpreter
provides. Because both author and interpreter speak from a received position, as
those who respond, there is no re-living by the interpreter of what has happened to
the author.
Gadamer uses several negative formulations to describe this peculiar logic of
question and answer and to determine interpretation as an event. Interpretation, he
says, is not to be seen from the psychological perspective as a form of “transposing
oneself into another person” or an “immediate participation with another” (Gadamer
1998, 383). It is not “to get inside another person and re-effectuate his experiences
[seine erlebnisse nachvollziehen]” (ibid., 383). Translation modified). It is thus not
“empathy” as a way to transpose ourselves in the mindset of the author of the work
we want to understand and is therefore not an appropriation of what was meant
according to our own standards.11 Interpretation does not receive its impetus from
the past, but from the future. Instead of a re-effectuation of the original word to be
interpreted, of a “mere reproduction” (Nachvollzug) or “repetition” (Nachreden) of
the original, “understanding,” Gadamer says, “is … always a productive [produktiv]
activity” (ibid., 296). It is a “re-creation” (Nachschaffen) (ibid., 119) or a “new cre-
ation” (neue Schöpfung) (ibid., 473). Interpretation is a new creation because the
“event” of understanding or interpretation (ibid., xxiii) moves beyond the particu-
larity of the object investigated and of the subject doing the interpretation. In short,
even if interpretation responds to a claim from the past, it receives its marching
orders from the future: it is productive of sense and new experiences.
We thus have a complex relation of effect and counter-effect. The text we want
to understand speaks to us but within our own voice as interpreters. However, as
interpreters we are ourselves the addressees of a claim coming from the text. Instead
of being a starting point, as authority, our position as interpreters is rather an effect.
And yet, we are those who interpret. This is what the notion of wirkungsgeschichtli-
ches Bewusstsein, a consciousness exposed to the effects of history, means.12
Because the fusion “always involves rising to a higher universality that overcomes
not only our own particularity but also that of the other” (ibid., 305) the “hermeneu-
tic experience,” which is fundamentally the “structure” of consciousness, not only
opens up consciousness to history, but carries consciousness beyond the present
(ibid., 346). The consciousness exposed to the effects of history is a consciousness
with all the paraphernalia of consciousness, but it operates within a framework that
has been opened by an event and is, as such, an “experience of sense” (Erfahrung
von Sinn) (ibid., 383). Sense is articulation: an object becomes salient and

 See also this passage: “Transposing ourselves consists neither in the empathy of one individual
for another nor in subordinating another person to our own standards” (Gadamer 1998, 305).
 Taminiaux sees the origin of this Gadamerian notion in Heidegger’s lectures on Aristotle, which
Gadamer attended and in which Heidegger speaks of the Wirkung or “effect” that the past has on
the future (Taminiaux 2002, 184).
Historicizing the Mind: Gadamer’s “Hermeneutic Experience” Compared to Davidson’s… 97

­ eaningful, a connection between phenomena becomes visible, a puzzle challenges

me. We, the subjects, are grabbed by something, questioned, brought out of our
horizons and face new horizons. Just as when speaking with others I may be the one
who is speaking and all of a sudden I am put on the spot and asked to answer, in the
same way in interpretation I may be the one who understands and interprets, but in
the process the interpretation has an efficacy in return on me so that I initiate my
own transformation, as it were. The event takes us with its happening as a dynamic
event of fusion of horizons that transforms the interpreting consciousness.
Transformation is native to interpretation. As Gadamer describes it, “to reach an
understanding in a dialogue is not merely a matter of putting oneself forward and
successfully asserting one’s own point of view, but being transformed into a com-
munion in which we do not remain what we were” (ibid., 379).
Let us now turn to Davidson and see how he also desubjectivizes the process of

3  Davidson’s Process of Triangulation

As for Gadamer, interpretation for Davidson is not about retrieving thoughts or

beliefs from behind the words expressed. What he offers is an explanation or a
“theory”: it is “a theory for the interpretation of a speaker’s words, a theory that also
provides a basis for attributing beliefs or desires to that speaker” (Davidson 2004,
152). By understanding or interpretation, Davidson means an empirical process that
takes place through the causal effect of objects on subjects and through the infer-
ences that observers make for ascribing beliefs to the observed subjects. He formu-
lates a principle of charity that consists in this, that “we make maximum sense of the
words and thoughts of others when we interpret in a way that optimizes agreement”
and we optimize agreement on the basis of shared reactions to a shared environment
(Davidson 2001b, 197).
In order to understand other people, as for Gadamer, it is not necessary to trans-
pose ourselves in their situation and try to redo the experiences they had. Yet, differ-
ent from Gadamer, who also rejects this model, what Davidson advocates is a
“radical” interpretation. We can bypass what observed subjects believe and grant
them what we would believe. In Davidson’s terms, “we have to grant to observed a
large chunk of our beliefs” (Davidson 2001b, 197). This also means, then, that we
have to assume that they are making sense and are at least as intelligent as we are.
Otherwise, we would not have any starting point for our interpretation. This is the
famous “principle of charity.” “Charity is forced on us: whether we like it or not, if
we want to understand others, we must count them right in most matters” (ibid.,
Later on, Davidson replaces the principle of “charity” by what he calls “triangu-
lation,” which is a negotiation that an interpreter makes between the three points of
a triangle or the three poles of the “subjective,” the “objective,” and the “intersubjec-
tive.” In order to understand an utterance made by observed subjects, I make use of
98 P. Vandevelde

their behaviors as empirical indications of the kind of reactions they have to an

object or an environment that I also observe or could observe. I can then ask myself
what beliefs I would have if reacting to the same situation and environment. As for
the principle of charity, because observed subjects and interpreters roughly form the
same beliefs on the basis of the same stimuli, interpreters can infer from the behav-
ior of observed subjects what they, the interpreters, would believe if placed in this
situation and can then ascribe those beliefs to observed subjects. The reason why
there is similarity of response on the part of the observer and of the observed is
“evolution and subsequent learning” (Davidson 2001d, 212): we are all homo sapi-
ens and roughly perceive and think in the same way, within the same range of per-
ceptual discriminations and mental states. As Davidson explains,
the stimuli that cause our most basic verbal responses also determine what those verbal
responses mean, and the content of the beliefs that accompany them. The nature of interpre-
tation guarantees both that a large number of our simplest perceptual beliefs are true, and
that the nature of these beliefs is known to others… Any particular belief or set of beliefs
about the world around us may be false. What cannot be the case is that our general picture
of the world and our place in it is mistaken, for it is this picture which informs the rest of
our beliefs and makes them intelligible, whether they be true or false. (Davidson 2001d,

In short, the objective (what is out there) causes stimuli that affect the subjective
as well as the intersubjective and in the same way, so that the subjective (my own
beliefs) is also intersubjective (what others believe). Davidson writes: “It is only
when an observer consciously correlates the responses of another creature with
objects and events of the observer’s world that there is any basis for saying the crea-
ture is responding to those objects or events rather than any other objects or events”
(Davidson 2001d, 212).14
None of the three poles can exist without the other two. As Rorty comments on
Davidson’s views, “the point of this doctrine is that you cannot get along with just
holistic inferential relations between beliefs and statements (as coherence theories
try to do) nor with atomic relations of being-caused-by (as realists fixated on per-
ceptual reports try to do). You have to play back and forth between causation and
inference in a way which does not permit any of the corners of the triangle to be
independent of any of the others” (Rorty 1998, 70). Triangulation is in fact an effort
to connect utterances to objects or events and this connection allows observers to
track those objects and events in the intersubjective space—in “a shared environ-
ment” (Davidson 2005c, 275).
There is thus no opacity of thought, due for example to the mediation of lan-
guage. In triangulating, thought and language are a matter of manifestation in the
manner of behaviors. As Davidson explains, “the primitive triangle, constituted by

 As he put it more succinctly, “in sharing a language, in whatever sense this is required for com-
munication, we share a picture of the world that must, in its large features, be true” (Davidson
2001c, 199).
 As he explains further, “all creatures classify objects and aspects of the world in the sense that
they treat some stimuli as more alike than others. The criterion of such classifying activity is simi-
larity of response” (Davidson 2001c, 213).
Historicizing the Mind: Gadamer’s “Hermeneutic Experience” Compared to Davidson’s… 99

two (and typically more than two) creatures reacting in concert to features of the
world and to each other’s reactions, thus provides the framework in which thought
and language can evolve. Neither thought nor language, according to this account,
can come first, for each requires the other” (Davidson 2005f, 141). Before being
linguistic, thought is “essentially social” (Davidson 2005g, 159). This entanglement
of objective (the world), subjective (what I believe), and intersubjective (what oth-
ers believe) turns language into a mere tool, devoid of any intrinsic epistemic worth.
Language in the form of speech is itself a social event that can be observed and
tracked. Between language and thought there is, Davidson says, “no puzzle about
priorities” because “the abilities to speak, perceive, and think develop together,
gradually. We perceive the world through language, that is, through having lan-
guage” (Davidson 2005f, 141). This is why there is no need for interpreters to know
what observed subjects actually “think,” “mean,” or “say”.15
Similarly, we can dispense with reference because object, event, or action never
present themselves to us outside any description. They are thus not “referred to,” but
rather “tracked” by descriptions. As a consequence, nothing can exceed triangula-
tion. In the churning of output that the charitable machine effectuates, there is no
remainder of reality that could lie outside descriptions and could be appealed to as
correctives of interpretations or as a basis for relativism of schemes, as there is such
a remainder in Gadamer. Sentences, then, do not express beliefs or refer to states of
affairs in any direct way. They are rather correlated to beliefs and states of affairs
and “face the tribunal of experience” not individually as in a correspondence, but
holistically: “they must face it together” (Davidson 2001b, 193).
Interpretation as triangulation offers several advantages. A first advantage of tri-
angulation is that, from the intersubjective point of view, which is also mine, the
world can be described differently and re-described without leading to relativism.
We recall that this was Davidson’s concern about Gadamer’s view of “understand-
ing differently.” For Davidson, there may be new descriptions, but triangulation
guarantees that they will be commensurate with other descriptions, even if some of
those descriptions are abandoned later on. Thus, to come back to the issue of same-
ness, there is no real difficulty in the possibility that the “same” events can be
described in different ways without losing their individuality. It is in fact the very
notion of “sameness” that is crucial. It is not a sameness that immediately refers to
the “events” themselves, as if they were a valid possible starting point in the world,
assessable independently of any description. Furthermore, it is only the observer
who establishes the criterion of what counts as similar. As Davidson notes, the cri-
terion of similarity of response “cannot be derived from the creature’s responses,”
but “only … from the responses of an observer to the responses of the creature”
(Davidson 2001d, 213).

 Although in his essay “A Coherence Theory of Meaning” (2001e) he spoke of a correspondence


principle in addition to the principle of charity, he realized later that he did not need such a corre-
spondence, since there is nothing that can stand outside any description as the correspondent of a
100 P. Vandevelde

There is thus no direct univocal link between the physics of an environment and
the semantics of what is meant. In empiricist terms, there is no direct and univocal
link between clusters of sense data and the sentences used that present those sense
data as a mere event or a meaningful action. Sentences are part of the “tracking
device” in the sense that descriptions “keep track” of the changes and transforma-
tions that occur at the physical level. The tracking is obviously a semantic device,
but it does not claim to render the very semantic content that is at play in the action
or event themselves, if any. As Hoy puts it, using Ramberg’s interpretation of
Davidson, “all the interpreter needs to assume is that the speaker has beliefs and
intentions. The radical (as opposed to the ordinary) interpreter does not make any
assumptions about the empirical contents of these beliefs and intentions” (Hoy
1997, 121). Events are thus simply not ontological entities, not something that hap-
pens at the ontological level, but referents of descriptions, as what descriptions
Because an “event” is only the referent of a description and not what lies at the
foundation of a description, causally or otherwise, it is only from the perspective of
a description that we can establish the “sameness” of anything. Thus, Davidson
argues, just as in saying that two tables have the same length we do not have to posit
that the “same length” is an object existing somewhere, in the same way, when we
say that two descriptions are about the same event, we do not have to posit some-
thing like an “event” existing somewhere independently of any description.
Sameness is therefore not an ontological category, belonging to the events them-
selves, but a category of interpretation, as a device our descriptions use to track
events.16 Sameness is a manner of speaking, in the literal sense: it is how we speak
of events, as being the same or not. This is what a “description” is and does.17 We
recall that the objective is the result of a triangulation with the subjective and the
intersubjective. By adding descriptions, we just modify our ways of tracking objects
or events. As such, having different descriptions of an event is no different than
moving from a description of atmospheric conditions in the Fahrenheit degree scale
to a description in the Celsius degree scale.
There is thus no relativism. First, there is no historical relativism because history
is simply not needed. Interpretation is a process that is radically synchronic, effectu-
ated from the perspective of the interpreter with an exclusively explanatory goal: to
have a theory of what observed subjects mean with the understanding that what they
mean are the beliefs that the radical interpreter ascribes to them (Davidson 2005d,
143). This is why Davidson criticizes Gadamer’s view that the meaning of what we
say may have layers of sedimented past uses. Second, there is no relativism of view-
point because, contrary to Gadamer, the interpreter does not have to start from a
living dialogue with other subjects in the give and take of a conversation or ­argument.

 “I am raising my arm” and “my arm is rising” are two such descriptions of the “same” event.
 In his famous example in “Actions, Reasons, and Causes,” “I flip the switch, turn on the light, and
illuminate the room. Unbeknownst to me I also alert a prowler to the fact that I am home” (Davidson
2001a, 4). Davidson shows that we have four descriptions of something that is the same, but he
himself asks in a footnote: “the same—what? ‘action,’ ‘event,’ ‘thing done’”(ibid., 5).
Historicizing the Mind: Gadamer’s “Hermeneutic Experience” Compared to Davidson’s… 101

Although Davidson’s interpreter works within an intersubjective space—has a

world of objects and a set of beliefs—what the interpreter does is not strictly subjec-
tive, but rather asubjective. The interpreter operates as a machine in a non personal
process of correlating input in terms of sense data, saliency of objects in the envi-
ronment, etc., and output in terms of plausible beliefs.18 We can even say with
Ramberg that “there are no radical interpreters in the world”; it is an “idealization.”
“It is not a ‘her’ (or a ‘him’) at all, but an ‘it,’ a device embodying a mechanism
designed to run a particular process” (Ramberg 2003, 223).
This “neutrality” in the sense of the “asubjective” character of interpretation is
legitimated by the fact that the ontological substance of events has been vacated:
events cannot be posited as explaining or justifying our sentences. Rather, it is only
in the sentence about the action that we can differentiate the event that is an action
from the mere physical movements as mere event. As Davidson says, “sentences
held true” are “the linguistic representatives of belief” (Davidson 2001c, 201). We
thus have to abandon direct realism. It also means that, by the same gesture, we can-
not presume that events may be different if we had a different tracking system. In
other words, the flip side of abandoning a correspondence to reality—we cannot
posit unknown events legitimating our descriptions—is that we also avoid relativ-
ism—we cannot presume that a different language or a different conceptual system
(or “scheme”) would disclose different events. Thus, because we abandon the view
that there is a world fully articulated outside and independent of our descriptions,
we also avoid the standpoint from which one description could be seen as irreconcil-
able with another one. With no standpoint outside of descriptions, there is no radi-
cally untranslatable conceptual scheme. It is senseless to speak with Benjamin
Whorf, a target of Davidson, of a radically different metaphysics that the Hopi
people may have on the basis of the kind of language they speak. It is also senseless
to envisage with Thomas Kuhn, another target of Davidson, a different paradigm in
scientific research such that a different set of theories would disclose a radically
different world (Davidson 2001b, 184).
Besides the advantage of allowing for multiple descriptions without relativism,
triangulation has a second advantage. It does away with the need for a mediation
through language, which is so central for Gadamer, as discussed above. Davidson
sees at least two reasons why we can dispense with linguistic mediation. First, lan-
guage may not be present as in situations of unknown languages where agents have
to rely on means and cues other than linguistic. Yet, the absence of language does
not prevent subjects from triangulating “objects” and others, as well as ascribing
beliefs to other subjects. Second, language may be used nonliterally, as in irony or
sarcasm, and those nonliteral uses do not preclude understanding. Even when p­ eople

 As Ramberg puts it, “the radical interpreter registers assertive utterances under descriptions that
involve no reference to the specific semantic properties of the utterance, and she registers the occa-
sion of assertions under detailed and full descriptions … that capture potential environmental
saliencies … The result is an empirically confirmed theory that assigns semantic properties to
agent’s words and a specification of the agent’s intentional states” (Ramberg 2003, 222).
102 P. Vandevelde

misspeak, as in the case of malapropism, we can still understand them.19 There is

thus no reason to grant language any form of autonomy or any mediating function.
Instead, we can keep our “unmediated touch with the familiar objects whose antics
make our sentences and opinions true or false” (Davidson 2001b, 198). While lan-
guage manifests our understanding, this does not entail that it shapes our under-
standing. Davidson writes:
Of course, language reflects our native interests and our historically accumulated needs and
values, our built-in and learned inductive dispositions. But this fact hardly supports the
claim that language seriously distorts or shapes our understanding of the world; the influ-
ence, such as it is, goes the other way. The most we are entitled to say is that as individuals
we happily inherit culturally evolved categories we personally did little to devise. In this
case, language does not distort; rather, society gives us a leg up on coping with the environ-
ment it partly constitutes. (Davidson 2005f, 129)

Instead of a mediation, language is rather to be thought of as an organ (Davidson

2005f, 132).20 In Davidson’s title “Seeing through Language,” which sounds so her-
meneutic and Gadamerian, the “through” is not a “through” in the sense of a media-
tion, but the “through” in the sense of “by means of”: “seeing with the organ of
language.” As Davidson explains, “language is not a medium through which we see;
it does not mediate between us and the world … There is a non-metaphorical point
to my title. There is a valid analogy between having eyes and ears, and having lan-
guage: all three are organs with which we come into direct contact with our environ-
ment. They are not intermediaries, screens, media, or windows.”21 By responding to
objects within an intersubjective framework, we conceptualize objects and under-
stand others, language being just a means in the triangulation. Davidson can thus
provocatively dismiss language altogether as we quoted him above. “I conclude that
there is no such thing as a language, not if a language is anything like what many
philosophers and linguists have supposed. There is therefore no such thing to be
learned, mastered, or born with. We must give up the idea of a clearly defined shared

 If someone says “the pinochle of success,” in Mark Singer’s example mentioned by Davidson,
we understand what is meant (Davidson 2005a, 89).
 This view was defended by Karl-Otto Apel, from a pragmatist perspective of Peircean prove-
nance, but Davidson takes it from Noam Chomsky, who calls language a “mental organ.” Davidson
also cites Steven Pinker who wrote a book titled The Language Instinct. “Language,” Davidson
says, “is the organ of propositional perception” (Davidson 2005f, 135). However, he does not fol-
low Pinker and others in their belief in a language of the brain, a so-called “mentalese,” as this
reifies another mediation. As Davidson puts it quite firmly, the “mental” is only a conceptual cat-
egory as a means for us to categorize objects and make sense of the world and other subjects
around us.
 The passage elided reads: “We should banish the idea that language is epistemically something
like sense data, something that embodies what we can take in, but is itself only a token, or repre-
sentative, of what is out there. Language does not mirror or represent reality, any more than our
senses present us with no more than appearances … We do not see the world through language any
more than we see the world through our eyes. We don’t look through our eyes, but with them. We
don’t feel things through our fingers or hear things through our ears. Well, there is a sense in which
we do see things through—that is, by dint of having—eyes” (Davidson 2005f, 130).
Historicizing the Mind: Gadamer’s “Hermeneutic Experience” Compared to Davidson’s… 103

structure which language-users acquire and then apply to cases” (Davidson 2005a,
Despite the two advantages of triangulation, there is a heavy price to pay when
seeing interpretation of other people as the task to build a passing theory in order to
make sense of observed subjects and agents. Davidson himself quite candidly
acknowledges such a price in his essay “A Unified Theory of Thought, Meaning,
and Action.” He says: “The approach to the problem of meaning, belief, and desire
that I have outlined is not, I am sure it is clear, meant to throw any direct light on
how in real life we come to understand each other, much less how we master our
first concepts and our first language” (Davidson 2004, 166). This, I submit, holds
true for his other attempts. They are “reconstructions,” after-the-fact explanations.
The price is to discard as irrelevant the historical nature of the process of interpreta-
tion by flattening out the historical thickness of our utterances and shrinking them
to the expressions of states of mind and beliefs that, for example, Plato and we,
twenty-first century Americans, can have.
Ian Hacking early on already worried about the dangers of putting so much stock
on what interpreters infer. He sees an ethnocentrism that the principle of charity—
the fore-runner of triangulation—carries with it. “‘Charity’ … [has] long been in the
missionary vanguard of colonizing Commerce. Our ‘native’ may be wondering
whether philosophical B52s and strategic hamlets are in the offing if he won’t sit up
and speak like the English.” There is, Hacking continues, a “linguistic imperialism”
(Hacking 1975, 149) in this principle: “If the native does not share most of our
beliefs and wants, he is just not engaged in human discourse, and is at best subhu-
man” (ibid., 149). As Hoy puts it in reference to Hacking’s concerns, the principle
of charity.
would lead to the Whiggish assumption of the superiority of the present science over past
science, an assumption that can lead to making past science so implausible as to be unintel-
ligible. So instead of making the other more intelligible to us, … the principle, when used
as a pragmatic constraint, would be likely to make some central statements unintelligible.
Hacking’s critique implies that the principle is potentially ethnocentric and Whiggish. (Hoy
1997, 123)

In fact, the word charity may be a misnomer given that the radical interpreter oper-
ates as a machine. For, Davidson is not interested in a psychological analysis of re-­
living what others experienced, as Dilthey’s hermeneutics is trying to do. It is not a
Gadamerian hermeneutic circle either, in which we would try to understand others
on the basis of a tradition and a language in which we have been socialized. In radi-
cal interpretation, the actual thoughts and beliefs of subjects observed can be
bypassed and do not represent the telos of interpretation.

 What this allows is to eliminate any convention from the explanation of communication: “We

should give up the attempt to illuminate how we communicate by appeal to conventions” (Davidson
2005a, 107).
104 P. Vandevelde

4  Conclusion

Despite the important commonalities between them, Gadamer’s “hermeneutic expe-

rience” of interpretation and Davidson’s radical interpretation represent quite
starkly different frameworks for considering what interpretation actually does and
how it does it. Gadamer’s view of interpretation as a dialogue between persons
within history keeps the advantage of Davidson’s theory by offering stability: as in
Davidson, interpreting means to keep track of objects in the environment. In addi-
tion, Gadamer’s views also allow for change: as transactions vary, so does the real-
ity that is transacted. It is not history that speaks in the event of interpretation, as if
history were a voice-over and interpreters an echo chamber. Similarly, it is not lan-
guage that speaks, as if our thinking would be impotent without words. Interpretation
is a dialogue between persons within history and through a language so that the
conceptual level lives from the linguistic resources of people’s experiences in the
course of centuries. The living principle of a dialogue may lead partners into unfore-
seeable directions. A new interpretation can shatter accepted views or bring back to
life an old text. This aspect is what Davidson sees as “relativism.”
However, against the charge of relativism, Gadamer could respond, first, that
reality is nothing outside the transaction we engage in about it. There is thus no rela-
tivism of scheme over content, as Davidson fears. Second, the anonymous interpret-
ing device of triangulation that Davidson offers as a remedy to relativism may in
fact only be a reification of the dominant view, as Hacking noted. The promise of
triangulation was that the limited political aspect of interpretation—due to the inter-
action between interpreter and observed subjects—was duly corrected or kept in
check by the very process of triangulation that is made by a disembodied device that
simply tracks objects through inferences. However, this neutrality is only such
under a twofold massive assumption: first, that observed subjects are only registered
as utterance-makers or, more accurately, noise-makers and behavior-producers and,
second, that observed subjects are mere replicas of the observers. The latter part of
the assumption is legitimated by the commonality of responses to stimuli and
beliefs, which means that what is interpreted can only be a variation of what inter-
preters already know.
Given that triangulation is always performed by real concrete individuals within
their own historical situation, the twofold assumption, first, prevents observed sub-
jects from being considered in turn as concrete individuals within their own histori-
cal situation and, second, puts interpreters out of reach of observed subjects, who
cannot challenge interpreters as partners in a dialogue could, following Gadamer’s
model. Thus, the neutrality of triangulation is such only in name and cannot prevent
the whole process of interpretation to fall into the political, in the sense of the
polemical—as “linguistic imperialism,” “ethnocentrism,” and all.
For Gadamer, interpretation is an “experience” as a dialogue that lives of the
lives of the people in interaction and may in fact be more charitable to the thickness
of the subjects’ thoughts and desires, hopes and sufferings, than Davidson’s
mechanical process of interpretation. About reading people, such as Gadamer,
Historicizing the Mind: Gadamer’s “Hermeneutic Experience” Compared to Davidson’s… 105

Davidson said, not so charitably, “the trouble is, as so often in philosophy, it is hard
to improve intelligibility while retaining the excitement” (Davidson 2001b, 183).
What he means is that fascinating formulas and appealing views become quickly
and disappointingly pedestrian when translated in intelligible propositions. The
question for Gadamer would not be about choosing either excitement or intelligibil-
ity, but about the price of intelligibility. If intelligibility means missing the complex-
ity of understanding and the thickness of experience, it may also mean eliminating
the caritas or love that could be expected from a principle of charity. The affinity
between hermeneutics and ethics that Taminiaux noted (Taminiaux 2002, 197) can-
not be overlooked.23


Davidson, Donald. 2001a. Actions, reasons, and causes. In Essays on actions and events, 3–19.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
———. 2001b. On the very idea of a conceptual scheme. In Inquiries into truth and understand-
ing, 183–198. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
———. 2001c. The method of truth in metaphysics. In Inquiries into truth and interpretation,
199–214. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
———. 2001d. Three varieties of knowledge. In Subjective, intersubjective, objective:
Philosophical essays, 205–220. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
———. 2001e. A coherence theory of truth and knowledge (1983). In Subjective, intersubjective,
objective, 137–157. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
———. 2004. A unified theory of thought, meaning, and action. In Problems of rationality, 151–
166. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
———. 2005a. A nice derangement of epitaphs. In Truth, language, and history, 80–107. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
———. 2005b. Dialectic and dialogue. In Truth, language, and history, 251–259. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
———. 2005c. Gadamer and Plato’s Philebus. In Truth, language, and history, 261–275. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
———. 2005d. James Joyce and Humpty Dumpty. In Truth, language, and history, 143–157.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
———. 2005e. Locating literary language. In Truth, language, and history, 167–181. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
———. 2005f. Seeing through language. In Truth, language, and history, 127–141. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
———. 2005g. The third man. In Truth, language, and history, 159–165. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1975. Truth and method. Trans. William Glen-Doepel, ed. John Cumming
and Garret Barden. New York: Crossroad.
———. 1989. Reply to my critics. In The hermeneutic tradition. From Ast to Ricoeur, ed. Gayle
Hormiston and Alan Schrift, 273–297. New York: SUNY.
———. 1997. Reply to David Hoy. In The philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer, ed. Lewis Hahn,
129–130. Chicago: Open Court.

 I want to thank Matthew Bailey for his excellent editing skills.
106 P. Vandevelde

———. 1998. Truth and method. 2nd revised ed. (Trans. and revised by Joel Weinsheimer and
Donald Marshall). New York: Continuum.
———. 2016a. Hermeneutics between history and philosophy, The Selected Writings of Hans-­
Georg Gadamer. Vol. 1, ed. and trans. Pol Vandevelde and Arun Iyer. London: Bloomsbury.
———. 2016b. The problem of Dilthey: Between romanticism and positivism (1984). In
Hermeneutics between History and Philosophy, 73–89. London: Bloomsbury.
———. 2016c. Dilthey and Ortega: The philosophy of life (1985). In Hermeneutics between his-
tory and philosophy, 91–102. London: Bloomsbury.
———. 2016d. Hermeneutics and the Diltheyan school (1991). In Hermeneutics between history
and Philosophy, 103–122. London: Bloomsbury.
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losophy, 129–156. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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On the Metamorphoses of Transcendental
Reduction: Merleau-Ponty and “the
Adventures of Constitutive Analysis.”

Stephen Watson

The most important lesson of the reduction is the impossibility

of a complete reduction (Merleau-Ponty 2012, lxxvii). (Unless
otherwise noted all references in the text are to the works of
The passage to intersubjectivity is contradictory only with
regard to an insufficient reduction, Husserl was right to say. But
a sufficient reduction leads beyond the alleged transcendental
‘immanence’ … (1968, 172).
The incompleteness (l’incomplétude) of the reduction … is not
an obstacle to the reduction, it is the recovery of vertical being
(1968, 178).

