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Contributions To Phenomenology 84

LesterEmbree Editors

Essays in Memory of Petee Jung

Contributions To Phenomenology
In Cooperation with The Center for Advanced
Research in Phenomenology
Volume 84

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, Universit di Pisa, Italy
Burt Hopkins, Seattle University, WA, USA
Jos 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, Ponti cia Universidad Catlica del Per, 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-Universitt, Germany
Gail Soffer, Rome, Italy
Anthony Steinbock, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL, USA
Shigeru Taguchi, Yamagata 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
elds 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 reects the rich and varied signicance 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

Hwa Yol Jung Lester Embree


Political Phenomenology
Essays in Memory of Petee Jung

Hwa Yol Jung
Moravian College
Bethlehem, PA, USA

Lester Embree
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton, FL, USA

ISSN 0923-9545
ISSN 2215-1915 (electronic)
Contributions to Phenomenology
ISBN 978-3-319-27773-8
ISBN 978-3-319-27775-2 (eBook)
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2
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This volume is devoted to the memory of Professor Petee Jung, wife of Hwa Yol
Jung. I had known and appreciated Hwa Yol around American Phenomenology for
decades and instantly agreed when he asked me and the Center for Advanced
Research in Phenomenology, Inc. to organize a small conference in memory of his
wife, who had died in 2004. How this volume then developed in relation to her
deserves telling before I say something about the volume itself.

The Role of Petee Jung

Thomas Nenon, President of CARP, made the arrangements in Memphis for the
meeting and most of the people in the picture above came and spoke. Hwa Yol and
I rst thought that revised versions of the small group of papers might be published
in a journal, but before we could arrange that, the word spread about our effort in
Memphis, others contacted us about joining in the memorial, and before long the
contents of this volume accumulated.
It is unusual for a gures spouse to attract contributions from such a group of
others in a focused tendency. Hence, something about who Petee Jung was needs to
be told here, something that is necessarily connected with her husbands career. In
response to my questions, he is the source of the following selected remarks.
Petee and I met in 1956 at Emory University in Atlanta and got married in 1960 in NYC
after my dissertation, God, Man, and Politics: Political Philosophy and Theology of Jacques
Maritain (1960), was virtually nished. I got permission to marry her from my parents with
one important condition: When you get back home (Korea), we will get you a nice Korean
wife. We had fun typing my 600-page dissertation together. After we knew each other
well, one day Petee said, You dont look like a Frank (that was American name given
me by the foreign student advisor at Wabash College in Indiana. He named me after the
President of the college simply because Hwa-Yol was hard to pronounce. So I went back
to my original Korean name, following the venerable Confucian hermeneutical principle of
the rectication of names. (zhengming)




Petee and Hwa Yol had two sons. We were proud of Michael and Eric being
radically and ethnically hybrids. When they were babies, we affectionately called
them mutts. More than before, I am proud of my two sons and four grandchildren
being hybrids in this globalizing world of multiculturalism.
Most relevantly here, Petee and Hwa Yol shared their professional lives, beginning with personal connections with key gures in American phenomenology during the 1960s, e.g., During our rst visit to Yale in 196667, Petee and I invited
John Wild and Paul Ricoeur, who was then a visiting professor at Yale, for dinner. I
remember Ricoeur was an expert at using chopsticks, whereas Wild tried to use
them but he gave up immediately and decided to use a knife and a fork. At Yale, we
learned from Ricoeur the importance of hermeneutical phenomenology, which goes
back to Heidegger and Gadamer. The deep friendship of the Jungs with Bill and
Angela McBride also went back to that time at Yale.
There were other crucial developments:
When I decided to do my postdoctoral study, I went to the University of Chicagos
Committee on Social Thought while Petee got a one-year teaching appointment in the
Mathematics Department of Northwestern University. I had decided to study philosophy in
earnest, so one day Petee got in touch with Northwesterns Philosophy Department for me.
Luckily its chairperson happened to be John Wild, who wanted to escape Harvard and had
moved to Northwestern. He welcomed me to sit in his graduate seminar on Heideggers
Sein und Zeit. While I was sitting in there, Wild suggested that I study Alfred Schutzs
social phenomenology. Further, he suggested that I get in touch with Maurice Natanson,
who, incidentally, later succeeded Wild at Yale. I met Natanson in a symposium organized
by the American political theorist Henry Kariel at the American Political Science
Association after I had published the reader, Existential Phenomenology and Political
Theory (1972), for which Wild kindly wrote the Foreword. Petees involvement in phenomenology grew along with my interest in it. Without exaggeration, I am sure that until her
passing she is the only person who read every word I wrote.
Petee and I enjoyed traveling together to conferences sponsored by the World Future
Societies Federation, the International Association for Philosophy and Literature, the
International Political Science Association, the World Congress of Philosophy, and the
American Political Science Association. We enjoyed writing and reading our joint papers at
international conferences, which gave us opportunities to travel to Great Britain, Finland,
Hungary, Italy, Spain, Germany, Canada, China, Japan, especially Korea, etc. And we
jointly published nine papers, including The Way of Ecopiety: On the Margins of
Development (1999), Toward a New Humanism: The Politics of Civility in a No-Growth
Society (1976), The Hermeneutics of Political Ideology and Cultural Change: Maoism as
the Sinicization of Marxism (1976), and Revolutionary Dialectics: Mao Tse-tung and
Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1977).

Hwa Yol told me, with pride, about his wifes career in her own right:
Petee was born on March 7, 1933 in Brooklyn, NYC and passed away on October 21,
2004 in Bethlehem, PA when she was teaching mathematics at Albright College in Reading,
PA. She received her undergraduate degree in mathematics from Hunter College. She, too,
had an equally strong interest in philosophy, but when she went to Emory University it was
to pursue graduate studies in mathematics, not philosophy. At Emory she was very close to
Charles Hartshorne, who had retired from Chicago. After she received her MA in mathematics, the result of which was published in The Journal of Symbolic Logic (under her
maiden name, P. B. Schwartz) (1958), she obtained her doctorate in mathematics from
Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA in 1979 with a dissertation on a topic in topology. She



then taught at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, the University of Florida in

Gainesville, Lehigh University, Northwestern University, and Albright College.

As this volume shows, the couple made friends in the many places they studied,
taught, and presented papers. Petee was bright and articulate and hence a vivacious
conversationalist and knew a great deal not only about phenomenology but also
about environmentalism, multiculturalism, and much else. In 1998 she came with
her husband to a conference I held on Schutz at Florida Atlantic University and
upon greeting her I immediately embarrassed myself by starting to tell her how she
might do some tourism while we guys had our conference. Quickly she insisted that
she was also there to hear the papers and, by the way, she was a philosopher.
Consequently, I have my own extra personal reason to serve her memory here!

Genesis and the Significance of This Volume

When I surveyed the names and essays of colleagues who sought to join this memorial, it struck me that we had quite a collection of senior colleagues of similar background and outlook and that, in effect, a distinct but heretofore unrecognized
tendency within our wider phenomenological tradition had crystallized. It needed a
name and Hwa Yol and I quickly agreed that Political Phenomenology t not only
the volume but also the tendency. The appended chronological bibliography shows
that it has long been developing and includes recent work by the contributors here.
The inuential academic niche of each of them is also found in the biographical
notes at the end of this volume. We recognize that at least as many additional colleagues could be counted in this tendency, but we decided that the number making
up this spontaneous memorial volume was already enough. We were later pleased
to see that the referees for our manuscript recognized that this volume would amply
counter the tendency of some to think that phenomenology has nothing to say about
the political (similar thoughts used also to be expressed about phenomenological
aesthetics and ethics!). And now we will not be surprised if a professional society
for political phenomenology is established, of course with a website, and then there
are annual meetings and also panels at multidisciplinary societies.
Finally, we must deeply regret that Petee did not see what her memory by so
many important friends has crystallized. And she would have further been delighted
to see that working together on this project has brought Hwa Yol and me from being
professional acquaintances to being pals.
Otherwise, we thank my research assistant, Elliot Shaw, for, above all, standardizing the references. And, nally, we thank all the contributors in Petees name.
Boca Raton, Florida
May 2015

Lester Embree


Introduction ............................................................................................
Hwa Yol Jung

Part I

Foreground: Staging Agenda for Political Phenomenology

Is a Rational Politics a Real Possibility? ..............................................

William McBride


Geophilosophy, the Life-World, and the Political ...............................

Calvin O. Schrag


Confrontations with Modernity ............................................................

Thomas Nenon


Constructing a Schutzian Theory of Political Science ........................

Lester Embree


Carnal Hermeneutics and Political Theory .........................................

Hwa Yol Jung


Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics:

A Phenomenological View .....................................................................
Ralph P. Hummel

Part II


The Phenomenology Between Politics and Ethics

Liberation Ethics and Transcendental Phenomenology .....................

Michael Barber

Political Phenomenology: John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas

on the Political ........................................................................................
Richard Sugarman







Is Heideggers Philosophy Ethically Meaningless? .............................

Dongsoo Lee


Phenomenology of Recognition: Hegels Original Contribution

to the Politics of Recognition in Global Society...................................
Gibung Kwon




Levinas and Lukcs: Totality and Infinity...........................................

Richard A. Cohen



Toward a Phenomenology of Human Rights .......................................

Robert Bernasconi



Cross-Cultural Encounters: Gadamer

and Merleau-Ponty ................................................................................
Fred Dallmayr


Phenomenology of Public Opinion: Communicative

Body, Intercorporeality and Computer-Mediated
Communication ......................................................................................
Joohan Kim

Part III




Political Situations and Contemporary Problems

Spaces of Freedom: Materiality, Mediation,

and Direct Political Participation in the Work
of Arendt and Sartre ..............................................................................
Sonia Kruks
Transversality and Mestizaje: Moving Beyond
the Purification-Resistance Impasse.....................................................
John F. Burke




Memory and Countermemory: For an Open Future ..........................

Martin Beck Matutk



When Monsters No Longer Speak........................................................

Lewis Ricardo Gordon and Jane Anna Gordon



Asymmetrical Reciprocity and Practical

Agency: Contemporary Dilemmas of Feminist Theory
in Benhabib, Young, and Kristeva ........................................................
Patricia Huntington


Genocidal Rape as Spectacle .................................................................

Debra Bergoffen




Biographical Notes .........................................................................................


Chronological-Alphabetical Bibliography of Political

Phenomenology (19132013): Compiled by Lester
Embree ( ...........................................................................


Index ................................................................................................................


Chapter 1

Hwa Yol Jung

I build no towers, I erect bridges.

Martin Buber
There is no possible point of view from which the world can
appear an absolutely single fact.
William James
A boundary is not that at which something stops but, as the
Greeks recognized, the boundary is that from which something
[new] begins its presencing. That is why the concept is that of
horismos, that is, the horizon, the boundary.
Martin Heidegger
If we keep on speaking the same language together, were going
to reproduce the same history.
Luce Irigary

Abstract As an introduction to the present collection of twenty-one essays, five

aspects of this first chapter must be emphasized. First, it begins with a brief description of phenomenology as a philosophical movement, which was initiated by
Edmund Husserl in Germany in the very beginning of the twentieth century and has
now become a worldwide phenomenon. This volume represents for the first time
political phenomenology as a sub-discipline of phenomenology proper. Second,
political phenomenology made its entry to the theory of politics as an alternative
paradigm to both political behavioralism and the influential essentialist political
philosophy of Leo Strauss. As Embrees contribution in this volume shows, Alfred
Schutz constructs reality in a social process, and follows Husserls critique of scientism and momentous discovery of the life-world (Lebenswelt). Third, in the
beginning was embodied sociality. The body is the expressive medium as well as the
root of the social world. Fourth is the notion of transversality as the confluence of
differences across cultural and disciplinary borders in the age of globalizing pluralism. Fifth, this introductory chapter briefly describes the nature of each of the other
20 chapters in the volume.
H.Y. Jung (*)
Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA, USA
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_1

H.Y. Jung

Phenomenology as a Philosophical Movement

The aim of political phenomenology is to advance by way of phenomenology the

understanding of the political or political things (res publica) and of the conduct of
political inquiry as meta-political activity. Phenomenology is that philosophical
movement which was initiated by Edmund Husserl in the first part of the twentieth
century in Germany and continued, modified, and extended by his followers
throughout the entire globe. In other words, it has become global and cosmopolitan
beyond the confines of its original home in Germany.
Phenomenology as a dynamic philosophical movement does not stand still and
will never be a fixed and stagnant set of unchanging dogmas. Its true vitality is preserved and resides in its capacity to transform itself.1 Furthermore, the history of
ideas does not simply change in a linear fashion. Instead, it moves from the present
to the past, as well as lateral or trans-cultural ways, and past meanings may be
renewed for the construction of the present and the future. The past as a structure of
meanings is never finished. The Russian literary proto-phenomenologist Mikhail
Bakhtin, whose protagonist is Dostoevsky, is truly radical and profound when he
insists that past meanings are unfinalizable, that is, they are recovered and renewed
for the future as well as the present. Raymond Aron echoes Bakhtin when he writes:
we must accord to the past the [same] uncertainty of the future.2
As a perpetual beginner, the phenomenologist is one who maintains the constant
vigilance which would not let us forget the source and resource of all knowledge
and action in life-worldly experience. To put it in the expression of Merleau-Ponty,
the end of phenomenology is the justification of its beginning. On the momentous
occasion of dis/covering the importance of the life-world for the mission of phenomenology to overcome the crisis of European humanity and sciences, Husserl
considered the philosopher as a civil servant of humanity (Funktionre der
Menschheit) and invoked the metaphor of the phoenix rising from the ashes of the

It should be noted that in recent decades nobody has been working more diligently than Lester
Embree to globalize phenomenology and to make it interdisciplinary. The French interdisciplinary
savant and transversalist Roland Barthes is truly instructive in defining what interdisciplinarity
means when he writes: Interdisciplinary studies, of which we hear so much, do not merely confront already constituted disciplines (none of which, as a matter of fact, consents to leave off). In
order to do interdisciplinary work, it is not enough to take a subject (a theme) and to arrange two
or three sciences around it. Interdisciplinary study consists in creating a new object, which belongs
to no one. The Text is, I believe, one such object. The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard
(New York: Hill and Wang, 1986), 72. In short, it produces intertexts. It should be noted that
Jacques Derrida, unlike Barthes, was not deeply engaged in non-Western thought even if he mentioned Chinese grammatology and sampled a few sinograms in his writings. In speaking about
university education, however, Derrida mentioned diagonal or transversal interscientific
research, comparativism in philosophy, philosophy and ethnocentrism, and philosophical
transcontinentality. See Eyes of the University: Right to Philosophy 2, trans. Jan Plug et al.
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 241.
Quoted in Franois Dosse, Empire of Meaning: The Humanization of the Social Sciences, trans.
Hassan Melehy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 308, which is one of those
oeuvres which have been somehow overlooked.


old. For very good reason, phenomenology is called a radical philosophy of experience which not only means to encounter the actually-given or real-alone, but exercises imaginary variations, or the freedom of its luck on the high seas of the human
intellectto borrow the language of Jean-Luc Nancy. To follow the advice of
Merleau-Ponty, moreover, the philosophical or conceptual must always maintain its
optimal altitude over the mundane, which is primary as the natural landscape precedes conceptual geography, otherwise, the latter ends up with reifying or even
falsifying the former.

The Decline of Political Theory

In the early 1960s there had been serious concerns with the decline, if not the
death, of political theory. The noted British intellectual historian and liberal pluralist Isaiah Berlin, who asked if political theory still existed in 1962, was symptomatic of the Stimmung of the time.3 Another rising young star in political theory,
Judith N. Shklar, earlier spoke of the decline of political faith in the backdrop of
the Enlightenment optimism of the spiral of continuing progress. Much later, Jrgen
Habermas assured us that the Enlightenment is still an unfinished project. Be that
as it may, Shklar wrote that The end of the Enlightenment has, in fact, meant not
only a decline of social optimism and radicalism but also the passing of political
philosophy.4 Then she concluded that a reasoned skepticism is more justifiable
than cultural despair and fatalism.5 In 1960 Sheldon S. Wolin offered a wellreasoned argument that the decline of political philosophy is really a substantive
issue in that the classical architectonic notion of political man was overtaken and
replaced by economic manthe paradigmatic political transformation which
began with John Lockes liberalism.6

See Does Political Theory Still Exist? in Philosophy, Politics and Society: Second Series, eds.
Peter Laslett and W. G. Runciman (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962), 133. In concluding his essay,
Berlin pointed out that there is a strange paradox that political theory should seem to lead to
shadowy an existence at a time when, for the first time in history, literally the whole of mankind is
violently divided by the issues of the reality of which is, and has always been, the sole raison dtre
of this branch of study.
See After Utopia: The Decline of Political Faith (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957),
Ibid., 27273.
See Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought, expanded ed.
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004) (Original ed. in 1960), chapter 9: Liberalism and
the Decline of Political Philosophy, 257314. See also Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man
(New York: Random House, 1988).

H.Y. Jung

Entry of Phenomenology in American Political Theory

In the late 1960s and the early 1970s phenomenology began its entry in American
political theory as a new paradigm that can facilitate and contribute to its transition
and renewal. This entry of phenomenology may aptly be described in terms of a
stanza of Robert Frosts poem, The Road Not Taken:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

It was in the midst of the clash between the classical political philosophy of Leo
Strauss and political behavioralism. Strauss knew Husserl and Heidegger in person
before he escaped Nazi Germany. Strauss recalled Husserl as telling him that phenomenological reduction (epoch) can teach him how to bracket God. However, he
understood or misunderstood Husserls conception of the (pre-scientific) Lebenswelt
as the primitive world before the discovery of science. Strauss also appreciated
Heidegger as a teacher: compared to Heidegger, the reputed teacher Max Weber was
just a child whose alleged value neutrality Strauss later became very critical.
An anthology of phenomenological writings relevant to political theorizing entitled Existential Phenomenology and Political Theory: A Reader (1972) edited by
Hwa Yol Jung with a Foreword by John Wild, the first of its kind in the English
language, had some success in proselytizing political phenomenology. It had
selected writings from Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Schutz, Ricoeur, Sartre, Wild,
Maurice Natanson, Gabriel Marcel, and William Leon McBride among others. It
had been used as a text in graduate seminars in political theory. By 1986 the German
philosopher Bericht von Ernst Vollrath wrote a brief account of the renaissance of
American political theory in the German Information Philosophie (1986), which
included Dallmayr and Jung as representing political phenomenology in the United
Phenomenology as a new paradigm for the science (Wissenschaft) of politics
may sharply be contrasted with the so-called behavioralist revolution beyond the
tradition of the legal-institutional approach on the one hand and the philosophical
approach of Strauss simply adhering to the classical essentialist tradition of Plato
and Aristotle on the other.

In the early development of political phenomenology in the United States, we should include
contributions from Herbert G. Reid and Ernest I. Yanarella. We would be remiss if we forget to
mention the monumental collection on phenomenology and the social sciences in two volumes by
Maurice Natanson in memory of Alfred Schutz, who was a mentor of Natanson. The first essay
followed by Natansons introductory piece was Merleau-Pontys Phenomenology and the
Sciences of Man. In the second volume, there were three entries on Phenomenology and Political
Science, written by Hwa Yol Jung, Carl J. Friedrich, and John G. Gunnellin that order. See
Phenomenology and the Social Sciences, 2 vols., ed. Maurice Natanson (Evanston, IL: Northwestern
University Press, 1973). They were published in Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology
and Existential Philosophy whose general editor and associate editor were John Wild and James
M. Edie, respectively.


Phenomenology as a new paradigm may be taken as the Middle Way between

Strausss essentialism on the one extreme, and political behavioralism on the
other extreme. As a critique of the two, the phenomenological approach kills two
birds with one stone, as it were. Here we take a cue from a passage from MerleauPontys Phenomenology of Perception which reads as follows:
Where empiricism was deficient was in any internal connection between the object and the
act which it triggers off. What intellectualism lacks is contingency in the occasions of
thought. In the first case consciousness is too poor, in the second too rich for any phenomenon to appeal compellingly to it. Empiricism cannot see that we need to know what we are
looking for, otherwise we would not be looking for it, and intellectualism fails to see that
we need to be ignorant of what we are looking for, or equally again we should not be



For Strauss, political philosophy is a branch of philosophy. As philosophy is the

quest for the eternal truth, political philosophy is the quest for the eternal truth about
political things. Classical philosophers, according to him, made no distinction
between the philosophy and the science of politics; this distinction is a contemporary invention, particularly with the rise of logical empiricism. The enemies of
political philosophy thusly defined are for Strauss, positivism and historicism.
The high tribunal in which they are on trial is classical political philosophy or science whose standard bearers are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle who came to an end
with Machiavelli, who is considered by Strauss to be the founder of modern political science.
Political philosophy is for Strauss radically unscientific and unhistorical
the judgment derived from his interpretation of the classical tradition that seeks
knowledge (epistem) of the good. The very crisis of contemporary thought is a
direct result of the denial of philosophy as a quest for the timeless good. Strausss
mood of crisis is reminiscent of that of Husserl, who was also critical of the factminded positivism (scientism) that decapitates philosophy. While for Husserl it is
positivism that is the enemy of philosophical thought, for Strauss it is historicism.
For, according to Strauss, historicism is the Geist of our time, and positivism is
necessarily transformed into historicism when the understanding of the latter
becomes the necessary precondition for an empirical science of politics.

See Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (New York: Humanities Press, 1962), 28. It
seems misleading if not outrightly wrong for the French interpreter of Merleau-Pontys ontology
Renaud Barbaras to use the term dualism in discussing Merleau-Pontys empiricism and
intellectualism in The Being of the Phenomenon: Merleau-Pontys Ontology, trans. Ted Toadvine
and Leonard Lawlor (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004) in the same sense that
Merleau-Pontys critique of Descartes philosophy of cogito based on the dualism between the
mind (res cogitans) and the body (res extensa).

H.Y. Jung

Political science is, for Strauss, the moral science par excellence since it seeks
the most complete good (i.e., the political good). All political action, he emphasizes, aims for either preservation or change. When desiring to preserve, we wish to
prevent a change for the worse; when desiring to change, we wish to bring about
something better. The idea of the better or worse implies thought of the moral good.
Strauss further contends that neither positivism nor historicism is capable of
answering the question of the good political society: the value-neutrality (or even
nihilism) of positivism ignores and subverts from the very start the question of the
good, and the value-relativity of historicism is incapable of answering it. So the
target of Strausss attack on political behavioralism is the formula of value-neutrality,
or the conception of political science as value-free as is, he also alleges, Max
Weber. The target of Strausss criticism became an all-out and concerted effort
against political behavioralism is found in a collection of Essays on the Scientific
Study of Politics (1962) that Strauss himself sealed with an epilogue, writing:
Only a great fool would call the new political science [i.e. political behavioralism] diabolic:
it has no attributes peculiar to fallen angels. It is not even Machiavellian, for Machiavellis
teaching was graceful, subtle, and colorful. Nor is it Neronian. Nevertheless, one may say
of it that it fiddles while Rome burns. It is excused by two facts: it does not know that it
fiddles, and it does not know that Rome burns.9

The above critique understandably infuriated political behavioralists.

From the perspective of phenomenology, what must be challenged in Strauss
conception of political philosophy is its ontological determinism: the idea that to
be is always and everywhere to bethe formula that once discovered as true is
forever to be true.10 Strauss, Gadamer contends, stresses the unity of classical philosophy so much so that he fails to notice the existence of the extreme contrast
between Plato and Aristotle (e.g., between the formers eidos and the latters phronesis). Moreover, Gadamer correctly intimates that to be rigorous, true thinking
must take into account its own historical consciousness. To be sure, historicism
must be overcome historically. Strauss, according to Gadamer, only points out that
the classical philosopher thought unhistorically, that is, the ancients thought differently from the modernsbut he says nothing about the possibility of thinking
unhistorically today, since any rethinking of classical philosophy is necessarily a
historical thinking. There is always the possibility that Strauss might say that he is
not an interpreter, but only a messenger, not unlike Jacques Maritain, who refused
to be called a neo-Thomist and instead preferred to be called a paleo-Thomist.
Insofar as time itself is ineradicable, the question of what is transhistorical must
be sought within, rather than without, the concept of history; that is, within the
framework of time.
Human reality understood as a historical project is the affirmation of the essence
of being human against both the naturalistic interpretation of being human simply

Ed. Herbert J. Storing (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962), 30527.
See also the Straussian Eugene F. Miller, Positivism, Historicism, and Political Inquiry,
American Political Science Review, 66 (September, 1972): 796817. See Millers critique of historicism or historical relativism, i.e., existential phenomenology, 81214.


as part of nature on the one hand, and the conception of being as a permanently fixed
set of qualities on the other. To say that being human is absolutely time-bound is to
say that our being is not only finite, but also contingent. This contingency is denied
by Strausss ontological determinism (or essentialism) based on the permanence
of human nature as the necessary ground and precondition for determining objective
and universal knowledge. Precisely because being human is a project or task to be
accomplished, we human beings are indeed incomplete beings in an incomplete
world. Ultimately, this affirmation of human finitude and contingency is not a denial
of meaning or purpose in life, but rather what makes possible an ethics in which
human culpability is no longer reduced to error, and the good is by no means preordained by something more or less human. The ethical becomes meaningful precisely because there is ambiguity (ambi-guity) between good and evil. The good is
not what is given as human nature, but what we make of it, it is a factum. To say
that the human condition is ambiguous is to assert that its meaning is never fixed,
but constantly achieved by choice.11



Unlike Strausss ontological determinism, the methodolatry or scientism of political

behavioralism is seriously flawed because the natural-scientific method governs its
way of inquiry. It may be said that the methodological tail wags the ontological dog.
In short, behavioral scientism may be called methodological determinism.
Logical empiricism is the Godfather, as it were, of political behavioralism. The
latter was surfing on the high waves of the former. For them, value statements,
unlike factual statements, are meaningless because they express personal preferences and as such they cannot be (empirically) verified. The study of politics, the
Dean of political behavioralism, Harold D. Lasswell, wrote in Politics: Who Gets
What, When, How (1936), is the study of influence and the influential. The science
of politics states [factual] conditions: the philosophy of politics justifies
preferences.12 The so-called myth of fact as given is too nave, simplistic, and
even untenable. According to the eighteenth century Neapolitan philosopher,
Giambattista Vico, verum ipsum factum, that is, truth is what we make, as well as
unmake and remake. Etymologically, factum is not simply given, but made or interpreted, and as such fact, or even so-called hard fact, needs a justification as much

Thus the French existential phenomenologist and feminist Simone de Beauvoir asserts in The
Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Philosophical Library, 1948), 34: the
existentialist doctrine [vs. essentialist principle] permits the elaboration of an ethics, but it even
appears to us as the only philosophy in which an ethics has its place. Throughout her works, she
upholds her existentialist stand against any essentialist abstract principle that the question of good
and evil in individual life is never pre-ordained but it is decided by what and how we make,
unmake, and remake our life, i.e., what Heidegger calls the facticity of existence, or Giambattista
Vico called factum.
See (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1936), 3.

H.Y. Jung

as value. The British political philosopher Michael Oakeshott is Vichian and phenomenological when he writes:
Fact, whatever else it may be, is experience; without thought there can be no fact. Even a
view which separates ideas from things must recognize that facts are ideas. Fact is what has
been made or achieved: it is the product of judgment. And if there be an unalterable datum
in experience, it certainly cannot consist of fact. Fact, then, is not what is given, it is what
is achieved in experience. Facts are never merely observed, remembered or combined: they
are always made. We cannot take facts, because there are none to take until we have
constructed them. And until fact is established [or justified], that is, until it has achieved
a place in a coherent world, it is no more than a hypothesis or a fiction.13

Alfred Schutz, who was engaged in the social construction of reality with the
disciplinary fusion or border-crossing of sociology and phenomenology, would
agree with Merleau-Ponty, for whom the disciplinary boundary between phenomenology and politics is thin and blurred, when he elegantly affirmed that human existence is coexistence (Gaston Bachelard uses the term coexistentialism):
[Our] political task is not incompatible with any cultural value or literary task, if literature
and culture are defined as the progressive awareness of our multiple relationships with other
people and the world rather than as extramundane techniques. If all truths are told, none
will have to be hidden. In mans co-existence with man, morals, doctrines, thoughts and
customs, laws, works and words all express each other; everything signifies everything
[else]. And outside this unique fulguration of existence there is nothing.14

Conversely, Merleau-Ponty would agree with Schutz in the concluding remarks

of his phenomenological critique of the positivist unity of science movement. As
far as we are aware, this revolutionary or paradigmatic suggestion has escaped our
serious attention. Let us quote Schutzs paramount yet unexplored lengthy passage
in full:


Italics added for emphasis. Experience and Its Modes (Cambridge: At the University Press,
1933), 42. It would be extremely interesting to compare phenomenology with Vico and Oakeshott
since, as far as I know, nothing has been written on Vico, political phenomenology, and Oakeshotts
philosophical politics. It is most instructive to take note of Vicos scrupulous registration of complaint in On the Study Methods of Our Time (1709) against the prevailing pedagogic method of
scientific epistemology in his own time. The complaint is very contemporary, i.e., our own time, in
its message and thus relevant to the moral education of public conduct which he boldly called the
(new) science of politics. Political phenomenology is indeed a new science [scienza nuova] of
politics. Vico observed: the greatest drawback of our educational methods is that we pay an
excessive amount of attention to the natural sciences and not enough to ethics. Our chief fault is
that we disregard that part of ethics which treats of human character, of its dispositions, its passions, and of the manner of adjusting these factors to public life and eloquence. We neglect that
discipline which deals with the differential feature of virtues and vices, with good and bad behavior patterns, with the typical characteristic of the various ages of man, of the two sexes, of social
and economic class, race and nation, and with the art of seemly conduct in life, the most difficult
of all arts. As a consequence of this neglect, a noble and important branch of studies, i.e., the science of politics, lies almost abandoned and untended, trans. Elio Gianturco (Indianapolis: BobbsMerrill, 1965, 33). Now we can understand why Vico drew Karl Marxs attention.
Italics added for emphasis. Quoted in Existential Phenomenology and Political Theory: A
Reader, ed. Hwa Yol Jung (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1972), xlxli.


It seems to me that the social scientist can agree with the statement that the principal difference between the social and the natural sciences do not have to be looked for in a different
logic governing each branch of knowledge. But this does not involve the admission that the
social sciences have to abandon the particular devices they use for exploring social reality
for the sake of an ideal unity of methods which is founded on the entirely unwarranted
assumption that only methods used by the natural sciences, especially by physics [i.e. physicalism], are scientific ones. So far as I know, no serious attempt has been made by the
proponents of the unity of science movement to answer or even to ask the question
whether the methodological problem of the natural sciences in their present state is not
merely a special case of the more general, unexplored, problem on how scientific knowledge is possible at all and what its logical and methodological presuppositions are. It is my
personal conviction that phenomenological philosophy has prepared the ground for such an
investigation. Its outcome might quite possibly show that the particular methodological
devices developed by the social sciences in order to grasp social reality are better suited
than those of the natural sciences to lead to the discovery of the general principles which
govern all human knowledge.15

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970), Thomas S. Kuhn founds his

most influential formulation of paradigms on the social-scientific model of political
institutions which, somewhat ironically, is at odds with the positivist aspiration of
establishing a unified theory of knowledge on the model of the natural sciences,
particularly that of physics, to which Schutzs aforementioned suggestion is a phenomenological counterproposal. More importantly, Kuhn later explicitly acknowledged the role of hermeneutics, or of the hermeneutical method in his work. In
passing here, it is worth noting that Gadamers Truth and Method (1991) is an affirmation of the primacy of hermeneutical ontology over any methodology whatsoever. For it, what truth means in the human-cultural sciences has grave consequences
for philosophical hermeneutics, and it is in theme that an answer to the question of
truth must be found. The model of his hermeneutical method is the human-cultural
sciences rather than the natural sciences, the modern origin of which can be traced
back to the Neapolitan philosopher Vico, who clearly saw science as a human


Aron Gurwitsch, who was a colleague of Schutz at the New School University, too, argues for the
methodological significance of the historico-sociocultural life-world as the basic of a phenomenological theory of all the sciences and reaches the following conclusion: All of the sciences, including the mathematical sciences of nature, find their place within the cultural world. For that reason,
according to Husserlthe cultural or human sciences prove to be all-encompassing, since they
also comprise the natural sciences, i.e., mathematized nature, is itself a mental accomplishment,
that is, a cultural phenomenon. The converse, however, is not true. The cultural sciences cannot be
given a place among the natural sciences, any more than the cultural world can be reached beginning from mathematized nature, or, for that matter, from the thing-world, whileby taking ones
departure from the cultural world, one can arrive at the thing-world and the mathematized universe
by means of abstraction, idealization, and formalization. In general, then, there is a possible transition from the concrete to the abstract, but not the reverse. See Phenomenology and the Theory of
Science, ed. Lester Embree (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1974), 14849. Schutzs
social critique of knowledge considers scientific knowledge as a social product by focusing on the
context of an intersubjective community of investigators as scientific practitioners. As such, scientific activity as a social construction of reality partakes of the social a priori of the life-world itself.
See also Embrees contribution to this volume, Chap. 4, A Construction of Alfred Schutzs Theory
of Political Science.


H.Y. Jung

institution (in the etymological sense of the term) as a communal enterprise, or an

academy that has its own history. It is in Gadamers focus on historical consciousness or efficacy (wirkungsgeschichtliche Bewusstsein) that we find the imprint of
the human sciences (especially history) on his philosophical hermeneutics. Its radicality lies in the assertion that the human sciences contribute to the self-understanding of philosophy itselfan unusual and rare admission from a philosopher. Thus
the two complementary circles of a single issue is (1) the relevance of hermeneutics
to the conduct of social and cultural inquiry, and (2) the relevance of social and
cultural inquiry to the self-understanding of philosophy. In this respect, hermeneutical phenomenology, with an emphasis on language as an institution or communal
achievement, envisions the ultimate unity of philosophy and the human and cultural
sciences (and the humanities). The epicenter of Gadamers hermeneutics and Kuhns
theory of scientific paradigms is the efficacy of historical consciousness. In an
attempt to clarify his position in response to his critics, Kuhn wrote a postscript in
1969 to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In his concluding remarks, we find
a revealing passage whose idea has repeatedly been stressed in his later writings:
Scientific knowledge, like language, is intrinsically the common property of a
group or else nothing at all. To understand it we shall need to know the special characteristics of the groups that create and use it.16 The importance of viewing science
or language as an institution is essentially twofold. First, scientific knowledge is the
product of a socio-politico-cultural process, or what Kuhn calls a communal activity. Second, like language as the instrument of human communication, scientific
truth is not value-free nor devoid of normative judgments in the way the positivist
philosophers of science understand the term with their focus on the ahistorical
logic of explanation. On the contrary, Kuhn insists that scientific theorizing
always involves an inextricable mixture of descriptive/explanatory and normative
judgments. Neither value nor logic is a tetragrammaton.
Insofar as mathematical and scientific construction is a product, and also a project, of the human mind and a socio-cultural phenomenon, the function of phenomenology is to clarify the conditions under which scientism actually depends on the
life-world as the conceptual infrastructure of all meaningsthat is, to show how
scientism is indeed the garb of ideas (Ideenkleit). For Galileo, nature is written in
the language or letters of mathematics. To understand it we must reduce it to a manifold of mathematical or geometric figures (i.e., triangles, squares, circles, etc.).
Scientism, according to Husserl, is fallacious because it is foremost a conceptual
garb whereby what once was (or was intended to be) true in the mathematical formalization of nature as a method has gradually been taken, or mistaken, for reality
itself: What in truth is a method and the result of that method comes to be taken for
reality. Husserl continues to explain:
Mathematics and mathematical science, as a garb of ideas, or the garb of symbols of the
symbolic mathematical theories, encompasses everything which, for scientists and the educated generally, represents the life-world, dresses it up as objectively actual and true

Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed., enl. (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1970), 210.



nature. It is through the garb of ideas that we take for true being what is actually a method
a method which is designed for the purpose of progressively improving, in infinitum,
through scientific predictions, those rough predictions which are the only ones originally
possible within the sphere of what is actually experienced and experienceable in the

Scientism in the social sciences today is the blind transference of this methodolatry to the social construction of reality, not just the construction of social reality:
social reality has turned into a captive of scientific methodolatry rather than becoming the ontological foundation of scientific methodology. Ontology must precede
methodology. As for prediction which has been the hallmark of the natural sciences,
the physical sciences, it is a hazard and inaccurate guesswork for human behavior
because humans are conscious and self-conscious beings who can defy or counteract prediction. There is indeed a radical difference between how natural objects
move and how humans behave or act. Often the so-called prediction has a boomerang effect, or in common sports parlance, Monday morning quarterbacking. It
turns out to be not pre-dicting but post-dicting. Be that as it may, phenomenology is
now capable of disclosing, or undressing, the cloak of scientism in which, unaware
of its origin, methodology replaces or takes place prior to ontology or the social
construction of reality. Scientism is mistaken because, as Schutz puts it succinctly:
The concept of Naturewith which the natural sciences have to deal is, as Husserl has
shown, an idealizing abstraction from the Lebenswelt, an abstraction which, on principle
and of course legitimately, excludes persons with their personal life and all objects of culture which originate as such in practical human activity. Exactly this layer of the Lebenswelt,
however, from which the natural sciences have to abstract, is the social reality which the
social sciences have to investigate.18

Thus, political phenomenologyunlike political behavioralism as a form of scientismattempts to develop the methodology of studying politics or the political on
the basis of its ontological insights that the world of politics, unlike the world of physical objects, is constructed as the world of meanings whose subjects or creators (including the body as sentient subjects) are conscious human actors on the social scene.



We exist as body, as flesh, and we co-exist first as intercorporeal subjects. In the

beginning is indeed embodied sociality. Strausss classical philosophy is totally
ignorant or dismissive of the connection between embodiment and sociality in general, and political action in particular. For Strauss, embodiment is a forgotten or

The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to

Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. David Carr (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press,
1970), 5152.
Collected Papers I: The Problem of Social Reality, ed. Maurice Natanson (The Hague: Martinus
Nijhoff, 1962), 58.


H.Y. Jung

abandoned orphan child of philosophy presumably because philosophy is the function of the mind alone. On the other hand, the behavioralist understanding of the
body and human behavior is objectified from an observers standpoint. Thus there is
a radical difference between the behavioralist having a body (as an object) and the
phenomenological being a body (as a subject).
Neither political behavioralism nor psychological behaviorism (i.e., B. F.
Skinners psychology) knows the body as a subject: for them, the human body is an
object among others, and consciousness is likened to being a ghost in a machine. We
often take for granted that the body is our foothold in the world. As it is a location
in space, without it we can neither imagine nor conceptualize space; without the
body and space, there would be no sociality. In other words, the body is the primordial mode of our being-in-the-world, both social (Mitwelt) and natural (Umwelt).
Gabriel Marcel contends that the body (as subject) is the central problem of human
existence and everything else depends on its solution. As such the body is related to
everything we do and think: the carnal landscape is the presupposed foundation of
all conceptual geography. To put it in the phenomenological language of MerleauPonty, perception precedes conception: the perceived world is the always presupposed foundation of all knowledge, as well as all action, since the body is the lived
field of perception. Perception and the world (we perceive) are made of the same
By and large, the body has been an orphan child of philosophical discourses in
Western modernity, as if the philosopher is, or can be a disembodied cerebrum (a
phrase of Brand Blanshard, who was one of the first philosophers to write a critique
of Skinnerian behaviorism). The modern legacy of Descartess epistemocracy, or
his epistemological regime of philosophy of the cogito, is marked with and marred
by the bifurcation of mind (res cogitans) and body (res extensa). As it is the act of
the disembodied mind as thinking substance, the cogito is inherently egocentric
the epitome of an invisible man in isolation from others, both other minds and
other bodies. As a thinking substance, the mind is independent of the body: it needs
nothing more than itself to exist. The literary hermeneuticist, Gerold L. Bruns,
speaks elegantly and critically of Descartess jealousy of the subject, that is, the
subjects desire to seal itself off or to keep its thinking pure or uncontaminated by
the horizon of the other.19 Descartes himself confessed that any sort of intellectual
peregrination (not even to speak of globetrotting), real or imaginary is anathema to
philosophizing. For him, instead, the foundational knowledge of philosophy is to be
had nowhere else but in the philosophizing ego in its disembodied solitude. Once
the self and the other are viewed as disembodied substances, two self-contained
substances, egocentrismor even solipsism in extremisis inescapable. In short,
Descartess philosophizing ego is anathema to reality as social process or the social

What Is Tradition? New Literary History, 22 (1991): 121 at 11. For the concept of embodiment necessary to sociality or the social construction of reality, see Hwa Yol Jung, In the Beginning
was Embodied Sociality, in Interaction and Everyday Life: Phenomenological and
Ethnomethodological Essays in Honor of George Psathas, eds. Hisashi Nasu and Frances Chaput
Waksler (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012), 4171.



construction of reality. His twentieth century compatriot Auguste Rodins two

sculptural masterpieces The Thinker and The Cathedral depict otherwise the rite of
both embodied thinking and sociality. The famed German poet Rainer Maria Rilke,
who was a one-time assistant to Rodin, sculpts a few words of wisdom about The
Thinker as one who sits absorbed and silent, heavy with thought: with all the
strength of an acting man he thinks. His whole body has become head and all the
blood in his veins has become brain.20 As for Rodins The Cathedral, it depicts the
sacramental rite of coexistence when two right hands coming together in the towering structure of a cathedral. All in all, the phenomenologist, Erwin W. Straus, caps
the importance and necessity of the body for sociality when he writes: the body of
an organism is related to other bodies; it is a part of the physical universe. The mind,
however, is related to one body only; it is not directly related to the world, nor to
other bodies, nor to other minds.21 The body is the umbilical cord to the social
world. To be social is first and foremost to be intercorporeal. Besides, the body is
the only open window through which we can peep, for better or worse, into the inner
condition of our mind or soul. The face, as Ludwig Wittgenstein expresses, is the
soul (Seele) of the body. The mind becomes a relatum only because the body is
populated in the world with other bodies. It is necessary that we exist as body, as
flesh, in order to be social, and thus, ethical. Jrgen Habermas, who is a towering
figure in contemporary social and political philosophy, turns his deaf ears to the
body as flesh, to the subjective or, better, the phenomenological body by cutting off
or uprooting our umbilical cord to the social and political world or, better to use his
favorite word, the world of communicative praxis.22



Harold Lasswell, as we have noted above, divides the theorizing of politics into
political philosophy as profession of subjective preferences on the one hand and
political science as stating or describing only conditions on the other. Political
philosophy belongs to the realm of values whose truth is unverifiable, whereas political science is relegated to the realm of verifiable facts. We have hinted at above, the
separation of values from facts is too nave, simplistic, and even untenable. It is even
a facile escapism to tackle or resolve the difficult problem of both values and facts.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Rodin, trans. Jessie Lemont and Hans Trausil (London: Grey Wall Press,
1946), 33.
Phenomenological Psychology (New York: Basic Books, 1966), 211.
Habermas is extremely critical of phenomenology in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity:
Twelve Lectures, trans. Fredrick Lawrence (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), see especially Lecture
XI entitled An Alternative Way out of the Philosophy of the Subject: Communicative versus
Subject-Centered Reason, 294326, where phenomenology draws his heavy critical gunfire.
Habermas includes Merleau-Pontys conception of the lived body as subject. I wonder what
Habermas thinks of Marshall McLuhans communication theory in which the senses have reason
of their own. Is Habermas a disembodied cerebrum?


H.Y. Jung

This section will argue for an intimate and necessary connection between ethics
and politics, that is, for politics as ethics. Value is an integral and constitutive element of everyday existence. In the Lebenswelt, John Wild stresses, value is not a
later addition. It is constitutive of the thing. A human culture is not a neutral
structure with approvals and disapprovals added on. It is of approvals and
disapprovals.23 The British ethical phenomenologist, Simon Critchley, deconstructs
politics as ethics in the venerable tradition of Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas, we
believe, has succeeded, in making a paradigmatic ethical turn in phenomenology in
the twentieth century in which morality is the sinew of human co-existence based
on the conception of ethics as first philosophy (prima philosophia or philosophie
premire). Levinass construction of ethics as first philosophy is otherwise than
Heideggers Being or ontology. In a nutshell, as Critchley elegantly puts it, politics
devoid of ethics is blind, as much as ethics devoid of politics is an empty
abstraction.24 Thus, ethics and politics are inseparably interfaced or intertwined. For
Levinas, ethics as first philosophy and a philosophy of dialogue implicate or entangle each other because a philosophy of a dialogue is necessarily an ethics and, as
Levinass states, cannot not be an ethics.
In the fashion of Levinass ethics as first philosophy, furthermore, we can take up
the issue of responsibility as first ethics, which is anchored in the primacy of the
other, of alterity (i.e. altarityto use Mark C. Taylors neologism where the other
is placed at the altar or higher place over the self (ipseity). Altruism for its name
sake, therefore, is exemplary of responsibility. As the you or we is not a plural


Existence and the World of Freedom (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1963), 54. According to
Wild, we find four different kinds of phenomenon in the life-world: man himself [or herself], the
realm of nature, other men [and women] and the realm of human culture, and finally, the transcendence. See Interrogation of John Wild, conducted by Henry B. Veatch in Philosophical
Interrogations, eds. Sydney and Beatrice Rome (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964),
We should mention here two important works in ethical phenomenology by Critchley: Ethics
PoliticsSubjectivity: Essays on Derrida, Levinas and Contemporary French Thought (London:
Verso, 1999), and The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992).
We wish to say that ethics as first philosophy is post-ontological. It is worth noting that, for
Heidegger, there are the three basic components of phenomenological methodreduction, construction, destructionbelong together in their content and must receive grounding in their mutual
pertinence. Construction in philosophy is necessarily deconstruction, that is to say, a deconstructing of traditional concepts carried out in a historical recursion to the tradition. This is not a negation of the tradition, nor a condemnation of it as worthless; quite the reverse: it signifies precisely
a positive appropriation of tradition, because destruction belongs to construction, philosophical
cognition is essentially at the same time, in a certain sense, historical cognition. History of philosophy, as it is called, belongs to the concept of philosophy as science (Wissenschaft), to the concept
of phenomenological investigation. The history of philosophy is not an arbitrary appendage to the
business of teaching, which provides an occasion for picking up some convenient and easy theme
for passing an examination or even for just looking around to see how things were in earlier times.
See The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, trans. Albert Hofstadter (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1982), 23. This passage clearly adds an explanation to the importance of historical consciousness in Gadamers hermeneutics and of Derridas deconstructionism which is not a
demolition derby or destruction for the sake of destruction.



of the I, ipseity alone renders responsibility as first ethics impossible. Indeed,

ipseity alone defaces or effaces the ethical. It is the primary presence of the other
that makes responsibility as first ethics, if not the ethical itself, possible. Thus,
Levinas holds that human plurality is not a multiplicity of numbers, but is predicated upon a radical alterity of the other, that is, heteronomy. The idea of altarity
elevates the world of the other, and transforms it into an elevated ethical text.
In the elevated ethical text of altarity, responsibility is first ethics. Levinass
heteronomic ethics confirms conscience never for itself but only for an other
(pour lautre): it is my responsibility to the other that makes me an individual I or
the very mode of subjectivity is knotted to responsibility as first ethics. Although
responsibility without freedom is a sham, freedom or autonomy is ancillary, not
contrary to responsibility simply because we can be free without being responsible,
but we can never be responsible without being free. Existence, Levinas declares,
is not condemned to freedom but judged and invested as a freedom. Freedom could
not present itself all naked. This investiture of freedom constitutes moral life itself,
which is through and through a heteronomy.25 From the existential standpoint of
Levinass heteronomy the very idea of existence has been profoundly misunderstood among its antagonists as well as protagonists: as its etymology suggests, what
is really central to it is not the centrality but the eccentricity (ex-centricity) of the
self toward the world of others (Mitwelt) and other nonhuman beings and things
(Umwelt). The human as eccentric is a being who is already always exposed to and
reaches out to the outside world of what Levinas himself calls exteriority. Thus
the motto of existence must be: do not go inside, go outside. Existence is coexistence: to be alone is not to be. Be a responsible agent first, not an epistemological
subject. Individual existence is authenticated not by egocentricity, but only by heteronomy or an open dialogue of eccentric agents. To sum up: the idea of existence
as coexistence promotes responsibility as first ethics which refutes both egocentrism and anthropocentrism (or speciesism).
Vclav Havels politics of living in truth and the Charter 77 group in
Czechoslovakia, whose intellectual pillar was Jan Patokaonce an assistant of
Husserl and a student of Heidegger, who died during a police interrogationthoroughly vindicates the moral efficacy of the jesterly against the priestly (to use
the dialogical language of the exiled Polish Marxist Leszek Kolakowski)politics
of totalitarianism, of the power of the powerless (the title of Havels essay dedicated to Patoka), of the existential politics of conscience, and of the success of
nonviolent resistance for the creation of a post-totalitarian political order. After
reading Levinas closely in his prison years, Havel regarded responsibility as the
innermost secret of moral humanity, which would be capable of encompassing the
nonhuman realm of nature.26 Havel rejected in toto Machiavellis Realpolitik or

Collected Philosophical Papers, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987), 58.
For a detailed account of Havels responsible politics, see Hwa Yol Jung, Vclav Havels New
Statecraft of Responsible Politics, in Phenomenology 2010, vol. 5: Selected Essays from North
America. Part 2: Phenomenology Beyond Philosophy, eds. Lester Embree, Michael Barber, and
Thomas J. Nenon (Bucharest: Zeta Books/Paris: Arghos-Diffusion, 2010), 17795.


H.Y. Jung

power politics known as the art of the possible. He demonstrated in both theory
and practice the ethics of responsible politics as what he called the art of the impossible. For Havel, violence or carnage is anathema to genuinely dialogical politics:
his jesterly dissident is a true Albert Camus rebel or Mikhail Bakhtins dialogist, not a dialectician, who senses and cultivates his allegiance to human solidarity with no intention of obliterating the other. He/she is able to say that I rebel,
therefore we exist. Havel also talked about the role of an intellectual as a perpetual
irritant rebel (or gadfly) who is self-consciously capable of detaching himself/
herself from the established order of any kind and who is constantly vigilant to and
suspicious of taking the winning side.
Rebellion or nonviolent subversion stands tall in the midway between silence
and murder in refusing to accept what we are. The rebel or dissident willingly
acknowledges a dialogical interplay between the ethical principle of culpability and
the epistemological principle of fallibility, whereas the revolutionary thrives on the
monological absoluteness of inculpability and infallibility however noble his/her
cause may be. Epistemological dogmatism and moral absolutism have no niche in
Levinass ethics of responsibility based on heteronomy and Havels statecraft of
responsible politics which always recognize the ever-present, porous moment and
zone of ambiguity that resides in between complete doubt that paralyzes action and
absolute certainty that inflicts suffering, terror, and death on ordinary humanity. For
Havel, to repeat in conclusion, morals are the basic fabric of all politics. Thus politics is never a four-letter word precisely because it is deeply rooted in, and inseparable from, the moral makeup of common humanity. For him, politics without ethics
bear a tyranny within itself. Havel also speaks of politics as morality in practice,
practical morality, and anti-political politics. For him, politics as ethics, it is
worth mentioning again, is the art of the impossible, while Machiavellis power
politics devoid of ethics that promotes living in untruth, that is, in manipulation,
image-making deception, and above all violence as the art of the possible.
We would even contend without a moment of hesitation that in the age of geophilosophy as ultima philosophia and of the globalizing world of multiculturalism,
taking responsibility seriously is far more important than taking rights seriously
(the rights theorist Ronald Dworkins expression). For Locke, the sole function of
civil government in his theory of social contract is to protect and preserve individual
property which is a composite of life, liberty, and estate which Thomas Jefferson in
the Declaration of Independence rephrased as the pursuit of happiness. Estate is
nothing but the product of labor, which is the centerpiece of Lockes structuration of
property. Locke meant to create a society of acquisitive individuals, which is called
by the Canadian political theorist C. B. Macpherson possessive individualism.27

See C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism (Oxford: Clarendon

Press). Anthony Downs An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York: Harper and Row, 1957)
was once, if not now, a popular text for undergraduate majors in political science. His conception
of positive political science was preceded by Milton Friedmans model of positive economics.
To be positive, according to Downs, the model is constructed for the purpose of accurate prediction rather than of accurately describing political reality or understanding of the meaning of political phenomenon under observation. It is constructed by selecting a few crucial variables as relevant



The most damaging or destructive aspect of Lockes labor theory of values is that
the land uncultivated is a wasteland, which we might call his Wilderness Attention
Deficit Disorder (WADD). Wilderness for him has no values whatsoever. Be that as
it may, it is often taken for granted and thus worth noting that with Lockes possessive individualism comes a paradigmatic or continental shift in the long history of
Western political thought from the ascendancy of political categories to that of economic ones which marks the radical difference between the premoderns and the
moderns including Karl Marx. Hence, according to Sheldon S. Wolin, is the decline
of political philosophy. If Lockes liberalism is characterized as possessive individualism, then Marxs socialism is possessive collectivism. In this light lies the
utmost importance of Hannah Arendts work, The Human Condition (1958), in her
effort to retrieve the premodern (i.e., Aristotelian) ascendancy of the political (the
public affairs of the polis) over the economic (the private affairs of households or
oikos) whose center is labor, that is to say, its end is to restore political philosophy
as a philosophy of political action distinct from labor (homo laborans) and work
(homo faber). Indeed, Lockean economic man (homo oeconomicus) is manifestly
anti-ecological man (homo ecologicus). In this great oeuvre of Arendt, there is a
profound yet untapped sagacity which is critical to all earth-bound creatures both
human and nonhuman and thus geophilosophy, which reads as follows:
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 without effort and without artifice. The human 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. For some
time now, a great many scientific endeavors have been directed toward making life also
artificial, toward cutting the last tie through which even man belongs among the children
of nature.28

Arendts emphasis on the accelerating artificiality of todays world has an

overtone or echo of her mentor Heideggers Gestell (enframing) as opposed to
Gelassenheit (serenity or quietude), including the planetary domination by technology of the earth, which is on its road to making humanity itself as endangered
species. We humans are solely responsible for saving the entire population of earthly
creatures on this green earth. Many Heideggerians today claim that we must first
restore our lost geopiety (our allegiance to the nonhuman beings and things) before
our homopiety (our allegiance to humanity).29
while ignoring others which may have a vital influence on and relevance to the real world of politics. Since the accuracy of their prediction rather than the reality of their assumption, the preconceptual reality of how real men and women behave in the real world of politics is immaterial to his
conceptual framework. Furthermore, the rationality of human behavior is defined in terms of selfish motives and interests. Would altruistic behavior be irrational?
The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 2.
See Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the Technological
Age (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984) and Erazim Kohk, The Embers and the Stars:
A Philosophical Inquiry into the Moral Sense of Nature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1984). Kohk clearly states: To recover the moral sense of our humanity, we would need to


H.Y. Jung

America is the land of rights talk, which is indeed the landmark of American
exceptionalism. The noted historian of American political thought, of American
liberalism, Louis Hartz observed that Locke more than any other thinker dominates
American political thinking. Francis Fukuyamas controversial thesis of the end of
history, despite his later denial, was a kind of fulfillment of Lockes uncanny
prophecy that America would be the future of the world. Amy Gutman also observes
that in America the most prominent political philosophers are rights theorists. The
depth of Lockes possessive individualism in the American psyche is intimated by
Mary Ann Glendon,30 the severest critic of American rights talk when she comments that it is distinguished not only by what and how Americans say, but also
what they leave unsaid.
Not unlike the continental thinker Levinas, John Wild as a citizen of the land
of rights talk is an exception. He spoke not only of our blindness to others
but also of the only worthy rights are the rights of the other as other,31 not the
rights of possessive self-aggrandizement which theoretically rules out any possibility of altruism. Today rights talk has invaded and colonized even the nonhuman world of nature with good intention of preserving and conserving
Americas wilderness and living nonhuman creatures on it. Many if not all speak
of rights of nature and animal rights as well as civil and political rights
and universal human rights. A call for the reclamation of responsibility by
opponents of rights talk is also somewhat misguided because responsibility
has never assumed conceptual prominence or strategic equity with rights in
Western modernity. Zygmunt Bauman, who is an astute reader of Levinas, too,
fallsperhaps inadvertentlyinto the confusing metaphors between rights and
responsibility on the one hand and between having and being on the other
when he maintains that moral responsibility is the most personal and inalienable of human possessions, and the most precious of human rights. Indeed, there
is a paramount and urgent need for the clarification and rectification of responsibility as a deconstructive critique of rights talk.

recover first the moral sense of nature (The Embers and the Stars, 13. Italics added for
Rights Talk (New York: Free Press, 1995). So far this work is the most scathing critique of the
See The Promise of Phenomenology: Posthumous Papers of John Wild, 15968. Wild wrote
Introduction to the English translation of Levinas magnum opus Totality and Infinity: An Essay
on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969) (see 1120).
See also Seyla Benhabib, The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents and Citizens (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2004) in which her slogan is: No human is illegal.




Transversality in the Globalizing World

of Multiculturalism

The globalizing world of multiculturalism is the fact of life everywhere. The late
Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan characterized this shrinking
world as a global village which invokes the intimate and proximal image of communicative praxis in Homeric oral culture in the development of Western history
and civilization. For good reason, he fancied writing his magnum opus The
Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) in Chinese characters or sinograms. He opened up a
gateless gateway to the cross-cultural understanding of the world which has been
becoming a cosmopolisto use a more politically-pointed word.32
By transversality, we mean the most current stage of phenomenology as a philosophical movement in order to account for the globalizing world of multiculturalism. All new philosophies, including phenomenology, begin by inventing new
concepts and themes to come to terms with the world always already in transition.
In todays rapidly changing real world of globalization and multiculturalism, we are
in dire need of new concepts and themes to explore and reflect on these changing
realities. We are not one but many. According to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri,
we are neither people nor masses but a multitude. The idea of people for
them reduces many to a single and unitary entity while masses is driven to uniformity. Both people and masses fail to take into consideration the idea of difference or diversity. To conserve diversity in the idea of we, multitude is preferred
in describing the social world that is nothing but a multiple network of relationships
as well as multiple experiential realities. Multitude for its namesake is a befitting
response to both the phenomenon of multiculturalism and the advent of
For many centuries, ethnocentrism, major or minor, has filtered through some of
the finest minds in the modern intellectual history of the West. The mindset called
Eurocentrism sees itself as the anointed guardian of the cultural, scientific32

The anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot made remarks in 1991 that would characterize the
cosmopolitan outlook of the world by way of transversality and globalization. He gave us interesting samples of the world becoming more and more hybrid and thus global when he wrote: We,
here, is the West, as in Michael Jackson and Lionel Richies international hit, We Are the World.
This is not the West in a genealogical or territorial sense. The postmodern world has little space
left for genealogies, and notion of territoriality are being redefined right before our eyesIt is a
world where black American Michael Jackson starts an international tour from Japan and imprints
cassettes that make the rhythm of Haitian peasant families in the Cuban Sierra Maestra; a world
where Florida speaks Spanish (once more); where a Socialist prime minister in Greece comes by
way of New England and an imam of fundamentalist Iran by way of Paris. It is a world where a
political leader in reggae-prone Jamaica traces his roots to Arabia, where United States credit cards
are processed in Barbados, and Italian designer shoes are made in Hong Kong. It is a world where
the Pope is Polish, where the most orthodox Marxists live on the western side of a fallen iron curtain. It is a world where the most enlightened are only part-time citizens of part-time communities
of imagination. See Anthropology and the Savage Slot: The Poetics and Politics of Otherness,
in Recapturing Anthropology, ed. Richard G. Fox (Santa Fe: School of American Research Press,
1991), 22.


H.Y. Jung

technological, political, economic and even moral capital of the entire globe. By
constructing a great divide between the East and the West, Eurocentrism willfully
engages in a kind of intellectual apartheid regime in which the superior West is
quarantined off from the inferior Eastto use the expression of the intellectual
historian John M. Hobson. According to the sociologist-philosopher Zygmunt
Bauman, Europe has thrusted its weight into colonizing the future in the way it had
colonized the surrounding space. Indeed, this Eurocentric idea of colonizing the
future gives a new meaning to the conception of modernity as an unfinished project
or as the end of history in conquering the entire globe as the converging point of
time and space.
The quintessence of transversality is the cross-breeding of diverse cultures, species, academic disciplines, and senses. As disenchantment mounts for the status quo
and thus calls for transcendence, transversality is used here as that magic portmanteau expression deconstruction which unpacks and then attempts to go beyond what
is given. Instead of vertically (linearly) digging the same hold deeper and deeper
with no possibility of exit in sight, transversality laterally (horizontally) digs a new
hole. Thus transversality spells trans(uni)versality: it is a phoenix rising from the
ashes of universalityto use Husserls deconstruction metaphor.
It is transparent that Hegels conception of truth as universal is West-generated,
that is, out of Western narcissism, ethnocentric ignorance, and above all philosophical truancy. Hegels myopic view of universality may be likened to the Asian
proverbial frog, which lived at the bottom of a deep well, looked up to the sky one
day, and squealed with delight: thats the universe! There are always, of course,
exceptions. The self-professed pluralist Johann Gottfried Herder exemplifies an
exception. Herder contended that Western colonialism is an evil because it reduces,
or threatens to reducethe number of cultural variants that exist in the world. That
is an evil because plurality is part of the way the world [even the universe] is
constituted.33 Herder further challenges the mainstream Western conception of universal reason in extremely befitting and interesting bodily metaphors in the age of
the Enlightenment: After dozens of attempts, I find myself unable to comprehend
how reason can be presented so universally as the single summit and purpose of all
human culture, all happiness, all good. Is the whole body just one big eye? Would it
not suffer if every part, the hand and the foot, had to serve as the eye and the brain?
Reason, too carelessly, too uselessly diffused, may well weaken desire, instincts and
vital activityin fact has already done so.34
The American pragmatist William James, who is a worthy heir of Herders pluralism, fuels a critique of Hegelianism. He delivered Hibbert Lectures in England
published in 1909 under the title A Pluralistic Universe (1909),35 which also con33

Anthony Pagden, The Effacement of Difference: Colonialism and the Origins of Nationalism in
Diderot and Herder, in After Colonialism, ed. Gyan Prakash (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1995), 414.
J. G. Herder on Social and Political Culture, trans. and ed. F. M. Barnard (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1969), 199.
New York: Longmans, Green.



tains a pluralist critique of Hegels universalist monism. James impresses us more

than ever before in his early writings on two accounts. First, reality is something
that is and can be experienced. To paraphrase slightly Ralph Waldo Emerson lifeexperience is my philosophical dictionary. Second, in his formulation of pluralism
he is prophetic as much as profound, including his critique of Hegelianism which is
in pursuit of the truth, one, indivisible, eternal, objective, and necessary. This
apodictic and dogmatic idea is couched in the language of must be rather than by
hypothetical and ambiguous may be. There is indeed a stark contrast between
Hegels rationalism and James radical empiricism. One explains parts by
way of a whole, and the other a whole by way of parts.
It is worth noting here Merleau-Pontys transversal argument against Hegels
Eurocentrism: all thought philosophical or otherwise is part of the life-world as
everyday, historical, and socio-cultural reality. All philosophies are anthropological
types and none has any special privilege of, or monopoly on, truth. European
thought is as much ethnophilosophical as Chinese or Indian thought. Unwarranted
is Hegels glib yet arrogant assumption and Eurocentric truancy that what is ethnophilosophical in the West is universalized or universalizable, whereas what is
ethnophilosophical in China or India remains ethnophilosophical (i.e. nonphilosophy). Merleau-Ponty rightly challenges Hegels Eurocentrism by pointing
out that if Western philosophy is what it claims to be universal, it must prove it by
understanding all life-worlds, which is indeed a daunting task or the task of which
is infinitely impossible. For Merleau-Ponty, the West invented the idea of truth itself
and there is no one philosophy which contains all philosophies. Rather, philosophys center is everywhere and its circumference nowhere. Thus truth is concentric/
polycentric, that is, transversal.
Insofar as it is the negotiated or com/promised middle voice or path, transversality touches the soul and heart of Mahayana and Zen Buddhism. The icon of transversality is the famous, worm-eaten, old wooden statue of the Zen Priest Hoshi
(Baoxi) at Saio Temple in Kyoto which is now housed in the Kyoto National
Museum, Japan. It embodies the mantra of transversality. The Hoshis facethe
soul of his bodywhich speaks of the world in transformationmarks a new
dawn of Awakening (satori) or signals the beginning of a new regime of ontology,
culture, ethics, and politics. From the crack of the middle of the old face of the
Hoshis statue, there emerges an interstitial, liminal face that signifies a new transfiguration and transvaluation of the existing world. This emerging new face signals
the arrival of Maitreya (the future Awakened One) or Bodhisattva (Sanskrit) who
is a middle way being (sattva) with perfect wisdom (Bodhi or prajna) who first
helps others to achieve liberation and harmony. This newly emerging face in the
Middle is destined to navigate the difficult waters of intercultural, interspecific,
interdisciplinary and intersensorial border-crossings. One is warned not to take it as
a middle point between two poles. Rather, it means to dissolve all bipolarities
(nature and humanity, body and mind, femininity and masculinity, and East and
West). What is so important here is the fact that transversality is the paradigmatic
rendition of overcoming bipolarity itself as is found in Western modernity. The
bipolar solids melt into the omnipresent atmosphere of transversality, as it were.


H.Y. Jung

In the final analysis, the construction of transversality may be called a global

imaginary after the fashion of the Canadian political hermeneuticist and multicultural pluralist Charles Taylor, who follows the healthy skepticism of Hans-Georg
Gadamer that the soul of hermeneutics is the notion that the other (non-European or
non-Western) may be right. To adopt and modify Taylors conception of social
imaginary,36 a global imaginary is something broader than an intellectual scheme.
Rather, it is life-worldly, that is, it is the way ordinary people think about and imagine their social existence in relating themselves to others, particularly foreign
others with global connectedness in mind that is engaging and normative. Thusly
viewed, transversality has a global or planetary outlook. The significance of transversality as a global imaginary lies in its speculative projection of the future as history, i.e. the future of hybridization or creolization, which will no doubt continue
with no ending in sight since it is an exercise in one of imaginary variations. To
borrow the paradoxical injunction of a Zen koan: dont stop, keep going when you
get to the top of the mountain!
It must be warned that the aim of transversality as a global imaginary is not to
build one unified world with one government. The unhappy consciousness as a
transversalist eagerly and earnestly searches for overcoming Eurocentric universality. As a matter of fact, ethnocentrism, whether it be Eurocentrism, Sinocentrism,
Indocentrism, Afrocentrism, or Latinocentrism has no place in transversality whatsoever. The thought experiment of transversality requires a willingness to risk the
safety and comfort of philosophical self-sufficiency and self-referentiality. Its journey is to discover the unknown continent of a new reality as well as a new way of
philosophizing. In a globalizing world, meanings, ideas, and values to indeed travel
and migrate everywhere in all directionsfrom West to East, from North to South,
and above all diagonallythe phenomenon of which would reduce if not eradicate
ethnocentric ignorance. Calvin O. Schrag wisely sums up: Transversal logos
replaces the universal logos as the lynch-pin for the philosophy of the new millennium, which is already here.37 The transversal logos as a dynamic idea is, according to him, open to the prospect for invention, intervention, transgression,
re-creation, etc.38 That is to say, it is truly a deconstructive interruption (inter/
It is well worth adding here that Taylor, who is one of the most perceptive readers
and interpreters of Gadamers hermeneutics, poignantly sums up the enormously
important relevance of Gadamers hermeneutics to comparative culture and philosophy when he writes:


Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 23.

Convergence amidst Difference: Philosophical Conversations across National Boundaries
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004), 76. This gem of a small book sums up the
quintessence of his work on transversal rationality across cultural and disciplinary borders in
Experiences between Philosophy and Communication: Engaging the Philosophical Contributions
of Calvin O. Schrag, eds. Ramsey Eric Ramsey and David James Miller (Albany: State University
of New York Press, 2003), 26.



Gadamers account of the challenge of the other and the fusion of horizons
[Horizontverschmelzung] applies also to our attempt to quite alien societies and epochs.
The claim here comes not from their place within our identity, but precisely from their challenge to it. They present us difference and often disconcerting ways of being human. The
challenge is to be able to acknowledge the humanity of their way, while still being able to
live ours. That this may be difficult to achieve, that it will almost certainly involve a change
in our self-understanding and hence in our way, has emerged from the above discussion.
Meeting this challenge is becoming ever more urgent in our intensely inter-communication

Taylor salutes Gadamer for helping us so immensely to conceive this challenge

clearly and really. The aim of transversality in the globalizing world of multiculturalism, too, is to overcome myopic yet stubborn ethnocentrism consciously or habitually persisting in both theory and practical life. It espouses the tolerance of the
others difference. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who is the inventor of world literature (Weltliteratur) in the eighteenth century, clearly expressed that what the
West is to the self, the East is to the (foreign) other, the fusion of the two would be
forever a difficult if not impossible task if the East (or the non-West) remains just a
negative mirror of the West. Instead, the foreign other of the East (yin) should
become complementary to the West (yang) just as in the Sinic logic of yin and yang.
Needless to say, the hermeneutics of the other is always a difficult and risky art
because the other, especially the foreign other, may get lost in translation. The
understanding of the other is a kind of black hole in all human communication.
Jean-Paul Sartre is poignant and not exaggerating when he says: Hell is other
What a philosophy of identity is to Western modernity, a philosophy of difference is to postmodern transversality. Transversal relationality, too, is an adventure
of differenceto use the Italian postmodern hermeneuticist Gianni Vattimos
phrase. Heideggers wordplay Differenz as Unterschied, which doubles difference
with the inter (unter), connects, preserves, and promotes both difference and the
relational at the same time. In her classic In a Different Voice (1982), which has
been most widely-read and influential on the development of American feminism,
Carol Gilligan recognizes or acknowledges the dignity of difference as the keyboard of relating ourselves with others: we make connections in the face of difference. There is very good reason why for the American political philosopher
Michael Walzer difference and toleration go hand in hand: difference makes toleration necessary and toleration makes difference possible.
Further we should add that Differenz as Unterschied exacts how the ancient Sinic
logic of yin and yang works in which difference (between yin and yang), when it is
neither reified nor erased, is capable of conserving the principle of complementarity
rather than a curse of separation in connecting ourselves to others both human and
nonhuman. While for Gilles Deleuze the repetitive logic of difference is undialectizable, Merleau-Ponty uses the enabling term hyper-dialectic that goes
beyond Hegels and Marxs logic of the dialectic, that is, the dialectic with no final


Dilemmas and Connections: Selected Essays (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 38.


H.Y. Jung

synthesis. For Merleau-Ponty, the hyper-dialectic is unfinalizableto borrow

the term Mikhail Bakhtin who replaces the dialectic with dialogue and calls his
unfinalizable way of discourses dialogism. In the end, the notion of difference
solidifies and advances the conception of a relational self or the self always already
as relational through and through. It is also the case that to be meaningful, globalization should be spelled as glocalizationto borrow the neologism of the New
York Times journalist Thomas I. Friedmans work The Lexus and the Olive Tree:
Understanding Globalization (1999), since the global is rooted in the local. The
former without the latter is empty while the latter without the former is myopic in
todays real world of confluence between multiculturalism and globalization. Here
the elegant and poignant language of the Afro-American philosopher Cornel West
is instructive and should not escape our attention:
Distinctive features of the new cultural politics of difference are to trash the monolithic and
homogeneous in the name of diversity, multiplicity and heterogeneity; to reject the abstract,
general and universal in light of concrete, specific and particular; and to historicize, contextualize and pluralize by highlighting the contingent, provisional, variable, tentative, shifting
and changing.40

Ever mindful of out there, out in the real and forever relational world, West
concludes his essay with well-chosen words of wisdom to avoid the twin pitfalls of
faceless universalism and ethnic chauvinism in taking the middle path between
the two extremes. While universalist monism is simple, transversalist pluralism is
complex and full of ambiguity ingrained in the very order of multiplicity. In dealing
with the question of todays real world of multiculturalism and globalization, transversalist pluralism is more accurate and far more interesting than universalist
monism. By the same token, the non-West will become a parallax rather than the
negative other of the West for the first time in the world history of civilizations by
complementing what is lacking in the West. Non-Western philosophy is the testing
ground for the ultimate limits of Western philosophy.
What would be, we may ask, the outcome of crossing, fusing, or transversalizing
two or more different cultures, races/ethnicities, and languages? It simply results in
hybridity, further hybridization of hybrids, and ad infinitum. The idea of hybridization is opposed to the purification rite of racism/ethnocentrism, speciesism, single
disciplinarity, the single sensorium, etc. in the age of the acceleratingly globalizing
world of multiculturism.
It is of some interest to note that the American philosopher Ernest Fenollosa,
who wrote of etymosinology, wrote in 1898 the avant-garde essay entitled The


The New Cultural Politics of Difference, in Out There, eds. Russell Ferguson, Martha Gever,
Trin H. T. Minh-ha, and Cornel West (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990),
19. For the confluence of ethnic and cultural differences, besides reading Chinese fortune cookies,
the factor of migration, whatever motives and circumstances might have been, is most significant,
e.g., Germans, Italians, the overseas Chinese and Indians, Jews in diaspora, all around the world.
See Thomas Sowell, Migrations and Cultures: A World View (New York: BasicBooks, 1996). Even
the sign language of gestures migrates from one place to another.



