Jacob Martin Rump, PhD Symposium: Contemporary Work in Phenomenology Boston Phenomenology Circle Boston University, 1 April 2016

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1 Comments on George Heffernan s Keynote The Question of a Meaningful Life as a Limit Problem of Phenomenology and on Husserliana 42 (Grenzprobleme der Phänomenologie) Jacob Martin Rump, PhD Symposium: Contemporary Work in Phenomenology Boston Phenomenology Circle Boston University, 1 April 2016 First, thank you to the conference organizers for the chance to participate, and to George Heffernan for the chance to comment on his paper in this regard, it should be said that George and I agreed given that many of you will not be familiar with this most recent Husserliana volume that instead of offering the usual comments directed exclusively at his remarks, I would offer my own remarks on the volume in light of some of his claims. To begin, I want to simply agree with George that it is beyond doubt that Husserl is doing Existezphilosophie in some form in this volume. I want to focus instead on a question he leaves open: whether it is possible to do such Existenzphilosophie in the phenomenological attitude, and, more specifically, from within the phenomenological reduction. I not only think the volume shows that this is this possible, I also think that Husserl is in fact already doing it at least in some places in the volume itself. This claim will occupy the majority of my remarks. Finally, at the end, I want to very briefly suggest some ways in which the picture of Husserl that arises from this volume is especially relevant for the theme of this conference, namely, the contemporary relevance of phenomenology. The title of the volume is a good place to start. As George notes, the idea here is that the four problem groups collected in the volume all relate to broader and more existential questions, but ones that reach beyond the limits of a rigorous phenomenology, defined by methodological adherence to the phenomenological and eidetic reductions. However, the editors also note that the only place in which this term is actually used by Husserl in another research manuscript found in the Lebenswelt volume (Hua 39)--he himself crossed it out and replaced it with the phrases problems of a higher level and problems of a second level (xix). i The other major impetus for the title comes from Fink s 6 th Cartesian Meditation, where Grenzprobleme are discussed in the context of the same sorts of concerns: questions of ultimate beginnings and ends : birth, death, and the period of early childhood which lies outside out memory (Fink, 66-71, eng. Trans ). The basic idea here is that these phenomena constitute limit problems because they escape the bounds of phenomenological description: we are not capable of remembering or describing the living present of our birth or young childhood, and, by definition, our death is not something we experience. (As Wittgenstein puts it in a well-known passage with similar existential implications, Death is not an event in life (TLP ), a passage which, by the way, is also concerned with Grenzen.) Since, in such cases, we do not have access to the Sachen selbst, the thinking goes, we cannot analyze them rigorously, in the manner prescribed by the phenomenological reduction. In my view, however, and after reading around in Hua 42, I m not sure the