Invocations of Merleau-Ponty’s claim concerning the incompleteness that accompa-

nies the phenomenological reduction have had a long and somewhat contentious
history. This was no less true in Jacques Taminiaux’s case, who explicitly related his
own work on the reduction to Merleau-Ponty’s account.1 In this paper I will further
explore the implications of Merleau-Ponty’s claim and the itinerary from which it
emerges. Even for Merleau-Ponty, however, like phenomenology in general, the
claim concerning the status of the reduction emerged from a long itinerary.
Famously, the preface to the Phenomenology of Perception tied phenomenology not
only to Husserl or Heidegger, but to a conceptually polyvalent task, one “that has
been en route for a long time”; its itinerary could be discerned “everywhere in Hegel
and Kierkegaard of course, but also in Marx, Nietzsche and Freud” (2012, lxxi).
Such claims might be taken to be a sign of Merleau-Ponty’s theoretical vagueness.
On closer inspection, however, he might be taken to be simply summarizing the
conclusion of an argument that from the Structure of Behaviour. Consciousness is
not a transcendental presupposition but an achievement: in Hegel’s terms, not sim-
ply an act but a work, one that emerged from and transforms the labor of social
practices (1963, 162–176). Kierkegaard and Nietzsche might have seemed less

 See, for example, Taminiaux (2004). Compare for example, Dermot Moran’s review in Moran
S. Watson (*)
Notre Dame University, Notre Dame, IN, USA

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 107

V.M. Fóti, P. Kontos (eds.), Phenomenology and the Primacy of the Political,
Contributions To Phenomenology 89, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8_7
108 S. Watson

prominent, at least explicitly. Like Kierkegaard, however, he appealed to an existen-

tial structure for the discernment of a sense that ultimately eluded judgments of
reflection or ideal signification (1963, 221). His argument devoted a good deal of
space to relating this structure to Freud’s notion of the unconscious, acknowledging
at the very least that life is not reducible to consciousness, to the idea that we have
of it. Nietzsche, on the other hand, seemingly plays almost no role – and explicitly
only a negative one. He is invoked in the argument against Freud: while the values
of sacrifice may only be a form of an “impoverished” life, they need not be, but
instead may be part of the transition to a higher order that transforms such negativi-
ties (1963, 181). The latter seems only to echo his positive 1936 review of Schleler’s
Ressentiment, but it surely does not provide Merleau-Ponty’s last word on Nietzsche.
In retrospect the final lectures on “Philosophy and Non-Philosophy Since Hegel”
might be taken to provide that, albeit by linking much of Merleau-Ponty’s thought
to what Nietzsche (albeit, like Kierkegaard, a non-philosopher still beguiled by
Hegel’s system) called the virtue of the body: “every philosophy is life and the life
of the body” (1976, 44). Adding just what he had claimed since The Structure of
Behavior, Merleau-Ponty stated, we are “not free to separate the body from the
soul” (1976, 44). But he also stated that this is not simply a claim about the soul or
a faculty, even an anthropological claim; this is not a claim concerning Merleau-­
Ponty’s De Anima, simply a claim about finitude, for example. Instead, we stand
“beyond all anthropology” (1976, 46). Rather it is a claim about truth itself.
The search for truth is always an embodied truth, but equally a veiled truth. There
is no truth without the shadow, without the screen, without what Niezsche called
elsewhere a presuppositionless truth. Vielduetigkeit, multiplicity, consequently is
not to be avoided, “eliminating true light” (1976, 70). Indeed the very notion of such
a shadow will gain almost technical status in his final writings, especially regarding
Husserl and his ‘shadow’ (e.g., “The Philosopher and His Shadow”). Such ‘shad-
ows’, comprising an unthought not fully stated or possessed, arise “between things
said” (1964, 100). And, they are not to be avoided: their disarticulation is part of the
road en route to truth itself. This, too, is not simply absent from his early work; the
human world is always grasped, as the Structure of Behavior argued, perspectivally,
through a “multiplicity of profiles” (1963, 122) Again, like consciousness, truth is
not a presupposition but a work; it may well happen that we do not grasp the mean-
ing of our life, “not because an unconscious personality is deep within us and gov-
erns our actions, but because we understand our lived states only through an idea
which is not adequate to them” (1963, 221). What makes the rational possible and
what, for example, overcomes the “fluctuating character, the lability of non-­
integrated behavior” at stake in the tableau of anomalies that Freud articulates, is
“the transformation such varying points of view” makes possible (1963, 179, 175).
Such work (and its unthought), now to use Freud’s ‘Durcharbeitung’, acknowledges
that “even unknown to us, the efficacious law of our life is constituted by its true
signification” – and this in turn forces us to acknowledge the difference between
ideal signification and the structure these ideal significations attempt to adequate
within a rational itinerary (1963, 221). While this varying of perspective surely
retains Husserlian echoes, it is the very question of adequation and multiplicity that
On the Metamorphoses of Transcendental Reduction: Merleau-Ponty… 109

seems to preempt the latter, differentiating the concept of life from any sense of
immanence to its idea. The Hegelian logic of the in itself and the for itself eludes
transcendental consciousness. If Merleau-Ponty insists they cannot be separated,
the fact remains: “I cannot simply identify what I perceive and the thing itself”
(1963, 211). Instead this oscillation is the very path or development at stake in the
dialectic between sens and reflective signification – as Hegel said of positing reflec-
tion, it posits without ever being able to simply presuppose or adequate its truth.2
The Phenomenology devotes considerable space to the phenomenological elabo-
ration of the complicated implications in Merleau-Ponty’s argument. As one might
suspect from its title, and according to a standard phenomenological reading of this
text, Merleau-Ponty appeals, on the one hand, to Husserl’s teleology of conscious-
ness, itself structured by the extensions at stake in Kantian regulative idea (2012,
416).3 Yet he is also at pains to argue that the latter be indisolvably linked to “the
accidents of time” (2012, 415). His teacher, Brunschvicq, is criticized for claiming
that with each determinate truth we experience an eternity, “a soul of truth that out-
runs it and frees itself from it,” one which Merleau-Ponty links to Spinoza’s
Habemus ideam verum (2012, 416). This experience would reach being without
contact with the phenomenon (2012, 418). What Merleau-Ponty claims “outruns
and frees itself from our truth” is the transcendence of the world and here he again
invoked The Structure of Behavior’s conclusion: consciousness never stops being
what it is in perception:
There are truths just as there are perceptions: not that we could ever fully lay out before
ourselves the reasons for any affirmation – there are only motives, and we merely have a
hold on time, not a possession of it – but because it is essential to time to take itself up to
the extent that it leaves itself behind, and to contract itself into visible things or into things
that are evident at first glance. Every consciousness is, to some extent, perceptual con-
sciousness. Were it possible to unfold at each moment all of the presuppositions in what I
call my “reason” or my “ideas,” the I would always be discovering experiences that have not
been made explicit, weighty contribution of the past and the present, and an entire “sedi-
mented history” that does not merely concern the genesis of my thought, but that deter-
mines its sense (sens). (2012, 415–6)

Merelau-Ponty cites Husserl’s Formal and Transcndental Logic and links this
account to the latter’s genetic phenomenology. Still, he again stresses the very tran-
scendence  – and finitude  – in its midst. Without ever simply saying it, what his
account linking truth to the accident of time denies is the Spinozist account of nec-
essary truth. This denial clearly affects epistemic ‘certainty’, including the very
certainty of the self-evidence at the heart of the phenomenological enterprise. The
very immanence of the relation ‘being appeared to’ is what seems to be lost in the
‘ambiguity’ or dialectic between perceptual sens and signification.
That is why, as Descartes said, it is at once true that certain ideas are presented to
me with a de facto irresistible evidentness and that this fact has no de jure value, it
does not suppress the possibility of doubting from the moment that we are no longer

 See Hegel (1969), 400 ff.


 See my “Cancellations: Hegel, Husserl and the Remains of the Dialectic”, in Watson (2009).
110 S. Watson

in the presence of the idea. It is no accident that even evidentness can be thrown into
doubt; it is because certainty is doubt, being the taking up of a tradition of thought
that cannot condense itself into evident “truth” without renouncing the attempt to
make it explicit. (2012, 417).
The allusion to tradition also echoes Husserl. Recall that Husserl himself referred
to this history as “tradition producing tradition out of itself.”4 We are further
reminded of the opening sentences of the Cogito chapter that called into question
the status of the Cogito itself. “The Cogito is either that thought which formed three
centuries ago in Descartes’ mind, or the sense of the texts that he left to us, or
finally, an eternal truth that emerges from them; but in any case, it is a cultural being
that my thought tends toward rather than encompasses, just as my body orients itself
and makes its way among objects in a familiar way without needing to represent
them to myself explicitly” (2012, 387). But the latter, it turns out, is true of ‘truth’
itself, dependent upon a history out of which it emerges, a tradition that is never able
“to eliminate the opacity of thought for itself” (2012, 417). Even our self-evident
truths are not detachable from us. While it is not a question of imprisoning con-
sciousness in its own states, the appearances are not simply equitable with truth
(pace Husserl, the phenomena are not being) and the task of making them “com-
pletely explicit is an infinite task” (2012, 419).
There clearly is a glissement in Merleau-Ponty’s invocation of Descartes.
Husserl’s science of infinite task has seemingly become disconnected from the sci-
ence of the infinite to become the science of its endless recherché. The “eternal
truth” of the cogito emerges once more only as bound to the opacity of time.
Merleau-Ponty recalls the phenomenological method concerning “the descriptive
inventory of consciousness”. He further states, somewhat classically, that the rela-
tion between (founding) experience and (founded) content that underlies its inten-
tional explications is thus one of Fundierung. Yet he does so only by providing an
interpretation apparently complicating any such inventory itself.
The founding term, or originator (time, the unreflected, language, perception) is
primary in the sense that the founded term is presented as a determination or making
explicit of the founding term, which prevents the founded term from every fully
absorbing the founding term; and yet the founding terms is not primary in the
empirical sense and the founded is not merely derived from it, since it is only
through the founded that the founding appears (2012, 414).
Husserl’s analysis apparently invoked simple correlations here, analyses the cir-
cularity of Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation seemingly ‘deforms’. But we should pro-
ceed carefully: “The Philosopher and His Shadow” will begin by denying that
interpretation can proceed by empirical or literal reproduction, calling into question
the antinomy between a literal and a deforming (déformer) interpretation. In so
doing he remained consistent with what elsewhere he detailed as an account of
rational expression precisely as coherent deformation (1964, 91). In Merleau-­
Ponty’s presentation, the complexity of the above relation belies a one way relation
(e.g., the imposition of form of critical idealism). But equally it belies the ‘two way’

 See Husserl (1970b), 374.

On the Metamorphoses of Transcendental Reduction: Merleau-Ponty… 111

relation of simple correlation of simple phenomenological idealism. The originator,

e.g., time or the unreflected, appear only through its constituted effect and is never
simply correlatively reabsorbed or revealed, since it is only through its reflection
that it becomes manifest. The relation is circular: idealists everywhere have said as
much; but it is dialectical and not a simple (quantitative) reciprocity. It articulates
both Naturans naturata and naturans naturans, a lived dialectic, it might be said.
Hence Merleau-Ponty’s existentialism, where truth depends upon an existential
relation and an existential dialectic; but the complications at stake also continually
trouble his hope to escape the skeptical side that the insistence on ambiguity indi-
cates – “bad existentialism” as Humanism and Terror put it (1969a, 188).
If that were all that were at stake we should wonder – and lots of Husserlians
have wondered – why we should buy these claims? Why isn’t the resulting claim
that self evidence is always limited, doubt inescapable, dependent upon our ‘factic-
ity’, the unreflective, simply a kind of anthropologism, a faculty claim about the
limitations of our knowing? The implications would surely be striking for grasping
Merleau’s claim about the impossibility of the reduction, simply succumbing to
Husserl’s charges concerning relativism on behalf of strict science.5
What is striking and prevents this simple conclusion concerning Merleau-Ponty’s
‘deformed’ interpretation perhaps occurs in the complete list of Merleau’s ‘origina-
tors’. This is not unrestrictedly a claim about what Husserl called transcendental
aesthetics (time, the unreflective or sensibility), “finite sensoriality”; it is also curi-
ously about language. Beyond the limitations of sensoriality this is also a concep-
tual claim: language, too, is originating. Here too we are dealing with the human
order: as The Structure of Behavior put it, “the human dialectic is ambiguous”
because we are decisively dealing with a cultural structure, the appearance of which
“it brings about and which it imprisons itself” (1963, 176). But these cultural fea-
tures “would not be what they are if the activity which brings about their appearance
did not also have as its meaning to reject them and to surpass them” (1963, 176).
The ‘ambiguous dialectic’ is clearly ambiguous at this point: so much so that he will
also deny the analogy, claiming that language is not simply a prison for us (1973,
24). The point remains however: we don’t bring about language any more than we
bring about time (any more than we create our heart beat, as he puts it) or the unre-
flective in general. We less create than transform all of this. The relation of
Fundierung is instead one of transformation, as much aller as retour. The first view
is a faculty claim about existential facticity, the second a claim about phenomeno-
logical rationality. What is at stake is not a question of returning to, recovering or
relying upon the past for resolving the ambiguity in our midst than a matter of over-
coming and reinventing it. Even Fundierung then is less simply a return to origins,
reducing and describing but the ever renewed work of revealing or making manifest:
it is in this sense that the fact, time, language are primary, after all.
The impossibility of a complete reduction here takes on a different aura. The
articulation of the reduction is endless not because of all that one (finitely) depends
upon that one will never be able to grasp, (the originating depths of passive s­ ynthesis)

 See Husserl (1981, Chap. 17).

112 S. Watson

but because this articulation inherently involves an endless transformation of the

past. On the first model phenomenology was the infinite attempt to recover an origi-
nal self evidence, on the second a sequence of historical transformation, Erwirken.
Against it, Husserl’s account of the reduction, to use a famous phrase of
Wittgenstein’s, might have remained captivated by the wrong picture of the
The reduction is not simply a return to an original past immanence, but is
equally originating, a transformation of a received and problematic ambiguity; it
thus involves a fundamental questioning of the transcendence that haunts all
appearance. The latter is precisely what the Spinozist refuses in equating absolute
self evidence with Being (2012, 418). It is also in this sense that the initial claim to
ultimate immanence that initially accompanied the Husserlian reduction might be
less Cartesian than Spinozist.6 One might think this is a matter of static versus
genetic analysis. Both grasped as a simple return however remain psychologistic.
Genesis, is generative, transformative and constructive. These are terms that
Merleau-Ponty found in the Sixth Meditation of Fink and can be found on the first
page of the Phenomenology. Moreover, they reappear in early working notes to the
Visible and the Invisible, precisely where he formulates his criticism of the account
silent cogito for its lack of connection with language, as standard commentaries
But what does language change or augment about phenomenological analysis?
And what was wrong with the Merleau-Ponty’s later criticism of the Phenomenology’s
account in not connecting the language chapter and the cogito chapter? On the face
of it Merleau’s answer just seems false: there’s lots of talk about language in the
Phenomenology, even in the cogito chapter. Moreover it’s not the significance given
to language (and it is considerable) that is wrong with the account. What is wrong
concerns the concept of the silent cogito itself. The answer that Working Notes aug-
ments is crucial here: the silent cogito apparently also remained static and as such
illusory, invoking “the alleged silence of psychological coincidence” (1968, 179).
Unlike the apparent shortcomings of his emphasis upon language this is a
charge the author of the Phenomenology of Perception may not have recognized. If
sustainable, the deception, the transcendental illusion at stake was that this
book, too, remained stuck in the reflective distinction between the interior series
(the ‘subjective’ the ‘psychological’) and objectivity  – in short, a philosophy of

 In an early formulation Merleau-Ponty connected the accounts of Spinozist eternity and Husserl’s
“originary doxa,” citing Experience and Judgement: “We do not criticize intellectualism for mak-
ing use of this decisive act that fulfills, within time, the function of a Spinozist eternity, of this
“originary doxa,” we criticize it for making use of it tacitly” (2012, 43). As will become further
apparent, while the Phenomenology is ambiguous about whether Husserl thought had recognized
or entailed this, Signs argues that Husserl knew better, claiming that constituting consciousness is
the result of an Erwirkung, “the artifact the teleology of intentional life ends up at – and not the
Spinozist attribute of Thought” (1964, 180). Still, this opposition may also be abstract: as Veronique
Foti has commented, Spinoza’s methodology of generative definition, itself articulated in opposi-
tion to Descartes’ foundational commitments, also remains proximate to Husserl’s later genetic
On the Metamorphoses of Transcendental Reduction: Merleau-Ponty… 113

consciousness (1968, 168, 200). Hence as he calls it the fundamental thought now
in need of elucidation: “In the Introduction (fundamental thought) show what one
might consider to be ‘psychology’ (Phenomenology of Perception) is in fact ontol-
ogy” (1968, 176). This seems to accord with the standard interpretation that the later
work is a work an application of the phenomenology of perception to ontology, a
deepening of the early work, perhaps, but not necessarily its rejection. But the
Working Notes’ characterizations, raising the question of the early work as psychol-
ogy (and tacitly perhaps the fallacy of psychologism), surely complicates these
If true, the Husserlian objections against his claims about perceptual and eviden-
tial finitude noted above might need to be affirmed: transcendental and psychologi-
cal phenomenology are two different matters. Moreover, this criticism might not be
remedied simply by a move to a different level, ‘ontology’. The problem with ana-
lytic reflection, as the Phenomenology already recognized, was that it rejected as
meaningless any question of being (2012, 418). It did not grasp perception as origi-
nary because it replaces “the full unity of consciousness with an absolutely trans-
parent subject, and the ‘hidden art’ that causes a sense to spring up from ‘the depths
of nature’ with an eternal thought” (2012, 40). It misses the phenomenology of
perception, in short, because “it is looking for the conditions which make it possi-
ble.” Hence the failure;
In actual perception, taken in its nascent state and prior to all speech, the sensible sign and
its signification are not even ideally separable. An object is an organism of colors, odors,
sounds, and tactile appearances that symbolize and modify each other, and that harmonize
with each other according to a real logic – science’s function is to makes this logic explicit
and it is far from having completed the analysis. (2012, 40–1)

The hidden art of this lived logic is a body synthesis, an embodied duration: hence
“(n)o philosophy can be ignorant of the problem of finitude without thereby being
ignorant of itself as philosophy” (2012, 40). But it is not clear whether Merleau-­
Ponty had simply replaced one synthesis with another, one condition of possibility
with another and its experience “prior to all speech”: precisely that of the “alleged
silence” of body schema and psychological coincidence. The set of Working Notes
concerned with the illusions of psychological coincidence, remain still troubled by
exploring an alternative to going “back to the conditions of possibility” (1968, 177).
The new alternative would not involve simply “a genealogy of being” (cf. 2012, 54),
but a history of being and a history of meaning (1968, 176).
These working notes still (almost classically) delineate a series of reductions,
“for example, at the level of the human body.. a sense of the perceived … a sense of
the other perceived, a sense of perceived life” (1968, 178). But he also insists on
explicating “the horizon of language I am using to describe all that – And which
codetermines its final meaning” (1968, 178). Here there is no time before time, no
silence “before any word is uttered” but instead codetermination or intentional
implication and circularity, including “the History-philosophy circularity: I clarify
my philosophical project by recourse to Descartes and Leibniz and that project
114 S. Watson

alone will permit knowing what history is” (1968, 177).7 It is clear that ‘ontology’
in this sense is not then just another level, an external addendum supplementing the
phenomenal realm but must involve the very transformation of philosophical
Erwirken itself as a moment in the historical itinerary, to again use Freud’s term, the
Durcharbeitung, of philosophy itself.
We noted earlier Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation of Freud. The later work
described phenomenology and psychoanalysis as “converging more than ever”,
again rendering phenomenological idealism “insufficient” (1969b, 85). Further dis-
cussion of the tacit cogito emerges in consideration on Freud written a year later
than his initial criticisms of this concept in the Phenomenology. In actuality, he
states, “the tacit cogito thinks only in overdeterminationsm i.e. symbolic matrices”
(1968, 240).8 The context here is a rethinking of Freud and Husserl, one that led
Lacan to think that Merleau had moved away from perception; Merleau-Ponty, on
the other hand, saw in Lacan a retracing of phenomenology “that is deepening
itself” (1969b, 86).9 Merleau-Ponty’s point is that what he once called the phenom-
enal field already takes place within the ‘rays’ of a symbolic field defined not by
individual Erlebnisse and acts (and in this sense, again. is not “compatible with a
‘phenomenology’” (1968, 245). The ècart of its present emerges as divergences
from the past and its symbolic articulation, a field in which a visible and its invisible
are reciprocally related. Here too there is not a solipsistic conjugation of acts but an
intersubjective and genetic, i.e. historical field.
The present emerges only by articulating and following the overdetermination of
a symbolic historical matrix, one not simply subjective but intersubjective;
­experience presupposes “an initiation to a symbolics,” an interrogative ensemble or
multiplicity (1968, 82n, 187). Strikingly, however, he does not oppose Freud and
Husserl but rather pairs them at this point:

 The Phenomenology had insisted, explicitly against Cassirer, that we must acknowledge expres-
sive experiences prior to acts of signification, expressive sense (Ausdrucks-Sinn) prior to signifi-
cantive sense (Zeichen-Sinn) and symbolic pregnancy of form in content prior to subsumption of
content under form (2012, 304). Moreover, this anteriority could not simply be dissolved or over-
come by what Cassirer called pure expression or logical or causal representation. See Cassirer
(1957), 68–9. In so doing, Merleau-Ponty felt compelled to explicitly confront the issue of psy-
chologism (2012, 305). He responded to this issue, still echoing Husserl’s inner time conscious-
ness, by invoking a different “phenomenology of spirit” articulated through the horizons of
possible objectification within the flow (flux) of subjectivity (ibid). As has become apparent, the
later Merleau-Ponty has augmented this account of ‘anteriority’ by further removing it from the
philosophy of immanence and insisting on the ‘codetermining’ (and moreover circular) account of
historical genesis within the flux itself.
 The concept of symbolic matrix, initially conceptualized in terms of the work art became paradig-
matic, “an analogue” for “productive” philosophy as early as The Prose of the World. Like Kant’s
aesthetic ideas, Merleau-Ponty claims that the work of art generates a “matrix of ideas” that pro-
vides us “with symbols whose meaning we shall never finish developing” (1973, 90). See: Kant
(1987), 215. Doubtless all of this should be understood less restrictedly in terms of aesthetic ratio-
nality and more in terms of a generative matrix or flux that belies determining judgment, one that
also intersects his interpretation of Husserl’s account of historical Stiftung.
 Lacan (1978), 71.
On the Metamorphoses of Transcendental Reduction: Merleau-Ponty… 115

The tacit Cogito “thinks” only symbolic matrices –Overdetermination

always occurs: the retrograde movement of the true (=the preexistence of the ideal) (i.e
according to Hussserl the very fact of Speech as the invocation of the namable) furnishes
always still other reasons for a given association. (1968, 240–1)

Husserl’s invocation of the nameable, of course, was itself overdetermined by a

logicist frame of analytic reflection: the claim was that not only is everything in
principled determinable, everything can be strictly said.10 What this pairing with
Freud reveals is the transcendence, the overdetermination that accompanies the say-
able: beyond the reductive picture that ‘captivates’ Husserl, thinking depends up an
opening that exceeds it, matrices or ‘rays’, again to use Husserl’s terms, of the world
they themselves articulate (1968, 241). This opening is no longer dominated by a
transcendental consciousness, perhaps even the desire expressed through it: it belies
“the ambition to see everything, (ambition de tout voir) which animates the phe-
nomenological reduction” (1969b, 84). Instead of a transcendental synthesis, there
is differentiation or “segregation” articulating the ‘equivalences’ or moments it
opened up; hence as has been seen, the claim about the codeterminacy, even circu-
larity, of language and appearance irreducible to the synthesis or the gaze of tran-
scendental consciousness. In a note attached the text of The Visible and the Invisible’s
Reflection and Interrogation chapter, Merleau-Ponty distinguished, accordingly,
between reflection as (1) “contact with self (Kantian, the binding) – conditions of
possibility (2) specular reflection, gaze (Husserl), thematization of the psychologi-
cal immanence, of the internal time (3) reflection of the absolute flux (1968, 49).11
Here we similarly see the challenge of insufficiency posed to the account of psycho-
logical (or specular) immanence.
As the list of reductions noted above (perception, embodiment, sensibility, inter-
subjectivity, etc.) evidence, much of these phenomena (now ‘equivalences’) could
be found in Husserl’s own analyses. Merleau-Ponty’s contemporary article on
Husserl, “The Philosopher and His Shadow” found this circularity at the heart of the
phenomenological project. It, too, remained in many respects, including its title, a
very Finkian text. In it he attempted to articulate, as had Fink, certain “unthought”
elements that are opened up in Husserl’s thought but remain in the shadows; Fink
himself had wondered whether these shadows can ever be irradicated.12 Merleau-­
Ponty notes in this regard “a prophetic text in 1912 (that) did not hesitate to speak
of a reciprocal relation between Nature, body, and soul and, as it has been well put,
their ‘simultaneity’” (1964, 177). In some sense, of course, what was at stake
remained the very Wechsel between concept and intuition that seemed part and par-
cel of phenomenology from the outset. Still Merleau-Ponty adds concerning these

 This claim occurs throughout his work and as early as the Logical Investigations where it pro-
vides the theoretical framework for “analytic phenomenology”. See Husserl (1970b), 321–2.
 The Phenomenology had equally criticized the notion of synthesis in Kant “and certain of
Husserl’s Kantian texts,” preferring (like the Kantian judgment of perception), the notion of syn-
opsis instead. It talked still of an I that “dominates (domine)” multiplicity albeit only “thanks to
time, such that I never have the consciousness of being the absolute author of time” (2012, 543n60).
 See Fink (1981).
116 S. Watson

circulating equivalences: “These adventures of constitutive analyses  – these

encroachments, reboundings and circularities – do not … seem to disturb Husserl
very much” (1964, 177). The problem was that the very topics ultimately Husserl
disclosed surprised and “disconcerted his frame of reference” (1969b, 84). Neither
the body, nor the passage of interior time, nor nature, nor history could be analyti-
cally dissected before “a pure regard” and “brought together under the correlation
of consciousness and its objects, of the noiesis and the noema” (1969b, 84). The
question was how to understand this simultaneity beyond the idea of philosophy as
“an exact knowledge, a pure regard on pure objects” (1969b, 84). Strikingly, having
just rejected Husserl’s philosophy a la lettre, based on a pure regard, but now foot-
noting the Krisis, Merleau-Ponty states, philosophy is “‘what is sought’ by the suc-
cessive generation of philosophers, and no one philosopher coincides with the
‘intentional interiority’ that they all invoke and that a group they constitute” (1969b,
84–5). As has become evident, this ‘circularity’ thus not only outlined a certain
historicity but philosophy itself (1968, 178).
Again, perhaps, we should not be surprised. As Fink had acknowledged in reply-
ing to Husserl’s critics this circularity stood equally at the center of Husserl’s neo-
Kantian critics’ objections. What he also claimed, and Merleau-Ponty followed him
here, as has become seen, is that Husserl’s account could not be adequately formu-
lated in the foundationalism of classical transcendental philosophy.
The reduction, however, does not lead to a being already familiar in its general
structure, for transcendental subjectivity is not disclosed by the pregivenness of the
“a priori” forms of being. The reduction leads us into the darkness of something
unknown, something with which we have not been previously familiarized in terms
of its formal style of being. The reduction is not a technical installation of a
knowledge-­attitude which, once established, is finished and complete once and for
all, and which one must simply accept in order to wander subsequently through a
domain which lies upon one and the same level, but is rather an unceasing and con-
stant theme of phenomenological philosophy.13
Merleau-Ponty surely concurred about Husserl’s ultimate shortcoming here. But
also, he concurred with Fink, as his continuing recourse to Husserl evidences, about
its status: “To say that he never succeeded in ensuring the bases of phenomenology
would be to be mistaken about what he was looking for” (1964, 161). As he put it
elsewhere, “Naivety: what’s at stake is not the recognition of an error  – but the
mutation of concepts” (2002, 53). What was complicated about Husserl’s account
was not the reduction but the lingering claim about transcendental purity of the rela-
tion he sought to obtain or possess. The problem again was the theoretics in which
the reduction had been framed: indeed “what is false in the ontology of Blosse
Sachen is that it makes a purely theoretical or idealizing absolute” (1964, 163).
For reasons now evident, this should not be mistaken for a simple ontological
claim; it is true: the body, the other, nature, interior time never appear except as
“inexact objects” (1969b, 84). But this static thesis losses the tissue of intentional

 Fink (1970), 127.
On the Metamorphoses of Transcendental Reduction: Merleau-Ponty… 117

implication, the transitional sequence, the history out of which these figures and
their claims emerge and become mutually implicated.14
Fink concurred, “The maxim “to the things themselves” already presupposes a
plurality of modes of human knowledge that have access to the self-appearing of the
phenomenon.”15 This plurality however could not be theoretically reduced to deter-
mining judgment. As Merleau-Ponty questioned, “Does the descent into the realm
of our ‘archaeology’ leave our analytic tools (instrument d’analyse) intact?” (1964,
165). From the opening pages of the Phenomenology Merleau-Ponty, like Fink, had
instead invoked Kant’s notion of reflective judgment to account for the cohesion
without a predetermining concept at stake in the phenomenological experience.
Both thinkers were attempting to overcome what Fink had called the naïve use of
the word constitution: “When Husserl takes the concept of constitution at first from
the naive use of the word and assigns to it a novel, transcendental sense all these
meanings are echoed in each.”16 Fink had thus already acknowledged the problem
of the toolbox of transcendental language and what Merleau-Ponty glossed as the
codetermining of language in the phenomenological experience.17 There was, after
all, a kind of transcendental illusion in the simple application of words to things.
But for Fink it raised again not only the problem of reflective judgment, but the
question of its exposition; indeed, for him the task was linked to the exploration of
semantic plasticity Hegel invoked in the speculative proposition.18 Merleau-Ponty’s
description of Husserl’s account as an adventure of constitutive analysis surely
echoes this recognition – as is evident from the 1955 work this description tacitly
echoes: The Adventures of the Dialectic.
Merleau-Ponty is sometimes described as a non-dialectic thinker, but this
description must surely be tempered. From The Structure of Behavior to his final
lectures, Hegel shadowed his thinking as well, and ultimately became crystalized in
the pages on hyperdialectic in The Visible and the Invisible. ‘Hyperdialectic’ rejects
the idea of a complete surpassing, of a reason that transcends reason. Instead it
remains “capable of reaching truth because it envisages without restriction the plu-
rality of relationships and what has been called ambiguity” (1968, 94). This dialec-
tic is aware that “every thesis is an idealization, that Being is not made up of the
idealization of things said, as the old logic believed but of bound wholes where
signification never is except in tendency …” (1968, 94). Here dialectical thought
would thus once again involve an Erwirken that articulates the expressive (fluid or
circular) interconnection between segregated ‘equivalences’ or moments as inter-
related parts of underdetermined wholes, resulting in an historically instituted or

 Indeed the claim ultimately was not that language is simply founding, like a system or a cause,
but that it involved a praxis of “simultaneity” of history and articulation or implication: “The bidi-
rectional Fundierung becomes ‘simultaneity’ (2002, 53–4).
 Fink (1981), 65.
 Ibid., 67.
 See Fink (1995), 84 ff. Compare Husserl’s response to this tack included in the editorial notes
(93n): “It is also not permissible to speak of a reduction of language.”
 Ibid., 77.
118 S. Watson

“bound ideality” without ultimate Aufhebung. The Working Notes could still speak
of this Erwirken in relation to “Hussserl: the Erwirken of Thought and History,”
though he insisted on viewing it as an operative movement, even a “savage mind” or
praxis, a “vertical view of the mind” that one can only abstractly “coin out in mem-
oires, images or judgments” (1968, 235–6, 176).
The movement or “fluidity” at stake in this bound ideality, as Merleau-Ponty
already noted in the Phenomenology, where he cited Experience and Judgment, was
to be contrasted with the unbound ideality of Husserl’s account of mathematics.
This fluidity has been crucial to dialectic since Hegel’s original formulations.19 On
Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation, Husserl’s phenomenology also moved increasing-
lyproximate to it “despite many echos of the logicist period” (2012, 553n 14). In so
doing Husserl increasingly “turns rationality into a problem” (2012, 553n 14). But
for all the indeterminacy and incompleteness that attends this fluidity, it is equally
important to grasp Merleau-Ponty’s account of its rational status: “The point to be
noted is this: that the dialectic without synthesis of which we speak is not therefore
skepticism, vulgar relativism or the reign of the ineffable” (1968, 94–5). Instead the
now circular character of intentional implication explicitly acknowledges the very
history in its midst, one that belies absolute reduction: less speculatively Hegelian
than his predecessors, perhaps. As the Nature lectures state of what it calls the
Schellingian Circle, “The circularity of knowing places us not in front, but rather in
the middle of the Absolute” (2003, 47). “Philosophy always begins in media res”, as
Schlegel had argued.20 But Merleau-Ponty also cites Hegel’s own Differenzschrift:
“for speculation, finitudes are rays of the infinite foyer which diffuses them and at
the same time is formed by them” (2003, 47). Doubtless the echo to Husserl’s notion
of the ‘rays’ of meaning is again not far removed, albeit now coupled with an expo-
sition of the absolute. But this much remains the same:
The thematization of language overcomes another stage of naiveté, discloses yet a little
more the horizon of Selbtverstandlichkeiten –the passage from philosophy to the absolute,
to the transcendental field, to the wild and “vertical” being is by definition progressive,
incomplete. This is to be understood not as an imperfection … but as a philosophical theme:
the incompleteness of the reduction (“biological reduction,” “psychological reduction,”
“reduction to immanence,” and finally fundamental thought) is not an obstacle to the reduc-
tion, it is the reduction itself, the rediscovery of vertical being. (1968, 178)

Still all this seems to have abandoned the evidential pathway of the phenomeno-
logical reduction for the vagaries of Absolute idealism.
Merleau-Ponty fortunately also provides us with an example of this differentia-
tion in his final publication on Husserl: “In the last analysis, phenomenology is
neither a materialism nor a philosophy of mind. Its proper work (opération proper)
is to unveil the pre-theoretical layer on which both of these idealization find their