Coming Fusion of East and West41 and spoke of a time of re-union for civilizations. His strong sense and conviction of world community led him to reject
cultural parochialism. He was a truly avant-garde thinker who anticipated a relational pattern of thinking which is uniquely Sinic and was prepared to discover in
Japan a cosmopolis in every village and town, the phenomenon of which is known
today as glocalized cosmopolitanism. We must keep in mind that he crossed the
Pacific Ocean in 1878 in the midst of Japans full-fledged Westernization/modernization with the slogan Eastern morality and Western technology. Now there is an
abundance of fusions: fusion cooking, fusion music, fusion literature, fusion painting, fusion politics, and so on.
For the sake of brevity, however, we will focus on the Caribbeanto be more
precise, Martiniquanfrancophone thinker Edouard Glissant42 because his thinking reflects the (inter)cultural, (inter)ethnic, and (inter)linguistic make-up of the
Caribbean archipelago or a constellation of small islands or a speck of dustto
use Charles de Gaulles politically-incorrect expression that angered the native
Caribbean islanders. The Caribbean archipelago is one of the hottest beds of hybridization or creolization in culture, ethnicity, and language. As a matter of fact,
Glissant is a self-professed transversalist par excellence. Needless to say, our
global imaginary that includes hybridity or hybridization is an impure
imagination43 since it is an unpuritanical or unholy miscegenation of different
races/ethnicities, cultures, and languages. Be that as it may, the dehiscence of
Glissants transversal philosophy would undoubtedly promotes the cross-pollination
of cultural ideas and values.
For Glissant, transversality embodies the heart of his poetics of relation as crosscultural encounters and points to a new ontology, ethics, and politics of global relation venir. Glissant has an uncanny convergence in the name of transversality with
Merleau-Ponty in his critique of Hegel the Eurocentric universalist and absolute
rationalist when he articulates without equivocation that transversal relation means
to replace the old concept of the universal. Thinking about One, Glissant
declares with elegance and clarity, is not thinking about All (La pense de lUn ne

See Ernest Fenollosa and Ezra Pound, The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry,
eds. Haun Saussy, Jonathan Stalling, and Lucas Klein (New York: Fordham University Press,
2008), 15365. After some time past, there appeared another American philosophers work
appeared: F. S. C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West: An Inquiry Concerning World
Understanding. Interestingly, Northrop characterized, though oversimplified, Eastern culture as
aesthetic while Western culture as scientific. We can say that what he called world understanding is the confluence of cultural differences between East and West by way of globalization
that would lead to hybridization or fusion.
For a detailed account of Glissants transversal world, see Hwa Yol Jung, Edouard Glissants
Aesthetics of Relation as Diversality and Creolization, in Postcolonialism and Political Theory,
ed. Nalini Persram (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007), 193225, which included a few quoted
passages in this text.
In reading works on hybridity in Latin American countries, Joshua Lunds edited volume drew
our attention to the eye-catching phrase impure imagination. See The Impure Imagination
toward a Critical Hybridity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).


H.Y. Jung

soit pas la pense du Tout). Speaking of Hegels conception of world history,

Glissant retorts,
History is a highly functional fantasy of the West, originating at precisely the time when it
alone made the history of the world. If Hegel relegated African peoples to the ahistorical,
Amerindian peoples to the prehistorical, in order to reserve History for European people
exclusively, it appears that it is not because these African or American peoples have
entered History that we can conclude today that such a hierarchical conception of the
march of History is no longer relevant.44

Glissant deconstructs Hegels history by dissolving it as irrelevant or pass in the

postcolonial world of diverse cultures that rejects the linear, hierarchical vision of
a single History keeping in mind that the postcolonial world is neither purely
European nor purely non-European as it is a hybridity of both European and nonEuropean cultures, ethnicities, and languages.
Transversality is the way of crossing and going beyond (i.e., creolized) ethnic,
lingual, and cultural boundaries. The word errance means for Glissant to be at
home in several languages and cultures while not cutting off the umbilical cord to
ones own native land. Therefore, transversality, hybridity, and creoleness may be
used interchangeably. The Caribbean archipelago is a supreme symbol of interconnectedness and interdependence. Creoleness, moreover, is the way of discovering
Caribbean subterranean convergence or the convergence of transversal relations
from within. As it is indigenous to the Caribbean archipelago it is the mtissage
(Glissants own translation of the term is cross-breeding) of Western and nonWestern ethnicity, language, and culture. As mtissage is the site of multiple converging paths, the converging histories of the Caribbean multitude liberate them
from the all-encompassing vision of a single History. (See Chap. 10 for the detailed
references and explanations of the above-mentioned phrases and passages.)
Caribbeanness is the root of a cross-cultural relationship that mutates ethnically,
culturally, and linguistically. It frees and saves the Caribbean from uniformity and
promotes diversity. Equally important is the fact that diversity as accepted difference passes through whole communities and peoples, whereas sameness (identity)
as sublimated difference is revealed only in the solitude of individual Being.
The so-called recognition or acknowledgment of difference, which is not one but
many, is not the final but only the first step in the making of hybridity. In In Praise
of Creoleness/loge de la Crolit (1989)a Caribbean manifesto that is purposely
written bilinguallydiversality in opposition to the universal or uniform is
defined as the conscious harmonization of preserved diversities. When harmonization is understood musically, it enriches the tonality and even coloration of diversality when two or more tones are put together (i.e., orchestrated), there emerges
harmonization (or sym/phony) in which each individual tone is not lost but preserved, whereas when two colors are mixed together, there is no harmony to speak
of but only another color. In the name of a polyphonic harmony, diversality frowns
upon the obsessional concern with the Universal. The previously mentioned

Caribbean Discourses: Selected Essays, trans. J. Michael Dash (Charlottesville: University of

Virginia Press, 1989), 64.



Caribbean or creolized manifesto begins with the following sentence: Neither

Europeans, nor Africans, nor Asians, we proclaim ourselves Creoles. The Creole
(as hybrid) is neither unitarian nor separatist but is likened to a hybrid butterfly
(Glissants own term) who frees himself/herself from an ethnocentrist cocoon
(this, too, is Glissants own term). Glissant himself describes the principium of creoleness as the end of diversality which defies paraphrasing:
Diversity, which is neither chaos nor sterility, means the human spirits striving for a crosscultural relationship, without universalist transcendence. Diversity needs the presence of
peoples [multitude], no longer as objects to be swallowed up, but with the intention of creating a new relationship. Sameness requires fixed Being, Diversity establishes Becoming.
Just as Sameness began with expansionist plunder in the West, Diversity came to light
through the political and armed resistance of peoples [multitude]. As Sameness rises within
the fascination with the individual, Diversity is spread through the dynamism of

In conclusion, ethnocentrism, whatever form it takes, is neither desirable nor

sustainable in the age of the globalizing world of multiculturalism. It is the main
roadblock to transversalizing the world toward fusion, hybridization or creolization,
the phenomenon of which hopefully reduces if not eventually eradicates ethnocentric ignorance and prejudice. When globalization is spelled glocalization, there is
the fusion of the global (as foreign exteriority) and the local (as indigenous interiority) in balance. In ex/changing different/foreign ideas and values (i.e., confluence),
there is indeed a working of the symbolic logic of yin and yang where what is absent
and lacking or deficient in one is complemented or even supplemented by the other.
What traditionally called comparative philosophy, in which we have so far been
badly lagging, would become a vain philosophical exercise unless, or until, it transforms our very way (dao) of philosophizing by transversalizing our different philosophical systems. In the end, we should work together toward the creation of world
philosophy (Weltphilosophie) in emulating the way the incomparably versatile and
interdisciplinarian Goethe initialed world literature (Weltliteratur).

Origins and Status of This Collection

The primary task of this section is to place the current collection of essays on political phenomenology in a historical perspective. Let us start with a caveat emptor for
our readers. We would be highly pretentious and unnecessary to summarize in full
or extensively the wealth of phenomenological wisdom and insights contained in
each of the essays collected in this volume. We think, therefore, it is the responsibility of each and every reader to absorb the rich content of each essay small or large.
In the chronological bibliography of political phenomenology which was meticulously and laboriously compiled by Lester Embree, the first essay written by
Adolph Reinach (1913) reflects the tradition, especially in Germany, of the American
pre-behavioral science of politics which had been jurisprudential
(Rechtswissenschaftlich) with a focus on the concept of the State (Staat). This is


H.Y. Jung

why Hans Kelsens General Theory of Law and State published as the first volume
in twentieth century Legal Philosophy Series (1945) was the most reputed and popular text in the upper-undergraduate and graduate courses in jurisprudence or philosophy of law in the United States. The so-called behavioral revolution, which
began as uniquely an American phenomenon in the study of politics, replaced the
Continental jurisprudential approach. In the United States, even the jurisprudential
approach, unlike the European tradition with an emphasis on the law as authored by
the State, there was good reason why Roscoe Pound invented sociological jurisprudence. Today, it is most common to call the U.S. Supreme Court a political, not just
legal, institution. There is the study of judicial behavior as there are legislative
behavior, voting behavior, and so on.
Early essays in political phenomenology were written by the Spanish phenomenologist Jos Ortega y Gasset and the Czech phenomenologist and political activist
Jan Patoka, who were far from following the mainstream European jurisprudential
approach. They were the philosophers who were concerned with the issues of
humanity, history, worldviews, etc. It is worth mentioning that Ortega y Gassets
work The Revolt of the Masses (La Rebelin de las Massas, 1930) in the existential
tradition of Kierkegaard was a popular text for undergraduate political science
majors. Because of his use of the term hyper-democracy, it was often misunderstood as an elitist and anti-democratic critique of popular democracy. Edith Stein in
the mid-1920s dealt with the question of the individual and community relating to
the social sciences (Geisteswissenschaften). There is also Emmanuel Levinass
commentary on Hitlerism in 1934. Then Maurice Merleau-Pontys Preface to
Phenomenology of Perception,45 which, we think, is the best short introduction to
existential phenomenologythe fusion of Kierkegaards existential philosophy and
Husserls phenomenology. In its Preface, Merleau-Ponty speaks of the preconceptual Lebenswelt as the natural landscape for conceptual geography. His political
polemic against Arthur Koestlers Darkness at Noon cannot be separated from his
phenomenological philosophy as pure rather than applied. Noteworthy are
Hannah Arendts The Human Condition (1958), one of the most important classics
in political phenomenology and Enzo Pacis The Function of the Science and the
Meaning of Man (1972). In the chronological order, there come Hwa Yol Jung, Fred
Dallmayr, William McBride, Herbert Reid, Sonia Kruks, Robert Bernasconi, and
Lewis Gordon.
This collection of essays in political phenomenology is innovative and rich in
content, wide-ranging in scope, and spirited and persuasive in argument. Each
essay, in its own way, contributes to the advancement of political phenomenology as
a new science (Wissenschaft) of politics in the history of Western philosophical and
political thought, which is post-classical, post-Machiavellian, and post-behavioral.
Furthermore, this collection is agenda-setting for future explorations.
William McBride (Chap. 2), who had known Petee well from 1966 to her death
in 2004, and Calvin Schrag (Chap. 3) are closely related for no other reason than
that they focus their attention on the joint works of Petee and Hwa Yol Jung. In

French original, 1945; English translation, 1962.



them, transversal rationality, is that rationality which is simultaneously intercultural, interdisciplinary, and interspecific. For both, green rationality is the rationality of ultimacy, as geophilosophy is ultima philosophia. The green rationality of
ultimacy will determine the fate of the earth as a whole, that is, the fate of all inhabitants small or large on earth. Human beings are a small fraction in which they, like
all living beings, are merely a passing phenomenon. The green rationality of geophilosophy is the earth first in rejecting the popular slogan sustainable growth only
in words and lacking in practice. It appears that it is really the cloak of pro-growth
in many cases. The true slogan for green rationality should be sustainable earth.
There is good reason why Schrags ordering of words in his title is telling because
its first word is geophilosophy followed by the life-world and the political.
Phenomenological rationality is not just the rationality of the mind in European
Enlightenment thought but also the rationality of the body, that is, embodied
Thomas Nenons tour-de-force contribution is a short but ambitious essay on
Western modernity (Chap. 4) in bold and broad strokes that include Kants pronouncement of the Enlightenment as emancipation from [the] self-imposed immaturity of only European humanity because in his description of the aesthetically
beautiful and sublime European humanity is darkened by a multitude of the
ugly races. From Hegels ethical life (Sittlichkeit) to Heideggers critique of
technological rationality which goes beyond modernity that deserves the appellation post-modern thought.
John Burkes essay (Chap. 17) is a fresh attempt to erect a bridge between transversality and metizaje in Latin American countries, especially the phenomenon of
American-Mexicans in the Southwestern region of the United States. In his contribution (Chap. 14), Fred Dallmayr, one of the most prolific political phenomenologists today covering the area of cross-cultural and cosmopolitical issues, is truly a
peace-maker as the nature of dialogue, global dialogue itself is rooted in Gadamers
hermeneutical dialogue where the other is given the benefit of doubt that s/he may
be right, which Gadamer regards as the soul of dialogue. Dallmayr as a peace-maker
bucks Samuel Huntingtons trendy slogan of the clash of civilizations. Dallmayr
personifies Husserls ideal of a phenomenologist as the civil servant of all
Lester Embrees essay (Chap. 5) is a tribute to the great phenomenological mind
of Alfred Schutz into the social construction of reality, not just the construction of
social reality. Embree extends Schutzs phenomenological insights to construct a
phenomenological political theory. Hwa Yol Jungs essay (Chap. 6) is an attempt to
articulate the importance of the body as subject. As the body is our anchorage in the
world, the concept of embodiment or embodied sociality refers to everything we do
and think. Jungs essay attempts to consolidate his findings on the phenomenological making of body politics. It also attempts to exemplify Luce Irigarays accent on
the sense of touch (or tactile sociality) as the most basic sense of all the senses and
no longer remains as the pariah sense. Joohan Kims contribution (Chap. 15) is a
noble attempt to fuse phenomenological insights found in Heidegger and MerleauPonty in particular with newly discovered neuroscience based on the rejection of the


H.Y. Jung

Cartesian dualism of mind and body. In short, Kims essay is to construct a new
neuroscientific phenomenology in the general theory of communication. Ralph
P. Hummel in his essay (Chap. 7) is a creative attempt to open up a doorway to aesthetic political theory, or better, aesthetical phenomenology using the combined
insights of Kant and Arendt in an era when philosophers talk about the aesthetics
of existence and even the aesthetics of power. One could extend his attempt to
include the phenomenological notion of embodiment in that the aesthetic is the
discourse of the body and it (expressed in the Greek word aisthesis) is the revolt of
the aesthetic against the tyranny of the theoretical (theoria) whose thesis has
many implications for political phenomenology.
On the question of politics as ethics, Richard Sugarmans essay (Chap. 9) is a
detailed analysis of Levinas and John Wild, who wrote the Foreword to the English
translation of Levinass magnum opus, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority
(1969) which gives an intercontinental connection between the two prominent phenomenologists: for Levinas, ethics is the first philosophy, whereas Wild with the
influence of Husserls phenomenology, morals are indigenous to the life-world.
Richard Cohen (Chap. 12) is a well-known Levinasian philosopher who compares
Levinas with Lukcs. Lukcs injected voluntarism to the Marxist movement in
Europe, that is, the notion of class-consciousness which is a kind of phenomenological adage to Marxism. Lukcs also wrote a monumental thesis on the ontology
of labor. Cohens contribution is a critique of Lukcss concept of totality which is
a concept of theoria whereas for Levinas, infinity is congenital to the ethical.
Dongsoo Lee (Chap. 10) is suggestive of a potential reconciliation of the alleged rift
between Heideggers fundamental ontology and Levinass ethics as first
Hegels ethical life (Sittlichkeit) which involves the subjects assent or consent
brings us to Hegels question of recognition in the contribution of Gi Bung Kwon
(Chap. 11). Interestingly, many students of political science, who were not familiar
with Husserlian phenomenology, tended to identify it with Hegels phenomenology of the mind. Be that as it may, Hegel was a Eurocentrist, which does not mean
that we should ignore his contribution to the theory of recognition as a political
concept. Hegels dialectic of recognition as the life and death struggle, the Master
and Slave triggered and inspired Marxs formulation of the deadly struggle
between the bourgeois and the proletariat. Kwon, however, is interested in showing
that Hegels concept of recognition is to build a global dialogue.
Michael Barber (Chap. 8) carves out his niche in Husserls transcendental phenomenology and attempts a critique of Enrique Dussels Marxist ethics of liberation. Dussel is the most reputed philosopher in Latin America today and well
acquainted with European philosophy in Germany and France, including phenomenology. He is an outspoken critique of Eurocentrism and speaks of global dialogue from West to East and from North to South. His most recent volume is
entitled Ethics of Liberation (2013) with the subtitle In the Age of Globalization
and Exclusion. Barber takes on Dussels contention that Husserls transcendental



phenomenology is inadequate. He not only courageously defends Husserl and

argues why transcendental phenomenology is a necessary ground for any ethics
Debra Bergoffen (Chap. 21) shows her genuine feminist concern with what she
calls genocidal rape inflicted by Serbian soldiers in the memorable political event
not too long ago. This political event was ugly or unaesthetic in contrast to
Hummels essay on the beauty of politics based on Kant and Arendt. It is one of
the ugly political events in history we wish to forget and not to memorialize.
Patricia Huntingtons essay (Chap. 20) is a critical analysis of Seyla Benhabib
whose work we mentioned in the rights of the other as other, and Julia Kristeva,
one of the best-known feminists today, who has been teaching across Europe and
North America. Huntingtons interpretation of Mikhail Bakhtins dialogism as
intertext or intertextuality, and Iris Marion Young, whose key phrase is asymmetrical reciprocity, as the basis of any relationship. Huntingtons critique of these
three feminists is a critique of feminism within feminism. The contribution of Sonia
Kruks (Chap. 16) compares the work of Arendt and that of the French existential
phenomenologist Jean-Paul Sartre, one of whose radical statements is we are condemned to freedom. Martin Beck Matutk (Chap. 18) writes on a phenomenology
of memory and memorialization on great past political events such as the Jewish
Holocaust under the racist ideology of Nazi Germany by building museums and the
Japanese massacre of Nanjing citizens during the Second World War by building a
museum never to forget what the Chinese call the forgotten Holocaust for which
the Japanese government has yet to make an official apology. Jane Anna Gordon
and Lewis Ricardo Gordon (Chap. 19) write about a phenomenology of suffering
caused by tragic political events, taking a sensitive account of the sufferings of the
enslaved people victimized by genocide and colonialism in history.
Finally, Robert Bernasconi (Chap. 13), who has been writing about Levinass
ethics and the ethical issues of our time such as racism, attempts in his contribution
to construct a new global phenomenology of human rights not belonging to the
same genre of rights talk in the Anglo-American world of which Mary Ann
Glendon is so highly critical. In short, we welcome a highly original and valuable
contribution to the ethical phenomenology of the political in our collection.

Part I

Foreground: Staging Agenda for Political


Chapter 2

Is a Rational Politics a Real Possibility?

William McBride

Abstract It is important to question the assumption, practically universal in works

on political theory, that both political theory and politics are rational. In various
articles Hwa Yol and Petee Jung have insisted on a broad conception of political
rationality, influenced by both Eastern and Western traditionsthat of phenomenology being especially prominent. In an article about voluntary association that Hwa
Yol Jung reprinted in an anthology that he edited, I attacked oversimplified views of
rationality, notably the equation of the latter with what voluntary agents with adequate knowledge would ideally agree upon. It is evident that the meaning of rationality varies greatly among individuals, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that,
by almost any measure of rationality, the human race as a collective has repeatedly
acted irrationally on a grand scale over its comparatively brief history. Some examples of this are offered, concluding with the civil wars and NATO intervention in
former Yugoslavia and the long-standing United States atomic policy of Mutually
Assured Destruction. But perhaps the most threatening of all human irrationality,
for the long run, is the destruction of our ecosystem, in opposition to which Hwa Yol
and Petee Jung have proposed an attitude of ecopiety. While pessimism about the
future of the human race seems strongly justified, the very pervasiveness of irrationality in politics suggests that anything is possibleeven, perhaps, the ultimate
triumph of ecopiety.

In little, if any, of the writing about politics of which I am aware, Western or Eastern,
ancient or contemporary, does one find any questioning, any bracketing if you will,
of the assumption that politics, together with any theory about politics, must be
rational. A case might be made, I suppose, for some essays within the Fascist
orbitfor example, some aspects of Carl Schmitts decisionism, or some essays by
Panunzio or speeches by Mussolinias counter-examples. Perhaps one might even
try to see some critiques of the politics of Enlightenment rationalism by contemporaries or near-contemporaries such as Burke or De Maistre, for example, in this
light. However, even such putative counter-examples are on the whole undergirded

W. McBride (*)
Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_2



W. McBride

by the assumption that it is the critic of what had until then been considered
mainstream or conventional rationality who is in fact reasonable and rational,
whereas it is the so-called rationality of his opponents that is actually irrational or
crazy; this is the dominant tone of Mein Kampf, for instance. After all, if one is going
to go to the trouble of arguing for a position, does not this very action presuppose
that the position is rationally defensible?
Most or all of the dispute concerning rationality, then, has turned on the question,
as part of the title of one of Alasdair MacIntyres books puts it, Which Rationality?
It is in this area that the contribution of Hwa Yol Jung, together with Petee Jung in
the cases of several articles that they co-authored, has been especially valuable. For
he has consistently, over the years, demonstrated the glaring inadequacies of certain
narrow forms of thinking that go by such names as behaviorism or technological
rationality. He has done so in always lucid, calm prose, bringing to bear his vast
learning and insights from both the Confucian and Taoist and the phenomenological
traditions (as well as many other perspectives, of course), and arguing, beginning
long before John Rawls decided that there was a distinction to be made between
rationality and reasonableness and continuing over the years since Rawls
death, that a broad understanding of political rationality was possible by means of a
broad conception of rationality in political theory. In the concluding paragraph of
his essay, The Political Relevance of Existential Phenomenology, which is the
introductory piece of his anthology Existential Phenomenology and Political
Theory: A Reader, he wrote the following:
In conclusion, it must be stressed that politics and philosophy are intertwined. The underlying basis of political philosophy is the idea that philosophy cannot exclude politics from the
legitimate domain of human rationality and thus from its inquiry. Although political
existence is by no means the whole of human reality, philosophy that abandons politics is
unquestionably less than reasonable and complete, for the rationality of politics sustains in
part the rationality of philosophy. For this reason existential phenomenology, like every
great philosophy, endeavors to understand political rationality in order to understand its
own rationality in fullness.1

In this same book, Hwa Yol Jung was kind enough to include, as the final chapter,
an essay of mine entitled Voluntary Association: The Basis of an Ideal Model, and
the Democratic Failure. This article had originally been published in 1969 and
was inspired in large measure by a combination of (1) a decision by members of
the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy to devote one of their
annual meetings and the proceedings resulting therefrom to the topic of voluntary
associations, and (2) my own feeling that, while the ideal or principle of voluntary
association is fundamentally positive and valuable and is fundamentally linked with
whatever is worthwhile about democracy, the disastrous American war against
Vietnam was proof that democracy in practice had failed. Without attempting to
summarize all the points that I made in this relatively long piece, I would like to cite
a few sentences from a small section of it in which I considered rationality as one
plausible but ultimately inadequate candidate (along with unanimity or consensus

Hwa Yol Jung, The Political Relevance of Existential Phenomenology, in Jung, ed., Existential
Phenomenology and Political Theory (Chicago: Regnery, 1972), xlix.

2 Is a Rational Politics a Real Possibility?


and wish-fulfillment) as the underlying value that most clearly justifies the
principle of voluntary association in politics:
Have not nations and private associations, great and small, often shown remarkable if
temporary unanimity in rejecting all courses of action that later chroniclers have come to
regard as the most rational options available to them at the time, in order to embark on their
own versions of the Athenian expedition to Syracuse? Desire and reason, as Plato well
saw, do not necessarily fix upon the same goals.
Moreover, the difficulty in determining just what constitutes the ideal of rationality is
well knownThe ideally rational society lends itself to very widely divergent interpretations. There is, for example, the familiar question whether the more rational society is the
highly institutionalized one whose members meticulously follow a highly detailed and
coherent set of rules or the one whose members continually place all rules in question; is
the criterion of rationality to be strictness of organization or scope of allowable possibilities? The history of thought is replete with examples of acquiescence in the temptation to
equate what is rational with what would ideally be agreed upon by truly voluntary agents
with adequate knowledge, but surely it should by now be realized that such an equation, at
least in the domain of action (as opposed to pure theory), is hopelessly oversimplified.2

In re-reading the final sentence just cited, I could not help but think of the subsequent popularity of the philosophy of Jrgen Habermas, which was at that time
just beginning its meteoric rise, a philosophy at the core of which that very same
hopeless oversimplification, if my characterization is correct, is to be found.
At any rate, this text demonstrates that my concern over the nature of rationality, and
especially of sociopolitical rationality, is, like Professor Jungs, a longstanding one.
Nowadays, however, while I continue to endorse and to believe in the possibility
of comprehending, understanding, phenomenologically, the intentionalities underlying any and all political action, I am more skeptical than ever before as to whether
the expression sociopolitical rationality means anything but an illusion in the
real world.
My reference to this text of mine and to the volume in which Professor Jung
included it also demonstrates the length of the time-period over which he and I have
been associatedhave had a voluntary association, as it wereand leads me to
adduce several other facts surrounding this 1971 volume which I hope eventually to
show are more interrelated than may at first appear. When I express my gratitude at
his kindness in including my essay in his volume, it is important to mention the
names of the other authors he selected, all of which appear on the cover along with
mine: Natanson, Schrader, Marcel, Husserl, Sartre, Ricoeur, Merleau-Ponty, Schutz,
Wild, and Dufrennedistinguished company indeed! And it is important also to
note Professor Jungs reference, in his Preface, to the academic year 19701971, a
year he spent on sabbatical leave from his own college, when, although I had met
him even earlier at SPEP (Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy)
conferences, he and I and Petee and my wife became much better acquainted.
During that spring of 1971, I had the opportunity to teach a joint graduate course in
philosophy and law that I devoted to the topic, Natural Law. It is the only time I
have ever taught an entire course on this topic, and my decision to make it my focus

William McBride, Voluntary Association: The Basis of an Ideal Model, and the Democratic
Failure, in ibid., 39899.


W. McBride

that semester was in large part motivated by the fact that Professor Jung had
indicated an interest in sitting in on it, and I had therefore thought, as in fact turned out
to have been the case, that I would be able to draw on his background as a former
student of Leo Strauss. Among those registered in my course from both departments
were some philosophy students who have since made names for themselves in the
field of social and political philosophy and also some law students who later became
well known beyond the Yale campus, notably one from Arkansas named Clinton.
Years later, he was to mention me by full name and this course, though by the incorrect title of National Law and Philosophy,3 as part of the highly comprehensive
account of his activities that is to be found in his autobiography. Thus, like practically
everyone else, I have something in common with Andy Warhol.
What has all of this to do with the possibility or impossibility of a rational
politics? We shall see, or at least I hope so; my mention of Bill Clinton may have
provided some clue. What has already been established, or rather re-established, at
the least, is the unlikelihood of reaching full agreement on a precise meaning of the
term, together with the importance, as stressed throughout Professor Jungs writings, of always endeavoring to pursue a rational comprehension or understanding,
whatever that may mean, of the political. (I should mention, in passing, that I take
this also to be the single most salient objective of a major, and still insufficiently
well-known, work to which I have devoted considerable attention, Sartres Critique
of Dialectical Reason. In it, Sartre, like Professor Jung but more hesitantly than the
latter, puts into question the Hegelian notion of an unswerving progression of history towards a certain inevitable goal.) In the spirit of this commitment to intelligibility, for example, we should be able to reconstruct, as Thucydides himself
attempted to do in the first case, the series of projects, individual and collective,
successful, half successful, and failed, that led the Athenians to their Waterloo at
Syracuse, Napoleon to his Waterloo at Waterloo, or Lyndon Johnson to his Waterloo
in Vietnam.
Butand here I end what has essentially been prolegomenon and come to my
main pointthe term rationality always comes to us complete with a certain
haloeven, I would argue, when it is being deployed in a dismissive way, as in the
expression mere technological rationality. The rational, that is, is always thought
to be what is somehow fulfilling our potential as human beings, even when one is
referring to massive violence, cruelty, and brutality, as in the case of Sartres account
of the events surrounding the taking of the Bastille, or Machiavellis explanation of
why new leaders sometimes need to carry out exemplary murders, or the hundreds
of thousands of accounts, from Homer onward in the West and perhaps even earlier
in the East, of glorious victories over evil enemies in war. These are commonplaces
of everyones education, everyones experience: on the one hand, rationality means
a fulfillment of human potential, not just ones own individual potential, but the
potential of humanity as a whole; on the other hand, the idea of rationality also
includes at times the actual cutting off of other human beings future potentials by
killing or incapacitating them, and much more frequently the implicit threat to cut

Bill Clinton, My Life (New York: Knopf, 2004), 180.

2 Is a Rational Politics a Real Possibility?


them off if they cross lines that we, whoever we may be in a given case, are prepared
to lay down. (Consider the United States government policy on pre-emptive
attackspermissible against any country at any time whenever deemed advisable
as a model of this.) But, to say both these things at once seems clearly to be engaging in blatant contradictioncontradiction, the ultimate verbal irrationality. To put
it as bluntly as I can, even more bluntly than my chosen title does, it would seem
that the human race is condemned as a collective, despite all the posturing and
pretentions and best efforts of philosophers over the centuries, to acting irrationally
on a grand, historic scale. While the evidence in favor of this claim may not be
absolutely conclusive, I find it to be nearly so, and so I shall argue in the remainder
of this paper, drawing some support from the writings of Professor Jung himself.
First, let me mention some quibbles and qualifications with respect to my
formulation of the issue. When I speak of acting irrationally, of course, all the
questions about the meaning of rational and irrational arise anew. It is true that,
if you decree that language means whatever you choose it to mean, as the Bush
Administration so often tended to do when referring to torture, enemy combatants,
the war zone in the war on terroressentially, everywhere on earthand so on,
then it is impossible to make headway in proving my case. For then the most insane
political action imaginable can be redefined as rational by fiat. But when I claim
that the human race is, or at least may well be, condemned to acting irrationally on
a grand, historic scale, I mean that it may be condemned to incessant, repeated
actions in violation of its own potentialactions in flagrant opposition to the
always-assumed positive valence of the idea of rationalitythat will continue
indefinitely until it finally succeeds in annihilating itself. Another quibble has to do
with my expression grand, historic scale, which I used to think meant a lot but
now fully understand to mean, from a broader perspective, not much. The lifespan
of the human race itself, as we know, has been comparatively short by comparison
with the period of time during which the planet Earth has existed, and the latter,
in turn, is a comparative newcomer in the universe. As for the time over which
something like what we call civilization has flourishedplease be sure to put
both the noun and the verb in scare quoteshere and there on earth, this fairly
unsuccessful experiment has lasted a very short time indeed. If, for example, we
arbitrarily set it at 5000 years up to the present, the time of my acquaintance and
interaction with Professor Jung constitutes nearly 1 % of that span; and one part in
100 is a quite considerable quantity in a society that tends to think in terms of
millions, billions, and trillions. So the grand scale of history, so called, is not
really so grand after all.
But what a ride it has been, that history, however brief its span! Times of Mongol
conquests, of Barbarian invasions, of Crusades leading to slaughters so impressive
that the blood of Jewish and Moslem victims was said to come up to the ankles of
the victorious Crusaders in Jerusalem, of the discovery of a whole New World in
which to practice genocide with impunity, and on and on. When something beautiful or grandiose or both has been constructed, it has always been fair game for
destruction: Alexander, Aristotles erstwhile pupil, burned Persepolis to the ground, the
library in the city he founded in Egypt eventually met the same fate, and in that same


W. McBride

country the Pyramids, erected by the Pharaohs with a view to assuring their souls
sustenance in the afterlife, were systematically looted, leaving nothing but the structures themselves and occasionally the mummies. Fast-forwarding from earlier times
to the recent past, we should note that the rate of violent civilian deaths caused by
wars and genocides experienced a huge upsurge from the eighteenth and nineteenth
to the twentieth centuriesthe Holocaust being just one especially horrifying
portion, but far from a majority portion, of the total. As Aristotle, ever the master of
understatement, put it so well, Man is not the best thing in the universe.
In recalling what is of course well known to everyone in a general way and
exploring its meaning in terms of ultimate human irrationality, I would like to make
special mention of a case with which Professor Jung and I have some personal
familiarity, that of the wars and massacres in former Yugoslavia. Near the beginning
of his book, The Crisis of Political Understanding, he cites, in passing, the Serbian
philosopher, Mihailo Markovi, on the notion of the unity of theory and practice in
Marxist thought and on the importance of a philosophers living his or her philosophy.4
Professor Markovi used to write very convincingly about these mattersin many
ways, he certainly convinced meand yet as civil war loomed he became an
increasingly strong advocate of Serbian supremacy and later adopted what can only
be characterized as a cavalier attitude toward the deaths and upheavals brought
about by that war. I witnessed firsthand this amazing transformation, as I and many
others who knew the man saw it, but as he saw it, it was a principled continuity of
thinking in response to changing historical circumstances. Perhaps, if we as a race
are truly condemned to irrationality in the long run, his perspective on himself was
the truer one.
Mention of former Yugoslavia brings to mind a slightly more recent series of
episodes, one in which my erstwhile student, Clinton, was centrally implicated: the
NATO bombing campaign. I have written at some length about my perceptions of
the implications of this, perceptions which themselves depend in part on details that
have mostly been forgotten, it is safe to say, by most people in the world: the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, the bombing of the television station
because its personnel were charged with broadcasting propaganda, the destruction
of the bridge at Novi Sad that for some years put an end to what had previously been
heavy cargo traffic along the length of the Danube River, the repeated bombing of
the passenger train near Ni that was bound for Greece, and on and on. Let me simply say here, without attempting any additional explanation, that I consider these
military actions carried out by the Clinton administration as themselves further
instances of the pervasive web of irrationality to which I have been calling attention.
Jrgen Habermas defended the bombings at the time but has since, to his credit,
expressed doubts; among others, Virginia Held, an eminent political philosopher
who was a vehement critic of the attack on Iraq by the Bush administration in 2003,
has for some reason continued (at least as of the time of my most recent encounter
with her, probably about a year later) to defend the earlier actions of the Clintonians.

Hwa Yol Jung, The Crisis of Political Understanding: A Phenomenological Perspective in the
Conduct of Political Inquiry (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1979), 12.

2 Is a Rational Politics a Real Possibility?


But let us leave former Yugoslavia behind and turn to a more recent time, the
time of Shrub. It brings only a little comfort to be reassured that most people even
in the United States now regard his attack on Iraq as having been a mistake
although probably most would not go so far as to call it irrational. There is a
multiplicity of ironies involved in the fact that some of the strongest proponents of
this mad attack, beginning with Paul Wolfowitz, were themselves former students of
Leo Strauss, whose heir, Alan Bloom, is depicted in Saul Bellows roman clef
about his last days, Ravelstein, as having high-up friends in the White House. The
road from the rigid objectivism (or, as Hwa Yol Jung has called it, ontological
determinism) of Strauss, rooted in Classical philosophy, to the invasion of Iraq in
2003 is by no means simple to comprehend, but perhaps an initial clue is Strausss
proud insistence, early in one of his best-known essay collections (What Is Political
Philosophy? And Other Studies) on the deep truth of the dictum, which he says
everyone knows, that the aim of war is victory.5 But such ironies are diverting
without being consoling. For Iraq is but the tip of the global iceberg that antedates
both Bush dynasties and is spread across the whole world. Take the single most
obvious linguistic illustration, at least in the past half century, of my thesis of ultimate irrationality: the official United States policy, now generally thought of as
obsolete, known by the acronym MAD, to wit, Mutual Assured Destruction
through nuclear weapons. But the logic/illogic of MAD is in fact not dead: for one
thing, it is still very operative in the policy planning of the northern half of Hwa Yol
Jungs native country, Korea, as well as apparently, despite a thick veil of secrecy,
in the planning of the State of Israel. I have on several occasions warned, in print,
that the possibility of an eventual widespread nuclear exchange, involving the
United States and Russia or possibly China and/or other countries in possession of
such weapons, is still on the table and should not be discountedalthough I should
add that, if my tentative prophecy should prove accurate, I would almost certainly
not be in a position to express a triumphant I told you so.
On the other hand, although no expert in these matters, I am reasonably certain,
so to speak, that the envisaged global nuclear exchange would not entirely extinguish all human life, much less all life on the planet Earth: at the very least, I would
expect there to be pockets of humanity still existing in parts of the Southern
Hemisphere. No, the honor of threatening to effect the total extinction of life lies
with another monumental irrationality, one on which Hwa Yol and Petee Jung have
focused in a number of articles, namely, the degradation of the ecosystem. (When I
wrote that the disaster in Iraq was only the tip of the global iceberg of irrationality,
I was thinking of the future likelihood that icebergs themselves will vanish, so that
the meaning of the metaphor itself will eventually be lost.) In an article published
some 30-odd years ago in Environmental Ethics, entitled The Orphic Voice and
Ecology, Hwa Yol Jung was already warning, using Heideggerian language, of the
utter thoughtlessness of our time.6 But the starkest of all the formulations of his that
I have found on the subject occurs on the opening page of his 1989 essay in Research

Leo Strauss, What Is Political Philosophy? and Other Studies (New York: Free Press, 1959), 14.
Hwa Yol Jung, The Orphic Voice and Ecology, Environmental Ethics 3, winter 1981: 32940.


W. McBride

in Philosophy and Technology, The Genealogy of Technological Rationality in the

Human Sciences. There, he says, referring to our society, We are coming close to
the realization of that ancient prophetic warning of a Hindu sacred scripture: I am
my death.7
What label other than stark irrationality is it appropriate to apply to the political
stance of so-called President Bush during his first term in office (I use the qualifier
so-called by way of alluding to the illegitimacy of the procedure by which he was
first designated President, a qualifier that I do not, alas, feel justified in using with
respect to his second term), when he announced that he would not support the
admittedly very feeble Kyoto Protocols because he thought that they would harm
the United States economy? And yet, of course, many pundits and political scientists immediately opined that this was a rational political move on his part, which
would be popular with his constituency. If, as more and more signals indicate with
every passing day, the world as a whole is rapidly plunging into a disaster without
exit by refusing to observe what Hwa Yol and Petee Jung have called, in a lovely
turn of phrase, ecopiety,8 the unquestioned leader among nations in the plunge up
to now has been the United States. Its governments steadfast advocacy of the antivalues identified by Professor Jung as individualism and speciesism has indeed
taken us to the brink where our species itself will die, a victim of its speciesism.
The expression, ecopiety, of course conjures up another dimension of reality,
the religious. Although to the best of my knowledge Hwa Yol Jung has not tried
systematically to explore the as-yet-uncharted depths of radical evil, that is, a type
of evil that would, if it exists, be located at a very different level of reality from that
of banal, every-day evil-doing, that is unethical conduct. It seems to me that a case
can be made for seeing salient features of contemporary politics in this light. In fact,
as we know, cases of sorts have already been made along these lines: some warn of
the Great Satan, others of an axis of evil. In philosophically pursuing and investigating the validity of these charges, it may be possible to establish links between
the appearance of radical evil throughout history, but especially in our own time,
and the ultimate triumph of irrationality to which I have been pointing. But that
would take us in directions that lie beyond the scope of this paper. Meanwhile, we
are still entitled to hope against hope that Toward the New Humanism: The Politics
of Civility in a No-Growth Society to which Hwa Yol and Petee Jung allude in
one of their best co-authored articles,9 may yet prevail. After all, if irrationality is
indeed as all-pervasive as I have been contending, if instances of p&~p are found
to co-exist in abundance, like rabbits, in our political life today, then, following the
illogical logic of the formal logicians, anything at all is possible.

Hwa Yol Jung, The Genealogy of Technological Rationality in the Human Sciences, Research
in Philosophy and Technology 9 (1989): 59.
Hwa Yol Jung and Petee Jung, The Way of Ecopiety: A Philosophical Minuet for Ecological
Ethics, in David W. Black, ed., Commonplaces (London: University Press of America, 1989),
Hwa Yol Jung and Petee Jung, Toward the New Humanism: The Politics of Civility in a
No-Growth Society, Man and World 9 (August 1976): 283306.

Chapter 3

Geophilosophy, the Life-World,

and the Political
Calvin O. Schrag

Abstract In the essay the author addresses some of the central issues at stake in
Hwa Yol Jungs project of geophilosophy as it moves out from what he has come to
call the Great Chain of Ecological Interbeing. The author concludes with a discussion of two consequences following from Jungs project, namely a call for a discussion of the principle markers of geophilosophical self-identity and a move toward a
postnational politics of cosmopolitan world democracy.

The participants in this conference on Political Phenomenology: Essays for Petee

Jung have been asked to commemorate the life of Petee Jung as we celebrate the
philosophical accomplishments of her life-long companion, Hwa Yol Jung. The
requirement placed before us is that of reflecting on the past and future of political
phenomenology, sorting out the issues at the crossroads of phenomenological
inquiry and political philosophy. The fulfillment of this requirement is not an easy
venture, requiring creative philosophical imagination coupled with disciplined
socio-political analysis.
As my entry into the discussion of the matters at hand, I propose a configuration
of issues that fall under the rubric Geophilosophy, the Life-world, and the Political.
These are clearly issues that have become entwined in Hwa Yols consummate contribution. The geophilosophical approach is very much at the center of Hwa Yols
reflections, made explicit in his essay on geophilosophy in which he articulates his
vision of the future of philosophy as follows: I hope that transversality and geophilosophy based on a Great Chain of Ecological Interbeing will govern the future of
philosophy.1 Allied with transversality, geophilosophy rooms out what Hwa Yol
names a topology of Interbeing, providing an ecological space in which
everything is connected to everything else, that is, not one thing exists in isolation
from others in the universe.2

Hwa Yol Jung, Transversality and Geophilosophy in the Age of Globalization in Calvin
O. Schrag and the Task of Philosophy After Postmodernity, eds. Martin Beck Matutk and William
L. McBride (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2002), 85.
Ibid., 79.
C.O. Schrag (*)
Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_3



C.O. Schrag

What needs to be underscored at this juncture is that Hwa Yols Great Chain of
Ecological Being, the future of philosophy that is yet to come, is always embodied
or enfleshed. The topology of inter-being is at once inter-corporeal. Body and
world become entwined. Body is a veritable material precondition of inter-beingin-the-world. And it is precisely this that confers upon the world the status and
quality of being a life-world. This is how the world becomes fleshed out. And
it is at this juncture that Hwa Yols reclamation of Husserls celebrated phenomenological return to the life-world (Rckgang auf die Lebenswelt), in conjunction
with Merleau-Pontys further development of the intercalation of embodiment and
life-world experiences, comes into prominence. From the very beginning of Hwa
Yols career he has shown himself to be an informed and imaginative phenomenological thinker.3
Certain quite direct and consequential implications travel with the discovery of
the life-world. The inter-being of the life-world, Hwa Yol emphasizes, is dialogical
from bottom up. Intercorporeality and dialogically grounded intersubjectivity travel
side by side; with this clearly in mind, one is able to overcome the cloistered self of
Cartesianism, bereft of lived body and socially isolated. One also becomes situated
in such a way as to apprehend the relevance of the political. The life-world takes
on a political dimension. With its embodied and dialogically engaged speaking and
acting subjects, the life-world announces that all politics is body-politics, with
astounding implications for a reassessment of the role of the feminine, liberating it
from its subjugation to the metaphors of the masculine in the history of white
mythology. Politics as body-politics provides a space for a politics of the feminine, installing a sheet anchor against phallocentrism and the snares of patriarchy.
In this progression from the geophilosophical call for a topology of inter-being, to
the structures and dynamics of the life-world as intercorporeality and dialogical
transactivity, and then to the political as a body-politics that incorporates the voice of
the feminine, there is yet another moment in Hwa Yols vision of the future. This
involves the ecological demand. Inter-being is ecological, soliciting our responses to
an earth that predates our being-in-the-world and from which we learn that before the
earth belongs to us we belong to it. The ecological demand is clearly placed in the
forefront when Hwa Yol writes: In opposition to anthropocentrism, geophilosophy
favors the ecocentric approach in which the earth becomes first and primary and
humans are caretakers/givers and agents of responsibility for the well-being of the
whole earth.4 It is thus that we come full circle in tracking the analytic progression
of Hwa Yols geophilosophical move from inter-being to life-world, to embodiment,
to dialogue, to the political, culminating in an ethic of ecocentric responsibility.
Today we want to continue the conversation with Hwa Yol as we travel with him
on the path to a geophilosophy of the future. We want to focus on two specific avenues of inquiry that his reflections on the Great Chain of Ecological Interbeing

In this connection see particularly his book, The Crisis of Political Understanding: A
Phenomenological Perspective in the Conduct of Political Inquiry (Pittsburgh: Duquesne
University Press, 1979).
Jung, Transversality and Geophilosophy in the Age of Globalization, 81.

Geophilosophy, the Life-World, and the Political


have opened up. The one has to do with the spin-off from the entwined geophilosophy and ecology as it calls for a redefinition of the marks of self-identity. The other
involves implications for a politics of cosmopolitan world democracy.
We begin with a search for self-identity in the midst of the geophilosophical
horizons that constitute the interbeing of our life-world. What does a geophilosophical self-identity look like? As every schoolboy knows, the problem of self-identity
extends all the way back to the announcement of the Socratic dictum Know
Thyself! What is the path to self-knowledge and self-constitution? Varieties of
answers to this question have been proposed in the serpentine history of Western
philosophyanswers in the main informed by bold metaphysical principles. Hwa
Yols geophilosophical program, more historicist than metaphysical in nature, offers
a new perspective on the criteria for self or personal identity.
It soon becomes evident that embodiment plays a critical role in geophilosophical self-identity. The life-world, from which the project of geophilosophy takes its
point of departure and to which it dutifully returns, is an intercorporeal life-world in
which biology, gender, and race each play their roles in self-understanding and selfconstitution. It is also an interpersonal or social world, in various ways bent upon
social integration and civic solidarity amidst different ethnic origins and linguistic
backgrounds. The self that emerges from the amalgam of intercorporeality and the
drive for social integration is a configuration of biological and social predicates,
including familial relations, shared norms, situated folkways, and received values.
From all this the self-identity of the being that each of us are takes shape as a collective identity, congealing into configurations of physical, social, and value
Given this multiplicity of formative factors in the collective identity of a selfseeking to understand itself in its multi-dimensional life-world, it would be a gross
oversimplification to nail down one of the formative factors as the ground or basis
for personal identity. The geophilosophical self is a multiplicity. It has many parts,
none simply reducible one to another. The geophilosophical self is also a self in the
making, a self-in-process, redefining itself as it moves from one set of social relations to another. Metaphysical talk of an abiding substratum, an idem identity that is
able to weather the rancor of time, thus becomes suspect. What is in the cards is a
more culturally conditioned and historically situated concept of the self. Yet, one
needs to avoid a slide into a cultural historicism that collapses the process of selfidentity into a unifying cultural marker such as nationality or statehoodand
more specifically a coalescing of the two into a nation-state designator, which
then becomes a kind of historicist basis or substance for ones collective identities.
The concrete life-world, with its life-experiencing selves in a life-experiencing
present that continues to revisit its past as it opens to a future, overrides claims for
a hypokeimenon, either of a metaphysical or historicist sort.
It is thus that geophilosophy opens up a new perspective on self-identity. It
searches for the collective features of self-knowledge and self-constitution neither
in a stable support of an individuation of signate matter as did the medieval, nor in
an isolable essence as did the moderns, nor in the passports of nation-state citizens
as do some postmodern social constructionists. As geophilosophy provides a new


C.O. Schrag

perspective on personal identity so also it provides a new perspective on the political, auguring in the direction of a postnational cosmopolitan democracy. And these
two perspectives work hand in glove. What the present age requires is both a postnational self-identity and a postnational configuration of political units.
Since the historic Treaty of Westphalia, which defined world society as a cluster
of independent nation-states, we have become conditioned to view both our personal
identity and our political life against the backdrop of nation-making characteristics
in defining who we are and territorial imperatives for marking out the landscape of
international politics. These criteria of a nation-state based self-identity and a nationstate based perspective on international politics are rooted in an ontology of otherness that is unable to accommodate difference as a positive feature of the process of
self and social constitution. A nation-state ideology rests on a demarcation of the
legal citizens within its territorial boundaries from the citizens of other nation-states.
These other citizens are defined by a territorial space, a form of government, ethnic
origins, and often a language that is different from our nation-state characteristics.
They are aliens or foreigners or strangers who do not possess the same documents that members of our nation-state possess. Their self-identity is not our selfidentity, and as so often happens in the travails of international politics, the
incorporation of the beliefs and practices of other nation-states into our own lifeworld poses a threat to our collective nation-state making features. If this threat
becomes intensified, there results an immediate coupling of the nation-state ideology
with a war-machine apparatus bent upon the destruction of the alien other. The worst
case scenario occurs when the nation-state ideology becomes a basis for the perpetration of genocide, defining the other as somehow unmitigated evil, an evil empire, or
an axis of evil that needs to be annihilated simply because it is other.
How might Hwa Yols geophilosophical approach, based on a Great Chain of
Ecological Interbeing help us in addressing the pitfalls of a nation-state rooted identity that is unable to accommodate the difference of otherness? The nation-state
ideology, we have seen, is ever ready to utilize the resources of an aggressive warmachine apparatus to resolve tensions on the international sceneaggressive measures that call for preventive and preemptive strikes and unilateral action on the part
of a given nation-state. In contrast with a nation-state ideology, a geophilosophical
approach to the political does duty on two fronts as it were. It seeks a self-identity
that finds its mark not in a collective identity based on criteria of nationality and
state citizenry but rather in an acknowledgment of each other as citizens of a common earth. It is here that the ecological dimension of geophilosophy becomes prominent. Self-identity is achieved through a realization of self as co-worker with other
selves in caring for the earth. Citizens of particular nation-states become world
citizens, in which there is a merger of self and other within the space of a common
cosmopolitan life-world.
In all this one is able to discern a move in the direction of postnational rather
than national selfhood and political organization. In the tracking of such a move,
requiring the resources both of philosophical imagination and knowledge of political infrastructures, we are aided by Jrgen Habermass recent quite remarkable volume, The Postnational Constellation,5 in which he searches for the appropriate form

Translated and edited, Max Pensky (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001).

Geophilosophy, the Life-World, and the Political


for democratic processes beyond the nation-state. Also of help are Fred Dallmayrs
two recent books, Dialogue Among Civilizations6 and Peace TalksWho Will
Listen?,7 in which he encourages a striving for cross-cultural understanding and
finding available resource for implementing peace initiatives within a global body
politic. Such would quench the fires of rampant nation-state imperialism bent upon
political subjugation and all out military conquest and augur in the direction of a
diplomacy of cosmopolitan citizenship. Plainly enough, the achievement of such a
dialogue among civilizations, countering the rumblings of a state-sanctioned war
machine, would lead to a veritable paradigm shift in international politics. Indeed,
international politics would be replaced by postnational politics.
All this, as one would be wont to say, is a tall order. Clearly changes in the infrastructure and superstructure of the current United Nations organization would be
required. The United Nations continues its alliance with a nation-state ideology,
granting to each of the member states a quasi-sovereign voice. National sovereignty
is at best restrained but it is not overcome. The United Nations is basically a loose
configuration of individual nation-states, each of whom profess an equal claim to
thrive politically, economically, and culturally. What is missing is a postnational
community of world citizens in search of a cosmopolitan solidarity of transversal
human rights, shared values, and agreed-upon principles of justice.
What political framework would need to be installed to achieve such a cosmopolitan solidarity? This is the challenge for any geophilosophical politics of the
future, requiring an extension of the horizon of the life-world so as to enable the
installation of negotiation policies and procedures across the administrative, legislative, and juridical operations without either falling back on international functional
integration or having recourse to the world government of a super-state. The shift
from international to postnational politics will require something between and
beyond the alternatives of either a federation of sovereign states or a super-state.
Admittedly, much can be salvaged from the existing United Nations policies and
procedures. This would include principally the 1948 Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty; and the International Criminal Court. However, each of
these specialized agencies would need to be revised to preclude unilateral measures
on the part of the represented regions. In addition, experimentation with alternative
postnational negotiation procedures beyond institutionally based agreements would
need to be conducted. This would place a premium on cosmopolitan life-world nongovernmental organizations that operate on a grassroots level.
We find a call for such a paradigm shift from international to postnational politics
in Hwa Yols proposal for transversality and geophilosophy in the age of globalization, in which the horizon of the life-world is expanded to include transcultural
communication, ecological measures to preserve the earth, and peace initiatives to
direct our corporate lives. Our hope is that resources for achieving Hwa Yols vision
will be marshaled as we strive to become citizens of a common earth.

New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

University of Notre Dame Press, 2004.

Chapter 4

Confrontations with Modernity

Thomas Nenon

Abstract This essay compares how four important figures in German philosophy
have reacted in important ways to the phenomenon of modernity and some of the
problems it poses. Kants project of the Enlightenment suggests a generally positive
assessment of modernity at the same time as he tries to face the challenge that a
physicalist model of causality poses for traditional notions of moral responsibility.
Hegel represents the nineteenth centurys stronger reservations about one-sided orientations of the model of self-interested individuals, and he presents an alternative
in his Philosophy of Right that recognizes the modern claims of subjectivity and
balances it with the emphasis on the social and historical rootedness of those individuals and thereby highlights the importance of context and the need for a state
regulation of modern market economies. This is also consistent with Husserls resistance to reductionist theories of all kinds oriented too one-sidedly on the models
provided by modern natural science. Finally the essay shows how Heideggers critique of technology represents a powerful extension of that general project. It closes
with a note that one response consistent with these insights has been the tendency of
modern European states in the second half of the twentieth century to propose
appropriate regulations on markets that helped them better serve the general good.
The emergence of globalization that tends to undermine the power of individual
states to regulate and control these powerful market forces presents a new challenge
to societies across the globe to find similar ways of harnessing the power of modern
technologies and markets in positive ways.

Although globalization and modernity are not identical phenomena, there is sufficient
overlap between the two that reflection on how European societies came to terms with
modernity can also help us think better about some of the challenges posed by globalization for traditional social structures, about strategies for dealing with them, and
about the effectiveness and the limits of strategies that have been proposed over the
past couple of centuries in Europe for dealing with modernity. In this essay, I will
provide a general overview of the way that the three leading German philosophers of
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries viewed the challenges posed by modernity (die
T. Nenon (*)
University of Memphis, Memphis, TN, USA
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_4



T. Nenon

Neuzeit), what remedies they proposed, and how effective these strategies proved to
be or might have been in the European context. This can provide the backdrop for a
broader discussion about the extent to which they might still be seen as promising
avenues for thinking about how other societies can better face these challenges, and
how the specific challenges presented by globalization pose new problems for all
countries, including Western European countries that had developed some more or
less workable solutions to at least some of the problems posed by modernity. This
essay is therefore more an exercise in intellectual and social history than an argument
on philosophy more narrowly conceived, and it is certainly not phenomenological in
the strict sense. However, I do hope that it will help locate some prominent recent
philosophical positions, including Husserls and Heideggers phenomenologically
oriented thinking, in a broader intellectual and social framework that can help us
begin to discuss some of the issues raised in the conference description.
Modernity came relatively late to Germany compared to some other European
countries like France and England. Even well into the eighteenth century, Germany
was still to a great extent a feudal society broken up into a panoply of smaller kingdoms, duchies, and principalities with only a few centers of trade and commerce.
Up through the middle of the eighteenth century, the emerging middle class that saw
itself in a subordinate, but increasingly competitive position to the hereditary aristocracy was with a few exceptions scattered across the country and communicated
primarily by means of an emerging culture of letters and literatures. Their leading
representatives came not from powerful banking or merchant families, but rather
consisted of small tradesmen, the clergy, administrators, and university professors.
The second half of the eighteenth century also witnessed the emergence of a new,
initially very small and closely intertwined group of writers and artists who were
able to pursue arts, especially music, and literature as independent entrepreneurs.
For this group, modernity represented primarily the emancipation from the dependence on the church and hereditary nobility that represented hindrances to independent thinking and creativity and individual political and religious freedom.
Kants description of enlightenment as the emancipation from self-imposed
immaturity is a powerful description of the promise of modernity as freedom. He
sees modern natural science as one of humanitys great achievements and worries
only that a false dichotomy between natural causality and human freedom could
undermine morality. He sees his own critical philosophy as a means for averting that
danger and as an appropriate remedy to the one major danger towards the progress
in human history that he believes has been made in the age preceding his own work,
a progress that his later political essays make clear he sees as only the beginning of
what will be possible for an increasingly enlightened humanity.
Serious reservations about the project of modernity became common among
philosophers and writers who are still considered important only in the second half
of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century, when concerns about the dissolution of society into not only autonomous, but also atomic,
i.e., isolated and self-interested individuals, begin to come to the forefront.
Associated with the general heading of Romanticism would be concerns for the
loss of community, the erosion of tradition, the disappearance of transcendency

4 Confrontations with Modernity


both within nature and beyond the merely natural, a concern about the reduction of
human beings to the intellect and of the intellect to the ability to calculate correctly
ones own individual self-interest. Several names would be relevant here (e.g.,
Hamann, Schleiermacher, and Schelling, to name just a few), but today I would like
to talk first about Hegel, not only because he was the most prominent at the time, but
also because of the importance of his attempt to reconcile what he and many of his
contemporaries recognized as positive about modernity with what the romantics
recognized was in danger of being lost.
He begins one of his earliest essays, The Difference between Fichtes and
Schellings Systems of Philosophy, with the assertion that Entzweiung (bifurcation,
dichotomy) gives rise to the need for philosophy and notes that the current age has
become characterized by the opposition between Geist (spirit or mind) and nature,
soul and body, faith and intellect, freedom and necessity, as well as between reason and sensuality, intelligence and natureabsolute subjectivity and absolute
objectivity.1 The process of overcoming these dichotomies is the appearance of
reason in history for him, and it takes its objective form within the social and political spheres as spelled out in his Philosophy of Right, especially in that books third
main section entitled Sittlichkeit or ethical life. Here he notes with approval that
the primary insight of the modern world is that spirit involves not only substance
but also subject, that is, that the moral content on which individuals orient their
conduct must be something to which they can assent, something they find reasonable and in which each of them is able to find themselves.
In the sphere of abstract right, Hegel follows the fundamental tendency of modern
European philosophy, most notably that of Locke, which sees individual interactions in
terms of their property. Each individual, as a person, has a right to propertymost
importantly, their own body as the most basic form of propertyand the only rational
justification in the limitation of this property is the freedom of other subjects to their
own property and to those things that are common property, such as air and other natural resources on which everyone draws. Hegel also sees the modern economic institution of a market-based society, what he calls the system of needs (System der
Bedrfnisse) as the best means to allow individuals each to pursue what they view as
their own self-interests and at the same time to be compelled to bring their own individual interests, talents, and efforts to bear in a way that contributes to the overall
welfare of the entire society. That is, he also agrees with Adam Smith on this point.
However, as opposed to the common view of modern European social theorists who
based personhood solely on property rights, Hegel imposes two important caveats.
Since the purpose of right is to secure freedom (i.e., the good of all), and not to maximize material wealth as such, and the actors in the marketplace do not have any inherent
interest in securing the general good, there needs to be an outside regulator, the state,
not just to guarantee property rights and secure contracts (as Locke would have it), but
to make sure that there are provisions to regulate the marketplace so that individuals do
not unfairly benefit at the cost of the general good, such as environmental laws and

G. W. F. Hegel, The Difference Between Fichtes and Schellings System of Philosophy, translated
by H. S. Harris and Walter Cerf (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1977), 90.


T. Nenon

product-safety controls. Moreover, even then, there would be an inherent tendency

towards the creation of a destitute proletariat, a problem for which that Hegel had no
good solution other pointing to the possibility of colonization as a safety valve to handle
this excess population. The second and much more important caveat is that seeking the
good is not just seeking to maximize wealth, even at the individual level. It is not
enough for humans as free rational agents to pursue only their individual self-interest
through the acquisition and enjoyment of their property, rather as precisely as rational,
they seek the good as moral agents as well. This is where Hegels critique of Kant
comes into play. What is good and what is right has to do with specific roles and specific
historical contexts within which each agent finds him-or herself. Persons are not just
individuals; they are members of families, professions, and political communities that,
at an advanced stage, are states. One finds an identity not just as a property owner, but
as a contributing member of these essential components of ethical life. Moreover, how
each of these is organized is different in different societies and at different stages in history. Part of Hegels criticism of Kants ethics is that it only recognizes those duties that
are truly universal and formal. There is no way to derive the content of ones specific
duties from the categorical imperative. For Hegel, the categorical imperative does
express an important aspect of what it is to be human, namely that ones strivings to
realize oneself must also involve recognizing the others as persons and as rational
agents with their own dignity and worth as well, but contents of ones moral duties
according to Hegel are not derivable from the categorical imperative itself, but rather
they are prescribed according to ones family, professional, and social duties within a
specific social and historical context.
There is much to criticize about Hegels conception, but in my view this relates
more to his philosophy of history, than his philosophy of right more narrowly
defined. Certainly his linear view of history culminating in the Western (and
Northern) European constitutional monarchy of his day with all other parts of the
world relegated to the past is not something that we can learn fromand certainly
in this setting, we can see this as a symptom of what was wrong with modernity as
a European project, but there are still two positive aspects of his confrontation with
modernity. The first is his recognition that there is a legitimate place for the state in
regulating the marketplace and in adjudicating disputes between individuals. The
critique of the modern view that society is nothing other than an aggregate of individuals and that there is no need for institutions that set the boundaries for their
pursuit of individual self-interests remains valid, I think, and if the economic collapse of 2008 has taught us anything, then this should be one of the lessons.
The other important insight is that even though certain general principles may be
valid across many or all societiesthe dignity of the individual, the obligation to
perform ones moral duties in respecting the rights and needs of othersthis does
not mean that the specific ways in which these duties are spelled out will be or
should be the same in every society. The fundamental principles that all of these
institutions find their ultimate justification in the way that they serve to benefit the
lives of those who belong to them does not mean that each of them must or should
do so in the same way, but rather that concrete historical and cultural backgrounds

4 Confrontations with Modernity


are relevant and necessary for their ability to do so appropriately. Context is not
irrelevant; in fact it is constitutive for ones social and ethical duties.
One can make the same general point with Husserl. In his case, and in that of
Heidegger, writing in the twentieth century, the dangers and limitations of modernity are not just looming prospects, but rather momentous events that they had witnessed. Husserls own assessment of the significance for the First World War was
consistent with that of many of his contemporaries. Its scale and its devastation
were only possible in light of the achievements in science, technology, and administration that made it possible to mobilize millions of men into centrally administered armies, and the devastating casualties inflicted upon them were to a great
extend the result of new technologiestanks, machine guns, and chemical weaponsmade possible by natural science. Modern technology had indeed increased
mens powers more than anyone could have imagined. However, the promise of an
increasing cultivation of peoples moral competencies and political decision-making
had turned out to have been empty.
In his last major publication, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental
Phenomenology, Husserl affirms the classic project of science as universalism, a
search for universally valid foundations for beliefs and norms that was begun in
ancient Greece and taken up anew at the beginning of the modern age. He acknowledges the tremendous progress that had been made in the natural and mathematical
sciences over the past few centuries, but at the same time he notes that the successes
of modern natural science have led many to assume that to be true means to be
objectively true and that the language of methods of natural science provide the
standard for objectivity. Following this assumption, all there is a nexus of temporally and spatially located causally determined objects whose properties are just
those measured by natural science. Hence, everything there is measurable and whatever is not measurable, does not exist. Correspondingly, all real truths can be
reduced to the truths of natural science expressed in the language of mathematics.
This specific form of naturalism, taken to its furthest extreme, Husserl calls
His response, consistent with his entire career of providing alternatives to what
he saw as false tendencies toward reductionismsbe it in the guise of psychologism that tried to reduce all statements about logical principles to statements about
human thinking, or naturalism that tried to reduce truths about mental states to
truths about psychophysical organisms, or even historicisms that tried to reduce
philosophical truths to statements about historical factwas to return to the original
calling of philosophy as an ideal, the ideal of an infinite task.3 The task of philosophy as conceived in what he calls the Socratic/Platonic beginning is the systematic
attempt to reflect upon and identify the ultimate norms for human knowing and
acting.4 The crisis of modern science is not in his view a crisis of reason itself, but

In the Vienna Lecture, entitled The Crisis of European Humanity and Philosophy in
Husserliana VI, 314348, esp. 339 and 347.
Hua VI 338.
See on this topic Ausfstze II, 79 ff. and even more clearly, Die Idee einer philosophischen
Kultur (Hua VII, 8 ff.).


T. Nenon

rather a crisis that arises from a much too narrow definition of what can count as
evidence or reason so that only what is observable and measurable in a narrow sense
modeled on the natural sciences counts as genuine science and as genuinely accessible to systematic rational inquiry.
This modern development represents rather a turn away from the inherent possibilities of rational inquiry. This scientific inquiry in the broadest sense that can be
restored if one returns to the original project of philosophy in the proper way.5 A
philosophy grounded in systematic reflection upon the a priori norms inherent in
cognition, valuing, and willing itself, a philosophy that recognizes all of this operations as the personal acts of free and responsible subjects, would therefore fit into
his overall view of philosophy as a form of rational self-realization not just for the
individuals that practice it, but for any society that dedicates itself to the inherent
value of human self-realization.
From Husserls perspective, his repeated and emotional calls to dedicate oneself
again to the classic project of philosophy are not only part of a long tradition that he
consciously embraces. They are also consistent with, and arise from, the many of
the detailed and careful analyses of human persons and human mental life that he
developed as part of that overall project. For persons as rational agents are not
only entities that possess mental states like beliefs, desires, and values, but also entities that are capable of becoming aware of them, and through reflection, examining
whether what purports to be true, good, or valuable really is. For Husserl, reason
(Vernunft) is the general formal heading for the sustainability of any sort of epistemic (i.e., theoretical, evaluative, or practical position-taking in light of the demand
for justification). Reason is then not an external norm imposed on persons from the
outside, but the demand that they take advantage of in their capacity as subjects and
as person to become aware of the position-takings that they are enacting throughout
their lives, to reflect on them and their justification, and to adjust them when
Husserls objection to modernity involves then not a turn away from science or
from Enlightenment ideals, but rather a reversal of an unjustifiable narrow view of
the kinds of things that count as justification for them. Reason is not monolithic, and
it is not just an intellectual capacity. To use Husserls terms: nature as the correlate of modern natural science is just one region among the many regions of things
that possibly and actually exist. Another one, for example, is the region of numbers,
and there is the region of cultural or use-objects that we recognize and use in
our daily lives; there is the realm of persons and the realm of artworks, each of
which is emerges for us in the specific attitude, each of which has fundamental
kinds of predicates that we and do not apply to it, and each of which has its own
appropriate kind of evidence that counts as justification or refutation of the positiontakings (Stze, Stellungnahmen) in which entities are intended. Husserls famous
call back to the life-world in his later writings is just this, a call to recognize the
richness of what there is that shows itself to us, and to reflect systematically on the

A good account of this crisis, and Husserls attempt to offer phenomenology as a response to it,
has been provided by R. Philip Buckley, Husserl, Heidegger and the Crisis of Philosophical
Responsibility (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1992).

4 Confrontations with Modernity


way that specialized areas such a natural science, logic, and mathematics that have
emerged out of the everyday life-world for specific purposes through the course of
history do not replace it or make the meaningful entities that show up for us in the
life-world, such as persons, cultural objects, values, any less real or discussions
about them any less rational even if they do not conform to the standards of objectivity that appropriately hold those specific realms.
One more note before I turn to Heidegger: one of Husserls important insights
that emerged for him through his analysis of the perception of everyday objects is
that they are in an important sense necessary and appropriately relative to the knowing subject. Ones awareness of ones own position is an essential factor in recognizing what is going on in the world around us. My kinaesthetic awareness of my
head slowly turning leads me to attribute the changes in my visual field not to the
room spinning around me, but to the changes in my physical perspective. This holds
for other kinds of subjective changes as wellI know that imbibing alcohol or
other substances will lead to changes in the perceptual field that are not best
explained by changes in the objects surrounding me. The very process of perception
involves an awareness of other contextual horizons as well. When we turn to use
objects, various cultural traditions will constitute them very differently depending
on different cultural practices. Each of us necessarily comes from a home-world
that is shaped by our own cultural background, but each of us also has the capacity
to come to understand other alien worlds as welland the recognition of the
limits of ones own cultural home-world is an important part of that process. So
Husserls universalism does not necessarily entail that cultural differences disappear or that only one culture (e.g., Europes) is the one that all others should adopt
as their model, but only the general call to exercise an ability that is common to
people of all cultures, i.e., to recognize the role that facts such as cultural assumptions play in ones beliefs, actions, and values and to reflect critically upon them to
recognize their justification and their limits as part of the call to ethical renewal and
In spite of the very different language in which Heideggers early work is
couched, there is still much there that is similar to Husserls diagnosis of the dangers
of modernity and the proper response to them. Heideggers analysis of the everyday
surrounding world (Umwelt) in the first division of Being and Time has much in
common with Husserls analysis of the relationship between the naturalistic attitude
and the personalistic attitude in the Ideas II, including the very notion of Umwelt
itself that was the predecessor to the concept of life-world for Husserl. Put very
briefly, thought, there are two very important differences. One is that Heideggers
ultimate focus is on the fact that the ultimate source of meaning in the everyday
world is each persons view of a Worumwillen, literally a for-the-sake-of-which,
and ultimate end or highest priority in life that orders all other subordinate ends as
means and ultimately all the objects around us in terms of their relevance or irrelevance for achieving those ends. Heidegger consciously developed this term as a
German rendering for the Greek hou heneka, or, as Plato would call it, simply the
good (tagathon).
Everyone has a view of what the ultimate good is, whether one knows it or not,
he claims, and nothing is more important in determining what is important to a person, what that person may or may not do, must or must not do, than thisthan what


T. Nenon

they consider the good. In everyday life, though, most people are not even aware of
what vision of the good actually guides them and they certainly do not consciously
choose it. Heideggers call for one to become resolute, to become responsible for
oneself and ones choice of an ultimate end that guides all of ones other actions,
values, and beliefs can even be seen as reminiscent of Husserls call to ethical selfresponsibility. Of course, person is Husserls term; Heideggers term for human
existence is Dasein.
However, as opposed to Husserl (who believes that all position-takingswhether
epistemic on ethicalcan and should be grounded in experiences of fulfillment that
in principle any rational agent should be able to agree upon), who believed that there
is some fact of the matter about that is and is not ethically responsible, and what is
good or not, even if reasonable people will often initially disagree about that,
Heidegger is very clear that no one and nothing can provide us with such a ground.
That is what provocative formulations like Dasein being the groundless ground of
a nothing are meant to describe. Whereas Husserl believes that a ground is something we find, we discover, Heidegger believes that grounding is something we do
and must take responsibility for precisely because there is no ground outside of
ones understanding (Entwerfen, projecting) of what it is that constitutes that ultimate end that we could point to as our justification for adopting this as opposed to
that view of the good. From his perspective, the highest form of the forgottenness of
Being in the sense of forgetting what is that makes us human and what it is that we
must take responsibility for would be to believe that there is some objective standard, something that modern natural science or social theory could provide that
would tell us the answer about how we are supposed to live.
As his thought progresses, Heidegger becomes even less sanguine about the
prospects for confronting the guiding prejudices of modernity as he reflects one the
limits of any ones persons or even any group of persons ability to transcend the
age in which they find themselves. In his thinking about what he calls the essencing (Wesen) of technology and his essay on the Age of the World Picture,6 he
describes a world in which increasingly all that is left is what is measurable and in
which maximizing the measurable seems to be the sole measure of what is to be
done. Technology is not something we use, but a way in which the world as a whole
presents itself to us that renders us mere instruments of forces over which we have
no controlthe course of history, the markets, etc. It is a world in which all other
worlds seem antiquated or irrelevant. All that will soon remain is the force of
technology that leaves us no choice other than to follow the dictates of maximizing
the measurable.
The only thing that philosophy can do is to awaken the awareness that it has not
always been so, that there is a genuine possibility of dwelling in a world that shows
itself differently, and thereby to diminish some of the force of technology that seems
to occlude all other possibilities. We cannot make another way of having the world
show itself happen and we cannot control what that will be. To believe that we could

Martin Heidegger, The Age of the World Picture, in The Question Concerning Technology and
Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1977), 115154.

4 Confrontations with Modernity


control that would be another form of technological manipulation that would just be
more of the same. In some ways, this can be seen as a repudiation of his own folly
in the early 1930s when he believed that he could use the National Socialist revolution to bring about a world that would be different from the twin dangers of what he
continued until the end of his life to call Bolshevism, states controlled social
engineering, and Americanism, a view of life according to which individuals can
engineer the success of their own lives above all in terms of material success.
From the perspective of the beginning of the twenty-first century, we can look
back and venture a few observations about how things have actually turned out. In
spite of the increasing power of the global marketplace and the increasing uniformity of much of human life in industrialized European, nation states that were at
least able to exercise some control over the worst excesses of modern market capitalism and use the prosperity that emerged after the Second World War to enrich the
lives of the vast majority of their citizensand not just in material terms, but also
in terms of their access to education, the arts, and other non-material goods as well.
Moreover, in Europe where there were long-standing local traditions, modern technology and consumer culture has not eclipsed all of the vestiges of community and
history that have provided meaning to peoples lives in the past as Heidegger was
predicting. This is perhaps more obvious in Europe than in the United States, but I
would argue that even in the United States there have been many areas where individuals or groups of people seem to be following what one could loosely call the
Husserlian strategy and are still finding sources of meaning and community other
than just in terms of consumption and material well-being. So if it is true even in
modern industrialized societies there is not only room for, but also a need for
smaller, historically grounded forms of community that do not have to be, in fact
should not be uniform across the globe, then that does leave room for something
other than the age of technology that Heidegger fears might be upon us. However, it
is also important to recognize that one of the primary means for mitigating the negative effects of modernity has been the nation state and/or regional political entities
that have helped regulate the marketplace and sustain historical practices and communities during the second half of the twentieth century. The new challenge of
globalization is the ability of modern technology and capital to overwhelm the
capacities of even the largest and most powerful nation-states to regulate and counteract its most aggressive tendencies towards uniformity and reduction of everything towards a mere resource for exploitation and maximization of profit. I am not
sure that any of the three thinkers I have discussed can provide us with the answers
about how best to address this specific challenge, but I hope that some of the issues
they raise and some of the suggestions about what is possible and necessary as a
response can at least provide a starting point for our discussion about how we can
best respond to the challenges of the heightened form of modernity, namely globalization, that presents itself to us in the twenty-first century not only in Europe and
the United States, but rather in almost every society in the world today.