2 same can be said for the three subsequent thematic groups in the volume. In what follows, I ll focus only on the first 2 of 3: instincts and metaphysics. As George pointed out, passages in these sections clearly treat of existential themes, the sense of human existence, the meaning of life, etc. And, insofar as they treat of ideas such as the All-Bewusstsein, God as entelechy, etc., they also seem to treat of things outside of our lived experience. But, as George also notes, this is not to say that such topics are entirely outside the bounds of reason. In fact, it is precisely this area that realm of thought which would seem to exceed the bounds of rigorous phenomenological description but not the reach of reason as such that Husserl wishes to characterize as the metaphysical in his sense. There is also a close connection to Kant here, of course: Husserl insists at one point in the volume that his metaphysics is safe from the standard Kantian objections to metaphysics, since he is not seeking things behind things but rather the grounds of teleological relations, which rule the world of monads and which are mirrored in the teleology of thingly reality ( my loose translation). We should thus recall Kant s own distinction between Grenzen (usually translated boundaries ) and Schranken ( limits or limitations ): Grenzen, unlike Schranken, imply a something beyond; a space on the other side of the boundary (Prolegomena section 57). Reframed in these terms, Husserl s metaphysics in the Grenzprobleme volume would seem to be an attempt to reach a space that while outside the boundary of rigorous phenomenological method is not beyond the limits of reason, suitably conceived. Indeed, as George points out, Husserl s examination of metaphysical questions in Hua XLII is by no means limited to considerations of rationality narrowly construed. It includes multiple discussions of things like rational faith, (Vernunftsgalube), rational praxis (Vernunftpraxis) and even the rational drive (Vernunftrieb). Indeed as George s paper has already illustrated at some length the texts in this volume, especially those dating from the 1930s, point to a much broader and more open-ended conception of reason and evidence, one which fits well with Husserl s turn in the Crisis period away from the focus on apodicticity and absoluteness, and toward a recognition of the importance of historicity, fallibility, inadequacy, and even inexactness. In this regard, in my view one of the most important implications of Hua 42 is the further buttressing of the interpretive position according to which that Husserl develops a robust and significantly different conception of phenomenology in the Crisis period a case for which the scholarly evidence has been growing since the publication of the Erganzungsband to the Crisis (Hua XXIX) and the Lebenswelt volume (Hua XXXIX). Given this increasing openness to various forms of evidence in lived experience, on the one hand, and this seeming extension or loosening of the conception of reason on the other, George is thus right to call our attention this passage from the Crisis: [A]s philosophers of the present we have fallen into a painful existential contradiction. The faith in the possibility of philosophy as a task, that is, in the possibility of universal knowledge, is something we cannot let go. We know that we are called to this task as serious philosophers. And yet, how do we hold onto

3 this belief, which has meaning only in relation to the single goal which is common to us all, that is, philosophy as such? (Crisis, 17) If the claim that the Grenzprobleme move outside of the boundaries of rigorous phenomenological method is right, but it is also right that Husserl took existential questions more and more seriously in his later work even while moving away from the rigor of his earlier methodology, then the takeway from Hua 42 might be that, in an important sense, Merleau-Ponty s famous pronouncement was right: there can be no complete reduction: if Husserl indeed took these existential problems as phenomenological problems and as Grenzprobleme, then it seems we can no longer take seriously the claim that Husserl s phenomenology adheres strictly to the method prescribed by the reduction, since, after all, it could not be said to truly bracket existential concerns. Thus the volume would provide even more evidence that the dream of phenomenology as a rigorous science is indeed over, and we should align Husserl more closely with the existentialist tradition as represented by authors such as Jaspers, Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus. This would be in line with the first interpretation of the existential contradiction passage, according to which there is a contradiction between the requirement that philosophy be a rigorous science of the essences of phenomena and the demand that philosophy provide answers to the questions of human existence. so much the worse for phenomenology as rigorous science! But I think George is right that the second interpretation he suggests is more charitable that according to which it is only as phenomenology of existence that Husserl s thought can overcome the existential contradiction. In my view this interpretation not only better fits with the spirit of Husserl s work, it also accords with the texts collected in the later sections of the Grenzeprobleme. We are thus returned to our starting point: the question of the possibility of a Husserlian existential phenomenology that preserves rather than rejects the rigorous method represented by the reductions, while not retreating from the confrontation with existential themes and questions. In my view, many of the texts in sections 2 and 3 of Hua 42, while they indeed deal with Grenzprobleme, are by no means outside the boundary of phenomenological description or the phenomenological reduction. At the center of such passages is the notion of Vernunft. If we pay attention to Husserl s compound use of this term alongside terms such as Praxis and Trieb it quickly becomes clear that Husserl s conception of rationality itself has been radically extended in these experimental research manuscripts, pointing toward a conception of reason and knowledge that includes the practical, action (Handeln), instincts, and drives; phenomena of or at least very closely associated with the lived body. So, with reference to George s question, which I repeated at the outset whether it is possible to have a Husserlian existential phenomenology within the bounds of the reduction there is nothing in many of these research manuscripts that speaks against such a possibility. For all of these phenomena instincts, drives, affections, practical activity are embodied. And qua embodied phenomena, they by no means fall under the reduction as mere ontological posits of the natural attitude: As Husserl notes: Lived