 See Hegel (1977), 20: “Thoughts become fluid (flűssig) when pure thinking, this inner immedi-
acy, recognizes itself as a moment …” For a similar recognition regarding the philosophy of math-
ematics, one that remains close to Merleau-Ponty’s account of historical institution, see Watson
 Schlegel (1991), 28.
On the Metamorphoses of Transcendental Reduction: Merleau-Ponty… 119

relative justification (droit relative) and are gone beyond” (1964, 165). These trans-
formations involve, again, justification by coherent deformation. Granted the exam-
ple, we can see that everywhere his work has provided its exemplification, going
beyond the relative justification in the historical articulations of mind and body,
intellectualism and empiricism, solipsism and abstract community: all articulated
through the ongoing and indeed endless metamorphoses of the reduction. It was
precisely in this sense that phenomenology, to use Kantian terms – and he did – was
long en route , a “manner” or “style” and not a determinately strict deductive method
or strict science (2012, lxxi).21
The result, he ultimately concluded, is “(a)n ordered sequence of steps (une suite
ordinée de démarches) but it is without end as it is without beginning and could not
possibly reach completion in the intellectual possession of a noema” (1964, 165).
Nonetheless the sequence itself remains both ordered and justified, and despite
lacking a final resolution – or a noema that might culminate or resolve it – remained
purportedly sufficient nonetheless. Thus Merleau-Ponty defends Husserl’s passage
beyond the Cartesian reduction to intersubjective experience, but at the same time
articulates an extension in its midst.
The passage to intersubjectivity is contradictory only with regard to an insuffi-
cient reduction, Husserl was right to say. But a sufficient reduction leads beyond the
alleged transcendental ‘immanence’ … (1968, 17).
The rational sequence proceeds here not simply directly, by description and
denomination, but laterally, indirectly and by divergence (écart), by overdetermined
transformations within the symbolic matrices that make up both our history and
“openness upon being” (1968, 173).
Such mutations in phenomenological theoretics, such metamorphoses in phe-
nomenological reduction, of course were not restricted to Merleau-Ponty: what
became known as the phenomenological movement was itself a tradition similarly
“moved” as an ordered (if not strictly determined) sequence.22 Surely this was true

 On the contrast between method and manner, see Kant (1987), 187. For further discussion of this
issue see Watson (2008).
 Recalling the logic at issue thus helps to clarify a criticism of Jacques Taminiaux’s handling of
the phenomenological reduction in his work, The Metamorphosis of Phenomenological Reduction.
Taminiaux follows Merleau-Ponty’s account of the reduction as an incompletable adventure, char-
acterizing it as “a constellation of flexible approaches.” (Taminiaux 2004, 27). As noted at the
outset, this is a somewhat contested view. Like other critics of Merleau-Ponty, Dermot Moran, for
example, insisting on the historical and conceptual link between the reduction and the transcenden-
tal consciousness of immanence, questioned Taminiaux’s rendering of its interrogative and inde-
terminate status. See: Moran (2006), 290–291. This antinomy surely reflects their difference over
Merleau-Ponty’s own internal criticism and transformation of Husserl. On the other hand,
Taminiaux begins by claiming that, while metamorphosis is a term that belongs to ordinary lan-
guage, the reduction is technical (Taminiaux 2004, 7). I am arguing that in Merleau-Ponty’s work,
and tactitly in Taminiaux’s appropriation of it, this contrast has disappeared; the rationality inher-
ent in the metamorphosis of the reduction has achieved theoretical status, interpreted precisely as
a sequence of rational transformations. To quote Merleau-Ponty: “It is not simply a metamorphosis
in the fairy tale sense of a miracle or magic violence, or aggression … not an absolute creation in
120 S. Watson

of Merleau-Ponty’s account, which not only continually, for example, paired

Husserl and Heidegger, but continually insisted upon opening up this sequence to
further alternatives, to Saussure or Lévi-Straus, – just as much as the Phenomenology’s
Preface had paired it’s being long en route with Hegel and Kierkegaard, Nietzsche
or Freud. In all these cases the direct or static descriptions of transcendental con-
sciousness became replaced with the indirect voices through which seeing becomes
multiple as ‘seeing as’. It was the same logic that led him to proceed by the indirect
voices of silence in discussing the “painter’s labor” of a Cezanne or Klee (1973, 67).
What we perhaps didn’t realize was that this same silence was at stake in the texts
of philosophy: just as language codetermines ‘description’ in polysemy, so, too, the
‘silence’ of history codetermines its ‘noise’, its ‘polyphony’. Philosophy itself
depended upon such ‘indirection,’ such écarts, in the sequential, rational explora-
tion of experience. And this was as much an exploration of content as it was the
sequence of phenomenology itself: as much an attempt to explore the sequence of
its syntax, its interrelations or multiplicity, as its content. In both cases, as he
reminded us, we were moving beyond the strict determinations of Husserl’s noe-
matic unities; in this regard Husserl’s thought became characterized (as did
Einstein’s) as representing the last moment of classical reason, one the itinerary of
the rational had moved beyond (1964, 180, cf. 196). This occurred again, not
because Husserl’s thought had become simply false but rather like, Newton or
Euclid (or Descartes’ cogito), its truth had been rendered fluid according to an itin-
erary and a dialectic that surpassed it, justified through a sequence of “obligatory
steps for those who want to go further” (1964, 10–11).
Still this dialectic remains ‘ordered’; it remains indeterminate and open, with
multiple points of entry. No one moment by itself achieves ultimate adequation; this
is precisely what he said of the constitutive series at stake. We are never wholly one
with constitutive genesis (1964, 170). Hence the status of the Erwirken of the reduc-
tion itself, one that reveals neither a conditio sine qua non nor epistemic (psycho-
logical) immanence but the ordered sequence of its articulative flux: “Husserl
always presents the ‘return to absolute consciousness’ as a title for a multitude of
operations which are learned, gradually effected, and never completed” (1964, 179).
But then, following Merleau-Ponty, we shall have to gage the remove of this event
from the details of the classical account of reflective immanence. Phenomenological
theory rightly argued for the centrality of the experience of the reduction, albeit too
often by mistakenly bestowing immanence upon it. Statically regarded, the reduc-
tion may involve an ‘act’ but it is also a Stiftung, and thus a performative, one that
Merleau-Ponty claims involves an institution and an acquisition: as he puts it quite
simply, it is learned (s’apprenent) (1964, 179). The reduction is an intuition but it is
also a conceptual practice involving “a multitude of operations”, a symbolic matrix

an absolute solitude;” instead it “also infuses a new meaning in what called for and anticipated
it” – in short a Stiftung (1973, 68). This is surely echoed in Taminiaux’s conclusions regarding
Husserl and Heidegger: “I hope these remarks are enough to suggest that the adventure of the
reduction in the work of the two founders of phenomenology entailed in their wake ever renewed
metamorphoses” (Taminiaux 2004, 56).
On the Metamorphoses of Transcendental Reduction: Merleau-Ponty… 121

always articulated through internal transformations. Finally, the reduction is an

experience but it is always a sequence “gradually effected” and thus a history,
indeed one that “transforms universal history” (1968, 173). It results then not in the
Spinozist Habemus ideam verum, but as “The Philosopher and His Shadow” rightly
concludes, an “artifact” (1964, 180). For Merleau-Ponty, all this became centered
on the “internal difficulty” (interne difficulté) in the reduction theorized through the
concept of constituting consciousness. Moreover this internal difficulty would
become ultimately ‘adumbrated’ in the “multitude of problems” awaiting Husserl’s
Lebenswelt or ‘depth’ analyses: the problem of history, language and intersubjectiv-
ity (1970, 106).
It is not simply en presence or even in the static relation of presence that phe-
nomenology achieves justification. Its experience is not unrevisable, nor imma-
nently completable: instead it is only through the ordered steps of its history through
which it acquires its sufficency. Moreover, this is not an anthropological claim about
a faculty and finitude but a claim about the rationality, the metamorphosis and
coherent deformation of the flux itself.
All the same, doesn’t the Phenomenology’s finitude claim return in all this and
does it not usher in the skepticism from which Husserl was right to recoil with
strong transcendental arguments (perhaps again, the Habemus ideam verum)?
Doesn’t giving up the principle of immanence for the sake of its inner itinerary
amount to building insufficiency upon insufficiency? One might think that what
Merleau-Ponty said of Husserl is true of him as well: these circularities and insuf-
ficiencies didn’t seem to bother him much. But, as has become apparent, his account
of dialectic rejected skepticism outright. As much as Husserl, Merleau-Ponty eluci-
dated the order of experience, but with a different understanding of the reduction
that accessed it. Husserl’s failure, on the other hand, involved not only a conceptual
insufficiency but a false move based on an inadequate and unsustainable picture of
the reduction. The latter underwrote the philosophy of consciousness: namely, the
claim that the experience of truth implies an ultimately vindicated immanent evi-
dence, the principle of principles itself. What Merleau-Ponty argued instead was
that in order to be absolute, its truth would need to be sequential, partial, transi-
tional, figured, ‘vertical’ – and thus irreducible to my thought (1976, 51–2). Perhaps
the whole of Merleau-Ponty’s work involves precisely the exploration of the phe-
nomenological resources “that leads beyond such alleged ‘immanence’” – and yet
evidence just the same. Beyond the limits of mere psychological immanence he
continually articulated the transcendence of time, language, embodiment, the
world – precisely as the Phenomenology announced in its itinerary, its being long
“en route” decades earlier.
He continually, that is, adumbrated this “all encompassing flux” and its history
through voices, like consciousness itself, only ever allegedly direct, but precisely
through the metamorphoses and the order they articulated: not only the voices of the
Phenomenology’s Preface, but, as has become apparent, voices as diverse as
Descartes and Spinoza, Saussure or Lévi-Strauss, Lacan and Schelling, or Cezanne
and Klee. All this took place toward the end that phenomenology everywhere sought
in the constitutive adventure at stake in its exploration the world. We are reminded
122 S. Watson

that this all “encompassing flux” were the terms he took from Husserl’s own char-
acterization of the Lebenswelt both sought to explore. (1970, 108).23 Husserl thought
phenomenology did so by returning to its strictly determined transcendental origins.
But the idea of a simple return became abandoned in Merleau-Ponty’s exploration
of the visible (1968, 45). Merleau-Ponty suggested instead that the originary “breaks
up,” that we barely coincide with it (1968, 124). We begin only in media res; what
justification we have comes to an end without attaining ultimate determinacy – but
not because its itinerary does. Indeed “perhaps ‘reality’ does not belong to any par-
ticular perception, that in this sense it lies always further on” (1968, 41).We have
seen the incomplétude that characterizes his account of the reduction and the result-
ing charge that a sufficient understanding of it belies Husserl’s claims regarding
immanence. No more than his characterization of the reduction do these claims to
sufficiency involve claims to completeness. Neither do they simply confuse (corre-
late or equate) the phenomenon with being; instead such incompleteness constitutes
both the rational and the phenomena as such: hence “the fragililty of the real” (1968,
40).24 And, despite what Merleau-Ponty perceived to be the ‘logicism’ of its origins,
phenomenology, as a result, became as open, and the multiple articulations of its
symbolic institutions as unfinished, as the world revealed in the metamorphoses of
its constitutive adventure.25


Cassirer, Ernst. 1957. Philosophy of symbolic forms, vol. 3. Trans. Ralph Manheim. New Haven:
Yale University Press.
Fink, Eugen. 1970. The phenomenological philosophy of Edmund Husserl and contemporary criti-
cism. Trans. R.O. Elveton. The phenomenology of Husserl. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.
———. 1981. Operative concepts in Husserl’s phenomenology. In Apriori and world: European
contributions to Husserlian phenomenology, ed. W. Mckenna, R.M. Harlen, and L.E. Winters.
The Hague: Kluwer.
———. 1995. Sixth cartesian meditation. Trans. Ronald Bruzina. Bloomington: Indiana University
Hegel, G.W.F. 1969. The science of logic. Trans. A.V. Miller. New York: Humanities Press.
———. 1977. Phenomenology of spirit. Trans. A.V. Miller. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Husserl, Edmund. 1970a. The crisis of the European sciences and transcendental phenomenology.
Trans. David Carr. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

 See Husserl (1970a), 131.
 “The break up and the destruction of the first appearance do not authorize me to define hence-
forth the real as only probable, since they are only another name for the new apparition, which
must therefore figure in our analysis of the dis-illusion. The dis-illusion is the loss of one evidence
only because it is the acquisition of another evidence. There is no Schein without an Erscheinung
… every Schein is the counterpart of an Erscheinung.” (1968, 40–1).
 Perhaps no one explored the complex and plural relation between reduction, intuition and sym-
bolic institution than the late Marc Richir to whom I am thankful to have been introduced by
Jacques Taminiaux four decades ago – and whose work the latter influenced doubtless as much as
these analyses here. See for example, Richir (1988).
On the Metamorphoses of Transcendental Reduction: Merleau-Ponty… 123

———. 1970b. Logical investigations, vol. 1. Trans. J.N. Findlay. London: Routledge & Kegan
———. 1981. Phenomenology and anthropology. Trans. Richard G. Schmidt in Husserl: Shorter
writings, ed. Peter McCormichk and Frederick Elliston. Notre Dame: University of Notre
Dame Press.
Kant, Immanual. 1987. Critique of judgment. Trans. Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis: Hackett.
Lacan, Jacques.1978. The four fundamental concepts of psycho-analysis (seminar XI). Trans.
Allan Sheridan. New York: W.W. Norton.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1963. The structure of behavior. Trans. Alden L. Fisher. Boston: Beacon
———. 1964. Signs. Trans. Richard C. McCleary. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
———. 1968. The visible and the invisible. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Evanston: Northwestern
University Press.
———. 1969a. Humanism and terror. Trans. John O’Neil. Boston: Beacon Press.
———. 1969b. Phenomenology and psychoanalysis: Preface to Hesnard’s L’Oeuvre de Freud.
Trans. Alden L Fisher in The essential writings of Merleau-Ponty, ed. Alden L Fisher.
New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Chap. 5.
———. 1970. Themes from the lectures at the Collège de France 1952–1960. Trans. John O’Neill.
Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
———. 1973. The prose of the world. Trans. John O’Neill. Evanston: Northwestern University
———. 1976. Philosophy and non-philosophy since Hegel. Trans. Hugh J. Silverman, Telos 29
———. 2002. Husserl and the limits of phenomenology, ed. Leonard Lawlor, Bettina Bergo.
Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
———. 2003. Nature: Course notes from the Collège de France. Trans. Robert Vallier. Evanston:
Northwestern University Press.
———. 2012. Phenomenology of perception. Trans. Donald A. Landes. London: Routledge.
Moran, Dermot. 2006. Adventures of the reduction: Jacques Taminiaux’s The Metamorphoses of
phenomenological reduction. The Journal of the American Catholic Philosophical Association
80 (2): 283.
Richir, Marc. 1988. Phénoménologie et institution symbolique. Grenoble: Jerome.
Schlegel, Friedrich. 1991. Athenaeum fragments. In Philosophical fragments. Trans. Peter
Firchow. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Taminiaux, Jacques. 2004. The metamorphoses of phenomenological reduction. Milwaukee:
Marquette University Press.
Watson, Stephen. 2008. Beyond the speaking of things: Merleau-Ponty’s reconstruction of phe-
nomenology and the models of Kant’s third Critique. Philosophy Today 52 SPEP supplement.
———. 2009. In the shadow of phenomenology: Writings after Merleau-Ponty I. London:
———. 2016. Philosophy is also an architecture of signs’: On Merleau-Ponty and Cavaillès.
Research in Phenomenology 46: 35–53.
On Merleau-Ponty’s Crystal Lamellae:
Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics

Babette Babich

For Jacques Taminiaux: Hochachtungsvoll — et bien amicalement

1  Phenomenology’s Crystal

From behaviour to perception to the artist’s consciousness of his art and its truth,
along with language and literature, signs and symbols, including scientific truth as
well as a rigorous reading of the question of humanism together with the question
of terror, Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s style of hermeneutic phenomenology articulates
a scientific reflection on space, perception, and bodily creativity that is simultane-
ously meditation, musing, poetising, reverie. This has meant that one has been able
to read Merleau-Ponty together with authors otherwise associated with literature
like Valèry but also with science such as Bachelard and Serres. As author of the
Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty carries the Husserlian project of phe-
nomenology through to Heidegger, including Merleau-Ponty’s own adumbration of
incarnate experience, attuned to levels of awareness and sense and the viscerality,
that is the “flesh” as this term has come to be associated with Merleau-Ponty, of the
The language of “experience” evokes Henri Bergson who shared Merleau-­
Ponty’s enduring focus on science and the same explicitly critical focus that inspires
phenomenological approaches to philosophy beginning with Husserl. Writing on
Merleau-Ponty half a century ago, Ben-Ami Scharfstein (1955) makes the distinc-
tion between typical philosophical attention to science and the kind we find in
Merleau-Ponty, explaining that
[t]here is no one more indebted to science, principally in the form of psychology, and yet
less inclined to surrender to it. Like Bergson, therefore, he loves this science in order to
disarm it.

B. Babich (*)
Fordham University, NY, NY, USA

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 125

V.M. Fóti, P. Kontos (eds.), Phenomenology and the Primacy of the Political,
Contributions To Phenomenology 89, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8_8
126 B. Babich

Although the point should be read together with the Irish-Belgian philosopher, a
student of the Belgian philosopher of mathematics and science, Jean Ladrière,
Patrick Aidan Heelan (1983), himself a mathematician and a physicist who wrote on
perception and psychology in a similarly “disarming” sense of non-­surrender, I hear
Sharfstein’s use of the term “disarming,” obliquely: undercutting but still complicit,
rather in the same fashion in which Jacques Taminiaux can speak of connivance for
the sake of an articulation of Heidegger’s specific reading of Nietzsche.1
Attending to the artist and the writer as well as to the reflective practitioner of
science, Merleau-Ponty foregrounds a rigorously science-attuned or informed
(rather than ‘scientific’) conception of philosophy, “Philosophy is irreplaceable
because it reveals to us both the movement by which lives become truths, and the
circularity of that singular being who in a certain sense already is everything he
happens to think.” (Merleau-Ponty 1964f, 113) Thus Merleau-Ponty reflects that:
Scientific views according to which I am an event in the world are always naive and hypo-
critical because, without mentioning the fact, they sustain themselves on that other view,
that consciousness by which, initially, a world is disposed around me and begins to exist for
me. (Merleau-Ponty 1956, 60)

Science is not the ultimate court of appeal because science as such only takes its
departure from and, ultimately, must return to, as Husserl expresses this, “the things
themselves.” Yet this also means that the concern of the knower has to be to raise the
question of truth as a question, precisely to the extent that it is the role of philosophy
to inquire after the conditions of the possibility of philosophy as such, as of the
human sciences, as of natural science in general, to refer to the tripartite crisis so
significant for Husserl as indeed for Merleau-Ponty and which also attests to the one
limitation Merleau-Ponty would set upon science: its claim to having a “monopoly
on truth.”2 For Merleau-Ponty writing on the phenomenology of perception and
engaging in a philosophical discussion regarding the “primacy of perception,” to
return to the “things themselves is to return to that world prior to knowledge of
which knowledge speaks, and with regard to which every scientific determination is
abstractive, dependent and a sign; it is like the relationship of geography to the
countryside where we first learned what a forest, a prairie or a river was” (Merleau-
Ponty 1956, 60).
This point follows the distinction Heidegger makes between the ‘flowers of the
hedgerow’ and the botanist’s knowledge of the same in his Being and Time. The
same effectively natal compact or “primacy” includes for Merleau-Ponty the aspect
of being-in, as Heidegger speaks of this, which Merleau-Ponty expresses in a vital
or lived attention to space and place. As Merleau-Ponty reflects, “Perception is not
a science of the world, it is not even an act, a deliberate taking up of a position; it is
the background from which all acts stand out and it is presupposed by them.”
­(Merleau-­Ponty 1956, 58). Phenomenology for Merleau-Ponty can be attuned to

 See Taminiaux (1999), 13. Cf. here, on Taminiaux as on Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Hölderlin,
Babich (1999) in addition to Sinnerbrink (2012).
 Merleau-Ponty (1964a), 35. Here, of course, Merleau-Ponty’s view of science accords with both
Nietzsche’s and Heidegger’s philosophies, to invoke Rom Harré’s (1972) plural usage, of science.
On Merleau-Ponty’s Crystal Lamellae: Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics 127

science in this way (as it also is for the Heidegger of Being and Time), without how-
ever subscribing to the always-present danger of an overdependence on science
(that is the same scientism that grows with our philosophical fixation on pseudo-
science everywhere we turn).3
In this way, Merleau-Ponty offers a critique of the physical sciences reflecting
Husserl’s identification of the ongoing crisis in the sciences. Science “makes its
own limited models of things” as he writes but precisely by means of such model-
ling, “Science manipulates things and gives up dwelling in them” (Merleau-Ponty
1964b, 351). This is an inevitable consequence of scientific modeling, which “gives
itself internal models of the things, and, operating on the basis of these indices or
variables, the transformations that are permitted by their definition, science con-
fronts the actual world only from greater and greater distances” (Ibid.).
This same distancing yields what Max Weber called the “steel hard enclosure”
(often translated as “iron cage”) of science and for Merleau-Ponty it also tended to
the habitual and thereby to a certain variety of magical thinking: “When a model has
succeeded in one order of problems, it is tried out everywhere else” (Ibid.). Where
we, just to use our own present day conventionalities see codes, specifically genomic
ones, but also software and algorithmic versions of the same everywhere, where for
Descartes, things tended to be viewed on the model of the machine (functionally
including the ‘thinking’ thing itself). Merleau-Ponty invokes a variant of the
machine by speaking of the process array, the ‘gradients’ deployed in chemistry and
engineering, which model influences his own notion of the “perceptual field.” For
Merleau-Ponty, the problem with the model is its inevitable circularity:
To say that the world is, by nominal definition, the object x of our operations is to adjust the
scientist’s epistemic situation to the absolute, as if everything that was and is has never
existed save in order to enter the laboratory. (Merleau-Ponty 1964b, 352)

Science ‘works’ in this efficient sense by deploying just these models, transform-
ing its own action in accord with the economic modality of contemporary ‘effi-
ciency’ within these same constraints. Against this efficient scientific perspective,
Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy draws upon while also sidestepping the restrictions of
a modelling which cannot but require the ‘foreswearing of science’ (Merleau-Ponty
1962, viii). This foreswearing in turn testifies less to the inadequacy of scientific
observation than the exigence of philosophical reflection that cannot simply limit
itself to the making of models. Once again, and this is also a point that Heidegger
makes as well: “philosophy has an original role distinct from that of science.”
(Merleau-Ponty 1964f, 35). The aim is not opposed to science and it is not meant to
suggest a restriction: “In this primordial historicity, the agile and improvisatory
thought of science will learn to ground itself upon the things themselves and upon
itself, and will once more become philosophy…” (Merleau-Ponty 1964b, 352).
Thus, Merleau-Ponty observes that it is.

 See here for an overview of continental philosophy of science—including Merleau-Ponty—


Babich (2007).
128 B. Babich

necessary that the thought of science — surveying thought, thought of the object in general,
be placed back in the “there is” which precedes it, back in the site, back upon the soil of the
sensible world and the soil of the worked-upon world such as they are in our lives and for
our bodies, not that possible body which we may legitimately think of as an information
machine, but this actual body I call mine, this sentinel standing silently under my words and
my acts. (Ibid.)

Irretrievably bound to a lived world of human meaning and possibility, the sys-
tematic character of embodied being in the world thus constitutes Merleau-Ponty’s
contribution to phenomenology: “our own body” he writes, “is in the world as the
heart is in the organism.” (Merleau-Ponty 1962, 203). This reflective emphasis on
embodiment as the constitutive engine of perception and being, measure and esti-
mation, reflects a distinctively French conception of phenomenology as a true dia-
lectics of ambiguity.

2  Crystal Lamellae

Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology includes intervals of dimensionality, dimension-

alities corresponding to tissues, lamellae layered in space, conveying to and against
one another, spanning levels and heights, depths and breadths: elemental atmo-
spheres, concordant one to the other. What I am inclined to name the phenomeno-
logical ‘penumbra,’ the edges and edge arrays, the shadows, the auras of about and
“between,” Merleau-Ponty describes, here with an acoustic depth metaphor, as
“echoes.” This same acoustic metaphor is also a haptic one: what touches me, as
well as my capacity to touch resonates with (and must) “find an echo within me,”
calling forth or answering “with a certain nature of my consciousness” (Merleau-
Ponty 1962, 316).
What I am here calling Merleau-Ponty’s crystal lamellae corresponds to a phe-
nomenology of the crystal of the interstices of being: the between. This is a crystal-
lography in words to retrace the relations of four dimensional space, lived space,
tactically navigated, anticipated, recalled, as this experienced awareness of the
world around, places in which we live, especially public spaces, layered in layers,
including lattice arrays of space, seen and unseen—feeling beyond sight is impor-
tant here—“staggered out in depth.” (Ibid.) These dimensions are akin to Bataille’s
‘abyss’ and Nietzsche’s Abgrund,4 as well as, importantly, Michel de Certeau (1980)
own phenomenological sociology of perambulation among spaces, places, people,
gesture, ritual. Where such layered dimensions streamline thinking, Merleau-Ponty
invokes art for the sake of his phenomenology of perception, attending to attention
as such. He invokes the depths of colour layered in painting, describing Cezanne,
Gaugin, van Gogh, Leonardo, appealing to our conventional celebration of artists,
but also of the unknown artists of the cave paintings at Lascaux, tracing a luminous

 I connect these two notions in the context of a conference volume on the abyssal in Bataille orga-
nized by the theologian and mystical and literary scholar, Artur R. Boelderl. See Babich (2015).
On Merleau-Ponty’s Crystal Lamellae: Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics 129

staggering of levels and depths. Such cave paintings, blown (as I am fond to suppose
pigments to have been mixt and blown) by the mouths of ancient painters, spraying
outlines, daubed animal forms into and along with the texture of rock, lines carrying
a haptic protentionality: reflecting admiration and desire, material differences, inter-
vals, interfaces, layers, levels, distance.
The “staggered” notion of depth, a playing of dimensionality, highlighted as lay-
ered streams and tissues of space, is not merely a space of the ‘voluminous’ as some
authors describe this capacitative depth measure (Merleau-Ponty’s term expands
volumes: he speaks of ‘voluminousness’; thus I read contra Casey 1991). This
includes the archly supplemental “element” of the quasi-alchemical: calling upon
the elemental. Goethe begins his Faust with a similar cast. The poet’s dramatis
personae lists the spirits of air and earth. In Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetics this invoca-
tion is inscribed in a crystalline dimensionality as the “between.” Elsewhere I have
sought to engage a discussion of Merleau-Ponty and space perception in terms of
museum aesthetics, including experience and de Certeau’s engagement together
with the philosophy of art: Babich (2014a). In addition to Alphonse de Waehlens
and Michel Harr as well as Galen Johnson, Duane Davis and Bill Hamrick, Patricia
Locke and many others, including the co-editor of this volume, Pavlos Kontos,5
Veronique Fóti highlights what she calls a ‘tracing expression’ together with
Merleau-Ponty’s own aesthetics and biology and ontology.6 Thus where Ed Casey
and others write on place/space,7 Patrick Heelan writes on perception and the phi-
losophy of science and others write on phenomenology and perception.8
Phenomenology’s crystal as I refer to this here is a layered in and through spatial
tensions, shimmering, overlapping, intervals magnifying planes and surfaces in all

 One can for this go back to no one less significant for the history of phenomenology than Alphonse
de Waelhens (1962). In addition, see, classically, Michel Haar’s (1996) “Painting, Perception,
Affectivity” (in: Fóti 1996, 177–193) as well as, more broadly Johnson (2009). See importantly,
subtly, Jacques Taminiaux (2010). See also Kontos (2015) in addition to Babich (2014a), “The
Aesthetics of the Between.” See too Duane Davis’ and Bill Hamrick’s recent edited collection,
Merleau-Ponty and the Art of Perception (2016), including Patricia Locke’s (2016) “Architecture
and the Voices of Silence” as Davis (2016), “The Art of Perception.” Additional (and there are
many) studies are featured in Galen A. Johnson and Michael B. Smith, eds., The Merleau-Ponty
Aesthetics Reader (1993) and including contributions from Merleau-Ponty, both editors, de
Waelhens, (including a response to de Waehlens from René Magritte), Marjorie Grene, Olivier
Mongin, Mikel Dufrenne, Jean-François Lyotard, Fóti, as Taminiaux’s (1993) “The Thinker and
the Painter” as well as Eugene Kaelin’s An Existentialist Aesthetic (1962), Place (1973), as well as
if also from an analytically minded point of departure, Paul Crowther’s chapter “Vision in Being:
Merleau-Ponty on the Depths of Painting” in Crowther (2013), 79–114 as well as Kaushik (2011).
 See Fóti (2013) as well as Fóti’s earlier essay (1980).
 See among his other works, Casey (2013) and see in addition, Patricia M. Locke “The Painters’
World: Cézanne and Merleau-Ponty on a ‘History by Contact’” (forthcoming).
 See for example, Heelan (1983) in addition to studies specifically focusing on Merleau-Ponty,
including the recent new study by Barbaras (2006) in addition to Sylvia Stoller’s doctoral thesis on
perception in Merleau-Ponty (1995) as well as, on Heidegger, Kontos (1996).
130 B. Babich

Merleau-Ponty’s spacings correspond to a full crystal of perception—this is not

the two-dimensional plane geometry of Descartes’ classic and projective geometry.
To this extent this phenomenology of perception cannot but exceed the Galilean
language of the “mirror of nature” that continues to dominate even the latest trends
in philosophy.9 Phenomenology’s crystal is traced with all its depths and registers,
including Merleau-Ponty’s scintillating, one cannot but think of the similarly crystal
and haptic thought of Alphonso Lingis, where both philosophers find themselves
along with the reader attuned to layers of flesh, color, substance, a lamellar phenom-
enology of lattices and tissues, auratic outlines.
Speaking of “spacing,” specifying the language of the crystal, the philosopher,
Giuseppina Moneta addresses the architectonically—inasmuch as literally, just as
she articulates this, architecturally-themed notion of “shaped spacings.”10 Almost in
Heidegger’s voice, Moneta tells us that these spacings ‘speak” (Moneta 1995, 205)
and she quotes Palladio’s expression for such dimensional perceptions, her word,
lent from Palladio’s own terminology: “cristalli di rocca.” (Ibid., 206) In this essay,
originally composed as a letter to “Bill”—William J.  Richardson, S.J. (1920–
2016)—and thus precisely as a meditation between friends, Moneta offers a lapi-
dary expression of these same “forms of emptiness,” (ibid.) beginning with the
intervals between words, articulated as depth and spacing in the dialogic tension
inscribing discourses as these are adumbrated in memory and over time, mapped
between breaks and interruptions, as well as via other and different interlocutors,
that is: what Adorno calls the paratactic, to articulate Hölderlin’s caesurae as the
hermeneutic spacing, the breaks between words and friends, over time and in time,
in literary form, settled when recalled in writing, placed as such in the space-­
landscape of the page itself. Moneta goes on to write of the spaces “between col-
umns in the Greek temple, in the vaulted vacuum of the Roman arch, in the rhythmic
emptiness of the Baroque square…” (Moneta 1995, 206). Phenomenology’s lamel-
lae articulate the layers of art history and aesthetics.
If the notion of experience was already mentioned with reference to Bergson’s
(recurrent) popularity, Merleau-Ponty’s notion may be more complexly illuminated
through the imperative that drives Hölderlin’s ‘experience’ [Erfahren] as the poet
translates Pindar, “become what you are experienced,”11 meaning: grow to the mea-
sure of what you have lived and endured, felt, experienced and undergone, the mea-
sure of what has lived and gone through you. It is in this Hölderlinian fashion that
Merleau-Ponty writes in the Visible and the Invisible:

 For example, see not only Rorty (1979) but also Bordo (1987), in addition to Luce Irigaray’s
(1985) Speculum, as well as Vasseleu (1998) and see too as the language of mirroring is embedded
in today’s neuropsychological and -physiological sensibility, Rochat and Zahavi (2011).
 See Pina Moneta’s “Profile” (1995), 206, as well as Busch’s (1992) essay, titled with a beautiful
quote from Merleau-Ponty himself as I have already cited this from Merleau-Ponty above, “...
Being... which is Staggered out in Depth’.”
 See for a discussion of this phrase from the 7th BCE century lyric poet, Pindar, via Nietzsche’s
appropriation of Pindar via Hölderlin, Babich (2009).
On Merleau-Ponty’s Crystal Lamellae: Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics 131

we are experiences, that is, thoughts that feel behind themselves the weight of the space, the
time, the very Being they think, and which therefore do not hold under their gaze a serial space
and time nor the pure idea of series, but have about themselves a time and a space that exist
by piling up, by proliferation, by encroachment, by promiscuity — a perpetual pregnancy,
perpetual parturition, generativity and generality, brute essence and brute existence, which are
the nodes and antinodes of the same ontological vibration. (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 115).