Chapter 5

Constructing a Schutzian Theory of Political

Lester Embree

Abstract After a review of Schutzs writing, as well as his experiencing and reading about matters political, the comments found scattered throughout the oeuvre are
interpreted under the headings of disciplinary definition, basic concepts, and
distinctive methods in order to show how political science could have been be
developed as part of his philosophical theory of the cultural sciences. A review of
some of Schutzs influence in political science is appended.

[T]he world into which I was born already containedpolitical organizations of a most
diversified nature andI as well as Others are members of such organizations, having a
particular role, status, and function within them.1


It is already clear in Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt (1932) that Alfred
Schutz (18991959) had an interest in understanding not only matters economical
and social but also matters political, but he does not present there, or elsewhere in
his oeuvre, a worked out theory of political science that could be part of his
Wissenschaftslehre. Given the many references to politics in his last major publication, Symbol, Reality, and Society2 (1955), one can suspect, however, that he was
nevertheless tending toward the development of such a theory. A late indication of
such a tendency is a comment in a letter from October 1956 to his friend Eric
Voegelins Order and History:
But I am not just interested in the analysis of political thought in the Middle East but also
in the quadruple counterpoint into which the main argument has been woven. I took very
precise notes on 1) the symbols that come into play here, 2) the general theory of symbol

Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers, vol. I, The Problem of Social Reality, ed. Maurice Natanson
(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1962), 313.
Ibid., 287356.
L. Embree (*)
Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL, USA
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_5



L. Embree
interpretation which is found in many places and also developed systematically, 3) the general theory of The New Science of Politics, which is further developed here, [and] 4) the
many important remarks about the theory and methodology of the social sciences in

On the basis of what scattered remarks there are, and of his reflections on other
cultural sciences, above all economics, the attempt is made in this essay to construct
what Schutzs theory of political science might have become. Such an effort should
help the phenomenological cultural-science theory advance.
It is striking that Schutz makes reference to a wider and deeper literature relating
to political science than he does regarding any other discipline and that he also commented on major political events that occurred during his life. What follows is then,
in the first place, a somewhat chronological review of the political events he
remarked on as well as the explicit expressions about matters political that he read
as well as wrote about and, in the second place, an attempt to assemble the outlines
of a position for him in the theory of political science.4 Some of his influence on
subsequent thinking about politics is reported in the appendix.

Reading, Writing, and Political Events

Alfred Schutz was born in Vienna in 1899 and recalled late in life how, when he was
a Gymnasium student during the Hapsburg Monarchy, that he could have been
expelled for discussing political matters. He was an Austrian soldier in World War
I, but there seem no surviving comments from him directly about that war. The
Homecomer (1944) does, however, include policy recommendations regarding
returning veterans from World War II and stems no doubt in part from Schutzs own
personal experience.5 After that war, he quickly completed a doctorate in philosophy of law at the University of Vienna, where his professor in law theory, Hans
Kelsen, wrote the constitution of the newly established Republic of Austria.
Schutz pursued a career as a bank executive in Vienna before World War II and
must have had many thoughts about National Socialism as it arose in Germany and
spread. Then, or possibly later, he recognized how persons who believed themselves to be good Germans and had severed all allegiance to Judaism found

Alfred Schutz and Eric Voegelin, A Friendship that Lasted a Lifetime, ed. Gerhard Wagner and
Gilbert Weiss, trans. William Petropulos (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press,
2011), 189.
Much from and about Schutz on the political can be found in Lester Embree, ed., The Schutzian
Theory of the Cultural Sciences (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015), 3340, but there is nothing substantial about what the theory of political science might consist in for him.
Reprinted in Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers, vol. II, Studies in Social Theory, ed. Arvid
Broedersen (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964), 106. Hereafter, this volume will be cited as II.

Constructing a Schutzian Theory of Political Science


themselves declared Jews by Hitlers Nuremberg laws and treated as such on the
ground of a grandparents origin, a fact up to that time entirely irrelevant.6
During the 1920s Schutz also began a friendship with Tomoo Otaka, who went
on to write the new Japanese constitution after World War II, and he reviewed his
friends book in 1937.7 He also visited the United States that year and wrote home
about, among other things, the anti-Semitism he encountered.8 After the Anschlu,
his family emigrated to New York, where he lived the rest of his life. The Stranger
(1944) has implications concerning the entry of an individual into a new political
After becoming a United States citizen, Schutz proudly wrote reports on the
Central European banking system for the Roosevelt administration. He had views of
Hiroshima and later developments in the so-called Cold War. He appears sympathetic in writing that [i]n our times, we find certain eminent scientists suffering
under a deep-rooted sense of responsibility for having cooperated in the production
of atomic weapons9 Later he reacted to the development of ICBMs:
This sector of the world of perceived and perceptible objects at whose center I am shall be
called the world within my actual reach, which includes, thus, the objects within the scope
of my view and the range of my hearing. Inside this field within my reach there is a region
of things which I can manipulate. (The problem involved is more complicated, especially
at a time when, through the use of long range rockets, the manipulatory sphere may be
extended beyond the world within my reach. The spreading of the manipulatory sphere is
perhaps one of the outstanding characteristics of the actual state of Western civilization.)10

Schutz was also interested in the development of the United Nations, particularly
concerning its positions on discrimination, minority rights, and political equality.11
Soon after entering his new political system, he published The Well-Informed
Citizen (1946), the closest thing to a contribution to political science from him.
Some of its thought was developed further in the Report on the Discussions of
Barriers to Equality of Opportunity for the Development of Powers of Social and
Civil Judgment (1956) that he co-authored with Harold D. Lasswell, a political
scientist at Yale University and at that time the President of the Political Science
Association.12 The interest of Schutz in the political was further manifested in
Santayana on Society and Government (1952). Moreover, his life-long friendship

II, 257; cf. II, 276.

Alfred Schutz, The Foundations of the Theory of Social Organization (1937), trans. Fred
Kersten, in Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers, vol. IV, eds. Helmut Wagner, George Psathas, and
Fred Kersten (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997). Hereafter, this volume will be cited
as IV.
Alfred Schutz, Journal, trans. Evelyn S. Lang, Schutzian Research, Vol. I (2009).
II, 275.
I, 307.
Ibid., 262 ff.
Lester Embree, ed., The Schutzian Theory of the Cultural Sciences (New York: Springer, 2015),
297311. Lasswell was author of Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (1936) reprinted in The
Political Writings of Harold D. Lasswell (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1951).


L. Embree

with Eric Voegelin led to fascinating letters not only about Husserls philosophy but
especially about Voegelins book, The New Science of Politics.13
The major political event for Schutz in his American period was the racial desegration ordered by the Supreme Court in 1953. In relation to that, he participated in
an institute with leading figures including Thurgood Marshall, who argued the case
before the court and later became a justice on it, and wrote Equality and the
Meaning Structure of the Social World (1955).14 The authors Schutz referred to in
this essay include Aristotle, Craine Brinton, Monroe Berger, R. M. MacIver, Sir
Henry Sumner Maine, Gunnar Myrdal, Talcott Parsons, Georg Simmel, T. V. Smith,
Albert Solomon, Leo Strauss, R. H. Tawney, David Thomason, Max Weber, and of
course Eric Voegelin. It is the most amply documented of his essays and most of the
writings cited are about political themes. Hence, one might suspect that, had he
lived longer than 1959, he would have written on more of such issues.

Outlines of a Schutzian Theory of Political Science

As mentioned, Schutz did not develop an explicit theory of political science, but
scattered remarks and implications expressed down through the years can be related
to his methodology, or, since that expression has now come too much to connote
training in statistical technique, what he once called Wissenschaftslehre,15 an expression that can be rendered as theory of science or, best, science theory (from
which expression modifiers are most easily derived).
Schutzs science theory has arguably two forms. In the narrow signification, it is
a theory of his own particular discipline that a scientist such as Max Weber contributes to and this can be called scientific science theory. In the broad signification,
which can be called philosophical science theory, there is reflection from an outside standpoint upon whole classes of sciences. Schutz was then a philosopher
because he reflected on the genus of cultural science, emphasizing the specifically


Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952. Cf. Gilbert S. Weiss, Alfred Schutz and Eric
Voegelin, in Hisashi Nasu et al., eds., Alfred Schutz and his Intellectual Partners (Konstanz: UKV
Verlagsgesellschaft, 2009), which adds nicely to the analysis of this relationship and, while it is
recognized that Schutz is concerned with the foundations of the social sciences and Voegelin with
the theory of politics, these are not combined into a theory of political science.
II, 226273. Cf. In Search of the Middle Ground, reprinted in Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers,
vol. IV, ed. Helmut Wagner and George Psathas in collaboration with Fred Kersten (Dordrecht:
Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1996), 147151, this volume hereafter cited textually as IV, and
Understanding, Self-reflection, and Equality: Alfred Schutzs Participation in the 1955 Conference
on Science, Philosophy, and Religion, ed. with introduction, Michael Barber, in Schutzian
Research, vol. I (2009), 245271.
Talcott Parsons and Alfred Schutz, The Theory of Social Action: The Correspondence of Alfred
Schutz and Talcott Parsons, ed. Richard Grathoff (Bloomington and London: Indiana University
Press, 1978), 101. Hereafter, this source will be cited textually as TSA.

Constructing a Schutzian Theory of Political Science


social sciences including economics and social psychology, but also reflecting on
the historical sciences and somewhat implicitly psychology.16
Study of his reflections on other disciplines has established that there are three
components to science theory for Schutz. These components can be called disciplinary definition, basic concepts, and distinctive methods and will now be
addressed in this order. There is naturally some overlap in these components.


Disciplinary Definition

Some distinguish between political philosophy and political science. Schutz

uses both expressions, but he appears not to have clarified such a distinction. He
accepts the rendering of Aristotles epistm politik as political science.17 What
does this expression signify?
Political scientists can draw on a deep intellectual tradition, as the reference to
Aristotle already shows. Among cultural scientists, only historians might go deeper
in referring to Herodotus and Thucydides. In his letters to Voegelin and also elsewhere, Schutz indicated familiarity with the positions not only of Aristotle, but also
Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and
Nietzsche. Quite a few of his contemporary social scientists who were writing about
politics are listed above. Although this resort to millennia of literature appears distinctive for political science, it is hardly definitional. What, again, is political science for Alfred Schutz? We can begin with what it is not.
While not discussed in all of the following respects, political science for Schutz
is, first of all, plainly not a formal science like logic and mathematics. It is certainly
also not a natural science:
The concept of Naturewith which the natural sciences have to deal is, as Husserl has
shown, an idealizing abstraction from the Lebenswelt, an abstraction which, on principle
and of course legitimately, excludes persons with their personal life and all objects of culture which originate as such in practical human activity. Exactly this layer of the Lebenswelt,
however, from which the natural sciences have to abstract, is the social reality which the
social sciences have to investigate.18

Social science here has arguably the wide signification that includes predecessors considered in the specifically historical sciences and can better be expressed as
cultural science. Furthermore, and despite extensive consideration of the history


Lester Embree, A Problem in Schutzs Theory of the Historical Sciences with an Illustration
from the Womens Liberation Movement, Human Studies, 27 (2004): 281306; The Nature and
Role of Phenomenological Psychology in Alfred Schutz, Journal of Phenomenological
Psychology, 39 (2008): 141150; Economics in the Context of Alfred Schutzs Theory of
Science, Schutzian Research, Vol. I (2009): 16373; and Founding Some Practical Disciplines in
Schutzian Social Psychology, Bulletin danalyse phnomnologique, vol. 6 (2010), numero 1.
II, 203.
I, 58.


L. Embree

of political ideas by such as Voegelin, political science is not an historical science.

Because of its interest in groups or collectivities, it is plainly not a psychological
science either, although it can be related to social psychology when methodological
individualism is practiced in the search for foundations. By process of elimination
then, political science is a social science in the narrow signification whereby what
are investigated are contemporaries, i.e., fellow humans who necessarily share
time but not necessarily space with a self. Still, it remains unclear just what positively differentiates political science from other social sciences in this narrow
Schutz reports that there are five analytical disciplines for Talcott Parsons, each
of which refers to a special subdivision of the action scheme as a frame of reference:
[Among these is] Political Science and the scheme of social relations in the special form of power relationships and group schemes.19 If it was sure that Schutz
was not merely reporting Parsonss position but also approved of it, we would have
the difference for him of political science from other social sciences.
There is some indirect approval of Parsonss position in what Schutz says about
Max Weber on the state, the state being of course a central theme for political science: The state can be interpreted as the totality of acts of those who are oriented
to the political order, that is, of its citizens.20 For Schutz as well as Weber there are
social collectives and this large class includes ideal types like the state, the
term state is merely an abbreviation for a highly complex network of interdependent ideal types, and every action of the state can be reduced to the actions of its
If Schutzs approving of Parsons with respect to group schemes is thus supported, what about power? In this respect, Schutz clearly accepts from Max Scheler
that for the meaning structure of the social world there are material factors
(Realfaktoren) that include political power relationships.22 Moreover, the world
into which I was born already contains political organizations23 and these have
hierarchies of rulers and subordinates, chiefs and vassals,24 which are also relations of power.
Furthermore, in Symbol, Reality, and Society, Schutz asserts that there are
experiences which transcend the finite province of meaning of everyday life so that
they refer to other provinces of meaning, to other subuniverses, such as the world
of politics.25 That is a finite province of meaning to which there is


TSA, 21.
Alfred Schutz, The Phenomenology of the Social World, trans. George Walsh and Frederick
Lehnert (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1967), 136; cf. I, 354, quoting Weber.
Hereafter, this source will be cited textually as PSW.
PSW, 199.
II, 249.
I, 313.
Ibid., 335.
Ibid., 329; cf. 353.

Constructing a Schutzian Theory of Political Science


transcendence. The following example is a case of the everyday reality from which
there are references and which plainly include relations of power:
If in a face-to-face relationship with a friend I discuss a magazine article dealing with the
attitude of the President and the Congress toward admission of China to the United Nations,
I am in a relationship not only to the perhaps anonymous contemporary writer of the article
but also with the contemporary individual or collective actors on the social scene designated
by the terms President, Congress, China, United Nations; and as my friend and I
discussed this topic as citizens of the United States of 1954, we do so in an historical situation which is at least co-determined by the performances of our predecessors. And we have
also in mind the impact which the decisions now to be taken might have on our successors,
the future generations.26

Where the transcending reference beyond everyday life is concerned, Western

culturebut Schutz also refers at length to Chinese culture in this connectionhas
symbols, including great symbolic systems ofpolitics.27 Thus modern political
scientists are said to hold that humans participate in and are determined by the
order of the cosmos, the social organization, for example, with its hierarchies of
rulers and subordinates, has its correlate in the hierarchy of the heavenly bodies.28
As an example of rude symbolism for social collectivities, of which the state is
one, Schutz says that, [s]trictly speaking we are all in the situation of Crainquebille,
in the story by Anatole France, to whom government is just a grouchy old man
behind a counter.29
On a more sophisticated level, Schutz sympathetically summarizes Voegelin:
By way of illustration you cite Joachim of Floras very interesting application of the trinity
symbol to the course of history. From his theory emerge our four typical symbols: 1) the
Third Realm, 2) the Leader, 3) the Prophet or Forerunner, and 4) the Brotherhood of autonomous persons. Subsequently these four symbols are studied in their historical evolution
with particular stress on National Socialism and Russias Political Philosophy.30

In the last regard, dialectical materialism seemed to Voegelin and/or Schutz to be

headed in the direction of becoming a symbol of the societys selfunderstanding.31 Democracy would have to have this symbolic role for the USA,
but this is not said, much less discussed, although for the USA Uncle Sam is said to
be another rude symbolism.32
Voegelin is furthermore cited approvingly on how a political society is a cosmion illuminated from within and draws on R. M. MacIver concerning how this
illumination occurs through a central myth governing the ideas of a concrete


Ibid., 352, cf. 34.

Ibid., 337.
Ibid., 335.
Ibid., 353.
IV, 228.
Ibid, 225.
I, 353.


L. Embree
This central myththat is, the scheme of self-interpretation, belongs itself to the natural
conception of the world which the in-group takes for granted. For example, the idea of
equality might be referred to an order of values ordained by Zeus, or originating in the
structure of the soul; it might be conceived as reflecting the order of the cosmos, or the
Right of Nature, as revealed by Reason; it might be held as sacred, and connected with various ideas of taboo.33

Furthermore, within a cosmion there is representation, perhaps by popular

election, and some of its membersthe ruler, sovereign, government, prince
find habitual obedience to the acts of command and Schutz quotes approvingly
from Voegelin on distinguishing
between the representatives of society and a second relation in which society itself becomes
the representative of something else, of a transcending realityAll the early empires
understood themselves as representatives of the cosmic order.34

(The claims that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with
certain inalienable rights might fit this view.)
In sum, it is plausible to say that political science for Alfred Schutz is a social
science in the strict signification that is concerned with collectivities made up of
ideal types of especially functionaries and their power relationships and these form
a transcendent finite province of meaning referred to by symbols and myth in everyday life and are at least sometimes taken to represent the cosmic order.


Basic Concepts

Concepts that appear especially relevant for political science are expressed fairly
often in Schutzs oeuvre. None explicitly deemed basic concepts have been
noticed, perhaps because most are fairly self-evident, but that would not preclude
foundational clarification, something called for at the outset of his review of Otaka.35
There is some clarification, however, when it is told, for example, that one is born
into a national group, but can change ones nationality, as Schutz himself did. Then
again, it may be that he agreed, interestingly, with Santana that a family is a political unit.36 Otherwise, there are the concepts of the body politic, citizen, government, political beliefs, political life, political party, political rights,
politician, and, as also seen above, political organizations, especially the state,
the further clarification of all of which Schutz left in effect to others.
More generally speaking, the first paragraph of the Preface of Der sinnhafte
Aufbau der sozialen Welt (1932) includes this list.


II, 245.
I, 335, quoting Voegelins The New Science of Politics, with emphasis added by Schutz.
IV, 203.
II, 214.

Constructing a Schutzian Theory of Political Science


Among these [basic] concepts are those of the interpretation of ones own and others experiences, meaning-establishment and meaning-interpretation, symbol and symptom, motive
and project, meaning adequacy and causal adequacy, and, above all, the nature of idealtypical concept formation, upon which is based the very attitude of the social sciences
toward their subject matter.37

These geisteswissenschaftlicher Grundbegriffe hold for political science

because it is a human or cultural science as well as, more specifically, a social science. Most of these concepts are methodological and methods can be addressed


Distinctive Methods

In most respects, the approach that Schutz would advocate for political science is
like that for other social sciences in the strict signification. In contrast with ideological thinking, respect for logic, clarity, and the value-free theoretical attitude is to be
sought and ultimately one seeks objective meanings about subjective meanings, i.e.,
what can also be called verifiable scientific outsider interpretations about everyday
common-sense insider interpretations, and relies on the postulate of adequacy to
ensure contact with the pertinent reality that ones informants encounter.
No doubt political scientists like other social scientists can gather empirical data
through interviews, participant observation, and questionnaires. Furthermore and as
discussed above, they can also benefit from the history of political ideas, which
would require recourse to scholarship. But insofar as the latter recourse does not
seem necessary, it does not differentiate political-scientific method. Although no
signs have been noticed in the oeuvre, various schools of thought within political
science might also be discerned especially through historical study, including positivistic behaviorism and classical political philosophy in contrast to both of which a
Schutzian political science would be interpretative. (Incidentally, Schutzs use of
history is not entirely Eurocentric because of his references to Chinese culture,
which were probably unusual in the West of the 1950s).
Like other cultural sciences, political science employs ideal-typical concept formation, which, as quoted above, are that upon which is based the very attitude of
the social sciences toward their subject matter, but there is some additional specification in this respect for political science.
And here we should add that not all the social sciences have as their goal the interpretation
of the subjective meaning of products by means of personal ideal types. Some of them are
concerned with what we have called course-of-action types. Examples of such social sciences are the history of law, the history of art, and political science. This latter group of
disciplines simply takes for granted the lower stages of meaning-establishment and pays no
attention to them. Their scientific goal is not to study the process of meaning-establishment
but rather the cultural products which are the results of that meaning-establishment. These


PSW, xxxi.


L. Embree
products are then regarded as meaningful in themselves and are classified into course-ofaction types.38

Several comments on this passage may help. In the first place, social science in
the strict signification now appears to have at least two subspecies, something that
could also have been included in the section on disciplinary definition above.
Secondly, the caricature that government is just a grouchy old man does involve a
personal ideal type, but this personification of a collectivity is an anthropomorphism
like that whereby the USA is Uncle Sam39 and the emphasis at least on course-ofaction types supersedes that. If the historical sciences mentioned are excluded,
political science is a strictly social-scientific discipline of that sort mentioned thus
far (but linguistics is implied below).
In the third place, some cultural products or cultural objects grasped with
ideal types of that sort are political:
[L]et us consider what are called cultural objects, in other words, such ideal objectivities
as state, art, language, and so forth. These are all products according to our theory, for
they bear upon them the mark of their production by our fellow men and are evidences of
what went on in the minds of our fellow menwho created them. Here highly complex
cultural objects lend themselves to the most detailed investigation. The state can be interpreted as the totality of the acts of those who are oriented to the political order, that is, of its

Finally, while course-of-action types are often considered by Schutz, not in their
own right, but as bases for the formation of personal types, that is probably because
he was more interested in social psychology than art history, history of law, linguistics, or political science, which, as just seen, focus on course-of-action types. If
linguistics is another strictly social science focused on course-of-action types, there
remains power as the specific difference of political science.
What Are Course-of-Action Types?
The concept ideal type of human behavior can be taken in two ways. It can mean
first of all the ideal type of another person who is expressing himself or has expressed
himself in a certain way. Or it may mean, second, the ideal type of the expressive
process itself, or even the outward results which we interpret as signs of the expressive process. Let us call the first the personal ideal type and the second the material or course-of-action type. Certainly an inner relation exists between these
two. I cannot, for instance, define the ideal type of a postal clerk without first having
in mind a definition of his job. The latter is a course-of-action typeOnce I am
clear as to the course-of-action type, I can construct the personal ideal type, that is,
the person who performs this job.41
The fixation in conceptual form of external modes of behavior or sequences of
action, derived from either direct or indirect observation, leads to a catalogue of

PSW, 242.
I, 353.
PSW, 136.
PSW, 187.

Constructing a Schutzian Theory of Political Science


material course-of-action typesBut these course-of-action types can be of different degrees of generality: they can be more or less standardized, that is, they can
be derived from behavior of greater or lesser statistical frequency.42
Despite its greater concern with personal ideal types, also called puppets in it,
Schutzs Common-Sense and Scientific Interpretation of Human Action (1953)
adds to the above account of course-of-action types that one begins to construct
such types from observed events,43 recognizes that types of this sort are constructed in common-sense thinking as well as in cultural science,44 and adds that
[i]n constructing course-of-action types of contemporaries other than consociates, we
impute to the more or less anonymous actors a set of supposedly invariant motives that
govern their actions.45

For what might have seemed only consociates, Schutz offers the interesting
example of observing a group playing cards. One can observe the playing of each
player separately as a Thou, but one can also observe the whole group as a They.
I can then make a statement like They are playing a game of poker. This statement will
apply to each individual player only to the extent that the course-of-action type poker
game corresponds to a series of conscious experiences in his mind and stands in a subjective meaning-context for him. In this way the action of each player will be oriented to the
rules of poker.46

From this example one might wonder analogically about the role of law in political organizations. As seen above, Schutz recognizes that citizens are oriented to the
political order of the state, but he seems not consider the role of law in this connection.47 In his rendering of Aufbau, Part IV, however, Thomas Luckmann does consider it:
If I perform or refrain from performing some determinate act in order to avoid the intervention of certain people with badges and uniformsto adduce another of Webers examplesthat is to say, if I orient my conduct to the law and its enforcement agencies, I stand
in a social relation with my contemporaries personified according to ideal types, i.e., in a
They-relation.In these examples I have acted with the expectation that certain determinate kinds of conduct are likely on the part of others: policemen. I have a certain attitude
toward them: I reckon with them when I plan my actions, in short, I am in a social relation
with them. But my partners in these relations do not appear as concrete and specific individuals. They appear as instances of the genus policeman. I ascribe to them specific patterns of conduct, specific functional performances. They are relevant for me as
contemporaries only so far as they are typical performers of such functions, that is, as ideal


Ibid., 197.
I, 40, cf. 63.
Ibid., 34.
Ibid., 25; cf. PSW, 186.
PSW, 186; Schutzs footnote: Even the cheater is oriented to the rules; otherwise he could not
really cheat.
But cf. PSW, 200 and II, 121.
II, 45.


L. Embree

Thus while law is not excluded, it seems not to have a major place in political
science for Schutz even though he was trained in and practiced it. Otherwise, political science in sum is unlike some other cultural sciences in relying on course-ofaction rather than personal ideal types to grasp the functionaries or role players,
including citizens, and their exercises of power within political collectivities.
To close, it might finally be observed critically that political science for Schutz
would have to find a place for applied or better, science-based political action in the
world of working. In other words, how normative politics can have scientific bases
needs also to be explored. After all, his preference for democracy is clear. He mentions politicians, political decisions, and political actions, but not how these might
have a basis in theory, which increasingly they do when political decisions in the
modern world are made.

Appendix: Some Influences of Schutz on Political Science

Without an exhaustive search having been made, signs of Schutzs influence on
scientific investigation of the political can be found in work by Eric Voegelin,
Richard G. Snyder, Arnold Brecht, Hwa Jol Jung, John G. Gunnell, Jonathan
B. Imber, Stephen Frederick Schneck, Fred Kersten, Hangwoo Kim, and Michael
Barber. Influence on Schutzs colleague Leo Straus would be interesting, but there
seems no evidence. The same seems the case with Hannah Arendt, with whom
Schutz was also acquainted.
1. Helmut Wagner devotes a chapter of his biography to Schutzs long-term relationship with the historian of political ideas, Eric Voegelin, that does not mention
influence on Voegelins views of political science, but Michael Barber, who may
have had access to more source material, reports that
Schutz praised Voegelins [The New Science of Politics] for developing a phenomenology
of how historically active societies constitute themselves; inquired how different groups,
theoreticians and commonsense actors might interpret this process differently; and challenged Voegelins rejection of any eidos of history and his claim that Gnostics redivinized
society instead of reproducing Greek polytheism. Voegelin accepted most of Schutzs suggestions as friendly emendations.49

2. Another early influence also grew from personal interaction. Richard G. Snyder
taught political science at Princeton University from 1946 to 1955, where he
probably met Schutz who spoke there in 1952. On June 30, 1954 Snyder sent
Schutz a text entitled Decision-making as an Approach to the Study of
International Politics, from which Richard C. Snyder, H. W. Bruck, and Burton


Michael Barber, The Participating Citizen: A Biography of Alfred Schutz (Albany, NY: State
University of New York Press, 2004), 167.

Constructing a Schutzian Theory of Political Science


Sapin, Foreign Policy Decision-Making50 was developed, probably with more

influence by Schutz (the pagination below does not match the 1962 publication
and the points that Schutz objects to below seem to have been changed, but I have
not compared the earlier earlier text with the later one).
Schutz wrote as follows on Sept. 6, 1954.51
I found you monograph and letter. It is highly gratifying that you and your co-authors Mr.
H. W. Bruck and Mr. Burton Sapin, found some of my ideas helpful for your splendid work.
It means very much to me to see that your findings corroborate certain theoretical views
proposed by me.
You asked for my comments. Not being competent in the particular fiend of the study of
politics, I am restricting my comments to a few methodological points which struck me
when studying your monograph.
You are right that more effective and explicit conceptualizations are needed in the field
of international politics. I also agree that any interpretive scheme must meet certain tests as
characterized by you on p. 5.
You refer to Nagel and Hempels contributions to the symposium of the APA in 1952 on
concept and theory formation in the social sciences. I regret that I cannot endorse the findings of these eminent scholars. I am enclosing reprints of my criticism of their position.52
I am not sure whether your distinction between a general theory and a frame of reference is fully tenable. My point is just that any frame of reference presupposes already a
general theory and is only workable as a part of it.
You refer to multiple realities, but on p. 10 you state, to assume multiple realities is to
assume that there is no one objective situation common in all respects to all the
In this formulation things are not quite correct.
To be sure, the views that the individual participants have of their situation must overlap,
but this phenomenon can be explained by the subjective interpretation (or definition) of the
situation by the participants even if there were no multiple realities. The paramount reality
of everyday life in which alone communication is possible is indeed common to all of us,
although experienced in individual (subjective) perspectives and adumbrations by each of
This is sufficient in order to explain why the same situation is differently defined and
interpreted by the State Dept. and the Dept. of Defense.
The famous outside observer interprets the situation different[ly] than the disputants if
he is not involved with his hopes and fears in the issue but adopts a disinterested theoretical
attitude, which as such belongs to another realm of reality than the paramount one of everyday life.
I feel strongly that my remarks refer rather to the formulation chosen by you than to the
underlying principle with which I find myself in full agreement.


Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1962.

Alfred Schutz Papers, Beinecke Library, Yale University, Box 30, Folder 761, Princeton
University. I am grateful to Professor Michael Barber for helping identify this correspondence and
to Evelyn Schutz Lang for permission to publish her fathers letter.
Alfred Schutz, Concept and Theory Formation in the Social Sciences, Journal of Philosophy,
vol. LI (1954). Cf. Alfred Schutz, ed. Lester Embree, Positivistic Philosophy and the Actual
Approach of Interpretive Social Science: An Ineditum from Spring 1953, Husserl Studies, vol. 14
(1998): 123149, reprinted in Dermot Moran and Lester Embree, eds., Phenomenology: Critical
Concepts in Philosophy, 5 vols., III (London: Routledge, 2004), 119145. (L.E.).


L. Embree
On pp. 3637: I think I understand and accept your thesis that state action is the action
taken by those acting in the name of the state, [but] the next sentence: Hence, the state is
its decision makers seems doubtful
The state is also the chance that the citizens accept the decision made by the decision
makers or, if you prefer, it is the political organization, called State which determines
who is authorized to make decisions.
On p. 37 you refer to perception as one of the three features of orientation, but it could
be taken in the restricted sense of sensory perceptions or, as it seems to be your intention,
you mean defining the situation.
p. 57: the meaning of the words, socially defined in the definition of decision making
is not quite clear to me.
Are the alternative projects (i.e. how to deal with the EDC [probably the European
Defense Community]) really socially defined (namely defined by the social group which
the decision makers represent)?
If they are, however, defined by the decision-makers themselves (who are the state),
then the words socially defined might be redundant.
p. 63: I think I can understand the methodological assumption that no private citizen can
be a member of the analytical unit unless he temporarily holds a (federal?) office. But the
private citizen may and frequently does suggest alternatives not seen by the decisionmakers which might or might not be accepted by them; example: Beardsley Ruhls pay as
you go plan

Snyder replied on Sept. 16, 1954: The specific points you queried are well taken
and we are glad to stand corrected. We would like to speak with you more. On
November 23, 1954 he sent Schutz some questions, and, finally, it appears that he
and his colleagues visited Schutz on November 27, but what they learned then
seems undiscoverable now. Professor Hwa Yol Jung has studied the references to
Schutz in Snyder et al. 1962 and reports that [W]hat is more important is Schutzs
influence on this book. We might even be able to say that it is really a Schutzian
book using the ideas of multiple realities, projects of action, motivation, etc.53
3. Arnold Brecht and Alfred Schutz were colleagues on the Graduate Faculty of the
New School for Social Research, they had many conversations, and Wagner
reports that Schutz influenced especially the chapters on the theory of scientific
method in Brechts Political Theory: The Foundations of Twentieth Century
Political Thought.54 Wagner draws on interviews with Brecht to report that
Schutz made a number of suggestions for changes in Brechts chapters on
methodology, all of which were accepted by the author. Thus he added a section
on motivation and free will, especially appropriate in a book that dealt with
political action.55
Brecht furthermore writes in his book that Schutz deserves credit for aptly having brought [the following] interrelation to attention:
Yet not the scholar alone, but the common man too, engages in a constant process of typification in order to understand the world around him and pursue his own interests and


Pers. com., 11 March 2010.

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959.
Helmut Wagner, Alfred Schutz: An Intellectual Biography (Chicago: Chicago University Press,
1983), 149.

Constructing a Schutzian Theory of Political Science


purposes. The typifications constructed by the social scientist, therefore, are as it were
produced on a second level, above those formed by the common man. They are more
refined, and scientifically more exact; but in order to reflect reality they must take account
of the types constructed by the common man.56

This passage is followed by a page-long quotation from Schutzs Concept and

Theory Formation in the Social Sciences. Brecht furthermore writes that Science
cando psychological and phenomenological research on the manner in which
men become aware of equalities and inequalities, real or imaginary, for instance in
the relations between in-group and out-group individuals and gives Schutzs
Equality and the Meaning Structure of the Social World as an example.
4. Phenomenology spread widely in the USA during the 1960s and of course the
first three volumes of Schutzs Collected Papers and also the English translation
of his Aufbau appeared during that decade. In that time, Gibson Winter, Elements
for a Social Ethic: Scientific Perspectives on Social Process57 also appeared.
Although this book makes very intelligent use of Schutzs thought and does
apply norms of justice to the social world, it does not contribute to a theory of
political science.
5. Hwa Yol Jung edited Existential Phenomenology and Political Theory.58 Two of
the fifteen substantial selections in this anthology are from Schutz. The editors
introduction includes a section on Phenomenology and Philosophy of Political
Science that is the first anticipation I have found of the science theory that I
have tried to construct in the body of the present study and it continues the
already-mentioned influences of Schutz:
The ordinary language of political man precedes the objectified language of political science, and the second must be consistent with the first. The language of political science can
refine, improve, and supplement but cannot ignore the ordinary discourse of political

The key passage in Schutz60 on how the subject matters of naturalistic and cultural science differ is quoted61 and the structure of the social world as composed of
consociates, contemporaries, predecessors, and successors is nicely interpreted. It
culminates with ideal types and how
Every action of the state can be reduced to the actions of its functionaries, and the term
state is merely an abbreviation for a highly complex network of interdependent personal
ideal types.62


Political Theory, 109.

New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966.
Chicago: Regnery, 1972.
Ibid., xxx.
I, 59.
Ibid., xxxiii.
Ibid., xlvi.


L. Embree

6. Jung next contributed A Critique of the Behavioral Persuasion in Politics to

Phenomenology and the Social Sciences,63 in which, on the challenging idea
of Schutz, he quotes from Collected Papers, Volume I (p. 66) that
the particular methodological devices developed by the social sciences in order to grasp
social reality are better suited than those of the natural sciences to lead to the discovery of
the general principles which govern all human knowledge.64

7. In that same volume of Natansons anthology, John G. Gummell in effect combines points made by Jung and Brecht:
While in natural science facts and observational data are not only theory dependent but, in
a significant sense, functions of the theories which give structure and meaning to the natural world, the facts, events, and data before the social scientist are, as Schutz has argued,
of an entirely different structure. His observational field, the social world, is not essentially structureless. It has a particular meaning and relevance structure for the human
beings living, thinking, and acting therein.65

8. Alfred Schutz and the Study of Politics by Stephen Frederick Schneck66 contains an impressive survey by a political scientist that includes consideration of
textbooks as well as writings for fellow professionals including those referred
to above and discerns widespread general reactions, some of which do not mention Schutz by name. There is an irony to this obvious influence of Schutzs
work as contrasted with the meager recognition granted it.67
9. The next relevant substantial writing that has come to my attention is Jonathon
B. Imber, The Well-Informed Citizen: Alfred Schutz and Applied Theory.68
Although Imber is a sociologist, he contends that
Schutzs effort to redirect inquiry in the sociology of knowledge may belong to the sociological literature that ought to be called civic-minded in the broadest sense of the idea. To
reflect on the citizens responsibility to the polity is part of a long tradition in Western

10. To the extent that it goes beyond Schutzs actual content and form and if political philosophy is not distinguished from political science, Fred Kerstens The
Purely Possible Political Philosophy of Alfred Schutz, in Lester Embree, ed.,
Schutzian Social Science70 can certainly be considered as influenced by Schutz.


Ibid., 138, cf. 155.
Ibid., 231, quoting I, 5.
In Lester Embree, ed., Worldly Phenomenology: The Continuing Influence of Alfred Schutz on
North American Human Science (Washington, D.C.: The Center for Advanced Research in
Phenomenology and University Press of America, 1988).
Ibid., 171.
Human Studies, vol. 7 June 1995.
Ibid., 11.
Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999.

Constructing a Schutzian Theory of Political Science


11. In Search of the Political Sphere in Alfred Schutz by the political scientist
Hangwoo Kim in Explorations of the Life-World: Continuing Dialogues with
Alfred Schutz71 most interestingly compares Schutz, who emphasizes making
(poesis), with Hannah Arendt, who emphasizes doing (praxis).
12. Finally, while Michael Barbers The Participating Citizen: A Biography of
Alfred Schutz72 brought out the ethical background of Schutzs position, the latest revision of his entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy73 shows
especially clearly a view of politics with which Barber is sympathetic, probably
under Schutzs influence:
Schutz, usually the value-free describer of social realityendorses a normative notion of
democracy in which it is a duty and privilege, frequently not available in non-democratic
societies, for well-informed citizens to express and defend opinions that often conflict
with the uninformed opinions of the man on the street.74

No doubt there are other writings concerned with politics that have been influenced by Schutz, but perhaps this review of some of them suffices to show that there
is such a continuing influence even in this discipline where in writing to Snyder he
disclaimed competence.


Martin Endress, George Psathas, and Hisashi Nasu (Dordrecht: Springer, 2005).
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004.
March 16, 2010,
Ibid., para. 28.

Chapter 6

Carnal Hermeneutics and Political Theory

Hwa Yol Jung

Body am I entirely and nothing else; and soul is only a word for
something about the body.
Friedrich Nietzsche
The problem of the reality of the body is shown to be the central
problem and upon its solution everything else depends.
Gabriel Marcel
Words are carried over from bodies and from the properties of
bodies to signify the institutions of the mind and spirit.
Giambattista Vico
Birth, and copulation, and death.
Thats all, thats all, thats all, thats all.
Birth, and copulation, and death.
Once is enough.
T. S. Eliot

Abstract This essay is an attempt to show that the body as subject is the radical
rootedness of our being-in-the-world both social and natural, i.e., Mitwelt and
Umwelt. Thusly, it attempts to show the primordial and utmost importance of the
body in everything we do and think in the world. It is an argument against the
Cartesian dualism of mind (res cogitans) and body (res extensa), whose epistemocracy has governed modern Western philosophy over the last five centuries. The philosopher or thinker is not and cannot be a disembodied cerebrum. The Cartesian
cogito is untenably disembodied and thus monologic. In it the social construction of
reality is an impossibility. In the beginning was not the word, but embodied sociality. The French feminist, Luce Irigaray, not only bucks the Cartesian epistemocratic
disembodiment and monologism but also exemplifies, in a revolutionary way, tactility as the most fundamental sense that founds and funds all the other senses against
the mainstream (malestream) currency of Western philosophy from Platos eidos

H.Y. Jung (*)

Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA, USA
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_6



H.Y. Jung

to Descartess epistemocratic endeavor in search of clear and distinct ideas, that

is, the dominance of ocularcentrism. Irigaray transforms the pariah status of tactility
to its proper niche in the history of Western philosophy.


Carnal hermeneutics1 has come of age. By making and cultivating the body as the
socio-political inter(dis)course, its arrival posts a sharp turning point in our thinking. As the body is our familiar and primordial way of inhabiting and mediating the
parliament of things both human and nonhuman in the world, carnal hermeneutics
celebrates what Pierre Bourdieu calls the performative magic of the social.2
Ironically, however, the body has been an untouchable and an abject topic in philosophy precisely because it is familiar and primordial. Ludwig Wittgenstein is
observant when he tells us that the most important aspects of things are hidden
simply because they are familiar, that is, we fail to notice them because they are
always right before our very eyes.3
The Enlightenment is the soul of mainstream Western modernity. Its legacy continues today. Some speak of modernity as an unfinished project, a second modernity, even the modernization of modernity, or the second coming of Enlightenment
itself. They have an unblinking faith in it as the absolute telos of history.
Enlightenments unbridled optimism is pledged to promote and crown the
Promethean progress of humanity based on the universal cultivation of pure and
applied reason. Kant spelled out the civilizing mission of Enlightenment in the
clearest and simplest term: to sanctify the autonomous benefaction of reason in
rescuing and emancipating humanity from the dark grotto of self-incurred immaturity.4 In so doing, he institutionalized the major agenda of European modernity.
While privileging and valorizing the autocracy of reason for allegedly human progress and emancipation, European modernity unfortunately overlooks, marginalizes,

I began to use the term carnal hermeneutics as a counterpath to Cartesian epistemocracy and
Enlightenment thought in Vico and the Critical Genealogy of the Body Politic, Rivista di Studi
Italiani, 9 (June, 1993): 3966 and Writing the Body as Social Discourse: Prolegomena to Carnal
Hermeneutics, in Signs of Change, ed. Stephen Barker (Albany: State University of New York
Press, 1996), 261279 and 394416. See further Prolegomena to a Carnal Hermeneutics (Lanham:
Lexington Books, 2014). The term counterpath is the translation by David Wills of the French
work of Catherine Malabou and Jacques Derrida called La Contre-alle. It tries to convey the
twofold meaning of (1) being an alley alongside a main thoroughfare and (2) going counter to
the main current of events. Catherine Malabou and Jacques Derrida, Counterpath, trans. David
Wills (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).
The Logic of Practice [Le Sens Pratique], trans. Richard Nice (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 1990), 57.
Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1953), 50 f.
See the authors Enlightenment and the Question of the Other: A Postmodern Audition, Human
Studies, 25 (2002): 297306.

Carnal Hermeneutics and Political Theory


and disempowers the (reasons) other whether it be the Orient (or the so-called
non-West), body, woman, or nature at the altar of Enlightenments sovereign reason.
Orient, body, woman, and nature are not randomly isolated but are four closely
interconnected issues. Johann Gottfried Herder raised a wholesale objection to the
Enlightenment project in an interesting way with a metaphor of the body: After
dozens of attempts, I find myself unable to comprehend how reason can be presented so universally as the single summit and purpose of all human culture, all
happiness, all good. Is the whole body just one big eye?5
The legacy of Enlightenment is deeply anchored in the Cartesian project of the
cogito or epistemocracy which has become the canonical institution of modern philosophy in the West. The theoreticism of the Cartesian cogito has mesmerized and
hypnotized Western modernity. By identifying my being/existence or interbeing/
coexistence with what I think of it, the cogito valorizes that mind which is at once
disembodied, monologic, and ocularcentric/panoptic.6 As it is the activity of the
mind as thinking substance (res cogitans), the cogito is inherently monologic
because it is always and necessarily ego cogitothe epitome of an invisible man
who is isolated from others, both other minds and other bodies.7 It is indeed cogito
ergo non-sum. We live in the company of others: to be alone, Tzvetan Todorov
puts it with elegance, is no longer to be.8 Once the self and the other are viewed as
disembodied substances (res), two self-contained substances, monologism or even
solipsism in extremis is inevitable. For Descartes, moreover, the mind as cogito
erects and monumentalizes the privatized, insulated, and echoless chamber of clear
and distinct ideas (three visual terms) in which nobody else is allowed to live. The
self-imposed mind is incarcerated in the prison-house of epistemocratic Panopticon.
As a matter of fact, Cartesian panoptic metaphysics goes eyeball to eyeball with the
monologism of the cogito because vision or sight is not only isolating and distancing but also anaesthetic in denying the sociability of the senses: there is indeed a
narcissism and social amnesia of and in Cartesian panopticism.9 To put it simply,

J. G. Herder on Social and Political Culture, trans. and ed. F. M. Barnard (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1969), 199.
In contrast to the cogito which produces pure thought as cerebral activity, Le Penseur, which is
the masterpiece of Auguste Rodins handicraft, is described by Rilke: He [The Thinker] sits in
mute absorption, heavy with pictures and thoughts, and all his strength (which is the strength of a
man of action) goes into this thinking. His whole body has become a skull, and all the blood in his
veins a brain. Rainer Maria Rilke, Auguste Rodin, trans. Daniel Slager (New York: Archipelago
Books, 2004), 50. There is indeed a real danger in identifying what is rational or cerebral with what
is real. Jean-Franois Lyotard points out that Hegels grand narrative of identifying what is rational
with what is real is decisively refuted by the phenomenon of Auschwitz or the Holocaust which is
real but not rational. See The Postmodern Explained, trans. Don Barry et al. (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 29.
For the authors critique of the I think in terms of the I do in the Scottish philosopher John
Macmurray, see John Macmurray and the Postmodern Condition: From Egocentricism to
Heterocentricism, Idealistic Studies, 31 (2001): 105123.
Genres in Discourse, trans. Catherine Porter (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 89.
In The Absent Body (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 4, Drew Leder writes: One of
the compelling reasons to challenge Cartesianism has to do with its far-reaching social effects.


H.Y. Jung

there is an identity between the I and the eye. The cogito is then really video
ergo sum, or the minds I is the minds eye. It is a scopic regime which undermines
and scandalizes socialitythe sociality of the senses on the one hand and of other
humans and other things both living and nonliving on the other. Heidegger contends
that the I (or the eye) of the cogito becomes the center of thought from which
the I-viewpoint and the subjectivism of modern thought originate: the subjectivity of the subject is determined by the I-ness (Ichheit) of the I think. For him,
the I-viewpoint of the Cartesian cogito highlights the modern age as the age of
the world picture (Weltbild) in which the meditative Gelassenheit (serenity) is
overtaken by the calculative Gestell (enframing).10
The phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty holds that perception precedes
conception. As the body is the lived field of perception, the body and the world are
inseparable. Insofar as perception is a nascent logos, there can be no disembodied reason. Only in terms of the body as the participatory locus of perception do
we come to grips with Merleau-Pontys simple but deep notion that the world is
made of the same stuff as the body. That is to say, the body and its senses are in
direct rapport with the world prior to any theory of knowledge (connaissance).11 In
each act of perception, the body participates in the world. It is an instance or
moment of the sensuous unity, and it is enclosed in the synergic work or sensory
interplay of the body. The body is the carnal field in which perception becomes
localized as seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting this or that particular.
This hierarchical dualism has been used to subserve projects of oppression directed toward women,
animals, nature, and other Others (e.g., non-Western others). The cogito is ignorant of the social
evils of excessive illuminationto borrow the expression of the highly idiosyncratic Japanese
writer Junichiro Tanizaki in In Praise of Shadows, trans. Thomas J. Harper and Edward
G. Seidensticker (Stony Creek: Leetes Island Books, 1977), 36.
Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William
Lovitt (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), The Age of the World Picture, 115154. Interestingly,
neo-pragmatist Richard Rortys Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1979) is a trenchant and sustained critique of modern epistemology as ocularcentric. He embraces hermeneutics to overcome visual allusions and prevent edifying conversation
from degenerating into an epistemocratic exchange of views. For him, hermeneutics begins when
epistemology ends. The Panopticon is Jeremy Benthams masterly architectural blueprint for an
ideal prison system. Michel Foucault comments that the Panopticon must not be understood as
a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form [I]t is in
fact a figure of political technology It is polyvalent in its applications: it serves to reform prisoners, but also to treat patients, to instruct schoolchildren, to confine the insane, to supervise workers,
to put beggars and idlers to work. It is a type of location of bodies in space of definition of the
instruments and modes of intervention of power, which can be implemented in hospitals, workshops, schools, prisons. Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon Books,
1977), 205.
In his 1963 Zaharoff Lecture at Oxford University, Jean Hyppolites characterization of MerleauPontys philosophy is concise and to the point when he writes: La philosophie de Merleau Ponty
est une mditation sur cette connexion intime de lexistence et du sens. Notre existence ne
senracine dans le monde et dans lhistoire que parce quelle y dcouvre ou y invente une sens. Ce
sens nest pas crit dans la nature de choses, ou dans un esprit ternal, il est loeuvre prcaire et
tourjours menace de lexistence que nous sommes nous-mme. Sens et Existence dans la
Philosophie de Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 3.

Carnal Hermeneutics and Political Theory


The lived body or the body as flesh is capable of authoring the world first before
answering it.

Carnal Hermeneutics as a Postmodern Agendum

The body, to repeat, is related to everything we do and think. It is the interlocking

medium of our being in the world, of Interbeing. Despite the fact that the body has
always been and will always be the material (pre)condition of our quotidian life,
Descartes castigated it after the fashion of Christian asceticism.12 From the standpoint of phenomenology, the mind is not to be transcendentalized from but rather
immanentized and materialized in the body (as flesh). We are said to be social
only because we are embodied or enfleshed beings. The mind is said to be related to
the world by the medium of the body which is related to other bodies. The mind
alone is directly related to neither other bodies nor the world. It becomes a relatum
only because the body is populated in the world with other bodies. It is necessary
that we exist as body, as flesh, in order to be social and thus ethical.13
Now the Cartesian dualism of the mind and the body has been seriously questioned and refuted by such postmodern progenies of the Neapolitan philosopher
Giambattista Vico as Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Mikhail Bakhtin,
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Georges Bataille, Jean-Franois Lyotard, Michel Foucault,
Gilles Deleuze, Emmanuel Levinas, Luce Irigaray, and Jacques Derrida. Many philosophers across the gender line and academic disciplines are willing to speak of
philosophy of the flesh or the flesh in philosophy and cognition, intellectual or
common sense, as embodied or enfleshed. They attempt to reclaim the body as the
waste and forgotten land of philosophizing whose absentee landlord is the incorporeal mind. In this respect, carnal hermeneutics creates a continental shift in philosophizing. Insofar as it is a radical subversion and transgression of the modern
philosophy of the mind (bereft of the body), it is an advent which is postmodern
as well as post-Cartesian.
By the neologism carnal hermeneutics which is necessary for philosophy to
invent, I mean an application of hermeneutics or interpretation theory and its


Peter Brown eloquently describes Origens utopic Christian asceticism: Human life, lived in a
body endowed with sexual characteristics, was but the last dark hour of a long night that would
vanish with the dawn. The body was poised on the edge of a transformation so enormous as to
make all present notions of identity tied to sexual differences, and all social roles based upon marriage, procreation and childbirth, seems as fragile as dust dancing in a sunbeam. The Body and
Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 168. In Carnal Israel (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1993), Daniel Boyarin advances a discerning discussion on Israel in the flesh
or eternal carnality which the Christian St. Augustine attributed to Jews.
See Erwin W. Straus, The Upright Posture, in Essays in Phenomenology, ed. Maurice Natanson
(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966), 164192.


H.Y. Jung

procedures to the reading of the body as social inscription in and of the world.14 It
is an incorporation of conceptual categories concerning all the aspects, dimensions,
levels, pivots, configurations, and representations, both verbal and nonverbal, of the
bodys diverse communicative performances. Body matters in carnal hermeneutics run through the wide gamut of interconnected phenomena such as silence, gesture (gesteme), boxing, tattoo, nudity, clothing/fashion (vesteme), eating/dieting
(gusteme), theatrical and musical performances, religious rituals, torture, medicine/
healthcare, revolution, killing fields/holocausts, clinics, incarceration, slavery, racism, and death and its denial (immortality).
Properly speaking, hermeneutics is concerned with the interpretation (Auslegung)
of written texts whose standard-bearers have traditionally been theology and jurisprudence. The phenomenologist Paul Ricoeur entertains the idea that the interpretation of human action in the human social sciences is hermeneutical insofar as it
displays textual properties or features.15 Let me exemplify two embodied acts as
textual: (1) sign language and (2) boxing.
In the first place, the act of signing by the deaf is always and necessarily embodied. It is thoroughly textual as well. In his fascinating study of the body politics of
signing called Seeing Voices, Oliver Sacks writes unequivocally about the body as
the soulmate of signing:
One has only to watch two people signing to see that signing has a playful quality, a style,
quite different from that of speech. Signers tend to improvise, to play with signs, to bring
all their humor, their imaginativeness, their personality, into their signing, so that signing is
not just the manipulation of symbols according to grammatical rules, but, because it utters
itself, so immediately, with the body. One can have or imagine disembodied speech, but one
cannot have disembodied Sign. The body and soul of the signer, his unique human identity,
are continually expressed in the act of signing.16

The playwright Samuel Beckett is simple but deep when he intimates that in
language as gesture (manual rhetoric) the spoken and the written are identical.17
Gesture is a textual form of performance.
In the second place, we can use Joyce Carol Oatess exceptionally engaging discourse on boxing as an unmistakable exercise in carnal hermeneutics. For her, life


In How Societies Remember (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), Paul Connerton
holds that the continuity of societies is maintained by social memories in two principal ways: (1)
inscription and (2) incorporation. He focuses on incorporation (bodily practices) as social practices
(e.g., a smile, a handshake, and a commemorative ceremony).
See From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics, II, trans. Kathleen Blamey and John
B. Thompson (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1991), Ch. 7: The Model of the Text:
Meaningful Action Considered as a Text, 144167. Patrick A. Heelan accords perception with a
hermeneutical act. See Perception as a Hermeneutical Act, The Review of Metaphysics, 37
(1983): 6175.
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 119.
Dante Bruno. Vico Joyce, in Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination
of Work in Progress (Paris: Shakespeare, 1929), 11. For an interesting and inclusive discussion of
gestural and inscriptive performances, see Carrie Noland, Agency and Embodiment: Performing
Gestures/Producing Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).

Carnal Hermeneutics and Political Theory


is a metaphor for boxing or boxing is a scene exercised and played out of life itself.
In another sense, however, there is nothing like boxing. Boxing is indeed an iconographic text. Life is like boxing in many unsettling respects. But boxing is only
like boxing. She writes:
Because a boxing match is a story without words, this doesnt mean that it has no text or no
language, that it is somehow brute, primitive, inarticulate, only that the text is improvised in action; the language of a dialogue between the boxers of the most refined sort (one
might say, as much neurological as psychological: a dialogue of split-second reflexes) in a
joint response to the mysterious will of the audience which is always that the fight be a
worthy one so that the crude paraphernalia of the settingring, lights, ropes, stained canvas, the staring onlookers themselvesbe erased by way, ideally, of transcendental action.
Ringside announcers give to the wordless spectacle a narrative unity, yet boxing as performance is more clearly akin to dance or music than narrative.18

Nietzsche is the postmodern Tantrist par excellence: in Thus Spoke Zarathustra,

he declares that Body am I entirely and nothing else; and soul is only a word for
something about the body.19 In the footsteps of Vico, he initiated and legitimated
the cultivation (factum, Bildung)not the naturalizationof the body as a
philosophical topic. For him, the body is more than a physiological phenomenon.
Only as a cultural event, can we understand Erasmuss fashioning of clothing as a
second body or the body of the body20 and Bourdieus notion that the eye is a
product of history produced by education.21 The famed Japanese Tantric Buddhist
Dgen insisted that only by way of cultivation or training (e.g., zazen or seated
meditation) do we grasp the primacy of the body over the mind.
The body for Nietzsche may be likened to the work of art. As such it is a hermeneutical topic. Terry Eagleton fleshes out the two-fold Nietzschean principle of carnal hermeneutics as an aesthetic project: (1) the aesthetic (aisthesis) is or begins as
a discourse of the body and (2) it is the body in revolt against the tyranny of the
theoretic (theoria) which is a spectatorial idea in its Greek origin.22 The aesthetic
is preeminently a carnal affair, it is unquestionably kinaesthetic. It is Nietzsche who
radicalized the body as an aesthetic phenomenon. By way of the body, he subverts
and overcomes the speculative conundrum of theoria and attempts to replace it with
aisthesis. By so doing, he inverts the Platonism which seeks eternal ideas (eidos)
radiated from the minds eye.
Nietzsches aesthetic politics joltingly overturns the long-established tradition of
all that theoretic speculation entails in Western philosophy since the time of Plato
including Cartesian epistemocracy. When in The Birth of Tragedy, the young
Nietzsche, who was trained as a classicist, praises music, he was trekking the ancient
Greek tradition of mousike as the performing arts, which consisted of oral poetry,

On Boxing (Garden City: Doubleday, 1987), 11.

The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Penguin Books, 1959), 146.
See Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, vol. 1: The History of Manners, trans. Edmund
Jephcott (New York: Urizen Books, 1978), 78.
Distinction, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), 3.
The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 13.


H.Y. Jung

drama, dance, and above all music. He advanced music as consummately aesthetic:
it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally
justified and that only music, placed beside the world, can give us an idea of what
is meant by the justification of the world as an aesthetic phenomenon.23 For
Nietzsche, in essence, music is paradigmatic to all the other arts and, as performing
art, consummates the aesthetic as it is the carnal performance par excellence. That
is to say, music embodies the bodys profound revolt against the theoreticism of the
mind. In (Homeric) oral poetry whose primary function was to transmit cultural
messages, composition was performance. When psychotherapy is characterized as
talking cure, it engages in not only a hermeneutical practice but its discourse is
also performative rather than simply informative.24
Before Nietzsche, Goethe was following the Hebraic tradition of dabhar (speech,
word) as the act of deed or performance rather than the Greek logos which completes itself in reason when he proclaimed in Faust that in the beginning was the
Deed! (Im Anfang war die Tat!). He is the thinker who chastised the person of thin
and unfulfilled (i.e., insincere) deed with profuse thought. He frowned upon the
theoretic I think as grey and was determined not to dull the primary tonality of
the performative I do. Goethe was audacious enough to challenge the longstanding Delphic oracle/Socratic wisdomKnow theyselfas a device of
priests secretly leagued to confuse man by impossible demands and to divert him
from activity in the world about him to a false introspection. For him, [m]an
knows himself only in so far as he knows the world, becoming aware of it only in
himself, and of himself only in it. He contended further that [o]thers know me
much better than I do myself. It is only [through] my relations to the world about me
that I can learn to know and appraise correctly.25


Trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Random House, 1967), 52 and 141. Jacques Attali echoes
Nietzsche in refusing to theorize about music but in thinking through it. In the first paragraph of
his Noise: The Political Economy of Music, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1985), he writes: For twenty-five centuries, Western knowledge has tried to look
upon the world. It has failed to understand that the world is not for the beholding. It is for hearing.
It is not legible, but audible (p. 3).
For an extensive discussion of speaking as performative rather than informative, see Shoshana
Felman, The Scandal of the Speaking Body, trans. Catherine Porter (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 2003). As it is doing things with the body, performance also refers to theatrical and performing arts (drama, music and dance) and sexual acts. Since to be alone is not to be or to be lost, we
are tempted to say that all communicative acts belong to the genre of performance or the performative magic of the social, which is integral to human coexistence and thus to
See Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wisdom and Experience, trans. and ed. Hermann J. Weigand
(New York: Pantheon Books, 1949), 206207.

Carnal Hermeneutics and Political Theory


An Exemplary Personage of Carnal Hermeneutics: Luce

Irigaray and Tactility

The significance of todays feminism for carnal hermeneutics cannot be minimized

or overstated. It lies in the fact that feminism, carnal feminism, is all about body
politics (in the plural). The neologism gynesis (Alice A. Jardines coinage)26 stands
for the origin of things in the feminine (e.g., philo/sophia) and the valorization of
feminine difference as an ontologically distinct category. In very significant measure, feminismcarnal feminism in particular that is seriously engaged in minding
the bodyserves notice as Ariadnes thread to weave and fashion the labyrinth of
body politics. Gynesis is graphically (and erotically) painted by Gustave Courbet as
The Origin of the World. No matter. Courbet in reality painted the cave or
grottoone of his favorite subjectswhich is, not unlike Platos allegory of the
cave, in need of being brightened by sunlight or the ideas in the minds insight.
Indeed, gynesis has been badly manhandled in the mainstream (or, better, malestream) logocentric thought of the West, of Western modernity in particular,
which is envisioned in perpetuity in the Cartesian cogito. Gynesis and the Cartesian
cogito are in direct opposition. Nobody, I think, fares better than Irigaray in the
agonistic contest of the two sexes.
Irigaray is one of the most important and influential French Tantric feminist philosophers who is a trailblazer on her way to becoming assuredly a globetrotter. She
means to transform our way of thinking and the world because, as she puts it, [i]f
we keep on speaking the same language together, we are going to reproduce the
same history.27 She contends that sexual difference is the issue of our time whose
resolution is our philosophical salvation. So sexual difference marks her philosophical distinction. As a matter of fact, she presents ambitiously it as a paradigmatic and programmatic foundation for a new ontology, a new ethics, and a new
politics all wrapped in one. Irigarays philosophy of sexual difference is a revolt
against and a subversion of what she calls monistic phallogocentrism (phallic
ego-centeredness) in which man is literally the measure of all things and woman
does not exist as an ontologically distinct category.28 Phallogocentrism gives credence to the idea that man or woman is not born but made (factum). Irigarays
See Gynesis (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985). Franoise Collins argument against the
phallacy of identity based on feminine difference is brief but poignant in Philosophical
Differences, in A History of Women in the West, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, vol. 5: Toward a
Cultural Identity in the Twentieth Century, ed. Franoise Thbaud (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1994), 261296.
This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1985), 205.
See Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 62. Let me
quote Laqueur in full: In a public world that was overwhelmingly male, the one-sex model displayed what was already massively evident in culture more generally: man is the measure of all
things, and woman does not exist as an ontologically distinct category. Not all males are masculine, potent, honorable, or hold power, and some women exceed some men in each of these categories. But the standard of the human body and its representations is the male body.


H.Y. Jung

philosophy of sexual difference offers an alternative (dialogical) model of the two

(i.e., man and woman) in opposition to the one-sex model which favors man at the
expense of woman. She touches on the issues of Enlightenments outcasts. Her carnal feminism, in other words, is capable of restoring the dignity of body, nature, and
non-West, all of which were overshadowed by Enlightenment reason. It is no mere
accident that the feminine gender is consigned to them while their oppositesmind,
man, culture and Westare masculine or malestream categories. Irigarays carnal
feminism signifies the fourfold liberation at once of body, woman, nature, and nonWest from the shackles of Enlightenment thinking. It opposes the Cartesian cogito,
point by point, which is (1) disembodied, (2) monologic/anti-social, and (3) ocularcentric/panoptic.
Irigaray has no qualms about using the language of sexual difference and feminine corporeality as the center of philosophical rhetoric and grammatology in order
to promote her justifiable agenda. She, however, does not solicit sexual difference
by reifying it, which would divide humanity into two opposing and uncompromising sexual camps and make impossible any genuine dialogue between the two sexes.
Her sexual difference may conveniently be explained, again, in terms of Heideggers
wordplay of Differenz as Unterschied which doubles difference with the
between that connects, preserves, and promotes both difference and the relational
at the same time. It is, as Carol Gilligan puts it simply, the way of making connection in the face of difference.29 But for difference, sexual or otherwise, there would
be no genuine intersubjectivity or relationship. So does Irigaray insist. Social or
sexual inter(dis)course for her is first the compassionate liaison of our bodies, i.e.,
intercorporeal. Difference (dif/ference), when it is not reified or erased, is capable
of conserving the principle of complementarity in interhuman relationships. As
Nancy Julia Chodorow explains, Differentiation is not separateness, but a particular way of being connected to others.30 In this sense, difference solidifies and
advances the conception of a relational self or the self as relational. Above all, the
one-sex model or the model of the two without sexual difference, that is, the body
politics of identity, has been historically masculine and hierarchicalman on top
and woman at bottom, i.e., the missionary position.
Irigarays dialogical model of the two resembles the ancient Chinese logic of
yin (feminine) and yang (masculine) in which one complements what is lacking in
the other and which, because of its unfinalizability, should not be mistaken for or
identified with Hegelian and Marxian dialectics but rather shares its family resemblance to Mikhail Bakhtins dialogism, which is infinitely open-ended in that the
past, too, is as undetermined as the future, that is, it is an open notebook to be rewritten as much as the future is to be written. In fact, Irigarays dialogical model of the
two may be enlisted as Hayden Whites neologism diatactics (dia/tactics) with a
modified accent on tactility in which the notion of difference and the sense of

See In a Different Voice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982). This is the most well read
book in feminist literature in the United States.
Italics original. Gender, Relation, and Difference in Psychoanalytic Perspective, in The Future
of Difference, ed. Hester Eisenstein and Alice Jardine (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980), 137.

Carnal Hermeneutics and Political Theory


tactility are intertwined.31 It inscribes the model of our commonplace expression

on the one hand and on the other hand in order to tie our ideas by way of
difference or contrast. In any case, Irigarays model of the two based on sexual difference, in sum, is intended to promote intimate dialogue: as she writes succinctly,
we must move on to the model of the two, a two which is not replication of the
same, nor one large and the other small, but made up of two which are truly different. The paradigm of the two lies in sexual difference.32 She has nothing against
ontology per se presumably because the disputation of sexual difference is an ontological issue. Without ontology, ethics and politics would be blind, and without
ethics and politics, ontology would be empty.
Tactility is engendered typically by the hand. The hand is the primary but not
exclusive organ of touch by way of the skin which covers and protects our entire
body. Haptics runs through the gamut of thinking itself (Heideggers conception of
thinking as handicraft), playing music (David Sudnows reflection on the improvisation of jazz on piano), communicating (Oliver Sackss signing by the deaf),
healing in psychotherapy, a remedy for autism, and sexual insults. The hand beckons social contact. The haptic masterpiece La Cathdrale by Rodin, the sculptural
master of the flesh, in which the caressing of two right hands (the rite of sociality,
as it were) embraces the sense of piety as absolute reciprocity (in a GrecoRoman religious sense). It incarnates and celebrates the sacrament of coexistence
or the sanctity of the social. Indeed, it exudes jouissance (the Nirvana principle of
carnal feminism) or the enjoyment of the flesh; it is seductively social. Here one
may ask an interesting question concerning the playful or enjoyable seduction of
tickling: why cannot we tickle ourselves? The answer is simple: because it is a contact sport. Tickling is a play of contact (con/tact). We cannot enjoy the pleasure of
tickling, according to Adam Phillips, in the absence of the other and it requires or
comes with the enacted recognition of the other.33 It is also worth noting that an
affliction of cutaneous alagiathe condition of feeling no pain in the skinimpoverishes the sense of contact with the outside world of other people and other things.
The Nirvana principle of carnal feminism tagged as jouissance is synchronized with
embodied sociality: sexuality is nothing but a social relationship turned into carnal
contact (con/tact).
In the footsteps of Irigaray, Cynthia Willett speaks of tactile sociality.34 Willett
declares that in the beginning is not the word; it is the touch.35 Tactile sociality is
our primordial contact between, for example, the mother and infant. For Irigaray,

In Tropics of Discourse, Hayden White coined the term diatactics in order to avoid Hegels conceptually overdetermined (i.e., hypotactical) dialectics on the one hand and Marxs conceptually underdetermined (i.e., paratactical) dialectics on the other. However, he is not aware of the
hidden connotation of tactility in the term diatactics (dia/tactics).
The Question of the Other, in Another Look, Another Woman, ed. Lynne Huffer, trans. Noah
Guynn, Yale French Studies, no. 87 (1995): 1112.
On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 9.
Maternal Ethics and Other Slave Moralities (New York: Routledge, 1995), 3147.
Ibid., 47.


H.Y. Jung

touch enriches and cultivates the intercorporeal contact of proximity. It begins and
comes with the gentle caress between the mother and the infant who can touch but
cannot speak (in-fant). Without doubt it is the natal bond (Merleau-Pontys
expression) between the two sentient beings. It is a skin-to-skin or epidermic contact which is never just skin-deep. The breast feeding, which is the privileged rite
of the mother, is the contact between the skin-mouth and skin-breast which is
deeper than any other contact we can imagine. Breast-feeding that nourishes the
infant instantiates and epitomizes the pure and unconditional act of care and love
which is the exemplar of heteronomy.
In philosophy in particular, sight/vision is for too long thought of as rational
and masculine sense (e.g., by Kant who is the paragon of Enlightenment reason),
whereas touch is denigrated as an irrational and feminine sense.36 Contrary to the
gynogenesis of philosophy as philo-sophia which has been dictated in practice by
visual terms, the masculine academic discipline of philosophy would be called
effeminate were it governed by tactile or non-visual terms. Interestingly, a white
man is called an eye-man whereas non-whites are characterized by non-visual
terms (e.g., an Asian is called an ear-man and an African is called a skin-man).37
Be that as it may, not only does Irigarays gynesis as jouissance scandalize and
deconstruct the mainstream/malestream tradition and language of Western philosophy, but also her tactile sociality bucks and unpacks the Cartesian cogito in which
disembodiment, monologism, and ocularcentrism/panopticism are all wrapped into
one package. Jouissance as feminine distinction involves the interplay of enjoyment (including sexual bliss) and the sense of hearing (as opposed to seeing)
since it is pronounced jous sens.38 It auscultates the valorizing voice of feminine
distinction. Jouissance at once engenders in Irigaray a critical audition of Cartesian
panoptic metaphysics and defenestrates its phallocracy or the phallacy of its
logocentrism. She writes:
Investment in the look is not privileged in women as in men. More than the other senses, the
eye objectifies and masters. It sets at a distance, maintains the distance. In our culture, the
predominance of the look over smell, taste, touch, hearing, has brought about an impoverishment of bodily relations. The moment the look dominates, the body loses its


See Sander L. Gilman, Inscribing the Other (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991),
Lorenz Oken, Elements of Physiophilosophy, trans. Alfred Tulk (London: Ray Society, 1847),
Michel Serres writes that Sight is local, hearing is global. Far more than the ichnography, which
is geometric for the subject or the object, hearing is marked by ubiquity, by an almost divine power
to capture the universal. The optical is singular; the acoustical is total. Hermes the pass-partout
transforms himself into a musician because sound knows no obstacle: the beginning of the total
ascendancy of the verb. Panoptic Theory, in The Limits of Theory, ed. Thomas M. Kavanagh
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989), 40.
Quoted in Craig Owens, The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism, in Beyond
Recognition, eds. Scott Bryson et al. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 179.

Carnal Hermeneutics and Political Theory


The world, to be sure, is not a panorama, not something that we merely gaze at
as kosmotheoros, but it is also something we can touch, taste, smell, and hear.
Touch as primordial sense is synaesthetic. Its synaesthesia inseminates and disseminates the sociability of the senses and performs the magic of the social. In the tradition of existential phenomenology, Jos Ortega y Gasset was the first who protested
and argued against visual primacy and hegemony. He argued that it would be a
grave mistake to think that sight is the most important sense of all. For him, touch
was the original sense from which the others were gradually differentiated and the
decisive form of our intercourse with things is in fact touch.40 Therefore, Ortega
claimed that touch and contact are necessarily the most conclusive factor in determining the structure of our world.41 Irigaray, too, argues that Cartesian phallogocentrism which, as vision has emasculated touch, is rooted in scoptophilism or
the love of sight.42 She contends that the tyranny of sight is a peculiarly phallocentric, patriarchal, and matrophobic institution and objectifying scoptophilia underwrites uniquely a masculine logic. In the final analysis, the feminine is valorized in
the participatory and proximal sense of touch, whereas the masculine is glorified
in the spectatorial and distancing sense of sight.
The ambitious, anti-modernist project of Irigarays criture fminine would be
incomplete for constructing a new ontology, a new ethics, and a new politics in the
age of globalization if it would leave out the question of the nature of nature (of
geophilosophy) and the question of how philosophy is done in the non-Western
world. Most recently, she ventures to expand her philosophical model of the two
based on sexual difference to a dialogue between East and West. She discovers an
intercontinental connection between her carnal feminism and the East, and she is
deeply drawn to a transversal alliance with the East, with the tangible thought and
practice of India. India is the home of Hinduism where the body is not just a material reality but elevated to the status of spirituality, that is, where the body and spirit
form an interdependent unity. In India, in the East, the body is ensouled or inspirited
as much as the spirit is incarnated. What the mind alone is to the masculine West,
the body is to the feminine East.
Irigarays transversality or cultural border-crossing forges the comparative and
collateral way of promoting the fertilization of ideas which would produce hybridity by negotiating differences and facilitating the confluence of differences. What
Eurocentric universality is to the non-West, phallogocentric monism is to Irigarays
philosophy of sexual difference. In both cases, the philosophical politics of identity
gives way to the philosophical politics of difference (Unterschied). In both
Eurocentrism and phallogocentrism, what is particular, that is, Eurocentric or malestream, is universalized, whereas what is non-Western or feminine remains always

Jos Ortega y Gasset, Man and People, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: W. W. Norton, 1957),
For an excellent account of Irigarays critique of phallogocentrism based on scoptophilism,
see Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 493542.


H.Y. Jung

particular. In short, Eurocentrism and phallogocentrism violate Irigarays differential logic of the two.
Following the thread of Irigarays criture fminine, it is worth lending our ears
to the important and fascinating study of women in Tantric (Vajrayana) Buddhism
in Nepal and Tibet, of yogini-tantra by Miranda Shaw in Passionate Enlightenment43
which seeks the middle path of bodysattva (correctly spelled as bodhisattva or
heroic awakening) and passionate, erotic jouissance. Tantric Buddhism eulogizes
the body or flesh as an abode of bliss by embracing the jewel of sexuality or
sexual union in which asceticism and celibacy have no place. Shaws work, not
unlike Irigarays criture fminine, presents a gynecological view of Tantrism where
yoginis or female Tantrics, who are female practitioners of yoga, engage in the
teachings and practices of blissful intimacy as a path to enlightenment/awakening.
However, Shaw contends that the body of yoginis teachings and practices has long
been overlooked in the West because of the androcentric bias of Western observers and scholars.
Yoginis revolutionized Buddhism, just as Irigarays feminist philosophy has overturned the malestream phallic-logocentric legacy of Western philosophy since
Plato, in comprehending or grasping the nature of the three S words: sensuality,
sexuality, and spirituality. It comes as no surprise that Irigaray has turned her ears to
the East for her philosophical verity in which she expands the horizon of her logic
of the two (or betweenness) to the East/West connection. In Between East and
West (Entre Orient et Occident),44 Irigaray discovers that the carnal geography of
Hinduism begins with the bodily phenomenon of breath as natality or the first sign of
life. In Hinduism vital breath is transformed into spiritual breath. It is worth noting that the Sanskrit word for breath spelled asmi anagrammatically signifies being
or existence, that is, it is made up of am and is. Whatever her critics say about
this work, it is the intellectual journey worth taking which, I suspect, is far from over
or finished. She might very well benefit from listening to what Shaw has to say as she
expands her feminist horizon from corporeal singularity to intercorporeal community (ashram). The attainment of spiritual awakening, of bodysattva, according
to female Tantrics, is extremely difficult without a male partner. They seek their spiritual awakening in intimate partnership with men which includes a mixing of sexual
fluids. In a relationship with a man, touching and massaging a womans feet and
ingesting a womans body are also allowed: a man sips, upon request, sexual fluid
and menstrual blood from her vulva and licks any part of her body. Yoginiss bodysattva is not far removed from the spirit of Irigarays following passage:
The caress becomes a means of growing together toward a human maturity that is not confused with an intellectual competence, with the possession of propertyamong them the
bodies of beloved and the childrennor with the domination of the world, beginning with
the little world of the house, of the family. Love, including carnal love, becomes the
construction of a new human identity through that basic unit of the community: the relation
between man and woman.45

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Between East and West: From Singularity to Community, trans. Stephen Pluhek (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2002).
Ibid., 117.