4 bodies are the connecting link (Verbindungsglieder) between the two worlds, the personal world and natur as the world of things (Sachenwelt). ii In cases of Vernunftspraxis and Vernunftstrieb, we are not dealing with phenomena such as birth and death, in which, as noted above, we cannot describe the lived experience at hand. In many places in these manuscripts Husserl goes quite far toward showing that we do in fact experience the teleological, the axiological and even evidence of transcendence in our everyday lived experience. We experience these things as part of lived and embodied forms of reason and knowledge. The fact that these phenomena point beyond lived experience itself toward transcendent orders, values or even God does not negate the fact that the significance of that pointing its meaningfulness for us happens within our lived experience. If this is all that is needed for an existential phenomenology, these texts provide a ready model for future existential phenomenological exploration. And they suggest that whatever one might think makes for a meaningful life, it will certainly not be limited to criteria pertaining only to disembodied platonic souls or even Cartesian egos: meaningfulness, like rationality, is a lived, practiced, embodied phenomenon. What is important here is not just the fact that there is a focus on embodiment in these texts this is nothing new for Husserl scholars. It is, rather, the fact that here this clearly amounts to a rethinking of the very breadth and depth of reason and sense, and a close linking of them to themes of teleology and value though an account of praxis and the body. To close, let me mention a few examples of where this might be relevant: First, recent work on enactive theories of mind, for example Alva Noe s conception of varieties of presence, which emphasizes the continuity between thought and practical activity, rejecting representationalism and focusing on phenomena such as sensorimotor knowledge. While the work of enactivists such as Noe is not explicitly teleological in Husserl s sense, it is hard to miss the similar move to blur the boundary between rational thought an embodied action. Second, recent work in Feminist philosophy and race and gender theory, in which there is great interest in affect and feeling as non-representational sites of value relations whose close study can help to diagnose forms of oppression and theorize strategies to combat them. Husserl s extensive studies of affectivity and embodied norms are certainly of relevance in this regard. Third, recent work by Susan Wolf and others on meaning in life. Wolf s basic idea is that the category of meaningfulness is of central ethical concern, but is not reducible to conceptions of happiness or to conventional notions of morality. For Wolf, meaning arises when subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness, and one is able to do something about it or with it (Wolf, p. 26). This area of inquiry seems to have reignited an interest in broader axiological questions such as those of concern to Husserl and Brentano. Fourth, the great prejudice against transcendence in later 20 th Century Continental philosophy seems to be waning, as evidenced by the theological turn of recent decades in French phenomenology, and, even more recently, works like Meillassoux s After

5 Finitude. Like metaphysics in the analytic tradition, it seems that transcendence is staging a comeback. (and I could go on ) Foucault once said of Sartre s later work that it represented the magnificent and pathetic attempt by a man of the nineteenth century to think the twentieth. iii Given the focus of this most recent Husserliana volume on old fashioned themes like God, teleology, and the meaning of life, one might be tempted to say the same of Husserl. But I would suggest, instead echoing George that the themes discussed in this volume are indeed perennial. Given the striking relevance of these ideas for some major areas of interests in philosophy today, Husserl might best be seen not simply as a man who shares the concerns of 20 th -century existentialism, but also as a philosopher well ahead of his time. i The text in question, from the Lebenswelt volume, is dated from 1931, and bears the editor s title Zum Stufengang der transzendentalen Interpretation des Weltphänomens. And the passage in question deals with Geburt und erste Kindheit und Tod (Hua XXIX, 486); the same themes dealt with in the first section of the Grenzprobleme volume. ii Die Leiber sind die Verbindungsglieder beider Welten, der Personenwelt und der Natur as Sachenwelt (298) iii Qtd. in Flynn, Sartre, Foucault, and Historical Reason, vol. 1, Toward an Existentialist Theory of History, 150.

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