Here there is a kind of epochē of the epochē, reflecting the penumbra of the phe-
nomena as layered shadowings, again one may speak of specifically lamellar levels
of vision, haptic sense, acoustic glimmering. Defining phenomenology “as a prob-
lem to be solved” describes phenomenology as a matter of trial, variation, quintes-
sentially scientific, experimental, experiential, Thus Merleau-Ponty articulates the
appeal of an eternal ‘return’ to the ‘things themselves’—returning to lived experi-
ence beyond the appropriations of pop and increasingly “analytic” appropriations of
existentialism (and to be sure Merleau-Ponty is hardly immune from such preda-
tions). Because informed by Bergson, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology is different
from either Husserl or Heidegger and is perhaps closer to Nietzsche or, indeed, as
Jacques Taminiaux is one of the first to note, to Hannah Arendt.
Taminiaux, writing, in this case, without fealty to any received school of thought,
tries to reprise the correspondences linking Heidegger and Arendt with respect to
Merleau-Ponty. He emphasizes the same dynamic dimensionality and the depth to
which I refer above, citing Arendt in the process to make his own broader point:
there is the belonging of humans to the world of appearances: Arendt thinks of Merleau-­
Ponty when she emphasizes that “we are of the world and not merely in it” (Taminiaux
2002, 253).12

Here, Taminaux explicates Arendt’s political inherence:

From this belonging — which implies a plurality of spectators — derives our first sense of
reality, whether our own reality or the reality of the world. On this point Arendt is in complete
agreement with the Merleau-Pontyian analysis of “perceptual faith” in the Visible and the
Invisible, which she comments upon in these terms: “our certainty that what we perceive has
an existence independently of the act of perceiving depends entirely on the object’s also
appearing as such to others and being acknowledged by them” (Ibid., citing Arendt 1971, 46).

Between these two citations drawn from Arendt’s The Life of the Mind,
Taminiaux’s account addresses the world of perception given in and through experi-
ence, both the everyday lifeworld and the scientific lifeworld, thereby phenomeno-
logically testifying to the objectivity of the world. In this, Taminaux follows the
thread Arendt herself draws from Merleau-Ponty, a poetic echo with depths that
Heidegger, so Taminiaux argues with a sensitivity for Heidegger’s concerns, never-
theless overlooks. At stake is “the site of thought, which,” as Taminiaux notes
“obsessed” Arendt, “at the time, a question whose leitmotif to her mind, was
expressed correctly by Valéry’s expression ‘At times I think, at times I am.”
(Taminiaux 2002, 252). As Taminiaux emphasizes, Merleau-Ponty could have been
under no temptation to abandon Husserl for Heidegger inasmuch as M ­ erleau-­Ponty

 Here Taminiaux cites Arendt (1971), 22.
132 B. Babich

was himself underway in his own thinking, as was very differently, Hannah Arendt
likewise, of the phenomenological reduction in its spaced and spacing dimensional-
ity. Thus Taminiaux can cite Merleau-Ponty on:
the inherence of the self-in-the-world or of the world-in-the-self, what Husserl calls the
Ineinander, is silently inscribed in all embracing experience which composes these incom-
patibles, and philosophy becomes the enterprise of describing, outside of the logic and
vocabulary at hand, the universe of living paradoxes (Merleau-Ponty 1970, 108).

This “inherence of the self in the world” we could also call Husserl’s enmeshing
of the reduction as this articulates Merleau-Pony’s reading of Heidegger. As
Taminiaux writes, when Merleau-Ponty refers to “the Heraclitean proposition dear
to Heidegger”—Taminiaux does not belabour us with the aphorism—“the with-
drawal at the heart of unconcealment signifies first for him the invisible lining in the
visible.” (Taminaux 2002, 258). Citing Merleau-Ponty’s Themes from the Lectures
to the Collège de France (1952–1960), Taminaux explains that.
This is why to the question “where is Being?” in each of the examples cited by Heidegger,
Merleau-Ponty responds right away that it “is in all that that we see and beyond:” “Its site
is of a special type (as body-soul). Now this may be applied to all sensible things: the thing
is always between qualities and this is why it is neither the spatio-temporal individual nor
the ousia or the ensemble of characteristics.” (Taminiaux 2002, 258).13

In Taminiaux’s reading of this lamellar between, the language of the invisible suf-
fuses the visible. We are ecstatic in reading, in other words, as Taminiaux also
observes of Heidegger’s Being-question, we are ineluctably, irrecusably ec-static:
disposed, positioned, placed. For Heidegger, what is salient is precisely what we can-
not grasp—the famous ‘Being of beings’—as Taminiaux cites Heidegger’s reflections
on Being and Time is “manifestly [we could add: ‘essentially’] propadeutic.” (Ibid.)

3  Haunting Certainty

The language of attention invokes the tension of the body, the reciprocity of the seen
and unseen, the attention to the seer, the one who is conscious of consciousness,
seeing attuned to seeing as. Here what is visible is suffused by what is not visible,
to be seen by one for whom it is visible. In this sense the visible, the object, the thing
is also already ‘present’ as Merleau-Ponty writes. This ‘haunting’ claims me as I am
conscious of it in ways that only begin to know themselves as such:
The visible can thus fill me and occupy me only because I who see it do not see it from the
depths of nothingness, but from the midst of itself; I the seer am also visible. What makes
the weight, the thickness, the flesh of each color, of each sound, of each tactile texture, of
the present, and of the world is the fact that he who grasps them feels himself emerge from
them by a sort of coiling up or redoubling, fundamentally homogeneous with them.
(Merleau-Ponty 1968, 113)

 Taminiaux’ citation is from Merleau-Ponty (1970), 106.
On Merleau-Ponty’s Crystal Lamellae: Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics 133

There is in this reflection on the visible a reflection on perception broadly and as

such as well as on the felt as such, as well as the haptic, here regarded as opposed to
the primacy of vision as the heart of the phenomenology of perception. As Merleau-
Ponty reflects in Mind and Eye:
He sees himself seeing; he touches himself touching; he is visible and sensitive for himself.
He is a self, not by transparency, like thought, which never thinks anything except by assim-
ilating it, constituting it, transforming it into thought — but a self by confusion, narcissism,
inherence of the one who sees in what he sees, of the one who touches in what he touches,
of the sensing in the sensed — a self, therefore, that is caught up in things, having a front
and a back, a past and a future…. (Merleau-Ponty 1964b, 354)

With this reference to touch, that is the haptic realm, there is a parallel between
Merleau-Ponty and Wittgenstein, specifically with respect to space and intentional
embodiment.14 Thus the later Wittgenstein begins his reflection On Certainty by
referring to the hand, that is, present: “If you do know that here is one hand, we’ll
grant you all the rest” [Wenn du weißt daß hier ein Hand ist, so geben wir dir alles
übrige zu] (Wittgenstein 1972, 2). Wittgenstein’s reflection on space, as
Wittgenstein’s own footnote clarifies for us, returns to G.E. Moore’s (1939) “Proof
of an External World”.15 For analytic philosophers, of course, if we needed Colin
McGinn and a certain ambiguous (ah! ‘Sex’!) scandal to remind us of this, the hand
remains central. In Wittgenstein, the philosophical context is as obvious as the
German expression, es liegt auf der Hand, another way to speak of certainty. In
addition, there is also in Wittgenstein’s mention of the hand a reference to Immanuel
Kant and thereby to space along with the notion of congruence.16 As Wittgenstein
also points out with respect to Kant’s observation of isomorphism, the
Kantian problem of the right and left hand which cannot be made to cover one another
already exists in the plane, and even in one-dimensional space; where the two congruent
figures a and b cannot be made to cover one another without moving them out of this space.
The right and left hand are in fact completely congruent. And the fact that they cannot be
made to cover one another has nothing to do with it. (Wittgenstein 1922, 6.36111, 86)

For Wittgenstein, however if one changed the dimensional spatiality of space there
is no paradox and the variational profile he suggests is quasi-phenomenological: “A
right-hand glove could be put on a left hand if it could be turned round in four-­
dimensional space.” (Ibid.)

 See, informatively, Kathrin Stengel’s fifth chapter, “Perspektive und Aspectwechsel in ihrer
Interleiblichen und räumlichen Verankerung” in Stengel (2003), 102–116 as well as Cassou-
Noguès (2009).
 If one connects Wittgenstein with Merleau-Ponty on the haptic or tactile access to the world,
readings are often liable to the limitations of analytic philosophy. By contrast, Wittgenstein’s
speaks of “life” in a fashion that corresponds to certain themes in more properly continental phe-
nomenology: “7. My life shows that I know or am certain that there is a chair over there, or a door,
and so on. — I tell a friend e.g. ‘Take that chair over there’, ‘Shut the door’, etc. etc.” Wittgenstein
(1972), 2c.
 For a discussion of Wittgenstein as a “Kantian Philosopher,” including a discussion of
Wittgenstein on Kant and congruency, Gier (1981), 34 ff.
134 B. Babich

The topological problem corresponds to Wittgenstein’s dialogue with Moore and

allusions to Kant but Merleau-Ponty is taken up as we know with the “phenomenol-
ogy of perception.” To this extent, the variational distinctions Merleau-Ponty con-
siders are lived in the round, which lived quality excludes a variational rotation in
Wittgenstein’s “four-dimensional space.” For Merleau-Ponty, it “is not conscious-
ness which touches or feels, but the hand” (Merleau-Ponty 1962, 316) and to just
this extent Merleau-Ponty cites Kant as writing that the hand is “an outer brain of
man.” (Ibid.)17 The haptic is the body in its attuned sensory expression, capable of
both touching and of being touched. The proprioceptic and haptic sense of being
touched finds one in a “tactile ‘world’,” (Ibid., 317) more than a locative here as
opposed to a there, orientated in one way as opposed to another, as Merleau-Ponty
describes psychological experiments with vision in conflict with haptic and other
senses. In this case,
as the subject of touch, I cannot flatter myself that I am everywhere and nowhere; I cannot
forget that in this case that it is through my body that I go to the world, and tactile experi-
ence occurs ‘ahead’ of me and is not centred in me. It is not I who touch, it is my body;
when I touch I do not think of diversity, but my hands rediscover certain styles which is part
of their motor potentiality. (Ibid., 316)

The concern with perception in its spatiality occupies Merleau-Ponty. But his
concern is not with the object, that is the thing perceived, but the conditions of the
same possibility of perception for the embodied subject and its “echoes” of con-
stancy, inclinations, habits, and thereby of the object in all aspects, all variations,
reverberating in it: “And in so far as my hand knows hardness and softness, and my
gaze knows the moon’s light, it is a certain way of linking up with the phenomenon
and communicating with it” (Ibid., 317). Thus the object also attunes or arrays the
subject in advance:
The surface which I am about to recognize as the surface of the table, when vaguely looked
at, already summons me to focus upon it, and demands those movements of convergence
which will endow it with its ‘true’ aspect. Similarly any object presented to one sense calls
upon itself the concordant operation of all the others. (Ibid., 328)

Here Merleau-Ponty’s reflection carries the Kantian element into his own phenom-
enological concern with being in the world. In this way, Merleau-Ponty reads Kant
through Sartre’s Hegel if as we have already suggested, via Taminiaux above and
thereby via Arendt, this is also Heidegger’s Kant. Attending to the conditions of
perception and apperception along the thread of the body, as Nietzsche writes of
this, following his Ariadne: am Leitpfaden des Leibes, traces the ecstatic labyrinth
as Merleau-Ponty writes in The Visible and the Invisible:
he feels that he is the sensible itself coming to itself and that in return the sensible is in his
eyes as it were his double or an extension of his own flesh. The space, the time of the things
are shreds of himself, of his own spatialization, of his own temporalization, are no longer a
multiplicity of individuals synchronically and diachronically distributed, but a relief of the
simultaneous and of the successive, a spatial and temporal pulp where the individuals are
formed by differentiation. (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 114)

 See Merleau-Ponty’s own text for context and citation reference.
On Merleau-Ponty’s Crystal Lamellae: Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics 135

Reflecting on the synchronic and diachronic, once again: the ‘spatial and tempo-
ral pulp’ of the differences that stand out as such, apart from me, apart from the
perceiver, yields the spatiality of space—but this is not emptiness as such but inter-
val, lamellar levels, spaced nothingness or intervals between the self of the one who
perceives and is conscious of perceiving and the things themselves. These things are
perceived by and above all “for a self caught up in things, that has a front and a back,
a past and a future.” (Merleau-Ponty 1964b, 163) To this extent, “things” correspond
to the self that is accordingly caught up in them, and are thus things existing.
only at the end of those rays of spatiality and of temporality emitted in the secrecy of my
flesh. And their solidity is not that of a pure object which the mind soars over; I experience
their solidity from within insofar as I am among them and insofar as they communicate
through me as a sentient thing. (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 114)

Thus in the unpublished text, Merleau-Ponty opposes the “perceiving subject” to

a kind of “absolute thinker” instead invoking “a natal pact between our body and the
world, between ourselves and our body.” (Merleau-Ponty 1964c, 6). Merleau-­
Ponty’s aesthetic of perception takes up the traditional conventionality of
perspective,18 reading the history of signs, of the unspoken or unsaid that is also
made visible against a background, set behind an image painted or layered in color
or texture. Medieval paintings, Italian renaissance designs, are blocked in by color
expanses, outlines tracing the painterly experiment with vision itself. This concern
with the senses, the eye, the haptic, even the olfactory (as Merleau-Ponty here cites
Cezanne’s assertion that the painter should be able to paint the smell of things), is
concerned with the same flesh that also concerns the so-called existentialist or incar-
nate and lived tradition of philosophic reflection and description in Sartre, Camus,
Merleau-Ponty’s concern with the physiological capacities of the body to which
extent as he writes, “knowledge and communication sublimate rather than suppress
our incarnation” (Merleau-Ponty 1964c, 7) corresponds to what he speaks of here as
“the double function of our body.” (Ibid.) This double function is both perception
and signification, in both cases charged backward and forward.
Through its “sensory fields” and its whole organisation the body is, so to speak, predestined
to model itself on the natural aspects of the world. But as an active body … it turns back on
the world to signify it. (Ibid.)

Expressing his own originally scientific formation as a psychologist drawing upon

the resources of Husserlian phenomenology Merleau-Ponty himself never once
imagines that phenomenology begins or indeed ends with Husserl—as Husserlians
are inclined to suppose. Rather, and here one may make a crucial distinction between
analytic ‘continental’ and genuinely continental continental appropriations of
Wittgenstein and not less of Merleau-Ponty, as Merleau-Ponty is increasing read

 Patrick Aidan Heelan has drawn attention to Merleau-Ponty’s concern with perspective in his
study of space-perception (1983) already cited above but see too Prendeville (1999) as well as
Jonathan Gilmore’s analytic and historical overview, Gilmore (2004), especially 297ff and van de
Vall (2005).
136 B. Babich

(even on the continent through an analytic lens) (this would be most recent read-
ings). If I here further refer not only to Heidegger and Nietzsche but also to the
broader resources of hermeneutics,19 Merleau-Ponty himself also adds his own con-
textualizing hermeneutic and phenomenological references to the natural sciences
including their own interior crises, each to be distinguished in themselves. Hence
Merleau-Ponty both sets phenomenology (as one must) in connection with the sci-
ences themselves but he also takes care to historicize (that is to hermeneuticize)
phenomenology, pointing out that
Husserl’s philosophical endeavour is basically directed toward the simultaneous solution of
a crisis in philosophy, a crisis in the sciences of man, and a crisis in science as such which
we have not yet passed through. (Merleau-Ponty 1964d, 43)

By reflecting on this threefold crisis, and it should be emphasized that this reflection
also means that he takes this archetypically Husserlian reflection seriously, Merleau-­
Ponty highlights the threat of “irrationalism.” Today we may still speak of this
ongoing “crisis in science as such,” including the nineteenth century language that
Nietzsche had employed to characterize this same “permanent” crisis in terms of
‘genealogies’ and of ‘twilight.’ Influenced as we are today by Lyotard and others,
we speak of postmodernism and by way of Foucault and not less via Bruno Latour,
of archaeologies, etc. For, as Merleau-Ponty, reflects, “Reason itself appears to be
the contingent product of certain internal conditions” (ibid., 44). which only meant
that the Husserlian project thinks philosophy as indeed the human sciences as
indeed natural science itself “through to their foundations.” (Ibid.) In each case, for
Merleau-Ponty the Husserlian endeavour is to show how each enterprise as a know-
ing enterprise is possible. To raise the question of the conditions of epistemic pos-
sibility entails a return to reading Husserl in the context of his own inquiry but it
also involved an attention to other traditions in philosophy and, for Merleau-Ponty,
to the advances in psychology, not to decide or resolve either the thinking of crisis
or the question of the conditions of the possibility of science but for the sake of
advancing the same knowing project itself. This is a radically rigorous science.
In practice however, Merleau-Ponty goes further in the direction of life-world
science. Hence although Merleau-Ponty makes the identifiably Husserlian case that
if “a being is consciousness, he must be nothing but a network of intentions,”
(Merleau-Ponty 1962, 140) he singles out Sartre’s (and that is always also to say
Simone de Beauvoir’s) existentialism in particular, noting that the distinctively phe-
nomenological method
is found in Descartes and Kant. In our opinion Husserl’s originality lies beyond the notion
of intentionality; it is to be found in the elaboration of this notion and in the discovery,
beneath the intentionality of representations, of a deeper intentionality, which others have
called existence. (Ibid.)

Phenomenology so regarded appears not only in Hegel who writes the ‘phenom-
enology’ of spirit but also, with respect to society and history, in Marx as well as
Nietzsche but also (and this is to distinguished from Nietzsche), in the existential-

 See for instance, and again, the contributions to Thomas Busch and Shaun Gallagher (1992).
On Merleau-Ponty’s Crystal Lamellae: Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics 137

ism of Merleau-Ponty’s lived and incarnate space or else of Bergson’s understand-

ing of space in terms of the subject’s consciousness of and for itself, explicitly read
as Merleau-Ponty reads this consciousness of self in and through Descartes as well
as Freud and Kierkegaard:
We shall find in ourselves and nowhere else, the unity and the meaning of phenomenology.
(Merleau-Ponty 1962, viii)

4  Anger

Along with a large German tradition, Husserl and Heidegger reflect on existence
and world, where Sartre and de Beauvoir especially foreground the body, as does
Nietzsche. Merleau-Ponty shares those foci along with his own specific attention to
perception together with a phenomenology of gesture, projected via the weightiness
of movement and the cast of interpretive constitution.
For Merleau-Ponty the subject’s sense of the self, the sense of the other, must be
caught in the act, lived and enacted through and only via the body. But no less than
for Heidegger, for Merleau-Ponty, the body in question is mine. And through my
own bodily knowing I have the access I have to other subjects like myself: “through
their glances, their gestures, their speech — in other words, through their bodies.”
(Merleau-Ponty 2004, 82). This is not, Merleau-Ponty immediately underscores, a
reduction to the body. Much rather the body of the other is spatially situated not
only with respect to my perception of the physical other but also in their own
embodiment and their flesh, a viscerality articulated through my encounter with
them in time and by way of my association with their character and their spirit con-
veyed by, that is to say in Merleau-Ponty’s language, ‘crystallized’ as this particular,
given, body here, now in this particular, located aspect rather than any other:
Of course another human being is certainly more than simply a body to me: rather, this
other is a body animated by all manner of intentions, the origin of numerous actions and
words. These I remember and they go to make up my sketch of their moral character. Yet I
cannot detach someone from their silhouette, the tone of their voice and its accent. If I see
them for even a moment, I can reconnect with them instantaneously and far more thor-
oughly than if I were to go through a list of everything I know about them from experience
or hearsay. (Ibid.)

The example here invoked is that not of “the passions” in general but a very specific
affect, explored first by way of perception, an inference from externality to internal-
ity, and then by way of direct or immediate expression.
As opposed to fear, specifically, or unspecifiedly, or anxiety, which is the subjec-
tive mode of apprehension as Heidegger explores it, both of which place (and unset-
tle and so displace) the subject in its world, Merleau-Ponty looks at anger. One of
the most spatially charged, one might say, of bodily dispositions or ways of being,
anger is among the most colorful (to invoke a metonymic linguistic affinity with the
French: colère), as it also among the most suffered of the passions. Anger, also
offers an important access to intentionality, that is to say, with respect to space and
138 B. Babich

presence in the disposition toward self and other and here too we may find lamellae,
that is levels, layers, as well as both filmic overlays and arcing discharge.
Here Merleau-Ponty begins a phenomenological bracketing of anger, in a seem-
ingly dispassionate observation of the other, who is, so he tells us, “extremely
annoyed” with him. This description of annoyance foregrounds the space between
them, the “extreme” or threatening presence of the other, seemingly attuned to
explode, liable to leave the angry person beside himself, perhaps inclined toward
violence as Merleau-Ponty says, explosive even if it only finds expression verbally,
but not even in this case unrelated to an expression that comes to blows:
It really is here, in this room and in this part of the room, that the anger breaks forth. It is in
the space between him and me that it unfolds. I would accept that the sense in which the
place of my opponent’s anger is on his face is not the same as that in which, in a moment,
tears may come streaming from his eyes or a grimace may harden on his face. (Ibid., 83)

But if the observation here seems to follow a calm epoché of the way things are for
the other in my perception, the same perception that notices that the anger is “here,”
that is to say, that the electric tension of anger arcs, as suggested above, that is to say
that it ‘breaks forth’ nowhere else but just and precisely, all too immediately, in the
viscerally locatable space-time presence of feeling oneself in the presence of the
other and feeling, living the anger in question “in this room and in this part of the
room.” (Ibid.)
I know exactly how far the other is from me, their reach, my reach, when in the
case of anger, his anger, and especially so, when it is my anger, and Merleau-Ponty
analyses both cases, because position and disposition make all the intentional differ-
ence in such cases. Everything about anger is also in and about the body and that
includes its presence in space as such and to itself but also in its positionality in the
world and to other things and to other beings like myself in that world.
Thus the anger Merleau-Ponty here describes, here phenomenologically, dispas-
sionately observing the man who is out of sorts and ‘really annoyed,’ or angry with
him “is in the space between him and me” and if it comes to blows, or even if it is
only expressed in words, that anger will be communicated, one way or the other in
the very distinctly perceived “space between him and me.” Bracketing one’s percep-
tion of another’s passionate annoyance is one thing and Merleau-Ponty shows us
how the reflective variation of phenomenology works to get beyond the convenient
insulation of a subject subjecting his object to his own assessment of evident, that is
to say, obvious or manifest appearance (i.e., the real ‘annoyance’ implied). Thus
when Merleau-­Ponty turns his reflections on himself, the reflections are more
immediate, even painfully so, but they are no less local or located, especially as
Merleau-Ponty does not pretend that he can meditatively observe his own behaviour
in the midst of anger. Instead he brings a variation of the anger just observed in the
other before him, to reflection, by bringing a certain and very specific and thus
located and locatable recollection to mind.
Everything in this next reflection is significantly similarly situated or locatable
“in the space between him and me.” Once again:
On Merleau-Ponty’s Crystal Lamellae: Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics 139

When I recall being angry at Paul, it does not strike me that this anger was in my mind or
among my thoughts but rather, that it lay entirely between me who was doing the shouting
and that odious Paul who just sat there calmly and listened with an ironic air. My anger is
nothing less than an attempt to destroy Paul, one which will remain verbal if I am a pacifist
and even courteous, if I am polite. The location of my anger, however, is in the space we
both share – in which we exchange arguments instead of blows – and not in me. (Ibid., 84)

The point is important: the anger is ‘not in me’ Merleau-Ponty reflects at the same
time as he points out that it is also not ‘caused,’ provoked or elicited by the other,
who for his part here, in the case of Paul, is simply and infuriatingly ‘odious’—hav-
ing done exactly the nothing that Paul does, here by contrast as Merleau-Ponty
writes this reflective variation, with the “me who was doing the shouting” and “that
odious Paul who just sat there calmly and listened with an ironic air.” (Ibid.) It is this
calmness, this doing nothing, listening “with an ironic air” that infuriates, that doing
nothing that induce what Merleau-Ponty describes as “an attempt to destroy Paul.”
But where is the anger? It is between us. It is not in me and not drawn by the
other, not as it were, as Merleau-Ponty goes on to remark, “directing it from with-
out,” just as it was clear that the explosive force of expression in the other earlier so
objectively observed, with purple face and tears welling up in their eyes, including
the threat of possibly coming to blows, a threat which also underscores the con-
sciousness of the distance “between him and me,” was a force from within, an affect,
a passion. Just so, the anger could be supposed to be in the other (precisely addressed
to or against me), Merleau-Ponty considers the very Cartesian reflection that anger
is “after all, a thought”:
to be angry is to think that the other person is odious and this thought, like all others, can-
not — as Descartes has shown — reside in any piece of matter and therefore must belong
to the mind. (Ibid.)

The logic is clear, but as Merleau-Monty immediately reflects, it simply does not
work and the insight is a spatial and locative one. Today’s studies of stress and
anger-management recommendations bear this out for important health and physi-
ological benefits. Thus Merleau-Ponty continues to write that:
as soon as I turn back to the real experience of anger, which was the spur to my reflections,
I am forced to acknowledge that this anger does not lie beyond my body, directing it from
without, but rather that in some inexplicable sense it is bound up with my body. (Ibid.,

Anger is not in my body then but is however bound up with it. This example from
one of Merleau-Ponty’s radio lectures given in 1948, a time, of course, when think-
ing about anger would have been a common preoccupation in postwar France,
reflects the significance of Merleau-Ponty’s claim that “the theory of the body is
already a theory of perception, “a claim that underlies to change the theme here, to
Merleau-Ponty’s argument contra André Malraux’s discovery of ingenious form in
his 1953 Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence: “miniatures and coins in
which photographic enlargement miraculously reveals the very same style that is
found in full-sized works.” (Merleau-Ponty 1964e, 65).
140 B. Babich

5  On the Politics of the Political: Terrorism and Humanism

Merleau-Ponty’s Humanism and Terror, most especially his introduction, remains

relevant some 70 years after it was written. Astonishingly so, to the point of being
phenomenologically descriptive not only of Merleau-Ponty’s then-time but also of
the current “situation” (to use that very technical existential, Existenz-philosophical
term),20 including current economic debate, particularly the ongoing political ten-
sion whereby liberal values justify capitalist expansion and global depredation not
only of markets but the globe itself, whole ecologies. Often set aside as somehow
irrelevant to theory, if philosophers and social scientists continue to debate whether
nature exists or not,21 or whether we might be somehow supposed separate from
nature or not, corporate interests raze forests and plunder the ocean, mine and drill
and frack, hunt and poach with high technology in the face of any wildlife manage-
ment, using strategies often perpetuated by government wildlife agencies them-
selves. If the sociologist of globalization, Ulrich Beck could hypothesize that
governments and political organs seemed still to be playing checkers while corpo-
rate industry, both ensconced one assumes within the Alpine comforts of Davos, had
surged ahead to playing chess (Beck 2000, 73), what had once been two players are
nowadays aligned on the same and only side of the board.
The conflation of the political and the industrial can be extended to reflections on
the current European crisis of migrants, economic, political, terror-driven, in both
senses of the word. If behind the current migrant crisis may be discerned (though
this obviously not his point) just one aspect of what Beck named “place polygamy,”22
involving, as Beck writes, “a continual crossing” of boundaries and loyalties, vague
because overwhelmed by nothing other than finitude and discretion, even in the best
of instances, even considering just the life of a person with, for whatever of a num-
ber of reasons, connections that span different continents (Beck’s example is of a
neighbor who travels between “Tutzing on Lake Starnberg near Munich” (Beck
2000, 72) and Kenya but he also cites the Vietnamese emigrants from the former
GDR and “third generation German-Turkish youth”). (Ibid., 75) Beck thus shares
some of Merleau-Ponty’s sensibilities—I do not say this to conflate the two think-
ers, one is a philosopher, the other a sociologist who reads philosophy—to the
extent that Beck refers to what he calls an “ironical Enlightenment Nietzsche.”
(Ibid., 78)23 For Beck, this “Enlightenment” is Kantian, and thus all about “self-­
legislation” (Beck 2000, 78) including (this is the Nietzschean dimension), what
Beck calls self-limitation, that is “self-questioning,” which Beck borrows from

 I refer to Karl Jasper’s global conception of what he names, in 1931, the ‘spiritual situation of the
times.’ See Jaspers (1999).
 See here, in addition, to be sure, to G.E.R. Lloyd (1992) on the ancient “invention” of nature,
Latour (2004) and Vogel (1996) as well as his insightfully informative (2015).
 See Beck (2000), 72–75.
 To see the difference here, recall Taminiaux’s reading of Arendt contra Heidegger as an ironic
one. See also more generally on the notion of acting, Pavlos Kontos’ chapter, “Arendt on Action
and Performances” in Kontos (2013), 139–154.
On Merleau-Ponty’s Crystal Lamellae: Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics 141

(without citing) Nietzsche’s teasing ironicism directed to the “philosopher of the

future,” the heir to the ‘free spirit” to whom he addressed his Human, All too Human
in his reflections Beyond Good and Evil:
after all, you know well enough that it cannot matter in the least whether precisely you are
in the right, just as no philosopher hitherto has been in the right, and that a more praisewor-
thy veracity may lie in every little question-mark placed after your favourite words and
favourite theories (and occasionally after yourselves) than in all your solemn gesticulations
and smart answers before courts and accusers! (BGE §25)

Beck’s own conclusion echoes Merleau-Ponty’s expression of dialogue as directed

to others, holds only to this conventional if certainly rarely observed cosmopolitan-
ism: “the things we hold most sacred must be open to criticism by others.”(Beck
2000, 86).
Merleau-Ponty might be said here to answer, coincidentally or innocently,
Adorno’s frustration in his writing of his Current of Music, with his editor’s query:
for whom do you write?24 For Merleau-Ponty, the imperious self-referentiality indis-
tinguishable from Adorno’s (nonetheless incontrovertible) genius would have to be,
nevertheless and always, betrayed in advance. This is the point Taminiaux makes
with reference to the corresponding relationship between Hannah Arendt and Martin
Heidegger, in his book The Thracian Maid and the Professional Thinker. What is at
stake concerns the “rumor” as Taminiaux cites Arendt as saying, destined not for the
many, as Heidegger would say, echoing Nietzsche, but “the few,” those, as Arendt
writes “who knew more or less explicitly about the breakdown of tradition and the
‘dark times’ (Brecht) which had set in.” (Arendt in Taminiaux 1997, 2). Taminaux’s
citation foregrounds the phenomenological heart of Arendt’s account, and just as his
own introduction to his book emphasizes the focus on “acting” as such, expressed in
terms of the relevance of Husserl’s call the return to the things themselves as things
that “…‘were not academic matters but the concerns of thinking men.’” (Ibid.) Thus
the force of the title of Taminiaux’s book and its reference to ‘professional thinkers’,
where Arendt herself emphasizes the very esoteric point that would have unified
Arendt and Strauss among Heidegger’s other students, regarding Heidegger as
someone “who, precisely because he knew that the thread of the tradition was bro-
ken, was discovering the past anew.” (Ibid.) The broken point is also, as I argue
elsewhere, an insight Heidegger takes over from Nietzsche and an allusion to
Nietzsche may also be heard in the title of Taminiaux’ Introduction “The History of
an Irony.” What is clear is that Taminiaux knows, just as Merleau-Ponty repeats in
his 1947 book, how to read. Arguing for an ironic tone in Arendt’s engagement with
Heidegger it is not because Taminiaux himself does not hear Heidegger’s own allu-
sion to irony (itself weighed down with his own mimetic repetition of Nietzschean
misogyny), nor indeed does he miss the same in Plato (Alexander Nehamas in his
own discussion of irony offers no corrections only amplifications here although
referring of course neither to Heidegger nor to Arendt).25 In fact, Taminiaux argues,

 I discuss this in my chapter on Adorno in Babich (2013).