Carnal Hermeneutics and Political Theory



Carnal hermeneutics or the hermeneutics of body politics (in the plural) signals the
birth of a new paradigm. In as much as it subverts and transgresses the rationality of
Western modernity, whose expression is funded and fueled by Cartesian epistemocracy and Enlightenment thought, it is a postmodern paradigm. Carnal hermeneutics
is a body blow, as it were, to the Cartesian dualism of mind (res cogitans) and
body (res extensa) and Enlightenment rationalism. The principium of carnal hermeneutics is threefold. First, it is a proposal which attempts to think with, through, and
about the body as the material condition of our being in the world and as the infinite
agora of performances. As performance is body learning, it is the keyword of
carnal hermeneutics. The performativity of body matters is linguistic, psychoanalytic/sexual, theatrical, and assuredly moral. In carnal hermeneutics, there is no
dualism between mind and body: in the irresistible expression of Roy Porter, the
body is the inseparable dancing-partner of the mind.46
Second, the body is the archetype of the social. It is our umbilical cord to and the
foothold in the world. It is coeval with the birth of the world: our body and the
world are born at the same time. But for the body, social bonding is unimaginable
and unthinkable because it is the primordial and privileged root of the social. As a
matter of fact, sociality is first and foremost intercorporeal: it begins with bodily
contact. In other words, the body is the master key that unlocks the mystery and
discovers the secrecy, of the primus relationis, of Interbeing. Third, the body is an
active agent. It is not a foot-soldier who obeys the command of the mind. It activates
intellection as well as perception and feeling. As such it is the founding and funding
source and resources of our conscious life. It answers the world by first authoring it. The body as the active locus of perception initials the world: as Merleau
Ponty puts it, The perceived world is the always presupposed foundation of all
rationality, all value and all existence. This thesis does not destroy either rationality
or the absolute. It only tries to bring them down to earth.47
Irigarays criture fminine with gynesis as jouissance and the morphology of
touch is most ambitious and promising in engendering a new ontology, a new ethics,
and a new politics. It means to embody the mind and ensoul the body: the body, in
short, is the soulmate of the mind. By so doing, it subverts the Cartesian dualism of
mind and body which has had immense ethical and socio-political consequences.
Furthermore, tactility, which is the fingerprint of Irigarays carnal feminism,

Speaking of Laurence Sternes uncommon sensitivity to the conundrum of embodiment, Porter

writes: In flesh and blood lay the self and its articulations. With its own elaborate sign-language
of gesture and feeling, the body was the inseparable dancing-partner of the mind or soulnow in
step, now a tangle of limbs and intentions, mixed emotions. Organism and consciousness, soma
and psyche, heart and head, the outer and the innerall merged, and all needed to be minutely
observed, if the human enigma were ever to be appreciated. Flesh in the Age of Reason (New
York: W. W. Norton, 2003), 294.
The Primacy of Perception, ed. James M. Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964),


H.Y. Jung

defenestrates at once Cartesian ocularcentrism and liberates the self from the
prison-house of monologism. In Irigarays tactility, proximity beckons an intimate dialogue. Her criture fminine is capable of engendering the ethics of embodied sociality which has a way of comprehending (com/prehending) the world beyond
the calculus of reason. In the final analysis, carnal hermeneutics underwrites a
philosophy of the future which will wisely be placed in the hand of the Muse at
dawn, not the Owl of Minerva that takes its flight only at dusk. In ushering political
theory as well as philosophy into the new millennium, it is time to stop looking and
listen to what the Muse of carnal hermeneutics has to say.

Chapter 7

Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics:

A Phenomenological View
Ralph P. Hummel

An e-search for the phrase politics of beauty shows

1,400,000 entries.
A search for beauty of politics shows 130.
Google searches, November 21, 2006
(Aesthetic politics has 84,700 entries as of December 5,
2006; aesthetic politics Arendt has 7,750 entries; aesthetic
politics Arendt Kant has 5,690; aesthetic politics Arendt
Kant Heidegger has 3,160; and aesthetic politics Arendt
Kant Heidegger Denktagebuch has 9.)

Abstract This essay is an attempt to define Arendts aesthetic politics or aesthetic political theory. It is based on Kants aesthetics as the philosophical discipline of the beautiful and the sublime and Heideggers ecstatic conception of
temporality as attunement (Befindlichkeit) to the world. Arendts aesthetic politics is
found in her hitherto often unexamined thinking diary (Denktagebuch), which
draws its inspiration from Kants aesthetic judgment as something entirely new
and imaginative. It replaces the war of power politics with the peace of aesthetic politics. Aesthetic politics as a new political principle also reveals the poverty of American politics.

Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself has said: everything
has its beauty, even politics?
Apparently so. Probably millions, if not billions.
Yet, beyond all resistance to the idea, a great political theorist of our time offers
the equation: politics = beauty. Drawing on Immanuel Kants Critique of Judgment,
Hannah Arendt expresses this thought most directly and intensely in her recently
released thinking diary, available so far only in German, her mother tongue. In
that series of entries spanning the years 19501975, she shows no aversion to frank
speech. She finds beauty in politics. She finds political judgment is very much like

R.P. Hummel (*)

University of Akron, Akron, OH, USA
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_7



R.P. Hummel

aesthetic judgment. She finds that, unlike decisionism, politics opens up rather than
forecloses human possibilities, is regulatory in process rather than determinant of
ends, and is basedas she had already said publicly in 1950on a new political
principle preserving the dignity of all humanity.
The thinking diary or Denktagebuch gives us occasion to examine Arendts
most private thoughts. There had been clues and hints to expect a major statement
on politics from the volume she had been working on at her death, the widely
mourned Judging, but the diary now characterizes it as much more than the third
part of her planned trilogy on The Life of the Mind, which she had begun with
Thinking and Willing. Only the title page had been found in her typewriter, already
bearing the title Judging. But, now that we have her diary, we have strong reasons
to suspect that Judging would have become nothing less than what is expected from
every great political philosopher: something like Aristotles Politics or Platos
Politeia (usually mistranslated as The Republic). What had already been anticipated
by Ronald Beiners collection of her seminar notes as Lectures on Kants Political
Philosophy now is confirmed in her own, private, and informal words. The thinking diary supports the possibility of a lost major work going far beyond Judging
and clarifies what would have had to be the centerpiece of Arendts political philosophy: the nature of politics itself.
In the diary she traces what she calls Kants actual political philosophy to his
concern for beauty and, by openly suspecting him of having written the third
Critique as a hidden Politics, implicates herself in a similar ploy. How we deal with
politics, the kind of politics she had mentioned in 1950, now appears, in a series of
unequivocal fragments, as based on how to deal with beauty. She points to, and
advocates, a different kind of politics. As the survey above shows, that politics is
barely remarked upon in connection with her name, or Kants or her teacher Martin
Heideggers. Yet she shows it is mightier than the sword of todays dominant power
politics.1 Here, finally, she amends Kants famous Enlightenment motto, think for
yourself to read: but judge so as to engage the agreement of others. Reason had
only been asked to follow the imperative of not contradicting itself. Now Kant was
to be credited with completing this imperative for the function of judging by not
leaving the Others out. This step, which she attributes to Kant, Arendt now characterizes as the greatest step in political philosophy since Socrates.2
The fact is, however: Arendt herself had completed this move. Following Kants
Critique of Judgment, she had concluded that thinking was not enough to give an
account of the function of judging. She had taken the pivot point of judging out of
the hands of reason and commended judging into the arms of the imagination.
Crucially, she herself now showed the mental moves required for judging in aesthet-

Source: 1950 Preface to Arendt, 1951/1979, ix. Arendts idea of politics = aesthetics can be said to
be phenomenological in the sense that she exposits two mental processes each of which addresses
reality not with preconceived categories but in its own terms.
Hannah Arendt, Denktagebuch. Vols. I and II, eds. Ursula Ludz and Ingeborg Nordmann (Munich:
Piper, 2002), 570, Heft [copybook] XXII, paragraph 19, August 1957.

Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics: A Phenomenological View


ics to be the same as those required for judging in politics. Hannah Arendt had taken
the final step in conceiving of an aesthetic politics.
What is aesthetic politics? How does it differ from power politics? What advantage do we gain by looking to beauty as underlying both aesthetics and politics,
rather than focusing on surface wars of the will?

Power and Beauty

If there is still a way for todays citizens to imagine a politics without power, it may
be an aesthetic politics.
Power politics is based on a compelling logic. Whether democratic or not, still
this logic compels. Established values serving needs and wants are tradedalways
to someones disadvantage. Always there are the powerful and the powerless, winners and losers. Prudential calculations of advantage and claims of moral principle
legitimate it in the name of social peace. Such politics forecloses possibilities:
everyone expects relative advantage over everyone else but is the poorer for it. What
if there were a politics without winners and losers? A politics in which everyone has
a future?
Aesthetic politics is based on sensibility.3 Built on direct experience of perceptions as pleasant or unpleasant before they can be made intelligible by rules or
concepts, aesthetics admits there is life before concepts. We judge what newly
comes at us by a sense for the beauty of it (or the lack of it). And yet, having judged,
we tend to court the free sense of what is fitting to human beings as expressed by
other free men and women.
Aesthetic judgment may give us a feeling for a promising way to making sense
of the world and may, in this sense, be a precursor of cognitive understanding. But
it does not by itself determine realities. It reopens human existence to rediscovery
of the unknown in contrast to decision-making in the service of using the known as
means to achieve a goal. It divides human possibilities into paths of discovery of
what belongs to being human as against what does not. Thus, it also distinguishes
the understanding of life as already lived, including sciences compelling look backward at life, as against life viewed as still livable in terms of future potential. (Thus
it judges, too, the well-established values traded in power politics as against emergent ones still in the process of forming from the in-between that reigns between
past and future.) It discloses the world as possibilitywithout our being captured
by our own aims that make us means to our goals. Aesthetic politics is more basic
than power politics, for it weighs what is worthwhile to politick about.
If there is an aesthetic to politics, it lies well below the surface. Aesthetic judgments underlie, but are not yet, determinations of what befits human beings. To
begin with, they open up consideration of what is beautiful and what disgusting.

From the Greek aesthesis referring to the five senses.


R.P. Hummel

Such distinctions mark all matters that are on the way to us and of which we seem
to have a limited yet prior knowledge. They are accessible to us through the hunch,
the inkling, the bare suspicion that enables us to foresee viable ways, not final destinations, for establishing the true and the false (scientific knowledge). It is even
argued that learning how to spot beauty when you see it may be good practice for
choosing between good and evil (in ethics).
The human mind engages in aesthetic judgment when something new approaches
us for which there is as yet no general category to tell us what it means to us (!) or
where it is going to take us, or what we can do about it. Without determining what
we face with any finality, our aesthetic judgment gives a preliminary opinion: this
feels right, that doesnt, this is likely to fit human beings, that is not. As one of the
faculties of our mind it presupposes, says Arendt, the social presence of others. It is
our subjective, yet communal way, of dealing with the unknown before we know it.
It calls up a sixth sense, a sense of fit that harmonizes all other senses. It is a faculty
of ours that starts as something like good taste! Its foresight may seem like an
impossibility, but it does not claim to be a scientific judgment and therefore does not
claim to be determinative of events or things. It is merely regulative of our stance
toward life but, without it, no continuity of life would be possible. Its opposites
range from bad taste to thoughtlessness and refusal to judge. One reason for its
nonobtrusiveness, even and especially, in science, as Kant suggested, is that we are
so used to it that we are inured to it and no longer notice its signals.
Unlike scientific judgment, which has rules and laws, and unlike moral judgment
which has principles, this kind tells us something about a particular in the absence
of a general rule. Its signature motto is the exclamation when we see a beautiful
thing: Isnt that beautiful!? It is both an assertion and a question, requiring public
assent. Its very existence makes the point that such a duality is possible: An assertion about reality that is initially mine but which, to have validity in the eyes of
others around me, must woo their agreement.
In such judgments we reconcile the new with what we already know. Since there
are many news each day, no aesthetic judgment can claim future permanence;
yesterdays new is yesterdays news. As Lisa Jane Disch said, even before the
publication of Hannah Arendts thinking diary, this exposure of private judgment
of an event to public counter-judgments aims not at reconciling these into a general
statement of principle, but to arrive at a public interpretation of the events meaning. Whereas reason and logic operate at a distance, we find the beautiful in a
particular, close at hand and fleeting in time. It is directly in front of us: this event,
this pattern, that horse, that paintinga never-ending series of nows. The story of
its assertions is temporary; Disch calls them provisional.4 Not until a third
philosopher joins Kant and Arendt do we see what provisional and temporary
mean. Obviously the root of the one word if we turn it to English is fore-seeing
while the root of the other is, more directly, time, and there is no one more concerned with time than Martin Heidegger.

Lisa Jane Disch, Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Philosophy (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1996), 208.

Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics: A Phenomenological View


Power, Beauty and Time

A temporary judgmentunlike true/false and ethical/unethicalseeks no permanent law, rule or formula. It is a solution for the time being. Of the three, only one
judges without reference to a category or concept. Only aesthetic judgment does not
determine objects or actions, but reflects on my subjective state-of-being of me as
source of judgment and my relation with the community whose assent I ask. Despite
its limits in science and in ethics, judgment in aesthetics is credited with providing
a kind of fore-knowledge on behalf of what is true and an education in what is right.
In this sense it is not simply temporary but pro-visional. Whereas science labors for
the ages and power politics seeks permanence, the sensibility in aesthetic judgment
is attuned to the tentative, the not quite fully defined, the ephemeral, the emergent.
When we face that which has not yet been and cannot easily be so clearly defined,
we can draw only on judgment as a reliable source on which to base choice.
It might be said that without aesthetic judgment we could not connect the present
to the future or either to the past. Aesthetics is more sensitive to a view of time
emphasizing the priority of the future over the present and the interpretive utility of
the past for interpreting what comes at us from the future. Where theoretical judgment of science might see, for example, the massive permanence of say a Soviet
Union of Socialist Republics, and describe and measure and analyze well-articulated
parts of the Behemoth, aesthetic judgment would be sensitive to the unspoken and
the unspeakable, to a slip of the lip and the Gulags, to inevitable interstices of freedom in the monstrous.
So a young embassy clerk who later became Prof. Raymond at NYU was able to
foresee war between Moscow and Berlin in 1939 when he saw Germans leaving en
mass at the Moscow railroad station. They do that every summer, said the awakened U.S. ambassador. With their dogs? said the clerk. Asking himself, What is
wrong with this picture? had allowed the clerk to see a particular event that lacked
a general rule and make sense out of it by inventing the rule. An example of a lack
of harmony between the imagination and the understanding.
If knowing is the stance we take toward the world, powers way of knowing
seizes the moment and tries to prolong validity of the map drawn from it by guarding its present context. Power captures and tries to secure what has been and is to
be, on behalf of the present, in concepts. Yet the time now coming into being (from
out of the future) and soon to be by-gone (the past) is always not yet fully here and
is already on the cusp of being no longer. Times have no clear boundaries. Old
understandings of the world are always in the process of fading away as new givens
knock on imaginations door.
Whether it lingers or is only a moment longthe experience of time we call the
present serves long enough as a platform for objects to stand over and against us
(Gegenwart) and have presence.5 But, inevitably, the platform of the present shrinks,

Yet, as Thomas Hobbes said of thunderstorms and wars, there is always one coming while another
fades away.


R.P. Hummel

admitting an inkling of things to come. Modernist believers in the superior role of

the present in our lives tend to demand that the newcomer present a business card.
The future is asked to be something showing itself as something. What shows itself
is asked to step out of the shadows and be well limned against a solid background.
It is to be something clear, and its relation to other things transparent and lucid in
the light that Kant saw dawning on all of science.
The temptation is to cling to what is known and that means to extend the duration
and weight we give to the present. This epistemological conservatism tends to erect
premature walls and fences against phenomena barely perceived and not yet categorized, calling them unscientific, demanding that such immeasurables be measured,
and undercutting the conditions through which the as yet unspoken can get a word
in. The problem in knowledge, however, is not with what is known; it is with our
arrogance over the unknown. The known and the certain pre-empt the appearance of
the unknown or the ill-defined. (Examples: Managerial treatment of engineering
judgments lacking conceptual clarity or background as pre-objective, if not prejudiced, in the disasters of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia.)
Life, however, is not permanent. Our old take on life is soon challenged by the
new, and new concepts are called for to replace the old that no longer fit. There is a
philosophy that argues that part of myself is always ahead of myself. It is this movement that opens up our potential in a future. We are more and other than what we are
now, we are most ourselves in our potential then. Potentiality is higher than actuality.6


We do not live life in the past, nor are we stuck in an unchanging present. To live
means we move ahead, take what comes, and try to make sense of it by reference to
what we already know. We throw ourselvesor, more accurately, are being
throwninto an unknown future. We can seein contrast to those holding that we
have an unchanging nature or essenceourselves as always engaging in a movement characteristic of a being that cannot, in defining itself, simply measure deviation from a central essence. Our movement can be said to go from where we are at,
ahead to where we might be, and then back to where we have been to interpret what
we are up to and give ourselves a new stand. This is movement from the present into
the future and back to the past for reference. Lack of motion and development are
not characteristic of the human being. We are always outside stasis. As we move
through time, we are always ek-static. It can be argued that the most important
aspect of time is not the present but the future.
This running ahead of ourselves is always a fore-running. We are the fore-runners
of ourselves. In German the word for temporary is vorlaeufig. Literally a vorlaeufiges Urteil is a temporary judgment made in the present rapidly fading into the
past and projecting a future with which part of me has not yet caught up.

Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York:
Harper & Row, 1962).

Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics: A Phenomenological View


The sense of the aesthetic deals with just this problem of being in time. In modern scientific theoretical thinking we focus on what shows itself in the present and
lingers in the past. In aesthetics, we attend first to things as, coming toward us, they
give us a hint of what is yet to come (Zu-kunft) (Derrida: lavenir).7 Structurally, our
imagination tries to foretell what is possibly coming or at least tries to give us a
sense of whether we are on that path to meet it. At the same time, our understanding
of how things have stood, up to now, attempts to maintain a sense of order. This is
so for aesthetics where the issue is the fit of the new with the old in one harmony,
and it is so in science, where established knowledge is constantly challenged by the
arrival of the new.8 And it is so in politics.

Kant, Arendt, Heidegger and the Faculty of Judgment

Kants contribution to the function of judgment alerts us to the relationship between

structures of the mind in aesthetics, lying to rest the idea that judgment is decisionmaking ( la Herbert Simon). In fact one of the latter-day problems of decision
theory is demonstrated by decision-makings favorite equipment. The computer is
all decision and no judgment. (See Wittgensteins argument that computers cannot
thinknot because they have no brain, but no leg to stand on.)
Arendts contribution was to begin to carry over Kants understanding of aesthetic judgment into politics.
Both deal with the question of defining Mans place in the world.
It is now our turn to affirm Arendt and also to follow up on Kants earlier suggestions that the same mental processes can be active in different functions of the mind,
in his case, for example, in science and in aesthetics.
What makes this possible is the change in the relationship between present, past
and future championed by Heidegger. For the temporary in temporary solutions
is also the temporal. In short, what looked to Kant like interaction between the
faculties of mind, looks to Heidegger like moments in our being and time. This
resolves the experience of being ahead of myself as also a communal ability that
allows us also to recognize our common humanity and its joint fore-running.
How does all this work out in practice?

Clearing the Decks

Let me first clear away some obstacles and debris likely to be raised by the very
term aesthetic politics. All three questions above beg the question: Is there such a
thing as aesthetic politics? If there is, we can define it. From there we can easily

Zukunft, in German from: das was auf uns zukommt (that which comes upon us) and kuenftig
Cf. Kuhn.

R.P. Hummel


move on to explore the second question, which holds much promise to those alienated from politics today and for which the short answer is this: Power politics dictates, aesthetic politics woos. But the ultimate outrage to overcome is committed by
the third question: not since classic times and, perhaps, Pericles, has anyone ever
stood to see and praise beauty in politics. Except perhaps Hannah Arendt.
The focus may be beauty, but the result is asking what role beauty plays in the
web of our existence.

A Light in Dark Times?

As a victim of the dark and murderous times of the twentieth century, herself a refugee from the then-impending Holocaust, Hannah Arendt should have been devastated by the colossal failure of politics. Even as the space between citizens
disappeared and melted them together in a mindless mass, individual politicians
continued their vain little struggles for modicums of power until one of them occupied all political spaces with his unavoidable presence. Millions of lives later, the
political philosopher who preferred the title political theorist, might have chosen to
give up not only her occasional visit to Germany, but on Germany itself, on her closest friend and erstwhile professor, and on politics in general. She did none of these.
And especially: she gave the cure to that which had already failed.
She chose politics.
And she chose aesthetic politics.
Again: Is there such a thing?
Arendt asks us to consider answering, yes. There may not be any nation, culture,
territory to which we can point and say, There, they have aesthetic politics. So aesthetic politics is nowhere. But equally true: Once alerted to the essence of that kind
of politics, we begin to see it everywhere. And, as did Arendt, we can point to the
source of this essence in Immanuel Kant.
It is Kant who recognizes one human endeavor that rests entirely on judgments
like that of beauty. This obviously must be the realm of the aesthetic. But it is
Arendt who recognized that the process of making political judgments is the same
as that of aesthetic judgments. In both places, we judge without yardsticks or
banisters,9 and in both places the process is never finished.
Where, then, do we find aesthetic politics?


Aesthetic Politics

Wherever we are asked to make judgments in the absence of what too often are failing standards or rotting banisters, there aesthetic judgment gives us a tool and a
handhold. Aesthetic judgments determine nothing; they open up possibilities.

Arendts expression.

Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics: A Phenomenological View


Rather than being under our control or compelling us to agree with inexorable logic,
such judgments announce themselves through a subtle feeling. Sometimes the most
sensible among us try to put that into words. A tire mounter at Ford: You had to be
very fine to know referring to the point where a shifting balance allows the rim
to slip into the tire. A Nobel physicist writes of the experience or encountering the
beautiful and the sublime when in answer to a problem the truth staggers haltingly upon us.10
But, you may object, these are not political problems. Frankly, usage of the combination beautiful politics is buried under power politics and extremely rare: a
search engine chase of the phrase on November 22, 2006 turned up only 202 entries,
none of them reporting the kind of experience of the beautiful noted above. And yet,
Kant and Arendt, blissfully ignorant of such survey results, insisted on the existence
and meaningfulness of the combination: beauty and politics, aesthetics and
It is of course only natural that depth insights into what goes on in the world are
not usually found lying around on the surface. Where then, and when, do we find
aesthetic politics?


The New and the Old

Aesthetics is involved when something new comes along that does not conveniently
fit established categories or practice of action.
To deal with the inability to subsume an emergent event under existing categories
of reason, law, or empirical rules requires going back to the kind of judgment that
makes all other judgment possible. But this is aesthetic judgment.
Aesthetic judgment is formed when the understanding and the imagination work
in harmony in facing the new: the latter to bundle new data into new concepts and
the former to integrate them, where possible, into the established orderor to adapt
that order to the new event.
Since life is always open-ended, and we lack knowledge of any standards or
banisters that could carry us into the future, aesthetic judgments are made not only
in major crisis situations but in the minor ones we face every day: how to set one
foot in front of the other, how to proceed in dealing with other human beings, how
to design the good life, how to obey the law, etc.


Connection to Politics

So much for Kant. Arendt connects him to politics. Her underlying argument in
favor of this connection is that the processes of naming the beautiful and developing
a feeling for a proposed policy are one and the same. Aesthetics and politics both


Studs Terkel, Working (New York: Avon Books, 1975); Feynman in James Gleick, 1980.
The latter combination did better, with 1420 entries, mostly concerned with culture studies.


R.P. Hummel

are expected to make sense of the new in the absence of established categories and
concepts. All three, the auto-worker and the scientist and the politician are expected
to make sense of the newnot arbitrarily but with some assurance that a specific
path of proceeding yet to be tested (!), can be known a priori to be a viable path
based on some sort of foreknowledge.
That foreknowledge is expressed in the feeling we have that one path is beautiful
in the sense of bringing what-was and what-is-yet-to-be into harmony. Our very ability to express the beautiful is a foundational sign of our place in the world. Beautiful
things are a sign, as Kant said, that we have a place in the world. That we are enabled
to so express ourselves depends on a prior understanding-in-action of our relationship between how things stand and ourselves. Underlying all is a sense that we know
our way around in the world in a kind of knowing-in-action (Schoen). In other words,
one has a feeling for ones own capacity to handle before handling it.12
Here are some intersections of Arendts and Kants assumptions about Heidegger.
The need is to find an experience that is particular to an individual, but which can be
shared with another to form that characteristic mark of a judgment that is both mine
and others without infringing on either. Kant refers us to the experience of taste,
which Arendt sees as that most idiosyncratic of the senses. The mental process of
what early on is taste to Kant becomes that of aesthetics later and then that of
politics for Arendt, having already become Befindlichkeit or attunement, of
both being and body finding itself in situations, for Heidegger.
Wherever there is the slightest gap left by power politics, there is born a might
without force. This sovereign might connects what would otherwise be pieces of a
disintegrating reality. In an extension of what Thomas Hobbes already observed
about freedom in the Leviathanthe ordered world where laws, policies, and rules
leave gapswhat reigns without power rules. (Today, we might agree that where
the laws are silent we may be free of a politics of power that tries to rule the world,
but we are never without that which makes us what we are.)
Contrary to Hobbes, however, in our view, it is power politics that is unthinkable
as the sole foundation of any constitution or political agreement. The use of power
requires knowledge of political rules, but even if these become known, there are no
rules that could tell us when and where to apply them. Politics of any kind requires,
above all, judgment. But by what standards do we judge?
As long as we slide down the familiar banisters, we end up in the same place:
what Hobbes called a perpetual and restless desire for power after power that endeth
only in death. Without a kind of judgment that helps us recognize the new and deal
with it, even power politics leads into an infinite sameness: Nietzsches eternal
Without the foundation that the human capacity for aesthetic judgment provides
there is neither beauty nor the sublime. Scientific judgment leaves out of consideration the need of the subject to weigh his/her own readiness to implement a scientific finding, and moral judgment does not bind but leaves us free. Kant once
indicated that beyond the rules of nature and the freedom of being human there is a


Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics: A Phenomenological View


need for some a priori source to guide us. He expressed, with almost palpable relief,
the way out through aesthetics: Beautiful things are a sign that Man fits into the
world.13 As is the lie is a deprived version of the truth, so is power a fallen version
of a capacity for a social bond. That bond is discoverable in our shared experiences
not only with beauty, but as Kant says, first in our experiences with taste, which
confirm our ability to find even in a stranger a human being like us. Sociality is born
in our capacity for beauty.
In the recognition of beauty, aesthetics helps us distinguish without reference to
concept or category the beautiful from the disgusting. In science, it helps us distinguish, ahead of any test, a viable course of inquiry from a dead-end, and, in fact,
may be the precondition for any cognition of true or false. In ethics, it may be the
training ground for better moral judgment. So Kant, according to Arendt, is the
discoverer of what is called reflective aesthetic judgment.
People may say about aesthetics what a Soviet wit once said about the head of
the Catholic Church: How many battalions does the Pope have? As regards the
Pope, this question has been adequately answered by Catholic civil societies in East
European revolts. As regards aesthetics, one might even say there was a certain
beauty in that political response.
If all social actionincluding politicsrests on an assumption that finds beauty
in the ability of human beings to recognize each other as suchthen the political
bond is merely a result of the prior social bond. This is probably as difficult for
modern social scientists to understand as is the need to achieve a political accord in
form of setting up a public space before people can engage in economics, and specifically privatization.
There is one more obstacle. Aesthetics involves feelings (from the Greek aesthesis referring to the five senses). Aesthetic judgment also relies on a feeling. It is a
feeling we have when we are so affected by a thing, an act, a person in the world that
we call it beautiful. Can we, in a serious matter like politics, rely on a feeling?


Aesthetic Politics: Based on a Feeling?

Aesthetic politics as a concept answers the question: With what assurance can I
agree with others on designing a way of living togetherbefore we can know the
outcome of that design?
Logic can give no a priori assurance. Aesthetics refers to a feeling. Can a feeling
be a guide to action? Can we abandon the rule of reason, of reasoned debate, of
rational compromise? The study of aesthetic politics turns this question around and
asks, Are any of these possible without a sense for what is fit and propera sense
for beauty or a feeling of disgust at the ugly or the assumption that there is in nature
a purposiveness without a purpose (as Kant asserts)?
Cited in Arendt, Denktagebuch, 680, Heft XXV, April 1968, entry 50. Arendt gives her source as
Kant, Reflexionen zur Urteilskraft, 1820. The complete citation given by the editors of the
Denktagebuch is: Immanuel Kant, Handschriftlicher Nachlass III: Logik, No. 1820a in: Kant,
Gesammelte Schriften (Akademie), Bd. 16, 127.


R.P. Hummel

Science is guided by concepts and method; these determine true and false.
Morality is guided by principles fitting the situation and the categorical imperative;
these principles determine right and wrong. But both in science and morality there
are no rules for applying rules. How can we tell ahead of time what rules to apply
when and to what in practice? What Thomas Hobbes already said of freedomthat
it functions for the citizen where the law is silentalso applies here. We can say:
Where the law is silent, freedom shouts. Not every human exigency can be anticipated and provided for by constitution, statute, the sovereign, or the public
The gap so left must be closed by a direct looking at things, unmediated by concept or principle. This way of lookingor more accurately, feelingis called judgment. A specific kind of judgment is required. Kant called it reflective aesthetic
judgment. Such judgments are felt not seen, yet we must be able to court the assent
of others to validate them. They are reflective if they say as much about the person
making the judgment as about what is judged. And the process of making this kind
of judgments, though they come from mere feelings in aesthetics, is the center of
what guides us both in art and in politics.


The Source in Arendt: A Hidden Critique?

As early as August 1957, Hannah Arendt wrote into her thinking diary several
unabashed claims that Immanuel Kant had so constructed his volume on judging
beauty and the sublime that it could be read as a Politics. The end result of her
several comments on this matter is that the process evoking beauty is also the process that evokes politics.
Referring directly to Kants Critique of Judgment, she made herself a note
regarding Kants first grounding of sociality in the phenomenon of taste. Where the
common proverb saw no room for disputede gustibus non est disputandum
Kant had found such room to be nothing less than the foundation that makes shared
experience at all possible. Earlier, in his Anthropology,14 he had given the example
of a host who spreads out for a guest many different dishes in the hope that both
might enjoy the taste of perhaps one of therse. In moving from tasting to taste
(Schmecken to Geschmack), Kant had made clear, lay the very possibility of
Instead of the word taste, Arendt now writes, one can, in Kant, everywhere
insert ability to judge. Immediately following this sentence, she announces the
consequence of this move: Then it is immediately apparent that the Critique of
Judgment acts as hidden critique of political reason.15
With this comment of Arendts, larger issues loom ahead for both herself and for
Kant. Arendt credits Kant with having discovered the link of aesthetic judgment and

Paragraph 67.
Denktagebuch, 577 August 1957; entry 31, my translation; see also 601606, Heft XXIII, August
1958, entry 6.

Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics: A Phenomenological View


politics. Kant, however, does nothing of the sort. While he analyzed what makes a
certain kind of judgment tickspecifically, reflective aesthetic judgmenthe did
not connect this process to politics.
It was Arendt herself who makes the connection that both aesthetics and politics
involved the same process of judging without standards or banisters. In the
diary, she writes:
The fact that Kants actual political philosophy emerges out of his consideration of the
phenomenon of beauty shows how much his experience with the world overwhelmed experience with life.16 He loved the world considerably more than life itself, of which he eventually became weary. This is exactly the reason why he was so seldom understood.17

This in the context that Arendt saw life as a phenomenon of nature and necessity
but saw our world as constructed by us in and through our freedom. For example:
We say we want to live, in a world constructed so or otherwise.18
It is possible to reason that Arendt attempted to distract from her own intent by
her revision of Kants thought on judgment, and that her own project to be entitled
Judging was actually intended to be a crypto-Politics? Her own mentor, Martin
Heidegger, had not written anything generally recognized as a Politics, though it
has been proposed that his Parmenides may be read as such.19


From Beauty to Politics

Regarding the discovery that aesthetic judgment could be imported from the world
of aesthetics into the world of politics, where normally power ruled, who said what?
And who deserves credit for what?
One thing is certain: Arendt was far too modest in rejecting philosophys
It was Kant who elevated first the sense of taste and then our sense for beauty in
general to a theory of aesthetic judgment. But it was Arendt who carried over into
politics what had been essentially a discussion of how we process beauty in life and


Here we may remind ourselves of Hannah Arendts distinction between life and world. We lead
a life according to laws of nature, we create a world out of freedom. See, for example, Arendt,
Denktagebuch, Heft XIV, March 1953, 326327, where she writes it is a mistake of all interesttheories that they always depict desire as due to a compulsion when actually we can speak of desiring only once the compulsion (e.g.: to eat to survive) has been satisfied. Contrary to those theories
that consider interest the object of a desiring: Against this, that which [is] inter-est = that which
is publicly common to us = the space of the political. Hence also her statement that politics is
based on some kind of domination: historically, either enslaving other or dominating nature. If,
however, we define politeuin as action that initiates, we can see that the act of politicking does not
necessarily call for a domination [Herrschen] in political space. (loc. cit.)
Denktagebuch, 575; August 1957, entry 25.
Heft XXV, April 1968, 679.
Ralph Hummel, A Once and Future Politics: Heideggers Recovery of the Political in
Parmenides. Administrative Theory & Praxis. Vol. 26, No. 3 (September) 2004: 279303.


R.P. Hummel

art without reference to concepts or standards. Another diary note shows in its ambiguity that she was aware both of Kants contribution and his limitations:
It will always remain worthy of thought that Kant uses taste to exemplify the monstrously
large (ungeheure) phenomenon of the faculty of judgment

though she adds, more critically:

However much this speaks in favor of his feeling for the world [Weltsinn], this also
remains characteristic of political naivete [Ahnungslosigkeit].20

Politically nave or not, Kant sets her on her path to a new vision of politics particularly suitable to a world that has lost its standards. In picking up on Kants discovery, Arendt answered a long-troubling question that in the late twentieth century
todays world uncertain of its rules and values has grown critical:
How can we judge without rules?
Kant himself shied back from considering the political implications of his own
answer, Arendt found. Kant initially took offense at the implications of aesthetic
First there was the arbitrariness (Willkuer) in dealing with the new, aesthetic
judgment that went by what felt right and fitting. The imagination arbitrarily, and
unguided by concept or standard, gathered new experiences for judgments decision
of where they fit into or might modify an established order. But why gather this
aspect and not that, why this combination and not another? Could the faculty of the
imagination be allowed to simply judge parts of the whole of experience for their fit
without at least some reference to a concept or a standard?
Equally offensive to Kant, she found, was the apparent subjectivity
(Subjektivitaet) of judging without being able to refer to a concept. Ultimately,
Arendt adds, the instrument she said Kant had discovered21 breaks in his hands.22
In fact, however, Kant is taken to task for what he did not do, while Arendt
ascribes to him motives for which there is no evidence. In the end, it is Arendt herself who points to a certain loss of courage. Heidegger had criticized Kants weakening of the imagination in the second edition of the first Critique. There the
understanding is given the function of the imagination to gather new givens and
constitute new patterns; the full function of the imagination is reduced to just a
proficiency of the faculty of the understanding.23 Heidegger said that Kant recoils
from looking into the abyss as he pondered the power of the imagination let
loose.24 The terms echo in Arendt, who adds it is a lack on Kants part that kept him
from connecting aesthetic judgment explicitly to politics. And yet she credits him
with unveiling in The Critique of Judgment his actual political philosophy as a hid-


Denktagebuch, August 1957, entry 27, 576, my translation.

Ibid., 571.
Ibid., 579.
Martin Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, fifth ed., trans. Rochard Taft
(Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1929/1991), 114.
Ibid., 112, 119.

Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics: A Phenomenological View


den critique of political reason. On our way to developing the consequences, we

need to clear away some further obstacles in definitions.


Kants Aesthetics

Now it so happens that Immanuel Kant considers the recognition of beauty to

involve the most profound and difficult judgment of which human beings are capable. He calls this reflective aesthetic judgment. It says as much about ourselves as
judges as it does about the things judged. Not only are there here the beginnings of
judgments distinguishing the beautiful from the ugly (Arendt will later say, the
disgusting), but Kant indicates that, without aesthetic judgment, cognitive judgment of true and false may not be possible and moral judgment of right and wrong
impaired or underdeveloped.
To Kant, an experience of beauty is one of the few moments when our surface
lives touch on a purposeful nature. Otherwise the enterprising traveler of science
and explorer of ethics is left only with an inkling, a mere suspicion, a faint loom of
the land that may reconnect us to nature from which science abstracts and under
whose starry heaven, as Kant put it, we experience the freedom of the moral law


The Source in Kant: Aesthetic Judgments

While admitting to different kinds of judgments, Kant, in the first Critique seems to
emphasize only one kind: subsumption of the particular under a universal. But, in
the interpretation of some, including Martin Heidegger, Kant recognizes as early as
the Critique of Pure Reason that one kind of judgment is not enough to connect
understanding to life. (For this, Arendt will later say, you need a feeling for life
(Lebensgefuehl). Heidegger himself will speak of our sense of being here that unites
knowing and being in the term Befindlichkeit.) In his first Critique, Kant is in general not quite ready to talk about feelings; in this Critique, he is concerned at best
with sensations as the raw material for intuitions and conceptualization. Yet even
here he focuses on what, in the context of this first Critique, appears as an anomaly
of science: the inability of some people to make judgments that can bridge the gap
between concepts and action, between what we know and we can do. As a case in
point he notes the inability of some professionals to apply what they know to a particular case.
Kant points to the example of lawyers, physicians, statesmen. Even those who
have considerable professional learning may be unable to apply it to practical cases
at hand. This is not a matter of knowledge; it is a matter of lacking a sensea
mother witof what is fitting and right. This lackKant, in a footnote, calls it
stupidity and blockheadednesscan be made up by no rule of logic. Every
opportunity to judge faces a new event in which we search for rules. But, as Kant
says, there are no rules for applying rules. Even in science, knowing how to apply


R.P. Hummel

ones knowledge to practical occasions in life calls for judgment. Even in moral
judgment, we must judge that nature of the situation and how a principle of moral
standing might apply. Even where an individual borrows rules from others experience, the power of rightly employing them must belong to the learner himself.25
This assertion long precedes his later treatment of judgments of beauty, which also
is subjective in the sense of belonging to the judge himself.
When the universal is given, the judgment, which decides whether a particular is
governed by the universal rule, determines a concept and is called determinative.
But when we only have the particular case and dont know what the rule may be that
governs it, judgment can only ponder the series of pre-objective representations that
imagination provides to the intuition and choose the most intelligible: i.e., be reflective. The question is how such a judgment is possible within Kants picture of the
mind. Arendt comments that Kant apparently calls such judgments reflective
because they involve a back-reference to the life feeling of him who judges.26
Already in the making of cognitive judgments, Kant sees harmony between the
imagination and understanding as playing a key role. In order for something to
become known we either fit it under a concept or we create a concept for it. We get
to know by applying a rule or finding a rule.
But if understanding orders the world intelligibly, under reasons categories and
the rules of logic, the imagination must first function to convert perceptions into
intelligible material for the understanding to order. Kant writes that the imagination
combines sensations in whole series of configurations to be made intelligible and
available to the conceptualizing of understanding. Even here, where a rule is as yet
lacking, the imagination must be called on to so constitute the pre-objects that their
formation at least supports the process of understandings new conceptualizing.
Only in this way can material be captured without sacrificing understandings ability
to order according to the categories of reason. If the imagination gathers what we
perceive into experiences, this must be done in such a way that the understanding
can give the unity of a concept to that gathering.27
The two powers work hand in glove when we make ourselves a concept of what
we perceive. They reciprocally quicken each other.28 They heighten the vitality of
each others operation. This harmony indicates itself by a feeling of pleasure. In
cognition, however, such a sensation of pleasure is so commonplace that it is no
longer noticeable because we are inured to it. We have gradually come to mix it in
with mere cognition and no longer take special notice of it.29

Immanuel Kant, Critik der reinen Vernunft, [1781 = A; 1787 = B]. (Wiesbaden: Insel-Verlag,
1957), A133/B172.
Arendt, Denktagebuch, 573, August 1957, entry 23. But in an interpretation oriented more to
emphasizing the unity of all three critiques, Longuenesse argues that reflection refers pre-objects
to logic (Beatrice Longuenesse, Kant and the Capacity to Judge: Sensitivity and Discursivity in the
Transcendental Analytic of the Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Charles T. Wolfe (Princeton:
Princeton UP, 1998), 24 and 127 ff).
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing
Company, 1987 [1790]), paragraph 35, p. 151. (Hereafter cited as CJ.)
Loc. cit.
CJ, Introduction, paragraph VI, 27.

Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics: A Phenomenological View


In what is called reflective aesthetic judgments, the same harmony resounds in an

explicit feeling of pleasure. It is expressed when we exclaim, Isnt that beautiful!
Now, when Kant says that pleasure in cognition is there but no longer felt
(because even the commonest experience would be impossible without it), he
nevertheless attributes the source of that pleasure to the same origins in the understanding and imagination that he cites in aesthetic judgments.30 He repeats this same
pointthat the harmony of imagination and understanding is the source of a feeling
of pleasurein his later discussion of the pleasure we take in aesthetic judgments.
There he again and also says, this pleasure accompanies our ordinary apprehension of an object by means of the imagination, our power of intuition, in relation to
the understanding, our power of concepts a procedure that judgment has to carry
out to give rise to even the most ordinary experience.31
It follows that a feeling, namely of pleasure, stemming from the harmonizing of
imagination and understanding, is for Kant involved in both cognitive and aesthetic
judgmentsexcept that in the first it is submerged while in the second it rises to
being felt and expressed.
By asserting that pleasure is presentwhether sub voce or notin both cognition and reflective aesthetic judgment, Kant recognizes feeling as having a place in
both. The question unanswered by him remains: Howin which way, at what
timeis feeling involved in both cognitive and aesthetic judgments? What function
does feeling have?
Kants description of the mutual relations of the powers of imagination and of
understanding merely suggests an answer.
Before any comparison of imaginations gatherings can be attempted so that
understanding can exercise its power of conceptualizingderived ultimately from
the logic categories of pure reasonboth these powers must be allowed to go into
free play.32 In that free play, each of the powers freely performs its own functions
and heightens that of the other: the one to make a whole series of intelligible
pre-concepts available, the other to offer the most logical construct of an object that
conceptualizing can provide.
Several hints of Kants seem to bear out this interpretation. To cite one, from the
first Introduction to the Critique:
Hence we may define an aesthetic judgment in general as one whose predicate can never be
cognition (i.e., concept of an object), (though it may contain the subjective conditions for
cognition as such).33

And, a judgment is aesthetic if:

The power of judgment, having no concept ready for the given intuition, holds [for the sake
of comparison] the imagination [itself] (as it merely apprehends the object) up to the understanding [itself] (so that a concept as such is exhibited) and perceives a [certain] relation
between the two cognitive powers, a relation that constitutes the condition, which we can

Loc. cit.
CJ, paragraph 39, 159.
Ibid., paragraph 35, 151.
First Introduction to CJ, Pluhar, 412; my emphasis; placement of original parentheses restored.


R.P. Hummel
only sense, under which [alone] we can use the power of judgment objectively (namely the
mutual harmony of imagination and understanding).34

The basis of such a judgment is a sensation, Kant goes on to say, that is connected directly to the feeling of pleasure and displeasure.35 This, he says, is so
because pleasure accompanies all accomplishment of any aim. It here accompanies
the aim of optimizing the play of understanding in its full lawfulness (ability to find
rules) and the imagination in its full freedom (ability to make sensations intelligible,
which heightens the judgments ability to produce the most logically objective concept in a coherent framework. Both thus are harmoniously set to produce a


Arendt and Kant

Kant, in his later years, made his curious statement that Beautiful things indicate
that Man has a place in the world.36 Arendt follows this up with the comment on
Kants grounding of aesthetics in taste: Taste, she writes, is the faculty with
which we fit ourselves into the world, choose within it what belongs to us [and]
what notthings, human beings, actions. Kant is righttaste and the power of
judgment are the same.37
Arendt is indebted to Kant not only for his exploration into judgment the way it
works in cognition and in recognizing beauty, she explicitly says she owes Kant the
abandonment of talk about the human being in generalized abstraction and the
adoption of human beings in their plurality.38
By setting the human beings, respectively humanity, in place of the human being, Kant here
indicates the possibility of a counterworld opposed to the given world.39

The result is her definition of politics not only as structured by human differences
but as the activity that first gives each of us an explicit identity. Arendts mentor,
Martin Heidegger, had already said that the categories of human discourse arose
from facing each other down (kata) in the marketplace (agora). Drawing on Kants
aesthetic judgment, Arendt now says that politics gives us identity in a meeting
place free from the social, which she considers to be dealing only with


CJ, First Introduction, VIII; Pluhar, 412; Pluhars additions in brackets.

Ibid., 413.
Cited by Arendt, 2000, Heft XXV, entry 50, April 1968, 681.
Loc. cit.
Denktagebuch, 138, September 1951, entry 17.
Ibid., 138.
Here Arendt concurs with Heidegger, who considers our acceptance of the social order we are
born into as inauthentic, in the sense of not ours but set up by the anonymous they or das

Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics: A Phenomenological View


What is simply grand (grandios) about Kant, she writes, is that he takes the
moral question out of the question of the conscience of the individual and places it
into the plurality of the human beings. We can recognize here in Kants treatment
of moral judgment,41 the same broad sweep of his ability to find ways of bridging
the gap between individual and the society of others while upholding both. A man
alone is always in the company of other human beings, whether they are physically
present or not.
But, most important, she reveals in her diary her debt to Kant that took her out of
an impossible situation vis vis her problem: How to endorse politics in a time of
its most colossal failure. This, it turns out, is part of the larger philosophical problem of how to judge without rules. The situation and the answer are the same in
aesthetics as in politics. It is because of this that she was able to begin to write her
book on judging that would also have been a Politics at the same time. What would
such a politics look like? Already by September 1951 does her diary give us a taste
with this tempting annotation:
Also this: the relationship between judgment and action in politics [is] exactly the same as
[that between] taste and genius [in Kants aesthetics].42

Surely, given her commitment to liberal democracy, Arendt would not endorse
basing politics on judgments made by an elite of political geniuses.


An Example

An example of such linkage between judgment, or the lack of it, and genius might
be provided by two headlines on the front page of The New York Times of February
1, 1933. The main headline read:

This was followed by what newspapermen used to call a read-out. Here the readout is assuring readers that his elevation was on Condition Necessary Support in
Reichstag on Stand He Takes on Democratic Rule.
And then came a further read-out assuring readers that

Yet a further read-out or deck told readers that this power broker, Franz von
Papen, was Believed to Have the Power to Veto Any Radical Move Nazi Chancellor
May Make. The story itself saw the Nazi takeover in terms of power politics and
explained that the power broker had so cleverly balanced the forces in his Cabinet
as to block Adolf Hitlers leadership plans. A power approach to both the facts and
analysis misses even an inkling of the catastrophe to follow.

Critique of Practical Reason.

Arendt, Denktagebuch, 582. August 1957, entry 34, Heft XXII.

R.P. Hummel


Would an analysis based on aesthetic judgments have done better? Certainly a

reporter or editor practicing the objective journalism of the day, would feel
obliged to give most credence to those bits of information that had already developed to the level of fact, leaving out rumor, gossip, unreliable sources, sources
with an ax to grind, uncorroborated word of mouth, and the like. A statement in the
body of the story states that the difficulties with forming a cabinet leave the
National Socialists in a minority would be considered more real, because a minority can be counted (fact), than a merely possible deal between the National Socialists
and a small peasant party, then still in the making and therefore not yet fact.
The time of the collapse of established institutions may not be predicted. Nor, for
that matter, can the ongoing redesign of new ones be projected into future action.
Coups detat and revolutions require a sense for human possibilities, a fit of such
possibilities with human existence (i.e., an existence in which we still recognize
each other as human beings), a faculty of prejudging which possible paths are
weighed (not calculated) as leading to desired goals (or not). In other words, chaos
requires a sense for the political. Such a sense has seldom been seen since politics
was redefined by political science as a management game designed for the extraction of supports (campaign management, votes) and the distribution of values: a
series of roulettes determining who gets what goods, when, and how.
Further development of the uses of an aesthetic theory of politics awaits another
occasion. Here we merely ask how the perspective of aesthetic politics works out in
a creative way in one example: the study of non-voting behavior.


Excursus: VotingPolitical Aesthetics at Work

In voting behavior, even though we like to think of our election choices as rational,
feeling is essential. We can vote or we can stay away from voting. Why do potential
voters stay away from the polls? There are conventional explanations and then there is
a strange one offered by Hannah Arendts theory of politics. What may seem strange
when looked upon with fresh eyes, however, is not necessarily wrong. Arendt herself
recommended taking familiar things and looking at them anew in a strange way.
To be strange: What if we took language seriously? The language of research into
non-voting rests on discussion of various types of feelings. Begin with the commentator who says: voters might stay away from the polls in disgust. What does
disgust mean in todays political context? What feeling does it call up?


A Scale of Feeling

The conventional explanation for non-voting is: apathy. So in this quotation from a
post-election editorial in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin: Dwayne Yoshina, Hawaiis
chief elections officer, says voter apathy is to blame for a low turnout.43 Where

February 28, 2002.

Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics: A Phenomenological View


apathy is usually defined as a lack of interest and where an indicator of low interest
is a low turnout, this explanation serves us as an excellent example of a
Apathy, from the Greek a-pathos, is a non-feeling. Disgust is a feeling, albeit a
bad one. The two, used as book-ends of a range of feelings from having none at all
to having bad feelings for politics, seem to cover the extremes. Apathy and disgust
even suggest a puzzle whose solution seems not impossible. The puzzle is how feelings so different from one another can both serve as causes or indicators of nonvoting. In fact so different do these two appear that they either are categorically
other or are continuous variables. In the first case once you leave no feeling you
enter the domain of some feeling. In the second, the two variables appear as opposite ends of a scale running from 0 (zero) to a number.
The trouble is that etymology alerts us that apathy and disgust are not words
in the same language game. One comes from a theory of passions (from the Greek
pathos) while the other belongs to a theory of aesthetics (the key word disgust
coming from the Latin gustus, taste). Taste then may be the opposite of distaste, but
disgust is not the opposite of apathy; disgust belongs to a different language game
altogether: disgust is the opposite of beauty, given beautys origins in taste.
In short, etymology here suggests that the range no feeling feeling (albeit
bad) constitutes one dimension of motivation for non-voting, while a second
dimension is made up of feeling bad feeling for the beautiful.
This latter position is in fact supported by a theory of aesthetics developed by
Immanuel Kant and carried over and remade into a theory of politics by Hannah
The early source for the Kant/Arendt theory that judgments of beauty involve the
same, only apparently ungrounded, mental processes whether in art or in politics is
Kants Critique of Judgment. Arendt takes it to be a hidden Politics. In that
Critique Kant attempts to demonstrate that, apart from the mental faculties of reason and understanding (intellect), human beings are possessed of the faculty of
judgment. This faculty he considers to be our guide where reason and understanding
are not directly helpful in our life and work. It guides us without categories or concepts by a feeling alone: namely a feeling of beauty when we make a fitting move in
science and its application or seek a morally fitting course of action. But where Kant
applies his theory of aesthetic judgment hardly at all in relation to politics, Arendt
finds it in Kant. There is the same guidance in both aesthetics and politics by a feeling of being on the right course toward cognition or action.
The Kant/Arendt theory suggests existence of a much larger realm of politics
than the currently dominant theory of power politics allows. If we put all terms
discussed so far on a single line indicating a single range (which would be a mistake
as discussed above) we get a fuller picture of politics. Figure 7.1 illustrates how the
world of politics not only expands with the introduction of the beauty term but

Immanuel Kant, Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (Koenigsberg: Friedrich Nicolovius,

A 1798, B 1800) BA 188 and 189. See mainly his Critique of Judgment, cited below. For Arendt,
see her Denktagebuch or thinking diary (2002) cited below.


R.P. Hummel

Forced onto a Single Scale




/_________________________ /_________________________ /
Feeling bad

No feeling

Feeling good

<--------Power Politics-------->
<----------------------------- Aesthetic Politics------------------------>
Fig. 7.1 Variant political terms forced onto a single scale

changes its fundamental quality. A power politics not only falls far short of an aesthetic politics, and not only because power politics lacks autonomy and its own
foundation in some assumption about human nature.
Power politics is in fact made possible only because people have already made a
previous move toward sociality. But sociality is made possible in turn by aesthetic
experience such as a feeling of beauty that is expressed by an individual and confirmed by his or her community.
Power politics can be exercised only if people already see each other as human
beings, different from each other but also in some way the same. It is this difference
that mobilizes the need for politics, and it is the recognition of sameness that makes
it possible to recognize shared values that then can be exchanged at the expense of
one of the players. In this sense, power politics is only a derivative of aesthetic politics with its hopeful content of being able to get together on issuesthough such
power politics is now deprived of any concern for how the body politic is constituted to begin with and what power games do to that constitution.
Both Immanuel Kant and Hannah Arendt alert us to a strange fact: if we can have
no feeling for voting and we can feel bad about voting, then logic dictates a third
possibility: the far end of a scale such as this can be marked by a very determinate
and common feeling. The range between apathy and disgust can be extended to
include the sense of beauty.45
And why not? We have already accepted that not taking part in the politics of
voting can be correlated with having no feeling for it. For reasons not immediately
obvious, we have considered that, if there is a feeling, it may be one of disgust. Why
not consider for a moment that, at the far end of a lengthened scale, may stand a
feeling that is the polar opposite of disgust? The English language prevents us from
calling the opposite of disgust simply gust, though gusto remains a near
Note that in Fig. 7.1 two sets of variables are displayed for sake of an overview on the same plane
or same dimension. This, of course, would be an error for all purposes except for the intent here of
displaying each set in its effect on the scope of politics.

Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics: A Phenomenological View


archaic usage. Instead, we turn to Latin and the familiar saying De gustibus non est
disputandum. From here, the statement that there is no disputing tastes, we may see
how Arendt might have advanced to disgusting as the opposite of beautiful,
keeping in mind that the gustus mentioned in the saying means taste.46 Arendt picks
up on Kants point that the linkage beauty/social accord itself can be schematized
by the example of hospitality.47
Arendt notes that the hospitality examplean offer of varied foods to guests
opens up the host/guest relation to discovery of common tastespoints not only to
taste as the basis for sociality. She also points, as Kant already saw, to the experience of the beautiful in general. Against the vox populi reflected in the surveys
above, she concludes that Just as the good is the measure of the private, so the
beautiful is the measure of the public.48
People are attracted to beautiful things. We say people in touch with the beautiful
have good taste. So, looking for beauty in politics we might find politicians and citizens with good taste. In fact, based on Kant this is exactly what Arendt suggests.
She clearly sees the parallel between politics and aesthetics. In both arenas we must
face up to the new and integrate it with the old and we must do so without guidance
from a concept or standardwithout, as Arendt says, banisters. In brief, we may
hypothesize: Politics or policy, to attract people instead of repulsing them or leaving
them untouched, must be recognizable as an object about which we can exclaim,
Isnt that beautiful!?
Statistically, as is shown in the epigrammatic entries above, the low number of
publications related to the words beauty of politics in contrast to entries related to
politics of beauty tells a sad tale. The chance of a snowball in hell (254 entries)
is greater than finding entries in a computer search for beauty of politics (130
Uncovering what hidden beauty there may be in the idea of politics, with its
implications of sociality, would mean expanding our understanding of politics. That
understanding would have to go beyond the negative conditions under which politics operates today in its truncated form of power politics. The aesthetic political
judgment, unlike the power-based decision, cannot dominate us: it must, as Kant
says about aesthetic judgment, woo our assent. The aesthetic has no dominion. It
does not rule, it reigns. It can never be fitted into any of the power-based definitions
of modern politics: seeing, as did Max Weber for example, the state as the institution legitimately accorded a monopoly of force in a given territory. (In fact, except
for the purpose of making a heuristic connection, beauty, disgust and apathy cannot
be placed on the same scale.)


She herself cites Kants reference to the three commonplaces: Each to his own taste, there is no
disputing tastes, and (however!) third: that one can argue over tastes becauseand here she refers
to Kants wordsthere is hope of reaching agreement among one another (Arendt,
Denktagebuch, Heft XXII, number 36, 1958, 182183).
See Kant, Anthropologie, BA 188190.
Loc. cit.


R.P. Hummel

Modern political science itself may want to address the question why saying its
subject matter is beautiful is precisely not what hardly anyone says.
For one thing, aesthetic politics requires the courage to speak ones mind. It also
requires we keep an open mind as we attend to the opinions of others. Neither is
likely in power politics. Every opening in the struggle for power gives points to the
opposition and reason and prudence are not necessarily the same thing. Nor can the
imagination operate freely where its very move can be criticized by thought police
defending previous patterns in the understanding.



The above approach shows how the aesthetic approach can widen one concept of
Methodologically, we do so by examining the hidden meaning of words as they
are used by people. The behavioral approach, in contrast, imposes operational definitions suited to method rather than context. The one approach is based on theory
probing the inside of a lived and often still living experience, the second is exposed
to arbitrary definition of a frozen reality at best producing a still-life at the will of
the researcher. This is why the first approachto key words such as apathy or disgustis that of phenomenology: i.e., so addressing matters [logos] that they can
show themselves [phainesthai] in their own terms. The other imposes its approach
from the outside, trading subjective meaning for objective rigor, its discipline
achieved by an act that does violence to thought. Eventually, thought is reduced,
after initial definitions axiomatic in mathematics but not in philosophy, to mere
logic operations.
Substantively, if the theory linking politics to beauty makes any sense at all, the
consequence of applying such an aesthetic theory of politics should be twofold.
First, in regard to the example at hand, we ought to get not simply an alternative
interpretation of what is at play in non-voting but the parameters of a larger political
theory. This takes us beyond the variables posited by the conventional theory of
voting apathy. Here we look under the epiphenomenal surface of voting. We expect
to find hints of an underlying theory of politics in general. This, at first, may be a
theory not explicitly stated and whose explicit expression has been overrun by a
rush to science. The new theory now includes the variables of voting, non-voting,
apathy, disgust, and positive feelings toward politics in generalincluding a feeling
signaling when we have reached a way of conducting politics that may be beautiful
to others. Further, the case at hand should serve as an illustrative example of a new,
larger theory, not just of politics at work, but a theory that traces politics to its aesthetic foundation and treats it in the context of human ontology.
The very idea that politics is in some way beautiful almost never arises in modern
practice. Yet this does not justify us rejecting the possibility out of hand. In fact, the
absence of this possibility today may simply reflect one shrinking dimension of
what used to be called politics in general. For example, we no longer subscribe in
our practices to the Greek idea that politics is the route to ethics (Aristotle), or that

Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics: A Phenomenological View


politics is the means by which a community discovers the truth about itself
(Parmenides).49 Just as both definitions involve issues of fit, they also open us to the
experience of beautyin method and in policy.


Arendt and Kant: Aesthetic Politics

Hannah Arendt does link Kants insights on aesthetics to politics. She is not the first
to connect the two. Democritus speaks of skill of thinking well, speaking well and
doing well (prattein),50 and while Democritus does not use the Greek word for
beauty, he does use words that suggest fitas in, prattein = taking fitting action,
that could serve as links to the adequation, the fitting = the beautiful.
Above all, Arendt finds the same mental process present in both aesthetics and
politics. In both realms our judgments are always about a particular thing: this thing
beautiful or disgusting, this policy to follow into the future, this leader a man for the
season and that one not. We make judgments of taste, of beauty, and also of the
sublime (this mountain peak, for example, exceeds any concept of massiveness). All
these begin with a particular event or thing and advance from this particular to discover or create a general category to which it then belongs and which can be integrated with the existing conceptual language in the keeping of the understanding. In
short, in aesthetics and politics we need to make judgments of beauty (or nonbeauty) without standards or banisters (and without the help of art collectors or
experts). Judgments of beauty in both are the same: undetermined by categories or
concepts but on the lookout for these.
What makes something art is not the previous standards or whether others are
charmed (much less have a vested interest in the work)but the opening up of new
vistas, new ways of looking at things, life moving forward. What makes something
great or grand does not depend on how much it exceeds any concept but on how
much it exceeds our very ability to conceptualize. Just so, in politics we also cannot
simply follow established rules and tried-and-true solutions but must cast our vote
into an unknowable future. Nietzsche already talks of die grosse Politikwe may
say in English: the Grand Designin the politics of statesmen. In America, where
the individual is great, capacity to assess the beautiful or the sublime devolves to the
level of the individual and, in the case at hand, his or her vote. Other cultures may
have their Great men, in America the fanfare is for the common man.
How to be somewhat sanguine about the path into the future that this casting of
a vote chooses? How can we assess patterns that yet have to form as we transit from
present to future? What constitutes the new problem(s) that politics faces always
again anew without knowing ahead of time these unknowable results? An empirical
test of the sense of our action is not possible until long after a promising candidate
is elected or until after a policy has been implemented.
Kant, the great expositor of rational thought, now says something that for him is
astonishing: He says we can go by a feeling.

Hummel, A Once and Future Politics.

Arendt, Denktagebuch, 584, Heft XXII, beginning of 1958, paragraph 38.


R.P. Hummel

Now a feeling is totally internal. When I say I have a feeling that an assertion is
true, that a course of action is good, or that something is beautiful, the feeling that
tips me off to the judgments involved can only be personal. Feeling is always a private feeling. And yetin judgments of beauty (or later, with Arendt, judgments of
politics)that feeling must somehow claim a priori validity through the sense of
pleasure that it gives us. And, finally, once we announce itas in saying, Isnt that
beautiful?!, my private claim must also court the public assent of others. Just as in
aesthetics I do not make judgments of beauty when I am alone on a desert island and
am only judging for myself, so in politics I must, as Kant says for aesthetics, woo
the agreement of others.51 Both I and the others are equally handicapped in having
to judge somethinga course plotted, a policy pursuedbefore we can know its
place in the general scheme of things. A priori synthetic judgments, judgments that
put the world together before any empirical contact with it, are the best we can do.
Kant will eventually say about aesthetic judgments that their very possibility
indicates that Man has place in the world: Beautiful things indicate that Man has a
place in the world, and Arendt will say that such judgments reflect the very feeling
for life (Lebensgefuehl)without which we would be frozen in time.
We can now briefly return to our case on voting: The reflective aesthetic theory of
political judgments tells us that, where there is an absence of beauty to attract us to politics, the latter has become so desiccated of meaning, that its very appearance is a farce.
Citizens see through it but not quite in terms of the egoistic logic that rational
choice theorists propose; they have lost any feeling for such a construction and choice
of path, but that also means having lost the feeling for the most fundamental human
capability: the recognition of each of us not only as different but in some foundational
way the same. Aesthetic ontology is the basis of sociality and politics.


Aesthetics and the Natural Order

At some point, Immanuel Kant, after completing his great Critique exposing the
foundations of science and the second Critique on the principles of moral pragmatics, comes to wonder about the ontology of both.
Science must assume, but cannot prove, a natural world order. The proof becomes
all the more urgent because he has demonstrated that we cannot know things in
themselves and therefore cannot talk about their relations, but nevertheless must
proceed in science as if the relations we find among phenomena also have a real
foundation in the noumena. This inevitably leads to a loss of place in the world for
the human subject: all we can say about these subjects is what we can say about
judgments objects. They, or we, may have a location in time and space, but subjects
and objects in science do not have a natural place in the order of things: they (we)
are markers on a grid of time and space52

Martin Heidegger, What Is a Thing?, trans. W. B. Barton Jr. and Vera Deutch (South Bend:
Regnery/Gateway Inc., 1967).


Arendt, Kant and the Beauty of Politics: A Phenomenological View


The second critique, The Critique of Practical Reason, adds to the problem. It
shows that Man is free to design his own place in a moral universe but does not give
us direct principles about how to fit our actions into that place.
The third critique now raises the question how we can tell the difference between
judgments in a new family of concerns marked by the absence of a general category
into which to fit the particular event. In this, his Critique of Judgment, he answers
that the imagination works to develop new patterns from newly given data, but does
so in submission to the process of the understanding:
under the condition, which must be met, for the understanding to proceed in general from
intuitions to concepts.53

At this stage in his setting forth the subjective principle of the power of judgment as such, Kant is still talking about a precursor of the full-fledged experience
of beauty, namely taste. Of this he says that a judgment of taste, taken not so much
as to know or be wise, but as to taste as in tasting a food or having taste, must rest
on a mere sensation.54 This is the sensation experienced when the processes of the
imagination, bundling together givens in new patterns, and of the understanding,
creating and maintaining patterns of understanding, quicken each other. Only
then do we sense the harmony of mutually supportive processes. Only then is this
harmony felt in a feeling signaling an impending solution of the problem of finding
a schema for the particular in the overall natural order.
A judgment of taste, Kant ends up saying,
must rest on a feeling that allows us to judge the object by the purposiveness that the
presentation (by which an object is given) has insofar as it furthers the cognitive powers in
their free play.55

As he changes from the analysis of taste to the fuller explanation of beauty, Kant
in the end is able to find hope in his assessment that: Beautiful things indicate that
Man has a place in this world56


Aesthetic Political Theory

Aesthetic political theory shows the poverty of American politics. Power has no
beauty, and American politics is a politics of power. It is hard to imagine that a faculty of the mind can help produce a sense of beauty when engaged in mind games
that injure the very faculties contributing to that production, namely the imagination
and the understanding. Power politics has no substantive beauty; what it may have

CJ, paragraph 35, Pluhar translation 151.

Cf., Ralph Hummel, We Dont Need No Stinking Badges,Modernists vs. Postmodernists
Kant, Foucault, Weber, Loewith, Arendt. Administrative Theory & Praxis. Vol. 28, No. 3 (March)
2006, 316.
CJ, Paragraph 35; Pluhar, 151.
Kant fragment cited by Hannah Arendt, Responsibility and Judgment, ed. Jerome Kohn (New
York: Schocken Books, 2003).


R.P. Hummel

is elegance, but that is at best a technical beauty. The technician in politics, once the
statesman and now the campaign manager, may see beauty in the observation that
I love it when a beautiful plan comes together, but what he has found is mere
technical elegance. This in turn is nothing other than a reflection of the comparative
advantage given by one technique over another and careless of the effect.57 The
predominant behavioral explanation of politics has at its base the asumptin that politics is a contest for power; it lacks the possibility that politics may be the way of
expressing human sociality resting on the human ontological base. The choice of
conceiving of politics as merely a modified war of all against all ignores the fact that
it is not possible to make the judgments necessary to political science without first
sacrificing sociality at the altar of power. It is precisely the politics reflected in
America the Beautiful that faintly echoes an alternate, though mythic, hope.58
Aesthetic political theory shows that cheating in the American political system
does not take place at the end of the voting process alone, the place where the votes
may be counted or discounted. The would-be American voter is cheated from the
very beginning. By reducing non-voting to fall in a range between potential voters
having no feeling for voting (apathy) and others having bad feelings for voting (disgust), American voting theory leaves out possible extension of the range and the
discovery of a new dimension grounded in beauty. What is the positive attraction of
voting? We may well ask. Why are we not capable of a politics of judgment that
unifies all in nurturing individual taste that courts public assent?
Kant himself said, a judgment of beauty carries a pleasure with it that builds
on mans natural propensity to sociability.59 It has been argued that Americans
have no concept of society.60 Here may lie the lost origin and the potential of an
aesthetic politics and its theoretical explication.
As Arendt says, in judging with every other human being in mind, it is not reason
that joins us but the faculty of the imagination that forms the bond between human
beings. This is a theorem of univocality: I judge for myself, but the chorus of my
thinking and being with others sings with one voice. The harmony of others joining
the univocality within each of us lifts us to worlds of glory. Surely this is something
of importance. Arendt, in the privacy of her thinking diary, does not shy away from
calling Kants contributions to the unity of my judgment with that of my fellow citizens with whom I share a world the greatest step in political philosophy since


Husserl, 1937/1970; Ralph Hummel, The Triumph of Numbers: Knowledges and the
Mismeasure of Management. Administration & Society. Vol. 38, No. 1 (March 2005): 5878.
Cf. Roelofs, 1975.
CJ, Pluhar edition, 62; original 218.
H. Mark Roelofs, Ideology and Myth in American Politics: Portrait of a Political Mind (Boston:
Little, Brown, 1967), and Roelofs, The Poverty of American Politics (Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 1980).
Denktagebuch, 570, Heft XXII, paragraph 19, August 1957.

Part II

The Phenomenology Between Politics and


Chapter 8

Liberation Ethics and Transcendental

Michael Barber

Abstract Enrique Dussels tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin

y de la Exclusin seeks to correct the Eurocentric understanding of the history of
philosophy, particularly modernity, and to develop an ethics that can play a role in
transforming the present economic and political structures that oppress the majority
of humanity. In his tica, Dussel dismisses Husserlian transcendental phenomenology as an inadequate approach to understanding the subject in favor of Heideggers
concrete Being-in-the-World. Despite the seeming disconnection between Dussel
and transcendental phenomenology, I will make use of aspects of Husserlian transcendental phenomenology to criticize Dussels theory of modernity, his objection
to formalistic ethics, and his approach to economics. I will show that Dussels work
could profit from explicitly relying upon transcendental phenomenological underpinnings and that without such phenomenological bases, his own work would be

Enrique Dussels tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la

Exclusin represents an ethics that seeks to correct the Eurocentric understanding of
the history of philosophy, particularly modernity, and to develop an ethics that can
play a role in transforming the present economic and political structures that oppress
the peripheral nations in which the majority of humanity lives. In much the way as
it was for Aristotle, Dussels philosophical ethics, then, is intimately connected to
politics and political philosophy, and, as such, one might take it to be as remote as
possible from Husserlian transcendental phenomenology that seems to function on
a much more abstract plane. Indeed, in his tica, Dussel dismisses Husserlian transcendental phenomenology as an inadequate approach to understanding the subject
in favor of Heideggers concrete Being-in-the-World because Husserl provides us
with only a pure transcendental subjectivity.1 Despite the seeming disconnection
between Dussel and transcendental phenomenology, I will make use of aspects of
Husserlian transcendental phenomenology to criticize Dussels theory of

Enrique Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin (Mexico:

Editorial Trotta, S.A., 1998), 516.
M. Barber (*)
Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, MO, USA
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_8



M. Barber

modernity, his objection to formalistic ethics, and his approach to economics. My

major purpose will be to show that Dussels work could profit from explicitly relying
upon transcendental phenomenological underpinnings and that without such phenomenological bases, his own work would be imperiled.

Dussels Theory of Modernity

Dussel contrasts two views of modernity. The first, the standard Eurocentric paradigm, conceives modernity as an intra-European phenomenon, beginning with the
Italian Renaissance, passing through the German Protestant Reformation and
Enlightenment, and culminating in the French Revolution. The second paradigm
pictures European culture as the center of a system in which it has not been an isolated or independent part since it was only through the incorporation of Amerindia
via discovery, conquest, colonization, and integration, that Europe was able to gain
a comparative advantage over the Islamic, Chinese, and Indian worlds and that
modernity was able to come to full flowering.2
Preferring the second paradigm to the first, Dussel distinguishes two stages of
this world-wide conception of modernity. The first stage, never before recognized as
the origin of modernity, consisted in an era dominated by Spain, which, from 1492
onward, exercised political, linguistic, and religious control over Amerindia.
Correlative to these earth-shaking economic and political events on a planetary
scale, a sophisticated philosophical culture of major importance emerged, though it
has been neglected in the history of philosophy that takes only the philosophy of the
second period of modernity for significant. In this culture of the originary phase of
modernity, thinkers such as Bartolom de las Casas and others raised philosophical
questions about the right of Europe to occupy, dominate, and manage the cultures it
had discovered, conquered, and colonized. The second phase of modernity, which
Dussel believes began in the seventeenth century and which he takes to be responsible for the formulation, but not the origin, of the new modern, theoretical paradigm, witnessed a geographical transposition of cultural activity to the center of
Europe, in particular, Amsterdam, the financial center of an enormous economic
world-system. This second phase of modernity involved the scientific revolution
and the growth of capitalism as the fruit of a century of the gestation of modernity
that began with Spains conquest of Latin America. But Dussel also thinks that this
second phase of modernity lacked the scruples of conscience afflicting Las Casas
and the Spanish thinkers and thereby ensured that modernity would be as uncritical
as it has been until the end of the twentieth century.3

Ibid., 5051.
Ibid., 52, 53, 5859, 60. In his Poltica de la Liberacin: Historia Mundial y Crtica (Mexico:
Editorial Trotta, S.A., 2007), a book that sets the historical stage for discussions of political philosophy to come, Dussel considers other Spanish thinkers who questioned the ethical appropriateness of the conquista, such as Felipe Guamn Poma de Ayala and Francisco Surez, 210227.