 See especially Nehamas (2000, Chap. 1). This is too is a legacy of the so-called analytic/conti-

nental divide and it has kept Nehamas from reading his contemporaries among so-called continen-
142 B. Babich

‘her irony toward the professional thinkers had something to do with a sort of self-
critique,” an “incessant retractio,” “doubled with irony.” (Ibid., 18–20).
Reference to the other is always, even beginning with Plato, a reference with an
edge and this edge recalls the spirit of Gracìan, as Nietzsche cites him. It echoes too
beyond irony and polemic in Nietzsche’s allusion to the spirit-converse,
Schopenhauer’s language, that links even the giants of genius calling to one another.
For Merleau-Ponty,
… every word, whether we know it or not, is always a word with someone, which presup-
poses a certain degree of esteem or friendship, the resolution of a certain number of misun-
derstandings, the transcendence of a certain latent content and, finally, the appearance of a
part of the truth in the encounters we live. (Merleau-Ponty 1969, xlvi)

If globalism is the rule of the way culture becomes increasingly mono-culture, indi-
viduals migrate (economically) without migrating culturally. And racism corre-
sponds, as the US civil rights movement has painfully demonstrated not only from
the days of Selma, Alabama and Martin Luther King, and the resistance of Rosa
Parks and the resistance of Stokely Carmichael, Ralph Ellison, Malcolm X, but all
the way back to the American industrialization of slavery as what built and what
broke the American south in the wake of the civil war, all of this is migration with-
out integration. In his 1947 introduction, Merleau-Ponty writes:
COMMUNISM is often discussed in terms of the contrast between deception, cunning,
violence, propaganda, and the respect for truth, law, and individual consciousness  — in
short, the opposition between political realism and liberal values. Communists reply that in
democracies cunning, violence, propaganda, and realpolitik in the guise of liberal princi-
ples are the substance of foreign or colonial politics and even of domestic politics. Respect
for law and liberty has served to justify police suppression of strikes in America; today it
serves even to justify military suppression in Indochina or in Palestine and the development
of an American empire in the Middle East. The material and moral culture of England pre-
supposes the exploitation of the colonies. The purity of principles not only tolerates but
even requires violence. Thus there is a mystification in liberalism. (Ibid. xiii)

It is not that nothing has changed, everything has changed: but the points Merleau-­
Ponty makes here continue to correspond to real issues, real problems, real gambits
and tactics that perpetuate the same fruitless debates. And, if it has taken a Thomas
Pickety to nail down some of the weaker strands in the handwaving of liberal argu-
ment on behalf of capitalism’s pretended social advantages, the refutation of a polit-
ical system has never yet, no more than that of any social-economic theory, brought
in anything like change. Philosophy for all its self-remonstrations, for all its denun-
ciations of those who support the wrong regimes, working conveniently to con-
gratulate those whose silence seems to support the right regimes, right referring to
the regimes in power, has yet to “do” anything. We could also say that Marx’s own
observation as he concludes his Theses on Feuerbach likewise stands for us: as
much a challenge as it was for Merleau-Ponty in writing this “Essay on the

tal philosophers, although Nehamas has done mighty service in reclaiming Nietzsche for analytic
readers beyond the limits of most such readings. That his book does not utterly succeed in this
reclamation is a credit to Nehamas’ elegant capacity for what Merleau-Ponty calls ‘reading.’
On Merleau-Ponty’s Crystal Lamellae: Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics 143

Communist Problem.” For at issue today, as very few (apart from Slavoj Žižek—
and then only in ways that seem cued to social media reception), is communism an
issue for Merleau-Ponty.
But how can we understand that, we who are convinced, just as Žižek has, again,
been the only one to argue that in an economic crisis that corresponds to nothing
other than the same unsustainability of capital as Marx had analyzed this politically,
economically, following bank breakdown, meltdown, after another, following the
legal-governmental-political depredations of corporate culture demanding handouts
from civil governments so that private profit might continue despite its own failures.
For it is this entitled, insured, claim to profit at all costs that stands behind corporate
benefits written into law in the United States and Great Britain and the EU, such that
individual taxes support not a social state but the advantage of corporate industry
and the banks. Thus in America, ranchers ensure that that the US Wildlife
Management agencies, agencies of the federal government, deploy their agents in
high tech helicopters to kill wolves from the air, using the same strategies poachers
use in Africa and Asia to find remote animals valuable for the market, or valued by
well-heeled big game hunters who do not want to take the time to trek overlong. The
same ranchers compel the same agencies to round-up the last of America’s wild
mustangs, to slaughter them, thus ‘liberating’ range for their cattle, privately owned
by private ranchers, using public land and public water, so that the ranchers can
proceed without perceived grazing competition. And again too prairie dogs are poi-
soned, killing ferrets and raptors and other animals in a cycle of death, all of this on
behalf of capital, for anything that a capitalist need not pay for, is value that can be
turned to profit. And one can and one should add to this the routed (under Obama by
distraction, under Trump by naked suppression) native American protest concerning
the Dakota Access Pipeline which has already will further spill oil and devastate
lands and water tables.
Throughout the domesticated world, the world of human fabrication and inven-
tion, reigns capitalist exploitation and inhuman violence without opposition, despite
what one may read on social media. That is only the latest technique in an arsenal
of public persuasion explored (and ignored by political philosophers) by Orwell and
Huxley and Adorno among very few others by contrast with, on the other side,
Bernays and McLuhan (serving, as McLuhan’s followers today continue to serve,
liberal values), working to perpetuate the status quo while appearing to debate it.
This is evident if nowhere else in philosophy to the extent that if the thinker dares
so much as to mention animals that thinker will be accused of a lack of human valu-
ation, only a Coetzee because he is a writer and so immune, only a Derrida or an
Adorno because in the opacity of thought, the thicket of ideas, such things may be
promulgated without any danger of having them read.26 Thus in discussions of the
political and the ethical we exclude discussion of animals. And even John Gray who
brings in the animal obliquely, in his Straw Dogs (Gray 2003 and cf. Babich 2014b
and c), alluding eloquently to the human as homo rapiens, is not in fact concerned
with animals but politics: just and only the all too human art of living.

 See for references, especially on Adorno, Babich (2011).
144 B. Babich

The durability of the Cartesian legacy remains in our ethics and haunts the politi-
cal as it does all our science and all our industry. This is so consummate that those
who write contra Heidegger’s offensive comparison of the death camps with indus-
trial agriculture’s “manufacture of corpses” claim no more than the right to refuse
the thought out of hand. Ideology works this way.
As Merleau-Ponty writes, “Whatever one’s philosophical or even theological
position, a society is not the temple of value-idols that figure on the front of its
monuments or in its constitutional scrolls; the value of a society is the value it places
upon man’s relation to man.” (Merleau-Ponty 1969, xiv). To this I would add the
world itself, the earth itself, and everything on it as part of this human relation and
thus as part of a certain understanding of humanism, if not to be sure the humanism
that works precisely triumphantly in favor of anti-humanism to the very point of
humane relation, Merleau-Ponty makes here an even more salient point, relevant to
the case of US organized aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria: “It is not
just a question of knowing what the liberals have in mind but what in reality is done
by the liberal state within and beyond its frontiers. Where it is clear that the purity
of principles is not put into practice, it merits condemnation rather than absolution”
Thus “A regime which is nominally liberal can be oppressive in reality. A regime
which acknowledges its violence might have in it more genuine humanity,” (ibid.,
xv) Merleau-Ponty’s arguments cut two ways, setting as he also brings in analogies
with religious ideals and actual practice—only Michel de Certeau or indeed, in a
very different guise, Ivan Illich match Merleau-Ponty’s emphasis on the everyday—
communism is to answer for not only its ideals but its practices, just as the liberal
state these days whether it be the US or Israel, or indeed and even France itself, must
be confronted by a similar or parallel demand.
But Merleau-Ponty is writing in 1947 and the problem then with communism is
the problem today with communism and its ‘values.’ Thus he rightly and timelessly
The Marxist critique of liberal ideas is so powerful that if communism were on the way to
create by world revolution a classless society in which the causes of war and decadence had
disappeared, along with the exploitation of man by man, then one would have to be a
Communist. (Ibid., xviii)

The problem is of course that this was not the case then, that it is not the case now.
But today there is no communism, or better said, there is no society pretending to be
communist, not the old legacy of the cold war in the former Eastern Bloc countries
of Europe, not today’s states, Russia foremost among them of the now de-­
communized, that is to say, dissolved Soviet Union, not even China, and not even
Cuba will or could be able to survive normalization of relations with the US. Thus
the second parallel is the only one that can be of interest and it is what survives for
the same may be said of the liberal state, the same test. And thus one can ask today
of the liberal state if it, too, is “still equal to its humanist intentions”?
On Merleau-Ponty’s Crystal Lamellae: Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics 145

Humanism is the key for communism as Merleau-Ponty points out, and this is
the reason that my references to the earth, the air, the water, the mining of the earth’s
resources, the devastation of non-human animal life cannot but be dissonant in a
traditional philosophical context, be it Cartesian or be it Marxist:
Marx draws a radical distinction between human and animal life inasmuch as man creates
his means of life, culture, history, and thus evinces a capacity for initiative which is his
absolute originality. Marxism looks toward the horizon of the future in which “man is the
supreme being for man. (Ibid.)

There is a powerful echo here which I recently had cause to quote in an essay on
Heidegger and anti-Semitism, with reference to Sartre, as human beings, we
desire nothing more than, as Sartre says, but one can also find an echo in Bataille,
and I have noted, as others have as well, that this too resonates in Nietzsche, “to
be god.”.27
The problem, for Merleau-Ponty, with communism in 1947 is not its violence—
there is a complicated complicity that non-violence, as he argues, as a principle
cannot but have with status quo violence such that, and this is the bloody point of
every revolution, of all epochal reflection—the problem is what underpins that vio-
lence and in 1947 and in the interim years nothing intervened to change Merleau-­
Ponty’s diagnosis as he observed that communism was.
underwritten less and less by class spirit and revolutionary brotherhood, relying les and less
upon the spontaneous convergence of proletarian movements and the truth of its own his-
torical perspective; communism is increasingly strained, more and more it shows its dark
side. (Merleau-Ponty 1969, xxi)

The same layered, laminar, perception articulates the overlapping array of the politi-
cal in practice and in history. Thus Merleau-Ponty summarizes, and the summary
would still hold today even for Slavoj Žižek, if one might abstract the laconic
Hegelian Lacanism that organizes his interventions on this still most crucial of
world stages:
Thus we find ourselves in an inextricable situation. The Marxist critique of capitalism is
still valid and it is clear that anti-Sovietism today resembles the brutality, hybris, vertigo,
and anguish that already found expression in fascism. On the other side, the Revolution has
come to a halt: it maintains and aggravates the dictatorial apparatus while renouncing the
revolutionary liberty of the proletariat in the Soviets and its Party and abandoning the
humane control of the state. It is impossible to be an anti-Communist and it is not possible
to be a Communist. (Ibid.)

We remain as ever we were, whether in 1917 or in the time of Merleau-Ponty’s

reflections in 1947, in need of what Merleau-Ponty uncompromisingly articulates as
the singular promise and demand of communism and of all humanistic revolution-
ary impulses, meaning, revolutionary imperatives oriented to or initiated on behalf
of the human being in his humanity and as such, meaning among other human
beings as among other beings on this earth, “the concrete liberty of a proletarian
civilization  — without unemployment, without exploitation, and without war.”

 Cf. for references and discussion Babich (2016) and see further Babich (2015).
146 B. Babich

(Ibid., xiii). How this is to be done—and we have here a quite concrete answer to
the perennial question ‘What is to be done?’—cannot be a matter of looking solely
to the then-communist regime. For Merleau-Ponty what is essential here as ever
requires that we look to ourselves. The claim is not that in consequence we steer
clear, it is the only way, of a reactionary modality, the kind that has fed the “cold
monster” that Nietzsche names the state and the all-absorbing ambitions of what he
names “great politics” as he describes this in contrast with the individual, Merleau-
Ponty’s “private man,” in the section entitled “A Glance at the State,” in Nietzsche’s
Human, All-Too-Human.
Merleau-Ponty could not be clearer: “The right to defend the values of liberty
and conscience is ours only if we are sure in doing so that we do not serve the inter-
ests of imperialism or become associated with its mystifications.” (Merleau-Ponty
1969, xiii). Thus the prescience of Merleau-Ponty’s reflections in a world denuded
of practicing or actual communist regimes, the world of the full ascent or dominion
of capitalist liberal society, are more relevant or instructive than ever before. We can
do this, according to Merleau-Ponty, only by
not ceasing to explicate the liberal mystification wherever it rises  — in Palestine, in
Indochina, and even in France — by criticizing the liberty-idol on a flag or in a constitution
which legitimates the classical means of police and military oppression — and this in the
name of a practical freedom which spreads through the lives of everyone, from the
Vietnamese or Palestinian peasant to the Western intellectual. (Ibid., xxiii–xxiv)

In other words, “At home and abroad, freedom and democracy assume that war is
not inevitable because there is neither democracy nor freedom in war.” (Ibid. xxx)
These reflections for Merleau-Ponty include reflections on the mask and the crystal
penumbra, even on, especially on the political stage. Here we note that Merleau-­
Ponty takes care to emphasize that this applies even under the conditions of failure,
thus the point is particularly relevant, once again on two levels, with reference both
to communism and to liberal, that is to say global capitalism.
We suggest that every man who undertakes to play a role carries around him, as Diderot
said of the actor on stage, a “great fantom” in which he is forever hidden, and he is respon-
sible for his role even when he cannot find in it what he wanted to be. (Ibid., xxxii)

This is Nietzsche’s definition of sovereignty as we encounter this in the Second

Essay of On the Genealogy of Morals where Nietzsche writes utterly with reference
to Kant’s moral instantiation of promising in the giving to oneself, of oneself, one’s
own law. For Nietzsche, unless one can and that is to say unless one does keep one’s
promise, as individuals “know themselves strong enough to maintain it even in the
face of accidents, even ‘in the ace of fate,’” (GM II: 2) one has no right to make a
promise and Nietzsche mocks the “windbags,” as he calls them, whose promise
breaks “in their mouths,” even as they first utter it. Later Merleau-Ponty insists upon
the Nietzschean point of the mask here invoked, essentially, inevitably so, under-
scoring what can only be an “element of imposture in every ‘great man.’” (Merleau-
Ponty 1969, xxxv).
Here Merleau-Ponty is unparalleled, we are confronted with the problem of the
leader, politically speaking, whether this is Lenin or Trotsky or indeed Putin or
On Merleau-Ponty’s Crystal Lamellae: Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics 147

Obama or Merkel herself. For the difficulty resides in considering as only a herme-
neutic phenomenological politics can do the world stage itself, the situation itself
for it is only there that the leader plays, and can strut, with whatever sound and fury
and to whatever end as only history decides this (where Merleau-Ponty’s refusal of
Hegelianism is perhaps his most important legacy). Merleau-Ponty’s reflection can
remind us of Nietzsche once again:
In accepting the chance of glory in the role of politician, he accepts also the risk of infamy,
in either case "undeserved." Political action is of its nature impure, because it is the action
of one person upon another and because it is collective action. (Merleau-Ponty 1969, xxxv)

But this is the ec-static nature of the political. And there is no way other than to a
thinking of the epochal a thinking of the possibility of revolution, precisely as a
matter of history and contingency.
The contingency of the future, which accounts for the violent acts of those in power, by the
same token deprives these acts of all legitimacy, or equally legitimates the violence of their
opponents. The right of the opposition is exactly equal to the right of those in power. (Ibid.,

All of this is underwritten by the human condition, by the opacity of the future, and
by the political necessity that is the necessity of decision and not less of culpability
for one’s choices, one’s actions, and the outcome. This is what Merleau-Ponty
names the tragedy of the political, the tragedy of politics as it is underwritten by the
tragedy of destiny and finitude, such that the only remedy to the aporetic is per force
a contra factual, the me phynai to which Sophocles painfully attests and which
Hölderlin inscribes over the second volume of his revolutionary novel, let us not in
today’s era ever forget this, Hyperion or the Hermit in Greece. For Merleau Ponty
It is the nightmare of an involuntary responsibility and guilt by circumstance which already
underlies the Oedipus myth: Oedipus did not want to marry his mother nor kill his father
but he did it and what he did stands as a crime. The whole of Greek tragedy assumes this
idea of an essential contingency through which we are all guilty and all innocent because
we do not know what we are doing. (Ibid., xxxix)

Merleau-Ponty points to his critics. It is a parallel point that I recently had the
audacity to suggest, once again, that we are “all guilty” in a recent public lecture in
Paris, in the wake of the current Heidegger scandal, quoting Adorno as I was, where
my moderator took a a breath I drew in speaking as a caesura he might impose, as
an indication that I had reached the end, thereby efficiently cutting a quarter of an
hour away from my talk all to the benefit of the male speakers to follow (one might
think this was nothing personal as the same moderator’s effort to abbreviate time
plagued every female speaker that day, as the video record all too objectively shows.
There is a parallel to be made between being a female academic and the status quo
and the debate between liberal democracy and communism, if the arguments on the
last have never ceased to repeat those same distinctions, there remains a gender
disadvantage in the academy and it has nothing to do with sexual harassment and
everything to do with disregard and inattention). But I note that my own argument
with respect to Adorno and Heidegger’s anti-Semitism did not include the key dia-
lectic move that matters for Merleau-Ponty.
148 B. Babich

In a beautiful footnote recounting his postwar bewilderment as a child in the

wake of the first world war, testifying to the ambiguity of the human condition espe-
cially in war, as every war cannot but give the lie to the hero decided only by the
chance of victory and that nothing apart from complicity can ever assuage, Merleau-­
Ponty writes:
I remember those silences, the tense atmosphere, and my childlike surprise when the soldier
covered in palms of glory turned his face and refused their eulogy. As Alain said a little
later, it was because behind it lay hate, with fear, and before it courage, with forgiveness.
They knew that there is no line between good people and the rest and that, in war, the most
honorable causes prove themselves by means that are not honorable. (Merleau-Ponty 1969,


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Part III
Phenomenology in Political Concreteness
Coercion by Necessity or Comprehensive
Responsibility? Hannah Arendt
on Vulnerability, Freedom and Education

Sharon Rider

1  Introduction

Hannah Arendt is sometimes read as reserving the prerequisites and perquisites of

genuine action to an elite. This, I think, is a misunderstanding. Jacques Taminiaux
On reproche quelquefois à Arendt de réserver l’activité d’action proprement dite à un petit
nombre d’élus, et d’en avoir forgé la notion d’après les exploits des héros de l’Odyssée.
Reproche hâtif et non fondé. L’action, chez Arendt, n’est nullement le privilège de quelques
grandes figures publiques, de ceux qu’on appelle “les hommes d’action”. Elle est d’abord
la vie même de chacun, son bios, en tant que vie, par-delà le cycle vital dont elle subit la
poussée, s’enscrit, grâce à la stabilité d’un monde conquise sur la dévoration de ce cycle,
dans un tissue de relations interindividuelles héritées d’abord, puis renouvelées par
l’apparition incessante de nouveaux venus, tissu inseparable du réseau non moins hérité et
non moins renouvelé de la parole échangée. (Taminiaux 1992, 112)

In what follows, I propose a reading of Hannah Arendt’s collection of essays,

Between Past and Future, as a coherent argument that might be characterized as a
kind of phenomenological description of Bildung, understood not as private self-­
realization but in the public and shared sense, as the vocation of being human, or
rather, of achieving humanity. I read Arendt here as working out certain implica-
tions of a Kantian philosophical anthropology for our times and our situation. I have
two reasons for doing this. To begin with, it seems to offer itself as an almost self-­
evident approach, given the explicit focus on tradition, education and culture
throughout the book. More importantly, however, the coherence and force of
Arendt’s thought in matters having to do with education are especially apposite in
the anti-intellectualist climate of our day. Specifically, I wish to bring into view an
idea of education as, in Arendt’s words, an “institution of truth”. In order to do this,

S. Rider (*)
Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 155

V.M. Fóti, P. Kontos (eds.), Phenomenology and the Primacy of the Political,
Contributions To Phenomenology 89, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8_9
156 S. Rider

I will first offer a summary of the salient points in Arendt’s argument in Between
Past and Future, together with relevant forays into the Kantian context of practical
philosophy which she takes as her starting point on certain fundamental points. In
the second part, I will describe a number of changes in our ideas about thinking,
learning and judging which have both contributed to and been exacerbated by the
massification, marketization, mediatization and juridification of culture and learn-
ing. This might not seem at first to be a philosophical enterprise, but I take myself
to be following Arendt’s own example in thinking that it is possible to describe and
understand a phenomenon and its place in our world, in this case, the Academy and
its institutions, with a high degree of impartiality even if, as a citizen of the republic
of ideas, I also have certain interests in the course of events, which is to say that I
have opinions. But that is as it should be, since the breakdown of higher education
and learning, like the breakdown of tradition, is not merely a problem for philoso-
phy, but also one for politics; as Arendt warns us, traditions are lost because no
testament wills it for the future, there is no “willed continuity in time” (Arendt
1968, 5). My purpose here, however, unlike say Readings, in his classic University
in Ruins, or more recently, Donoghue, in his The Last Professors (Readings 1996;
Donoghue 2008), is not to diagnose the crisis so as to have a basis for meaningful
action, but to try to understand the idea of an institution of truth as something con-
ceivable and perhaps even viable. In this respect, despite the “conservative” tone
Arendt takes in the essay on “The Crisis in Education”, and disregarding her reputa-
tion for a lifelong dislike for Adorno, there are striking similarities to certain themes
in critical theory, insofar as we are concerned here with a philosophical project in
which the conditions of the possibility of knowledge are taken as at once conceptual
and factual (or cultural), and in which the historical conditions of the institutions of
education and enculturation are made explicit and assessed from the point of view
of human action and decision, that is, of freedom.

2  From Impartiality to Objectivity, from Ideas to Values.

In the Preface to Between Past and Future, Arendt points out that remembrance, one
of the most important modes of thought, requires a frame of reference. Disconnected
occurrences, since they can’t be placed, can rarely, if ever, be retained. They float
and fall away, as it were, since there’s nothing to enclose and support them. And
thought, according to Arendt, is what completes action, what gives it meaning.
Without remembrance and reflection, there is, as she says, “no story to be told”. The
“willed continuity in time” mentioned earlier, or tradition, is a sustained effort to
retain and renew meaning. Arendt refers here to Hegel, in describing the task of
mind as understanding what has happened, and thus reconciling man with the world
(Arendt 1968, 7). She characterizes our own time as one of crisis, a “moment of
truth”, in which our capacity to remember and reflect is stymied by the inadequacy
of our tradition of thought to raise, much less to answer, meaningful questions ade-
quate to our present situation, to our own present-day reality.
Coercion by Necessity or Comprehensive Responsibility? Hannah Arendt… 157

What is particular about the last century, as opposed to earlier such breaks in the
flow of tradition, is that the crisis is ubiquitous. The present rupture is a non-­
deliberate “accomplished fact”; the spiritual standards of the past simply are not
ours, in any unequivocal sense, as a “living force” (Arendt 1968, 26). Thus this lack
of apparent meaning (“worldlessness” or nihilism, disenchantment, leveling, ano-
mie, etc.) is today a political problem, insofar as action requires a common world in
which to act.1 Arendt describes her own effort in the essays as an attempt just to
formulate the right questions, as exercises in how to begin to think about our situa-
tion, rather than as proposing what to think about it. Or, as Taminiaux puts it, “phi-
losophers have always known that works of thought harbor their own evocative
power, that they are less vestiges than wellsprings, less thoughts than calls to a
thought, less particular bits of knowledge than the expression of a hold by that
which transgresses all particularity” (Taminiaux 1985, 81). My interpretation of the
implications of the book for current problems should be understood as offered in
this spirit. I’m not here offering a scholarly interpretation of Arendt, I’m simply try-
ing to think with her.
One of the key themes in the essay “Tradition and the Modern Age” is the break
from a tradition of “ideas” to one of functional values. Ideas and ideals are absolute.
They are outside of and beyond measurement and comparison, since, as absolute,
they set the standard for measurement and comparison. In contrast, values have no
intrinsic meaning. The notion of value is tied to commerce, exchange and expedi-
ency. They are inherently relative and, as Arendt points out, it hardly matters if some
“idealist” should hold some value as higher than all others. The value is still one of
relation (“higher”), and thus relative by definition. The equation of all things, both
ideas and material objects, with value means making everything into some sort of
social commodity. The consequences of this fracture in Western culture are vast, but
we might note here that it entails a way of thinking about cultural and political
issues as matters of measurement. If ideas are values, then they can only seriously
be studied as such. Ideas as absolute standards of, say, truth, are hardly comprehen-
sible, because there are no absolutes, and hence no Truth(s), with regard to human
affairs. Thus the study of the “highest” human things, the humanities, must neces-
sarily cede their place to the social sciences.
Arendt traces the roots of this transition to a radicalized and generalized Cartesian
doubt, that is, from extrapolating from the experience that our senses, guided by the
light of reason, were as much a source of error and illusion as of knowledge. The
sun appears to revolve around the earth, and it is only through the work of persis-
tently mistrusting our senses that we can know the world as it really is. With the
advent of modern scientific thinking, “theory changed its meaning. It no longer
meant a system of reasonably well-connected truths, which, as such, had not been

 Cf. Arendt’s description of The Human Condition as an attempt to trace back modern world alien-
ation, its twofold flight from the earth into the universe and from the world into the self, to its ori-
gins, in order to arrive at an understanding of the nature of society as it had developed and presented
itself at the very moment when it was overcome by the advent of a new and yet unknown age
(Arendt 1998, 6.)
158 S. Rider

made but given to reason and the senses. Rather it became the modern scientific
theory, which is a working hypothesis, changing in accordance with the results it
produces and depending for its validity not on what it ‘reveals’ but on whether it
‘works’” (Arendt 1968, 39). Already here the idea of the idea loses its force. In
modern thought, whether of the rationalist or empiricist variety, our thoughts and
sensations are suspected of not revealing truth, that is, of having any necessary fit
with the world.2 Thus it stands to reason that we can only know what we make. For
the ancients, theorizing meant contemplation “without performance of deeds or
achievement of works” (Arendt 1968, 47). The ideas thus contemplated served as
standards for judging and assessing things of this world. That order is reversed in
the modern view. On the one hand, knowledge of reality now presupposes an inter-
est, a framing of a question, both a doing and a saying, which renders an intelligible
answer possible; on the other, there are no absolute standards by which to judge the
meaning or worth of actions and deeds. The social sciences were devised so as to
mimic the objectivity of the natural sciences by virtue of this abstention from blame
or praise, since “value” is, by its nature, relative and exchangeable. Arendt sees this
nineteenth-century idea of scientific objectivity with regard to humanist thought and
speech (“from poetry and storytelling onward”) as causing philosophical confusion,
obfuscating the much more central issue of impartiality. This “highest type of
objectivity we know” (Arendt 1968, 51), according to Arendt, is only possible on
the assumption that the standards by which praise or blame are attributed are self-­
evident and common to all. If there are no such standards, then all that remains of
the narratives of human actions and deeds are expressions of different interests and
values, the functions that they serve for a given form of life. This means that we
have surrendered the very hope of a common world, and thus done away with any
place for the role of judgment in human affairs. All there is left to do is correlate
relations between individual cases and the functions they serve in the ongoing (but
intrinsically meaningless) processes of social goings-on, and manipulate them to
conform with (equally meaningless, to the extent that nothing is in itself meaning-
ful) social (economic or ideological) goals.
According to Arendt, one of the most characteristic features of the modern age is
the transformation of meaning and meaningfulness (ideas of higher aims) into
deliberate intentions and concrete ends. It will be recalled that, for Arendt, meaning
“completes” actions and deeds after the fact. In that sense, it can never be the aim
of an action. But late modernity pursues meaning “with the same machinery of
intentions and organized means as were the particular direct aims of concrete
action—with the result that it was as if meaning itself had departed from the world

 It is beyond the scope of this paper to address the vexed question of how to understand Descartes’
methodological doubt and to what extent it can or should be distinguished from genuine doubt.
What is relevant for our purposes here are the kinds of criticisms raised by Heidegger: “Descartes
does not doubt because he is a skeptic; rather, he becomes a doubter because he posits the mathe-
matical as the absolute ground and seeks for all knowledge a foundation that will be in accord with
it. (See Heidegger and Gendlin 1985, 103). For a critique that the very idea that we could doubt
everything presupposes the ability to identity with certainty dubious knowledge, see Rosen (1989),
Coercion by Necessity or Comprehensive Responsibility? Hannah Arendt… 159

of men and men were left with nothing but an unending chain of purposes in whose
progress the meaningfulness of all past achievements was constantly cancelled out
by future goals and intentions” (Arendt 1968, 78). She likens this self-­understanding
to that of the carpenter who forgets that while his purposes in particular acts of mak-
ing a table are “in order to”, his vocation qua carpenter is “for the sake of”. This
distinction corresponds to the one between idea and value in that the chain of “in
order to” is in principle infinite; any end can in turn become a means to another end.
That which something is “for the sake of”, on the other hand, is a terminus. It has
the form of a general and all-encompassing principle or standard. In this respect,
most modern thought is “utilitarian”: it works within the categorical framework of
ends and means, and, since any attained aim can be a means to achieve a new end,
the whole process lacks meaning. Such a framework, she concludes, can never
answer Lessing’s question: “What is the use of use?” One might very well discover
patterns of exchange and valuation, but such patterns are not in themselves

3  The Crisis of Authority and the Problem of Freedom

The surest sign that there is at all a crisis of authority, according to Arendt, is that
the simplest and most elementary forms of it are no longer taken for granted. Until
recently, she contends, authority was seen as a natural and necessary condition for
education, upon which the continuity of any civilization depended. In our present
situation, authority is both a theoretical and a practical problem. In order to sort out
what kind of problem we are dealing with, she makes a number of preliminary dis-
tinctions. To begin with, she says, authority precludes external means of coercion:
“where force is used, authority has failed” (Arendt 1968, 93). But authority is also
distinct from, and even incompatible with, persuasion, since the latter presupposes
the force of argument, and assumes some sort of equality between the interlocutors
for its effect. For Arendt, these are not differences in degrees of limitations on free-
dom, but differences in principles of government. What distinguishes “authoritar-
ian” rule from tyranny is that in the case of the former, the source of legitimacy is
beyond the will and interests of the ruler, a transcendent principle or force to which
even the ruler is subject, and “from which the authorities derive their authority”
(Arendt 1968, 97). In Arendt’s politico-philosophical historiography, we have since
the Enlightenment witnessed an oscillation in public opinion between the desire to
assert freedom against authority and to restore authority at the expense of individual
liberty. But the popular mood swings actually obscure the relation between the two
and, she argues, level the meaning of both. What is covered up is the distinction
between the forms and degrees of individual liberty, on the one hand, and ideals and
forms of rule, on the other. The problem is that neither genuine authority nor free-
dom in the deepest sense (which we will discuss presently in the next section) is part

 See also Arendt (1998), 154.