Liberation Ethics and Transcendental Phenomenology


According to Dussel, while the new scientific modern paradigm was being formulated, a formalization occurred insofar as the value of effectiveness became
prominent and thinkers engaged in a simplifying rationalization, which was
needed to manage the new world economic system that Europe had to control. This
rationalization, described by Werner Sombart, Ernst Troeltsch, and Max Weber,
however, was the effect and not the cause (efecto y no causa) of the politicaleconomic system that had already been unfolding for a century.4
In what amounts to a kind of sociology of knowledge argument, Dussel gives
instances of this simplifying rationalization, correlative to Europes need to administer its financial empire, in those philosophers who traditionally have been regarded
as modernitys brightest lights. For example, Descartes simplified the subjectivity
of his Medieval and Muslim predecessors, who conceived it as corporeal in nature,
by reducing it to an ego, to the soul, completely distinct from its body, which itself
was reduced to a mere controllable machine, a res extensa. Similarly Immanuel
Kant envisioned the soul as pertaining to two worlds, and a similar dualizing tendency appears in his ethics, which insists that maxims ought not to be based on
ungovernable, empirical, pathological motives. Dussel, seeing in this formal procedural simplification a negation of the material dimensions of human existence that
are a central preoccupation in his tica, as we shall see, describes how modernity
will have to be overcome centuries later:
The overcoming of modernity will signify the critical considering of all these simplifying
reductions produced at its originsand not just the few as Habermas imagines. The more
important of these reductions, besides that of the solipsistic subjectivity without community, is the negation of the corporeality of this subjectivity, human life itself as its ultimate
instanceon which the criticisms of Modernity have focused from the side of Marx,
Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, Levinas, and from these to the ethics of liberation, as we shall
see throughout this work.5

In our criticism of this view of modernity from the transcendental phenomenological position, what appears most striking is Dussels treatment of Descartes, who
for Husserl, especially in his Cartesian Meditations, stands out as one of the most
insightful of the founders of modernity. Indeed, for Husserl, what is significant is
the radicality of Descartess project that Husserl himself emulates, namely, to strive
for an ultimate conceivable freedom from prejudice and not to accept judgments as
scientific unless one has grounded them perfectly, with autonomy, according to
ultimate evidences that one has produced oneself. This absolute self-responsibility,
of course, brings to light the field of consciousness and its intentional processes
pertaining to transcendental subjectivity, to which whatever appears or is known
must be given. Despite Descartess radicality, however, Husserl acknowledges that
he still failed to escape unexamined scholastic prejudices insofar as he sought an
apodictic first axiom as a starting point from which to infer the rest of the world. In
addition, he did not limit himself to what appeared phenomenologically after imple4

Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin, 60.

Ibid., 62, see also 6061. All translations of texts from Dussels tica de la Liberacin en la Edad
de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin are my own.


M. Barber

menting his philosophical method, namely the field of the ego cogito with its intentional processes, but instead he went on, beyond the evidence and perhaps because
again of scholastic prejudices from which he did not escape, to equate the ego with
a substantia cogitans, a separate mind or soul.6
While also criticizing Descartess findings, such as his dualistic separation of
soul from body and his reduction of the body to a machine, Dussel, unlike Husserl,
says nothing about the demand for self-critical radicality and freedom from prejudice that shaped Descartess overarching project and that he himself did not live up
to. Consequently, Husserls discussion of Descartes exhibits greater interpretive
sensitivity than Dussels insofar as his criticism is more an internal one, criticizing
Descartess deficiencies because they reveal how he did not live up adequately to the
philosophical ideals that he himself had articulated so originally and insightfully.
Somewhat paradoxically, in the introduction to his book, Dussel himself distinguishes between the mythical expressions of cultural contents (e.g., regarding the
immortal soul or the eternity of nature) and the philosophical, formal method that is
defining of philosophical achievement, though he admits that cultural contents can
be philosophically treated. By failing to appreciate the formal level of Descartess
methodological achievement and focusing instead on his dualistic approach to the
body-mind problema matter of content in which Descartes fell short of his own
formal idealsDussel seems to have neglected precisely the formal methodology
that he himself thought was definitive of philosophical achievement and precisely
that aspect of Descartess thought through which, in Husserls view, he outshone
most other philosophers.7
One could find a further conflation of this formal level of philosophical methodology with the treatment of problems having to do with concrete contents (e.g., the
mind-body relationship) insofar as Dussel suggests that the philosophical achievement of the first phase of modernity (e.g., Las Casass questions about the moral
rightness of Spains conquest and treatment of indigenous American peoples) is
equal to that of the second phase of modernity (e.g., represented by Descartes).
Though one ought not to diminish the ethical significance of Las Casass critique of
injustices that many of his contemporaries accepted uncritically or even defended
and that Descartes himself never addressed, still Las Casass concerns are concrete
and practical. Consequently, he does not raise reflective questions about the practical rationality he is employing or its difference from and relation to theoretical
rationality (as Kant did, for instance); about the character of rationality in general,
its radicality, and its refusal to take presuppositions for granted (as Descartes and
Husserl did); or about the ultimate subjectivity whose various attitudes underlie
various types of rationality. In other words, Las Casas takes for granted his own
deeper theoretical presuppositions. There is a difference between being ethically
sensitive to injustices and able to articulate reasons against themand many nonphilosophers are better at this than philosophersand the ability to examine ones

Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology, trans. Dorion

Cairns (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1960), 13, 6, 1011, 13, 2325.
Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin, 1920.

Liberation Ethics and Transcendental Phenomenology


ultimate philosophical presuppositions, including the nature of rationality itself.

Given Las Casass excellence in the former, one might say that he exemplified in the
area of practical ethics the critical capacity of rationality to examine taken for
granted presuppositions, without attending to or making explicit on a formal level
the very rationality he presupposed and exemplified.
A similar criticism might be made of Dussels own project since, insofar as he
places in question the traditional understanding of modernity or attempts to bring to
light issues that other philosophers take for granted, such as the material dimensions
of human life, he himself exemplifies on a concrete level features of rationality that
he does not explicitly acknowledge and that Husserl characterized in the following
What is most essential to the theoretical attitude of philosophical man is the peculiar universality of his critical stance, his resolve not to accept unquestioningly any pregiven opinion or tradition so that he can inquire, in respect to the whole traditionally pregiven universe,
after what is true in itself, an ideality.8

Indeed, when Dussel speaks above of the overcoming of modernity as a matter

of the recovery the communality and corporeality of human experience by such
thinkers as Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, and others, there is a sense in which such thinkers, by insisting on not taking for granted or neglecting what the modern tradition
itself has failed to examine, are themselves living up to the formal, modern standards of self-critical rationality to which both Descartes and Husserl gave expression. These thinkers do not overcome modernity as much as bring its own initial
impetus to fulfillment.9
But the problem with Dussels analysis of modernity is not just a matter of his
unfairness to Descartes or his lack of reflection on his own ultimate philosophical
presuppositions. In addition, this lack of reflection affects the manner in which he
integrates the scientific perspective of the sociology of knowledge within his philosophical project. Husserl, by contrast, took very seriously how his own ultimate
philosophical perspective related to the sciences, natural and social, and, in particular, to their causal approach. The philosophical method of the phenomenological
reduction, by which Husserl sought negatively to free himself from prejudices so as
to consider how things present themselves, enabled him to discover, positively, the
field of transcendental experience which consisted in the subjects intentional acts
in relation to the correlative objects given in everyday experience. Science finds its
place within this setting insofar as the scientist adopts a unique reflective stance or
attitude toward everyday experience, which it explains by elaborating intentional
correlates of a higher level (the objects as known scientifically) and by ascribing to
everyday appearing things, for instance, the predicates regularly attributed by
physics, for example (e.g., temperature, electrical resistance). Such scientific explanations, however, do not explain away everyday experience but interpret it from

Edmund Husserl, The Vienna Lecture, in The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental
Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 286.
Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin, 62.


M. Barber

within a different attitude, studying, for example, as physiologists might do, the
experiencing subject as if it were other than a conscious subject and as if it were
merely a physical thing, thereby setting aside and abstracting from how that subject
is experienced within the attitude of everyday life. Husserl, further, resisted the idea
that there was some unknown world of physical reality lying behind the experiences
we have of the objects in the everyday life-world that would explain such experiences causally and reductively, as if conscious experience were nothing more than
the outcome of physical processes.10
On the basis of a sociology of knowledge approach to causality, which indeed
differs from but also parallels natural scientific causality, Dussel argues that the
philosophical activity of modernity, its rationalization of the everyday life world, of
which Descartess separation of soul from body is an instance, was an effect of the
demands for managing the new socio-economic system that had come into being.
To be sure, Dussel, in his sociology of knowledge approach, at times utilizes a language of correlation between socio-economic conditions and thought processes,
speaking, for instance, of how the new scientific paradigm accorded with the
demands for managing the system, or of how this paradigm was an expression of
the necessary process of simplification, or of how Hernn Cortss yo conquisto
anteceded the Cartesian ego cogito which emerges (surge) from it. However, his
clear use of causal language, for instance, claiming that the modernitys rationalization is an effect and not a cause11 of the imperatives of a newly acquired
empire, makes it unclear as to whether we are to regard the metaphors of expression
or emergence as at root conveying a causal relationship.12
Although it is certainly permissible to trace correlations between the socioeconomic system and its thought processes, Husserl holds that conscious processes
occur within a domain where one cannot speak of natural causality, but if one does
so, it is because one is no longer viewing the person through the prism of the attitude
exhibited by phenomenological reflection upon everyday intentional processes.
Instead, one has undertaken the naturalistic attitude toward such conscious processes. A central insight of Husserlian transcendental phenomenology is that it
refuses to commence with the natural causal order into which it fits a derivative
consciousness and instead begins with conscious experience as fundamental, as the
domain within which causality and the scientific endeavors relying upon causality
arise. If, therefore, even our conscious intentional processes of basic perceptual
experience, for example, of a red ball, cannot be considered to be merely the product of brute physical causal processes effected by the objects perceived, one would


Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 3037; see Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure
Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, Book 1: General Introduction to a Pure
Phenomenology, trans. F. Kersten (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1980), 117124; Edmund
Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, Book
2: Studies in the Phenomenology of Constitution, trans. Richard Rojcewicz and Andre Schuwer
(Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989), 140, 222, 244247.
Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin, 60.
Ibid., 60, 68.

Liberation Ethics and Transcendental Phenomenology


think that even less so could one consider those higher-level conscious intentional
activities involved in examining evidence and formulating scientific judgments,
such as Descartess theory of the mind-body relationship, to be causally produced.
Even less so would it seem to be the case that one would be able to claim that
Descartess (or Husserls) higher-level account of reason itself, that is, its autonomous consideration of evidence and its endeavor not to partake of commonsense
prejudices, would be the causal product of socio-economic circumstances. To argue
that this higher level account of reason is the causal product of socio-economic factors seems counterintuitive insofar as critical rationality is capable of being brought
to bear on those socio-economic conditions themselves, placing them in question
and challenging their presuppositions (as is the case with Marxs thought and
Dussels Philosophy of Liberation). It would seem strange, then, to interpret the
kind of reflection that will take an independent stand over against these socioeconomic conditions and place them in question as being itself nothing more than a
causal product of these conditions themselves. In addition, if one presents the intentional activity going on within philosophical theory, that is, its assessment of evidence and assenting to propositions, as merely the result of the causality of
environing social and economic conditions, then Dussels own views themselves
would be undermined since one might assume that they and the assent that anyone
might give to them would be themselves nothing more than reactions causally determined by underlying socio-economic conditions rather the results of a free, responsible, autonomous examination of evidence.
Finally, none of this would imply that Dussel could not hold to his socio-historical
theory that a build-up of political and economic conditions may have given the
competitive advantage to Europe and provided the wealth that may have been a
condition of the possibility of the second phase of modernity. Philosophical activity
presupposes leisure, as Aristotle knew, and such leisure depends upon having sufficient economic means and ones not being excluded from access to education, as
victims of prejudice, violence, or economic deprivation often are. In this sense,
modernitys wealth could be said to have made it possible that high-level intellectual work could have been done and given an advantage to Europe. But possessing
resources, the conditions for the possibility of doing philosophical and scientific
work, is a far cry from claiming that the economic wealth amassed by sixteenth
century Europe caused the theoretical outlooks of the seventeenth century.13
Finally, Dussel criticizes the solipsistic subjectivity without community that
characterizes the modern outlook. However, in the case of Descartes, and Husserl
interpreting him, there is a certain solipsism that is constitutive of the philosophical
responsibility of the transcendental subject, insofar as one must answer for ones
claims by oneself by virtue of ones own insights, not relying on what traditions
teach or others have told one to be true. This is not to say, though, that philosophy

Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy,

Book 1, 117124; Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological
Philosophy, Book 2, 140, 222, 244247; Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and
Transcendental Phenomenology, 215219.


M. Barber

cannot include mutual criticism between interlocutors who, as Husserl acknowledges, pertain to transcendental intersubjectivity. But it is to admit that when Dussel
himself refuses to embrace the standard interpretations of modernity that he finds
inadequate and when we as readers consider carefully every claim that he and
Husserl present with a view to deciding for ourselves whether to assent to them if
they are true or to withhold assent if they are notall of us are actually exercising
just the kind of self-responsible philosophizing that cannot help being characterized
as to a degree solipsistic, in a methodological rather than ontological sense.14

The Formalist Objection

With an eye on the hunger and malnutrition from which much of the human race
suffers, Dussel in the first chapter of his ethics examines the way in which we find
ourselves responsible, due to physical necessities and cultural imperatives, for preserving our livesan ethical mandate recognized by every culture and not a mere
subjective end or preference that Max Weber thought could never have been objectively justified. Dussel develops a universal material principle of ethics to the effect
that everyone who acts ethically ought to produce, reproduce, and develop selfresponsibly the concrete life of each human subject in a community of life, from the
point of view of a cultural, historical good life.15 In the second chapter of his
ethics, he articulates a universal moral principle of validity in the tradition of Kant,
Apel, and Habermas, and that principle mandates that whoever argues ought to
ensure symmetry between the participants in argumentation, in which the concerns
of all affected by a proposed maxim are taken into account and in which no force is
employed other than the force of the better argument. Dussel contends that both
principles ought to be considered in relationship to each other and that they, in combination with a third principle of factibility, or prudential application, would enable
one to determine what actions or political and economic structures are ethically
Dussel, though, is critical of formalists, among whom he includes Kant,
Habermas, Apel, and Rawls, who, in his view, are all prone to negate, surpass, or
leave to the side the material domain that includes the concrete human needs that his
ethical material principle encompasses. They consider this domain as a particular or
pathological horizon which they can abandon in order to elevate themselves to an
a priori horizon of transcendental principles. Kants formalism appears in his
negation of the body as irrelevant to morality and his view that feelings are egoistic,
irrational, and capricious, and therefore not able to be integrated into the rational

Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 23, 56; Edmund Husserl, Erste Philosophie (1913/24), Part
Two: Theorie der phnomenologischen Reduktion, ed. Rudolf Boehm, Husserliana, vol. 8, part 2
(Haag: Martinus Nijhoff, 1959), 166.
Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin, 140.
Ibid., 93106, 129140, 141, 142143, 187, 214.

Liberation Ethics and Transcendental Phenomenology


horizon of the perfect life. Apel and Kant are further said to take refuge17 (refugiarse) in the transcendental level, and Dussel accuses Habermas also of losing
contact with the material level. Dussel even cites an admission by Habermas in his
essay, Discourse Ethics: Notes on a Program of Philosophical Justification, that
his ethics is formal since it provides no substantive guidelines but only a procedure: practical discourse.18 It is interesting, though, that Dussel omits any mention
of the rest of the paragraph from which this quotation comes and in which Habermas
insists that practical discourse depends on content being brought to it from the lifeworld of particular social groups which furnish the topics for discussion. Habermas
concludes, This procedure, then, is not formal in the sense that it abstracts from
content. Quite the contrary, in its openness, practical discourse is dependent upon
contingent content being fed into it from outside.19
In introducing phenomenology into this discussion, it is important, first of all,
not to assimilate Husserl with Kant (or those in the Kantian tradition, such as Apel
or Habermas) from whom he differentiates himself, insofar as Kant held that the
matter of valuing and willing and the particular content of value and will objects
could remain out of consideration when it came to articulating a first principle. In
contrast, Husserls formal axiology and formal laws of practice (formal Praktik)
regularly include at least a (universalizing) reference to concrete circumstances, as
can be seen, for example, in the axiological law that one ought to do the best that is
to be found among the reachable possibilities at any point in time in accord with the
subjects insightful consideration of such possibilities. Nevertheless, the convergences between Husserl and Kant, for instance, on the importance of formal laws and
the nature of reason, make it possible to rely upon Husserl, along with reconstructed
arguments on behalf of the Kantian framework, to criticize Dussels criticisms of
For instance, Dussel interprets Kantian formalism as negating the material
dimensions of feeling and inclination, although such an interpretation would have to
explain why it is that Kant claims that securing ones own happiness, and presumably satisfying other material needs, is a duty, since Kant asserts that a person with
many unsatisfied wants would be more tempted to transgress moral duties.
Furthermore, though Kant, at times, seems excessively harsh regarding sentiments,
inclinations, and interests; he can be read to make a place for such factors insofar as
they underpin the formulation of maxims of acting that serve as the content about
which one deliberates, as Habermas suggests above. Indeed, Kants own examples
illustrate this manner of including material dimensions, as for instance, the case in

Ibid., 182.
Ibid., 196; see Jrgen Habermas, Discourse Ethics: Notes on a Program of Philosophical
Justification, in Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, trans. Christian Lenhardt and
Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1990), 103.
Habermas, Discourse Ethics, 103. See also Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la
Globalizacin y de la Exclusin, 140, 170171, 197201.
Edmund Husserl, Vorlesungen ber Ethik und Wertlehre 19081914, ed. Ullrich Melle,
Husserliana, Band XXVIII (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988), 139, 241.


M. Barber

which he considers someone who is so lacking in funds that she is forced to borrow
money and so develops a maxim in accord with which she will borrow money and
promise to pay it back, though she knows that she will be unable to do so. This
example illustrates that Kant is not claiming that desires or interests are irrelevant or
to be excluded from deliberation, but his question is whether the maxims to which
such desires or interests lead are universalizable. However, in that moment of deliberation, when one considers whether ones interest-guided maxims are universalizable, one must, for the moment, set aside such interests and assume an impartial
stance, examining whether ones maxim is universalizable, inquiring, in this case,
for example, whether ones maxim to borrow without intent to pay back would be
acceptable to the person from whom one intends to borrow money. For a contrast,
imagine someone entering into moral deliberation not with the interest of being
impartial and fair and taking account of others perspectives, but rather with the sole
interest of getting herself out of need. Surely, if the latter interest were to guide
ones deliberation rather than the former, no one would consider such a deliberation
process to be rational in any other than an instrumental sense. Kant is not, then,
excluding personal, egoistic interests and the maxims that serve them from being
the topics of moral deliberation; he is only insisting that the deliberation regarding
the universalizability of these maxims cannot be guided by those interests since
such deliberation out to be guided by the interests in being objective and fair to all
who will be affected by the implementation of ones proposed maxim.21
Husserl, I believe, would have supported Kant on this issue insofar as he himself
was well aware that reflection, whether in moral deliberation or philosophical
thought, requires that one adopt a different attitude, governed by different interests
and motives than those adopted by persons naturally immersed in the world and
practically interested in it. For Husserl, the issue has to do fundamentally with the
different possible attitudes which the transcendental subject might undertake, which
would also include on an ultimate plane reflection on the transcendental subject
itself for whom these different attitudes represent possibilities that it itself might
realize. One undertaking philosophical reflection, for Husserl, should be directed by
the interest to see and describe adequately what he sees, purely as seen22to
strive then for the kind of theoretical, descriptive objectivity that would parallel the
practical objectivity for which Kant called. Phenomenologist Alfred Schutz lends
support to Husserls description of what goes on in philosophical reflection when he
describes theorizing in general as adopting a different set of relevances, aimed not
at mastering the world but observing and understanding it.23
Indeed, Husserl, like Habermas in his Discourse Ethics and Kant, at least in the
Groundwork, starts with, rather than excludes, our everyday acts, valuations, and
ethical convictions (regarding concrete ethical questions such as What should I

Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. James W. Ellington
(Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Company, 1981), 12, 31.
Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 35.
Alfred Schutz, The Problem of Social Reality, Vol. I of Collected Papers, ed. Maurice Natanson
(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1962), 245; see also 246247.

Liberation Ethics and Transcendental Phenomenology


do?) that constitute the nave life of the will, but, as Husserl points out, one proceeds then to inquire about the rationality of ones convictions, to think about them
insightfully, to seek justifications for them, and thereby to convert ones convictions
into acquisitions on the basis of reason. Thinking upward, as it were, from concrete
experience in the process of seeking to justify a course of action (or to determine
that it is unjustifiable), Kant and Habermas set about specifying the type of rationality they are engaged in, that is, practical rationality, which justifies the actions it
considers by appeal to principles rather than empirical evidence. Furthermore, for
these authors, one must finally arrive at some universal principle, that itself must be
justified. Likewise, Husserl is clear that practical rationality and axiological reason
are normative in character in contrast to the fact-dependent rationality of the natural
sciences and that such normative rationality depends upon a priori normative laws,
capable of being grounded in an another manner than that typical of the natural sciences. Husserl was further convinced that progressive questioning would lead to
some ultimate, justifiable, governing principle, like Kants categorical imperative.
Following such a trajectory, by which Kant arrives at his categorical imperative and
Habermas at U, Husserl develops his categorical imperative, which is able to
encompass the whole of ones life: Do from now on and without wavering the best,
your best for always; grasp it in norm-directed knowledge and will it in normconscious Willing.24 What becomes obvious is that one ought not to prescind from
concrete, material concerns, but one starts with them and proposed actions in their
regard, and one moves to increasingly more abstract levels, discussing abstract
types of rationality and first principles, in order to justify rationally (or not) those
proposed actions.25
However much Kant, Habermas, and Husserl may have neglected as a central
and important topic for discussion the production, reproduction, and development
of life, as normatively mandated universally, across all cultures, as Dussel emphasizes, there is no reason why their various philosophical outlooks, because of any
dynamic intrinsic to them, would have had to neglect this topic. It would appear,
then, that their lack of awareness of the importance of this need has to do not so
much with the formal level of their analyses, as with their focus on concrete problems being confined to those immediately at hand in their own cultural milieu. Or,
perhaps their neglect of this basic material need has to do with a lack of sensitivity
to what distant others might be suffering. Furthermore, each of these formalists
could have argued that neglecting the needs basic to human life would not be justifiable (e.g., from within the Kantian framework which would see the neglect of those


Edmund Husserl, Einleitung in die Ethik: Vorlesungen Sommersemester 1920 und 1924, ed.
Henning Peucker (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004), 253. All translations of
Husserls German texts that lack English translations are my own; where there are English translations, they have been utilized.
Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, 1517; Habermas, Discourse Ethics, 4550;
Edmund Husserl, Einleitung in die Ethik, 246248, 252253; Husserl, Vorlesungen ber Ethik und
Wertlehre, 5657, 65, 137, 139140, 145, 179.


M. Barber

lacking sufficient resources to live as failing to treat them as the ends in themselves
they are).
In addition, Dussel seems to confuse the normative character of ethical, axiological, and logical laws with the factual character of empirical, natural scientific laws.
For example, he accuses discourse ethics of not attending to the asymmetry that
makes its own realization impossible, when he remarks:
We think that here we avoid the inevitable aporia into which discourse ethics falls: the
argumentation presupposes among participants a symmetry which is empirically impossible. The ethics of liberation overcomes this aporia by discovering that the victims excluded
asymmetrically from the hegemonic community of communication form themselves into a
critical-symmetrical community. It might seem that what is being treated here is a mere
development or deduction from discourse ethics, but this is not the way it isOn the mere
a-critical formal level where a consensus of intersubjective validity [is sought], the procedural morality cannot overcome the circle of the unique community of communication
(whether ideal or empirical), which impedes it from realizing empirically through argumentation a non-existent symmetry.26

By saying that discourse ethics presupposes an impossible symmetry, Dussel

appears to treat discourse ethics as if it were providing an empirical description of
the situation of argumentation, and one of the empirical ingredients (e.g., symmetry) essential to its being what it is is missing (and unable to be acquired), much as
being a house would presuppose having a roof, without which it would not be a
house, or being a cube would presuppose having six sides without which it would
not be a cube. Moreover, the hegemonic community of communication seems factually unable to break out of itself and include the victims it has excluded, and so
Dussels ethics provides a way beyond this community by discovering its victims
forming a communication community among themselves. However, it is as though
Dussel treats Habermass and Apels accounts of discourse ethics as if they were
presenting what is in fact the case, with Dussel showing to the contrary that things
are not that way. But actually, from the discourse-ethical perspective, one might
better formulate the claim that ethics presupposes symmetry by saying that it
normatively requires symmetry. Thus, discourse ethics demands that only those
norms ought to be taken to be valid which meet with the approval of all those
affected in their capacity as participants in a practical discourse, that is, with no one
segment being able to impose asymmetrically its norms upon others. Discourse ethics doesnt describe what a communication community is like but prescribes what
ought to be done, and where a discourse community has excluded victims, the very
principles of discourse ethics would show that such a community is in the wrong
and ought not to have done what it did, even if it may never make any effort to
change what it ought not have done. Even if the hegemonic circle is unable to break
out of its own circle, it, nevertheless, ought to. Consequently, Dussels recommendation that the hegemonys victims form a symmetrical community among
themselves, as perhaps a first strategic step toward breaking down the asymmetry of
the hegemonic community, is a strategy aimed at realizing what the norms of dis26

Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin, 460461.

Liberation Ethics and Transcendental Phenomenology


course ethics already require and thus it is a development out of discourse principles, despite Dussels denial that this is so.
Husserl, of course, recognized that normative sciences, such as logic, point out
what is valid and what offends against validity, regardless of what individuals in
concrete cultural settings might think or not. From as early as his Logical
Investigations, he was clear that logic, as one region of investigation presupposing
what he would later come to speak of as one regional ontology (albeit in this case
formal in character), relative to the transcendental subject who clarifies and constitutes its eidetic features, does not present the (factual) laws of how people (in
fact) think, as psychologism conceived it. In fact, people often think in ways at odds
with what logic requires, holding, for example, contradictory tenets at the same
time. Rather, logic presents the laws according to which people ought to think, even
if they never do so. Psychology, it is said, deals with thinking as it is, logic with
thinking as it should be.27 Indeed, recognizing the normative and not empiricaldescriptive character of ethical laws and principles would be essential for Dussels
own tica, which works out six basic principles that make moral demands, whether
they are empirically fulfilled or not, and that, for Dussels own sake, ought not to
count as disproved just because they have not been empirically enacted.28
In addition, one simply does not find in the Husserlian paradigm the kind of
antagonism between the material and the formal that Dussel tends to accentuate. For
example, common misunderstandings of Husserls understanding of eidos might
conceive it as negating the world of concrete particulars and ascending to an ethereal, Platonic realm. But Maurice Natanson, an astute interpreter of Husserls works,
has made it clear that phenomenology involves no such abandonment of the world
but a more perspicacious penetration into it by which one might see the world in its
givenness repeatedly bearing the universal in its slightest, most ephemeral
aspects29 and might recognize in every fact the mere exemplification of a pure
Another manner in which Husserl avoids the possibility of rationality spinning
off in independence from a concrete, material world has to do with his conception
of the life-world, which is of direct relevance for one of Dussels criticisms of

Edmund Husserl, Logical Investigations, trans. J.N. Findlay, ed. Dermott Moran, Prolegomena
to Pure Logic, Volume 1: 41.
Ibid., 23, 33, 4243, 51, 64, 67, 102, 106. The normative character of disciplines do not rule out
that they might depend on non-normative truths, e.g., know in what being a soldier consists reveals
why a soldier ought to be brave, Husserl, Logical Investigations 1:35, 39. On the regional ontologies presupposed by regions of investigation and pertaining to the transcendental ego, see Husserl,
Cartesian Meditations, 6264, 136139, 152157.
Maurice Natanson, Introduction, Essays in Phenomenology, ed. Maurice Natanson (The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966), 21; Maurice Natanson, The Journeying Self: A Study in Philosophy
and Social Role (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1970), 117.
Maurice Natanson, The Erotic Bird: Phenomenology in Literature (Princeton: Princeton
University Press), 130; Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 71. Indeed, Plato is the erotic bird because
his assent to essence is actualized through concrete, worldly eros which is not to be ascetically
despised under pain of ones losing anything to say, see Natanson, The Erotic Bird, 126.


M. Barber

Apels and Habermass formalism. In that criticism, Dussel finds Apel too formalistic in the sense that he dispenses with any idea of truth apart from the validity that
results only when interlocutors arrive at consensus, the formal guarantee of truth.
Instead, Dussel agrees with Albrecht Wellmer that one must be convinced of what
one takes to be true before entering discourse and that ones conviction prompts one
to enter discourse, as opposed to considering truth as a consensual outcome of discourse. Dussel concludes that truth is the fruit of a monological process of referring
to the world from within an intersubjective context, whereas validity is a matter of
trying to achieve an intersubjective consensus about what one monologically takes
to be true. This solution seems confused, though, insofar as the difference between
truth and validity here seems to hinge on whether one proceeds monologically or
intersubjectively and yet ones monological reference to the world in truth seems to
be happening within an intersubjective context, as it does in the case of validity.
Indeed, it is difficult to imagine one being convinced of a truth apart from an intersubjective context in which one assumes that what one finds to be true for oneself is
something that others would find convincing also.31
What really seems to be at stake herea possibility that Dussel does not entertainseems to be the difference between being convinced of somethings being
true in ones every-day, practical belief scheme and adopting a philosophical attitude in which one undertakes to provide a philosophical justification for that truth.
Indeed, it is precisely in this direction that Habermass own thought developed
when in his essay Richard Rortys Pragmatic Turn, published after Dussels
Ethics, he abandoned his consensus theory of truth and moved toward a model in
which one begins with pragmatic action-oriented convictions that one takes for
granted until one problematizes them upon adopting a reflecting attitude. Once one
adopts such a reflective attitude, it is possible to justify ones beliefs (or to conclude
that ones beliefs are unjustified) and then to return to the everyday attitude of actors
who deal with the world more naively. In discovering these basic differences in
attitude, Habermas would appear to be returning to a distinction among possible
attitudes of the transcendental subject that Husserl had recognized long ago. That
distinction concerns the practical attitude and the theoretical attitude, with the latter
being characterized, at least in its philosophical and ultimately phenomenological
version, by a resolution negatively not to accept without question pre-given opinions or traditions and positively to provide justification, even an ultimate justification, for ones beliefs.32
Husserl further sees that from within the phenomenological theoretical attitude it
is possible to inquire back (Rckfragen) to the source of theorizing, which includes

Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin, 202205.

Jrgen Habermas, Richard Rortys Pragmatic Turn, in Rorty and His Critics, ed. Robert
Brandom (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 2000), 4749; Edmund Husserl,
The Vienna Lecture, in Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental
Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 285286;
Edmund Husserl, Einleitung in die Philosophie: Vorlesungen 1922/23, ed. Berndt Goosens, vol. 35
Husserliana (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002), see 292296 on the ultimate justification that Husserl attributes to phenomenology in its relationship to all the other sciences.

Liberation Ethics and Transcendental Phenomenology


the I-myself and my concrete life in general without which phenomenological

reflection would be impossible. Why, it might be asked, could Husserl not have
recognized that the basic conditions that every phenomenologizing (and theorizing)
subjectivity presupposes are not only epistemic in nature but that they also include
basic needs, such as the need for ones life to be secured against hunger and death?
Insofar as Husserl recognizes that the transcendental subjects spectrum of activities
extend from living in everyday life to the highest-level theorizing, it would be perfectly appropriate for him to acknowledge that the upper level depends on the maintenance of bodily functions upon which such theorizing depends. Such an
acknowledgment would converge with Dussels stress on the universal importance
of basic human needs being meta point he articulates in a striking manner when
he points out how even those frenetically busy at stock exchanges must take several
hours out of each day to sleep and eat as the conditions of the possibility of the very
activity they undertake daily. In sum, the Husserlian distinction between natural and
phenomenological attitudes better explains the difference between truth and validity, while also allowing for the way in which phenomenologizing and theorizing are
rooted in not only epistemic preconditions, but also in the life-conditions that bulk
so large in Dussels approach.33
In this section, I have argued that Dussels critique of the formalism of his principally Kantian opponents fails insofar as he misunderstands rationality and caricatures their deployment of it as formalism. He could have avoided such an error
had he taken into sufficient account the features of rationality that transcendental
phenomenology and even his Kantian opponents themselves, to a degree, have clarified. Those features include: (1) a proper understanding of deliberation and reflection, which do not involve negating the material conditions on which Dussel focuses
but rather adopting a reflective attitude that differs in its impartiality and guiding
relevances from the attitude one adopts in the lived pursuit of those material needs;
(2) an appreciation of practical rationality that begins with, rather than rejects, concrete material situations (such as those Dussel finds pressing), that is cognizant of
such rationalitys unique attitudinal stance and its need for grounding in principles
rather than empirical evidence, and that pushes toward ultimately justified principles; (3) a recognition of the normative character of ethical laws in contrast to the
factual character of empirical laws and hence of a kind of Wissenschaftslehre that
grasps the relations of different sciences in relation to each another; and (4) a comprehension of the life-world conditions from which the phenomenological attitude
emerges as the conditions of its own possibility and of which that phenomenological attitude can become self-aware. Furthermore, the case could be made that
Dussels own articulation of his six ethical principles in his tica implicitly relies
upon these kinds of phenomenological underpinnings, and an explicit recognition
of them could not but strengthen Dussels own position.
Finally, if Husserl, Kant, or Habermas may have neglected the material dimensions that take such a priority in Dussels view because a large portion of humanity
suffers from their not being satisfied, the problem does not have to do with the

Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, 9798, 130, 142.


M. Barber

rational approaches they undertake that Dussel misconstrues as a kind of formalism.

Rather their neglect of material dimensions has more to do with their allowing their
concerns to be limited by their local (Western, affluent) environment and in not having exercised sufficiently a sensitivity to the suffering of distant others and the kind
of self-critical rationality that does not rest content with what has been traditional
and what concerns have been traditionally thought important. As the previous section on modernity indicated, the defect lies not with rationality itself but in how
well, critically, and far reaching it has been deployed and in how sensitive those
reasoning have been to the suffering of others. To focus ones critique on rationality
itself is to misplace ones critique and to overlook precisely the point where correction is called for.

Marxian Economics in Dussels Ethics

The situating of different regional ontologies and sciences with reference to the
transcendental subject makes possible the distinction between various attitudes
(e.g., the everyday lived attitude from the phenomenological attitude) and the development of a Wissenschaftslehre, in which the uniqueness and irreducibility of various sciences (e.g., the descriptive and normative sciences) that involve differing
attitudes can be preserved. But such a Wissenschaftslehre, in relation to the transcendental subject, can also be used to sort out the epistemic status of the Marxian
economics that Dussel defends in his ethics, as I hope to show here. In his ethics,
section 5.3, on functional versus critical paradigms, before distinguishing the social
sciences from other sciences because they include a dimension of intersubjective
understanding (Verstehen) in addition to causal explanation, he differentiates the
sciences themselves from non-scientific discourses. He bases this differentiation on
Imre Lakatoss criterion for science, which he prefers to Karl Poppers notion that
scientific paradigms are distinctive in that they can be falsified. According to Dussel,
Lakatos rejects the falsification criterion because he thinks that no scientific theory
has ever been falsified by one experiment (as Popper suggests) since every theorist
is able to advance ad hoc explanations to explain anomalies. Instead, Lakatos suggests that scientific programs discover new facts and are progressive34insofar
as they contain an excess or a more of content that is corroborated beyond that
which previous paradigms were able to corroborate. It should be added that Dussel,
Popper, and Lakatos seem to be striving to define the more restrictive idea of what
an empirical science (which can be either natural or social science) is, as opposed
to the more general notion encompassed by the German word Wissenschaft.
While this discussion of the nature of science sets the stage for Dussel to characterize as empirical-scientific his Marxian view of economics, which endorses the
labor theory of value, such a characterization is made more difficult by his view that

Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin, 443; see also


Liberation Ethics and Transcendental Phenomenology


economics is basically an ethical discipline. For instance, he affirms that his critique
of political economy, like Marxs, is the exercise of ethical-critical reason at a pertinent material, epistemological level35; that, as Marx asserted, economics is a
moral science, the most moral of all the sciences36; and that the interest in the
community of victims of economic systems is a constitutive moment of the object
of economic theory and of its respective facts. Dussels belief in the ethical nature
of economic science depends, of course, upon his three-volume study of Marx in
which he reads Marx in the light of Levinass emphasis on ethical responsibility to
and for the other. According to this reading, Marxs actual focus was not on the
system of capitalism whose development would lead on iron rails to its inevitable
socialist successor, as say Soviet Marxism may have thought. Rather, Marxs theoretic interest was in living labor, labor dissociated from all the means of labor, the
(Levinasian) other of the economic system, who, once incorporated into the economic system produces value for which he or she is not justly remunerated, as the
labor theory of value contended.37
In spite of this view of the ethical nature of economics, Dussel believes that such
an economics could still be empirico-scientific insofar as it could meet Lakatoss
criterion for science. To demonstrate that it does meet this criterion, Dussel shows
how Marx disputes the classical view that would take the profit (i.e., the excess of
price charged over costs incurred) found in the circulation-dimension of the capitalist economy as surplus value. Rather, Marx locates surplus value in the domain of
the production-dimension in which the worker for a few hours of work earns the
daily cost of his living and then works for several extra, unpaid hours to produce
surplus value, out of which the company owner takes profit and pays for new raw
materials and the depreciation of machinery, etc. Likewise, Marxs labor theory of
value can be used to explain the rate of exploitation, that is, how workers are paid
less and forced to work harder to increase the amount of surplus value that is declining proportionally to capital outlays for machinery and raw materials. In these
examples, Marxs investigations were progressive in character, uncovering new
facts (e.g., surplus value) unobserved in previous paradigms, and they effectively
developed a new paradigm that contains a more or excess of content insofar as
it explains what previous paradigms could not explain (e.g., the rate of exploitation).
To this degree, Marxian economics would meet the criterion for empirical science
that Lakatos develops.38

Ibid., 320.
Ibid., 324; citation from Karl Marx, The Manuscripts of 1944, I, EB, 549.
Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin, 315, 439444,
445, 446451; Enrique Dussel, La Produccin Terica de Marx: Un Comentario a los Grundrisse
(Iztapalapa, Mxico: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1985), 6, 138139, 336343; Enrique Dussel, El
ltimo Marx (18631882) y la Liberacin Latinoamericana: Un Comentario a la Tercera y a la
Cuarta Redaccin de El Capital (Iztapalapa, Mxico: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1990), 138,
143, 333, 344, 351, 366, 373, 381.
Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin, 448449; see
Michael Barber, Ethical Hermeneutics: Rationality in Enrique Dussels Philosophy of Liberation
(New York: Fordham University Press, 1998), 103104.


M. Barber

However, there seems to be something questionable about this view of empirical

science. If science is characterized merely by the discovery of new facts or by a
progressive explanation in which a new paradigm provides a better explanation than
a previous one, what reason would there be for not attributing to Christian theology
scientific status? After all, one might argue that it discovered (at least with reference
to its own paradigm as opposed to a Jewish or Muslim one) new facts, e.g., the existence of the Trinity, which, in turn, provided better explanations of Christian
Scriptural quotations (e.g., I and the Father are one) than previous (non-Trinitarian)
paradigms. Of course, one could consider theology an empirical science only if
ones notion of science is cut off from accountability to empirical facts that might
call for the revision of its claims.
However, by seeking to expose ones scientific claims to empirical testing, one
immediately confronts Lakatoss objection that no single experiment can falsify a
theoretical position and that, when a theory appears to be falsified, the scientists
defending that theory can always piece together ad hoc explanations to ward off
falsification. But such ad hoc explanations are not themselves beyond question.
Assuming that science is not a matter of a one-time confrontation with empirical
facts but as an ongoing process, theories propped up by ad hoc explanations will
have to prove continually their superior empirical explanatory power in comparison
with rival theoriesan unlikely prospect. Furthermore, the assembling of a bricolage of ad hoc explanations risks developing theoretical inconsistencies. In brief,
the possibility that scientists can advance ad hoc explanations to fend off falsification implies neither that scientists are dispensed from ensuring that their theories are
accountable to empirical facts nor that any ad hoc explanations are simply to be
accepted without further challenge.
Consequently, insofar as Dussels criterion for what is scientific is insufficiently
restrictive in that it seems to excuse scientific theory from accountability to empirical facts, his economics would not necessarily substantiate its empirical scientific
credentials merely by meeting that criterion. To be scientific, then, it would further
have to show that it is accountable to empirical facts, that is, that it is empirically
testable. But it is difficult to imagine how any empirical facts could disprove the
labor theory of value, especially insofar as presents within the sphere of production
the origin of surplus value that is subsequently distributed by empirically measurable mechanisms of supply and demand and other factors operative within the
circulation-mercantile dimension of capitalism. Of course, the labor theory of value
can explain the phenomena of lower wages and excessive demands on workers.
Such an explanation, nevertheless, would not be empirical in the way that predictions of how economic actors will behave empirically, under, for example, conditions
of monopoly or oligopoly, would be, since such predictions are clearly more exposed
to the possibility of empirical failure. In fact, this explanation of lower wages and
excessive demands upon workers through the concept of the rate of exploitation
resembles metaphysical explanations that offer no predictions of empirical facts,
but which start with empirical phenomena, such as the existence of the empirical

Liberation Ethics and Transcendental Phenomenology


world, and then search for ultimate causes that give a conceptual explanation of why
these empirical phenomena are as they are.39
By refusing to consider Dussels Marxian economics as empirically scientific,
we need not equate it with metaphysics in the derogatory sense that its critics do,
according to Dussel. Suppose, instead, that one begins with Levinass idea that
responsibility to the other plays an a priori role in constituting us as human subjects
who cannot escape being summoned to responsibility by others, and, of course, the
subject that adopts as one of its particular possibilities the attitude of the economic
theorist, would remain a subject constituted in part by this ethical dimension. We
could then interpret Dussels economic theory, including the labor theory of value,
as fleshing out the kind of a priori framework with which the ethically-minded
economist might approach economic reality. Such a framework would take the perspective of those excluded or exploited by the economic processes the economist
studies, the other of the economy. This framework of the labor theory of value,
pertaining to the subject engaging in economic science, of course, concerns details
(e.g., surplus value, living labor) that would not be found in the abstract descriptions
of the ethically responsible subject (in Levinass works, for example), but this is
because the framework belongs to a specific instantiation of that abstract subject,
namely, that subject as engaging in economic science. As such, the framework is
developed at the intersection between the abstract notion of ethicality found in
Levinass analyses and the concrete empirical facts of the economic domain that the
economist studies.
This framework itself, though, is not a matter of empirical, economic fact, but is
itself a priori in nature, belonging on the side of the subject, who brings it to bear
on concrete empirico-economic facts. Instead of trying to fit this Marxian framework into empirical economic science, in the interpretation I am suggesting, the
framework spells out a context within which concrete empirical economic investigations might be placed. The framework could offer non-predictive explanations (as
in the case of the rate of exploitation), generate research programs or testable empirical hypotheses, and guide the economists selection of themes (e.g., the processes
that produce exploitation or exclusion) or objects for investigation, as Dussel suggests when he claims that a focus on victims plays a role in constituting the object
of economic theory.40
This interpretation of Dussels economics would converge with the thought of
Max Weber, who allowed that relevances of this type (e.g., ethical concerns) could
determine the objects of ones research, although Weber no doubt would understand
such relevances more as a matter of preferences than as obligations in Levinass
sense. Nevertheless, while responsibility for others might determine ones theoretical interests and choices of topics or generate research programs and testable

See Alfred Schutzs discussions of how ideal types can provide economic explanations of empirical phenomena but they must be adequate to common sense understanding of economic actions, in
Common-Sense and Scientific Interpretation of Human Action, The Problem of Social Reality,
Vol. I of Collected Papers, ed. Maurice Natanson (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1962), 4447.
Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin, 449.


M. Barber

hypotheses, once one undertakes the theoretical attitude, or as Alfred Schutz has put
it, leaps into the theoretical attitude, one must embrace according to Weber and
Schutz a unique set of relevances and motives that pertain to the sphere of scientific
theorizing itself. That is, one must seek, as a disinterested observer, to observe
and understand economic processes, to arrive at economic knowledge, by seeing to
it that ones claims are accountable to empirical facts.41
In contrast to this Weberian discussion of the different relevances of the social
scientist, Dussel at times seems to confound the motives that would prompt one to
enter the theoretical sphere of economic science and the motives that ought to govern while one is within that sphere. For instance, writing of Rosa Luxemburg, he
What is important, at the end of our argument, is to show how Rosa Luxemburg found
herself obligated to take much time that she ought to have used for concrete strategic practices to discuss theoretical questions, not for an abstract theoretical love of the truth (in
itself), but rather for the practical necessity of destroying arguments that justified the negation of the life of the victims and the exclusion of workers from the formal, capitalistic.42

If Dussel means that Luxemburg entered the sphere of economic theory and
chose her themes out of her concern for the life of victims and excluded workers,
there would be no problem since such relevances are perfectly appropriate for shaping the social scientists selection of a topic or the direction of a research program.
However, if within the theoretical sphere, there would be no love for truth in itself,
that is, no willingness to revise ones claims if the empirical evidence made the
other way even in regard to ones most cherished convictions, and if ones relevances within the economico-theoretic sphere would reduce to destroying arguments that justify economic processes whose consequences one finds ethically
offensive, as opposed to following where the evidence leads, there would be a problem. Although one might mount ethical rather than economic arguments against
such processes because of their ethically offensive outcomes, one ought to keep
separate the motives explaining ones choice of ones themes in economic science
from the motives that ought to govern the execution of that science. By refraining
from blurring the boundaries between ethics and empirical economic science,
between non-science and science, one keeps ones science from succumbing to
In conclusion, I propose envisioning the Levinasian sense of ethical responsibility for the other as a priori constitutive feature of a subject akin to Husserls
transcendental subject, one of whose instantiations would be the subject engaging
in economic science. Dussels Marxian economics, then, would represent an attempt
to spell out how such an ethically constituted subject pursuing economic science
might exercise ethical responsibility, thinking on behalf of the victims of the economic processes that subject studies. Qua ethically obligated, the transcendental
subject would be summoned to responsibility for the other of the economic relation41

Alfred Schutz, On Multiple Realities, The Problem of Social Reality, 245250.

Dussel, tica de la Liberacin en la Edad de la Globalizacin y de la Exclusin, 531532. The
italics here are mine.

Liberation Ethics and Transcendental Phenomenology


ships he or she studies, and such responsibility could be discharged in the themes
one selects, the non-predictive explanations one offers, or the testable hypotheses
one generates. Qua empirical scientist, the subject would have to follow impartially
where the empirical evidence finally led. In such a way of conceiving things,
Dussels Marxian economics would not be an empirical science but, as an extension
of the ethically constituted transcendental subject to the domain of empirical economic facts, and it would shape the kinds of concerns and directions that empirical
economic science ought to pursue, all the while itself being immune to empirical
disproof. At the same time, the autonomy and integrity of economics as an empirical science, governed by its own standards of evidence, would be upheld.


In his Ethics of Liberation, Dussel develops a theory of modernity that provides an

interesting and plausible account of the economic and political conditions underlying modernity and that attempts to vindicate the victims of modernitys violent side.
However, in his philosophical critique of modernity he overlooks the meta-level
structure of rationality, that is, the refusal to accept uncritically previous traditions,
which characterized modernity itself, especially the thought of Descartes; which
Husserlian transcendental phenomenology recovered; and which underlies, as an
ultimate, but unacknowledged presupposition, the very critique of modernity that
Dussel and others develop. Moreover, by pressing a sociology of knowledge argument about the economic and political conditioning of modern philosophy without
an adequate appreciation for the autonomy and founding character of consciousness, which Husserl recognized, Dussel risks a sociological relativization of his own
His critique of the rationality of thinkers such as Kant, Apel, and Habermas as
formalistic fails to understand practical rationality, which does not negate the material dimensions of feeling and inclination, but rather adopts toward them a distinctive reflective attitude, normative in character and dependent on justified principles.
Husserls Wissenschaftslehre clarifies the relationship between normative and
descriptive sciences and his theory of the life-world avoids antagonism between
rationality and its material conditions but shows their interconnection in a way that
could support Dussels emphasis on the importance of the material conditions, especially important for those marginalized by prevailing economic and political systems. A proper understandingof the kind that Husserl providesof practical
rationality, its relationship to other sciences, and its (non-antagonistic) relation to
the material conditions of reason could provide key support for Dussels own ethics,
itself a work of practical rationality.
Finally Dussel seeks to attribute the honorific title of empirical science to
Marxian economic theory (particularly the labor theory of value) by relying on what
he takes to be Imre Lakatoss criterion of what constitutes empirical science, but this
criterion ends up excusing science from its accountability to the empirical facts.


M. Barber

Given Dussels reading of this Marxian theory in Levinasian terms as a paradigm

for thinking about economics in the light of ones ethical concern for the other of
economic systems, that is, those excluded or exploited by them, I have recommended that he conceive the theory not as an example of empirical science but
rather as an a priori framework with which the subject engaging in economic science might approach the empirical sphere of economic reality and might accordingly select topics for investigation, generate testable hypotheses, etc. Just as ethical
responsibility is constitutive of the transcendental subject in Levinass view, so
equipping the subject pursuing economic science, who is an instantiation of the
transcendental subject, with the a priori framework of Marxian economics is a way
of extending the ethical constitution of the transcendental subject toward the economic sphere. By locating ethical sensitivities in the framework with which the
subject approaches economic facts and not equating that framework itself with
empirical economic science, this solution makes it possible to uphold distinctions
between the motives for entering theoretical activity (choosing topics of investigation) and the motives that ought to govern the conduct of empirical science, between
ethics and empirical science, between non-science and science.
What becomes clear is that Dussels critique of modernity that produced victims
and theorizes materiality away, his attack on formalism that denies the material
dimensions of human existence, and his effort to confer the honorary title of empirical science on Marxian theoryall share a laudable concern for those who were
and are marginalized by socio-economic systems. Because of his ethical zeal for
these marginalized others, however, he ends up diminishing the visibility of the very
rationality he makes use of; attacking as formalistic, without understanding, the
very rationality and its presuppositions, on which his own ethics depends; and overriding the autonomy of empirical science in the name of ethical conviction. To suppress rationality in the name of ethics in the end cripples the very rational defense
of the marginalized that one undertakes. Husserlian transcendental phenomenology
can ensure that such self-crippling not occur and thereby that the endeavor to defend
the marginalized achieve its purpose.

Chapter 9

Political Phenomenology: John Wild

and Emmanuel Levinas on the Political
Richard Sugarman

Abstract The main purpose of this essay is to renew the study of the political from
a phenomenological point of view through a comparison of the thought of John
Wild and Emmanuel Levinas. This paper emphasizes similarities between the two
thinkers as well as differences. It concludes with a case study of the practical application of phenomenology to politics. It does so by exploring some of the political
dimensions of the life-world responsible for the election of Senator Bernard Sanders
(I-VT) to his previous position as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Sanders appointed
Sugarman as Commissioner of Reality upon his election in 1981. The author
wishes to point out that this was a non-paying position.

While neither John Wild nor Emmanuel Levinas are usually thought of as political
philosophers, each has made a contribution to our thinking about the political from
a phenomenological point of view. Here, we are presenting a preliminary reflection
on the ways that Wild and Levinas helped to illuminate the juncture between ethics
and politics by stressing the ways in which they offer complementary inquiries into
the phenomenology of politics.
Both John Wild (19021972) and Emmanuel Levinas (19061995) attended
courses by Heidegger at Freiburg, Germany prior to Heideggers infamous embrace
of Hitler and Nazism in his Rektor speech of 1933. Levinass relation with Heidegger
and Heideggers teacher, Edmund Husserl, is well known. In 1929, the young
Levinas attended Heideggers first course in philosophy at Freiburg, and Husserls
last seminar at the same institution. During this year Levinas participated in the
Great Debate at Davos between Ernst Cassirer and Heidegger, invited by the latter.
Levinas frequently remarked that this was shortly after the appearance of Heideggers
great work, Sein und Zeit (1927) and when 1933 was still unimaginable.1 Levinas
would regret his all-too-successful parody of Cassirer, one of Europes last great

Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Phillip Nemo, trans. R. Cohn
(Pittsburgh: Duquesne, 1985), 38.
R. Sugarman (*)
University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, USA
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_9



R. Sugarman

Kantian humanists at the Davos conference.2 In 1930, Levinas published Husserls

Theory of Intuition, co-translated Husserls Cartesian Meditations from German
into French, and was preparing to write a book on Heidegger. This book project was
abruptly terminated with Heideggers turn toward Nazism.
Levinas showed a great reserve in attacking Heidegger personally throughout his
career, with some dramatic exceptions. Consider Levinass well-known remark,
One may forgive many Germans, but there are some Germans it is difficult to
forgive. It is difficult to forgive Heidegger.3 What is most important, however,
about Levinass observations on the political, are not his personal feelings toward
Heidegger, but rather his lifelong attempt to free himself of the climate of this
philosophy. These remarks were written when Levinas was a French-Jewish prisoner of war, near Hanover, Germany, 19401945, where he began to compose
Existence and Existents.4 Levinas would provide the first comprehensive philosophical alternative to Heideggers fundamental ontology by beginning with the premise
that ethics, rather than ontology, is first philosophy.
John Wild received a prestigious Guggenheim fellowship to study phenomenology in Germany in 1931, while he served as an assistant professor of philosophy at
Harvard University. Like Levinas, Wild, for the most part, refrained from personal
attacks on Heidegger, and until late in his career tried to separate Heideggers
philosophy from his politics.
Wild, too, was initially impressed by the course that he took with Heidegger on
Aristotles Metaphysics. This course was devoted to the philosophic implications of
the opening page of the Metaphysics.5 Wild, however, was personally offended by
Heideggers grand manner. One student would carry the great mans briefcase,
another his papers, to class, where Heidegger held forth, impressively and imperiously. Levinas also remembers that attending Heideggers classes, where one had to
arrive 5 h in advance in an enormous lecture hall to find a seat, he could not help but
feel that he was going to hear the greatest philosopher in the world.
John Wild took seriously Heideggers recommendation that anyone who wanted
to understand contemporary Continental philosophy must first spend 10 or 15 years
studying Aristotle. Wild, in fact, did exactly that, mastering Greek, becoming an
internationally known authority on Plato and Aristotle, and, finally, in the aftermath
of World War II, establishing the American Realistic Association. This group
worked to reclaim and systematize ancient wisdom and to promote a democratic

Emmanuel Levinas, The Humanism of the Other, trans. Nidra Poller (Chicago: University of
Illinois Press, 2005); preface, xv discussing Levinas thoughts on the matter to Richard Sugarman
in the Fall of 1973.
Emmanuel Levinas, Nine Talmudic Readings, trans. Annette Aronwicz (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1990), 25.
Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Existents, trans. Alphonso Lingis (The Hague: Martinus
Nijhoff, 1978). In 1947, just 2 years after his release from German captivity, Levinas published in
quick succession De lexistence a lexistant and Le Temps et lautre.
Conversation with Richard Sugarman, Spring 1966, Yale University.

Political Phenomenology: John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas on the Political


pluralism that would offer an alternative to Nazism and the Stalinist deformation
of Marxism.
Another student of Heideggers was Leo Strauss, who would become the founding father of the neo-conservative movement in America. Herbert Marcuse occupied a parallel position with respect to the New Left, which emerged in America in
the 1960s. Marcuse, after trying to get Heidegger to recant his position during the
Nazi period, emphatically and formally broke with him. Wilds political position
was of course closer to that of Marcuse, but informed by the wisdom of the ancient
Greek philosophers. One of Wilds best-known books was a polemic written in
response to Karl Poppers dismissive reading of Plato as totalitarian. Wilds book,
Platos Modern Enemies, had the effect of rehabilitating Plato in the American
philosophical curriculum.
One of Wilds former students and collaborators in the new American Realistic
Association was Charles Malik, one of the key figures in drafting the U.N. Charter
on Human Rights, and subsequently president of the General Assembly of the
U.N. In a remarkable anticipation of limitation inherent in the U.N. Charter on
Human Rights, Wild authored a critique in which he argued that the U.N. charter,
while helpful in making advances in regard to the right to healthcare, education, and
the most basic kinds of human rights, did not pay adequate attention to those others
who were on the outside of the established political order. In November of 2007,
documents came to light revealing that Charles Malik had been alerted to the coordinated expulsion of some 850,000 Jews living in Arab countries, and chose not to
disseminate this information just prior to the establishment of the state of Israel.6
Does this not give us a sense of how prescient Wilds insights are in defending the
rights and obligating the majority to the minority?7
In the Spring semester of 1967 on the centennial of the founding of the American
University in Beirut, Lebanon, Wild was invited by his old student and colleague
Charles Malik to serve as a distinguished professor of philosophy. Wild tackled the
assignment with the same enthusiasm for phenomenology that he had elsewhere.
However, in May of that year, Wild and his wife Catherine along with several other
Americans had to be evacuated by helicopter from Beirut. Some students had
become angry with Wild for teaching Sartre. Sartres position on Middle East politics included affirming Israels right to exist as a state. Wild told me distinctly that
he remembers students spitting at him as he boarded the helicopter; with his usual
droll humor Wild said to me, I guess they dont like Sartre in Beirut.
Wild believed that in the absence of an agreed upon concept of political justice,
that a clearer examination of responsibility, its patterns and meaning, was necessary.
He begins this exploration in his work Existence and the World of Freedom.
Politically, Wild had worked in the campaign of former vice president Henry
Wallace for the presidency of the U.S. in 1948. What appealed to Wild was the economic progressivism of Wallace and its central position in understanding the social

New York Times, November 2007.

See his posthumously published article The Rights of the Other as Other in The Promise of
Phenomenology: Posthumous Papers of John Wild, eds. Sugarman and Duncan.


R. Sugarman

dimensions of political justice. Approximately 2 years later, a progressive social

circle meeting in Wilds home in Cambridge, Massachusetts was infiltrated by an
FBI agent. The McCarthy era was underway. Wilds circle, while hardly dominated
by radicals, did include a graduate student by the name of Timothy Leary and the
producer/director Dore Schary. Wilds wife, Catherine, and his daughters, Cynthia
and Mary, were severely shaken by the incident and greatly concerned that Wild
might lose his tenured teaching position as professor of philosophy at Harvard.
John Wild taught at Harvard for another decade.
It was during this time that Wild made the move from what he chose to call
direct realism to existential phenomenology. At the same time, Wild was becoming progressively alienated from the narrow focus on linguistic analysis that began
to dominate the Harvard faculty of philosophy. As early as 1936, John Wild taught
a course on phenomenology while at Harvard, dealing with both Husserl and
Heidegger. In the early 1940s, Wild had already published articles praising
Kierkegaard as a brilliant psychologist.
It was not until the mid-1950s that John Wild began to recognize the distinctiveness of what we today call existential phenomenology. Wild understood that a break
with Aristotles metaphysical system was unavoidable if he was to do full justice to
his growing concern with human freedom and the place of the individual, as such,
within the human life-world. Wild observed, correctly, that for Aristotle there could
be no knowledge of the individual as such. This would necessitate a turn to a
systematic investigation of the patterns of the human subject as his life unfolds in
the Lebenswelt.
In 1961, John Wild left Harvard, the first full professor ever to do so voluntarily.
He went to Northwestern University, where he assumed the position of Chair for
the Department of Philosophy. In just 3 years, he transformed the American philosophical landscape. He initiated a new series in philosophy, called Studies in
Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, for which he served as General Editor.
The Northwestern Series became widely known as the place to go when one was
looking for books published in English from an existential-phenomenological point
of view. During this same period, John Wild worked with his student Calvin Schrag
and others to establish the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
(SPEP). SPEP is now the second largest philosophic society in America. It was an
exciting time to inhabit the world of Continental philosophy in America.
In 1963, Wild moved to Yale University, where he taught a variety of courses to
undergraduate and graduate students on existential thinkers and phenomenological
topics. He regarded Maurice Merleau-Pontys Phenomenology of Perception as an
important modification and advance on Being and Time. In the fall of 1967, he
taught a course on political philosophy from an existential point of view, with
emphasis upon the first installment of Sartres last great work, the Critique of
Dialectical Reason. This was the preface to the work, Search for a Method.
As Wilds teaching assistant for this course, it became clear to me that Wild recognized fully the great gap of a developed concept of Mitsein in the thought of
Heidegger. Nonetheless, Wild recognized that Sartre and even Merleau-Ponty
lacked an adequate presentation of the phenomenology of the other. Also, he
felt that American philosophers would have to investigate the political from a

Political Phenomenology: John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas on the Political


phenomenological point of view in a way that could withstand the criticism that had
been raised in opposition to it. These criticisms range from the charge of moral relativism to anthropocentrism, and at their most severe, even to nihilism. It was during
this time that Wild encountered Emmanuel Levinas personally, and began to read
his magisterial book, Totality and Infinity.8
The experience of crushing totalitarianism was one that confronted Emmanuel
Levinas very directly. His comments on Nazism date back to 1934. Levinas published an article that compares Hitlerism to a particularly vile and dangerous kind of
Manicheanism. Levinas would endure his years as a prisoner of war with a keen
sense of what it means to be treated like a dog. Racism is not a biological concept;
anti-Semitism is the archetype of all internment. Social aggression, itself, merely
imitates this model.9 Rather than the bystanders who, according to Levinas,
stripped us of our human skin, there was a dog in the camp who waited longingly
for the prisoners to come home each day from their slave labor. Levinas sees this
dog in ways that permits him to distance German philosophy from its horrible
ideological distortion and application. He says, This dog was the last Kantian in
Nazi Germany, without the brain needed to universalize maxims and drives. (Is this
meant to be a compliment to Kantians?)
When we speak of the politics of Levinas, it is necessary to understand that we
do so in the context of the span of the twentieth century, with all of its misadventures and bloodshed, resulting in what Paul Tillich calls the shaking of the foundations of Western culture. History, for Levinas, as commonly understood and taught,
belongs to the domain of totality. It is, therefore, only by indirection that he
comments upon the nexus of politics and ethics in relation to history. However,
there is a single sentence from his most trenchant autobiographical statement that
gives us a clue regarding what concerns him. Speaking of his own mood and thought,
he states: It is dominated by the presentiment and the memory of the Nazi horror.10
While Levinas speaks freely of this period in a number of different articles devoted
to the subject of the Holocaust, more often than not it forms the background against
which his essential thesis is staked out.
It is Heidegger, to begin with, from whom Levinas takes his point of radical
departure. In a remarkable condensation of Being and Time, Levinas first asks,
Is the Being of being, which is not in turn a being-phosphorescence, as Heidegger
has it?11 Levinas goes on to contrast Being and the existent. He reverses Heideggers
elevation of the ontological dasein with the appearance of the ontic concrete
subject. Levinas is looking for a way out of and beyond the kind of thinking that
subordinates justice to power. As he says, the path which leads from existence to
the existent, and from the existent to the other, a path which delineates time itself.12

Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne, 1969).
Emmanuel Levinas, Difficult Freedom: Essays of Judaism, trans. Sean Hand (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins, 1990), 153.
Ibid., 291.
Ibid., 292.


R. Sugarman

While from a practical point of view, John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas do not
seem to have particularly dissimilar political outlooks, there is a caution that attends
Levinass writing. He is unsure that language itself has retained its claiming authority after so many abysmal turns of the human spirit towards the abyss. In the preface
to his book Proper Names, Levinas speaks of time no longer conveying its meaning in the simultaneity of sentences.13 In other words, as he says, statements no
longer succeed in putting things together. He goes on to give a compelling reason
for writing about figures with proper names, writing that Perhaps the names of
persons whose saying signifies a faceproper names, in the middle of all these
common names and common placescan resist the dissolution of meaning, and
help us to speak.14 It is this very breakdown of discourse that dawns anew with the
understanding of what Levinas refers to as the saying, or sincerity of the contents of
language itself and its various fields of knowledge: that is, the said.
In this reformulation of language, addresses first and foremost to a someone,
Levinas, like Wild, utterly rejects the terrible implications of German idealism. By
this, we are referring to all of Hegelianism and its offshoots. Why? Because such
idealism subordinates the existent to the idea of the existent, thus leaving the other
naked and defenseless, destitute against the power of knowledge, supremely confident and content within itself.
Wild, like Levinas, does not divide the life-world into the domains of totality and
infinity. Moreover, he argues against Levinas for the inescapability of systems, open
systems to be sure. Wild observes: Both myself and the thing must be negated and
transformed towards an ultimate transcendence. It is only in this way that a genuine
synthesis may be achieved, looking down from above. Levinas does not have this.
He rejects all synthesis and system. The world needs to be re-thought and remade
from above, in a vertical direction toward transcendence by an open dialectic.15
It is very clear from what follows in this aside from Speaking Philosophy that Wild
was preparing to write a last book of his own, drawing on some of the insights of
Levinas but going off in his own distinctive direction.16
In this same vein, Wild envisions a kind of living history, where the future
remains open and different from the present. Like Levinas, he does not accept the
Hegelian notion that it is history that renders a verdict of true or false in regard to
the meaning and importance of events. Quite openly, he argues for a democratic
pluralism. He bases his political philosophy on the difference between distinctive
versions of the world, and the world itself. By world, he clearly signifies what
Husserl calls the Lebenswelt. More directly than Levinas, Wild argues that the
description of human alienation by Marx, particularly as found in the 1844 manuscripts, gives us insight into how to overcome the devolution of meaningful work

Emmanuel Levinas, Proper Names, trans. Michael B. Smith (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 1996), 4.
John Wild, The Promise of Phenomenology: Posthumous Papers of John Wild, trans. Richard
I. Sugarman and Roger Duncan (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2006), 189a.
Ibid., 183 ff.

Political Phenomenology: John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas on the Political


into mere labor. Our understanding of the human protects our relation to labor
against the emerging corporate model of the world of labor today, where the worker
himself is rendered a commodity. Both Wild and Levinas share the view that the
workers subjectivity cannot be utterly shorn from him.
Wild finds appealing Levinass view that the worker guards his interiority in a
home that he himself not only has, but preserves his interiority. What does this
mean? It is tempting to think of the example of a turtle, who is never homeless
because he lives in his own little mobile home. However, Levinas is referring to the
home on two levels. In the first place the home is the origin where one lives, and
dwells apart from the marketplace, and therefore recuperates from the ordeals of
political history. It is from the home that one travels to work, however short or long
the distance, and returns home by evening. However, it is the home that makes it
possible to welcome the other, and in this way to shelter him for a time from the
vicissitudes of the iron logic of history, understood, always after the fact, as
It is imperative to stress that neither Wild nor Levinas hold anti-historical or
a-historical philosophical positions. Both thinkers resist Hegels System. By this we
are referring to the Hegelian notion that History expresses the unfolding spirit
(geist) coming upon itself or self-knowledge. Rather both thinkers take human
experience and Time with the upmost seriousness. Wild makes a vital distinction
between the two kinds of Systems, one closed, and the other open. Wild is sympathetic to the view of Levinas expressed at the opening of Totality and Infinity that
juxtaposes the domains of totality and infinity. The latter, for Levinas cannot be
totalized just as ethics cannot be reduced to politics.
It is the apocalyptic dimension of History from which Levinas recoils. We are
judges, not at the end of time, but at each of its instants. Furthermore, it is not
History that does the judging. The ruptures of the historical permit the other person
to live with me in peace or against me in war. Politics, the art of foreseeing war, and
of winning it by every meanspoliticsis henceforth enjoined as the very exercise
of reason.17 Both Levinas and Wild remain steadfast in their opposition to Hegels
dialectical historical System. Wild, like Kierkegaard before him, objects that Hegel
leaves no room for the individual, the subject who is subsumed in the idea. Levinas
sees Hegelianism as leading to the exclusion of the other. He puts the matter polemically: Though of myself I am not exterior to history, I do find in the Other a point
that is absolute with regard to historynot by amalgamating with the Other, but in
speaking with him. History is worked over by the ruptures of history, in which a
judgment is borne upon it.18 This leads Levinas to his conclusion that it is the Other
who exceeds the totality of history: When man truly approaches the Other he is
uprooted from history.19
Are these ruptures as Levinas refers to them also a dimension of time? Levinas
refers to this kind of time as diachronya time that originates with the appearance

Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 21.

Ibid., 52.


R. Sugarman

of the Other and is measured by my response to him. Wild argues that an authentic
history of philosophy cannot ignore neither the historicity of the subject investigated nor that of the embodied position in time of the historian.20
There are, however, differences between Wild and Levinas on history. Wild
resisted the idea of Levinas that history belonged virtually exclusively to the domain
of what Levinas called totality. The argument of Levinas, set out in Totality and
Infinity, moves from the phenomenologically evident to the ethical-metaphysical. In
essence, Levinass argument on history as totality is this: History is written, as virtually all historiographers concede, by the survivors or from documents drawn from
those who perished during the given war or trial or test.
Wild, on the other hand, believes that we do not need to dispense with Hegel
altogether. What he does reject is Hegels notion that the end must be present at the
beginning, so there is only a gradual, continuous development.21 What Wild is suggesting is the thought that he did not live long enough to work through: in juxtaposition to Hegel he states, In mine (my dialectic) there can be creative leaps toward
what is in no sense present, except as absent and beyond. Levinas sees this in part
only. He then asks: Does Levinas think, as I do, that real advances and declines
can be made, though the distance still remains infinite? Can a direction be seen? Can
the idea of the infinite be illumined and given content?22 It is this thought of Wild
that remains to be explored as part of the ongoing phenomenology of the political.
Levinas sees the political as the inescapable prolongation of ethical life.23 It
therefore operates under the primary category of justice, where I can be an Other
to others, and where there can be justice for me as well. In the realm of the ethical,
I have an infinite sense of responsibility for all others, absent or present, far or near,
that does not abate simply because I cannot meet all of my responsibilities. As
Levinas says, quoting Dostoevsky: Each is responsible for each, and I more so than
all the others. The relation between the Other and the third person is, for Levinas,
one of synchrony, where we come together, reason together, and create a peaceful
and stable society: Such synchrony is required to give just institutions continuity,
stability, and coherence.24 It is for this reason that we may say that for Levinas the
political belongs to the realm of the said while the realm of the ethical belongs to
the anterior realm of the saying. Ethics, where we find this original conjecture of
justice and reasoning, is for Levinas in this sense first philosophy. It is governed
by the sense of time that Levinas calls diachrony. Diachronic time arises from the
Other rather than the self, and is always governed by a sense of urgency. The question that Levinas leaves open, as he readily acknowledges, is who comes second, or

Emmanuel Levinas, Philosophical Interrogations, eds. Sydney and Beatrice Rohm (New York:
Holt Reinhardt Winston: 1964), 122.
Wild, Promise of Phenomenology, 189a.
Ibid., 189a.
Comments on Democracy: Is it Righteous to Be?
Richard Sugarman, Emmanuel Levinas: The Ethics of Face to Face/The Religious Turn, in
Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (ed.), Phenomenology World-Wide: A Guide for Research and Study,
(Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002), 420.

Political Phenomenology: John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas on the Political


third, ad infinitum? The Other and the third, my neighbors, contemporaries of one
another, put distance between me and the other party. To the degree that I achieve
my responsibility to the third, I also do injustice to my neighbor.25 We cannot
escape the capacity to measure, to compare, to make judgments that would return us
to the realm of the political.
If I may suggest this sense of time that Levinas does not explore, that it, diachrony as it pertains to multiple others, we might meaningfully choose to call polychrony. When asked toward the end of his career what he was working on, Levinas
always maintained that he was working on further exploring the deformalization of
time,26 and that The essential theme of [his] research is the deformalization of the
notion of time.27 In a sense, Levinas does give a partial response to the question
Wild asks about an open sense of history and creative advances, though only a very
limited one. Levinas speaks about the disappearance of the promise of time.
Levinas embeds this discussion within the context of the fall of the USSR. By no
means does Levinas lament the fall of this regime: On account of Stalinism, the
bureaucratic terror, and all the crimes tied to communisms existence, no one
deplores the fall of communist power. It is impossible to mourn Stalin, who committed injustices in the name of justice to come.28 Let us keep in mind that Levinas
experienced, even if at a modest distance, the overthrow of the Tsar, the Fall and
October Revolutions of October 1917, and the beginnings of the civil war in Russia.
He remarks that during this time a sense that better times would come.29 He goes
on to observe that: Europe built its vision of time and history upon this conviction
and expectation: time promised somethingOur relation to time finds itself in a
crisis. It seems indispensable that we Westerners situate ourselves from the perspective of time bearing a promise. I do not know to what degree we can manage without
this. This appears to me to be the most troubling aspect in our current situation.30
On the basic obligation to create a decent, habitable society, Levinas and Wild
are in basic agreement. These elements include but are not limited to the obligations
that political societies have to ensure health care, workers rights, universal education, economic and social security with basic human freedoms for all. Neither of
them, however, believes that this is quite enough. For Levinas, the originary responsibility that we have for the Other requires it to always go about the work of perfecting justice, something that can never remain static or, perhaps even more important,
something which institutions cannot be relied upon for protecting its people in times
of stress and crisis. Wild, on the other hand, argues that we are constantly subject to

Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis (The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981), 157.
Emmanuel Levinas, Entre-Nous, trans. Michael B. Smith and Barbara Harshav (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1998), 237.
Is It Righteous to Be? Interviews with Emmanuel Levinas, Jill Robbins (ed.) (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 2001), 209.
Is It Righteous to Be, 184185.