160 S. Rider

of our experience of the world, since, rather than the one taking precedence over the
other, we see in our own century the retreat of both.
In addition to popular political climate, there is another factor that plays an even
larger role in the loss of the meaning of authority and freedom: “the almost univer-
sal functionalization of all concepts and ideas” (Arendt 1968, 101). Recalling her
earlier discussions of the replacement of ideas with values and of meanings with
ends, we see here a replacement of conceptual distinctions with “functions”. Thus,
for instance, “if violence fulfills the same function as authority—namely, makes
people obey—then violence is authority” (Arendt 1968, 103). Regardless of the
values that one holds, say a progressive liberal thinking that humanity can do with-
out authority, and a conservative thinking that it can’t, they both implicitly assume
that authority is just “what makes people obey”. Arendt is well aware that her por-
trayal of political history is here decidedly “anti-functional”, and states outright that
she takes the content of the phenomenon to determine the nature of the body politic
and its functioning, and not the reverse. Given that starting point, she analyzes the
meaning of the concept of authority and the experience from which it arose, and
seeks to understand how it came to lose its validity. I will not rehearse her interpre-
tation of Plato and Aristotle here, but simply point out a number of features that will
be of relevance for our discussion. In particular, we should notice Arendt’s emphasis
on Aristotle’s definition of the polis as “a community of equals for the sake of a life
which is potentially the best” (Arendt 1968, 116).4 The crucial thing about such a
community (the polis) is that, unlike a private household (oikos), it is composed of
many rulers rather than ruled by one (Arendt 1968, 116).5 But, Arendt points out,
this composition of many rulers is not to be understood in terms of the various alter-
natives to one-man rule (oligarchy, aristocracy or democracy). Rather, one should
pay equal attention to both parts of the definition: the polis is composed first and
foremost of men who are already “rulers” (heads of their own households), of which
there are many. In coming together as peers or partners in rule (as they are all already
rulers), they constitute the polis, i.e., the public realm of discourse and decision.
Whereas the running of the economic realm of family, property and the household
(the oikos) is a matter of dealing with necessities (anagkê), the point and purpose of
the polis is the exercise of freedom, which, in turn, makes possible the exercise of
virtue (aretê). In essence, Arendt, following Aristotle, is here distinguishing the
realm of the economic from the realm of the political. This is not to deny, of course,
the interaction between the two spheres, but simply to point out that there is a dis-
tinction to be made, namely, a distinction between the governing principles guiding
and structuring decision and action. Indeed, as Arendt uses the concepts, the e­ xercise

 Arendt’s references to Aristotle’s Politics (1328b35) are from The Basic Works of Aristotle
(Aristotle 1941).
 Arendt’s references to Aristotle’s Economics (1343a1–4) are from Aristotle (1941).The “equality”
to which Aristotle refers and which is of most importance to Arendt has not to do with any similar-
ity between individuals with regard to aptitudes or virtues, which of course vary greatly and are all
dependent on accidental conditions of birth and upbringing, but to a general capacity to participate
at all in the regime. This ability is shared to the extent that man is by nature a political animal, even
if the virtues associated with it are not distributed evenly among citizens.
Coercion by Necessity or Comprehensive Responsibility? Hannah Arendt… 161

of freedom presupposes that one is not in the grip of necessity. The citizen of the
polis must in the first instance “have control” over his household to be considered
free: “The mastery of necessity then has as its goal the controlling of the necessities
of life, which coerce men and hold them in their power” (Arendt 1968, 117–118).
The domination of others, then, is in ancient Athens a precondition for the freedom
of the citizen; slavery “relieves free men from themselves being coerced by neces-
sity”. Another way of putting it would be to say that true political activity can only
arise when the economic issues are already more or less settled, lest life’s necessi-
ties invade, capture and colonize the realm of political thought and action. Freedom
requires the domestication of need.
At this juncture, Arendt takes issue with Aristotle’s comparison between the
natural relationship between old and young, pupil and teacher, on the one hand, and
ruler and ruled, on the other. She writes: “the relation between old and young is
educational in essence, and in this education no more is involved than the training
of the future rulers by the present rulers. If rule is at all involved here, it is entirely
different from political forms of rule, not only because it is limited in time and
intent, but because it happens between people who are potentially equals” (Arendt
1968, 118). She points to two dire consequences of the conflation of principles: it
leads rulers to pretend to be educators, and educators to be accused of ruling.
Participation in public affairs requires that the education required to acts as a peer,
an equal among equals, is completed; and that education, she explains, must be
distinguished from a certain idea of Bildung, i.e. that of the formation of “personal-
ity” or “spiritual enrichment”, which, according to Arendt, is politically irrelevant
unless its aim is to redress failings in prior training. The reason why those who are
still being educated should not be involved in making decisions regarding the polis,
is that this is precisely what they are being prepared to do. That preparation is, as it
were, the content of their education. The authority required of teachers, parents and
caregivers is at once politically irrelevant and at the same time absolutely necessary
if the young are to be prepared at all for the tasks ahead of them (which is nothing
less than the futurity of our civilization). Authority, for Arendt, is not “power”, but
what gives power legitimacy. It “augments” power, neither by coercion nor by com-
mand, but merely by virtue of its being recognized. And this authority, in Arendt’s
view, is inviolate as long as it is part and parcel of a shared and valued tradition: as
long as this tradition is unbroken, its authority is “inviolate”. Within a tradition,
action without respect to its time-honored norms and standards is inconceivable. It
will be recalled that Arendt argues for the primacy of remembrance as a collective
form of thought we cannot do without. Without this continuity, events are discon-
nected from each other, and cannot have any constancy of meaning. So too, actions
disassociated from a common structure of relations (i.e. a tradition) cannot be
meaningful. They can hardly be actions at all, if by “action” we mean “thoughtful
doing”. Thus the great humanists were wrong to think it possible to remain within
an unbroken tradition of Western civilization without authority.
While often confused with related but distinct concepts such as rule or command,
authority remains, nonetheless, a coherent idea. Freedom, however, poses a special
problem. The possibility and, indeed, the sense of the actuality of our freedom seem
162 S. Rider

presupposed in every action and decision. Laws are passed, decisions are made, and
judgments formed on the basis of this assumption. Yet all our science, everything
that we can properly be said to “know”, is based on the principle that all things in
the universe are subject to the principle of causality. Our own pre-scientific and pre-­
philosophical experience seems to tell us that we are not free insofar as we are
subject to inner motivations that we do not ourselves choose. We are always already
exposed – vulnerable – to inner and outer forces beyond our control. Thus freedom
is not just a confused notion for us, it is hardly conceivable. Arendt contends that
this inconceivability is due to a kind of category mistake. Quite simply, as a phe-
nomenon, that is, as an object of possible experience, the self appears neither as free
nor as unfree. Freedom belongs not to the inner realm of introspection and will, but
to the public realm of politics and human affairs generally. Politics, Arendt says,
would in fact be utterly meaningless without the assumption of freedom: “The rai-
son d’être of politics is freedom, and its field of experience is action”(Arendt 1968,
146). Politics, in other words, is the fact of freedom flying in the face of inevitabil-
ity, agency asserting itself in and out of its very vulnerability to inner forces and
external powers. That we can retreat into the inner citadel, i.e. feel inwardly free, in
a context in which our actions are actually inhibited is politically irrelevant, since
that freedom cannot be made manifest, that is, be actualized or realized. Thus
Epictetus can teach that freedom consists in choosing to limit oneself to what one
has control over and not extend one’s desires beyond that. Autonomy then becomes
an entirely inward affair, a space in which freedom is possible, not from external
power, but from internal desire. The freedom posited is thus formulated as a nega-
tion, the freedom to repress in oneself the desire to do what is prevented from doing.
But Arendt insists that this very form of thought is parasitic on the actual tangible
experience of freedom, something of which we can only become aware in the first
instance in our interactions with others, not in dialogue with ourselves.
Liberated from necessity, the master of the house could enter the public space of
other free men and there engage in politics proper. Where there is no such public
space of freedom, there can be a community, but not a body politic. Like a house-
hold, a community constantly engaged in questions of economic survival and main-
tenance is bound by necessity; its actions and conduct are always performed “in
order to”, not “for the sake of” (or, in Kantian terms, hypothetical rather than cate-
gorical imperatives). This is important because we today are inclined to think of
freedom in terms of freedom of choice. But Arendt means something different:
“action, to be free, must be free from motive on one side, from its intended goal as
a predictable effect on the other” (Arendt 1968, 151). An action is free, then, to the
extent that it escapes determination by prior motives and aims. Echoing Nietzsche,
Arendt maintains that the power to command the execution of a chosen course of
action is not a matter of freedom, but of strength or weakness. Free action, in con-
trast, is action that is not predetermined, either by the intellect (cognition) or instinct
(command), even if both judgment and will are necessary for it. The word Arendt
chooses to describe the sine qua non of free action is “principle”: “Unlike the judg-
ment of the intellect which precedes action, and unlike the command of the will
which initiates it, the inspiring principle becomes fully manifest only in the
Coercion by Necessity or Comprehensive Responsibility? Hannah Arendt… 163

p­ erforming act itself” (Arendt 1968, 152). Unlike a goal, the principle of action is
never “achieved” in an act; it is, as she says, “inexhaustible”. In distinction from a
motive, the validity of a principle is independent of the person or people performing
the action guided by it. But the principle has no existence apart from the actions
manifesting it. This means that men are not just free or not free, regardless of their
actions; to the contrary, men are only free as long as they act: “to be free and to act
are the same” (Arendt 1968, 153). Free action where there are no encumbrances is
empty. It is only where there are potential or real obstacles that the principle of
freedom can be actualized; it cannot occur in a vacuum. Or, as she writes in the
“Postscriptum to Thinking”: “The will is either an organ of free spontaneity that
interrupts all causal chains of motivation that would bind it or it is nothing but an
illusion. In respect to desire, on one hand, and reason, on the other, the will acts like
a kind of ‘coup d’état’” (Arendt 1992b, 3). This means, once again, that freedom is
only possible in and through necessity, or what I have called “openness” or vulner-
ability. Freedom then depends upon further acts of freedom for its continued exis-
tence. Arendt emphasizes that there is in the political realm a place for the artistic
quality of virtuosity, namely virtuosity in the performance of free acts. And a vir-
tuoso performance requires an audience, a public space, a place where the perfor-
mance makes its appearance. In the case of action, this space is the political. Actual
freedom can never be freedom from the political, but is always only possible within
In modern liberal states, however, the administration of social and economic life
(the sphere of necessity, properly speaking) has overshadowed the political in the
sense Arendt intends the term (Cf. Arendt 1998, 33, 38). If this was the case at the
time of the writing of the essays compiled in Between Past and Future, it would be
something of an understatement to say that the sphere of political freedom is in our
own day buried under and confounded by the negotiation and administration of
social factors and economic interests. What this means, for Arendt, is that the politi-
cal sphere is riddled through and through with the private concerns and social inter-
ests, in short, with “necessity”. Arendt proposes that we understand our problems
grasping the nature of freedom as arising out of the philosophical and theological
tradition that sees freedom as an attribute of the will, rather than as a principle of
doing and acting. She stresses the dual sense of the Greek word archein, “which
covers beginning, leading, ruling, that is, the outstanding qualities of the free man”,
noting also that such a notion “bears witness to an experience in which being free
and the capacity to begin something new coincided. Freedom, as we would say
today, was experienced in spontaneity” (Arendt 1968, 166). Only he who was
already the principal of a household was in a position to move freely among his
peers and start something new. To lead is to be capable of action, to be free to begin
anew: “because man is a beginning, man can begin; to be human and to be free are
one and the same” (Arendt 1968, 167). Or, one might say, because the human being
is vulnerable, she is resilient. “Miracles” are nothing more than surprises, wholly
unexpected interruptions in the natural or historical series of events. As most such
processes are automatic, human life tends toward repetition, stagnation and even
petrification, as the force of historical necessity can be nearly as mechanical as that
164 S. Rider

of natural causation. What speaks against eternal repetition is simply the fact of new
beginnings, of resilience, the sheer capacity to start again. And while it is in the very
nature of every new beginning “that it breaks into the world as an ‘infinite improb-
ability’”, it is no less real for that. Human existence as such rests on a chain of such
miracles (Arendt 1968, 169). There is, however, a significant difference between the
haphazard series of coincidences in nature that lead to the evolution of man, for
instance, and properly human history, in that the latter is so characterized by recur-
rent interruptions as a result of human initiative, what I have termed “resilience”,
that it would hardly occur to anyone to call them “miracles”. Preparedness for the
unforeseeable and unpredictable is what politics is about. It is through our capacity
to start afresh, i.e. freedom and action, that man establishes his permanence, his

4  C
 omprehensive Responsibility: The Elementary Problems
of Living Together

At this point, Arendt has lead us to see freedom, authority, ideas and tradition as all
somehow related to the fact of what she calls “natality”. She concludes her discus-
sion of freedom with an aside about how impending disasters, being as a rule more
predictable than salvation, are a much better starting point for genuine action than
more auspicious times. What makes an action glorious or heroic is precisely that the
powers being combatted appear invincible. A crisis becomes a disaster when no
“miracle” occurs, that is, when things continue to go in the direction they are headed,
and we are incapable of seeing clearly what’s wrong, much less setting it right.
Disasters occur when we fail to break the cycle. Arendt argues that the United States
in particular, but really the whole of Western society, found itself at such a “critical”
moment at the time of the writing of “The Crisis in Education” (1954). But the very
qualities that she describes as specific to the United States have in the course of the
last two decades come to describe the situation in most of the wealthier, post-­
industrial nations of our own epoch. In particular, the issue of immigration is at least
as salient in a number of EU-countries, for instance, as it was for the United States
back in the 1950s. With great tides of newcomers, the state can no longer assume
that the national language and its cultural habits and norms will be inculcated as a
matter of course at home. This means that the institutions of the nation-state must
assume responsibility for these functions. What is striking about the American case
is that the republic already at its inception was conceived by the Founding Fathers
as a New Order. As a product of Enlightenment enthusiasm for the new, the hope
and promise of a better world, the new arrivals, children as well as the disenfran-
chised of the earth, would be part of a project of human perfectibility. And it is here
that political (often revolutionary) and educational ideals (often progressive) merge.
Arendt is not particularly precise in her definition of progressive education,
although the names of Dewey and Rousseau are both mentioned. But what is most
Coercion by Necessity or Comprehensive Responsibility? Hannah Arendt… 165

valuable in her analysis is not so much her treatment of the doctrines in question, but
her reflections on what it means that a matter so pivotal and profound as education
has been for some time dictated by theoretical considerations: “this significant fact
is that for the sake of certain theories, good or bad, all the rules of sound human
reason were thrust aside.” In Arendt’s view, the form and content of the education of
the youth is and must be a matter of political judgment, not theoretical speculation.
She continues:
whenever in political questions sound human reason fails or gives up the attempt to supply
answers, we are faced by crisis; for this kind of reason is really that common sense by virtue
of which we and our five individual senses are fitted into a single world common to us all
and by the aid of which we move about in it. The disappearance of common sense in the
present day is the surest sign of the present-day crisis. In every crisis a piece of the world,
something common to us all is destroyed. (Arendt 1968, 178)

It is thus no accident that it is the educational systems of the most “advanced”

countries that are the ones in most critical condition: the advent of a mass society
and its demands have precipitated a call for a responsiveness and for responsibility,
for an answer as to how we can help bring about the rebirth of a common world.
This response has taken the form of theories of progressive education.6
One of the basic tenets of progressivism is that there is “a child’s world”. It is
based on the insight, found already in the popular writings of John Locke (1909–
1914), that it would behoove the educator and the educational process to take into
account that children are not just shorter adults, and that the form and content of
teaching should take the child’s immaturity into account. But in more contemporary
theorizing, this reasonable suggestion is transformed into a notion of childhood
autonomy, the idea that parents and teachers should not guide but merely support.
Given the absence of an external authority to recognize or against whom to rebel,
the individual has no recourse to another touchstone other than children, i.e., “the
authority of the group”. Thus emancipation from the authority of adults means in
fact subjection to the tyranny of other children (conformism, juvenile delinquency
or both). A second current assumption is that there can be a science of teaching qua
teaching, completely apart from the mastery of any subject matter, an idea which
cannot be proven one way or another, since it is rather axiomatic for nearly all mod-
ern psychological theories of education. This attitude reflects a parallel assumption
about learning. On Arendt’s account, the idea that you can only understand what
you have done yourself, an idea that, at least emblematically, goes back centuries
and is associated with the name of Vico, finds its ultimate systematic conceptual
expression in pragmatist philosophy. The doctrine of replacing “dead knowledge”
would have the teacher demonstrate how knowledge is produced rather than confer
it upon the student. Knowledge then becomes synonymous with “skills”, “compe-
tencies” or, quite literally, “know how”, which means that the difference between
theoretical studies and vocational training is obliterated. In Arendt’s view, we are as
if held captive by a picture of knowledge and understanding that is little more than
the shadow thrown by our current habits of thought. Once we recognize these

 This is explicit in, for example, Dewey (1944), especially 100–110.

166 S. Rider

assumptions as such, we can move more freely toward the more fundamental prob-
lem: what does the crisis say about our form of life and what can we learn from it?7
To answer these questions, Arendt notices the double aspect of the “newness” of
the child: she is both a newcomer to an already existing world and a beginner in
leading a human life. Thus, as Arendt notes further on, learning inevitably leads to
the past for the simple reason that the world is old. At the same time, the new ones
will replace the old ones; they are by their very newness a promise or a portent of
things to come. This distinction corresponds to that between being (permanence, the
world) and becoming (growth, the human) and entails that the education of the new
ones means shouldering the responsibility for both the continuation of the world, on
the one hand, and the development of the child, on the other. The transition from the
home to the school is one from an atmosphere of private nurturing to a public insti-
tution that represents the state’s interests in stability and permanence, not the par-
ents’ hopes for the life of the child. We find here, finally, Arendt’s explicit statement
of the role of authority in education: “educators here stand in relation to the young
as representatives of a world for which they must assume responsibility although
they themselves did not make it, and even though they may, secretly or openly, wish
it were other than it is […] in education this responsibility for the world takes the
form of authority” (Arendt 1968, 189). The responsibility of the teacher is to say to
the newcomer: “This is our world” (and, it should be added, to know what she’s
talking about when she says it). Abdication of authority in this basic constituent of
all public and political life is, for Arendt, retreat from responsibility. It won’t do to
say that we’re all “responsible” for everything, since that would mean the same as
saying that nobody is accountable for anything. As we noticed earlier, the idea that
children or the youth are some kind of minority oppressed by the authority of adults
is incoherent; women, for example, were oppressed not due to some temporary
superiority of men as in the case of the authority of adults over the young, but as
such. The very point of the authority of adults in relation to the youth is the invest-
ment in their becoming our equals or betters, since they are the future of our world.
Arendt refers to the “conservative attitude” that she espouses in the sphere of educa-
tion as “the comprehensive responsibility for the world” and it stands in sharp con-
trast to political conservatism among adults, which is precisely resistance to renewal
or, quite literally, rejuvenation. In the case of political conservatism, what is being
conserved is status quo; what is being maintained in education, in contrast, is the
very possibility of setting things right again, that is, the future: “exactly for the sake
of what is new and revolutionary in every child, education must be conservative”
(Arendt 1968, 192–193). In a sense, the problem is that we have left a question that
concerns all of us in our humanity, the meaning of natality, to a special science
(pedagogy). But the question of “whether we love the world enough to assume
responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for
renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable” (Arendt
1968, 196) is not a scientific question. It is an ethical one.

 I argue for the idea of philosophy as tied to human freedom in just this respect in Rider (2015),
Coercion by Necessity or Comprehensive Responsibility? Hannah Arendt… 167

In “The Crisis in Education”, Arendt addresses the relationship between educa-

tion and the social relations in which it is necessarily involved. Similarly, in “The
Crisis of Culture”, she begins by raising the question of the relationship between
society and culture in general. The challenges posed by education in a mass society
are intimately connected to concerns regarding mass culture. In contrast to many
other social thinkers, Arendt does not stress the first term in the phrase “mass soci-
ety”, but the second. What makes mass culture the specifically modern phenomenon
it is, is the “society” into which culture is incorporated. And this society is, as we
noted in the introduction, characterized by alienation, lack of standards, consump-
tion, egocentrism, etc. What causes such great despair in the epoch of mass society,
she argues, is quite simply the ubiquity of “society” (Cf. Arendt 1958, 41–43).
There is no escape, no recourse to other groups, factions or contingents (she names
the penchant among nineteenth-century bohemians and revolutionaries to revere the
pariah: Jews, homosexuals, workers and others not quite “absorbed” into society
(cf. Arendt 1994, 111–119)), since every stratum of the population is incorporated
into “society”. But what is important for Arendt here is the question of culture, and
her point is that there exists a conflict between culture and “society”, be the latter
mass or genteel. She sees the term “philistinism” as indicative of this essential
The first extended mention of contemporary culture with regard to tradition
occurs in a passage in which Arendt considers whether we are perhaps better off
today than Kierkegaard, Marx and Nietzsche were, since we are no longer plagued
by the “educated philistines” of the nineteenth century and their attempts to com-
pensate the irrevocable loss of authentic authority with “a spurious glorification of
culture” (Arendt 1968, 28). She notes that far from claiming authority, this kind of
culture in our time hardly commands attention. Now philistinism designates, she
says, a mentality that judges everything “in terms of immediate usefulness and
‘material values’” (Arendt 1968, 201); for the philistine, a value is a use, and to the
extent that an object or an occupation has no use, it has no value either. This means
that culture or art per se is worthless to the philistine. But, Arendt notes, if society
had simply remained “uncultured”, then there would be opening for those few who
care about art and culture to find and defend them. As a matter of fact, however,
society as it were “discovered” the value of culture, namely, as a means for the
middle class to acquire the status and position associated with the aristocracy.
Culture and erudition now had a clear value; they were useful. One could rise above
one’s mundane station into the ethereal world of ideas and letters, the sublime
sphere of beauty and things spiritual. But, as certain formalist critics were to point
out early on, this elevation is actually just escapism, a retreat from the real. On this
point, Arendt agrees:
The great works of art are no less misused when they serve purposes of self-education or
self-perfection than when they serve any other purposes; it may be as useful and legitimate
to look at a picture in order to perfect one’s knowledge of a given period as it is useful and
legitimate to use a painting in order to hide a whole in the wall. In both instances, the art
object has been used for ulterior purposes. All is well as long as one remains aware that
these usages, legitimate or not, do not constitute the proper intercourse with art. The trouble
168 S. Rider

with the educated philistine was not that he read the classics but that he did so prompted by
the ulterior motive of self-perfection, remaining quite unaware of the fact that Shakespeare
or Plato might have to tell him more important things than how to educate himself; the
trouble was that he fled into a region of “pure poetry” in order to keep reality out of his life.
(Arendt 1968, 203)

In being “used” at all, cultural things lose their original and peculiar capacity to
“arrest our attention”. Here Arendt seems to agree with the modernist ideal that the
meaning of a literary work qua literature is not to elevate us beyond our world, but
to bring us back to the real one, the one covered up by automatic, everyday speak-
ing, thinking and seeing. The question remains open for Arendt whether it is at all
possible, now that the thread of tradition is broken, for us to discover the past anew.
But, in an uncharacteristically optimistic mood, she believes that our capacity to
read authors of the past “as though nobody ever read them before” is less inhibited
by mass society than by “good and educated society” (Arendt 1968, 204). On the
other hand, the chief difference between mass and good society is that while the
latter used and abused culture for its own selfish purposes, it left it intact. This
would seem at first like a greater threat. Mass society “consumes” culture; to put it
another way, mass culture is primarily a consumer good. The consumption of cul-
ture is not in and itself a bad thing, for Arendt. To the contrary, and in contrast to
critics of mass culture such as Adorno, Arendt sees the need to fill the “vacant” time
of biological existence as part of the human metabolism. The point of rest and rec-
reation is the recuperation of vitality, the revitalization of life-processes. For this
reason, the criteria of good entertainment (culture as a consumer good) are novelty
and freshness. And since mass society wants entertainment rather than culture, the
philistinism of “good society” is more detrimental to high culture (enduring works)
than mass society’s need to be entertained.
What is crucial for this division to be maintained is that we recognize the differ-
ent kind of relations involved. Culture fills “free time” in the sense of the time used
for acting and thinking freely. It consists in the activities involved in the attempt to
maintain the necessary prerequisites for the continuity of a common world described
above in relation to the purpose of education. Culture, like education, is a phenom-
enon of the world, it is intrinsically related to permanence and duration; in contrast,
entertainment relates to people, and has a particular function for them. But this
means that culture proper can never be “functional”, for that would tie it to tempo-
rary interests and needs. Culture, like the political, is something that assumes that
the needs and necessities of the living organism have already been provided for, that
men may be “free for the world”. For this reason, the utilitarian or banausic attitude
is a threat not only to culture and education but to the world, since it turns every-
thing it touches into a means toward other ends. It devours everything in its path; it
has no sense of the enduring and therefore is incapable of “cultivation” in the sense
of nurturing toward futurity, which is the essence of culture, education and politics
(Cf. Arendt 1958, 45–47).
Coercion by Necessity or Comprehensive Responsibility? Hannah Arendt… 169

5  The Cultivation of Judgment

“The Crisis of Culture” concludes with a consideration of Kant’s Critique of

Judgment, in particular the first part, “Critique of Aesthetic Judgment”, to which
Arendt refers as “perhaps the greatest and most original aspect of Kant’s political
philosophy”.8 In particular, Arendt emphasizes that the Critique of Practical Reason
is very much a theoretical work, concerning rational thought, more specifically, the
law-giving faculty of reason. Kant’s concern here is “the necessity of rational
thought to agree with itself” (Arendt 1968, 220). The law laid down in the categori-
cal imperative, that of the generalizability of one’s actions, makes the principle of
non-contradiction into a principle of conduct. But in the Critique of Judgment, we
find an insistence on another principle, that of “an enlarged mentality” or, to sound
somewhat more modern, “a broadened way of thinking” (eine erweiterte
Denkungsart). Arendt’s point in dwelling on the third Critique is that the power of
judgment, unlike that of reason, is not based on bringing my thinking into line with
itself, but in line with potential or actual others. In that respect, judgment is always
already a matter of prospective communication. Here we return to the idea of free-
dom and vulnerability or openness discussed earlier in connection with the inherent
publicity of the political, where judgment to be free must be liberated from, i.e.
unconditioned by, the private or personal determinations which form the basis of
mere opinion but which lack public validity. Judgment must be formed so as to
transcend its own limitations; at the same time, it can only take place in the poten-
tially public (Cf. Arendt 1958, 178–179). The others are necessary for the very
operation of considered judgment, since the latter must have other perspectives to
take into consideration in the first place for judgment to be actualized. To judge then
is not to follow a law or apply a general principle; where logic prevails, judgment
has no arena in which to perform. It is only in the public realm where its objects
appear, which, for Arendt, means that judgment is an inherently and specifically
political capacity. She relates Kant’s notion of enlarged thinking to the Greek notion
of phronesis, and even the French le bon sens and English “common sense”, and
sees all of these as expressions of the insight that the capacity to orient oneself in a
common, “non-subjective” world that we share with others is not a theoretical
What’s striking, even “startlingly” new, in Kant’s approach in the third Critique,
is that he is there examining the phenomenon of taste, which had previously always
been treated as lying outside both the political realm and the domain of reason.

 The edition used is not given in Between Past and Future, but it is known that where not translat-
ing directly from the German herself, Arendt relied on Norman Kemp Smith’s translation of the
Critique of Pure Reason: Kant (1963), and J.H.  Bernard’s for the Critique of Judgment: Kant
(1951), with minor changes of her own. See Ronald Beiner’s notes to Hannah Arendt’s Lectures
on Political Philosophy (Beiner (1992), 157) and Mary McCarthy’s Postface to Arendt’s The Life
of the Mind (McCarthy (1978), 251). All references hereafter will be to those editions. References
to Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason are to the T.K.  Abbot translation used by Arendt: Kant
170 S. Rider

Kant’s innovation is to notice that the very reason that aesthetic judgments, like
political ones, are open to discussion is because we naturally hope and assume that
our judgments can be shared, that they are communicable, i.e. that they are intrinsi-
cally something more than mere “private feelings” or sentiments. For Arendt, “taste
judges the world in its appearance and in its worldliness; its interest in the world is
purely ‘disinterested’, and that means that neither the life interests of the individual
nor the moral interests of the self are involved here. For judgments of taste, the
world is the primary thing, not man, neither man’s life nor his self” (Arendt 1968,
222). Like education and culture, then, what is at issue in judgments of taste is the
cultivation of the world, what one thinks ought to be, regardless of private inclina-
tions or needs. Like political opinions, such judgments lack the compelling charac-
ter of demonstrable truths, but rather court agreement from others through persuasive
speeches: “Culture and politics, then, belong together because it is not knowledge
or truth which is at stake, but rather judgment and decision, the judicious exchange
of opinion about the sphere of public life and the common world, and the decision
what manner of action is to be taken in it, as well as to how it is to look henceforth,
what kind of things are to appear in it” (Arendt 1968, 223).
If judgment is inherently communicative, it requires discussion and disputation
as the arena of its appearance and operation; it is necessarily exercised in the public
realm. Judgments, however, unlike theoretical truths such as axioms, are statements
about the factual world and how it ought to be. In the following essay, “Truth and
Politics”, Arendt takes up the Enlightenment notion that there can be no strict dis-
tinction between the freedom to communicate and the freedom to think.9 Arendt
cites Kant’s argument that the only guarantee that we are thinking correctly is to be
able to check our reasoning and our judgments against those of others: “we think
only in community with others to whom we communicate our thoughts as they com-
municate theirs to us” (Arendt 1968, 234–235). Indeed it is because of our very
fallibility that the student as well as the scholar require an “entire reading public” to
think. Opinions concern matters of fact, and factual truths are political in the sense
that they are always related to events and circumstances requiring witnesses and
testimony. But while opinions are about facts, they are never themselves facts. It is
on the basis of facts or statements of fact that opinions, inspired by interests and
inclinations, are formed. Yet, if facts themselves are to be selected arbitrarily on the
basis of inclination and interest, then we have lost the common world in which per-
suasion (politics) is possible.
The very legitimacy of a variety of opposing opinions rests on respecting the
facts or “what is the case”, that is, the common world. Arendt’s response to the
problem of historical (and, by inference, linguistic or cultural) relativism, i.e. the
claim that historical accounts are nothing but assemblages of events chosen from a
certain perspective to tell a certain story, the selection principle of which is itself not

 Arendt cites here Kant’s vindication of freedom of speech (if limited to scholars communicating
ideas as citizens not as state officials) in Kant (1996) and “What does it Mean to Orient Oneself in
Thinking?” in Kant (2001). But also, for instance, Kant’s famous argument for “academic free-
dom” (if limited to the Philosophical Faculty) in Kant (1979).
Coercion by Necessity or Comprehensive Responsibility? Hannah Arendt… 171

based on fact, is that to respect the right of arrangement from a given point of view
is not the same as to respect fictionalization. And this has to do with taking respon-
sibility for the world as it is, not as we would like it to be or as we would have it be
for our own contingent purposes at the moment. Facts are beyond agreement and
consent, and, in that respect, coercive rather than persuasive. But here we come full
circle to Kant. Given the common world, the “issue” upon which we deliberate in
the political, the greater my capacity to arrange or represent the actual state of affairs
for myself from different points of view, i.e. the more “enlarged” my mentality, the
more subtle and accurate my judgment will be (since seeing anything from only one
perspective always entails some distortion). Thus the only way to liberate my imagi-
nation from isolation in private interest is to open it up, to make it vulnerable to
modification or rectification, to others: this is Arendt’s interpretation of Kant’s
much-maligned doctrine of “disinterestedness”, which, in Arendt’s view is the same
quality as the “impartiality” that she deemed the deepest and highest form of
Having described at some length in this essay the non-political and potentially
even anti-political nature of truth, Arendt admits that she has thus far left out of her
account certain “public institutions”, established and supported by political power
which, “contrary to all political rules” exist precisely for the propagation of truth.
Along with the judiciary, she cites “institutions of higher learning, to which the state
entrusts the education of its future citizens” (Arendt 1968, 260). She reflects on the
paradox that the state should support and defend such institutions: “Very unwel-
come truths have emerged from the university, and very unwelcome judgments have
been handed down from the bench again and again” (Arendt 1968, 261). Further, the
“refuges of truth” have always been and remain today exposed to the dangers of
political power and social and economic interests. Nonetheless, she thinks that the
chances for truth to prevail are greatly improved by the mere existence of such
places, and the organized fraternity of “independent, supposedly disinterested
scholars” associated with them.
Arendt echoes Kant in emphasizing the political significance of precisely those
faculties that are of least “use”. For it is “the historical sciences and the humanities,
which are supposed to find out, stand guard over, and interpret factual truth and
human documents” (Arendt 1968, 261). Her thought is that as “disinterested schol-
ars”, the political function of higher learning in the humanities is that it supplies
information from outside the political realm: “no action and no decision are, or
should be, involved.” The political function of the historian is rather primarily that
we saw of the teacher, described in the essay on education. It is to say “this is the
world”, like it or not.11 In teaching what is in fact the case, whether or not it meets

 Compare with Arendt (1958, 57): “Only where things can be seen by many in a variety of aspects
without changing their identity, so that those who are gathered around them know they see same-
ness in utter diversity, can worldly reality truly and reliably appear.”
 Cf. Max Weber’s remark in “Science as a Vocation” (Weber 1946) that the main duty of a univer-
sity teacher is to confront students with “uncomfortable truths”, that is, statements of facts which
are not congenial to his political opinions.
172 S. Rider

with our approval, she teaches the habit of truthfulness, which, according to Arendt,
gives the faculty of judgment the opportunity to operate and develop. In her view,
the disinterested pursuit of truth, or impartiality has a longer history than both phi-
losophy and politics, going back at least to Homer’s praise of the glory of Hector as
no less than that of Achilles, the hero of his own people. She claims that this Greek
invention is prior, both historically and conceptually, to all science.