R. Sugarman

what he calls stabilizing pressures. Such stabilizing pressures arise from political
or historical drift. He states: everything is dominated by the pressures of the
technological system and its ingrained values, as it drifts towards further waste and
violence. This drift is maybe understood as an extension of the Hegelian notion of
what may be misunderstood as objektiver Geist. Wild, as well as Levinas, utterly
rejects the notion that only that which is successful and realized is rationally justified. Die Weltgeschichte is die Weltgericht. For Wild, this leads to a social and
political egocentrism, where the individual becomes more and more marginalized.
Wild presciently sees a continual oscillation between two unacceptable political
alternatives: chaos and tyranny. He begins a phenomenological inquiry contrasting
the patterns of devotion vs. fanaticism, so urgent to deal with and to understand in
the present historical hour. Fanaticism belongs to a closed religious or political
system, and is grounded in a theoretical dogmatism. Devotion, on the other hand,
while attached to a specific version of the world, does not insist on negating or
annihilating other versions of the world. As such, it moves away from what Wild
refers to as a gigantic egocentrism and toward working out a free existential
judgment from a dialogue of independent persons.31
What are we then to make of the role of phenomenology in opening up the political for investigation? To begin with, we must regain a sense of concrete lived experience as we face the future and one another. This is not merely pre-theoretical; it
begins, as Levinas argues, with a non-intentional consciousness. This means that
I must be aware that in advance I always fall short when I attempt to thematize the
other person and insert him/her into my personal history. Does this mean that there
would be an infinite number of personal histories, or none at all? The patterns of the
political life-world are not divorced from the life-world as such. Prior, however, to
our insertion into the Lebenswelt is the contestation between two ways of experiencing the world. The first is rooted in what Spinoza calls the conatus essendi, the effort
to persevere in being, even at the expense of others, and the each for each model
advocated for in the notion of ethical life set out by Levinas.
In response to John Wilds question of whether there can be creative advances
toward a future absent and infinite, perhaps it would be helpful to make a distinction
between the promise of time and what I would call the time of promise. While in
the aftermath of all of the catastrophes of the bloody twentieth century of which the
Holocaust is a paradigm, neither Wild nor Levinas are sanguine about a telos, or
purpose to history that would transcend the individuals it would include. Still, some
directions are more promising than others, and it is here, at the juncture between
ethics and political life, that we can see that the political is not simply an arbitrary
domain superimposed upon the ethical. To the maximum extent possible, the
political must be regarded as a prolongation of the ethical where there is a continuing oscillation between responsibility on the one hand, and justice on the other.
Such a history remains open before us, even if an abyss opens under our feet. In this
sense, the role of phenomenology is to return to the expressions and vicissitudes
of everyday life without giving up or giving in to political or religious nihilism.

Wild, Promise of Phenomenology, 181.

Political Phenomenology: John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas on the Political


Even when just institutions are not readily to be found, we give up our hope in their
return and even advancement at our peril.
In response to a question Levinas acknowledges that he is not tempted by a
philosophy of history,32 which is why he cannot accept the various kinds of systems
that restrict meaning to being. He adds, regarding history and the attempt to undergird it with a philosophy that, I am not certain of historys finality, he explains: I
dont say that all is for the best, and the idea of progress doesnt seem to me very
reliable. In this way, Levinas is not denying that with the appearance of the third
party that politics becomes inescapable. Levinas puts it this way, The third party
introduces a contradiction in the saying whose signification before the other until
then went in one direction.33 What Levinas means by one direction is that prior to
the appearance of the third party I would owe everything to the other, however
justice or the stabilizing of responsibility is an inescapable aspect of the life-world.
This concerns my relation to justice, which as he says is also a question of
consciousness.34 The thought of Levinas here appears at first enigmaticit is not
immediately evident how consciousness is born in the presence of a third party.35
Let us try to clarify this. At the heart of political life, as it should be lived, is the
phenomenon of justice. Levinas goes as far as to argue that the foundation of consciousness is justice.36 This, to the best of my knowledge, is a new and original
position that needs to be explicated. There appear to be precursors to the position of
Levinas where the proximity of justice to knowledge is advanced, as in the case with
Plato, Kant, and Marx. However all of this is affirmed in a more equivocal way.
Most emphatically Levinas argues against seeing justice as a limitation of
responsibility of one for the other. He states, In no way is justice a degradation of
obsession, a degeneration of the for-the-other, a diminution, a limitation of an anarchic responsibility, a neutralization of the glory of the Infinite, a degeneration that
would be produced in the measure that for empirical reasons that the initial duo will
become a trio. It is this context that Levinas, aware of his critics, presses for a
capacity for understanding equality without diminishing uniqueness. Wild, in fact,
wonders openly about the asymmetrical position that Levinas assigns the other in
relation to the self. In his introduction to the English edition of his Totality and
Infinity, Wild puts the reader on notice that he may wonder about the strange
asymmetry, the complete supremacy of the other that he author in the self-other
relation.37 In a way, Levinas can be read as responding to Wilds concern and puzzlement in his subsequent book Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. Levinas
stresses that: the equality of all is born in my inequality, the surplus of my duties


Emmanuel Levinas, Alterity and Transcendence (originally published Montpellier: Fata

Morgana, 1995), trans. Michael B. Smith (New York: Columbia UP, 1999), 170.
Levinas, Otherwise than Being, 157.
Ibid., 160.
Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 19.


R. Sugarman

over my rights.38 It is only with the social order established through justice that I
can become another to and for the other, therefore, it is not necessary for me to give
up justice for myself.
Here I would interpose an observation of the direction Levinas appears to be
going. It concerns the difference between the order of justice and the justice of
order. The justice of order is what one meets as kind of resistance in the facelessness
of the bureaucracy. For example, by default rather than quiet imperial design the
courses taught at a university must be assigned rooms and places, it is the work of
the registrar to determine and justify the ordering of such courses, however this is
not an end in itself, rather there is also an ordering of justice that belongs to the
domain of infinity rather than totality. Why is it important that such a class in philosophy be taught in such a time and in such a room and in such a manner? We have
become such adepts of order that we can no longer explain what Richard A. Cohen
calls, in the name of Levinas, the importance of importance.
Over the past 40 years the role of philosophy in understanding and guiding politics has diminished appreciable, if not dramatically. This is also true in what used
to be called, political theory and most college campuses in the United States
promotes constant bastion of activism is found among departments of English by
those who Plato refers to in the encompassing term the poets. Why is this the case
and what are its consequences and how can it be remedied?
I would submit that the enormous influence of analytic philosophy in the Englishspeaking world had greatly diminished the scope and reach of philosophical exploration. Surely as the disciples of the ordinary language philosophers maintain, we
must be sensitive to the powerful role that language plays in predetermining our
understanding of the world. When combined with a certain pragmatism, spoken or
assumed, analytic philosophy has advanced the discourse of dealing with problems
in medical ethics, the law, and keeping philosophy from making overly general and
arbitrary claims. However, a very big price has been exacted. Classical metaphysics
is now unrecognizable, at least in its pre-Kantian forms. So, too, is this the case with
what was once understood as political philosophy, as well as philosophy of religion.
We have settled on what the philosopher Berkley called the minute problems.
However it is not completely clear that the limits of language are the limits of
reality. Meanwhile, the poets, who according to the Platonic Socrates, suffer from
not being able to explain the source of their own poetic inspiration are left to navigate their way through politics without helmsman or anchor. We remember very
well the excesses of Ezra Pound, and on a more subtle level, the anti-Semitism of
T. S. Eliot.
A phenomenological approach to politics has the following advantages: one, its
radical empiricism starts with a world as we find it before its reduction to the natural
attitude; hence, two, it is immediately concerned with questions of meaning; three,
it does not leave the major questions of life as they arise in the polis to be determined only by administrators, politicians, or ideologues; four, in this way it can


Levinas, Otherwise than Being, 159.

Political Phenomenology: John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas on the Political


approach urgent economic and social matters in ways what are approximative from
an infinite variety of profiles, always painting a picture that remains to be filled in.
If John Wild is correct, that we can make a clear and vital distinction between
open and closed systems, it is possible for philosophy to once again influence the
work of the historian. Levinas is surely right that most of history is written by the
survivors, victors, and we might add, gainfully employed historians. Nonetheless,
the historical realm Wild insists is open to a creative dialectic where it is possible
for the future to be made better that the present and past. However, this is only true
only if we revalue the place intellectual history, a discipline that deals with the
history of ideas. This means that historians must be capable once again with reading
and studying philosophers with care even when embedding them with a social and
political circumstance. The great danger of the present is that posed by the substitution of cultural for intellectual historywhere all ideas will be reduced to the circumstances to which they were created.
This necessitates a new and sustained inquiry into the nature of historical time,
and time itself. Here Levinas has bequeathed to us many new and important ways of
beginning our reengagement to the subjects of time, ethics, politics, and history.
There is kind of time, he argues, that begins with the other rather than the self. This
time is governed not simply number or even by meaning but rather by urgency. He
refers to such time as diachrony. Such time precedes even existential or ontological
time. We are very familiar with the contributions of Husserl who makes it possible
for us to understand that time is comprised of three phases. He links the duration
of the past to what he calls retention, the present to impression, and the future to
pretension. Heidegger takes this one step further in exposing, what he refers to as
ecstatic temporality, just as the self is not static because it stands out from itself,
ex-stare. So does the self-find the juncture from the near and distant future foreshadowed by the proximate present and distant past. However, the time of the other is
conveniently submerged by Heidegger and understood as an inauthentic divergent
from my own resolute, being-toward-death. The death of the other then becomes
incidental and, therefore, unimportant. Only a politics of a will to power can emerge
from such a view, as demonstrated in Heideggers philosophic writings and in his
personal political life. We shall never escape this kind of solipsistic unless we begin
outside the subject as Levinas puts it.
Surely Machiavelli has already described the politics of totalitythe art of gaining power and maintaining it in a painfully accurate way that marks the birth of
political theory. If we continue down this road of Machiavelli, we will have already
encountered the thoughts of Hobbes, where politics consists in establishing a government that will keep its subjects from eating people alive, in the war of each
against each, and all against all.
Where Wild and Levinas agree is in founding a politics based upon responsibility. Such responsibility is the origin of ethical life. The order of justice remains to
be perfected. One of the primary reasons for John Wilds break with
neo-Aristotelianism in the 1950s came about because of the limited value that Plato
and Aristotle placed upon human freedom. Wilds move toward existential philosophy highlighted the centrality of freedom in human experience. This was especially


R. Sugarman

important for him historically because of the rise of Stalinist totalitarianism in the
aftermath of the horrors of Nazism. Wilds views on responsibility shadowed his
philosophy of freedom as a constant companion. In Existence and the World of
Freedom, Wild argues that freedom is not simply a matter of the individual, or
discrete choices that I make, or the responsibility that I may take with each of
these choices; rather, my way of responding to the human predicament in all of its
complexities makes freedom meaningful. In this sense, Wild rejects the notion that
freedom is merely freedom from constraints, but rather freedom for meaning that is
achieved through responsibility that I take with the situations that I find myself in as
well as my continuing responses to that challenges that beset me. It is responsibility
is then re-spondere is a way of answering back or answering for what I have done,
am doing, or am about to do. It is for this reason that Wild has great difficulty with
Heideggers notion of resoluteness as the only basis for the human will. In a
similar way, he cannot completely regard Sartres radical view of human freedom
expressed in Being and Nothingness as requiring a more adequate view of responsibility. He is moved by Sartres account in his later book, the Critique of Dialectical
Reason, of need as prefiguring the material limits and aspirations of human
Wild finds Merleau-Pontys On Other People and the Human World in The
Phenomenology of Perception more satisfactory in terms of its emphasis on the
positive modes of human sociality then accounts of Heidegger or Sartre. Unlike
Heidegger, it begins to fill the great gap of Mitsein. While Wild remains appreciative of Sartres specific, concrete phenomenological descriptions, he had difficulty
with what he believed to be Sartres dualistic ontology.
Wild, in fact, came to regard Levinas as the first major original advance in
phenomenology after Merleau-Ponty. He was very much taken with the thorough
going critique by Levinas of the Heideggerian fundamental ontology. At the core of
fundamental ontology is spontaneity, the source of free will according to Levinas.39
Put simply, if at the heart of freedom we discover spontaneity, then spontaneity
can be understood in the realm of the ethical as well as in the political as a kind of
self-assertion in relation to others. While spontaneity may be creative, imaginative,
and charming, it also is centered completely within the self and therefore of what
Levinas calls the primacy of the same.40 This is why Levinas states, We name
this calling into question of my spontaneity in the presence of ethics of the Other.41
It is important to keep in mind that Levinas makes a largely unnoticed distinction
between freedom, something that he values, and freewill a philosophic construct
bound up with capricious spontaneity and the historical debate with determinism
and free will, which from a phenomenological point of view is mere abstraction.
Both Wild and Levinas utterly reject Heideggers ontology of power. In it each
sees the possibility of political violence linked to the tyrannical state. Each faults
Heidegger as having an insufficient and distorted concept of the relation between

Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 45.

Ibid., 41.
Ibid., 43.

Political Phenomenology: John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas on the Political


the other and the self. In Levinass Totality and Infinity, Wild finds a view of freedom
that is very close to Wilds own. Wild suggests a description of human freedom
beginning in detachment and moving toward the notion of project. What Heidegger
lacks, according to Wild, is an adequate concept of responsibility for others, or even
for ones own actions. In this way Wild believes that he is able to account for the
way that responsibility involved in, to use the language of William James, taking
myself over. This phrase, which Wild was to cite so often in his later years, involves
a recognition that, I am responsible not only for what I do and refrain from doing,
but who I have become and who I continue to be. While both Wild and Levinas are
appreciative of Marxs critique of capitalism, especially its dehumanizing aspects,
neither of them chose the path of Marxism. For Levinas, this choice is not difficult.
He sees the great hopes for the future of humankind extinguished by the depredations of Stalinism. Was Marxism necessarily bound to lead to totalitarianism?
Levinas does not give an unequivocal response to this question, but, at the same
time, what is best preserved in Marx, Levinas glimpses in the thought of the East
German philosopher, Ernst Bloch. In Bloch, unlike Marx, there is a sense of transcendence, there is a basis for hope and the possibility of an ethics of alterity.
It is the humanism of Marxs early writing42 that appeals to both Levinas and
Wild. However, this is not yet humanism of the other person, it remains too easily
submerged in a radical historicism that makes it necessary to look elsewhere to offer
an adequate alternative to a totalizing view of history. While both Wild and Levinas
were fierce opponents of political totalitarianism, each sought, in his own way, to
advance, from a phenomenological point of view, steps that would make human life
more bearable, meaningful, and peaceful. Wild was gratified by some of the
advances in existential philosophy that focused more on the social and interpersonal
worlds then that of the solitary individual. He pointed specifically to Sartres critique of dialectical reason as an attempt to give a phenomenological account of the
group Groupe en Fusion that emphasized the awareness that must accompany any
kind of movements involving human solidarity. Wild was in fact one of the first
American philosophers to teach the Search for a Method. Sartres project absorbed
Marxs critique of late capitalism and the damage, both actual and potential, that
resulted from transforming human beings and their labor into mere commodities.
Still, Wild insisted that any kind of political movement that was adequate to human
freedom must place sufficient emphasis upon democracy and the rights of the other.
In a similar fashion, Wild was very much taken by the philosophy of Maurice
Merleau-Ponty. He felt strongly that Merleau-Ponty had made methodological
advances over both Heidegger and Sartre in The Phenomenology of Perception. It
was not that Merleau-Ponty offered, for Wild, a particular political program, but that
his broad and deep understanding of human culture and other people was a forward
step in rediscovering a kind of primary polis prior to political institutions and their
express forms. Wild agreed with Merleau-Ponty that our lives with other people are
essentially lived out in the realm of what Merleau-Ponty called the intermonde
where it is not a matter of clear division between culture politics and morality.



R. Sugarman

In other words, just as we are born into a life-world that has an inescapably social
dimension, we inhabit a polis from the outset. This is why it is so common for
Socrates to ask his interlocutor in Platos Dialogues where he is from. In turn, this
means that we find ourselves inhabiting a political Lebenswelt from the outside.
Both Wild and Levinas emphasize that the political realm is a prolongation of ethical life. Furthermore, both agree on the possibility of some kind of transcendence
where common human agreement is not the last arbiter of morality. Wild remarks,
in his personal annotated version of the English edition of the Phenomenology of
Perception, I say that he is weak on freedom and responsibility and in need of the
notion of taking (myself) over.43 That is of taking responsibility for who I am
becoming as well as what I am doing. It is for this reason that while Wild remains
sympathetic to the economic undertone of Merleau-Pontys critic of capitalism, he
also wishes to retain an embodied democratic pluralistic view of society. He is much
less confident than Merleau-Ponty that history is itself comprised of a dialectical
subplot that aims at an end. Rather, Wild places much more emphasis on the notion
of what he calls drift:
this new form of social egocentric drift became highly accentuated at the time of the
American and French Revolutions, which were both motivated by the modern conception
of human rights. As we might expect, the egocentric interpretation of individual rights
brought forth the socio-centric notion of national rights, and the drift of nationalism has not

What this in turn leads to is that human subjects are already indebted to an
unspoken and underlying utilitarian ethic (that) privileges the self as it already is
and loyalty to the institution, no matter how anachronistic this condition might

Political Phenomenology: Implications for the Present

Phenomenology has a distinctive role to play in interpreting the realm of the political given the crises of the present historical hour. Let us keep in mind that neither
Wild nor Levinas could have anticipated the newly ignited religious passions that
have threatened to draw us headlong into a kind of medieval darkness. Perhaps this
is somewhat overstated. Both Wild and Levinas lived through the traumas that
marked the twentieth century as perhaps the most bloody in all of human history.
They shared a common interest in the restlessness for Transcendence that accompanies the religious worldview even after the notion of onto-theology has broken down
the conventional views of dogmatic theology.


Phenomenology of Perception, personal English copy of John Wild. This note is found in Wilds
distinctive hand writing in pencil at the bottom of 365. Copy is in possession of Richard Sugarman.
Wild, The Promise of Phenomenology, 164.

Political Phenomenology: John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas on the Political


In The Death of God and the Life of Man, Wild expresses his view that the
existential implication of the death of absolutism in theology has left a void in
human experience. This void, he remained aware, was not immune to giving birth to
a new kind of fanaticism at the juncture of religion and politics. For him, fanaticism
involved the absolutizing of a version of the world closed off to other versions and
believing itself the monopolistic possessor of truth. In opposition to fanaticism,
Wild pays respect to the phenomenon of devotion. Devotion involves a fidelity to a
version of the world that remains open, at least in the realm of discourse, to other
versions and does not necessarily assume an adherence to the one true path. We
are realizing to our detriment what happens when devotion gives way to fanaticism
and religion exercises a kind of imperialism that would subsume other political,
moral, and religious points of view.
Likewise, Levinas experienced the extreme dangers of political fanaticism at the
hands of the Nazi regime. In fact, he goes so far as to credit Judaism with a kind of
secularism that is compatible with the notion of transcendence. He states that, secular institutions are possible only because of the intrinsic value of peace among
men. Society is affirmed for the friends of secularism, as a positive and primordial
value better than a formal or negative condition of other values that would be
positive.46 It is dogmatism, the father of fanaticism, that Levinas opposes. He puts
it this way: the search for peace may be opposed to religion that is separate from
dogma. Because dogma is revealed instead of proved, it brings discord and division,
conflicting with forms of thought or conduct that unite men.47 However, like Wild,
he does not see religion itself as the cause of this discord or the enemy of peace. He
envisions rather a kind of transcending humanism that offers a third path between
theological absolutisms and disintegrating skepticism. This means a priori that the
particularism of a religion must be put in the service of peace to the extent that
believers feel the absence of peace as the absence of their god48 He adds that, a
moral humanity prior to all revelation is presupposed by revelation.49
What remains for phenomenology is an ongoing investigation of the political
patterns of the life-world. One of the casualties of the rights of man tradition has
been the complete subordination of the socio-economic dimension of existence to
an uncritical acceptance of the formalism of cultural politics without any contents
of everyday life. The language that negates political correctness is as absurd as
the rhetoric that insists upon its preservation. Almost nowhere is there any discussion of what we might call economic correctness. That is to say, the conditions
that would found even the barest elements of a decent habitable society for all. It is
not enough to speak about human rights in the abstract without first understanding
human responsibility and obligations of one for the other in the concrete. Wild
clearly diagnoses this problem, in his posthumously published essay, The Rights of

Emmanuel Levinas, Unforeseen History, trans. Nidra Poller (Chicago: University of Illinois
Press, 2004), 116.
Ibid., 124.


R. Sugarman

the Other as Other.50 Martin Luther King made this point clearly when he said:
Yes. We have accomplished much together, now we can sit with one another
regardless of color at the lunch counter. But if a man cannot afford to buy lunch it
doesnt help him too much. The same thing is true for the right to assemble. The
objective is unquestionably a good one, but it presupposes the capacity of people to
come together in an embodied way. This has been recognized and codified into law
so that disabled people will be able to assemble without unnecessary obstacles in
their way.51 This is not discontinuous with the capacity of people to have to some
kind of common means of transportation so that assembly itself is possible.
At a deeper level, we must recognize that our age has accelerated and globalized
the disseminating of information. For this reason, the substitution of information for
understanding has created an abstract, disembodied, digitalized version of the
human being. The reduction, however, of understanding to information is a subject
that requires further phenomenological investigation. The idea of meaningful work,
as well as full employment, has remained elusive. In a similar fashion, it is not only
wealth that has been increasingly distributed in an uneven way; it is the future that
is unequally distributed between the many and the few. Our inability to recognize
the importance of this phenomenon, in part, stems from a refusal to take a critical
reappraisal of what Husserl called the natural attitude. I will try to make this
clearer by illustrating the difference between, what John Wild called, world-facts
and scientific facts in the postscript that follows.

Postscript: Beginning Again

I have worked in politics over the course of the past 30 years. My successes have
been few, my errors many, and the time spent often regretted. Still, as a phenomenologist who has worked in politics, I have a few observations of my own to venture
in closing. As a student of John Wild, I learned that the best kind of philosophy is
almost always associated with the most concrete kind of reflection and engagement.
In my view, the legacy of what is still called the 1960s in America has not yet
been played out. There were two moments of rebellion and upheaval in the United
States. One dealt with social and cultural modes of oppression, freedom, and
renewal. All of the various human rights movements can be situated here. The stimulus was the Civil Rights Movement demanding the enfranchisement of black
Americans 100 years after the end of the Civil War. The womens movement, the
nuclear freeze movement, the environmental movement, the movement for sexual
liberationall of these had a cultural dimension.
At roughly the same time there was a demand for a more just economy that
would not be dominated by the wealthy few. The post-WWII period had proven a
great success in terms of general upward trends in the standard of living, especially

See Wild, Promise of Phenomenology.

See Americans With Disabilities Act, sec. 504b.

Political Phenomenology: John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas on the Political


in the decade of the 1950s and continuing through the 1960s. A large, stable middle
class mostly with decent paying jobs had developed out of the confluence of
democracy and capitalism tempered by a strong trade unionism in most industrial
cities and states. The movement toward deindustrializing America was not yet
underwaysomething was missing.
To paraphrase Martin Luther King from the mid-1960s, the right to eat at the
same lunch counter is an achievement of the civil rights movement, but this right
remains abstract unless one has the change to pay for lunch. Before his assassination in Memphis, where King had gone to help the striking sanitation workers, he
envisioned Americas first public strike. This would call attention to the plight of the
working conditions, benefits, and incomes of factory workers all over America. It is
worth noting that, at the time, there were a disproportionate number of black factory
workers, but that King foresaw a movement that was primarily economic in character. This strike never took place.
The cultural movements became heavily invested with symbolism. Slogans
began to take the place of substantive change. Economic realities began to recede in
favor of the more easily attainable cultural freedoms. During the latter part of the
Vietnam War era, a rift began growing between workers with hard hats engaged in
the construction trades and factory workers, on the one hand, and rambunctious
college students on the other. There was a time not more than 40 years ago upon
opening a newspaper, one could read the Business and Labor section. Now we
have only the Business section when it is not called more matter-of-factly what it
really is: Money. The alienated counter-culture of the 1960s would, by the 1980s,
give birth to a politics that favored cultural liberalism, driven by economic
The best analogy I can give is of the division of Canada between Quebec and the
central government. Two larger-than-life figures dominated this struggle and debate.
Pierre Trudeau the Canadian Liberal Prime Minister, and Renee Levesque the leader
of the Parti Quebecois. In the end Levesque, more a socialist than a nationalist, was
forced to settle for, what I am sure he believed was, the short end of the deal. Yes,
the first language of Quebec would be French, but Quebec would remain a province
within Canada, the center of whose economy would move rapidly from Montreal to
Toronto, and points West.
In Burlington, Vermont, where I live and have taught for the past 40 years, most
of the 1970s showed these patterns of subordinated economics for what appeared to
be liberal, cultural advances in a way that was quite visible. What did this mean? A
lot of loose subjectivity was unleashed upon the campus and radiated out from
there. The desire for a meaningful future, the hallmark of the late 1940s and 1950s,
gave way to a desire for instant karma. Permitting people to live in the present was
easy for the captains of industry and manufacturing.
Finding a place to rent, or a house to live in, or a job that paid decent wages was
becoming much more difficult. The left began to take a Manichean turn. Everybody
was anti-something. The Establishment had been broken into 1000 little pieces
but somehow remained quite intact for the growing economic elite. By 1978, I was
already a tenured faculty member at the University of Vermont, I could not, however,


R. Sugarman

afford to live in the city where I worked. Obsessing over this fact, it occurred to me
that it was not an act of God or nature. Why shouldnt I be able to afford to live
where I worked? A friend of mine who had run for various Vermont state-wide
offices with mixed, if not unimpressive, results, came to the same conclusion.
His name is Bernard (Bernie) Sanders. He had run campaigns for Governor and US
Senator as a candidate of the Liberty Union Party. Liberty Union was essentially an
anti-Vietnam, anti-war party. By 1976, when I first met Bernard Sanders (for whom
I had already voted), Liberty Union, with the war in Vietnam over, had exhausted its
purpose. In 1978, he released a statement, largely unnoticed, that he had become an
Independent, while granting that he was a Democratic Socialist. Only in America,
out of all the industrialized democracies, would this have been considered odd.
We talked about everyday life, its preoccupations and exigencies, what he preferred to call Reality in what became an ongoing conversation. Sometimes we
discussed politics, mostly National and International affairs. But we usually came to
the same conclusionthat economic dynamics governed social and political life in
all its complexity. Still, Bernie has a remarkable understanding of the irrational side
of human existence, is distrustful of systems, whether of bureaucracy or political
thought. Let me give just one example. He asked me what are the two poorest states
in the US in real terms? Maine and Vermont are at the bottom, not Mississippi or
Arkansas. His conclusion was arrived at by comparing wages to cost of living. This
was somewhat like an economic variation on the wind-chill factor in meteorology. This was the case in the late 1970s. Over 25 % of Burlington was near, or
below, the federally-determined poverty level. Most of these people who were federally designated as low income lived in a fraying section of the city known as the
Old North End. After analyzing the voting patterns from previous elections, I
mentioned to Bernard that, while he received only 6 % of the vote state-wide when
he ran for Governor in 1976, he received over 16 % of the vote in the wards of the
Old North End.52
Burlington is set fast by Lake Champlain. In the 1970s the Waterfront served,
through its parks and open spaces, as the backyard of many Burlingtonians. It was
down the hill from downtown Burlington which, in 1970, featured the city jail
abutting the larger retail stores of the City. Throughout the 1970s, Burlington was
going through a wrenching gentrification beginning with the downtown area. A
large underground mall project was underway to serve as a magnet for downtown
business in this wintry, northern small town. Two steps were necessary to complete
the process of revitalizing the city. The first was an outsized road leading directly
from the highway used heavily by tourists, and an increasing number of commuters
from the fast growing suburbs. The large road was to be paid for by a federally
funded grant. An anticipated but underappreciated problem was that it would bisect
the neighborhoods of the working and middle-class South End. This was especially
worrisome for Lakesidea community whose residents included old-timers
whose first language was still French. The road, known as the Southern Connector
was the subject of low-key, but persistent protests, not by radicals-who ignored

See Bernard Sanders with Huck Gutman, Outsider in the House, (New York: Verso, 1997), 28.

Political Phenomenology: John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas on the Political


the issuebut residents from the area who feared that their neighborhoods would
suffer the cost for progress much the same way that the boroughs of New York
were bypassed by the grand design of Robert Moses.
The last and biggest piece of the puzzle was to be the complete gentrification of
houses along the Waterfront, high-priced homes and condominiums affordable only
to the most affluent. The largest and most influential developer in the City stood to
make a fortune, and the citys residents stood to lose their backyard.
All these changes served as a background to the election of Bernard Sanders to
the position of Mayor in March of 1981. Sanders surprise election in a four-way
race against a long-time conservative Democratic incumbent with strong Republican
support was greeted by the economic establishment as if Trotsky had taken over the
city. In my view, the phenomenological approach played a decisive role in this election, which led to the formation of what would later be celebrated by the Doonesbury
cartoonist, Gary Trudeau, as the Peoples Republic of Burlington.
Bernie Sanders was a wonderful speaker, loved campaigning, and had a pragmatic streak that connected well with ordinary working people. First, our approach
was to find out where most of the residents of Burlington lived. In terms of their
lived-experience most people thought of themselves as inhabiting neighborhoods.
The neighborhood is in fact where most of their daily social interactions took place.
It also determined, to a great extent, what kind of primary and secondary schools
their children attended. The neighborhoods, however, were threatened by Robert
Moses-like highway planning and displacement. We fought against this divisive
kind of breakup of neighborhoods, where people could bypass the city of Burlington
using highways intended to speed them to the commercial centers of Downtown.
We also discovered that one quarter of the citys inhabitants in this pristine state
lived below the poverty level. Public services were unequally applied and
Burlington is a very wintry place. If you cant drive on the streets or walk on the
sidewalk, you cant get too far in the winter. This means your access to grocery
stores, work, and schools was to a great extent determined by the citys priorities in
removing snow from your neighborhood. The demographics of Burlington were
such that it seemed the removal of snow began with that wealthier neighborhoods
and streets, working their way down the hill to poorer neighborhoods. The University
of Vermont is located at the top of the hill, and while it had its own physical
resources, also received priority treatment. People who worked in the Old North
End lived in poverty and in snow, and in old rickety houses. They also tended,
understandably, to vote in smaller numbers proportional to other neighborhoods.
After all, they did not have much reason to vote as they felt neglected and marginalized. Political ideology was not an important priority for most of the inhabitants for
Burlingtons poorer neighborhoods. However, this would begin to change with
greater attention paid to the welfare of their children, residences, streets and
On Election Day, the Old North End, turned out in vastly higher numbers than
they had in previous elections and the independent coalition as we called
ourselvesknowing full well that this was something of an oxymoronwas the


R. Sugarman

primary beneficiary at the polls. In the South End of Burlington, where concern ran
highest over the envisioned Southern Connector Highway, Sanders held the incumbent mayors vote total down despite the long time conservationism of this
Special attention was given not only to the neighborhoods, but also to city workers, especially the police department. Coming just a handful of years after the flowering of the counter culture, language was still often abusive and somewhat nihilistic.
It was still common for the police to be referred to by the epithet, pigs. We chose
to see and refer to them as workers, which in fact, they were. The weekend before
the election, The Patrolmens Association, the union representing the police, came
out in support of the Independent candidate, Sanders. The local newspaper, the
Burlington Free Press, at the time one of the most conservative papers in the country, so conservative in fact that it was virtually the last paper in the United States to
support the already-impeached President Nixon, scolded the police union for having the temerity to endorse a political candidate. The promise of more respectful
relations between the city and the police department meant a better working relationship between the police and the students in the largely college-populated town.
The students who had largely been turned off to conventional politics, by the
Vietnam War, often lived in apartments in their third and fourth years in college in
depressing conditions and with inflated prices. Our view was that the rental situation could, and should, be rectified. Prices did not go down after the election, but
apartments were inspected for safety and were required to have fire escapes. The
prices began to stabilize, although with government spending on public housing
curtailed by the Reagan administration, the number of houses built for working
people were few and far between. One development that started on a small scale
grew over the years and later was recognized as a model for other cities. The
Burlington Land Trust, as it was called, allowed people to pay a much smaller
percentage of their income toward housing, as long as they lived there. When the
house was sold, they also were entitled to only a small profit because the city
retained title to the land on which the houses were built. This had a modest, but
important, effect on discouraging real estate speculators. Renters still face a
daunting situation when they live in the city of Burlington.
Perhaps our most popular campaign issue dealt with the citys waterfront that
was threatened with dramatic gentrification before the election. Above all, we
insisted that the people of the city reserve the right of access to the waterfront with
its beautiful view and important and cost-free places for recreation. We had a slogan
to go with it that was put up all over the city, Burlington is not for sale. This resonated with the overwhelming majority of residents and newly-registered voters.
Bernard Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington, on Town Meeting day, March
3 of 1981. Plans regarding the Waterfront were reconceived, subject to intensive
deliberation by governmental bodies, and consultation with the newly emerging
neighborhood assemblies. Eventually, a bike path ran along the citys edge. The
parks were for the most part preserved and improved and Burlington was on its way
to becoming a more livable city.

Political Phenomenology: John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas on the Political


This is not to say that the city lacked conflict and strife. From the very outset,
there had to be a recount of the absentee ballots. Since only 22 votes divided the top
two candidates out of approximately 12,000 cast. This was virtually double the
number of people who had voted in the last Mayoral election, and the turnout was
kind of victory in its own right. The recount was a public and highly charged event
from the night of the election. On the morning after the election, the court had ruled
that all paper ballots, meaning absentee ballots, as well as machine totals, were to
be taken out of City Hall and placed under the Courts jurisdiction. Each Mayoral
contestant was allowed to pick one representative to oversee the recounts. I was the
representative for Mayor-Elect Sanders.
Even the recount was, from my perspective, influenced by my understanding of
the life-world. The incumbent Mayor, Gordon Paquette, a Conservative Democrat,
who had been in office for many years, with the consent of the local Republican
establishment, had a cousin who campaigned against him for Mayor, and received
123 votes. His name was Joe McGrath. At first, the individual decision of the intentions and authenticity of the paper ballots were left up to the local councilmen in
charge. Mr. McGrath made a point of sitting behind me. He softly informed me of
the biases of each of the counters and after a short while, told me to actively intervene, before the vote was overturned. No one has ever mentioned McGraths crucial
role in the recount. I took his advice and made sure that every vote was looked at
from a point of view different from the attorney representing the incumbent Mayor.
In other words, there were living, embodied people counting these votes, not
robots that might have been completely unbiased. I also had a vested interest and
this seemed only fair. The recount started out calmly, with supporters of the incumbent Mayor pointedly holding up ballots and loudly indicating when a disputed vote
had gone their way. This put additional pressure on the more neutral officials
involved in the recount. We also discovered, thanks to Mr. McGrath, that the attorney for the incumbent was busy giving instructions for advice to the city council
woman in charge, overseeing the entire process.
An important element in this election came from the fact that one of the coowners of an extremely popular Italian restaurant had garnered a considerable number of votes from people who were not prepared to vote for Sanders but at the same
time opposed policies that they could not support. This restaurant, called Boves,
was at the time understandably one of the most popular and highly frequented restaurants in the city. It was a family business and very fairly priced. The parents of
Richard Bove, the third candidate, and his brother Fiore Babe Bove, had left
instructions that the prices could not be raised above prices ordinary working
Vermonters could afford. Keeping Joe McGraths advice in mind, I could see the
recount slipping away. Political counting is an embodied process. I immediately
instructed our attorneys to engage him, and for the attorney for the incumbent mayor
to cease and desist. At the same time, an academic colleague of mine, who was
working for our side, was asked to check off the names of the absentee voters
against the citys voting list. One look at the master list showed that it was hopelessly
out of date. When relevant, I would point this out in a vocal way. Finally, after
approximately two and a half hours, the other side conceded. The Mayor-elect had


R. Sugarman

won by ten votes. This gave new meaning, to us, to the statement, every vote
counts. Still, there was always the possibility of an appeal. Therefore, I decided to
stay with the assistant city clerk, who had the votes in big grey mailbags, until seals
were put upon them. This took another 2 h. It had been a long day.
Just an afterthought, whenever people go to polls, there are usually supporters
out with signs at the polling places, standing at a prescribed distance from the polling place. For some reason that I did not understand, this left most of the rest of
downtown, where the average Burlington voter could be found on Town Meeting
Day, strangely ignored by the candidates or there representative. My wife and I
spent 5 h on Election Day in front of grocery and department stores and similar
places simply asking people if they had voted. I realized that this could become
quite annoying. I remember asking one lady for the fifth time whether she had voted.
She said, For the fifth and last time, I dont live or vote in the city. This is one of
the hazards of Election Day campaigning. The worst thing that one can hear is, Oh,
Im sorry, but I forgot to register to vote. We decided not to tell people who they
should vote for, simply that they should vote, knowing full well that the established
party machine would have reached every voter who they thought would vote their
way. We mobilized at least 50 voters. We guessed that we would get 80 % of those
votes. This of course reflected a phenomenological perspective on space. The people who were nearest to the polling places, were not necessarily closest to the voters
who could still be reached.

Lessons for the Future

Bernard Sanders was reelected three more times to 2-year terms. During this time,
he assembled an administration that was the envy of the state of Vermont. At the
beginning, he suffered reflex-like obstructionism and was not even allowed to hire
his own secretary. However, politics in a small place are more visible than those in
a large country. This was not altogether unlike the fate of the current Obama administration dealing with a do-nothing Republican Congress, as Harry Truman said
about his own opponents in the Presidential election of 1948. By the time of the first
reelection, the advertisements in the local paper with tinged with hysteria about how
business would leave forever and Burlington would become a ghost town. As luck
would have it, on the day of the election, The Wall Street Journal published on page
one an article, Socialist Mayor Good for Business. One of the reasons for the success of Mayor Sanders was that he never forgot that economic issues had the capacity to bring people together in positive ways. He did not run the city as a leftist,
but rather as he had indicated, as a democratically-elected Socialist who had run as
an Independent. The arts, under his administration flourished, local education was
encouraged, and new environmentally-sound businesses were given seed money.
One other matter that people appreciated was that Burlington, which had suffered in
earlier years from Dutch Elm Disease, was transformed through a highly successful

Political Phenomenology: John Wild and Emmanuel Levinas on the Political


tree planting initiative. By the end of the 1980s, Burlington had been repeatedly
voted one of the most livable cities in America.
Bernie Sanders went on to become an eight-term member of the House of
Representatives, and is now the first Socialist to be elected United States Senator.
Still, there is a kind of vigilance that must always be ready to fight against ideologies which sometimes turn against their proponents. Here, I will give only one
example. In the waning months of the Mayors fourth term, there was a planning
meeting going on in City Hall. The issue concerned the replacement of a steeple in
Burlingtons largest Church, located in the Old North End. The planning council
was insisting, for environmental and historical reasons, that the parishioners come
up with a near-identical match for the original material, out of which the steeple had
been fashioned over a hundred years before. This would have proved impossibly
expensive. Most of those gathered at the meeting had not been supporters of Mayor
Sanders. He said to me, I know I shouldnt get involved in this, but I cant believe
what the planning council is asking of these people. Its absurd. We cant all afford
to be perfect historical preservationists. So he went downstairs to the large auditorium and asked permission to speak. He said, I appointed most of you. And I
understand that your motivation is environmentally sound. But there are other concerns which must sometimes intervene. Let these people have their steeple, and let
them make it out of some kind of composite that is similar to the original, but
affordable to them. I dont remember the result, as we had left before full deliberations had commenced. However, I remember that this was the end of my official
position in the city, as well as that of Mayor Sanders. He had appointed me
Commissioner of Reality, since I was a philosopher. I had asked him if this was a
paying position. He answered Of course not. This is reality.


Postscript on 2016 American Presidential Politics

On April 30th, 2015, Senator Bernard Sanders announced that he was running for
president of the United States of America in the democratic primary. As of this writing, he is the most formidable challenger to Hillary Clinton for the nomination.
Continuing to follow out the phenomenological approach that served him so well as
mayor, congressman, and now senator, Sanders has already made the following
contributions that are noteworthy. He has focused primarily on the dangers to
American democracy posed by the enormous concentration of wealth in the hands
of the few at the expense of the many, a disproportion not seen since 1928. He has
argued for an embodied social democracy. This is a comparative novelty in twentieth century American politics. While it is widely represented as left-wing populism,
there are some very basic differences that make Sanders version of socialism quite
distinctive. These include, but are not limited to, an insistence on recognizing the
claims, obligations, and therefore rights of minority populations, whether this is part
of the general will or not. He is the first presidential candidate in recent memory to
press for and introduce legislation into congress for a minimum living wage. The figure


R. Sugarman

proposed is 15 dollars an hour. He also has proposed a health care model comparable
to most other democratic industrialized countries. This, like higher education and
social security, under assault once again, is an obligation to make a decent habitable
society. Political society for Sanders is a normative category, not merely a descriptive one.
Rather than separating morality from economics, as is common in the liberal
democracies of the west, Sanders affirms that they must be thought together. In fact,
we might call this a kind of moral socialism. It begins with the other rather than the
self, as in the thought of Emmanuel Levinas. He has argued strenuously against the
growing trend to rescind pensions promised to workers years ago. The conservative
claim is that we cannot afford these pensions. The invocation is presumably on
behalf of our children and grandchildren. Sanders argues that while some of these
pensions may have been ill-advised at the time, if we are to create a society that
takes generational responsibility seriously rather than pitting old against young,
then we must fulfill our promise and obligations. Otherwise, the question is, who
are we? This bond between the generations is nowhere more evident than the crisis
surrounding environmental issues. With all the inquiries into environmentalism, it
must be conceded that there is a moral claim upon which they are premised. This
claim depends upon a phenomenological view of human time. This is to say that we,
our generation, is responsible to leave a decent habitable society to those who come
after this. In turn, this means taking responsibly for the unintended consequences of
those who come before us. To most phenomenologists, this will seem apparent; the
past adheres in the present, at least as a trace, and the promise of the future gives
shape, meaning, and continuity to our finite lives.
We must draw back from the brink of apocalypticism. This is to say, with Levinas,
that we must recognize that there are two poles of human relations: (1) the war of
each-against-each and all-against-all; (2) A time of peace of each-for-each and allfor-all. We must bend the strong tendency of the former in the direction of the latter.
Otherwise there will be no future. Oligarchy of the kind we are presently seeing
ascendant in the United States, Europe, and throughout much of the world, founders
on its own inner contradictions. Philosophy, as Levinas has noted, depends upon the
pacific relations between societies and their governments that make a decent, just,
habitable society not only desirable, but imperative. To counter that this is utopian
is not a reproach any more than human life itself is. Of course, the policies at the
national and international level are always in need of being flexible enough to
accommodate the pragmatism that makes joint human action achievable. Otherwise,
we cannot meaningfully speak of praxis that can move toward brining the ideal into
By way of disclosure, I of course readily and happily acknowledge that I am an
advisor to Bernard Sanders campaign for the presidency. I have not yet concluded
whether I will take the new cabinet position that I have been promised as Secretary
of Reality. In any case, I will need assistance from my fellow phenomenologists.
I wish to thank Professor Lester Embree and Professor Hwa Yol Jung for allowing me to add this timely postscript.

Chapter 10

Is Heideggers Philosophy Ethically

Dongsoo Lee

Abstract The political implications of Heideggers philosophy are often misunderstood as perilous by his critics. In particular, they contend that he is ignorant of
ethics and his idea of an-archic praxis is harmful or meaningless for public life. In
my view, however, such critique is not proper. For Heidegger, Dasein has nothing to
do with selfishness, but is a being based on original ethics. Unlike metaphysical ethics, original ethics thinks that laws and ethical directives are assigned according to
the dispensation or sending of Being, which conditions, determines, and makes ethics possible. In addition, the an-archic is different from the nihilistic, the anarchic,
or the antimoral. In contrast to it, an-archy in Heidegger means the openness that
possibilities exist intrinsically and indeterminately on the ontological level. In my
view, the weakness in Heideggers political philosophy does not lie in the fact that
it is harmful, meaningless, or ethically egoistic, but rather in the fact that he never
descends to a dialectical assessment of the determinate claims of this or that political program.

Dasein and Its Ethical Implications

The political implications of Heideggers philosophy are often misunderstood as

perilous by his critics. The fact that he supported the Nazi regime seems to endorse
such criticism. In particular, they contend that his idea of an-archic praxis is harmful
or meaningless for public life since it deprives political action of its ground. Werner
Marx, for example, admonishes the harmfulness of Heideggers philosophy, particularly speaking of the extremely perilous character of Heideggers concept of
truth as aletheia.1 Most of those who try to link Heideggers rectorship to his
Werner Marx, Heidegger and the Tradition, translated by Theodore Kisiel and Murray Greene
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1971), 251. Marxs admonishment has also a problem
because he localized that peril, and it is far from established that Heideggers concept of truth
frees the way for totalitarianism. On the problem of Marxs admonishment, see Reiner Schrmann,
Political Thinking in Heidegger, Social Research 45/1 (Spring 1978): 191221.

D. Lee (*)
Kyung Hee University, Seoul, South Korea
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_10



D. Lee

philosophy2 agree completely with that admonishment. Stephen K. White is another

who points out the meaninglessness of an-archic praxis. He writes that the problem
is that Heideggerian thinking about action is simply unable to make the dimension
of collective action arise into view.3
As a result, his critics make the most serious attack on the Heideggerian view on
ethics. According to the critics, the fundamental ontology of Heidegger should
imply an ethical theory insofar as its subject matter is man. Jean Beaufret initially
raised a question, what exactly is the relationship between ontology and a possible
ethics?4 More concretely, Rene Weber states that ethics traditionally prescribes
the good, not only for oneself but also for the other, and that Heideggers implicit
moral theory may be charged with two ethical errors: ethical egoism and ethical
permissiveness.5 According to Weber, the account of Dasein in Being and Time is
so exclusively individualistic as to preclude the possibility of care-for (solicitude),
and Heidegger seems to say that anything is permitted. Such permissiveness allowed
Heidegger himself to lend his thought to totalitarianism, the most diabolically
destructive possibility of which was to support the Nazi seizure of power in 1933.
In my view, however, there are misunderstandings of the Heideggerian political
philosophy. The aim of this essay is to make an apology for such misunderstandings. Above all, let me investigate the first criticism on Heideggers ethical egoism.

There have been lots of debates on Heideggers involvement with Nazism as a rector since the end
of the Second World War. The views on his involvement may be divided into four categories: First,
some critics maintain that Heideggers engagement was the logical consequence of his metaphysical, totalitarian philosophy. This category includes Victor Farias, Heidegger and Nazism
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992), and Hugo Ott, Martin Heidegger: A Political Life
(New York: Basic Books, 1993). Second, there are those who agree partly with their positive relationship. According to them, Heideggers early philosophy was closely related with his Nazi
involvement, but after the Kehre Heidegger resigned his metaphysics, and opened his later era
which provided post metaphysical assumption, and which had no relationship with his Nazi
involvement. This category includes Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger, Art and Politics
(Cambridge: Blackwell, 1990), and Jacque Derrida, Of Spirit: Heidegger and Question (Chicago:
The University of Chicago Press, 1989). Third, some contend that Heideggers involvement was
not merely an outcome of his work, but rather of his Weltanschauung. Habermas, for example,
asserts that Heidegger, from the start, cut off the road from historicity to real history, and also
missed the dimension of socialization. This category lists Jrgen Habermas, Work and
Weltanschauung, Critical Inquiry 15 (1989): 431445. Lastly, there is a view that Heideggers
engagement with Nazism had no relationship with his thought, early or later. His involvement was
just a political error which did not reflect his philosophy at all. Heidegger himself made this argument, and his apologist also agreed with it. Concerning the apology by Martin Heidegger himself,
see Only a God Can Save US: The Spiegel Interview (1966).
Stephen K. White, Heidegger and the Difficulties of a Postmodern Ethics and Politics, Political
Theory 18/1 (February 1990): 88. In my view, the idea of the collectiveness of action still presupposes a sort of unity in action, and thus remains in the realm of metaphysical thinking.
This question had been raised soon after the publication of Being and Time. In his Letter on
Humanism, Heidegger remembers that he has for a long time been trying to determine precisely
the relation of ontology to a possible ethics, and that article is indeed a revised version of a letter
written in response to the question by Jean Beaufret.
Rene Weber, A Critique of Heideggers Concept of Solicitude, The News Scholasticism 42
(1968): 537561.


Is Heideggers Philosophy Ethically Meaningless?


A main critique on the ethical egoism is made by Emmanuel Levinas. According to

Levinas, Western philosophy is generally an ontology, a grasping of reality which
implies at the same time a reduction of the Other to the Self.6 The thinking subject
collects all phenomena in their unity and distinction on a horizon. It reduces the
multiplicity of the existents to a common ground that bears everything. Since this
totality is centered in the thinking subject, Levinas calls it the Self, and he speaks of
Western philosophy both as a philosophy of totality and as a philosophy of the Self.
For Levinas, Heidegger too, although his concern is to bring about an overcoming of Western metaphysics, does not succeed in overcoming Western ontology, but
rather realizes it in a new way. Western ontology has emphasized the priority of
autonomy over heteronomy, the priority of truth over justice, and the priority of
totality over the existent. Such priorities are found in Heidegger, and his granting
priority to freedom, truth, and totality means performing a centripetal movement in
which the Other is reduced to the Self, and in which ontology has the final word:
The supremacy of the Self over the Other is integrally maintained in the philosophy of Heidegger.7
In particular, the Heideggerian concept of freedom prominently shows the Selfs
withdrawal from the Other. The letting-be what is and Being itself, the core of
Heideggerian freedom, is conceived after the model of grasping, that is, as a movement by which we withdraw from the Other so as to receive it and put it within the
space of the Self. As a result, Heideggers freedom is obedient, but this obedience
lets freedom originate without questioning it, without revealing its injustice.8 As
long as the dialectic of obedience and freedom finds its origins and its synthesis in
the idea of truth as unconcealedness, we are not speaking of a real surpassing of the
Self, of a real transcending of immanence and totality.
For Levinas, only the ethical crisis, which involves the revelation of the other
mans face as an absolute demand for justice, can bring about a real questioning of
freedom and of thinking. Heidegger does not escape this danger, since the
Heideggerian obedience gravitates towards a submission to the anonymous
Seinsgeschick that befalls us.9 To place the neutral dimension of Being above the
existent is to profess materialism. Heideggers philosophy is a faint materialism.
Emmanuel Levinas, Totalit et Infini: Essai sur LExteriorit (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff,
1961), 13.
Emmanuel Levinas, En Dcouvrant Lexistence avec Husserl et Heidegger (Paris: Librairie
Philosophique J. Vrin, 1967), 169.
Ibid., 170.
Luk Bouckaert makes an interesting comparison between Heidegger and Levinas. According to
him, both philosophers express some kind of passivity in man, which goes beyond the will and
serves as a foundation for it. Whereas Gelassenheit in Heidegger is a yielding to the hidden essence
of the truth, substitution in Levinas is the passivity of somebody who is accused by the Other and
at the same time entrusted with the responsibility for everything and everybody, thus giving rise to
restlessness and a movement from the I to the Other. Therefore, Levinas is more ethical to emphasize the imputation of responsibility. However, in my view, such an interpretation of responsibility
is one-sided. For Heidegger, responsibility means to respond, and to respond does not imply to
submit but to question. I will concretely discuss the Heideggerian meaning of responsibility in the


D. Lee

From the Heideggerian point of view, however, such a critique of ethical egoism is based on a misunderstanding of Dasein and of the relationship between
Dasein and man. Both Rnee Weber and Levinas confuse Dasein with man. For
Heidegger, Dasein is not simply equitable with man; for the latter is a being and the
former is the process by which a clearing is made so that beings may make an
appearance. If Dasein itself were a being, one would then have to question the process by which a clearing were made for it to appear, and if that in turn were a being,
one would have to question the process by which it appeared, and so on to infinity.
Dasein is not a being, but a process that comes to pass within the being named as
It is true that Heidegger speaks of selfhood. However, what he means by it does
not belong to an egoistic man but to Dasein which cannot be defined as I or
thou. Unlike the mere thing which comes to be a being, Dasein must take over and
be its Being. Daseins selfhood lies in its ability to resolve upon Being itself.
Therefore, the entire structure of selfhood is neutral. Dasein is a neuter word, neither masculine nor feminine, neither I nor Thou. This is not because Dasein is
an impersonal processfor it is the very essence of being-a-selfbut because it is
prepersonal in the sense that it is the a priori which renders individual selves possible. Heidegger writes:
Only because Dasein is defined by selfhood can an I-self relate itself to a Thou-self.
Selfhood is the presupposition of the possibility of being an I, which itself is revealed
only in the Thou. Selfhood is never related to a Thou; it is neutral toward being an I and
being a Thou; it is neutral toward being an I and being a Thou, and even more toward
sexuality, since it is what makes them all possible in the first place. All essential propositions of an ontological Analytic of Dasein in man treat Dasein in its neutrality.11

Therefore, Dasein has nothing to do with selfishness. Being a self is not the
opposite of being altruistic; it is the opposite of being a thing. Altruism or egoism
are ontic ways of working out ones selfhood. Dasein is not an egoistic entity but
the condition of the possibility of mans behaving either egoistically or altruistically. 12 Levinass critique of Heideggers reducing the Other to the Self is not
appropriate for the Heideggerian concept of Dasein. Dasein is a prepersonality in
which the Self and the Other cannot be divided in an ontic way.
What the critics look for is a set of ontic directives governing the relations
between man and man, whereas Heideggers concern is the bond between Dasein
and Being. Because Heidegger inquires into the realm which precedes the ethical
and the unethical, the critics think that Heidegger has contempt for determinate
moral directives. But Heidegger is not in any sense involved in a dispute about ontic,
ethical commands and whether these can be determinably prescribed. Beyond the
later part of this essay. Cf. Luk Bouckaert, Ontology and Ethics: Reflection on Levinas Critique
of Heidegger, International Philosophical Quarterly 10 (1970): 413414.
John Caputo, Heideggers Original Ethics, The New Scholasticism 45 (1971): 130.
Martin Heidegger, The Essence of Reasons, translated by Terrence Malick (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1969), 87.


Is Heideggers Philosophy Ethically Meaningless?


problem of how men ought to conduct themselves with one another is the very
manifestness of the human community and the human world. And this world,
according to Heidegger, is manifest as it is because of the historical movements of
Being. The thinking committed to Being, to the origin of mans world and of the
way that man dwells in the world (ethos), is what Heidegger calls original ethics.13

Original Ethics and Its Nonmetaphysical Meanings

Now let me elaborate the Heideggerian meaning of original ethics in detail. The
early Heidegger did not refer explicitly to ethics. It is in Letter on Humanism, a
work usually estimated as the initiation of the later Heidegger, where he has
deployed his idea of original ethics. In that article, Heidegger presents a definite
reply to the question posed to him by Jean Beaufret just after the publication of
Being and Time. Heideggers answer is simple by saying that thinking which is truly
fundamental is at the same time original ethics. Insofar as it belongs to fundamental
thinking, original ethics has been thought over from his early stage.
To articulate the meaning of original ethics, Heidegger at first analyzes the word
ethos etymologically. In Greek, ethos means abode, dwelling place. The word
names the open region in which man dwells. The open region of his abode allows
what pertains to mans essence, and what, in thus arriving, resides in nearness to
him, to appear. The abode of man contains and preserves the advent of what belongs
to man in his essence. Original ethics as fundamental ethos refers to the thoughtful
meditation upon the essence of dwelling as the issue of Being. Therefore, original
ethics is a mode of Seindenken. If we understand ethos in its original sense as mans
abode with Being, then fundamental thinking, or the thinking that thinks the truth
of Being as the original abode of human existence is ipso facto original ethics.14
Heidegger declares:

The Heideggerian meaning of original ethics, is quite different from the metaphysical meaning
of ethics. According to Fred Dallmayr, contemporary ethics has it in common to draw sustenance
from trends of traditional metaphysics. For example, the ethics of liberalism basically coincides
with the formulation of universal rules, rules that either are grounded in reason as such or else are
derivable from argumentation in a universal discourse. Beholden in some manner to Kantian
thought, this view clearly revives problems endemic to rationalist ethic: how can abstractly (or
noumenally) conceived rules be at all relevant to concrete human practice? How can rules be transferred to specific instances without engendering an infinite regress of rules (for the application of
rules)? In response to these dilemmas, another approachsometimes styled virtue ethics
stresses character formation in concrete historical contexts or traditions, thus making moral conduct prominent. This is a substantive (nonprocedural) ethics. However, according to Dallmayr, the
crucial aspect neglected by both contemporary ethics is the dimension of freedomontologically
speaking, the correlation of being and nonbeing. By anchoring his argument in this correlation,
Heidegger intimates a post-metaphysics that bypasses the form-substance, norm-experience
dichotomies by introducing original ethic. Fred Dallmayr, Heidegger on Ethics and Justice, in
The Other Heidegger (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), 106107, 126.
In this regard, as John Caputo points out, the (original) ethics of Being and Time is to be found
not in the discussion of conscience, guilt, etc., but in the discussion of world and the way that


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If the name ethics, in keeping with the basic meaning of the word ethos, should now say
that ethics panders the abode of man, then that thinking which thinks the truth of Being
as the primordial element of man, as one who eksists, is in itself the original ethics.15

From the viewpoint of original ethics, the metaphysically-interpreted ethics

should be delimited, if not entirely abolished, in the same way as metaphysical philosophy should be overcome. As much as traditional philosophies have failed to
work out the problem of Being itself, they have failed to think of mans fundamental
ethos; they have left unthought Being as the essential dwelling place of human
existence. Insofar as it has been ontic rather than ontological, representational rather
than fundamental, dealing with beings rather than with Being, traditional ethics has
been the logic of mores rather than the logos of ethos.16
In particular, Heidegger criticizes the traditional dichotomy between being and
the ought. In An Introduction to Metaphysics, Heidegger explains how idea, being
that which most authentically is, becomes essentially appearing, something to-beseen or visible-ness, and thereby a being. Being interpreted as idea becomes conceived as a being. The supreme idea, the idea of the good stands beyond being, and
becomes a prototype, a model of the models. Heidegger writes:
Being itself, interpreted as idea, brings with it a relation to the prototypical, the exemplary,
the ought. As being itself becomes fixated as idea, it strives to make good the resulting
degradation of being. But by now this is possible only if something is set above being,
something that being never is yet but always ought to be.17

Here is the origin of the dichotomy between being and the ought. The dichotomy
between being and the ought started with the definition of being itself as idea:
The ought is opposed to being as soon as being defines itself as idea.18
The ought, according to Heidegger, resides in the essence of Being, and thus
does not command man to act in a specific way either toward himself or toward others. To make rules and directives is an entirely legitimate but quite different task. It
is the work of ontic or metaphysical ethics. It does not refer to the bond between
Being and Dasein, but to the relation between man and man, and thus they are
articulated by ontic or metaphysical ethics. If an obligation is thought with respect
to the bond between Being and Dasein, its meaning is different. The Heideggerian
obligation means the Daseins attentiveness to Being. Because it belongs (gehrt)
to Being, Dasein must heed (hrt) it. Being lays claim to Dasein, a claim to which
Dasein must make response. This is the ontological meaning of obligation.

Dasein dwells (habitat) in the world. John Caputo, Heideggers Original Ethics, The News
Scholasticism 45 (1971): 133, n. 8.
Martin Heidegger, Letter on Humanism, in Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell (New York:
Harper & Row, 1977), 235.
Bernard J. Boelen, The Question of Ethics in the Thought of Martin Heidegger, in Heidegger
and the Quest for Truth, ed. Manfred S. Frings (Chicago: Quadrangle, 1968), 78.
Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics, tr. Ralph Manheim (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1959), 197.


Is Heideggers Philosophy Ethically Meaningless?


Heidegger thinks that traditional ethics is completed in Kant.19 For Kant, the
theoretical use of the pure reason presents us with what is, and the practical use with
the ought. For Kant the essent is nature, i.e., that which call be determined and is
determined in mathematicalphysical thinking. To nature is opposed the categorical
imperative, also determined by reason and as reason. In relating it to the mere essent
as instinctive nature Kant calls it explicitly the ought (Sollen). If ethics is to be universal and absolute, according to Kant, it must be a priori to all experience which is
contingent and relative. It must be a formal subjective principle which he calls the
categorical imperative, and which enunciates the moral law as universally binding. Yet since the categorical imperative is determined by the reason as reason, the
practical reason becomes its own lawgiver, and is autonomous and free. The moral
person submits to this self-imposed law out of respect for this law presented as duty.
As a result, the Kantian ethics is suggested by the idea of moral law. Conscience is
represented as a court of justice, which plays the basic guiding idea in the ethics.
However, according to Heidegger, the predominance of essent [in Kant] endangered the ought in its role as standard and criterion.20 The ought is compelled to
bolster up its claim by seeking its ground in itself. The moral claim has to present
its own justification. The ought can emanate only from something which in itself
raises a moral claim, which has an intrinsic value. The values as such now become
the foundation of morality (the ought). But since the values are opposed to the being
of the essent in the sense of facts, they themselves cannot be. Therefore, they are
said to have validity. The values become the crucial criteria for all realms of the
essent, i.e. of the already-there. As a result, the categorial imperative as the moral
law is merely a value which has intrinsic validity. This law remains within the metaphysical realm of beings which leaves Being and its nomos and ethos unthought.
This is the reason for Heideggers saying that even the theory of value, whether it
is regarded formally [a reference to Kant] or materially [a reference to Scheler], has
as its unexpressed ontological presupposition a metaphysic of morals. 21
Unlike metaphysical ethics, original ethics thinks that laws and ethical directives
are assigned according to the dispensation or sending of Being, which conditions,
determines, and makes ethics possible. There is an original sense of law, as there is
of ethics and ontology. For Heidegger, nomos contains the original sense of law.
Nomos is not only law but more originally the assignment contained in the dispensation of
Being. Only the assignment is capable of dispatching man into Being. Only such dispatching is capable of supporting an obligation. Otherwise all law remains merely something
fabricated by human reason.22


Ibid., 198.
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York:
Harper & Row, 1975), 339.
Heidegger, Letter on Humanism, 238239.


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Heidegger thus refers ethical rules back to the destiny (Geschick) of Being as that
which rules them; and it is more essential to belong to that destiny than it is to follow there rules or to devote oneself to questions about ethics and ontology.
An ethics which intends to provide rules and directives is demanded for mans
life. It is required to prescribe positive rules and laws for practical behavior, or
describe customs, conventions, or folkways. But the demand is made in such a way
that it arises out of a necessity, a necessity in the destiny of Being. It should remain
aware of the fundamental disposition in which Daseins existence holds its own as
Only so far as man, ek-sisting into the truth of Being, belongs to Being can there come from
Being itself the assignment of those directions that must become law and rule for man.23

This shows that the person who makes it abides in the destiny of Being and
responds to it in his own way. Heidegger refers the demand for ethics to the truth of
Being which conditions or dispatches ethics. This means that the demand for ethics
itself arises from original ethics. To follow rules is to uproot oneself from dwelling.
To provide ethical directives is to condemn to the everyday the person who adopts
Consequently, original ethics is none of the following: a practical guide for
becoming authentic; the moral ought; the posing of rules or values as conditions for
the growth of the human subject; a static set of abstract rules that direct our moral
actions; a practical science; a science of mores, customs, and traditions or practical guidelines for our conduct of life resulting from a world view (Weltanschauung)
or from a theory of man.24 Rather, original ethics is a search for mans proper place
and dwellingfor his authentic ethos.
This implies the tacit assumption that mans abode with Being is exclusively a
thinking abode, and that all possibilities for fundamental human acting are exhausted
within the very activity of fundamental thinking. In original ethics, thinking is not
distinguished from acting. For Heidegger, the dichotomy between the theoretical
and the practical is a metaphysical one, rooted in the classical dichotomy between
essentia and existentia. Fundamental thinking is neither theoretical nor practical.
Heidegger elaborates:
such thinking [fundamental thinking] is neither theoretical nor practical. It comes to pass
before this distinction. Such thinking is, insofar as it is, recollection of Being and nothing
else. Belonging to Being, because thrown by Being into the preservation of its truth and
claimed for such preservation, it thinks Being. Such thinking has no result. It has no effect.
It satisfies its essence in that it is.25

In fundamental thinking, theory and praxis is the duality of the self-presentation

of Being in man, not a dualism. The primordial duality of the self-presentation of
Being expresses rather an oscillating shift of emphasis, of modes of self-presentation.
Therefore, the relation between fundamental ontology and an eventual ethics is

Ibid., 238.
Boelen, The Question of Ethics in the Thought of Martin Heidegger, 80.
Heidegger, Letter on Humanism, 236.


Is Heideggers Philosophy Ethically Meaningless?


neither a relation between metaphysical ontology and a metaphysics of morals, nor

a dichotomy between theory and practice. Fundamental thinking itself is original
ethics, and original ethics is an integral part of fundamental thinking. Insofar as
fundamental thinking is the fundamental activity of the self-presentation of Being in
man as the self-manifestation of the truth of Being, fundamental thinking itself is a
mode of the ethical.

An-Archic Praxis and Its Political Implications

In the beginning of this article, two criticisms have been presented on the
Heideggerian ethics: ethical egoism and ethical permissiveness. The meaning
of original ethics may succeed in providing a response to the first criticism, but
not enough to the second one. Original ethics seems to promote ethical permissiveness by referring to the letting-be of beings, Furthermore, Heideggers concept of
an-archic praxis seems to lead us to an anarchism to allow everything that is.
For Heidegger, however, the an-archic is different from the nihilistic, the anarchistic, or the antimoral. While the latter is exclusively concerned with the ontic chaos
without the recognition of the difference between Being and beings, the former refers
fundamentally to Being itself. An-archy in Heidegger is not used in the sense of
Proudhon, Bakunin, and their disciples. What they sought was to displace the origin,
to substitute the rational power, principum, for the power of authority, princepts
as metaphysical an operation as has ever been. They sought to replace one focal point
with another.26 In contrast to it, an-archy in Heidegger means the openness that possibilities exist intrinsically and indeterminately on the ontological level. The openness indicates that higher than actuality stands possibility.27 An-archy as open
possibility means the potentiality within which human being as Dasein authentically
lives its own life according to its own Being. Therefore, an-archic praxis is a
When things are judged in terms of its Being, they are not dominated by a
Standard or Principle, but by their own standards or principles which are fundamentally inscribed in the possibilities. Praxis is not dominated by Principle, but guided
by the principle of anarchy.29 The measure for praxis, therefore, is neither a
noumenal first nor the simple pressure of empirical facts. What provides the mea26

Reiner Schrmann, Heidegger on Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1987), 6.
Heidegger, Being and Time, 63.
Bernard Dauenhauer, Renovating the Problem of Politics, Review of Metaphysics 29 (1975):
The term the principle of anarchy is borrowed from Reiner Schrmann. He uses the term in
order to show that Heideggers intention is not simply to destroy metaphysics but rather to provide
an epochal transition. Cf. Reiner Schrmann, What Must I Do at the End of Metaphysics, in
Phenomenology in a Pluralistic Context, eds. William McBride and Calvin O. Schrag (Albany:
SUNY Press, 1983), 5859.


D. Lee

sure is the ceaselessly changing modality according to which things present emerge,
appear, and show themselves. Heidegger summarizes the measure as kata physin:
Human production espouses that which emerges by itself and addresses man. His poiein
takes the physis as its measure. It is kata physinOnly he is knowledgeable who produces in keeping with what comes forth by itself, that is, with what discloses itself.30

Praxis, thus interpreted, can be irreducible to the representation of an end for

man that sanctions the morality of his ventures. It discards first philosophy
entirely guided by a representation of ends. It transgresses towards a mode of acting
purely according to an-archic presence, kata physin.
An-archic praxis is at times criticized as irresponsible. However, as John Caputo
states, Heidegger has delimited the arch which metaphysics always sets at the head
of every hierarchical system with a sense of what might be called a responsible
anarchy.31 For Heidegger, responsibility means to respond. There are two ways
to respond to the principle of reason. The first is to obey it, to be responsive to it, to
submit to the arch, which is what metaphysics has always meant by responsibility.
This kind of responsibility is based on the idea of identity. But Heidegger elaborates another kind of responding and responsibility, one which, by putting the principle or the arch into question, wants to be responsible for the reason itself
embedded in all thinking. It is possible to answer for the principle of sufficient
reason, to question its prestige and to wonder whether it has not gone too far. To do
that is to answer the call not by obeying it but by questioning it. Furthermore, to
submit it is merely to respond to it, but to question it is to respond for it. In this
regard, Heideggers philosophy is more responsible than metaphysics.
The Heideggerian responding does not attempt to remove all kinds of law, principle, or end. It needs both the arch and the an-archy, both the law and the transgression; both to have and to beware of ends. On the ontic level, archs, laws, and
ends are surely needed, but what Heidegger wants to show is that Being itself transgresses the archs of beings. What Heidegger means by the an-archic responsibility
is a responsibility for what is excluded by every arch.
The Heideggerian meaning of an-archic praxis seems to be aesthetic in that it
admires the beauty of praxis rather than the telos of praxis. This is true, but this
aestheticization is not simply artistic but political. An-archic praxis responds to the
Platonic instrumentalization of action and its degradation of the world of appearances by self-consciously aestheticizing action. For Heidegger, praxis is par excellence performance. This means that the standard categories for analyzing action
(e.g., motives, goals, consequences) and the conception of agency that they presuppose are put aside: action is seen in terms of performance. Aestheticizing action
redeems its meaning, restores its innocence, and places it beyond good and evil.
This aestheticization itself is political in that it tries to overcome the metaphysical


Martin Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 55 (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1979), 367.

John Caputo, Beyond Aestheticism: Derridas Responsible Anarchy, Research in
Phenomenology 18 (1988): 6062, 65.


Is Heideggers Philosophy Ethically Meaningless?


meaning of praxis. In short, the aestheticization is an attempt to elaborate the distinctive meaning of praxis without reducing its features to the poietic.
Praxis as performance is also found in some contemporary political philosophers. For example, Michael Oakeshott, criticizing the empiricist and the rationalist conceptions of political action, argues that political action springs neither
from instant desires, nor from general principles, but from the existing traditions of
behavior themselves. The form it takes, because it can take no other, is the amendment of existing arrangements by exploring and pursuing what is intimated in them.
In politics, every enterprise is a consequential enterprise, the pursuit, not of a
dream, or of a general principle, but of an intimation.32 Therefore, political activity
is, in its essence, performative. Political activity comes first and a political ideology
follows after.
The performativeness of political action is prominent in Arendt as well.33 Arendt
insists that Aristotle did not go far enough in conceptualizing the peculiar selfcontainedness of action. Ultimately, the Aristotelian definition of praxis is instrumentalist insofar as the meaning of action is inseparable from a process of
teleological actualization: the life of action is distinctively human because only it
attains the good. She pushes the emphasis on performance in the analysis of praxis.
Her point is that greatness alone applies to the political performance itself. To
judge action according to its motivation or achievement inevitably degrades its
autonomy, destroys the specific meaning of each deed. Therefore, unlike human
behavior, action can be judged only by the criteria of greatness because it is in its
nature to break.34
Arendt desires to preserve the autonomy of action from the incursion of instrumental modes of thought, and the desire leads her to invoke the analogy of the performing arts, and this analogywith its emphasis on virtuosity and greatnessyields
a conception of political action as agon.
The performativeness of praxis leads ultimately to the letting-be or tolerance of
beings. Although letting-be does not refer to ethical permissiveness, but to praxical
performativeness, it seems to result in a conservative or reactionary politics.
Thomas Sheehan, for example, criticizes Heideggers involvement with Nazism as
conservative in that although he never accepted the party ideology in its entirety,
he did see Nazism as a movement that could halt the spread of Marxism and realize
the ultraconservative vision of one of his favorite political theorists, Friedrich
Naumann (18601919): the vision of a strong nationalism and a militantly


Michael Oakeshott, Political Education, in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays

(Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1991), 57.
Dana Villa contends that the Arendtian conception of action is aesthetic in the sense that it
admires great action because it possesses a beauty that illuminates the world. This kind of aestheticization is political, which is distinguished from the Nietzschean aestheticism, the aestheticism of
the artist. Dana R. Villa, Beyond Good and Evil: Arendt, Nietzsche, and the Aestheticization of
Political Action, Political Theory 20/2 (May 1992): 299.
Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958), 205.


D. Lee

anticommunist socialism, combined under a charismatic leader.35 Michael

Zimmerman notes that Heidegger hated materialism, scientific reductionism, the
decline of community, the evils of urban life, spiritual decay, atomistic individualism, and alienation from transcendentalism, and that Heidegger rejected the economic and political values of the Enlightenment and called for a new social order
that could arise only by returning to Germanys primal roots.36 Some commentators even attempt to ascribe his political philosophy to the tradition of German
vlkische nationalism that seeks a restoration of the German state.
Judging from the vantage of an-archic praxis, however, Heideggers political philosophy is neither conservative nor reactionary, but rather radical and revolutionary.
It is revolutionary in the sense that it tries to overcome the established way of
thinking in a de-structive way, and radical in the sense that it makes us return to
the fundamental origin of our thinking which has long been unthought in the history
of political philosophy. What Heidegger has yearned for is not a philosophical,
political, or social change in the ontic beings, but a fundamental change to understand the self-movement of Being by engaging in the happening of Being (Ereignis).
His argumentsthe rejection of any foundational or grounding principles, and thus
of any political or ethical teaching grounded in first philosophy, the ending of the
subject, modernity, Enlightenment, and the West, the irreducibility of plurality and
differenceall revolves against the established ideas of metaphysics.37
In addition, Heidegger explicitly criticizes any nationalism as metaphysical and
egocentric. He writes:
Every nationalism is metaphysically an anthropologism, and as such subjectivism.
Nationalism is not overcome through mere internationalism; it is rather expanded and elevated thereby into a system. Nationalism is as little brought and raised to humanitas by
internationalism as individualism is by an ahistorical collectivism.38

What Heidegger wants to emphasize is not the egocentric nationalism, but the
self-movement of Being itself. As man is not the lord of beings, Dasein becomes
engaged in releasement (Gelassenheit), a domain transgressing human will power
or the happening of Being. Released engagement occurs outside the distinction
between activity and passivity and thus does not coincide with a weak permissiveness allowing things to slide and drift along. In such releasement, any nation cannot
be viewed as subject so much as any man cannot be.
In my view, the weakness in Heideggers political philosophy does not lie in the
fact that it is harmful, meaningless, ethically egoistic, ethically permissive,
conservative, or reactionary, but rather in the fact that he never descends to a
dialectical assessment of the determinate claims of this or that political program.
While his philosophy deals with beings in the light of Being, his political philosophy

Thomas Sheehan, New York Review of Books, June 16, 1988, 44.
Michael E. Zimmerman, Heideggers Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, Art
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 4.
James F. Ward, Heideggers Political Thinking (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press,
1995), xxi.
Heidegger, Letter on Humanism, 221.


Is Heideggers Philosophy Ethically Meaningless?


keeps silent on the articulation of any ontic politics in the light of ontologically
defined praxis. His focus is merely laid on the ontological interpretation. He might
be afraid of localizing political issues with that articulation, or might suggest that
to think politics requires a new way of thinking, a way of thinking otherwise. In
either case, however, the link is missed between the ontologization and its ontic
It seems to me that efforts for making the link are found in Arendt who is an
excellent disciple of Heidegger. In The Human Condition, she divides human activities into three and then articulates the Heideggerian ontology of praxis into the
concept of action. For Arendt, action is composed of the variety of deeds and
speeches and brings out the plurality of human condition. In addition, action is that
which humans initiate to do in the public realm, and that with which humans participate in their common world. Revealing ones own aret in the public realm, making
the communicative power among citizens, and protesting against violence are all
included in the category of action. Unlike labor and work, action is in essence public
and political. If we read Heideggers philosophy with the help of Arendts articulation, therefore, the political and ethical dimension in Heidegger will be made clearer.

Chapter 11

Phenomenology of Recognition: Hegels

Original Contribution to the Politics
of Recognition in Global Society
Gibung Kwon

Abstract Given the increased salience of both transnational and sub-national entities
in global society, it is legitimate and urgent for us to ask if the traditional recognition
of rights or personal achievements shall undergo a reformulation either in the way of
deepening or extending the established categories or creating or discovering a whole
new way of recognizing individuals and groups of people. How are the modes of
recognition transformed in the age of globalization? The newly emerging actors in the
global society, whether they want it or not, get involved in a politics of recognition for
their identity formation and for their claim to existence. This consequence of changed
identity politics changes the way we recognize each other, hence the nature of society
we live in around the globe. The type of recognition fully actualized in the contemporary global society may not be known until, as Professor Jung used to say, the Phoenix
rises from the ashes. Hegels phenomenology of recognition, however, allows us to
conjecture some possibilities that are more likely to be actualized than others. At least
it warns against taking any one type of recognition that might be dominant in the present as the only one to recognize oneself and the other in the future.

The Idea of Recognition Revisited

The concept of recognition has gained a salience recently in contemporary politics

and philosophy after a long dormant period, largely due to the efforts of NeoHegelian theorists such as Charles Taylor and Axel Honneth.1 According to Taylor,
it has become familiar to us on two levels: First, in the intimate sphere, where we
understand the formation of identity and the selfAnd then in the public sphere,

For the contemporary debate on recognition as a moral category, see Amy Gutmann, ed.,
Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1994), Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition?: A PoliticalPhilosophical Exchange (London: Verso, 2003), Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition: The
Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts, trans. Joel Anderson (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1995).
G. Kwon (*)
Kyung Hee University, Seoul, South Korea
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_11



G. Kwon

where a politics of equal recognition has come to play a bigger and bigger one.2 As
a result, the politics of recognition means two different things in contemporary politics. Emphasizing the equal dignity of all citizens, on the one hand, it demands the
equalization of rights and entitlement. Politics of equal dignity is based on the idea
that all humans are equally worthy of respect.3 On the other hand, Taylor argues,
the modern notion of identity has given rise to a politics of difference.4 It requires
that everyone be recognized for his or her unique identity. With the politics of difference, he adds, what we are asked to recognize is the unique identity of this
individual or group, their distinctiveness from everyone else.5
Whether it is understood in terms of the difference of identity or the universality
of entitlement, the concept of recognition has become relevant particularly to the
contemporary politics of identity. The reason for this, as Nancy Fraser observes, is
the fact that the increased transcultural interaction and communication are fracturing and hybridizing all cultural forms, hence requiring institutions to adapt to this
condition of increased complexity. In addition, she continues, status conflicts have
achieved paradigmatic status at the moment when it is increasingly implausible to
posit the Westphalian state as the sole container, arena, and regulator of social
Underlying the resurgence of recognition, thus, is the sensibility required by the
emerging ethos of tolerance on diversity and difference. As Charles Taylor emphasizes, we should be not too arrogant to ignore a priori the possibility that cultures
that have provided the horizon of meaning for large numbers of human beings, of
diverse characters and temperaments, over a long period of timeare almost certain
to have something that deserves our admiration and respect, even if it is accompanied by much that we have to abhor and reject.7
Since a person or group of people can suffer genuine damage if the people or
society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible
picture of themselves, we could say that justice in the age of multiculturalism
requires a regime of reciprocal recognition among equals which extends recognition
to all the citizens, both as human beings in general and also as the bearers of particular social identities. However, we also know that these kinds of demands cannot be
made in absolute terms and trans-historically. As Honneth admits, the distinctively
human dependence on intersubjective recognition is always shaped by the particular
manner in which the mutual granting of recognition is institutionalized within a
society.8 Thus, for instance, the bourgeois-capitalist society has emerged from the
breakdown of the honor-based or estate-based order of pre-modern society. The
separation of three modes of recognition (love, rights, and individual achievement)

Charles Taylor, The Politics of Recognition, in Amy Gutmann, ed. (1994), 37.
Ibid., 41.
Ibid., 38.
Fraser and Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition?, 912.
Taylor, The Politics of Recognition, 723.
Fraser and Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition?, 138.


Phenomenology of Recognition: Hegels Original Contribution to the Politics


and their corresponding bifurcation of realms between the private and the public
make the modern form of recognition quite different from that of the pre-modern
Given the increased salience of both transnational and sub-national entities in
global society, we can expect that the traditional conception of recognition in terms
of rights or personal achievements shall undergo again a reformulation either in the
way of deepening or extending the established categories, or creating or discovering
a whole new way of recognizing individuals and groups of people. How are the
modes of recognition transformed in the age of globalization, then? Why is it that a
particular type (or types) of recognition is institutionalized over other possibilities
if one becomes the predominant? What is the implication of this on the contemporary politics? According to the contemporary discourse, these become the legitimate questions which need a careful examination as the international society is no
longer constituted by the state actors alone. The newly emerging actors in the global
society, whether they want it or not, get involved in a politics of recognition for their
identity formation and for their claim for existence. Eventually, the consequence of
the identity politics changes the way we recognize each other, hence the nature of
society we live in around the globe. Thus, the somewhat belated scholarly debates
of recent years in philosophy and other disciplines deserve the careful attention of
anyone whose profession is to understand and to explain social phenomena.
Whilst recognition is understood as the constitutive principles of individual identity in modern society (i.e., desires, rights, or social achievements), however, the
contemporary debate does not say much about how it motivates individuals or
groups to enact socially consequential actions, a collection of which result in a large
scale social or political movement. When a person wants to be recognized in a certain way, for instance, mis-recognition or insufficient recognition on the part of
another or society may cause an injury to the person in question. As Taylor argues,
it may prevent him/her from developing his/her full potential or from being empowered in the fullest extent so that he/she becomes an equally capable agent.
Granting that this moral or ontological justification for recognition is acceptable,
it is not tantamount to fully explaining the causes and conditions of moral injury.
Further, it is of no help in identifying necessary corrective actions on the part of the
afflicted except that the latter might feel anger and might get into a kind of struggle to reclaim his/her existence or dignity. That is, the actual remedial action on the
part of the afflicted will depend on the context in which the latter finds him/herself.
Even if it is accepted that mis-recognition is a cause of injustice to the person for a
moral reason, it would be hard to prove that a lack of recognition is solely responsible for the person as s/he is or for the kind of person s/he has become. It could be
at best only a contributing factor to the person who s/he is at present, leaving many
aspects of personal development untouched since individual moral growth involves
a whole range of factors from inherited personal characteristics to socio-economic
conditions to legal entitlements. Unless it is supplemented by other social theory (or
theories) explaining the relationship between personal motive for recognition and
social institutions which mediate the process of granting recognition, therefore, the


G. Kwon

moral argument for recognition is no more than an affirmation of a principle of

ethics or discourse, hence no theory of action.
When the contemporary conceptualizations of recognition are called to the task
of explaining socially consequential action or phenomena, the theoretical difficulty
of under-determination as above mentioned cannot be avoided. Whether it is understood as involving intersubjective mutuality or solipsistic desires, it cannot explain
why and how a presumed mis-recognition in the onto-genetic process translates into
a concrete psychological characteristic and/or a concrete personhood which results
in a socially identifiable pattern of actions on the part of the afflicted person. When
recognition is understood as a desire, we have to acknowledge the fact that it is only
one of many desires that a person has. When recognition is conceptualized as social
achievement in terms of roles or positions in a given society, it also falls short of
being a full explanation for the socially consequential actions. It might motivate
individuals to pursue a certain life goal in order to satisfy their desire for social
esteem or respect. As it happened in the typical traditional hierarchical society of
honor, however, it could be institutionalized into a stratified society in which individuality is lost. Unless it is liberated by other means of acquiring individual identity (e.g., the idea of liberty or equality of the modern age), the individual desire for
achievement is not likely to be conjugated into a social movement demanding for
equal recognition.9
What we need, therefore, is not just the categories of recognition that the contemporary discourse delves into, but also an operational concept of recognition
applicable to the actual explanation of social phenomenon: that is, to find a way to
translate it from a moral or psychological category to an objectively identifiable
social one of either institutional or material embodiment. This should be achieved
without falling into the trap that makes the concept of recognition either equivalent
to social roles or functions, or reduced purely to mere subjective feelings, to which
the currently available conceptions of recognition befall. In this regard, what we
need to do first is to see whether the concept of recognition is up to the phenomenological requirement of social action: such as, externalization of the internal and
internalization of the external, or objectification of the subjective and subjectivation
of the objective.
Given the nature of social action, the main question in social theory eventually
comes down to how to conceptualize the constitutive relationship between individuals and their motivations, on the one hand, and their specific relations structured
through the interactions, on the other. For this reason, we need to postulate a mediating category if we want to construct a truly autogenetic political theory. Recognition
is capable of mediating and constituting individuals and society. As the contemporary debates show, recognition is, by definition, not only the existential category
through which a determined agent is constructed in the first place, it is also attuned
to the medium of interaction between interacting partners since it already presupposes a concept of mediation or medium of recognition as an independent category.
That is because recognition of I and others, particularly when it comes to mutual

See, Taylor, The Politics of Recognition.


Phenomenology of Recognition: Hegels Original Contribution to the Politics


recognition beyond the level of perception or consciousness, is only possible when

a certain determinate medium is available in the body of self and/or in the society,
the one through which one is able to acknowledge the other as lover, friend, comrade, equal citizen, business partner, or president.
In modern society, as Honneth argues, what works as the medium (or are generally available in this regard) are either intersubjective feelings (i.e., love and hate, or
friendship and enmity), social institutions (i.e., rights, power, and money), or socioeconomic and political communities including the state. When it involves subjective
feelings, as Jung claims, the recognition of oneself and others is, more than anything
else, an achievement of the dialogical process of carnal hermeneutics or intercorporeal knowing, not just a matter of solipsistic or monological cognition.10
Once it is accepted that the concept of recognition reaches both to the determination of individual identity and to the ways and means of interaction among agents,
it is also apparent that it already touches upon the social structures of society or
enables and constrains the contexts of social interactions. The recognized agency
and the socially constructed institutions of recognition are only the outcomes of
individual interactions. Once taken determinate forms, the agents in turn reflect
upon and are affected by the structures of society.11 Hence, the concept of recognition is perforce related to the latter. That is, how an individual is recognized through
the available medium of recognition is conditioned by both socially available
resources and acknowledged (or institutionalized) rules and norms of society in
either formal or informal nature. S/he becomes a determinate agency (i.e., worker,
physician, politician, or citizen) only if such a role or function is institutionally supported and guaranteed by the society. Only when institutionally supported can s/he
continue to act and react in a socially prescribed way through a recognized medium
of interaction.
This is so, even when recognition involves inter-personal relationship and thus
inter-subjective emotions like love and hate. Otherwise, the sentimental relationship
lacks institutional moorings that will allow it to develop into a socially recognized
one. Love relationships, for instance, are socially institutionalized as those of marriage. Intimate relationships between friends are socially recognized as friendship
and distinctly separated from the relationships between strangers. Even the latter
ones are institutionalized into such categories as buyers and sellers, or producers
and consumers, or enemies and strangers of posing or not posing a threat to anyone.
Accordingly, the society distributes rights and resources to them differently.

For Jungs transversal and dialogical phenomenology on inter-being relations, see Hwa Yol Jung,
Transversality and Geophilosophy in the Age of Globalization, in Martin Beck Matutk and
William L. McBride, eds., Calvin O. Schrag and the Task of Philosophy After Postmodernity
(Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2002), 7490, Edouard Glissants Aesthetics of
Relation as Diversity and Creolization, in Nalini Therese Persram, ed., Postcolonialism and
Political Theory (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007), 193225, and Bakhtins Dialogical
Body Politics, in Michael Mayerfeld and Michael Gardiner, ed., Bakhtin and the Human Sciences
(London: Sage Publication, 1998), 95111.
See, Anthony Giddens, Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structures and Contradiction
in Social Analysis (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1979).


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These phenomenologically derived a priori presuppositions and implications of

recognition are already discernible from the conceptualization of recognition that
Hegel has developed in the Phenomenology of Spirit or the Philosophy of Right.12
From Hegel, we find not only that the concept of recognition is first formulated
phenomenologically, but also that it is applied to the actual explanation of individual moral growth and societal transformations.13 By schematically dissecting diverse
manifestations of recognition from Hegels texts, we can lay the groundwork for a
systemic investigation of the latent potentialities of recognition in the age of transboundary associations and networks.

Hegels Phenomenology of Recognition

Being recognized by and recognizing others remain throughout life a prime factor
in shaping the sort of person one becomes. No one captured the existential characteristic of human beings more deeply than Hegel did in the Phenomenology of
Spirit.14 For Hegel, the need for recognition is a need peculiar to self-conscious
beings.15 Due to the necessity of recognition, a subjective being breaks out of its
own solipsistic selfhood and forms an inter-subjectively mediated society. This
Hegelian conception of recognition was a critique of the old discourse on the evil of
pride which he took up from Rousseau and made famous in his dialectic of the master and the slave.16 What is noteworthy of Hegels conception of recognition is the


G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press,

1977), Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox (London: Oxford University Press, 1967). From now
on, the author uses acronyms for these books as PG and PR.
For more detailed exposition of Hegels conception of recognition, see Robert R. Williams,
Recognition: Fichte and Hegel on the Other (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press,
1992); Paul Redding, Hegels Hermeneutics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), Fraser
and Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition?.
Brian Fay, Contemporary Philosophy of Social Sciences: A Multicultural Approach (Cambridge:
Blackwell, 1996), 42.
Aristotle defined the concept of recognition (anagnrisis) in chapter 11 of the Poetics as follows:
A recognition is, as the very word implies, a change from ignorance [agnoias] to knowledge
[gnsin], and thus to either love or hate, in the personages marked for good or evil fortune.
(Aristotle, Poetics, 1452a 2932.) Requoted from Markell (2003), 84. Following Aristotle, Hegel
also discusses the issue of recognition first as a matter of knowing or consciousness in the
Phenomenology of Spirit. For Hegel, according to Houlgate, phenomenology meant an examination of the experience that, logically, consciousness must make, given that its object has this or that
logical form for it. It discloses the ways in which, in such experience, the object necessarily
changes its logical form for consciousness and ceases to be for consciousness what consciousness
itself initially took it to be. Thus it meant the dialectical method itself. Stephen Houlgate, An
Introduction to Hegel: Freedom, Truth and History (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005),
Taylor (1994), 50.


Phenomenology of Recognition: Hegels Original Contribution to the Politics


fact that the structure of recognition takes various institutional forms in which
recognition is instantiated at every stage of moral and societal developments.17


General Structure of Recognition: Struggle

for Recognition

In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel postulates recognition in a paradigmatic

form as a struggle of life and death, that is, the struggle of recognition. With it, he
investigates philosophically the conditions that give rise to self-consciousness.
Hegels phenomenological exposition starts with positing a subject in the state of
nature. The subject, at the primitive stage, is only infatuated with the objects of its
wants; it is never able to be conscious of its own self. The subject is like the eyes that
see only the outside but are unable to see themselves unless they are reflected in the
mirror. Since it is yet to be seriously challenged by another, it fails to evolve into
self-consciousnessi.e., the subject who is conscious of itself as an independent
When two desiring beings come to face each other in a struggle for a desired
object, however, ones self-enclosed world is shattered by the presence of the other.
Each is forced to realize that it is not the center of the world (i.e., universality in
Hegels terminology), but only a partial being facing another.18 Each recognizes that
what each means for the other (i.e., annihilation) is simultaneously meant for itself.
Each now has the opportunity to grasp the double meaning of the process in
which they are both subject and object.19 The temporary enlightening moment,
occasioned by the confrontation, has no lasting effects on the combatants, however.
In discovering the resistance of the other during the struggle, one is brought face to
face with ones own limits: that is, there is a power (like its own but appearing outside of itself) which escapes its violence and which poses a threat to its entire
being.20 Consequently, the confrontation with the other is simply experienced as an
abrupt self-negation, a loss of self.

The distinction of recognition made here between general structure and concrete instantiations
owes to Robert R. Williams. For Williams contribution in this regard, see Patchen Markell, Bound
by Recognition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 1189.
See, PS, 178, 179, 111.
Redding explains the mechanism involved in the discovery of the double meaning quite succinctly. See Paul Redding, Hegels Hermeneutics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996),
On the necessity of the mediation of violence among the combatants for recognition, Hegel
writes: The presentation of itselfas the pure abstraction of self-consciousness consists in showing itself as the pure negation of its objective mode Thus the relation of the two self-conscious
individuals is such that they prove themselves and each other through a life-and-death struggle.
They must engage in this struggle, for they must raise their certainty of being for themselves to
truth, both in the case of the other and in their own case Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 187,
1134. For an elaboration of this point, see, Paul Redding, Hegels Hermeneutics (Ithaca, NY:


G. Kwon

As such, the struggle does not result in the intended goal of recognition of the
self. That is because the attempt at eliminating the other is inherently contradictory
to the desire of recognition. The self might satisfy its need to recover itself temporarily by negating the other. Yet, as Hegel makes clear, recognition of the self
requires the existence of one that can reciprocate it in kind. The other has to be of
the same nature as an independent free will.21 Consequently, the well-known master
and slave relationship emerges from the struggle for recognition. To both of them,
the recognition of self is either illusory or denied completely.
From this process, we can discern another important phenomenological principle
of recognition. That is, recognition requires the subject be embodied in a concrete
identifiable entity and be recognizable as such by the other. Otherwise, it cannot be
certain of itself again. It cannot know itself as someone and it cannot present itself
as someone. For Hegel recognition is all about knowing oneself or finding oneself
in others. Desire of recognition is not sufficient by itself for self-recognition. The
mere existence of others is also of no help in knowing oneself. It needs a concrete
something that translates the desire into a recognizable object. Knowing oneself in
others requires that one be an identifiable object that can be seen by others or that
the subject can present to others. It is also noteworthy that the first moment of recognition in Hegels Phenomenology is experienced as a loss of identity or lack of
recognition. That is why Hegel conceptualizes recognition as involving a struggle of
life and death. From the struggle, we can discern the first institutionalized form of
recognition and its inherent limitations.
With the structural change of the relation between subjects comes a kind of transformation of self-consciousness.22 The self is now subsumed in the conceptual relation of the master and the slave. During the struggle for recognition each recognizes
itself in the other as simultaneously subject and object of a desiring consciousness.
In the institution of slavery, however, each has a single role in the conceptual pair of
master and slave: the master occupies the role of a desiring subject and the slave that
of object, the one who has to renounce its own desiring subjectivity.23
In this relationship of master and slave occurs a kind of reversal of fortune
between the subjects. Under the conditions of involuntary labor, Hegel explains, the
slave learns not just to restrain his desire and postpone gratification but also to
Cornell University Press, 1996), 110. For the logical necessity of violence at the confrontation
stage, see Piotr Hoffman, Violence in Modern Philosophy (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago
Press, 1989), 1026, 73149.
The struggle is not simply about elimination of the other; it is about recognition and relation. The
battle erupts in the struggle only because it is meant to serve as a medium of communication
with the other, as a way of allowing oneself (and the adversary) to emerge in the status of free and
independent self-consciousness. See Hoffman (1989), 1439.
While there is the potentiality of recognition in the process of battlingi.e., the opportunity to
grasp the double meaningit can never be actualized. The objective other is idealized in that
its nature of being of intention is recognized (that is, for-itself) by the self. Yet this idealization is
momentary and remains at the level of fleeting consciousness without having determinate existence. See Redding, Hegels Hermeneutics, 111.
PS, 190, 1156.


Phenomenology of Recognition: Hegels Original Contribution to the Politics


negate himself totally. It has the same effect on the slave that the initial struggle for
recognition had on the combatant. Since he cannot afford direct enjoyment of the
products of his labor, the products he has given the shape and form of things gain
the status of permanence existing outside of him although he himself has given birth
to them. In shaping the objects, as Hegel put it, he becomes aware that being-forself belongs to him, that he himself exists essentially and actually in his own right
since the shape he has given to the objects is not something other than himself
through being made external to him.24 The master, in the meantime, remains as
immersed a being as he used to be since he has no felt desire to objectify himself or
deny his own bodily desires.
In the bondage to the master, thus the slave instead of the master has the potential
to achieve the dual consciousness of for-itself and in-itself by objectifying its selfconsciousness into the products of work while negating its own bodily desires.
Recognition of the self at this stage, however, involves only externalization of the
self in labor. The slave might free himself in potentiality or in ideas, thanks to the
forced work. That being said, the fact remains that he is still a slave. The chasm
between its potentiality as being-for-itself and the actuality of bondage leads to
partial and imperfect realization of self knowledge.25 When the self is recognized
only by the externally objectified quality, it is perforce alienated from itself and ends
up with what Hegel terms the unhappy consciousness26 or the self which lacks in
the actualization of its own knowledge of itself.
At the next stage of the unhappy consciousness, which historically corresponds
to Medieval Christianity, the unfulfilled recognition between master and slave is
transposed into a religious one. From the unhappy consciousness, we again find the
Hegelian contribution to the phenomenology of recognition: that is, the mediated
nature of recognition, but in a different form. In acknowledging God, the believer
affirms universally applicable laws of the society which is interpreted and transmitted by the priest. With this affirmation of the laws of society, the unhappy consciousness leads to the view that the power of God actually resides within itself
rather than in some transcendent world. This reversal is completed when the
unhappy consciousness becomes reason. The subjects alienation is finally overcome while it is able to identify with the universal laws.


Ibid., 196, 118.

In what Hegel calls stoicism, self-consciousness as a thinking being is a simple unity of for-itself
and in-itself like the desiring being before the struggle for recognition. In skepticism, this indeterminate freedom of being-for-itself is realized and transcends the unessential, contingent existence
and it becomes identical with itself. See Hyppolite, Genesis and Structure of Hegels Phenomenology
of Spirit, trans. James H. Nichols, Jr. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980), 1849. The
stoicism corresponds to the self-consciousness which has appeared in the master and slave relationship, whereas the skepticism corresponds to its realization in regards to the slaves work. See
PS, 201, 123.
Self-consciousness, for Hegel, is, in principle, always unhappy consciousness until it reaches to
the Absolute Geist. It has not yet reached the concrete identity of for-itself and in-itself (or certainty and truth). See Hyppolite (1979), 1901, 201.


G. Kwon

From the dialectical movement of the unhappy consciousness, we can see that
the subject is no longer embodied in material objects, but it is now recognized as an
embodiment of universal laws. Its identity as a universal being is beginning to be
sensed by the subject. With the unhappy consciousness, thus, recognition of the self
has become a matter of being identified with the universal principles applicable to
all human beings. This constitutes a second social or moral dimension of
It is also important to note that the universal principles are mediated by the priest
that speaks in the name of God. Ones identity, in other words, is already subsumed
by the abstract idea of the self as free will. It is not actualized in you, but it is interpreted to you by the priest without whom your true identity is not revealed. Since
you are unable to find yourself from your own sources, in the end, you become
alienated and dependent on Gods mouthpiece. Thus, recognition at this stage is a
mediated process in which your universality is embodied in a concrete person who
speaks to you as you are.
At the next stage of reason, the self regains its own consciousness as for-itself
and in-itself, or independence in unity. Recognition becomes a truly intersubjective
one of finding oneself in others, at least at the consciousness or knowledge level. It
does so by repeating exactly the same recognition process that the previous mode of
self-consciousness has undergone (that is, self-othering through the mediation of
the other).27
In the previous stages, the self was recognized only because it reflected itself and
rediscovered itself in other selves. Likewise, the world of individuality should
undergo the same self-othering process if it is to rediscover itself in others. When it
does, the subject as individuality becomes an I that is a We and a We that is an I.
This is achieved when the work of individuality becomes the work of all and of
each. The presence of others leads to the negation of an individuals determinateness and the achievement of universality. Hegels dialectic in this regard reveals
another essential dimension of recognition in general: individual identity is acquired
only in relation with all the others in the given society. Recognition of individuality
involves more than how one is embodied in concrete objects, or in what one owns
or produces. It requires that each subject reciprocally recognize others as the creator of those products and each finds in others the same universality as being of
reason, hence deserving equal treatment. This work is what Hegel calls Geist or
spirit, the identity of ethical substance and self-consciousness. At this stage, recognition of the self has become a matter of community or society, meaning that the
subject finds its true self only in a complete unity with the universality of society.
As reason transforms itself into spirit, we find that recognition in each type of
society (i.e., ethical life) is realized differently by love, law or wealth. They together
constitute the primal modes of recognition of the self (or individual identity) in the
society. As discussed above, however, the present discourse of recognition focuses
only on the institutionalized mediums separately without taking them in totality.
When carefully read, it is revealed that Hegels spirit in the Phenomenology cannot

See, PS, 360, 217.


Phenomenology of Recognition: Hegels Original Contribution to the Politics


be reduced to the mediated recognition of the self by either one of them. They all
constitute an essential moment in the developmental processes of the subject into a
universal being in community, great and small. Recognition of global citizenship, if
it is to be actualized in the age of globalization, requires the same comprehensive
conceptualization of recognition as Hegel does. That is because the global civil
society embraces all kinds of associations below and beyond the territorial entity of
the nation states. Their nature of unity includes love, value, right, and norms and
institutions, etc. as all the different types of global NGOs and regimes attest.


Recognition Medicated by Love, Law, State, Wealth

and Morality

According to Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit, spirit is at first an historical given in

a community of individuals who are aware of themselves as living in concrete totality. The first concrete form of spirit expresses itself as the city-state or the self of all.
This is the time of the Greek city-state, which Hegel calls a beautiful ethical life.
Since it is an ethical community, individual action divides and separates spirit into
ethical substance and ethical consciousness. The division is necessitated by the fact
that ethical substance requires human agency to realize itself in the world.28
Although these two realms are really one in the unity of Greek ethical life, they
constitute relatively independent and separate modes of spirit, each obeying the
rules of its own.29
As a primitive and essential form of the ethical life, the family is a natural community. It is concerned with the individual as a family member. It consists of three
primordial relationships: husband and wife, parents and children, and brothers and
sisters. Of the three, the relationship of husband and wife is the one in which one
consciousness immediately recognizes itself in another, and in which there is knowledge of this mutual recognition.30 The second is the outgrowth of the first, as love
crystallizes into offspring. Both of these, in Hegels view, are not purely spiritual
relationships. They are in fact permeated by an element of emotion (love, feeling).31
In Hegels view, the third relationship of brother and sister is close to that of pure
recognition between individualities since it is free from emotions and passions that
pervade the relations of marriage partners and of children to parents.32 It does not
end up being lost in the other as the other relations do. Thus, for Hegel, it presents

See, PS, 455, 272, 273.

Ibid., 460, 276.
Ibid., 456, 273.
See, Hyppolite (1979), 345.
Hegel says: They are the same blood which hasin them reached a state of rest and equilibrium. Therefore, they do not desire one another, nor have they given to, or received from, one
another this independent being-for-self; on the contrary, they are free individualities in regard to
each other. PS, 457, 274.


G. Kwon

an exemplary intersubjective recognition between the subjects. Nevertheless, it has

no chance to be actualized in the Greek ethical life.
As spirit exists immediately in the Greek ethical world, according to Hegel, the
immediate existence is unsuitable to spirit. Consequently, the decline of individuality has followed. The substance of spirit dissolves into the world of persons, and
the abstract I, who is no longer bound up with determinate content, becomes the
subject. That is, the ethical individuality is replaced by the juridical person: that is,
juridical recognition of the subject endowed with legal equality. The recognition
process underlying it is the same as the previous ones.
In the second moment of the dialectical process (or culture), the substance is
divided into the community (the will of all) and the family (individualization) as
was the case in the ethical world. Whereas the community in the ethical world was
immediately the will of all and the self was not separated from that will, it now
appears as a reality external to specific consciousness in the spiritual world of alienation. Furthermore, these moments of substance take objective forms for selfconsciousness. They appear in real forms: the first as state power and the second as
wealth.33 Both state power and wealth are the objective essence of this world and in
the face of them stands self-consciousness. In the first essence, individuals find their
universal foundation; in the second, they find their unceasing return to themselves
(becoming of being-for-itself).
With this development, the state power, which was at first only the universal in
thought (the in-itself), becomes the universal in existence, actual power. It is an
actual power because self-consciousness judges the state power to be the essence.
Thereby, it subjects itself willingly to it. The state, however, is not yet any particular
will (or an agent having its own intention). State power is lacking in a single will.34
If state power is to exist as a self, there must be deeper alienation on the part of the
noble consciousness. The spur to this development is the logic of language.35
In language, the specific I can become external to itself and move up to universality; the universal, reciprocally, can become I. When I speak I, in other words, I
have become objectified and universalized by the presence of others saying the
same I. If the multiple Is are united by a single entity embodying all the Is and
that I is spoken by the universal being, then it amounts to it that what it says is
what the multitude say in unison, hence recognition between I and Is. Through
the linguistic mediation, the subject alienates its very I by speaking the universal
in-itself for the state, while maintaining I by speaking it for itself. Consequently, for

State power and wealth correspond to what in the Philosophy of Right Hegel calls the state and
civil society.
PS, 505, 307.
When living self-consciousnesses wished to prove to each other their truth as pure being-foritself, they had to risk their lives in combatthe struggle for recognition. Likewise, such a total
alienation of the self at this stage of development must be found in which being-for-itself surrenders itself as completely as in death while preserving itself in that very alienation. The negation
must be a spiritual negation that preserves at the same time as it negates. Now the only way to go
beyond the natural alternatives of posing and negating is to find an exteriority of I, an exteriority
that retains I. Language is exactly that exteriority. See, Hyppolite (1979), 4012.


Phenomenology of Recognition: Hegels Original Contribution to the Politics


Hegel, state power is constituted as the personal self in absolute monarchy. Only the
king has a proper name that is known by all. In speaking, the king knows himself as
the universal power.
For Hegel, this is how the subject as person is recognized in and by the state at
the stage of culture. From this discussion, we find that recognition is in its nature
a linguistically mediated process while it presupposes externalization of the self
into material objects or abstract laws or community (i.e. the state). It is all the more
meaningful and directly relevant if it involves another being, possibly of the same
nature (i.e., the subject or person). As it will become more obvious later, what Hegel
demands from the recognition process is that recognition of the subject is ever more
systemized into formal institutional processes within civil society and the state.
Only then, Hegel believes, it can be actualized without alienation of the subject
from the universal state.
When society is more commercialized and markets spread, the emergent bourgeois ethos comes to corrupt the body politic. With the disappearance of noble
consciousness, thinking about the community first over their private interests,
wealth becomes the sole object of self-consciousness. The desire for wealth for its
own sake is admitted. Wealth constitutes the precondition of the subjects recognition of itself. This externalized selfhood, however, cannot go unchallenged since the
subject cannot help but see, in the end, its self being dependent on an alien will, that
is, the blind force of markets. It is a kind of universality, but it is different from that
of state power in that the self can no longer discover itself in that thing of market,
even if it is exactly the incarnation of its own work. Consequently, recognition
mediated by wealth or the relation established between the subject and wealth is
open to a whole new dialectical development. This constitutes Hegels critique of
modern commercialized and monetized social relations.
In the sections where Hegel discusses morality or the moral worldview, we
find more concrete examples of recognition mediated by language or moral principles. Moral self-consciousness, according to Hegels exposition, recognizes itself in
moral duty of the sort of Kantian categorical imperative and knows that its essence
lies in it on the one hand. On the other hand, it is also related to the nature or natural
forces that are the opposite of freedom. Consequently, there are two independent
terms co-existing within moral consciousness: freedom, in which the subject identifies itself with moral life, and nature, in which it is unable to find itself, but which it
knows only as its being-other. The apparent mutual independence of nature and
morality, however, is contradictory to the subsumption of nature in morality which
self-consciousness at this stage purports to attain. This contradiction propels the
moral worldview to resolve its own contradiction through the system of three postulates made by practical reason.36 From this dialectical process, we see that recognition, when it is mediated by abstract moral principles, is liable to be vacuous and
remain just as such unless morality actualizes into a concretely identifiable object
qua subject.
By the means of language, according to Hegels Phenomenology, the self of
moral consciousness comes to know that his own action is congruent with the moral

See ibid., 47282.


G. Kwon

law. Universal consciousness or what is called conscience of knowing-with37 is

achieved. That is, the felt conviction that it acts on moral duty is in agreement with
its manifestation (or actualization) in language.38 When we speak out a certain
moral principle that we believe in, in other words, we come to be bound by it and to
be embodied in it, due to the inherent demand of language for universality. Hence
we can no longer separate our action from the moral principle; we become the moral
principle itself: i.e., in-and-for-itself. We could say that we are recognized by the
laws of morality.
What is noteworthy here is the fact that in Hegels Phenomenology, the linguistically achieved identity of individuality and universality is only a solution in principle to the moral view of the world. The self of conscience is still plagued with the
abstractness of I = I. Unless its own conviction is acted out in the world, it does
not actualize itself. Herein lies the necessity of a determinate mediator (judge) who
can adjudicate the conflicting interpretations. The moral judge opens up another
possibility of recognition between men of conscience by inducing each to acknowledge the impurity of his conviction while the universal laws are confirmed by
another who is in charge of upholding and speaking them.39
In Hegels phenomenology of recognition, the practical formative process of
individual subject starts with the subjects instrumental experience of itself, which
is inherent in the internal connection of labor, tools, and products. The first instrumental experience of the self, however, is far from sufficient for the formation of the
full-blown modern subject as we are in modernity. The subject is acquainted with
itself only as an active thing in the course of its labor. To overcome the limitation,
the subject has to learn to comprehend itself as an intersubjective being existing
alongside others with competing claims. The formative process therefore needs to
be extended along a further dimension of the practical relation to the world.
It is this aspect of being as a being-with-others that Hegel captures with the concept of love. Being the first concrete actualization of mutual recognition, love
between men and women provides the subject with an intersubjective moment of
overcoming its encapsulation in its own world and becoming conscious of another
being.40 Only with the love relationship, however, is the subject unable to develop
into a legal person in civil society. Since it is narrowly confined to family relations,
it has yet to achieve the universality required by the legal person. It, therefore, has

Williams, Recognition, 207.

Hegel defines language as follows: Language is self-consciousness existing for others, selfconsciousness which as such is immediately present, and as this self-consciousness is universal
It is the self that separates itself from itself, which as pure I = I becomes objective to itself, which
in this objectivity equally preserves itself as this self PS, 652, 395.
Hegel identifies absolute spirit with the world of reconciliation: the world of reconciliation is
the objectively existent Spirit, which beholds the pure knowledge of itself qua universal essence,
in its opposite, in the pure knowledge of itself qua absolutely self-contained and exclusive individualitya reciprocal recognition which is absolute Spirit. Ibid., 670, 408.
The transition from the solipsistic state of self-consciousness to the new intersubjective dimension of the will is made possible by the category of cunning which Hegel treats as a female
characteristic. See, Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition, 36.


Phenomenology of Recognition: Hegels Original Contribution to the Politics


to break out of the familial relationship and come into contact with others in a wider
society. In civil society and the state we see other examples of recognition in

Recognition in Civil Society and the State

In the Philosophy of Right, civil society appears as an advance over substantial

(unreflective and immediate) ethical life. It intervenes between the family and the
state even if it is formed after the state, historically speaking. For it contains both
moments within itself.41 From the perspective of the individual subjective will, civil
society is the realm of individual interests and needsi.e., that of particularity.
In the system of needs, persons are united by the universality of value. That is
because a persons need is not only comparable to his other needs but also to the
needs of others.42 The nature of recognition becomes the reverse of that found in the
family. In the exchange relations at the heart of civil society, the other person is not
the object of my desire. What I desire is what other persons have or the value of it.
In the value mediated relations, therefore, there cannot be any felt unity with those
other persons. Consequently, the subjects in civil society appear as a mere plurality
of separate Is. This extreme expression of particularities has to be overcome if
the persons qua property owners evolve into the subjects of morality or citizens. In
Hegels framework, civil society institutions like estates and police are structured
exactly for that purpose. They work as the mediums of recognition for the subject.
His delineation of recognition in each moment of civil society is another contribution to the discourse of recognition.
The first institution of mediation established in civil society is the various classes
(estates) into which production and exchange differentiate individuals and within
which they work and attain their public identity. Hegel sees classes as the natural
outcome of the composite processes of work, exchange and division of labor and
particularly the universality inherent in it.43 They are significant in that if the family
is the first precondition of the state, estates are the second.44 Only through the estates
do the persons simultaneously acquire material necessities and gain recognition for
the self. Otherwise, they are merely private persons and the latent universality in
civil society is not actualized. Their existence does not acquire ethical objectivity.
Through the embodiment of persons into estates, in other words, they come to take
on public and universal identities in addition to individual identity as persons of
Since the first ethical moment of family is still retained through the estates, the
persons of abstract rights are able to move smoothly into the ethical realm of the

PR, 182 (additions), 266.

See, ibid., 192, 127.
Ibid., 201, 130.
Ibid., 201 (addition), 270.


G. Kwon

state, where the for-itself is united again with the in-itself without being
absorbed into one of them. Otherwise, the persons of abstract rights would be lost
in an unrecoverable disremption of particular interests and universal essence (value).
Due to the experiences of estate membership, instead, the subjects in civil society
break out of the immediate feeling and natural belief in God. They are able to
develop theoretical and practical reasoningi.e., what Hegel calls understanding.45
Thanks to the acquired capacity for understanding, there also emerges in civil
society the universal class (i.e., the class of civil servants), which is in charge of
taking care of the universal interests of the community.
Despite the potentiality of orderliness inherent in the learned capability of understanding, civil society is in its essence the system of need. Therefore, it has the
tendency of unimpeded activities of industry, the result of which, if unchecked, is
the division of labor, amassing of wealth in the hands of a few, impoverishment of a
large portion of the population, increasing production and unmet demand, and ultimately colonialism. Against these self-destructive tendencies of civil society, Hegel
notes two attenuating institutions, the middle term between an individual and the
universal possibility, afforded by society, of attaining individual ends.46 One is the
Police (or the public authority), the justification of which lies in the necessity of
upholding the universal, that is, the public interests.47 The other mediating institution that not only curtails the perils of particular interests, but also works as the
premonition of the advent of the state is the Corporation.48 Hegel emphasizes the
importance of the corporation as the ethical root of the state by calling it a second
family for its members.49 In short, we could say that recognition in civil society is
achieved by and through the mediating institutions which embody the latent universality into concrete subjects of action.
The state is none other than an actualization of implicit universal moments of civil
society without eclipsing its achievement of individuality (individual freedom), as
was the case in the morality of Phenomenology. In Hegels scheme, the state is
divided into three branches: (a) the Legislature; (b) the Executive; and (c) the Crown.50
The tripartite distinction corresponds to the syllogistic relation of singular, particular,
and universal within the political self-legislating will.51 The legislative function of
forming universally applicable laws occupies the position of the universal, while the

In the Philosophy of Right, Hegel is specific as to the form of rationality that these individuals are
educated to acquire in the estate of trade and industry: i.e., the understanding. See, Redding,
Hegels Hermeneutics, 199203.
PR, 236 (addition), 276.
Ibid., 236, 147.
Ibid., 252, 1523.
Hegel, Philosophy of Right, 273, 176.
In Hegels scheme, the power of the crown contains within itself three moments of the whole:
() the universality of the constitution and the laws; () counsel, which refers the particular to the
universal; and () the moment of ultimate decision, as the self-determination to which everything
else reverts and from which everything else derives the beginning of its actuality. Ibid., 275, 179.


Phenomenology of Recognition: Hegels Original Contribution to the Politics


executive in its function of carrying out the laws in the realm of particularity stands
in the place of the particular. The monarch takes the position of singularity.
At the center of the Hegelian schemata of the state resides the person of the king
occupying a place in the political sphere analogous to that occupied by the judge of
the civil sphere. The criminal recognizes his action and right in the judges own act
of addressing and recognizing him. Likewise, the citizen recognizes himself in the
act of the monarch and identifies with the monarchs action as its own. With the
recognition of himself in the other (monarch), in a practical sense, the citizen is
elevated to the Absolute Geist. No longer does the citizen qua particularity need the
mediation of another being to embrace the universal within itself (to become the
being-of-for-and-in-itself), according to Hegels scheme.
Hegel did not take up in the Phenomenology this last recognition between citizen
and king, which puts an end to the dialectic of recognition. As discussed above, for
instance, recognition in the Phenomenology starts from an encounter between subjects A and B. It develops into one between A and the universal value and later into
one between A and Laws. Then, Hegel moves up to the dialectics of absolute spirits
without further developing his initial framework of intersubjective recognition.
In the Philosophy of Right, however, we see that the ethical realm of civil society
or the state is again underpinned by the intersubjective recognition, hence achieving
the total logical circularity. In the general structure, recognition between A and the
king is equivalent to recognition between A and B because the king is a singular
individual. In the meantime, it is also recognition between A and A since the king is
another A: i.e., its in-itself (essence). In terms of recognition of the self and the unity
of the self with the totality, therefore, we can say that Hegels dialectical system is
completed in the unity of the self with the totality of the state. No longer does the
subject need recognition afterward. The subject is already embodied in the state and
become identical with it. This is how Hegel conceptualizes recognition and individual identity in the modern society. Whether Hegels conception of recognition in
the modern state is actualized as such, however, remains a theoretical and practical topic of debate as the contemporary scholarly debates on the politics of recognition attest.

Conclusion: Recognition in the Age of Globalism

Given the diversity of entities vying for the recognition of their existence or for their
claims for equal recognition, how relevant is the Hegelian phenomenology of recognition to the contemporary identity politics in the age of globalization? Unlike the
contemporary discourses on recognition that trump individual rights or equality, the
Hegelian framework of recognition points both to the diversity of claims that can be
made in the name of recognition, and to the distinctive contexts and structural preconditions that should be present if each type of recognition is to be actualized in
the real world (Table 11.1).

Table 11.1 Types of

G. Kwon
Type of recognition
Traditional Society
Moral Society
Modern Civil
The State

Major medium of recognition

Love, Filial Bondage, Possession
Need, Work, Violence, Command
Morality, Abstract Laws, Priest
Property Rights, Wealth, Judge,
Political Institutions, Citizenship,

As discussed above, recognition has taken place in six different types of society.
Each requires a particular medium for the subject to externalize the internal and to
internalize the external and to recognize and be recognized by the other. The table
above summarizes the types of recognition that we can discern in Hegels phenomenology of recognition. Because of the unique structural conditions, each mode of
recognition entails its own limitations and possibilities. Each foretells an alternative
scenario for the politics of recognition if it is to be actualized in the global society.
At present, however, it is hard to tell how recognition of individuals and entities
is played out in the global society, aside from the fact that all the claimants for recognition seem to speak different languages. No small reason lies in the fact that the
global society of states and non-state actors itself cannot be clearly pinpointed as
constituting one particular type of society. As Nancy Fraser notes, the Westphalian
state system is now in eclipse; it is on the verge of being transformed into something
else. In addition, all the different types of human collectivities and associations
from business corporations, regional and functional associations, and civil organizations are constitutive of their own spheres of activities by forming global networks
beyond the territorial boundaries. As the traditional conceptual line separating the
public and the private gets blurred, an order can no longer be found among them.
Their influences are criss-crossed and often in conflict; the world seems to be in
disarray. As a result, the state-based conception of rights and justice (or demand for
recognition) is either no longer tenable, or at least facing a limitation when it is
applied to non-citizens and non-state actors.
In this amorphous situation, it is of no use (or rather dangerous) to formulate an
ideal type of recognition and to subsume all others under it. As Charles Taylor recommends in the age of multiculturalism, it might be more desirable to wait and see
how all the different claims for recognition play out in the global politics of identity.
At least, the observant attitude would not have the peril of imposing one particular
idea of identity over the others and hence, monopolizing the discourse on
By dint of the fact that the global actors should be embodied into objectively
identifiable entities of material and ideational nature and by the fact that the embodiment requires a determinate medium, however, we could take a more proactive position at the present identity and recognition politics. Having a classificatory scheme
to assist our systematic understanding of the global phenomenon of the surging
identity claims, we could pass a judgment on the claims of individual or societal


Phenomenology of Recognition: Hegels Original Contribution to the Politics


entities for recognition: that is, whether they are justified in terms of the structural
conditions and whether they have a potential to be actualized in the real world. By
carefully examining the structural characteristics of recognition in the corresponding sphere, we can diagnose objectively the validity claims or their conditions for
actualization including concrete measures that should be in place if it is to be a reality for the claimant.
What type of recognition is fully actualized in the contemporary global society
may not be known until, as Professor Jung used to say, the Phoenix rises from the
ashes. The classificatory framework of recognition, however, allows us to conjecture some possibilities that are more likely to be actualized than others. At least it
warns against taking any one type of recognition that might be dominant in the present as the only one to recognize oneself and the other in the future. The global
society is anyway a realm of human potentiality in the fullest sense. The human
beings deserve to be recognized as they truly want to be: i.e., a whole bodily and
social being through and through.

Chapter 12

Levinas and Lukcs: Totality and Infinity

Richard A. Cohen

Abstract Opposed to the formalism of classical rationality, here exemplified by

Kants ethics, both thinkers ground their philosophies in phenomenology: Lukcs
from Hegel via Marx, Levinas from Husserl. Criticizing Kantian ethics for its
abstractness, self-division, ineffectuality, and ideological eternalizing of the bourgeois status quo, Lukcs defends an alternative philosophy of totality as dialecticalhistorical class struggle. Rejecting Lukcss alternative as totalitarian, Levinas
defends a post-Kantian ethical alternative: the primacy of an asymmetrical-ahistorical
intersubjective moral responsibility, and the just politicssocial democracybuilt
upon it. Levinas begins with detailed phenomenological studies of the constitution
of embodied and vulnerable subjectivity, and then, driven by the things themselves beyond the epistemological boundaries of Husserlian phenomenology, he
elaborates the source of these significations in the infinity, saying, proximity or
transcendence which gives rise to responsibility for others.

To think of mens hunger is the first function of politics.1

No philosopher of the twentieth century has made the notion of totality more
central or important to thinking and action than Gyrgy Lukcs (18851971). It is
the lynchpin of his Marxist worldview, whose orthodoxy he defends for precisely
this reason: concrete historical reality, driven by class conflict, is a dialectical totality.
No philosopher of the twentieth century is more opposed to totality, as indicated in
the title of his major philosophical work, Totality and Infinity, and as argued in all
his writings, than Emmanuel Levinas (19061995). The visage of being that shows
itself in war, Levinas writes on the first page of the Preface of Totality and Infinity,
is fixed in the concept of totality, which dominates Western philosophy. Individuals
are reduced to being bearers of forces that command them unbeknown to
themselves.2 In view of Lukcss defense of totality, which he joins to a critique

Emmanuel Levinas, Model of the West, in Emmanuel Levinas, Beyond the Verse, trans. Gary
D. Mole (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 18.
Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University
Press, 1969), 21 (Henceforth, TI.).
R.A. Cohen (*)
University at Buffalo (SUNY), Buffalo, NY, USA
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_12



R.A. Cohen

of ethics, and Levinass defense of ethics, joined to a critique of totality, it is surprising

that these two contemporary European migr intellectualsboth brilliant, both
erudite, both extensively published, both political philosophers3have not yet been
put in critical juxtaposition.
Although Levinas never mentions Lukcs by name, given that Lukcs was of
the just previous generation, the generation of Levinass teachers, and that their
lifespans included 65 years of overlap, given that Lukcss books, especially his
magnum opus History and Class Consciousness,4 published in 1923, would almost
certainly have been known to Levinas, and given that Levinas own masterpiece,
Totality and Infinity, published in 1961, the word totality emblazoned on its title,5
begins with an extended discussion of political philosophy centered on the question
of ethics, war, and peace approached via a critique of totality, it is very possible that
Levinas had Lukcs consciously in mind as a major interlocutor. Whether he did or
not, however, the dispute between these two thinkersmade even more poignant
owing to Levinass avowed and profound sympathy with the inspiration and aspirations of Marxism6is substantial, far-ranging and consequential. It is the topic of
the present paper. However, because their debate is multi-layered and complex, the
present paper narrows its focusin an admitted still abbreviated and incomplete
fashionto only one of its aspects, though a very important one, namely, their

I say nothing of the fact that both were born of Jewish parents into Jewish homes because Lukcs,
to my knowledge, never defines or even thinks of himself in such terms.
Georg Lukcs, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney
Livingstone (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1983) (Henceforth, HCC.). Contesting the many
commentators who see Lukcs shifting positions throughout his long career, Frederic Jameson, in
The Case for Georg Lukcs, published in 1970, and found in Frederic Jameson, Marxism and
Form (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 160205, makes a convincing case for its
overall continuity and hence the enduring value, for Lukcs himself, of his magnum opus.
Given the prominence of Heidegger as a philosopher and as Levinass primary protagonist, it
would not have been surprising if Levinas had called his magnum opus Being and Infinity. Nor,
given the then prominence of Jean-Paul Sartre, and Levinass disagreements with his existentialism, would it have been surprising had the book been named Finitude and Infinity. The actual title,
however, Totality and Infinity, with the first of its four sections entirely devoted to political philosophy, to the question of justice, can hardly not call to mind Lukcs, and behind Lukcs Marx and
Hegel. For further reflections on the significance of the title of Levinass masterpiece, see chapter
6, Some Notes on the Title of Levinass Totality and Infinity and its First Sentence, in my book,
Levinasian Meditations: Ethics, Philosophy, and Religion (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press,
2010), 107127.
In an interview with Francois Poirie conducted in 1986, Levinas says the following: The end of
socialism, in the horror of Stalinism, is the greatest spiritual crisis in modern Europe. Marxism
represented a generosity, whatever the way in which one understands the materialist doctrine
which is its basis. There is in Marxism the recognition of the other; there is certainly the idea that
the other must himself struggle for this recognition, that the other must become egoist. But the
noble hope, consists in healing everything, in installing, beyond the chance of individual charity, a
regime without evil. Interview with Francois Poirie, trans. Jill Robbins and Marcus Coelen, in
Is it Righteous to Be?: Interviews with Emmanuel Levinas, ed. Jill Robbins (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 2001), 81. To be sure, Levinas denounced the horror of Stalinism, and the horrors of all totalitarianism. To be sure, Lukcs, living in Moscow, was compromised in this regard.

12 Levinas and Lukcs: Totality and Infinity


relation to ethics. And even here, it focuses again more narrowly on their mutual
opposition to Kants ethics and their proposals to overcome its flaws.
But such a focus is hardly narrow: in many respects Kantian ethics is the middle
term of their entire debate. Both Lukcs and Levinas are explicit and radical critics
of Kant, yet in their different reasons and different solutions one finds all the differences separating them. Given the great philosophical achievement of the Critical
philosophy, it is not surprising that Kants ethics is at once closest and most distant
from them both, albeit in very different senses. So, Lukcss defense of totality is
the indirect heir, via Marx, of Hegels dialectical overcoming of representational
thought in Kant. As such, Lukcss rejection of Kant is total, a shift to a different
sort of thinking with different aims altogether. Levinas, too, rejects the very form of
Kants thinking, but from the outlook of Husserlian phenomenology rather than
Hegelian-Marxist dialectic. Furthermore, Levinas does not rest content with phenomenological science, but building upon it he finds himself obligated to go beyond
it into ethics as first philosophy, and thus in this two-pronged way, mirroring
Kants first and second critiques, retains the spirit of Kants primacy of pure practical reason while saving it from the same debilitating rationalist purity which led
Hegel, Marx, and Lukcs also to reject it. Thus in both cases, for both Levinas and
Lukcs, the differences from Kant are decisive.
While rejecting it, Lukcs and Levinas agree that the Kantian critical philosophy
represents the culmination and epitome of classical Western thought. Or to say this
more specifically, for both thinkers Kant is the modern culmination and epitome of
the effort to rationally unify mind and body, spirit and matter, freedom and necessity, which had been metaphysically separated and opposed to one another at the
commencement of Western thought in Ancient Greece at the very moment and as
the deepest problematic of Parmenides asseveration that thinking and being are
one. Once divided, never have they been united except rhetorically by question
begging or reduction. Naming his own solution transcendental idealism, Kant
brilliantly solves the problem by showing its necessary and unsurpassable insolvability. He limits philosophy to what it can know, i.e., modern science, to what it
cannot know but must assume, i.e., ethics, and to what it cannot refute but desires,
i.e., religion, by protecting it from its own urge to say what it cannot say with any
justification, namely, empty or dogmatic metaphysical speculation. By limiting
knowledge according to reason itself, the Kantian edifice effected an intellectual
tour de force that forever changed the map of European philosophical thought.7
Notwithstanding its monumental achievement, it is precisely the internal split
celebrated and defended by Kant as the very limit of human understanding that
Lukcs attacks as irrational. To be sure, his attack resumes Hegels polemic
against Kant and, more importantly, on the positive side, it adopts Hegels solution, namely, the unifying dynamism of dialectical thinking. Dialectical thinking is
the thinking of totality not in the sense that the thinker represents totality in thought,

The magnitude of Kants accomplishment can only be compared to that of Socrates, who by turning philosophy from natural science to questions of ethics and politics, made all prior philosophy
seem pre-Socratic; likewise, since Kant philosophy is either pre-Kantian or post-Kantian.


R.A. Cohen

seeing in it a limit, as would a Kantian, but in the sense that thinking is itself the
thought of totality, totalitys thinking, hence unlimited in the sense that no other
or outside stands exterior to it. Let us note that Heidegger too makes this move in
attempting to free himself from Kant: shifting to Beings thinking from Kants
thinking about beings. Both thinkersLukcs and Heideggeralso see this new
sort of thought as historical, thought unfolding in history, history thinking, as it
were, though for Heidegger, unlike Hegel and Lukcs, there is no determinate and
knowable logic to history.8
Be that as it may, in opposing Kant by adopting the dialectical totality, Lukcs
also adopts Marxs critique of Hegel. So instead of the dialectic concluding in the
concept (Begriff), the concept thinking itself, as in Hegel, it concludes instead in the
real, the historical, a dynamic driven by class conflict, which is the concrete
historical-economic meaning of the dialectical negation of negation which is the
inner logic of historical movement. Thus for Lukcs, Kantian philosophy, limited as
it is to representational thinking, is in truththough unknown to itselfno more
than the conservative representative of bourgeois class interests, a partial, distorted, ossification of the real, in contradistinction to Lukcss defense of the more
advanced awareness of the historical dialectical totality which is thinkable only in
and through classless proletarian self-consciousness.
Levinas, too, will also reject the mind-body dualism of Kantian philosophy, but
his alternative is quite otherwise. This is because Levinas will agree with the larger
Kantian thesis regarding the primacy of practical reason,9 a primacy whose moral
exigency operates otherwise than the truth imperatives of the sciences of nature, and
otherwise than the historical necessity of the Marxist dialectic of Lukcs. Turning
not to the dialectic of Hegels phenomenology and its science of logic, Levinas turns
rather to Husserls science of phenomenology, and by means of its rigorous methodological reduction, pursuing the things themselves, escapes the inherited
dualist presuppositions which debilitated Kantian philosophy.
But then, just as Lukcss Hegel is one recast by Marx, Levinas moves from
Husserls science to evidences which force him to admit the primacy of ethics,
ethics as the primacy of concrete singular moral responsibilities of one person for
another person, and the exigencies of the call for justice, justice for all, demanded
on the political plane by and regulated by such responsibility.10 Not by dialectic, but
by means of findings whose concretude, integrity, and validity derive from rigorous

Hegel sees history as the working out, the phenomenology, of truth revealing itself to itself,
moving from partiality or one-sidedness to universality, and Lukcs sees it, following Marx, as the
development of a conflict of classes working from partiality to universality, ending with the universal humanity of Communism, but Heidegger, too, though rejecting the logic of Hegel, Marx, and
Lukcs, does periodize Western thought in terms of the ancient, the medieval, and the modern
epochs, in terms of the primacy of being, of God, and of humanity respectively, and all of it as
dispensations of the Seinsfrage.
See Emmanuel Levinas, The Primacy of Pure Practical Reason (1971), trans. Blake Billings, in
Man and World, Vol. 27 (1994): 445453.
No doubt Lukcss rebuttal would be to paint Levinass ethics as merely bourgeois. The argument is not easily ended, if it can be or even ought to be ended at all.

12 Levinas and Lukcs: Totality and Infinity


phenomenological studies (as found, for example, in Section Two of Totality and
Infinity), Levinass thought thus opens a new ethical path freed of the aporia of the
Kantian dualist heritage.
Before turning to closer analyses of both thinkers, I want to underscore the centrality and importance for Lukcs of the notion of totality, and more particularly
his understanding of totality as concrete historical dialectic determined by class
conflict. It is, as I have indicated, central to his critique of Kant and to his entire
Marxist outlook. The first three of the following Lukcs citations are taken from an
article entitled What is Orthodox Marxism and the fourth is taken from History
and Class Consciousness, both published in 1923. The dialectic insists upon the
concrete unity of the whole in opposition to all of these isolated facts and partial
systems, it unmasks this illusion of appearances which is necessarily produced by
Or, more simply and directly: The concrete totality is thus the fundamental
category of reality,12 to which Lukcs appends a footnote in which he discusses
Hegels Logic. Yet again: The intelligibility of an object develops in terms of the
objects function in the whole, and only the conception of totality makes it possible
for us to comprehend this reality as a social process.13 Finally: The different
forms of fragmentation are so many necessary phases on the road towards a reconstituted man but they dissolve into nothing when they come into a true relation with
a grasped totality, i.e., when they become dialectical.14 I have taken these particular
citations, though I could have chosen many others, because they show very well
both the centrality of Lukcss notion of totality to his thought, and alsoimportant
for our purposesthat his notion of totality conforms perfectly, as we shall see, to
Levinass notion of totality. To be sure, Lukcs embraces totality, and Levinas
rejects it, but at least they agree as to its character.
I will conclude this litany of citations by giving Levinas the last word, with a
citation taken from an article entitled The Ego and the Totality, published in 1954.
It is a rich and complex citation, one that will make more sense at the conclusion of
the present chapter than now, one that really requires a reading of the entirety of
Levinass article, but one which I have selected because it challengesinvoking the
outside of ethicsLukcss idolization of totality with another approach, yet
one that no less than Lukcs demands real economic justice, and at the same time
rejects Kant:
To serve the totality is to fight for justice. The totality is constituted by violence and corruption.Justice can have no other object than economic equality. It does not come to birth out
of the very play of injustice; it comes from the outside. But it is an illusion or hypocrisy to
suppose that, originating outside of economic relations, it could be maintained outside of
them in a kingdom of pure respect.15

MHL, 27.
Ibid., 32.
Ibid., 36.
HCC, 141.
Emmanuel Levinas, The Ego and the Totality, in Emmanuel Levinas, Collected Philosophical
Papers, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987), 44 (Henceforth, CPP.).


R.A. Cohen

Lukcs Contra Kant

Lukcs confronts Kants ethics because practical reason, as its name suggests,
operates on the plane of action. This is the horizon to which dialectical thinking,
integrating theory and practice, is closest. Therefore, the dualist irrationality of
which Lukcs accuses all of Kants philosophy will be expressed most concretely
there. Indeed, because action is so important to Lukcss outlook, he will say: this
configuration of consciousness, referring to the rent tearing Kantian thought apart,
can only be found really and concretely in the ethical act, in the relation of the ethically acting (individual) subject to itself.16 The basic problem of Kants ethics, as
of all his thought, is its formalism. To see precisely what Lukcs means by this
charge we will turn to the two extended discussions of Kant in History and Class
Consciousness. Both are found in that books central chapter, Reification and the
Consciousness of the Proletariat, the first in the second of its three subsections,
The Antinomies of Bourgeois Thought, and the second in the third subsection,
The Standpoint of the Proletariat. As these subsection headings make explicit, and
as the logic of Lukcss argument demands, the first discussion is primarily an inner
or internal criticism of Kant, a critique of Kant as a representative of bourgeois
thought, while the second, building on this critique, is a Marxist criticism, taking its
stand with the proletariat, locating Kants ethics within the concrete historical dialectic, from which stance alone it can be seen to be merely a one-sided bourgeois
philosophy in opposition to the total or dialectical proletariat standpoint.
Turning to Kants ethics, Lukcs delineates four specific ways in which it fails
owing to the unresolved split which runs through all of Kants philosophy. Recalling
the citations above about totality will indicate the grounds upon which Lukcss
critiques and criticisms are based. First, Kant begins with ethical facts, which
beyond their illegitimate and only apparent isolation (isolation is always illegitimate
and only apparent) are here criticized because they are taken as simply given, there,
the way things are, the case, and thus are incapable of being truly conceived of as
having been created.17 Certainly, regardless of what one makes of his criticism,
Lukcs is here on solid ground. Readers of Kant cannot but be aware, as Kant makes
explicit, that his ethics is not constructive or constitutive but transcendental.
Morality is given, that is not at issue. One should not lie. One should not steal. One
should not murder, and so on. Lying, murder, stealing are evil. What is at issue for
Kant is how moral judgments are possiblepossible in the face of the strict causal
necessity which completely determines nature according to scientific knowledge. If
everything is necessary, how can one judge goodness or evil? Kants ethics, then, is
nothing more or less than an explanationindeed, a transcendental explanation
of how it is possible that morality, which is given, is possible. Lukcs, however,
because his thinking is grounded in the ongoing dynamic or process of a historical
dialectical-totality, does not believe that anything is simply given. Everything is a
product of historical becoming, which Kantian facts and the givenness of

HCC, 124.
Ibid., 124.

12 Levinas and Lukcs: Totality and Infinity


morality mask (Let us note, in passing, that this attack shares elements of Husserls
own critique of nave realism, the natural attitude, his critique of positivity in
thinking, and his turn to consciousness, to intentionality, as the source of all
Second attack: because Kant never resolves or unifies the natural world of necessity, the true world discovered by the sciences, and the supersensible moral realm
of freedom, the freedom which according to Kant is the condition for the possibility
of morality, his account of morality ends up reduced to a mere point of view from
which to judge internal events.18 Everything, all of the external, nature, in other
words, remains strictly determined, untouched by moral judgment. Therefore, ethics, or the alleged moral actions and moral judgments of which ethics is the explanation, must be entirely internal, so internal, indeed, as to have no external manifestation
whatsoever. Morality is then useless. Lukcss attack is powerful and telling: how
can morality be effective, how can it be anything more than a nominalist set of
judgments, propositions of a certain form, whose very enunciation is strictly ordered
by natural laws, rather than something that makes a real difference, if the real
world, nature, even if Kant calls it phenomenal, operates exclusively according
to the laws of a strict and unbroken causal necessity as discovered by science?
Ethicsentirely ineffectivewould be less than an epiphenomenon; it would be, as
Spinoza had already declared, nothing real at all, sheer ignorance, verbal smoke
and mirrors.
Third attack: Lukcs complains that Kant, not content to split the world in two,
must also and accordingly split the human subject in two. Writing that [e]ven the
subject is split into phenomenon and noumenon and the unresolved, insoluble and
henceforth permanent conflict between freedom and necessity now invades its
innermost structure.19 Glorify it with the label moral conscience or not, for
Lukcs to end with such an unresolved inner split is tantamount to defining humans
by a disease, prescribing that they buck up to lives of inevitable torment and pain,
when in fact there is a cure. Because his thought is based in totality, one that resolves
itself historically with the end of class conflict, Lukcs believes there is a resolution
to the torment of individual self-division, that there is a non-alienated way of being
which, when established, will rid humanity once and for all of its self-laceration.
Thus self-alienation is not the definition of human being but a provisional historical
Fourth and final attack: Lukcs bemoans the fact that Kantian ethics becomes
purely formal and lacking in content.20 Several problems are thus indicated.
Because moral content is simply taken as given, Kants ethics, his philosophical
explanation, could in principle be applicable to other moralities given or invented.
So if stealing or lying were morally valued by a particular extant or fancied culture,
the moral agent would still have to be free to choose these insofar as these actions
are chosen rather than necessary. That is to say, the whole apparatus of the Kantian
transcendental explanation could be applied pretty much at will to any set of moral

Ibid., 124.
Ibid., 124.
Ibid., 124.


R.A. Cohen

imperatives. Such free-floating detachment, a de-territorialized intellectualist

structure emptied or lacking in contentform without contentcannot, so Lukcs
argues, be remedied within the confines of Kantian thought. Furthermore, to make
matters worse, the Kantian ethic disguises its own emptiness. It is this specific
problem and the specific manner of its self-deception about which Lukcs remarks:
The moment this ethic attempts to make itself concrete, i.e., to test its strength on
concrete problems, it is forced to borrow the elements of content of those particular
actions from the world of phenomena.21 Readers of Kants ethics will see in this
fourth attack the problem of the interest or the inclination which, paradoxically,
drives pure practical reason. How can an interest motivate a moral agency said to
be moral precisely because it is disinterested or pure? While Kant admits that
humans are not angels, are not pure rational agents, and that having counterinclinations morality is a duty for humans, such an admission, which in a certain
sense must be denied or overcome even as it is made, the apparent contradiction
inherent in such a structurethis is precisely what bothers Lukcs. Or to rephrase
Lukcss complaint in milder terms: in the Kantian ethic the flesh and blood human
being at its very best is a failure.
The unifying thread of Lukcss four criticisms is that they all result from Kants
formalistic detachment from historical totality: the relation between form and content, as the problem of the irreducibility of the factual, and the irrationality of
matter.22 Calling to mind Kants metaphysical solution,23 which he will address
and attack in his second discussion, Lukcs concludes his first discussion of Kant
with the following programmatic result: When the question is formulated more
concretely, it turns out that the essence of praxis consists in annulling that indifference of form towards content that we found in the problem of the thing-in-itself.
The separation of form and content undermines the entire Kantian project, and
renders its ethics formal, abstract, detached from reality, and hence ineffectual, not
to mention tormented without relief.
In the second discussion of Kant in History and Class Consciousness, Lukcs
picks up where he left off the first: Kants formalism not only renders ethics ineffectual, a mere judgment, hollow words, sounds, but in so doing, in leaving the real
as it is, unaltered, Kant positively accepts it as given. Thus Kant ratifies and
buttresses the status quo, which by means of his brilliant conceptual presentation is
philosophically immortalized. Do not be fooled, so Lukcs is saying, by the seeming call to action of the ethical imperative, the ought, when in fact nothing in the
world is changed or can be changed. Whenever, Lukcs writes, drawing this
conclusion from Kant, the refusal of the subject simply to accept his empirically
given existence takes the form of an ought, this means that the immediately given
empirical reality receives affirmation and consecration at the hands of philosophy:
it is philosophically immortalized.24

HCC, 124125.
Ibid., 125.
Ibid., 125.
Ibid., 160.

12 Levinas and Lukcs: Totality and Infinity


The ought, far from being the motor of real change it would claim itself to be,
is actually an ideological marker of capitulation to the real, a sign of assimilation to,
agreement with, indeed, affirmation of the status quo. For precisely in the pure,
classical expression it received in the philosophy of Kant it remains true that the
ought presupposes an existing reality to which the category of ought remains
inapplicable in principle.25 Kant is thus an apologist for the Establishment.
Lukcs rejects the notion of givenness or immediacy in the human sciences,
and most emphatically he rejects its absolutized form in Kant. Because history is a
totality, a dialectic which produces itself from out of itself, with no possible remainder (which in any case would merely be an empty theological postulate), it is able
to resolve all problems because all problems are in the end always of its own
making. Rejecting every theory of the ought, Lukcs rejects ethics as such as a
real solution to humanitys social problems. Ethics, he argues, faces a dilemma:
(1) either accepting its own ineffectuality it allows and affirms the stark givenness
or meaninglessness of the real relative to any alleged improvement or progressive
development, i.e., ethics serves as an ideological cover for what is in truth resigned
fatalism, or (2) it rejects and transcends the concept of both what is and what
ought to be so as to be able to explain the real impact of the ought upon what
is,26 i.e., it shifts from ideology to revolution, from ethics to self-conscious dialectics. This latter alternative is of course the route taken and advocated by Lukcs,
following Marx. The latter is not Levinass path, but in rejecting it Levinas breaks
no less with the horns of Lukcss dilemma.
Anticipating Levinas, let us note that at this juncture Lukcs draws attention to
what seems like a proposed third line of neither ethical resignation nor historical
revolution, namely, the popular solution of an infinite progression.27 But for
Lukcs this alternative, which Kant himself had already proposed, is not a real
solution and not even a real third alternative. Indeed, it is a variant in the ideological
manipulations produced by the first horn, the ethical, and merely conceals the fact
that the problem is insoluble.28 This is because the carrot of infinite progression
toward an ideal, e.g., eternal peace or world government, merely postpones rather
than solves the original and root failure of Kantian ethics. Turning the ought into a
regulative ideal, in other words, dangling a future as the yet unrealized kingdom
of ends before the present, masks the real reasons for the hardships of today, which
cannot be overcome in principle, with an empty, indeed impossible dream of tomorrow. It is no accident, from this point of view, that in naming this postponed future
the kingdom of ends Kant alludes unmistakably to the Christian kingdom of God.
For Lukcs, Kants kingdom and the Christian kingdom are equally illusory, equally
ideological masks. The task, Lukcs writes, is to discover the principles by means
of which it becomes possible in the first place for an ought to modify existence.29

Ibid., 160.
Ibid., 161.
Ibid., 161.
Ibid., 161.
Ibid., 161.


R.A. Cohen

Replacing Kants futile formalism, overcoming the irreparable split between

subject and object, rejecting the notion of an unalterable stolid givenness, Lukcs
insists upon the dialectical principle of mediation. Historical mediation, dialectics,
totality, with these notions, which are all equivalent expressions of the same solution, Lukcs shifts to the unity of subject and object as the authentic objective
structure30 of the real itself. What Hegel understood conceptually is what Marx
realizes concretely: the historical-dialectical totality. The latter is the ground of
Lukcss polemic contra Kant. Marxism is the thinking-and-acting, the praxis of
concrete history, history thinking and history acting at once in the veritable and real
dialectic of producing-produced, the genuine concrete totality, as it becomes conscious in and through the proletariat. Only such an approach can and does awaken
from the lucid but merely formal dreams of Kants slumber upon an illusory bed of
givenness, to break free from reification, self-alienation, the fetishization of
the status quo.
The split between subject and object, freedom and necessity, humanity and
nature, producing and produced, the ought and the is, these splits, and the
status-quo they justify, are not for the proletariat absolute immortal givens.
Lukacs writes:
For the proletariat social reality does not exist in this double form. In every aspect of
daily life in which the individual worker imagines himself to be the subject of his own life
he finds this to be an illusion that is destroyed by the immediacy of his existence.31

That is to say, the proletariat as the one who labors and produces sees first hand
that the world is produced, that it is made, that it is the product of labor, and therefore that reality does not stand against the worker as an unalterable metaphysical
given. Whether this dialectical whole and liberating self-awareness is that of the
laboring masses (as per Rosa Luxemburg) or of a vanguard of intellectuals (as per
Lenin), here is not the place to decide. What is clear is that for Lukcs Kant, far
from being a true visionary, is in truth the last and greatest classical ideologue of the
bourgeois, philosophical mouthpiece of its vested interest in maintaining the status
quo of a divided capitalist totality, however abstractly or formally this real class
struggle may find its expression in the rarified derivative language of philosophy.

Levinas Contra Kant and Lukcs

We can hardly doubt that Levinas is cognizant of Lukcss general line of criticism,
based in the charge of formalism, which after all is not a criticism exclusive to
Lukcs. Along with all scholars who are not diehard Kantians, Levinas agrees with
this general line. The failure of the Kantian critical philosophy, despite the inner
logic, cleverness, and discipline of its self-limitation, is no doubt ultimately the

Ibid., 162.
Ibid., 165.

12 Levinas and Lukcs: Totality and Infinity


same failure one can discover in all classical philosophy, regardless of this or that
philosophical rationalization: an irresolvable mind-body dualism.32 Agreeing with
Lukcss criticism, however, does not entail agreeing with Lukcss dialecticalhistorical solution. Adhering to the open-ended and self-correcting spirit of the
natural sciences, and hence to the proper extension of that scientific spirit opened up
by Husserls phenomenology, rather than to one or another party line of dialectics,
Levinas is not at all convinced that in Hegel, Marx, or Lukcs one escapes the distorting dogmas of classical thought. The genuine corrective lies not in dialectics,
whose alleged superiority often seems to the outside observer (a status whose very
possibility is denied by the same dialectic) more wishful and willfulmore rhetorical and politicalthan real, but rather more modestly and truly, so Levinas contends, in Husserls rigorous science of phenomenology. Thus Levinas writes:
Kantian philosophy itself, which has lent reason its form and figure, was still misled by a
traditional logic accepted as fixed, and needed a phenomenology, whether Hegelianovercoming the separations of logical understanding by a form of reason in movement, or, more
humbly but more radically, Husserlianseeking full lucidity on the hither side of logic in
a living present, in its proto-impressions and their syntheses and passive explications. In
Husserls view that full lucidity has already been diminished by the first constituted structures of objectivity, which block the horizons of critical scrutiny.33

In the first sentence, Levinas agrees with all critics of Kant: his thought is
deformed by its formalism. In the second sentence, regarding a choice between the
phenomenology of Hegel or Husserl to overcome this formalism, Levinas finds
Husserls the more scientific. And also in the final sentence, without opting for the
dialectic, Levinas agrees with the dialecticians that the Kantian notion of objectivity is not a fixed given but is constituted, and furthermore, again agreeing with
the dialecticians, and in opposition to positivists, he is sensitive to the further difficulty that objectivity also obscure the very horizon which could reveal its constituted character.
In rejecting and opposing the dialectic, Levinas does not thereby defend nave
realism, the natural attitude, positivist self-deception, does not revert to the
immortalized representations of classical thought. Indeed, even with regard to
religion, that region of signification which one would expect to be most if not completely resistant to constitutional analysis, Levinas declares in Totality and Infinity
that: Everything that cannot be restored to an interhuman relation represents not
the superior form but the forever primitive form of religion.34 In other words, to

This abstract dualistic metaphysics may have originated in India, and came to the Greeks, and to
the Western tradition thereafter, via Persia. Such origins are obscure. When Nietzsche speaks of
Christianity as Platonism for the masses, he is referring to this gnostic dualism, but in the masses
determined through passion, emotion, feeling (faith) rather than reasoning, the mind, ideas
Emmanuel Levinas, Martin Buber, Gabriel Marcel and Philosophy, in Emmanuel Levinas,
Outside the Subject, trans. Michael B. Smith (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 31
(Henceforth, OS.). Levinas often discusses Marxist thought in relation to Martin Buber, who was
of course an active Socialist.
TI, 79 (my translation).