6  Enlarged Thought, Vulnerability and Education

Arendt introduces her first lecture on Kant’s political philosophy at the New School
for Social Research in 1970, with an allusion to §83 (Methodology of the Teleological
Judgment) of Kant’s third Critique: “The production of the aptitude of a rational
being for arbitrary purposes in general (consequently in his freedom) is culture.
Therefore, culture alone can be the ultimate purpose which we have cause for
ascribing to nature in respect to the human race (not man’s earthly happiness or the
fact that he is the chief instrument of instituting order and harmony in irrational
nature external to himself” (Kant 1951, 281)). Why there should be such a thing as
the universe at all, much less one populated by human beings, is not a “how” ques-
tion (causality) but a “why” question (teleology), and such questions arise for us,
according to Kant, because we ourselves are purposive beings; similarly, we pose
the question of whether the universe has a beginning because we ourselves are
beginners and constitute human society through beginnings. She ties this idea of
culture as the ultimate purpose or intelligible organizing principle of mankind’s
existence to Kant’s insistence on the “sociability” of man not merely with respect to
his needs and desires, but to human society as a prerequisite for thought itself, and
avers that these are concerns that should rightly be considered political. Since the
point and purpose of the existence of the individual life is in fact the plurality, men
among other men, the day-to-day cycle of consumption and depletion is saved from
meaninglessness. It is humanity, the species, that is of value insofar as man is the
creature that has a value by virtue of being a rational (moral, free) creature and thus
an end in himself. The crucial passage in Kant summarizing this point is §84 in the
Critique of Judgment:
Now we have in the world only one kind of beings whose causality is teleological, i.e. is
directed to purposes, and is at the same time so constituted that the law according to which
they have to determine purposes for themselves is represented as unconditioned and inde-
pendent of natural conditions, and yet as in itself necessary. The being of this kind is man,
but man considered as a noumenon, the only natural being in which we can recognize, on
the side of its peculiar constitution, supersensible faculty (freedom) and also the law of
causality, together with the object, which the faculty may propose to itself as highest pur-
pose (the highest good in the world) (Kant 1951, 285).

Let us now relate these themes to what we have arrived at on the basis of Between
Past and Future. Human beings, both as individual and as species, are conditioned
by their biology and their history (the latter being largely a subcategory of the
­former). They are part of the world, in its being and its becoming. But human beings
Coercion by Necessity or Comprehensive Responsibility? Hannah Arendt… 173

regularly break free and start anew. We are always beginning again. What makes
this renewal possible for the individual is the political; it is within the public orga-
nization of a collectivity where we are not under the sway of necessity that the new
emerges (the rest is just natural necessity working itself out). The meaning of this
sphere is futurity, the purposiveness that we acknowledge in ourselves. But without
memory, i.e. tradition, we see no pattern in our own words and deeds; floating aim-
lessly as isolated events, they lack meaning. Culture is a living tradition that reminds
us of permanence and duration, that there is purpose beyond momentary needs and
desires dictated by our biology and our social circumstances. This sense of purpose
is the realization that we are free to act. This freedom, however, is only real insofar
as it is made manifest. And the manifestation is not merely a matter of display; to
the contrary, what Socrates did that had not been done before, was to think for the
sake of thinking and take his activity of reflection to the agora, where it was “entirely
unprotected, open to all questioners, to all demands to give an account of and to live
up to what he said […] he performed in the marketplace the way the flute-player
performed at a banquet. It is sheer performance, sheer activity” (Arendt 1992a, 37).
Critical thinking, according to Arendt, always addresses itself to “the public”, not to
a small group of initiates with their own authorities and secret teachings. She quotes
a letter Kant wrote to Christian Garve in 1783 (cited in Jaspers’ book on Kant):
“every philosophical work must be susceptible of popularity; if not, it probably
conceals nonsense beneath a fog of seeming sophistication” (Arendt 1992a, 39).
The fact that freedom can only be realized in the public sphere has direct political
consequences: to realize his humanity, man must already have the freedom “to make
use of one’s reason at every point.” This is because thinking requires communicabil-
ity for its performance and enlargement.
Human beings are born into the care and authority of other human beings, but
must be cultivated, educated, to be fully actualized humanity, that is, they must be
led to the use of their reason. The place for this to occur should be public, an arena
in which the exercise of one’s judgment is explicitly and concretely dependent upon
its exposure to the equally free exercise of judgment among others. But the inter-
course that takes place will of course always be subject to forces of coercion and
mob mentality in the absence of authority. Where there is coercion, there cannot be
impartiality. Thus free thought and objectivity require a special kind of public space
to appear, an institution of truth-telling and critique. In such a sphere, the outcome
of an investigation is never a given, and we cannot know in advance where it will
lead. In this kind of ideal institution, there is no opposition between agency and
autonomy, on the one hand, and openness and equality, on the other. To the contrary,
they all go hand in hand. We are only subjects, properly speaking, because we are
subjected; we are only agents because we always already find ourselves in situations
and under conditions utterly beyond our control. The future depends on our prepar-
ing humanity for crises to come, not by finding answers in advance to the questions
being raised, but by loving the world enough to work for its permanence and com-
monality. That commonality requires a shared effort to recognize our shared vulner-
ability, which means building stable institutions in which the young, the newcomers,
learn to face the facts, including those of history, about who we are and what the
174 S. Rider

world is, exchange and revise their opinions and learn the delicate discipline of
sound judgment. Mass education, like mass culture and mass society in general,
needs to be addressed with more stress on the second term.


Arendt, Hannah. 1968. Between past and future: Eight exercises in political thought. New York:
———. 1992a. Lectures on Kant’s political philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
———. 1992b. Postscriptum to thinking. In Lectures on Kant’s political philosophy, ed. Ronald
Beiner. Chicago: University of Chicago.
———. 1994. We refugees. In Altogether elsewhere: Writers in exile, ed. Marc Robinson, 111–
119. Boston: Faber & Faber.
———. 1998. The human condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Aristotle. 1941. Economics & Politics. In The basic works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon.
New York: Random House.
Beiner, Ronald. 1992. Notes to Hannah Arendt. In Lectures on Kant’s political philosophy.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Dewey, John. 1944. Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education.
New York: Macmillan.
Donoghue, Frank. 2008. The last professors: The corporate university and the fate of the humani-
ties. New York: Fordham University Press.
Heidegger, Martin, and Eugene T. Gendlin. 1985. What is a thing?(Repr.). Lanham: University
Press of America.
Kant, Immanuel. 1898 [1788]. Critique of practical reason. Trans. T.K. Abbot. London: Longmans,
Green & Co.
———. 1951 [1790]. Critique of judgment. Trans. J.H. Bernard. New York: Hafner.
———. 1963 [1781]. Critique of pure reason. Trans. N. K. Smith. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
———. 1979. Conflict of the faculties. Lincoln: University of Nebraska.
———. 1996. Answer to the question: What is enlightenment? In What is enlightenment?
Eigteenth-century answers and twentieth-century questions. Berkeley: University of California
———. 2001. What does it mean to orient oneself in thinking? In Religion and rational theology.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Locke, John. 1909–1914. Some thoughts concerning education, Vol. XXXVII, Part 1, The Harvard
classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son.
McCarthy, Mary. 1978. Editor’s postface. In The life of the mind, ed. Hannah Arendt. New York:
Readings, Bill. 1996. The university in ruins. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.
Rider, Sharon. 2015. Human freedom and the philosophical attitude. Educational Philosophy and
Theory 47 (11): 1185–1197.
Rosen, Stanley. 1989. A central ambiguity in descartes. In The ancients and the moderns:
Rethinking modernity. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Taminiaux, Jacques. 1985. Dialectic and difference. In Dialectic and difference. Finitude in mod-
ern thought. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press.
———. 1992. La fille de Thrace et le penseur professionell. Paris: Payot.
Weber, Max. 1946. Science as a vocation. In Essays in sociology. New York: Oxford University
Edmund Husserl, Hannah Arendt
and a Phenomenology of Nature

Janet Donohoe

I would like to investigate in this chapter what at first might seem a difficult posi-
tion: a phenomenology of nature in an Arendtian vein. It might seem that such a
position would be fundamentally anthropocentric given the tendencies of phenom-
enology to begin from the subject position and, in particular, given Arendt’s focus
on how the human being differs from “nature.” What I would like to tease out,
however, are the ways in which phenomenology and Arendt can help us to under-
stand nature not as something over against which we formulate ourselves, nor as
some thing that is in itself, but as that with which we are intimately intertwined and
without which we are not. I will begin by describing generally how we can conceive
of a phenomenology of nature through Husserl’s notion of lifeworld. Then, I will
examine how Arendt’s notion of the vita activa supports a phenomenology of nature
that is neither anthropocentric nor objectifying of nature, but is an interweaving of
human and world. Finally, I will show how this phenomenological understanding
offers us a richer way to conceive of ourselves in relation to other beings and to the

1  Husserl and a Phenomenology of Nature1

In his posthumously published book, The Crisis of European Sciences, Edmund

Husserl describes the surrounding world of our everyday existence as one that can
never be separated from the subject of those experiences.2 This lifeworld is the

 A modified version of this section has been previously published in Donohoe (2016).
 See Husserl (1970), especially Part III A; Husserl (1973), especially pp.  3–8; Husserl (1976),
especially Dritter Teil: Der Weg in die Phänomenologische Transcendentalphilosophie in der
J. Donohoe (*)
University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA, USA

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 175

V.M. Fóti, P. Kontos (eds.), Phenomenology and the Primacy of the Political,
Contributions To Phenomenology 89, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8_10
176 J. Donohoe

foundation for any scientific world that we might want to deem objective. The life-
world provides the horizons of our spatial and temporal, i.e. historical, experience.
It is a living part of our experience, not simply the canvas or setting within which
our lives transpire. As Anthony Steinbock would have it, “the lifeworld is constitu-
tive of our experience” not merely a correlate of it.3
For phenomenology, to establish an objective world over against subjectivity is a
false separation of experiencer and experienced. There are structures of world that
are part of our presuppositions about lifeworld and these structures are universal,
but not ahistorical or objective. Husserl treats the spatiotemporality of experience or
the experience of bodies as examples of these universal structures. On this account,
nature is the framework for all experience insofar as the world and consciousness
are thoroughly interrelated. Moreover, this account is opposed to a position where
the world is an object over against my subject.
Upon this foundation of lifeworld, Husserl distinguishes a homeworld from an
alienworld. By homeworld he means the normative world that serves as a standard
against which we compare other places we experience. Being the standard means
that it establishes our expectations of experiences. If experiences do not meet our
expectations, then we might be perceiving alienworld rather than homeworld. For
example, if I expect to see people driving cars as is typical in my homeworld, and
instead I experience people in the streets on all manner of conveyance, the experi-
ence has not met my expectations and may be an encounter with an alienworld.
My homeworld may overlap with other homeworlds in the sense that cultural
worlds can co-exist in the same spatial parameters. A neighborhood could have
particular cultural expectations that help to identify it as a neighborhood and that
mark it off from other neighborhoods, while still being part of a larger city home or
even national identification. The ways in which one constitutes the world are char-
acterized by what is normal in one’s homeworld until some experience challenges
those homeworld norms. Homeworld can expand and contract depending upon my
point of reference. It can be more or less encompassing.
The Alienworld is that which challenges the things we understand to be normal
in the world. This means that world, whether homeworld or alienworld, includes our
activity of constitution. Since homeworld is the measure by which one judges all
else, anything that significantly challenges that initial expectation of the world is
alienworld. Physical aspects of a landscape or environment influence the world, so
world is not completely separated from lifeworld in the sense that the physical
aspects affect cultural elements of the world. For example, many of those who live
in the Rocky Mountains or the Alps take great interest in skiing and most children
in those places learn how to ski, how to make snowmen and snowballs, whereas
children in tropical climes are not so inclined. For a child who has grown up in a
tropical zone, there are particular cultural expectations that would be utterly foreign

Rückfrage von der vorgegebenen Lebenswelt aus; and Husserl (1992), especially Part II Entwürfe
‘Beilagen’ und ‘Einlagen’ zum Typoskript (Nov. 1935 zu sommer 1936).
 Steinbock (1995), 112.
Edmund Husserl, Hannah Arendt and a Phenomenology of Nature 177

in the Alps and vice versa. The originary homeworld is the normative basis for other
worlds in their alienness. The norms of homeworld do not necessarily make home-
world better and alienworld worse. They are not laden with these kinds of values. It
might be the case that I prefer homeworld over alienworld, but that is due to its
familiarity. It could also be the case that I prefer alienworld in its alienness because
it is not homeworld. Regardless, it is still measured as alien in comparison to the
foundation of homeworld.4
Frequently, it is only in the encounter with an alienworld that one can even rec-
ognize one’s own world as simply an aspect of a world and not the way the world is
in itself. Recognizing that there are multiple aspects of a world also allows us to
recognize that we share a world. It is not the case that the child in the tropics and the
child in the Alps live in their own separate worlds. Even the child in the United
States and the child in Syria live in the same lifeworld while their homeworlds are
vastly different. Lifeworld makes possible the constitution of homeworld and
From the foregoing, it might seem to be the case that lifeworld is simply a differ-
ent way of naming an objective world and that homeworld and alienworld are sim-
ply the relative cultural lenses through which one views lifeworld. In fact, for
Husserl, and for Arendt too, I would argue lifeworld is so deeply intertwined with
homeworld and alienworld as not to be separable. Lifeworld provides the founda-
tion for the objective world of the idealizing sciences even as it provides the founda-
tion for the culturally relative worlds of home and alien, but it is not itself an
objective world. The lifeworld is always an experiential as opposed to objective
world. As such, it is the universal horizon of all experience. Any claims to an objec-
tive world are already grounded in the lifeworld. Scientists rely upon a pregiven
level of world, the lifeworld, in order to make claims about what they learn from
their calculations, beakers, telescopes, or superconductors, etc.
To make claims about an objective world is to suggest that we could have a view-
point from outside of that world, succeeding in thought alone the escape from this
world that Arendt suggests we so eagerly desire. There is not a position external to
this world from which we can view it, however. Instead, this world, nature, provides
the very conditions for the possibility of experience at all. It remains the horizon of
all experience. It is a horizon that can never become the object of experience but is
entailed in each experience, bound by time and space and serving therefore as a
limit of sense and meaning.
This phenomenology of lifeworld or nature that we’ve been working out through
Husserl is important for a vantage point that allows the theorist to see herself as
always involved in the world and responding to it rather than separating herself from
the world and making of it an object. The world is never an object over against my
subject because world and subject are so deeply intertwined.
To view the world as a scientific, geometrical object is to attempt to separate
ourselves from the world and to set it up as something from which we can escape

 For more on this distinction see Donohoe (2014).

178 J. Donohoe

while still remaining who we are. The dominance of this way of thinking has a ten-
dency to preclude other approaches to our world that might focus more specifically
upon the actual experience of the world as opposed to what Husserl has called a
kind of mathematization of it. But such is a world that we cannot experience. From
our vantage point as creatures of the earth, we do not and cannot experience our
world as an orb in space. Even were we to view our globe from a vantage point in
space, we would never be able to experience it in its wholeness, we would only be
able to see some aspect of it.5
If we think about our own contemporary conception of our world as a place that
is shrinking due to the time-space compression made possible through airplane
travel and satellite technology and computers, we can begin to recognize that our
perception of our place in that world is peculiar to our historical era. Even more, it
is peculiar to our specific economic and technologically developed place within the
world. It lends itself to a particularly comfortable sense of ourselves as able to cope
with any environmental crisis through our technology or our scientific innovation.
We are poised to conquer space, the ‘final frontier’ much as we have conquered
every other frontier. But perhaps what we have learned from Husserl’s notion of
homeworld and alienworld and their relationship to lifeworld is that such concep-
tions of our ability to free ourselves from our being as earthlings is worth reconsid-
eration. It is a form of thinking that we can critique and perhaps ought to critique.
Perhaps we can conceive of ourselves, our world, and the relationship between them
very, very differently.
Lifeworld or nature is a way in which things are experienced or revealed which
means that it entails the manner or style of constitution which is characterized by
presuppositions that remain unthematized. This means that there are infinite per-
spectives, infinite styles, and no one perspective that is all encompassing. There is
no totalizing view of nature.

2  Arendt and World

Arendt makes similar distinctions between earth and world that open up similar
challenges which she explores in terms of the vita activa and the human condition.
Arendtian politics depends upon a conception of the human being as limited and
defined by the earth. In the Prologue to The Human Condition, Arendt asserts that
the desire to launch ourselves into space is a symptom of the desire to escape the
human condition and is tied to the “hope to extend man’s life-span far beyond the
hundred-year limit.”6 Arendt insists that “the earth is the very quintessence of the
human condition, and earthly nature, for all we know, may be unique in the universe
in providing human beings with a habitat in which they can move and breathe

 See Oliver (2015), 23.


 Arendt (1958), 2.
Edmund Husserl, Hannah Arendt and a Phenomenology of Nature 179

without effort and without artifice”.7 Arendt shares with Husserl the recognition that
we are through and through creatures of earth and that we are who we are because
of our earthliness.
For Arendt, there are four characteristics of world: It is a product of human work;
it lies between, meaning that it both separates and relates individuals to one another;
it is a place we inhabit with others which gives meaning; and it is our inheritance
while at the same time being that which we bequeath to the future. Earth, on the
other hand, is used by Arendt to describe the natural environment. It is cyclical,
moving from growth to decay and back again. Its temporality is of a much larger
scale in the sense that change is slow and transpires across generations rather than
within generations.
These characteristics, however, lend themselves to an oversimplification of
Arendt’s position that she does not intend. For earth and world are far more inter-
connected than this schema might at first suggest. For example, Arendt uses the idea
of the loaf of bread to describe the cyclical nature of labor on the earth. We make the
bread in order to consume it in order to live to make more bread. The bread con-
sumed is turned into waste that fertilizes additional growth of wheat to make flour
for more bread. If we consider this example from the perspective of contemporary
consumption, however, the picture is not quite so innocently and directly cyclical.
Our contemporary consumption of food is not quite caught up in this cycle in the
same way. We discharge waste now in such a way that it does not serve the produc-
tion of more food for consumption, but causes pollution instead. Factory farming
creates of the cycle something much less fully cyclical and much more along the
lines of what Heidegger might call “standing reserve.”8 The earth and the world are
not so easily teased apart on this account. This is the relationship between earth and
world that has already been thematized by Husserl.
As Husserl would say, lifeworld as our horizon serves as the foundation for all of
humanity and our constitution of the world is thoroughly grounded upon our being
earthly beings. Even if we were to achieve the dream of establishing a colony on
some distant planet that Arendt warns against, we would do so from the foundation
of our earth home, constituting that planet through the norms of earth. For earth is
the horizon of our way of being. It is part and parcel of the human condition. We are
bound to all the other beings of this lifeworld and constitution of any other world
must necessarily be characterized according to our constitution of this lifeworld. In
spite of the fact that we live in our own homeworlds we share the lifeworld as hori-
zon and ground of each and every homeworld.9 Or, as Arendt says, “The human

 See Heidegger (2008).
 One might wonder whether we could adjust to life on Mars and thereby be Martians ourselves. I
have argued elsewhere (see Donohoe 2014) that it is not possible for an alienworld to ever fully
become homeworld. This does not mean that we could not adapt to some degree, but it would still
be measured in terms of homeworld. Across multiple generations this may be something that could
wane, but for the generation that traveled from Earth to Mars, that would not be the case and they
would still pass along many Earth ways to those born or replicated on Mars such that it would take
many generations for Earth ways to no longer be homeworld ways.
180 J. Donohoe

artifice of the world separates human existence from all mere animal environment,
but life itself is outside this artificial world, and through life man remains related to
all other living organisms.”10 In other words, Arendt recognizes that the human
homeworlds as distinguished from the non-human homeworlds include a built envi-
ronment established through what she calls ‘work’. This built environment, how-
ever, does not separate us from the non-human animals since it is grounded upon
that which is completely shared with the non-human animals, lifeworld, or nature.
Both Husserl and Arendt recognize that because lifeworld or nature is pregiven,
the only access to it is through that which is given, in other words, through home-
world or any constitutional perspective arising from within a particular spatial and
historical horizon. Givenness assumes that we can have a particular starting point in
an experience of a thing whereas pregivenness refers to an implicit awareness that
the world is always already there for us when we constitute that which is given. I
may look out my window and notice a dog sauntering by. The dog is given to me.
The surrounding lifeworld in which such constitution of the dog is possible is
always already pregiven to me in the act of constitution. While constitution of any
thing or state of affairs is given, such can only be given within the context of pre-
given lifeworld, i.e., the whole surrounding world of life that is presupposed in
constitution prior to reflectively turning toward it. The relationship between that
which is given and its pregiven horizons of lifeworld draws into question scientific
claims of being able to grasp the earth as it is in itself. The kind of thinking that
totalizes the earth into an object leads to attitudes of domination and mastery of that
earth. Phenomenology, in opposition to such accounts, recognizes that because we
can only ever have a particular perspective stemming from a cultural and historical
position, our ability to grasp earth as a whole is limited and requires a certain amount
of humility in our approach to it. Without a god’s-eye view of nature, we can only
see ourselves as embedded within nature, part of the relationship between earth, and
world. This relationship composes our sense of ourselves, our human condition, as
bound to this earth and as creatures of it.
Arendt makes this distinction between earth and world quite starkly, and she
seems to imply that we do not share earth in the same way that Husserl claims we
share lifeworld.11 However, I would like to suggest that there is a certain ambiguity
here for Arendt since she acknowledges that earth is only truly encountered through
world. While Arendt is clear that insofar as world is political, it is only inhabited by
human beings, this does not therefore mean that we do not share earth with other
species. We do not share political world and that political world is historical in that
we share it with prior generations and we will hopefully transfer it to future genera-
tions. We have only built this world because we are earthbound creatures with other
earthbound creatures of different species. We “live on the earth and inhabit the
world”12 according to Arendt. Even though Arendt stresses a distinction between
these two concepts, she does not suggest that we can have one without the other. In

 Arendt (1958), 2.
 See Oliver (2015, ch. 3).
 Arendt (1958), 7.
Edmund Husserl, Hannah Arendt and a Phenomenology of Nature 181

order to inhabit the world, we must live on the earth and in order to live on the earth
we must inhabit the world—or at least this is what she stresses as the ideal. For, if
we live on the earth without world, we become merely animal laborans and have
sacrificed the other two categories of the human condition, work and action. To be
fully human on Arendt’s account, we must engage in all three activities of the human
condition: labor, work, and action.
For Arendt, the contemporary political issue is that the three categories that com-
pose the human condition, labor, work, and action, are out of balance creating a kind
of crisis within the human condition. We have forgotten who we are. To bring these
categories of labor, work, and action back into balance we must pay more attention
to who we are and what we are doing. Part and parcel of this crisis is the attention
we inappropriately pay to the vita contemplativa at the cost of the vita activa. To
re-engage with the vita activa requires certain things of us that I will argue fit nicely
with the phenomenological call to be more attentive to the interweaving of con-
sciousness and nature and which can be used to keep us mindful of our responsibil-
ity for our world given our entwinement with our world.
Kelly Oliver, in her recent work Earth & World, suggests a human responsibility
for the world in her analysis of Arendt’s use of earth and world. She suggests that
“the ethical prescription inherent in Arendt’s politics of plurality” is that “if we are
dependent upon others for the very possibility of having a world, then we are ethi-
cally obligated to sustain them, even if for our own sake.”13 Oliver suggests that it is
possible to think of Arendt as associating earth with being while world is associated
with meaning. But this distinction is a bit too blithe.
Where Husserl perhaps offers us a way of rethinking these categories is that
lifeworld and homeworld cannot so easily be divided up into the world of being and
the world of meaning. If for Arendt the level of earth is being whereas the level of
world is meaning, our earlier description might seem to lead to a collapse of mean-
ing to being without holding this distinction open. However, when we understand
lifeworld as earth and homeworld as world, we recognize that although the two can-
not be collapsed one into the other, they are not absolutely separate either; they are
distinct, but not separate. For the lifeworld, even though it is not limited to culture,
can still be understood to be historical in that lifeworld is not a static object. If we
limit Arendt’s concept of earth to a static object afloat in space, then we do Arendt
a disservice. Her conception of earth, like Husserl’s lifeworld, is historically
dynamic in a way that is not restricted to human meaning-giving, but has very real
material resonances. Climate change is not cultural, for instance, it is something that
is happening at the level of lifeworld and affects all beings and species. It is some-
thing that each human and animal culture is dealing with in its own unique ways
perhaps. Some are in denial, some are evolving to cope, some are dying out. This is
a lifeworld issue that we can only address through homeworld/alienworld
Lifeworld is pre-given while homeworld is given. Because homeworld is histori-
cal as well, there is a lot that we accept as the way the world is in itself which is

 Oliver (2015), 84.
182 J. Donohoe

simply something we have adopted from previous generations and which varies
from homeworld to homeworld. Meaning is thoroughly embedded in the being of
the world. Homeworld is not made by us, but precedes us. It is accepted by us as the
way the world is. But lifeworld is pre-given in that it cannot be pointed out to us as
simple cultural or homeworld differences can be. The pre-givenness of the lifeworld
is the presumed horizon of experience. We may constitute objects within a home-
world that are given, such as the first flower of spring, and while constitution is of
particular objects that are given, the pre-givenness of the lifeworld means we do not
stop to point out to ourselves the reality or being of the world. The lifeworld of
being is the unnoticed substrate of the constitutional process without which no
object can be given. This allows us to recognize that world and earth are not so eas-
ily divided into meaning and being. They are much more interconnected and the
lines between being and meaning are blurred.
Arendt, like Husserl, sees two levels of engagement with our environment. On
the one hand, we have the highly cultural world that is grounded upon a “deeper”
level of earth that mirrors what Husserl means by Lifeworld. It is the foundation for
the multiplicity of cultural worlds and therefore provides a kind of universality that
is itself still historical. It is not an objective, scientific idea of planet. It is not simply
of the order of being. Arendt’s attention to earth as foundation for world allows us
to think plurality not simply in terms of a plurality of cultures, a plurality of humans,
but of a plurality of species with which we share the earth, with which we are inti-
mately intertwined and with which we must care for all and sundry. For as earthly
beings, we are all limited by our embodied reliance upon this substrate of earth,
which we cannot for all our efforts come to know in its entirety or even understand
in its impact.
Standard interpretation of Arendt aligns body with earth or nature, and mind with
world, human artifact. However, as Jacques Taminiaux taught us, this is an overly
simplistic reading of the categories that Arendt associates with the human condition.
While it is true that body is more closely associated with what Arendt identifies as
nature in that body is engaged in labor to struggle against nature in carving out its
subsistence, this provides the security and confidence that allows for the joy of liv-
ing. Again, when we see that the three activities of labor, work, and action are so
closely intertwined and interdependent, we realize that within each activity there is
something that brings us back to our interconnectedness with all living things. Thus,
it is also overly simplistic to read earth as the realm of non-human animals while
world is the exclusive realm of humans. As Arendt notes, “labor is the human way
to experience the sheer bliss of being alive which we share with all living creatures,
and it is the only way men, too, can remain and swing contentedly in nature’s pre-
scribed cycle, toiling and resting, laboring and consuming, with the same and pur-
poseless regularity with which day and night and life and death follow each other.”14
Let us consider an example. The coyote and I are both caught up in the cycle of
labor through our need to eat. Our manner of eating is conditioned in part by our
homeworlds. While I use my opposable thumb to manipulate a knife and fork, the

 Arendt (1958), 106.
Edmund Husserl, Hannah Arendt and a Phenomenology of Nature 183

coyote must capture its food and rip the flesh of its prey. However, coyotes and I also
may eat similar things in that we will each eat fruit. The coyote, meanwhile, may
find tasty what I find entirely unappetizing—my own garbage. Regardless of what
we eat, as Arendt suggests of the loaf of bread, whatever we consume in part
becomes our bodies, in part becomes waste. The embodied way of being of all crea-
tures is vastly different, and yet all creatures are part of the lifeworld experienced
through the peculiarities of the givenness of each homeworld.15
It is important to note that the labor that Arendt is speaking of is not a romantic
notion of laboring in the fields or in any particular form of labor. In fact, she does
not specify what activities qualify as labor except that the only surplus generated by
such activity allows one to take joy in the activity of labor itself as the blessing of
life wherein effort and gratification lead to happiness stemming from the process
rather than the collection or consumption of things. The products of this kind of
labor are short lived making the laboring itself something cyclical as the products
must continue to be provided in order to continue in existence. The laboring is
unending since the product is of short duration. This is the sheer happiness of being
alive. It leaves wide open the spectrum of activities that qualify as labor. There are
any number of activities in which we and our fellow species engage that provide for
our continued existence and which are cyclical, repetitive, and life preserving.
The category of work, which is overlaid upon this activity of labor, puts humans
in some conflict with that nature which requires of us our labor. Taminiaux stresses
that this is where Arendt separates herself most from Marx. For she argues that
although humans are separable from other species insofar as we invent artifacts,
“she views this invention as entirely separate from the goal of helping in the life
cycle. This invention rather is motivated by the goal of resisting this life cycle in
order to super-impose on the eternal return the consistency, the stability and the
permanence of a dwelling upon which the ‘who’ might appear.”16
The product of work is designed to resist the cycle of labor and to last beyond the
activity of work itself. And here again we can see Arendt’s similarity to Husserl.
For, the world product of work is not separable from the earth of labor. While work
alters the significance of life and death by providing lasting products, it still cannot
free us as a whole from the cyclical relationship to the earth. We are bound through
life and death to both past and present in an ongoing cycle of birth and death. Work
has pretensions to disrupting that cycle by providing a lasting world, particularly for
Arendt through the production of monuments, but such pretensions are just preten-
sions. Earth still surfaces in its interrelation with world while world is incorporated
into earth. The earth takes on the effects of world while at the same time limiting
For Arendt, insofar as life is related to world and is limited in time to the interval
between birth and death, “it follows a strictly linear movement whose very motion
nevertheless is driven by the motor of biological life which man shares with other

 See James (2009).
 Taminiaux (1997), 83.
184 J. Donohoe

living things and which forever retains the cyclical movement of nature.”17 World
and earth are clearly intertwined in this conception of human life.
Arendt wants to stress that the third activity that composes the human condition
is the activity that preserves plurality within the community of beings. She stresses
the role that the world plays in making this plurality possible since world is the com-
monality between generations past and future. As Taminiaux explains, world
“becomes a common habitat that keeps in itself the traces and monuments of those
who preceded us, a habitat perceived in common and whose consistency is owed to
the diversity of perspectives that relate to it as well as to the diversity of the speech
acts expressing the diversity of perspectives.”18
In this regard, plurality is not secured by speech exclusively, but is also associ-
ated with a kind of listening. Arendt was a proponent of speech as the political act
that was primary and foundational. Speech is of the same kind as action and thought
is secondary to speech. Thus, the ability to avoid sheer violence toward any animal,
it seems would be prefigured by the ability to engage with the right words at the
right time regardless of the information those words convey. The words preserve the
“fact of distinctness that is the actualization of the human condition of plurality, that
is, of living as a distinct and unique being among equals.”19 When Arendt is describ-
ing the importance of speech to the polis, she is speaking of its importance within
the thought of the Greeks, particularly Aristotle. In spite of her reference to the
human condition of plurality, there is nothing in what she says to restrict this realm
of speech to the human species alone. In fact, in so far as we refrain from violence
towards other species, we might be able to be seen to be listening appropriately and
responding with speech and action. The space of the polis, just like that of the
household for Arendt, is not exclusively human since we share that space with other
creatures and those creatures can either be treated violently within that space or not.
To respond to such creatures speechfully is to listen attentively to their way of being
and to respond to it without violence. Listening attentively cannot be taken lightly
here for it is the only way of not imposing upon creatures of the earth my home-
worldly language. To let the coyote be as it is, appear and co-exist in my homeworld
because it is grounded in lifeworld is to be attentive to the coyote in silence. It is to
listen speechfully to the coyote in our co-extensive lifeworld.
Likewise, for Husserl an understanding of lifeworld makes possible the recogni-
tion that a lifeworld for all grounds the homeworlds and alienworlds of all sorts of
creatures of this earth. The tree has a world just as the ant has a world and the coyote
too. These worlds are not isolated bubbles, but overlapping worlds, intertwined
worlds precisely because they share a lifeworld. The ant and coyote have their
unique perspective on the things in my homeworld that indicate that those very
same things take up a different place and meaning within their homeworlds. It can-
not be the case that humans inhabit a world of culture while non-human animals
inhabit the biological world. The fence in my neighbor’s yard meant to keep his

 Arendt (1958), 97.
 Taminiaux (1997), 85.
 Arendt (1958), 178.
Edmund Husserl, Hannah Arendt and a Phenomenology of Nature 185

domesticated cat free from the harm of the coyote is simply a nuisance to the coy-
ote. It is not as if the fence does not exist in the coyote’s world. It has a different
“cultural” value to the coyote than to my neighbor. Nuisance or not, however, our
overlapping homeworlds are made possible by the plurality within the shared
Husserl and Arendt can both be recognized as not being purely anthropocentric
in their views. Insofar as homeworlds are grounded in lifeworld each creature, be it
human or non-human animal is center of its very off-centered world. So far as non-­
human animals such as coyotes are concerned, we can also recognize that their
homeworld is one they inherit from prior generations while at the same time recog-
nizing that it is not static.20
It might seem that what I am proposing here is not unlike what Merleau-Ponty,
drawing upon Jakob von Uexküll, already described in The Structure of Behavior as
being the very way of understanding the structural relationship between an organ-
ism and its world. Merleau-Ponty describes behavior as “the relations of the organic
individual and its milieu.”21 For Merleau-Ponty the world is the framework out of
which relations arise that give us a picture of a living organism. In his later lectures
on Nature, Merleau-Ponty moves to referring more directly to the work of Uexküll
when he refers to this milieu in terms of Umwelt (surrounding world). For Merleau-­
Ponty, this term captures the sense of “the world implied by the movement of the
animal, and that regulates the animal’s movements by its own structure.”22 In other
words, he is referring to the recognition of the animal as fundamentally relational to
its environment as understood through its behavior.
However, an important difference arises for us in Merleau-Ponty’s description.
He writes “the analysis of the general life of the animal, of relationship that it main-
tains with its body, of the relations of its body to its spatial milieu (its territory), of
inter-animality either within the species or between two different species, even
those that are usually enemies, as the rat lives among vipers. Here two Umwelten,
two rings of finality cross each other.”23 Does Merleau-Ponty mean by this that we
must take the perspective that we are each in our own soap bubble as Uexküll would
have it?24 It seems to imply that there is no world in common except for the occa-
sional overlap of our bubbles with those of another. It leaves one wondering whether
there is a world that we share at all. How is it possible to account for the very par-
ticular experience of any part of the world and yet still speak of The Environment,
The World? Approaching this question through the accounts offered by Husserl and
Arendt allows us a way to think through the relationship between the parts of home-
worlds and alienworlds and the whole of lifeworld. It also allows for the recognition
that denying a unified, objective world does not mean that we must reconcile our-
selves to each being in our own bubble of a world. It rather ushers in a richer and

 For support for this see Willett (2014).
 Merleau-Ponty (1983), 148.
 Merleau-Ponty (2003), 175.
 Merleau-Ponty (2003), 173.
 See Buchanan (2008).
186 J. Donohoe

more complex way of considering our relationship to our worlds and our environ-
ments such that we value places and beings in their interconnection and recognize a
role for all in living those interconnections well.
The position outlined here differs from Uexküll’s in that Husserl and Arendt
recognize the interwoven relationship between “cultural” worlds of human animals
and non-human animals that allows us to acknowledge a shared world. For Uexküll,
with each new organism arises a new world, a new Umwelt. He describes this in
terms of the metaphor of the soap bubble. He conceives of a soap bubble as sur-
rounding every living being in such a way that it provides the limits to any being’s
life. It is the boundary of that being’s environment and shields that being from any
other being’s perception. He describes it as the limit of what is accessible to an
animal in its world. This metaphor is helpful in recognizing how Arendt and
Husserl’s notions of lifeworld or nature differ from Uexküll’s and Merleau-Ponty’s.
The idea of the soap bubble sets up an inside and an outside of meaning or signifi-
cance. Anything inside the bubble is significant, the infinite array of that outside the
bubble is insignificant. If we follow Uexküll into his soap bubble, then humans are
indeed cut off from other animals and would need, then, to extend our rights to them
for their protection. On the account that I have provided, however, there is the pos-
sibility that in recognizing what we share, we can be with non-human animals in a
much more intimate and understanding way. It is not that non-human animals and I
live in our own separated bubbles. We do each have our homeworlds, but we share
a lifeworld upon which those homeworlds are grounded. They are permeable hori-
zons of a shared lifeworld, not impermeable boundaries of a bubble. While Uexküll
does acknowledge that one homeworld, or what he calls Umwelt, can overlap with
another, he still claims that “each Umwelt forms a closed unit in itself, which is
governed, in all its parts, by the meaning it has for the subject.”25
While in other places Uexküll acknowledges something more like harmonic
interactions between beings, his discussions of these interactions focuses more on
the beings themselves and less on their overlapping, interwoven worlds.26 Uexküll
is not necessarily in complete disagreement with what I have offered up here about
Husserl and Arendt, but the emphasis is different in a way that matters for our
understanding of a phenomenology of nature. The concept of lifeworld is insepara-
ble from homeworld and alienworld and provides a place of commonality for all
worlds that is inherent in any experience. The ramifications of this are that we can-
not view ourselves as entities interwoven with other entities even in some kind of
melody. There are not distinct notes and distinct instruments prior to the interweav-
ing of a melody. Instead, the lifeworld is what makes possible the homeworld, it is
the pregiven to the homeworld’s givenness. It is the earth that makes the world
What we have seen here through this discussion of Husserl and Arendt is that the
world in which we find ourselves is fundamentally relational, non-subjective, non-­
objective, cultural given and pre-given entailing overlapping homeworlds of a plu-

 von Uexküll (1982), 30.
 See von Uexküll (2001).
Edmund Husserl, Hannah Arendt and a Phenomenology of Nature 187

rality of beings grounded in a lifeworld for all. In spite of the fact that the coyote,
the tree, the ant, and I have vastly different homeworlds, they are not separate
worlds. Our worlds collide and overlap, we are interrelated in our traversing the
same ground, sharing germs, caring in different ways about the neighbor’s cat.
Lifeworld makes this plurality possible.
Furthermore, as Kelly Oliver argues, the non-human animals in our lives are
essential to what Arendt calls the life of the mind, which would perhaps be impos-
sible without them. Oliver writes, “In terms of our embodied existence, our very
survival depends on other species, especially an entire universe of microscopic
organisms with whom we share a symbiotic relationship not only on the planet but
also within our very bodies.”27 The extent of the interweaving of species worlds
would seem to require, as Oliver further notes, a notion of plurality that entails the
non-human animals.
What Husserl and Arendt have taught us in their insistence on the connection
between earth (lifeworld) and world (homeworld/alienworld) is that as beings that
share the earth, we cannot retreat to world to preserve us. We must take care for the
plurality of the earth and its foundation without allowing our own particular cultures
and traditions to stand in our way. We cannot be speciesist or nationalist, we cannot
limit ourselves or others to the bubbles of Uexküll, we must be common beings of
the earth in conjunction with all other creatures of earth and attend to our earth as
the foundation of everything else we hold dear. We cannot attend to the earth through
a global government and yet we cannot attend to the earth without a government
since we cannot disavow our history and thus our world. Through our worlds, both
homeworlds and alienworlds, we must foster our concern for what unites us all,
lifeworld or nature.
What happens between us and our world is the promise of a phenomenology of
nature, where the implied poles are not poles at all. Instead, the intertwining of us
and our world calls forth our responsibility to earth and to other creatures with
whom we share that earth. Recognizing this common ground of lifeworld provides
a foundation for the twofold responsibility to preserve that lifeworld not for our-
selves alone, but for all beings and to respond to non-human animals as beings with
homeworlds of their own that are meaningful and are interwoven with our own


Arendt, Hannah. 1958. The human condition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Buchanan, Brett. 2008. Onto-ethologies: The animal environments of Uexküll, Heidegger, Merleau-­
Ponty, and Deleuze. Albany: SUNY Press.
Donohoe, Janet. 2014. Remembering places. Lanham: Lexington Books.
———. 2016. Towards a phenomenology of nature. In Nature and experience: Phenomenology
and the environment, ed. Bryan Bannon, 17–30. London: Rowman & Littlefield.

 Oliver (2015), 91.
188 J. Donohoe

Heidegger, Martin. 2008. The question concerning technology. In Basic writings, ed. David Farrell
Krell, 307–342. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
Husserl, Edmund. 1970. Crisis of the European sciences and transcendental phenomenology.
Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
———. 1973. Ding und Raum. Vorlesungen 1907. Edited by Ulrich Claesges. The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff.
———. 1976. Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale
Phänomenologie. Eine Einleitung in die phänomenologische Philosophie. Edited by Walter
Biemel. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
———. 1992. Die Krisis der europaischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale
Phänomenologie. Ergänzungsband. Texte aus dem Nachlass 1934–1937. Edited by Reinhold
N. Smid. The Hague: Kluwer.
James, Simon. 2009. The presence of nature: A study in phenomenology and environmental phi-
losophy. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1983. The Structure of Behavior. Trans. Alden Fischer. Pittsburgh:
Duquesne University Press.
———. 2003. Nature: Course Notes from the Collége de France. Trans. Robert Vallier. Evanston:
Northwestern University Press.
Oliver, Kelly. 2015. Earth and world: Philosophy after the Apollo missions. New York: Columbia
University Press.
Steinbock, Anthony. 1995. Home and beyond: Generative phenomenology after Husserl. Evanston:
Northwestern University Press.
Taminiaux, Jacques. 1997. The Thracian maid and the professional thinker: Arendt and Heidegger.
New York: SUNY Press.
Uexküll, Jakob. 1982. The theory of meaning. Semiotica 42 (1): 25–82.
———. 2001. The new concept of Umwelt: A link between science and the humanities. Semiotica
134 (1/4): 111–123.
Willett, Cynthia. 2014. Interspecies ethics. New York: Columbia University Press.
Symbols and Politics

Paul Bruno

“We will talk about speculation and judgment.” These are the words uttered in my
mind’s ear with the sonorous whisper of his French-Belgian accent that came to
mind when I thought of writing something in honor of Professor Jacques Taminiaux.
It was common for him to begin class with such an introduction coupled with the
forewarning that our discussion must inevitably be “provisional.” Mining the his-
tory of philosophy requires of our attempt a willingness to continually ask the ques-
tions that preceded the questions that preceded the questions.1 It may well be that
the history of philosophy is, as Whitehead averred, a footnote to Plato, but as
Taminiaux knew well, Plato’s philosophizing was always “in the shadow of the
work of art.” Indeed, it was Taminiaux’s approach to philosophizing that inspired
my attempt—humble and provisional to be sure—to explore the roots of the concept
of genius as it emerged in Immanuel Kant’s thought.
Taminiaux is a “close reader of texts.” This description, I know, is entirely too
tepid because it fails to connote both his creativity as a reader and his ability to draw
out the interrelationships between and among thinkers and between and among
ideas.2 He is a master at exploring the thread or threads of ideas as they emerge,
change, and reemerge in a conversation across time. Taminiaux sees the task of the
philosopher in this light, which is to say that he sees the task of the philosopher to
be a matter of seeking these conversations “anew.” After one of Taminiaux’s public

 Think of some of the titles in Taminiaux’s work. For example, “The Origin of ‘The Origin of the
Work of Art’” in Poetics, Speculation, and Judgment or “The Reappropriation of the Nicomachean
Ethics: Poiêsis and Praxis in the Articulation of Fundamental Ontology” in Heidegger and the
Project of Fundamental Ontology. The titles suggest a kind of philosophical digging.
 Note how many of his essays include two philosophers in their titles or how many essays include
the interrelationship among ideas, like judgment, speculation, difference, etc.
P. Bruno (*)
Framingham State University, Framingham, MA, USA

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 189

V.M. Fóti, P. Kontos (eds.), Phenomenology and the Primacy of the Political,
Contributions To Phenomenology 89, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8_11
190 P. Bruno

lectures at Boston College3 I was talking with Joseph Flanagan, S.J. when Professor
Stanley Rosen approached. With a shake of his head and a note of awe, Rosen said,
“He’s the best we’ve got. Jacques is the best we’ve got.” I have neither the where-
withal nor the desire to challenge Professor Rosen’s grand pronouncement, but I can
appreciate and second the deep respect and admiration voiced in those words.
Now, we will talk about speculation and judgment.
Recently on my campus located in Massachusetts there have been two incidents
that have inspired controversy, and both involved the Confederate flag. In one, a
dormitory president resigned her post after it was discovered that she had allegedly
posted racist “comments and memes” on her Facebook page and had an image of
the Confederate flag on her personal belongings. Students on campus reacted
strongly to the posts, and the administration held a campus-wide Administrative
Forum—a kind of town hall discussion—on the matter. According to the campus
newspaper, students complained about the administration’s lack of response to the
incident, one student claiming that that “the administration was ‘hiding something
from me as a student from an underrepresented minority.’”4 When what appeared to
be a more benign second incident occurred a short time later, the administration
issued a “bias incident report.” The email, sent to the campus community, chroni-
cled an “incident” between two students that emerged when one student saw that
“the image of the Confederate flag was displayed on a laptop” that belonged to
another student. The report included the information that the two students “achieved”
a “productive discussion” (presumably about the flag), but to what end the produc-
tive discussion was achieved remained unstated. The second paragraph of the report
made an attempt to explain how the Confederate flag symbolized different mean-
ings for different people. As one might expect, a distinction was drawn between the
symbolization of “oppression” and “slavery” over against the symbolization of a
“shared Southern heritage.” The tone of the first two paragraphs was measured. To
be sure, the title of the report, the repetition and arbitrary capitalization and non-­
capitalization of the phrase “bias incident,” the mention of “The FSU Bias Protocol
and Response Team,” and of course, the incident that preceded the report all com-
bined to lend a gravity to the report. Despite this, the first line of the third paragraph
did not seem to follow from preceding paragraphs. The conclusion drawn from the
“productive discussion” and the multiple meanings inherent in symbols was the fol-
lowing: “Symbols such as these are not condoned by Framingham State University,
as they violate the core values of our institution and are not considered consistent
with our desire to maintain a safe, respectful and welcoming campus community for
all.” In short, even though the symbol can be apprehended in multiple ways, only
one way is recognized as legitimate, thus rendering a univocal meaning to what in
the paragraph before was manifold.

 I cannot be sure which lecture this was—perhaps it was the lecture given to commemorate the
inauguration of the Adelmann Chair at Boston College or perhaps it was another in a lecture series
at BC—but I distinctly recall the comment.
 See: The Gatepost. 2015. Framingham State University’s Student Newspaper. November 20.
Symbols and Politics 191

The bias report was released to the campus by the Chief Diversity & Inclusion
Officer, and surely the context of the incident that prompted the Administrative
Forum added some urgency to issuing the report. In reading the report, one realizes
that its rhetoric is “on message,” meaning that it reflects a message that the admin-
istration has repeatedly distributed to the campus community with announcements
and events and also meaning that it seems to reflect a message that is part of a
broader attempt to adopt the use of certain language.5 A cursory search of the Web
turns up an abundance of references to “inclusion,” “inclusive excellence,” and
“inclusively excellent,”6 so much so in fact that that the phrase calls to mind a slogan
or “branding,” the stuff born of ambitious marketing or advertising “creatives,”
rather than the offspring of a reflective academic community. The slogan comes
from good intentions. Insofar as the idea advocates giving educational opportunities
to people of all backgrounds, it is certainly a noble goal, but it is an open question
of whether or not such language is adequate to the task of dealing with plurality and
difference. Education at university requires a vigilance that takes care to examine
slogans and marketing copy so that we might avoid being mindless consumers, or
for that matter, proprietors of education.
So, we might begin by asking, What is it to be “inclusive”? The prefix “in” is
fundamentally relational, which is to say that every “in” necessarily is comple-
mented with an “out.” If one plays a game of tennis and eliminates “out,” then there
is no “in” either (or vice versa). Without this fundamental relationship, of course,
the game loses all coherence. Inclusive can only be understood in relation to exclu-
sive. If an area is “included” then there is necessarily another area that is “excluded.”
It would seem fairly obvious that the ascension of the language of inclusivity is a
response to a tradition of exclusivity, whether the exclusivity was practiced at the
country club, in the gated community, or at the elite school or whether the exclusiv-
ity was practiced because of race, religion, ethnicity, or talent. Nietzsche had a mar-
velous way of demonstrating both the relational character of a certain conception of
truth and how difficult it is for us to escape the relational once it is established. In
Twilight of the Idols he writes,
We have abolished the true world: what world has remained? The apparent one perhaps?…
But no! With the true world we have also abolished the apparent!7

This is conceptually unassailable. When the true world is conceived, as it had histori-
cally been conceived, in relation to a world of (mere) appearance, then eliminating
(or abolishing) the true world does not leave us with only an apparent world. In the
same way, eliminating exclusivity does not leave us with inclusivity. The intention of

 Indeed, some students, at least one quoted at the Administrative Forum, apparently want quick
administrative announcements on these matters. One student is quoted as saying, “I should have
been notified ahead of time that this was happening, especially since I live in the building and I
identify as Native American” (5). It is not clear how one could send notifications “ahead of time,”
but the implication seems to be that notices of allegations should be immediately distributed.
 See See Krantz (2016).
 Nietzsche (1997), 24.
192 P. Bruno

valorizing “inclusivity” may be noble, but it is ultimately incoherent and its force of
meaning relies solely on a rally cry. The bias incident report aptly demonstrates this.
The memo states a goal “to maintain a safe, respectful and welcoming campus
community for all.” The “for all” is surely a nod to inclusion—presumably no one
is excluded from being welcomed. But how can this be? If a safe place means that
one can safely display the Confederate flag on her personal effects without being
excluded or even labeled “biased,” then our campus is not providing a safe place for
the student who had an image of the Confederate flag on her computer. If a safe
place means that a student cannot display the Confederate flag on her personal
effects, then in the name of inclusion, someone is being excluded. If a safe place
means that the campus is the place where one student can see a Confederate flag on
another student’s computer and respectfully engage in a conversation (productive or
not) about the myriad meanings and historical associations of that flag, then we did
well as a campus up until the point where a violation of “the core values of our
institution” was declared.
There are several ways of approaching the apparently increasingly common
occurrences of all manner of controversy on campuses throughout the country, but
what is intriguing to me about the incident outlined above is that it pivots on the idea
of symbol, and as such, it begs for an exploration of the idea of symbol. Since sym-
bol is the purview of aesthetics, I propose as a point of entry to this political discus-
sion a preliminary excursus of symbol in aesthetic experience. From the outset, it is
worth recognizing with Taminiaux that the modern study of aesthetics is fundamen-
tally concerned with “objects of sense apprehension, that is, objects of what this
discipline conceives as a modality of subjectivity, the Erlebnis, or lived experience.”8
Aesthetics thus includes art, but more broadly, it is concerned with the meanings of
objects as they present themselves to human beings, which is to say, as they present
themselves to historical beings who live in language.
Bernard Lonergan succinctly defines symbol as “an image of a real or imaginary
object that evokes a feeling or is evoked by a feeling”9 and he also points out that the
symbol “has the power of recognizing and expressing what logical discourse abhors:
the existence of internal tensions, incompatibilities, conflicts, struggles, destructions.”10
By connecting symbols with feelings, Lonergan is squarely recognizing a profoundly
subjective component to the machinations of symbol just as Taminiaux recognized
the modality of subjectivity in aesthetics. An object will evoke or provoke different
feelings or affective responses in different people. Furthermore, he firmly recognizes
that symbols are not the purview of logic or, to introduce a related term to which we
will turn our attention later in this essay, of speculation. A symbol can sustain contra-
diction, tension, and conflict in a way that logic cannot. Whereas logic is concerned
with “univocity,” symbols traffic in “multiple meanings.” The symbol, states
Lonergan, “does not give proofs”11—and we might add that symbols cannot be

 Taminiaux (1993), 128.
 Lonergan (1971), 64.
 Lonergan (1971), 66.
 Lonergan (1988), 22.
Symbols and Politics 193

proven to have one meaning or another. The feeling evoked in a person at a particular
time or place, in a particular context, in a particular way are, in and of themselves, not
arguable. Lonergan’s definition of symbol12 gives credence to our administrator’s
admission that different meanings and associations are possible when one is pre-
sented with an image of the Confederate flag.
Kant, for his part, says of symbol that it makes a concept sensible (§59). His
interest in the symbol is tied to how symbol fits into the overall “schematic” of his
critical project, and more specifically, how it relates to analogy, which is important
to him because of its relationship to judgment.13 But for our purposes here, we
should take note of how Kant links a symbolic presentation with what he calls “a
kind of intuitive presentation” and this link is carried out according to the “imagina-
tion’s laws of association.”14 We will return to the link between symbols and imagi-
nation, and more specifically to the role of imagination in critical thinking and
communication later in this essay.
It is all well and good to establish the dynamics of symbolic meaning in the
realm of aesthetic experience, but the “bias incident” outlined above is not merely a
question about apprehending an object in sense experience. A political decision was
made to exclude the symbol on campus because it did not fit with the inclusive goals
of our institution. Thus, we must explicitly ask about the relationship between the
aesthetic and the political. In “Speculation and Judgment,” Taminiaux has shown
that the intimate connection between the aesthetic and the political traces its roots
to the very origins of Western philosophy. The connection is made in Plato’s
Allegory of the Cave where Socrates—importantly for our discussion because this
incident happened at a university—is addressing the dynamics of education.15 The
relationship between what some may regard as disparate disciplines—that of aes-
thetics and politics—is later reinforced by Kant, whose Critique of Judgment recog-
nizes judging to be “in every way at the core of both aesthetics and political
philosophy.”16 What is more, Taminiaux’s insightful distinction between the politi-
cal as conceived in Plato versus the political as reconceived in Aristotle (or perhaps,
preconceived in Pericles’ Greek city-state) will serve as the basis for comments on
a political approach that can genuinely deal with plurality and difference, or put
another way, a political approach that need not be performatively contradictory, i.e.,
calling itself inclusive while practicing exclusion.
Let us consider Taminiaux’s essay “Speculation and Judgment” where he notices
an important transformation in the meanings of three Greek words: poiēsis, technē,
and theoria. Needless to say, the words have a history, thus Plato inherited mean-
ings that flourished during the age of Pericles, but Plato decisively establishes a
philosophical approach to politics that reverberates in the history of philosophy,
and these words, in part, embody that change. Plato’s approach to the political is

 For a concise explication of Lonergan’s understanding of symbol in art, see Hughes (2011), 25f.
 See Bruno (2011), 75f for a brief treatment of Kant’s conception of the symbol.
 Kant (1987), 227.
 See Plato’s Republic VII.
 Taminiaux (1993), 15.
194 P. Bruno

exemplified in his treatment of the artist over against the artisan. Plato definitively
differentiates the meanings accorded to these words in pursuit of his city in speech.
We would do well to consider poiēsis and technē before considering theoria.
Before Plato, the Greek poiēsis was used to “designate the productive activity of
the artisan and the production of the painter, the sculptor, the epic poet, and the
tragic poet,” in short, of the artist (italics mine). A similar compactness obtained
with respect to technē, which “designated the ‘know-how’ of both the artisan and
the artist.”17 Plato was suspicious of the indiscriminate use of these words on the
grounds that poiēsis and technē, as practiced by the artisan and the artist, have very
different relationships to truth. We know that Plato stressed that knowing meant
uniformity, oneness, universality, and constancy—pure Ideas. Consequently, Plato
privileged the artisan because, for example, the bed maker has the ideal pattern of
bed in sight when building a particular bed. The artisan is attempting to copy a pure
Idea, whereas the artist is merely making an imitation of an appearance. With poiēsis
and technē, the artist “stubbornly imitates” the changing world of appearances.
Thus, the place in Plato’s city reserved for the artisan (privileged/included) and art-
ist (banished/excluded) is based on Plato’s newly differentiated conceptions of
poiēsis and technē. In Book X of the Republic we see that the artist “has neither
knowledge nor correct belief about whether the things he makes are good or bad”
(602a 7) and the artist “is concerned with what is third removed from the truth.”
(602b 10) During this conversation about the place of art in the polis Socrates
emphasizes that “…it is impossible for the same thing to believe opposites about the
same thing at the same time” (602e 7). The rational element of the soul cannot abide
contradiction, plurality, and difference, the very characteristics of symbolic mean-
ing that we outlined above and the hallmark of the artist. Thus, after Plato’s analysis,
the only true poiēsis and technē are practiced by the artisan who is the true technitēs.
The artist is merely “a dilettante or an amateur.”18
This discussion about the roles of the artisan and the artist in the city has a direct
bearing on Plato’s view of public affairs, which, as Taminiaux writes, “is also ruled
by the privileging of poiesis as a fabrication carried out by an expert,” one who is
engaged in the “contemplation of Ideas.”19 The philosopher-king—he who rules
over the city—is akin to the artisan because he contemplates the ideal pattern of the
city. The differentiation of the meanings of poiēsis and technē sets the stage for the
emergence of a new idea of theoria (theory) in the Greek polis. Taminiaux writes of
the Republic:
The dialogue vindicates an entirely new idea of theoria, which is a solitary contemplation
of Ideas beyond the common world of appearances. The dialogue is an apology of a theo-
retical mode of being or bios theoretikos that no longer has anything in common with the
spectators of tragedies in the theater. Against the prior beholding, the new bios theoretikos
claims to be self-sufficient instead of being inserted in human plurality.20

 Taminiaux (1993), 2.
 Taminiaux (1993), 3.
 Taminiaux (1993), 5.
Symbols and Politics 195

The common thread running through the Greek words theatron (theater), theorein
(seeing), and theoria is, for all intents and purposes, severed. Prior to Plato’s
Republic, theory meant “beholding a spectacle, and the theorists par excellence
were the spectators in the theater.”21 The theater, with its ability to show human
fragility, ambiguity, interrelatedness, and difference as well as its ability to convey
meaning symbolically, is replaced by a Platonic bios theoretikos that stresses one-
ness, purity, and self-sufficiency. Thus, a long history of western political philoso-
phy is inaugurated by this transformation.
This particular strain of Western political philosophy is the one least equipped to
deal with the kind of plurality inherent in art and inherent in the language of symbol.
It is ultimately least equipped to deal with the plurality of the modern-day campus.
In our current narrative the administration plays the role of the philosopher-king, the
one who definitively knows the theoretical meanings in the city. As we noted above,
there is even a segment of the student body that looks to the philosopher-king for
such theoretical mastery.
It is with Plato’s student, Aristotle, where we first see a response to the oneness and
purity espoused by Plato. Aristotle’s response is not a nostalgia for the pre-­Platonic,
Periclean Greek city-state, but rather a rehabilitation of mimesis, which is to say, an
attempt to show how the poet/artist is able to grasp universals through plot (mythos).
According to Aristotle, the individuation of characters in the theater tells us something
philosophical about human oneness and difference, about plurality and sameness. In
public affairs, Aristotle thus stresses phronêsis—and the related ideas of praxis (prac-
tice), mesotēs (the mean) and kairos (the particular here and now; time and place)—
which is “inserted within plurality and interaction.”22 Over against the expert artisan or
technitês who traffics in theory, speculation, and pure knowledge, Aristotle develops the
virtue of phronêsis which is characterized by “the attitude of searching—while ponder-
ing the specifics of a particular situation—for the ever-potential universal that is the
good and beautiful life.”23 It is important to recognize that phronêsis does not move
towards a “predefined end” and that it does not rely on an expert to give definitive
answers to the meaning of this or that. Since phronêsis is “inserted in human plurality
and interaction,” it is capable of handling different perspectives and interpretations with-
out resorting to the Platonic expert. As Taminiaux suggests, Aristotle’s elaboration of
phronêsis can be seen as a defense of the potential of the “peculiar regime” that emerged
in the Greek city-state at the time of Pericles. Certain characteristics of that polis fit well
with phronêsis. Prominent among them would be the idea that “government was publi-
cally shared among individuals who were at the same time in a position of equality and
of rivalry”24 and that the medium of speech, especially its dialogical character, was the
vital characteristic of this way of life. This is not to say that every interpretation is equal,
but it is to say that in the marketplace of ideas, rivals are equally permitted to bring their
ideas to bear. Talking of the masterpieces of Greek tragedy, Prof. Taminiaux observes,

 Taminiaux (1993), 4.
 Taminiaux (1993), 9.
196 P. Bruno

These masterpieces were testimonies to the frailty and ambiguity of human interaction. If
the citizens were paid by the city to attend them in the theater, it is because beholding all the
ambiguities expressed by them was supposed to confirm and improve the type of knowl-
edge specifically adjusted to human affairs, a kind of knowledge far removed indeed from
the expertise of a technician.25

The plurality and ambiguity of human affairs are on display in art and poetry. It may
well be the case that the power of both art and poetry is derived from the multiple
and contradictory meanings possible in great works of art.
By way of review, let us recall that we have been using Taminiaux’s essay
“Speculation and Judgment” to clarify two ways of engaging in the world of public
affairs. The difference between the Platonic and Aristotelian conceptions of politics
is reflected in their respective approach to art and the artist.26 Plato champions a
philosopher-king as leader. Aristotle privileges the rival-equals who engage in dia-
logue. Up to this point, we have made little use of Taminiaux’s distinction between
speculation and judgment because it is terminology that really did not emerge until
the time of German Idealism, but if we were to sketch out a table to show what we
have just discussed, we could do so using speculation and judgment to reflect the
respective ideas. The table would look something like this:

Speculation Judgment
Plato Aristotle and Pericles’ Greece
Clear vision of ideas Ambiguity; plurality
Self-sufficient Rival-equals in dialogue
Artisan-expert, philosopher-king Artist-imitator
poiêsis phronêsis
Pure concept Thinking
Technocrat; administrator Interlocutors
New bios theôrêtikos theôrêtikos as spectator at theater

Kant’s consideration of reflective judgment offers a fruitful avenue of inquiry,

but we ought to first consider the phrase “human plurality” in the context of our
present discussion. The symbol, as we have described it, assumes human plurality,
but without adverting to a fundamentally incoherent distinction between in (inclu-
sion) and out (exclusion). A recognition of “human plurality” is important in another
respect. As Hannah Arendt’s reading of Kant shows, critical thinking—admittedly a
phrase, like inclusiveness, that on campus nowadays can seem more marketing
buzz-word than rigorously thought-out idea—is predicated on “publicity” or “con-
tact with other people’s thinking”27 for its flourishing. As such, there is no privileged