R.A. Cohen

oppose the navet of common sense, or the positivist realism, the scientism of
philosophers, is not the monopoly of dialecticians. Indeed it is precisely the first
methodological requirement of Husserls phenomenology, the technique he named
epoch or reduction, which is precisely a disciplined self-conscious detachment
from the realist presuppositions of the natural attitude. So for the phenomenologist, not unlike the dialectician, the meaningful world is not given but is constituted.
Neither dialecticians nor phenomenologists, then, need be apologists for the real.
Thus, it is not the issue of constitution, per se, that divides Lukcs and Levinas, but
the issue of whether dialectics or phenomenology is closer to grasping the nature of
the real constitution of the meaningful.
Certainly there are various ways to interpret phenomenology, some favoring its
idealist and others favoring its existentialist tendencies, especially in view of the
depth, range, and several new beginnings of Husserls work. In some of his publications, particularly in Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology (1913), Husserl
seems to lean toward an idealist reading. Levinas, for his part, always emphasized
phenomenologys engagement with the things themselves, the concrete, existence (an aspect that also greatly excited Jean-Paul Sartre), a reading which Levinas
as commentator explicates in The Theory of Intuition in Husserls Phenomenology
(1930) and then, as its very title highlights, in Discovering Existence with Husserl
and Heidegger.35 Accordingly, as we saw in the previous citation, Levinas argues
that the rigorous science of Husserls phenomenological method, because it is
more humble, i.e., more attentive to the things themselves, and more radical, i.e.,
disburdened of inherited intellectualist baggage, is much to be preferred and far
superior to the Hegelian-based dialectical analyses which claim the mantle of
science but in fact once again import and impose presupposed theoretical
The most basic of such constructions in Hegel, and in Marx, of course, is the
dialectic itself, its alleged movement by means of the famous (or infamous)
negation of negation. Negation is in fact an operation of propositional logic, a
relation of ideas. In applying it to the real, as Hegel and Marx do, one is not engaging with the real but rather, and once again, endorsing Parmenides equation of
logos and being. Except for a devotee of the dialectic, doubling negation, negation
of negation, does not produce real movement, and even less, except for a Marxist
devotee of the dialectic, does it represent the basic structure of historical change.
Logic and history operate on different planes. To understand history one must attend
to it hermeneutically, not impose a logistics. After the impasse of Kantian dualism,
Bergsonnot Hegel, not Marx, not Nietzschewas the first to introduce genuine
movement into thought, with his notion of duration, and then Husserl provided
the method for its rigorous and specific elaborations. Bergson, more than any other
thinker, is the father of contemporary or post-Kantian post-dualist thought.36
Husserls phenomenology, among its other achievements, takes Bergsons ground35

1949; 2nd rev. ed., 1967.

See, Bergson and the Emergence of an Ecological Age, in my book, Ethics, Exegesis and
Philosophy: Interpretation After Levinas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 2752.

12 Levinas and Lukcs: Totality and Infinity


breaking insights, especially his notions of intuition and duration, and develops
them more rigorously. So it is little wonder that Levinas rejects dialectic for being a
Procrustean bed, inappropriate for grasping the concrete vicissitudes of history or,
for that matter, all but a handful of real processes of constitution. Parallel to Lukcs
faulting Kant for formalism, here Levinas faults the dialecticians for logicism
both formalism and logicism being unacceptable as merely artificial and therefore
arbitrary constructions imposed upon the real, even ifindeed especially because
they carry the inherited prestige of the propositional logic which held classical philosophy so long in thrall.
In turning to Husserls phenomenology rather than to Hegels, then, Levinas is
being a better scientist, convinced of its greater felicity, its greater respect for the
things themselves, for the concrete, without falling preycontra Lukcsto the
quietism of a formal or logicist immortalizing of contents.37 Husserl, it should not
be forgotten, was no less a critic of objectivism in science than Lukcs. The entire
argument of his last partially published book, written under the shadows of Fascist
Italy and Spain, and within hearing of the jackboots of a Nazi Germany, The Crisis
of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (1936), is precisely
a radical critique of the then regnant objectivist interpretation of science. For
Husserl, in a seeming paradox, objectivism is not truthful enough, not scientific
enough.38 Positivism is based on an erroneous and narrow idea of science as
objectivity, i.e., what is real, what can be known objectively, is what can be quantified. Having erroneously limited science all that is thereby left out and peremptorily excluded does not, however, go away. In a return of the repressed, the excluded
comes out all the worse, distorted and misunderstood under the far too extended
category of the irrational. What Husserl saw was that the search for justified truth
which is the essence of science does not limit scientific knowledge exclusively to
objects but rather to that for which there is evidence. Evidence, not objectivity, is the

Martin Buber makes a similar criticism of Hegel (and Marx), decrying their lack of concreteness,
their intellectualist abstraction from real man, i.e., charging Hegel (and Marx) with a radical
alienation from the anthropological setting: the dispossessing of the concrete human person and
the concrete human community in favor of universal reason, its dialectical processes and its objective structures. Martin Buber, What is Man? (1938), in Martin Buber, Between Man and Man,
trans. Ronald G. Smith (Great Britain: Collins, 1963), 170. Thought confirms it [the Hegelian
house of the universe] and the word glorified it; but the real man does not set foot in it (ibid.,
173). There seems to be a battle over who can be more concrete. To be sure, Marx intends to be
more concrete than Hegel in the sense that he sees Hegels philosophical conceptions realized
inand appropriately transformed by and throughconcrete history, especially economic history.
Buber and Levinas, in contrast, argue that precisely an inattention to the concrete, and an excess of
rationalization, undermines the entire Hegelian and Marxists dialectics as abstract and hence arbitrary (from the viewpoint of the concrete) constructs imposed upon the real, despiteand indeed
because ofall their talk of dialectics. Unfortunately for Buber, so it seems to me, his legitimate
criticism rests positively upon the unfortunately all too vague grounds of his dialogical philosophy of meeting, and not, as with Levinas, upon rigorously scientific investigations conducted
according to the phenomenological method.
See chapter 12, Absolute Positivity and Ultrapositivity: Beyond Husserl, in my book,
Elevations: The Height of the Good in Rosenzweig and Levinas (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1994), 274286.


R.A. Cohen

true ground of science. Thereforeand this is one of the great strides forward made
by phenomenologyall regions of being, all regions of signification, e.g., imagination, sentiment, will, art, temporality, history, and so on, each having its own appropriate evidences, can and should be studied and elucidated scientifically.
Furthermore, because genuine science so conceived is an ongoing and self-correcting
set of tasks, an infinite progression of research, its investigations also contribute
to the long and arduous personal, social, and political process of dampening the
harm caused by the irrational influence of unexamined prejudices. Therefore, under
the banner of phenomenological science, Husserl recalls humanity to its highest
vocation, namely, thatand what is philosophy if not this battle cry? and when has
it not been accused of being nave or utopian?Truth will set us free.
For all that, and it is considerable, Levinas adopts phenomenology only up to a
point. Or rather, to express this precisely, he adopts it as far as it goes. But it does
not go far enough, even and especially given the legitimacy of Husserls infinite
expansion of the horizons of science. To remain science, after all, phenomenology
must remain blind or must reject as unfulfilled those significationsif one can
rightfully call them significations; Levinas will reserve the terms saying or
signifyingwhich exceed the evidences of intentional consciousness. For
Levinas the meaningfulness of ethics is precisely outside, beyond, exceeds the infinite horizons of phenomenology: its significance is irreducible to the significations
constituted by intentional consciousness and its analysis, and yet it functions as the
source of those very significations. Scientific truth sets us free from the irrational,
from prejudice, from bias. Ethics, even more deeply, makes the dis-interestedness of
science possible. The real break with phenomenology, then, so Levinas argues, is
required because of its essential inability to account for the surplus of meaning
which transpires in face-to-face proximity. The face is not a phenomenon: from the
first it imposes a moral imperative, an obligation coming from the very otherness of
the other person, received by myself in the accusative rather than nominative, that is
to say, in my unshakable and asymmetrical moral responsibility for-the-other.
From the first, beforein the sense of primacy, greater urgencyanything is
said, in the very saying of the said, the otherwhat Levinas often calls the
facesignifies a solicitation of responsibility for-the-other, instituting morality,
and ultimately also signifiesbecause the other is not alone, because there are others who are other to the othera responsibility for-all-others, instituting justice.
Here is not the place to rehearse Levinass ethics, which is the heart of his thought.
The point at hand is that it is not only by turning to phenomenology rather than
dialectics for his science that Levinas parts company with Lukcs. More importantly, and in frontal confrontation, it is in seeing the true source of the meaningful
in ethics rather than dialectics, in the singularity of one person taking responsibility
for another, and for all others, that Levinas stands against the reification of a processcall it dialecticalin which humans would be little more than puppets
attached to strings pulled by the historical totality. Not the totalizing comprehension
of science, whether natural, transcendental, phenomenological, or dialectical, or the
totalitarianism potential to all states and all politics, but ethics is for Levinas first
philosophy. Infinity, the infinite obligation emanating from the face of the other,

12 Levinas and Lukcs: Totality and Infinity


is not only opposed to totality, not only breaks with totality, but does so by drawing
humanity higher than totality, better than totality, more nobly, toward the good
and the just.
The first evidence for such a position, the first rupture, that is to say, is language itself. Before being a system of signs, or a correspondence between words
and things, language is spoken from one person to another. Meaning does not arise
in the world as an alien invasion, as the descent of language languaging from out
of the blue, or coming from an anonymous transcendental intentionality, or the
upsurge of a reservoir of being, or through a class-conflicted dialectical totality.
These are contexts, configurations of sense, differential orders of meaning, intertextualities, to be sure. They are what Levinas calls the said. The said has an inner
tendency analogous to what the Marxists call reification or commodification,
because the said, once said, effaces that is has been said, that it depends on a saying,
or, what amounts to the same thing, it pretends to the self-presence of having said
itself by itself. In this regard Lukcss dialectical-class-history is no different than
Heideggers ontological-epochal-history. Nevertheless, despite itself, or despite its
unwitting rhetoric, the said is not its own source: saying says the said, first person
singular saying, the speaking of a flesh and blood person to another flesh and blood
person, a speaking which invokes a responding, and in that responsiveness a responsibility for the saying of the said. For Levinas the source of meaning is not in the
said and certainly not found by totalizing it and pretending it gives meaning. One
says the said, says it to another. Response is responsibility for the saying of another.
Discourse precedes propositions.
Speech is thus a relationship between freedoms which neither limit nor negate, but affirm
one another. The term respect could be taken up again here, provided that it be emphasized that the reciprocity of this respect is not an indifferent relation, like a serene contemplation, and that it is not the outcome of, but the condition for, ethics.39

Notice in this citation that Levinas combines the concrete discoveries of phenomenological investigation, regarding the primacy of speech for meaning, with an
acknowledgment rather than a suppression of the surplus of a moral responsibility
which alone makes sense of the exigency of such a priority, going beyond the
confines of both the Critical Philosophy and dialectical totality and yet remaining
faithful to the concrete and real. By starting and always remaining grounded in the
concrete constituted realities discovered by phenomenology, realities which are
of necessity restarted, recharged, indeed overcharged by the ethical surplus of
proximity, the one-for-the-other of moral responsibility, Levinas overcomes the
formalist and dualist problems of Kant, while at the same time remaining faithful
to the primacy of practical reason, by refusing to escape into the logicist reification of historical totality which is precisely where Lukcss attempted solution fails
and is escapist.
Thus where Lukcs sees the unacknowledged origin of scientific knowledge in
the historical-totality graspable only through an immanent historical dialectics,

Emmanuel Levinas, The Ego and the Totality, 43.


R.A. Cohen

Levinas sees scientific knowledge, including knowledge of history, historiography,

and all the sciences of the human, originating in the irreducible transcendencethe
infinitywhich transpires in the ethical encounter of one person with another.
The binding of phenomenology (i.e., science) to ethics is revealed in the very structure of Totality and Infinity. The second of its four sections, entitled Interiority and
Economy, is a series of close and careful phenomenological studies wherein
Levinas elaborates the intentional constitution of subjectivity (separation, enjoyment) and world (dwelling, labor, representation). These studies, by the way, scientifically correctfollowing Husserls conception of phenomenology as rigorous
scienceHeideggers earlier phenomenological studies of similar and related topics in Being and Time.40 The results of Levinass phenomenological investigations
in section two are then re-interpreted in terms of the non-intentional transcendence
of ethics which Levinas elaborates in the third section of Totality and Infinity, entitled Exteriority and the Face. These two sections, phenomenological and ethical,
the second and third of Totality and Infinity, are what provide the concrete basis and
impetus for its first section, entitled The Same and the Other, i.e., Levinass political philosophy based in ethics, like Aristotles Politics which depends on and builds
upon his Nicomachean Ethics.
The transcendence of the face, Levinas writes in the first section of Totality and
Infinity, is at the same time its absence from this world into which it enters, the
exiling [depaysement] of a being, his condition of being stranger, destitute, or proletarian. To recognize the Other [Autrui] is to recognize a hunger. To recognize
the Other is to give.41 The proletarian is not defined by class, not by a commonality,
but as the one who faces, from a height, thus also a solicitation, hungry, in need of
food, clothing, shelter, conversation, education, employment, and the like. The face
of the other person shatters the totality, breaks with its context, piercing it with
obligations and responsibilities which cannot be foisted and blamed upon a reified
history awkwardly stalking about like Frankensteins creature, a jerky dialectical
negation of negation. The burden of responsibility in the first person singularity of
proximity, responsibility for the good of the other and for justice for all, are not first
placed on anothers shoulders, even if social and political life does also demand just
structures and institutions. Morality is a surcharge on the real: The interlocutor
appears as though without a history, outside of system.42 Faithful to the Real,
refractory to the System43in this expression we find the true motto of Levinass
phenomenological-ethical approach, attentive to history without effacing the other,
an advance upon Kant, and a critical alternative to the totalizing dialectical-political
vision of Hegel, Marx and Lukcs.


For a comprehensive exposition of Levinass relation to phenomenology, including his relation

to Heidegger as well as Husserl, see my article, Emmanuel Levinas, in The Routledge Companion
to Phenomenology, ed. S. Luft and S. Overgaard (New York: Routledge, 2012), 7181.
TI, 75.
CPP (The Ego and the Totality), 43.
OS (The String and the Wood), 130.

12 Levinas and Lukcs: Totality and Infinity


The findings of section two of Totality and Infinity articulate the results of
concrete phenomenological investigationsalways subject to revision, to be sure
into the various layers of intentional meaning which constitute subjectivity and
worldliness, results which from the start have disburdened themselves from the
formalist and logicist heritage of classical, Cartesian, Kantian, and, let us now add,
Hegelian and Marxist philosophy. Despite its much proclaimed rejection of formalist
dualism, the Hegelian dialectical phenomenology and logicwith Marx following
in train, and then Lukcsdoes not break free, as we have indicated, of its inaugural Parmenidean prejudice equating physis and logos. Let us be even more explicit
on this point: Marxs reorientation of such a totality from Concept to history is not
at all sufficient to undo the logicist violencethe error, the reduction, to say this
more modestlyof its initial and guiding prejudice. The stronger albeit still metaphorical language of violence is tempting, however, because Marxs reorientation
of Hegel has had very real and quite dreadful consequences of its own, violence far
from metaphorical. What had been the philosophical prejudice of a few professors
and intellectuals became transformed from an error in thought to a terror in deed,
one masked by an ideologyIt is history which actshiding in the most righteous terms of right, or in the most allegedly scientific terms of necessity, slaughters
and oppressions of millions, indeed, hundreds of millions. We are not meant to
invoke these murders? It is what, impolite? Surely they cannot and should not be
ignored, just as philosophers in good conscience must face up to the shameful
consequences of Heideggers worship of historical being, the Seinfrages lack of
any resistance to beings gift of Nazism and the HolocaustHeideggers lack of
any resistance. To ignore such things, to brush them under this or that sophisticated
intellectual rug would be the height of irresponsibility, and the depth of ideology
Freed of formalism, freed of logicism, freed of dialectical (or any other) historical totality, phenomenological analyses of human subjectivity and worldliness tell a
different story, describe a different set of meanings. Through the phenomenological
analyses of meaning in section two of Totality and Infinity Levinas shows the origin
of sense in sensuous being as self-sensing, an initial autonomy arising not through
law or logic or dialectic but as the inner sense of embodiment as the self-sensing of
sensations. Sensation breaks up every system; Hegel places at the origin of his
dialect the senses, Levinas writes, and not the unity of sensing and sensed in
sensation.44 Hegel begins with being and non-being and the becoming he
artificially constructs from their contradiction. But construct all you will, there is
no real movement, no embodied synthesis, in such propositional logic. Because the
logic, the dialectical logic, is an artificial movement, and not a real movement, the
entire edifice built upon it is equally artificial, even and especially when it shuts off
all exits.
Levinass thought beginsowing to his phenomenological investigationswith
the human rupture or separation from anonymous being through an embodied
hypostasis or sensuous fold of a self-sensing sensuality. Such a being is no hylomorphic

TI, 59.


R.A. Cohen

pastiche of form and content, mind and matter, necessity and freedom, or being and
non-being, masquerading as integral unities, nor a product of negation of negation, but rather more faithful to the real, an embodied being with desires, whose
highest manner of beingand here Levinas will revert to the ancient view according to which one defines the human by what is most precious rather than what is
common or most basicis desire for the most desirable, i.e., responsibility for the
other person and for a just world for all others. Faithful to the real, refractory to the
system. It is a long journey from beginnings in self-sensing to morality and justice,
but at least when one rises to these challenges the human subject is no abstraction
but a vulnerable being, one who suffers, can be wounded, becomes ill, is hungry,
needs shelter, and the like. In the face of the results of concrete phenomenological
studies, and in the face of the pressing moral exigencies and the difficult tasks of
justice which ennoble and burden flesh-and-blood human beings, one comes to see
just how abstract, artificial, reductive and irresponsible is the approach of dialectical
totality. In the name of necessity it would claim to serve justice, yet it does not even
recognize the inalienable worth of each vulnerable needy human individual. Here,
too, let us note that Levinass analyses are not the result of a counter-abstraction, the
construction of the self-interested monadic individual derived from a no less artificially constructed contract theory, for instance. Levinas begins with the embodied
self because the self begins in and as an embodied self. He remains faithful to such
a self because no abstraction can conjure it away. It is such a self, inalienably itself
in a circuit of sensations, which enters into and engages in social life. Having fleshed
out and deepened the notion of embodied selfhood, Levinas is then in a position to
more fully grasp the transcendence of the encounter with another person.45
The face of the other person bursts upon the self, upon me, the oneself in its
singularity, embodied, here, now, through the exigencies of my non-intentional
responsibility to respond to that other person, to help and to aid that other person, to
alleviate the suffering and the needs of that other. Embodied, caught in its passivity,
in its own suffering, as well as in its own real capacity to provide aid, there is no
escape into pure freedom or pure necessity. Nor is there room for an escape shifting
the burden to history to take care of things. No exigency is greater, none more pressing, nothing precedes responsibility, neither a hypothetical contract nor an objective
position within a dialectical totality, and nothing trumps such a responsibility.
It singles the self outas irreplaceable, non-substitutable, and in this unique
precisely in and through its responsibility to and for the other. It is exceptional,
unprecedented, and inescapable, though one may certainly refuse to be responsible,
refuse a responsibility already prior to its refusal. The transcendence of the other
person cannot be reduced to his or her context, to race, religion, creed, class, gender,

It is remarkable that already in his early philosophical work, Time and the Other (1947), Levinas
recognizes the relation between the deepening of selfhood via embodiment and the deepening of
transcendence via inter-subjectivity: it will be necessary, on the one hand, to deepen the notion of
solitude and, on the other, to consider the opportunities that time offers to solitude (The transcendence of time, in contrast to Heideggers notion of Daseins temporality, is opened up by the
transcendence of the other person). Emmanuel Levinas, Time and the Other and Additional Essays,
ed. and trans. Richard A. Cohen (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1987), 39.

12 Levinas and Lukcs: Totality and Infinity


nation, and the like. These significations are real and significant, to be sure. But they
are not primary, do not define the other, or permit reducing the other to a definition,
a genus, a commonality. No doubt they must be taken into account in the project of
justice, where not the inequality, the transcendence of the other is at stake but the
issue is equality, equal rights, equal opportunities.
But for justice to remain just it must never forget the goodness of morality, personal responsibility, the priority of the other who faces in his or her singularity. The
face of the other person bursts upon my scene irreducible to its context, beyond
my prejudices and preconceptions, an absolute deformalization, breaking with
any and all horizons of meaning, including those of history and its configurations of
power and influence. To stay noncommunist, Levinas is thus able to say in the
midst of the Cold War, comes down to preserving ones freedom of judgment
within a clash of forces.46 Neither retreating to the formal or abstract freedom of a
Kant, nor unaware or unaffected by the particularities of the clash of real forces in
history, responsibility is shouldered as a difficult freedom, for-the-other before
oneself and aiming for justice without sacrificing the humanity of the human.
Choice is difficult. Freedom is not reducible to science.
Freedom consists in knowing that freedom is in peril. But to know or to be conscious is to
have time to avoid and forestall the instant of inhumanity. It is this perpetual postponing of
the hour of treasoninfinitesimal difference between man and non-manthat implies the
disinterestedness of goodness, the desire of the absolutely other of nobility, the dimension
of metaphysics.47

Freedom is not pure, neither reducible to necessity nor made angelic: it is difficult, which is to say, it is involved with others. You are not just free, Levinas
writes, you are also bound to others beyond your freedom. You are responsible for
all. Your liberty is also fraternity.48 Or, referring to his contemporariescritically
to Sartre, and positively to Merleau-Pontywho had also broken with Kant: The
famous finite liberty of the philosophers is responsibility for that which I have not
done.49 Involved with others, involved in history, yet in relation to the other as
transcendence, for Levinas ethics opens the possibility, impossible for the dialectic,
of judging history, of calling history to account, in the name of the moral fraternity
I uphold in the first person singular, in proximity to the neighbor, the widow, the
orphan, the stranger, to bear witness to and to act for the equality of justice which
demands human solidarity. Justice, society, the State and its institutions, exchanges,
and work are comprehensible out of proximity. This means that nothing is outside
of the control of the responsibility of the one for the other.50 Libert, inalienable

Emmanuel Levinas, Dialectics and the Sino-Soviet Quarrel (1960), in Emmanuel Levinas,
Unforeseen History, trans. Niddra Poller (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 107.
TI, 35.
Emmanuel Levinas, As Old as the World?, in Emmanuel Levinas, Nine Talmudic Readings,
trans. Annette Aronowicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 85.
Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis (The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981), 159.


R.A. Cohen

human dignity; galit, social, political and economic justice for all; fraternit,
ethical solidarity of responsibility for the other.
Taking the part of totality, its ventriloquist somehow, Lukcs would abdicate the
judgment of history for historys judgment. History determines right and wrong. Its
judgment is the final judgment. While this may give more authority to history than
an ineffectual judgment immortalizing it into ahistorical abstractions, is not
Lukcs just as ineffectual and does he not also reify history by siding with the victors? In place of human failure, Lukcs would glorify success: taking for right whatever happens to happen. As such, having given up morality as mere ideology,
dialectical thinking would havedespite its claims, themselves only to be taken
seriously from the point of view of history, regarding the pre-established logic of
historyno legitimacy other than an ahistorical rationalization of the real, of whatever comes along.
Once again the ageless rationalization of conquerors that Might makes right
would be the final arbiter. In this way by a peculiar reversal the dialectics of totality,
and not Kant, and certainly not Levinas, would be the philosophy of the status quo.
Such, after the Stalinist purges and show trials of the 1930s, was Arthur Koestlers
charge in Darkness at Noon (1940), and it stands unrefuted. What is reflected in
the consciousness of the proletariat, Lukcs declares at the conclusion of History
and Class Consciousness, is the new positive reality arising out of the dialectical
contradictions of capitalism. And this is by no means the invention of the proletariat, nor was it created out of the void. It is rather the inevitable consequence of the
process in its totality.51 History, we are being told, not humans, ultimately makes
historyand inevitably. The evasions of such circular reasoning, the worship of
success of which it is the ultimate expression, was Heideggers tale too. Strange
bedfellows indeed, united by a shirking of responsibility in the name of a totality:
passing the buck to history, as class conflict or ontological difference, true events
are taken out of merely human hands. Indeed, responsibility, human hands asking
and human hands giving, is actually blamed as the greatest danger deflecting (but
only ideologically, to be sure) the real work of history. Levinass conception of ethics demands a far more difficult freedom than such accommodationism, than the
always tempting opportunism of the future perfect. It is an ethics of responsibility,
for the other and for all others, a giving before receiving, a struggle for justice, real
concrete social, political and economic justice, without guarantees of successcall
it utopian, all great things on earth have come from such ethical idealism. Nothing
is more pressing. Nothing trumps the exigencies of the tasks.
We can now grasp why Levinas would argue against putting totality above infinityand certainly against Lukcsthat in the eventuality of a totalitarian state
man is repressed and a mockery is made of the rights of man, and the promise of an
ultimate return to the rights of man is postponed indefinitely.52 Contesting totalitarianism, it is in the open-ended and ongoing struggle for justice enabled by the

HCC, 204.
OS (The Rights of Man and the Rights of the Other), 123.

12 Levinas and Lukcs: Totality and Infinity


social-democratic liberal state which describes the modality according to which

the conjunction of politics and ethics is intrinsically possible.53 Levinas does not
aim to banish or to ameliorate bad conscience but to prod it to do better. He
opposes precisely the good conscience of all totalitarianisms, the always unmet
promise of the omelet for which todays murders, tortures, and imprisonments are
dismissed as merely broken eggs. Against the totalitarian state, with its reasons
of state, and against the libertarian state, with the cold calculations of its selfinterested monadsboth ultimately ideologies masking counter-realities too painful to acknowledge, there are many texts in which Levinas declares his allegiance to
the liberal state conceived as a social-democratic state, a state, that is to say, driven
positively by the difficult freedom of fraternity, solidarity, to strive for an every
greater justice for all. Justice, the justice justified in history, the little justice accomplished on earth, is never just enough. The following citation is a rich and representative sample:
Since justice constantly has a bad conscience, the demand of charity [morality] which precedes it remains and beckons it. And justice, the justice that deserves its name, does not
forget that the law is perfectible. It leaves open the possibility of a revision of a judgment
once pronounced. And this is very important. Because justicesummoned by charity
nevertheless founds the State and its tyrannical component. By admitting its imperfection,
by arranging for recourse for the judged, justice is already questioning the State. This is
why democracy is a necessary prolongation of the State. It is not one regime possible
among others, but the only suitable one. This is because it safeguards the capacity to
improve or to change the law by changingunfortunate logic!tyrants.54

Levinas defends the state because it legislates and upholds the law, and thus
makes equality and justice possible. Levinass defends the social-democratic liberal
state for two more specific reasons. First, it safeguards justice by being founded
upon and by having constant and/or periodic recourse to the singularity of the individual, via town hall meetings, or election of representatives, recalls, plebiscites, the
pressure of public opinion, letters, lobbying, assembly, and the like. This respect for
the singular person is implied in the combination of the terms liberal and democratic. No doubt, too, singular individuals come from families and unite in various
groups, groups which as groups can then appeal to the state for justice. The right to
assembly is no less important for justice than the right to free speech. So, too, the
right to an education, the right to safe neighborhoods, the right to affordable housing, the right to medical care, and so on, i.e., concrete positive rights, are no less
important. These are not the negation but rather a reflection of the moral character
of human singularity, as of its solidarity with others. Second, the liberal-democratic
state safeguards justice by acknowledging and institutionalizing both (a) the necessity of the State and (b) the inherent limitations of the state, its inner tendency


Is it Righteous to Be? Interviews with Emmanuel Levinas, ed. Jill Robbins (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 2001), 194. See, also, 5152 (liberal State), and 185186 (Western democracies, liberal society, the force of liberalism in Europe).


R.A. Cohen

toward the abasement of individuals in the name of present law, leader (tyrant), or
the anonymity of sheer numbers, by constantly remaining open to change.55
Levinas is in no way succumbing to a political naivet here. He is not asserting
that social democracy guarantees justice will be done.56 Rather he is affirming that
the liberal social-democratic state, with all its flaws, with its susceptibility to manipulation, remains the best possible state, the greatest chance in the political realm
the realm of powerfor real justice in a world of vast injustices: It is not one
regime possible among others, but the only suitable one.57
Genuine freedom is difficult, the concrete but still human striving for justice
through the state by means of laws and institutionsa continual breaking with
totality, a permanent revolution. Neither the state, which institutionalizes justice,
nor history, which opens up a concrete horizon of policy decisions, has the final say
or determines ultimate meaning.
This also means (and it is important that this be emphasized) that the defense of the rights
of man corresponds to a vocation outside the state, disposing, in a political society, of a kind
of extra-territoriality, like that of prophecy in the face of the political powers of the Old
Testament, a vigilance totally different from political intelligence, a lucidity not limited to
yielding before the formalism of universality, but upholding justice itself in its

The source of meaning lies in taking good and evil seriously, a seriousness which
derives from the inordinate responsibility of each personand I myself firstforthe-other, obligations which also demand justice for all, hence require knowledge
and the state, and take justice and injustice no less seriously. In this world goodness
is never good enough, never sufficient, nor justice just enough, nor can one rest from
the difficult freedom whose irksome unsettling infinity is not, as Lukcs thought,
the bane of existence, but rather its very nobility, the wakefulness or vigilance of the
better than being. No doubt it is true that morality without justice becomes mere
sentimentality, but no less is it true that justice without morality becomes tyranny.

Plato, in his Statesman (294b), perhaps in contrast to the Republic on this score, also comes to
recognize the need for a politics open to change: Men and actions change so continually that it is
impossible for any science to make a single rule that will fit every case once and for all.
I believe in the force of liberalism in Europe. But I also have too many memories to be certain
in my answer. Emmanuel Levinas, Is it Righteous to Be, 186.
Ibid., 194.
OS (The Rights of Man and the Rights of the Other), 123.

Chapter 13

Toward a Phenomenology of Human Rights

Robert Bernasconi

Abstract Our conception of human rights has been distorted by the politics
surrounding the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
This essay takes as its starting-point our experience of human rights which, following
Levinas, should be understood primarily as the rights of the other. Although one can
always make specific demands of others on ones own behalf, these demands do not
of themselves constitute a right, nor do they establish a corresponding duty on the
part of others. Our primary experience of rights lies in our sense that certain injustices suffered by others are intolerable, and that we cannot rest until those injustices
are addressed. A quotation from Mengzi shows that this conception, unlike the standard account, does not rely on presuppositions drawn from the liberal tradition of
political philosophy but in a concrete understanding of our relation to others that is
not limited to any single tradition.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In this essay I propose a phenomenological approach to human rights as a radical

alternative to the more familiar conception of human rights that has its roots in classical, that is to say, Lockean liberalism. Locke and his followers begin with the
abstract, isolated individual outside of society, but, for the phenomenologist, the
starting point is our concrete existence. I shall focus here almost exclusively on our
concrete interrelatedness with our fellow human beings, although I shall indicate at
the end of my remarks that my approach can be extended further to accommodate
animals. Phenomenology, or, more precisely, existential phenomenology, which
provides my orientation here, begins, not with artificial thought experiments, such
as the state of nature or the social contract, but with the recognition that no human
being reaches maturity without constant help from others, including previous generations, and that my emotional and intellectual involvement with some of them is
such they are a part of me and me of them. The impossibility of my dissociating

R. Bernasconi (*)
The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_13



R. Bernasconi

myself from others renders absurd all attempts to clarify those rights by speculating
about decisions an individual might make outside of society.
Nevertheless, I am not proposing that we simply exchange a phenomenological
model for one rooted in analytical reason. Any discussion of human rights that takes
its starting point in phenomenology has to employ already existing discourses and
has only a limited power to modify them. Indeed, my decision to focus on human
rights is determined by the fact that the language of human rights currently plays a
powerful role in emancipatory struggles. I want to use that language, but I want to
modify it, as its effectiveness is restricted by the fact that it is so often linked to this
artificial, and, to be blunt, irredeemably-bourgeois philosophical framework.
Human rights discourse is saturated with a series of antinomies that reflect the far
from innocent contexts in which it has grown. To begin with, what is most familiar,
anyone telling the history of human rights inevitably comes to focus on the way
these rights have been presented simultaneously as eternal, universal, inalienable,
and self-evident, and yet were introduced to the world at a certain historical moment.
If these rights are universal, how come that the United States that insists that it discovered them, and claims a continuing ownership of them, or privileged insight into
them? If these rights are inherent and inalienable, how come expressions of their
inalienability have so often been accompanied by massive exclusions? If these
rights are self-evident, why has it always been so difficult to come to agreement on
what they actually are?
These are not easy questions to answer, not just because of the complexity of the
issues raised or because so much is invested in the answers to them, but also because
it seems that the very description of human rights as eternal, universal, inalienable,
and self-evident is designed to halt discussion and stifle debate rather than encourage it. And yet much of the suspicion that surrounds the idea of human rights outside of Europe and North America is, at the very least, exacerbated by the Wests
insistence on seeing this idea as its gift to the rest of the world, a gift that, from the
receiving end, can sometimes seem like an imposition when it only selectively
applied, and when it is used, as it often is, as an instrument of foreign policy.1 There
is a further issue occasioned by the fact that the great historical formulations of
rights have arisen under extreme conditions of conflict or impending conflict. It is
this that seems to account for the fact that the focus has tended to fall on rights at the
expense of obligations and this has led to the tendency for rights to be conceived
primarily as my rights or the rights of those like me.
But what about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948? What were
the conditions of its formulation? Because the birth of the United Nations was preceded by, and was a response to, the bloodiest war in human history, there is an

Even today there is a tendency to brush aside the charge of ethnocentricity. For example, James
Griffin acknowledges that the current notion of human rights is inadequate, or as he prefers to say
incomplete, but at the same time, he believes that the attempt to complete it is best confined to
resources drawn from the Western tradition sustained by the hope that non-Westerners will look
into the case and be attracted by what they find On Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2008), 137.

13 Toward a Phenomenology of Human Rights


inevitable expectation that the document produced in the aftermath of that war
would constitute both an effort to ensure it could never happen again and an attempt
to place such efforts on a new philosophical basis. However, this did not happen.
Roger Normand and Sarah Zaidis recent book, Human Rights at the UN, shows
how the United Nations, by incorporating a belief in each States independence
from military interventions from the outside, left the new institution as hamstrung
as the League of Nations, so that it would have been equally unable to stop the
Nazis had it existed in the 1930s.2 Far from reflecting the widespread belief, at least
outside Europe, that the Holocaust reflected the moral bankruptcy of the Western
philosophical tradition as a whole, and not just of the Nazis, the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights has a somewhat self-congratulatory tone.
And yet there was at least one philosopher on the drafting committee of the
United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Charles Malik, the representative
from Lebanon and a former student of Martin Heidegger, as well as of Alfred North
Whitehead, who avoided triumphalism and evoked an entirely different mood. His
diary entry for the day when the Declaration was passed, 10 December, 1948,
includes only one entry after the notes for his speech and it was a somber line
inspired by Heidegger: Wir sind zu spat fr die Gtter, zu frh fr das Sein.3
Clearly Malik thought it too early to declare a new dawn or even another beginning.
This perhaps reflects the fact that the negotiations leading to the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights were dominated by the beginnings of the Cold War.
The Cold War also dominates a largely forgotten volume prepared under the
auspices of UNESCO that offers us some insight into the philosophical background
underlying the Declaration.4 As part of the preparations for the Universal
Declaration, a Memorandum and Questionnaire on the subject of the Rights of Man
was sent out to a number of thinkers andin part on the basis of their responsesa
committee of experts, mainly philosophers, prepared a report that was sent to the
Human Rights Commission of the United Nations. The subsequent volume included
the Memorandum and the Report, including the responses of such luminaries as
Mahatma Gandhi, Jacques Maritain, Benedetto Croce, and Pierre Teilhard de
Chardin. Although their report was not widely distributed as it might have been
among the drafters of the Declaration because of a turf war, it is worth examining
this book briefly, not least because it is sobering to reflect on the failure of these

See Roger Normand and Sarah Zaidi, Human Rights at the UN (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 2008), 137.
We are too late for the gods, too early for Being. Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New.
Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House,
2001), 170. Henceforth WMN. Heidegger had actually written in a text first published in 1947:
Fr die Gtter kommen wir zu spat und zu frh das Seyn: Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens in
Aus der Erfahrung des Denken Gesamtausgabe 13 (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1983), 76. For a translation see Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York:
Harper and Row, 1971), 4.
Ed. Jacques Maritain, Human Rights: Comments and Interpretation (London: Allan Wingate,


R. Bernasconi

philosophers to take advantage of the extraordinary opportunity they had to impact

political discourse.5
It is striking that in this volume neither the Second World War, nor the Holocaust,
were mentioned directly at any point. Even more striking is the fact that, far from
seeking a universal perspective, most contributors were eager to hand over ownership of the intellectual heritage of human rights to the West without concern for its
appalling record of betrayal of those rights. To be sure, two contributors, A.P. Elkin
and Leonard Barnes, referenced the struggle against colonization and two others,
one Chung-shu Lo writing, the perspective of the Chinese tradition, and the other,
Humayun Kabir, from the Islamic tradition, did try to offer a slightly broader philosophical perspective suggesting that the West might look beyond itself. But there
were few indications from the Western philosophers that they might have anything
to learn from outside the West on this topic, thereby raising the question of the complicity of the philosophers as well as the politicians on the Wests use of the
Declaration to impose its view of rights on the rest and refuse the universal dialogue
that would alone seem to justify a universal declaration. It is certainly ironic that
many of the philosophers whose responses were published highlighted the American
Declaration of Independence, given that they saw it, not as a voice against colonization based on the independence of nations, but as a proclamation of individual
rights, although the historical evidence is clearly against reading it this way.6 It
seems that that way of reading the Declaration of Independences appeal to rights
wasand perhaps istoo deeply ingrained to be challenged. One cannot help
wondering how different the history of the last 60 years might have been if these
philosophers had taken up the revolutionary potential of the language of human
rights, employing it to focus on struggle against colonialism in Asia and Africa.
Nevertheless, these Western philosophers, like the Western politicians, had a narrow
vision of the world and slotted into the rhetoric of the Cold War.
That the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was one
early skirmish in that war can be shown by reference to both the philosophical
discussions sponsored by UNESCO and the contributions of philosophers on the
drafting committee. In both venues the question was individual rights versus group
rights, political rights versus economic rights. And even though one side has since
declared victory in the Cold War, so that the question as to whether or not to prioritize the pursuit of material goods over the pursuit of freedom of conscience, social
and economic rights over so-called political rights, seems to have been resolved in
favor of the latter, the antinomy remains. Even though the absence of individual
freedom can inhibit economic activity, it is as true now as it was then, that if one is
constantly struggling to survive economically, freedom of speech and the right to
vote every few years can seem virtually irrelevant. In my view, only an historical
investigation that would clarify why and how these two kinds of freedom and the
rights associated with themeconomic and politicalbelong together yet became

Normand and Zaidi, Human Rights at the UN, 1825.

See, for example, David Armitage, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

13 Toward a Phenomenology of Human Rights


separated theoretically would enable us to overcome the antinomy. However, that is

not my task here. Instead, I offer a preliminary investigation in the form of a
phenomenology of human rights. I began with this historical excursion into the
philosophical context of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights only because it
helps to establish the need for a reconsideration of the foundation of human rights.

The Experience of Human Rights

So what is our fundamental experience of human rights? Let me begin by discounting what is perhaps the first answer that comes to mind, the idea that rights are discovered in response to my being oppressed. Certainly, there is general agreement
today that there are situations in which a person must protect the denial or loss of
his or her own rights, but this assumes a context in which there is at least some general agreement as to what rights one can legitimately claim. Without such a framework the demand to have ones rights upheld is indistinguishable from any other
kind of demand for better treatment. Rights can be demanded, but they are not mere
demands. Unlike civil rights that are conferred on one when one meets the conditions of citizenship but that are withdrawn if ones citizenship is revoked, human
rights are said to belong to one by nature of ones humanity.
It is not only doubts about our ability to appeal to a human essence beyond cultures that casts doubt on human rights. There is also a question of enforcement: it is
clear that it is the task of the government of the country in which one has citizenship
to respect and enforce civil rights, whereas it is not always clear whose task it is to
respect and enforce human rights. This means that, even though one can lose ones
citizenship more readily than one can lose ones humanity, in fact human rights are
the more tenuous of the two kinds of rights. As Hannah Arendt pointed out in The
Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951, stateless refugees are the very people most in
need of human rights, but they have no government to which they can turn by right
for protection. For Arendt, civil rights are the only rights worth having. To lack citizenship is to be reduced to the status of mere human beings without anybody on
whom one can rely.7 But perhaps Arendts perspective arises from the hope that the
language of rights should resolve a problem they are ill equipped to address. Rather
than pursue her questions, which have been revived in recent years by Julia Kristeva
and Giorgio Agamben, I will ask whether the function of rights discourse should be
conceived differently.8

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1973), 293.
Arendts ideas on this issue were given a renewed currency when they were recalled in the late
1980s and 1990s both by Julia Kristeva in trangers nous-mmes (Paris: Fayard, 1988), 22029;
trans. Leon S. Roudiez, Strangers to Ourselves (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991),
148154, and by Giorgio Agamben in Homo Sacer, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1998), 126135.


R. Bernasconi

For declarations of rights to have an impact, there must be some clarity about
which party or parties has the duty to safeguard those rights. It is significant that,
although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights followed earlier models and so
was written as a document in which nations undertook to protect the rights of individuals against their governments, nevertheless it was written by those governments
themselves. And yet at the same time, the fundamental duties that every human
being was supposed to owe to society, and which were recognized in the original
drafts of the Declaration in the phrase obedience to law, exercise of a useful activity,
acceptance of the burdens and sacrifices demanded for the common good, the final
version reduced these to a somewhat nondescript reference to ones duty to ones
own community, the community in which alone the free and full development of
his personality is possible.9 The idea that one might have duties to humanity, and
that these might be the basis for ones rights seemed to disappear progressively
across the various drafts. One has to see this as a victory of the individualistic ideology of the capitalist bloc over the Soviet bloc. But in order to understand the relation
of the rights of the individual to the nations who may collectively or singly undertake to enforce them, one needs to return discussion of the relation of rights and
duties to concrete individuals acting together in the context of a given society.
The idea that the rights of individuals are meaningless unless there are other
individuals with corresponding duties is a relatively old one and is widespread in the
literature.10 The connection between duties, rights, and ones status or station in life
is visible in the Latin word officium which was, for example, one of the core concepts of Pufendorfs political philosophy in the seventeenth century. Using this
term, he was able, in a way that is largely absent from John Locke and the English
tradition of thinking about natural rights, to take account of the concreteness of our
duties. My rights are abstract because they are extended to me simply by virtue of
my existence. However, I would say that my duties are, by contrast, mine in my
concreteness. They arise in the context of my role in society, my personal and business commitments, my standing in society, the resources available to me, and the
associations to which I belong. Furthermore, it should be clear that to the extent to
which we belong within a global society my concrete duties also expand to embrace
people the world over. So over and beyond any discourse of universal responsibility,
my duties vary as my circumstances vary, and they are also contingent on the opportunities that present themselves.
In the English tradition, political philosophers talked of rights largely at the
expense of duties. This led to Jeremy Benthams attack on absolute rights in
Anarchical Fallacies for setting up expectations that cannot be fulfilled: in the
famous phrase, rights are so much nonsense on stilts.11 Only with the neo-Hegelians,

Article 29, I. See Glendon, A World Made New, 276, 281 and 76.
See, for example, David G. Ritchie, Natural Rights (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1952),
78. This book was originally published in 1894.
Jeremy Bentham, Anarchical Fallacies; Being an Examination of the Declaration of the Rights
of Man and the Citizen Decreed by the Constituent Assembly in France, Works, ed. John Bowring
(Edinburgh: William Tait, 1843), vol. 2, 491.

13 Toward a Phenomenology of Human Rights


like F. H. Bradley at the end of the nineteenth century, does one find a real recognition
in the English context of how rights and duties belong inextricably together.
Bradleys treatment of this issue is governed by his recognition, foreign to the liberal
tradition, that one must consider the human being not in isolation, but concretely in
terms of his or her social life.12 However, particularly instructive for a political phenomenology is the fact that Bradley whose Hegelianism was in danger of allowing
an organic model of society to take over and allow what he alarmingly calls the
truth of despotism to blot out the truth of individualism, finds a resolution to
what I am calling interrelatedness. In his essay My Station and Its Duties,
Bradley expresses his insight in a passage that I believe stands up to scrutiny by the
In all I contemplate independent beings, that are such, and are for themselves, only in the
very same way that I am for myself; in them I see existing free unity of self with others, and
existing by virtue of me and by virtue of the others alike. Them as myself, myself as them.13

The clue to understanding this passage lies in the footnote appended to it where,
following William Shakespeares poem The Phoenix and the Turtle, he writes:
Surely philosophy does not reach its end till the reason of reason is adequate to
the reason of love.14 I cannot say whether or not it was always true, but in the
atomistic society of the early twenty-first century, it seems that it is, above all, love
that succeeds in giving us access to that interrelatedness that overcomes the illusions that possessive individualism perpetuates, including the idea that I can have
freedom for myself but deny it to others. Freedom is always moral freedom, freedom for the other. One finds already in Moses Mendelssohn the idea that it is for the
sake of promoting beneficence that one takes on citizenship through the social contract.15 He shows how one enters society not to avoid a state war, as in Hobbes and
Locke, but to fulfill a preexisting obligation, an obligation from which no agreement, tacit or explicit, could release one.16 There is in Mendelssohn, in spite of his
references to the social contract, a hint of an ethical sociality that preexists the
alleged entry into society. The question here then is to what extent a phenomenological approach can provide resources for developing this insight, freeing it from
this artificial framework and rendering it more concrete.
I have tried to prepare the way for doing so by focusing on the claim that rights
first appear, not as my rights but as the rights of others. Rights do not become mani12

F. H. Bradley in My Station and Its Duties, Ethical Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1982), 160213 at 173.
Ibid., 186.
Ibid., 187n.
Moses Mendelssohn, Jerusalem oder ber religise Macht und Judentum (Berlin: Friedrich
Maurer, 1783), 21; trans. Allan Arkush, Jerusalem or on Religious Power and Judaism (Hanover:
University Press of New England, 1983), 41.
Alexander Altmann, The Quest for Liberty in Moses Mendelssohns Political Philosophy, in
eds. E. Bahr, E.P. Harris, and G. G. Lyon, Humanitt und Dialog (Detroit: Wayne State University
Press, 1982), 3765. Hence HD. On this topic, see also Moses Mendelssohn ber Naturrecht und
Naturzustand, in Ich handle mit Vernunft , N. Hinske (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1981), 4582.


R. Bernasconi

fest when I make demands on my own behalf. Such demands are, on the surface,
indistinguishable from egoism. The fact that I demand something for myself does
not establish my rights to it. It is only when I find myself distressed by the suffering
of others that rights begin to appear as such, although all talk of rights would still be
premature, unless others respond similarly. That is to say, and it is a point Emmanuel
Levinas makes in The Rights of Man and the Rights of the Other, the original
manifestation of the rights of man is in the form of rights for the other and duty for me.17
Elsewhere he exclaims: Event of sociality prior to all association in the name of an
abstract and common humanity. The right of man, absolutely and originally, takes
on meaning only in the other, as the right of the other man. A right with respect to
which I am never released!18
The point is that although one can always demand things for oneself, either alone
or as part of a group, and one can even do so with a sense of entitlement, because
that thing or opportunity is somehow owed to one, or has been promised to one, a
fact that greatly increases ones sense of outrage at a wrong done to one if the
demand is denied, nevertheless the primary experience of right is not of this kind.
Our primary experience of rights is located in our sense of the injustice suffered by
others, our sense that there is a level of injustice surrounding us, and in the world in
general that is intolerable, such that we ourselves cannot rest until those injustices
have been addressed. It is in my willingness to sacrifice something of myself in an
effort to address injustice and feel that this is something I do not choose to do, but
something I must do, that rights first appear. This of course means that rights first
appear as the rights of others.
It is not uncommon to find individuals and groups of people who, although they
live under ghastly conditions, bear their deprivations courageously: they make do.
Nevertheless, these same people can find the suffering of others, no worse than their
own, totally unbearable, to the point where they make real sacrifices in an effort to
help. They do not experience the assistance they thereby give to these others as
something gratuitous, but as a necessity. To provide help is something they feel
compelled to do. They feel obligated and so seek to establish agreement around the
effort to correct this wrong. We do not give enough thought to this extraordinary fact
that this is the way rights emerge from injustice or unright. To be sure, this experience, this sense of injustice, does not rely on the language of rights, but once a
consensus is established around it so that it comes to be articulated in this language
we are in the realm of politics. Indeed, it is in this way that I too attain rights and can
claim them. So it is the language of rights rather than an alleged social contract that
sustains my claim to rights. Here, we see not only how my rights are not primary,


Emmanuel Levinas, Hors sujet (Cognac: Fata Morgana, 1987), 187; trans. Michael B. Smith,
Outside the Subject (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 125. Henceforth HS and OS,
respectively. On Levinas, see my Extra-territoriality. Outside the State, Outside the Subject in
Levinas Studies, vol. 3, 2008, 6177 and 21528.
Emmanuel Levinas, Alterit et transcendence (Cognac: Fata Morgana, 1995), 131; trans. Michael
B. Smith, Alterity and Transcendence (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 127.

13 Toward a Phenomenology of Human Rights


but how I can easily be persuaded that my claim to them can be trumped by the
rights of others.
Demands for rights for ones self are of the moment. They arise in extreme circumstances, but if one survives the crisis, one gets on with life. There is something
almost pathetic about the person who dwells on past injustices that they themselves
have suffered, even though they might be entirely in the right. But it is quite different when we see others being deprived of their rights. Nothing that happens subsequently eradicates our sense of a world out of joint that still needs to be corrected in
some way, perhaps even generations later. T. S. Eliot makes the point this way:
our own past is covered by the currents of action,
But the torment of others remains an experience
Unqualified, unworn by subsequent attrition.
People change and smile, but the agony abides.
Time the destroyer is time the preserver.19

The fact that we experience such feelings and that egoism cannot readily explain
such experiences is central to a phenomenology of rights, even though there is a gulf
between having such experiences and organizing our lives around them.
It is a distinct advantage of this perspective on the suffering of others; it is not
limited to the Western philosophical tradition, but is also found elsewhere, thereby
challenging those who want to see the idea of human rights as specifically Western
human rights. Consider this formulation from Mengzi (ca. 390ca. 305 B.C.):
Every man possesses a heart that cannot bear (the suffering of) others. It is because the
Former Kings had such a heart that could not bear (the suffering of) others, [that] there was
the government that could not bear (the suffering of) its people. To govern with this heart
that cannot bear (the suffering of) others, the ruling of all beneath heaven would be as easy
as turning a small object on ones palm.20

This formulation shows that the heart that cannot bear the suffering of others is
not something merely private but is decisive for the good conduct of politics. At the
same time, Mengzi makes it clear that this same heart that cannot bear suffering is
universal, at least in a general sense. For example, he insists that anybody who sees
a child on the brink of falling into a well would have an experience of distress.
One might say that this heart that cannot bear suffering is like the heart that is in
love. It does not understand itself; it finds itself transformed; it has been thrown into
a world with which it is no longer familiar and of which it is no longer master.
And it becomes a giving heart. Mengzi tells the story of how King Xuan of Qi
surprised himself by sparing the life of an ox about to be killed in a ceremony. The
king, puzzled by these new emotions, had to ask what kind of heart it was that led
him to spare an animal. Mengzi was able to tell him that it was the kind of heart that

T. S. Eliot, The Dry Salvages, lines 11115.

This passage is quoted by Wu Xiaoming, The Heart That Cannot Bear The Other, Reading
Mengzi on the Goodness of Human Nature, in From Skin to Heart: Perceptions of Emotions and
Bodily Sensations in Traditional Chinese Culture (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2006), 165179. Wu
Xiaomings essay has been important for the writing of my essay. For an alternate translation see
James Legge, The Works of Mencius (New York: Dover, 1970), Book II, part II, chapter 6, 201.


R. Bernasconi

would enable the king to be a true king because he would also be unable to bear the
suffering of human beings.21 This seems to confirm the insight of the Chinese philosopher Chung-Shu Lo, Professor of Philosophy in West-China University in the
1940s, who insisted, when asked by UNESCO for his views on human rights, that
the basic ethical concept of Chinese social political relations is the fulfillment of
the duty to ones neighbor, rather than the claiming of rights.22
So the basis of human rights lies not in my demands for myself, or even those
with whom I share an interest, but in the heart that goes out to others. I am implicated in the suffering of others, not because I am at fault for bringing about that
suffering, although that may also be the case, but because each of us is always
implicated in the lives of others in the sense of not being indifferent. This is the
meaning of human interrelatedness, and it should be clear by now that I am using
this term in a way that owes more to Levinass notion of substitution than to
Heideggers Mitsein.
We cannot disassociate ourselves from others. However privileged we might be
in comparison with the oppressed, however different and distant we are from them,
all of us can suffer, but it would be wrong to call the way I am disturbed the suffering of others by the same name suffering. I may be impacted by their suffering,
but I do not suffer in their suffering23; My suffering is really a kind of sensibility that
we can call sensitivity, which is an openness to others that goes beyond the sharing
of company and material goods, an openness rooted in the fact that we cannot extricate ourselves from our fellow human beings. The recognition of this sensibility has
ledalthough this is not my topic todaybeyond the idea of duties or obligations,
to the new and much richer conceptions of hyperbolic and infinite responsibility that
one finds in Jean-Paul Sartre and Emmanuel Levinas, respectively. It is most clear
in the case of Levinas because Levinas, as a Jew imprisoned by the Nazis, seems to
have known intimately how the guilt of surviving is not a psychological condition
to be cured but a way of access to the depths of responsibility and of sacrificea
responsibility that extends even to being responsible for the one who persecutes me.
It is in this way that political phenomenology reveals itself as necessarily an ethical
An important feature of this sensitivity is that, even though it is universal in the
sense that everyone has it to some degree, it is far from unchanging. It is experienced only as determinate because it is culturally conditioned which is why it can,
and must, be educated. That is why history records so much cruelty and indifference. Racism, classicism, sexism, and religious persecution teach us to see another
human being, not for themselves, but through a distortive lens. It does not seem to
me that this means that one has to dissolve the identities that a society gives to its
members, but it does mean one has to see beyond them. And it is here at the level of

Legge, The Works of Mencius, Book I, part one, chapter 7, 139.

Chung-Shu Lo, Human Rights in the Chinese Tradition, in Human Rights, ed. Jacques Maritain,
Of course, it can happen that one can get some satisfaction at the misfortunes of ones enemies,
but there is always an explanation at the individual level for such cases.

13 Toward a Phenomenology of Human Rights


sensitivity that my obligations to animals, their rights, also belong, which is why the
schooling of our sensitivities in various ways, but particularly in the example set by
activists, vegetarians, and even simply pet owners, seems an important moment in
the history of morality as it relates to our times.

Human Rights in the Concrete

In spite of my references at the beginning to the concrete, most of what I have said
to this point remains somewhat abstract. However, Levinas suggests a way of bringing it down to earth, when he writes: the problem of a hungry world can be resolved
only if the food of the owners and those who are provided for ceases to appear to
them as their inalienable property, but is recognized as a gift they have received for
which thanks must be given and to which others have a right.24 In fact, this right is
not new. The so-called right of necessity was at one time widely recognized. It
determined that if someone whose life was threatened by hunger took what they
needed to survive from someone elses surplus, they were not committing theft, but
reasserting a common ownership that was ultimately inalienable. This idea can be
found in the Church fathers, and it was widely articulated in twelfth century
Europe.25 It survived intact in modern rights theory at least as far as Hugo Grotius.26
As I have argued elsewhere, it was in the chapter on property in John Lockes
Second Treatise of Government that this right of necessity for the poor was supplanted by the right to amass private property without limit.27 Whereas, for Grotius,
the rights of the poor were inalienable, Locke tells us, albeit only in passing, that
those rights were abandoned when we allegedly gave tacit agreement to the invention of money. In other words, the poor who have so often been sacrificed to the


Emmanuel Levinas, Du sacr au saint (Paris: Minuit, 1977), 77; trans. Annette Aronowicz, Nine
Talmudic Readings (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 133.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, IIII, Qu. 66, seventh article, trans. Marcus Lefbure
(London: Blackfriars, 1975), vol. 38, 8183. See also Brian Tierney, Natural Rights in the
Thirteenth Century: A Quaestio of Henry of Ghent, Speculum, 67, 1, 1992, 5868; reprinted with
minor changes in The Idea of Natural Rights (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997), 7889. See also Scott
G. Swanson, The Medieval Foundations of John Lockes Theory of Natural Rights, History of
Political Thought, vol. 18, 1997, 399459. However, it should be clear that I am on the opposite
side of the debate when it comes to the interpretation of Locke.
Hugo Grotius, De jure belli ac pacis, ed. C. Molhuysen (Zeiden: A. W. Wijthoff, 1919), 145146;
trans. The Rights of War and Peace, Book II (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005), 434435.
See Robert Bernasconi, Locke and the Politics of Desire, Acta Institutionis Philosophiae et
Aestheticae (Tokyo, 1989), vol. 7, 97110 and On Giving What is Not Mine to Give: A Critique
of John Lockes Displacement of the Rights of the Poor to Charity in Le don et la dette, ed. Marco
Olivetti (Milan: Cedam, 2004), 419429. The transition was already begun in Samuel von
Pufendorf, De jure naturae et gentium (London: Adam Junghaus, 1672), II, vi, 236250; trans. Of
the Law of Nature and Nations (Oxford: Lichfield, 1710), 160168. See John Salter, Grotius and
Pufendorf on the Right of Necessity, History of Political Thought, 26, 2, 2005, 284302.


R. Bernasconi

interests of the unlimited accumulation of private property, were now told that they
had in fact agreed to this.
It might seem that by highlighting the right to the necessities of life I have chosen
to prioritize material rights over the comparatively more refined freedoms favored
by the liberal enlightenment. Indeed, at one level, it seems that this choice might be
imposed on the phenomenologist as these are most immediate. Being alive is a precondition for enjoying other rights, and to the extent that John Locke sacrificed the
right to charity on the altar of the pursuit of unlimited wealth, he seems to have set
society on the wrong course. Nevertheless, freedom of conscience and freedom of
speech quickly intervene to accompany the right to material necessities. One of the
functions of freedom of speech is for those in need to tell us that what we may be
giving them is not what they want. We can offer them popcorn and tell them that by
virtue of their very humanity they want liberal democracy, but it is always possible
that popcorn is not what they need and that they have a better idea of what they need
than we do. It was for this reason that Jean-Paul Sartre gave such importance to
what he called the gaze of the least favored in his political phenomenology.28
But there is another aspect to freedom of speech that I would like to emphasize
because it helps to clarify how the approach I am advocating reorients the discussion. On 30 September 2005, the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published 12
cartoons, some of which depicted Mohammed as a terrorist. For the cartoonists and
the newspaper, the issue was censorship and an insistence on treating Islam in
exactly the same way that they treated other religions. Moslems objected not only to
the cartoons, but also the way that they were being used in a dictatorial way to teach
a lesson in democracy. This was therefore doubly offensive to Moslems, and they
demanded censorship. To many in the West, this was seen not so much as evidence
of the lack of common values between the two civilizations, Christian and Islamic,
but as evidence of a fundamental backwardness, a political immaturity, of Islamic
society. The result was increased hostility in European countries to immigration and
to the entry of Turkey into Europe as a political entity, and was seen as evidence of.
However, I am not convinced. Indeed, I think the evidence points the other way. It
seems to me that if one believes, as I do, that at least some of these Moslems were
genuinely hurt and insulted, then the publication of the cartoons caused more injury
to any one of them than the censorship of the cartoons would have injured the
cartoonists, whose primary intention was, in any event, not to engage in genuine
dialogue on the subject of free speech, which could have been done better by
other means.
And let me add quickly that I believe that the same arguments apply if an artist
produces something whose design is primarily motivated by the desire to offend
Christians, particularly insofar as it is successful in that endeavor. However, I also
believe that where one stands on these issues should also take into account context.
The balance in such cases should always go in favor of the powerless, against the
powerful. In a democracy, that means protecting the minority against the majority.
My argument is not that by putting matters in this way, I have made the problem any

See Robert Bernasconi, How to Read Sartre (London: Granta, 2006), 7081.

13 Toward a Phenomenology of Human Rights


easier to solve. We are still left with the calculation of injury and intentions which
is far from simple. However, by looking beyond the individualistic framework in
which rights discourse is couched within the West, it is perhaps easier to see that,
particularly when it comes to the practice of a religion or a culture it is not just the
individual who might be an injured party, but also a group.
My concern with rights in this essay arises not because I believe that they are
necessarily the best language to employ within the context of emancipatory struggles. Rather, I turn to the language of rights because it is the language governments,
governmental agencies, and oppressed groups tend to employ today. It is one dominant language of politics in our time and so it is, at a strategic level, unwise to pass
it over. Nevertheless, I argue that the fundamental insights on which it draws are
distorted by the philosophical framework in which it is couched. My argument is
not that these insights necessarily lead to a language of rights, but that if they are to
be translated into a language of rights, that language needs to be modified to retain
those insights better.
Those insights begin with the acknowledgement that our rights as human beings
are not to be understood as belonging to each of us by virtue of our individuality
prior to our entry into society, an approach which is abstract and thus false. By linking the conception of human rights with the idea of a social contract, which has been
the tendency of classical liberalism, talk of human rights quickly gives rise to problems of competing freedoms. By contrast, a phenomenology of human rights is
rooted in a concrete understanding of ourselves, one that emphasizes that each of us
exists only in relation to others, thereby establishing our fundamental, and indeed
infinite, responsibility. So long as one retains the language of rights, then the problem of competing rights will never disappear, but in the perspective I have outlined
here, it becomes subordinated to a question of different voices competing for our
attention. It is true that the question of whose suffering gets our attention, whose
needs we feel most deeply, seems often to be governed by contingency. We can add
that we have to try to match those areas where we are most deeply moved with
where our talents and our possibility of using them. However, separated from the
artificial individualism of liberalism and restored to the concrete world where that
primordial responsibility is located, a phenomenology of rights is an essential
resource for anyone committed to the struggle for social justice.

Chapter 14

Cross-Cultural Encounters: Gadamer

and Merleau-Ponty
Fred Dallmayr

The future survival of humankind may depend on our

readinessto pause in front of the others othernessthe
otherness of nature as well as that of historically grown
cultures of peoples and countries.
Hans-Georg Gadamer

Abstract The chapter deals with the relevance of hermeneutics and phenomenology
for cross-cultural studies, with an emphasis on the works of Gadamer and MerleauPonty. In the literature, hermeneutics is often defined as the theory of textual interpretationwhich is a very limited view. In the treatment of Gadamer, hermeneutics
has always been closely linked with practical application in such fields as theology,
jurisprudence, and literature. The chapter at this point focuses on the connection
between hermeneutics and ethics (in the Aristotelian sense). Beyond these traditional
fields of application, Gadamerian hermeneutics also plays an important role in crosscultural encounters aiming at mutual understanding. In order to avoid a mentalist
or idealist construal of hermeneutics, the chapter turns to Merleau-Pontys phenomenology which alerts us to the affective and inter-corporeal character of crosscultural dialogue and encounter.

As customarily defined, hermeneutics means the theory, or rather the practice or art,
of interpretation. In its primary and traditional sense, interpretation means textual
interpretation, that is, the encounter between a reader and a text. In this encounter,
something has to happen, some work has to be done: the reader needs to discover
the meaning of the text, a meaning which usually is far from self-evident. The difficulty of the work is increased in the case of temporal or spatial distance: when the
reader wishes to understand a text from another age or in a different language. Yet,
to some extent, the difficulty prevails even in the absence of such distance: for
example, in reading the letter of a friend. Basically, the problem derives from the
peculiarly ambivalent character of interpretation: the reader cannot remain entirely
F. Dallmayr (*)
University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, USA
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_14



F. Dallmayr

passive, nor must he/she be overly active. The interpreter cannot find the meaning
by passively copying or transliterating the text; nor should she willfully foist a
meaning on the text, thereby manipulating or coercing it. Hence, the labor is transformative: the reader must bring himself/herself to the text, but in an open manner
such as to allow for a new learning experience to happen. This is why we say (or
why leading hermeneuticists say) that interpretation is necessarily interactive or
dialogical. This is also why, one might say, that hermeneutics is an illustration of
integral pluralism since difference is both acknowledged and bridged.
In the present context, the question I want to raise is whether this meaning of
hermeneutics can be transferred from the reading of texts to interhuman relations, and
especially to the relation between cultures or civilizations. Obviously, cultures are different from written texts. Cultures are complex semantic clusters; following
Wittgenstein, we might say that they are complex language gamesand, more than
language games, they are forms of life comprising, in addition to written texts, social
customs, religious beliefs, rituals, and practices. Moreover, cultures are internally
diversified and unfinished, that is, always evolving and on the move. Given this character, some people consider cross- or inter-cultural hermeneutics impossible or futile.
As main reasons for this impossibility they cite the internal complexity as well as the
incommensurability of semantic clusters or forms of life. This is a weighty objection;
carried to an extreme, the objection lends credence to the thesis of a looming clash
of cultures or civilizations (famously formulated by Samuel Huntington). However,
this seems to be an overly pessimistic and debilitating outlook. As in the case of textual
interpretation, we might agree that the difficulties are considerableand proceed
nonetheless. My own preference, in any case, is to adopt an experimental approach
the approach of hermeneutical inquiryand then see how far it will lead us.
I shall proceed in three main steps: First, I discuss the historical development and
basic meaning of hermeneutics, as expounded by the leading proponent of modern
and contemporary hermeneutics, Hans-Georg Gadamer. At this point, I also review
some possible practical applications of the hermeneutical perspective in the social
and cultural domains, lifting up for attention certain parallels between hermeneutics
and practical philosophy. Second, drawing on the insights of both Gadamer and more
overtly political thinkers, I shall elaborate on the specific relevance of hermeneutics
for cross-cultural or inter-cultural understanding and dialogue. Third, I turn to some
writings by Maurice Merleau-Ponty in order to underscore the necessary linkage
between interactive dialogue and concrete embodied engagement. Undercutting
purely mentalist or idealist misconstruals of dialogue, this linkage shows the mutual
compatibility between Gadamerian hermeneutics and existential phenomenology.

Hermeneutics: Its Meaning and Development

Regarding the meaning and development of hermeneutics, Gadamers magisterial

Truth and Method (1960) is an indispensable resource. As Gadamer writes, hermeneutics has followed a complex trajectory and undergone profound transformations


Cross-Cultural Encounters: Gadamer and Merleau-Ponty


in its history: starting from limited, closely circumscribed beginnings it evolved

over time until, in the end, it came to coincide with human life experience as such.
In its infancy, hermeneutics was basically a specialized art or method employed in
the fields of theology, classical philology, and jurisprudence. While theologians
needed to decipher the meaning of scriptures which were removed in time and
place, philologists faced the task of capturing the meaning of classical texts in modern idioms; jurists, finally, needed to detect the significance of classical law books
in post-classical (say Germanic) societies. At the onset of the modern age, these
endeavors were continued and refined by Renaissance humanism and Protestant
theology, with scholars in both fields seeking to distill a more original meaning
from later corruptions or deformations. A major innovation or change of focus
occurred in the Romantic era and especially in the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher.
Departing from the earlier use, the latter extended the role of hermeneutics to all
literary expressions, while also psychologizing the methodology. The task of
interpretation, in his view, was to discern the authors mind (mens auctoris) or the
inner spirit or inspiration animating a given work.
This approach was further broadened and given a more robust academic anchorage by the Historical School of the nineteenth century, whose chief spokesman
was Wilhelm Dilthey. For Dilthey, all of human history had to be approached hermeneutically, which means: an effort had to be madea scholarly disciplined
effortto decipher the meaning of historical events or activities by examining the
motivating intentions of historical actors. In Gadamers words: It was for the first
time Dilthey who consciously took up Romantic hermeneutics and expanded it into
a historical methodindeed into an epistemology of the human sciences. For
Dilthey, the point was not just that historical sources are encountered as texts, but
that historical reality as such is a text in need of understanding. In this manner, the
enterprise of hermeneutics was transposed to the study of history; differently put:
hermeneutics emerged as the basis of the study of historywhich is a field of vast
dimensions.1 Although broadening and transforming the role of interpretation, however, Dilthey and the Historical School still remained hostage to certain premises
which restricted its scope. The main premises obstructing a full flowering were of
an epistemological kind: the aspiration of historical study to be recognized as a science on a par with the natural sciences. In trying to grasp history scientifically, the
historian had to adopt a superior or neutral standpoint, extricating himself/herself
from the flow of historical experience. Critiquing this approach Gadamer observes
that historical experience cannot be reduced to a procedure or have the anonymity
of a method. Despite Diltheys best intentions, the epistemological pull of
Cartesianism proved in the end too strong, preventing him from integrating into
his thought the historicity of historical experience itself.2
For Gadamer, the most important event in recent timesthe event which basically
reshaped the role of hermeneuticswas the shift from epistemology to ontology, a
shift associated with the name of Martin Heidegger. What was involved in this shift

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd rev. ed., trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald
G. Marshall (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 198199 (translation slightly altered).
Ibid., 241.


F. Dallmayr

was the transformation of interpretive understanding from a methodology tailored for

academic disciplines into a mode of human existence, of human being-in-the-world.
Under the rubric of a hermeneutics of facticity, Gadamer states, Heidegger
opposed himself not only to the ambitions of historical science but also to the restrictive eidetic phenomenology of Husserl, with its distinction between fact and
essence. In contrast to the latter, the contingent and underivable facticity of existence or Daseinand not the epistemic cogito as warrant of essential universality
came to represent the ontological yardstick of phenomenological questioning. For
Heidegger, interpretive or hermeneutical understanding was not the province of specialized human disciplines (nor of a transcendentally construed phenomenology) but
rather a constitutive feature of every human being inserted both in the world and in
the movement of temporality. With his thesis that being itself is time, Gadamer
comments, Heidegger called into question the basic subjectivism of modern philosophy as well as the entire frame of reference of modern metaphysics which
tended to define being as what is present. At the same time, by focusing on the
understanding character of human Dasein, Heideggerian ontology departed from
and overcame the historicist dilemmas of the Historical School. In comparison
with Dilthey, understanding is no longer a mere methodological concept; rather, it
pinpoints the original mode of being of human life itself. Through his analytic of
Dasein, in particular, Heidegger revealed the projective [not merely present-ist]
character of all understanding and conceived the act of understanding itself as a
movement of transcendence, of moving beyond the existent [state of affairs].3
From Heideggers perspective, interpretive understanding thus is not so much a
methodology as rather a happening or temporal eventa happening with possibly
transformative consequences for the interpreter. In the case of textual exegesis, for
instance, the text may (and usually does) prove initially recalcitrant to immediate
access. In the attempt to gain leverage, the reader does not approach the text with a
blank slate (tabula rasa) which would permit passive appropriation; rather, to
gain entry, the reader has to apply to the text a tentative frame of referencewhat
Heidegger calls a pre-understanding (Vorurteil) or a projected meaning
(Vorentwurf). As Gadamer describes the process: Whoever is trying to understand
a text, always engages in projecting (Entwerfen): he/she projects a meaning for the
text as soon as some initial meaning comes to the fore. That initial meaning, however, emerges only because the text is read with certain expectations regarding its
meaning. Yet, when approached with this fore-meaning or pre-understanding,
the text may refuse to yield and prove resistant. This resistance, in turn, may force
the reader to revise his/her initial assumptions or presumptionsa revision which
can prove wrenching or painful. In revising initial assumptions, the reader is not
required to abandon all critical reservations or queries; rather, what is demanded is
a certain openness to the issues raised in the text and to the possibility that prior
assumptions may have been wrong or lopsided. In Gadamers words again: When
reading a text, we are not expected to jettison all our fore-meanings concerning
its content. All that is asked is that we remain open to the intrinsic lesson of the text

Ibid., 254, 257, 259260.


Cross-Cultural Encounters: Gadamer and Merleau-Ponty


(or of another person). Hence, he adds, a person trying to understand a text must
be prepared to be told something by the text. That is why a hermeneutically trained
person must be, from the start, sensitive and receptive to the texts alterity or difference (Andersheit).4
These comments bring into view a crucial aspect of hermeneutics as conceived
by Heidegger and Gadamer: the dialogical and circular character of understanding.
Gadamer, in particular, is famous for his insistence on the close linkage and even
convergence of dialogue and hermeneutical understanding. As we read in Truth and
Method: That a historical text is made the object of exegesis means that it puts a
question to the interpreter. Hence, interpretation always relates essentially to the
question that is posed to the reader. But every question solicits a responseand
thus leads into the thick of dialogue. A genuine dialogue, Gadamer observes, has
necessarily the structure of question and response. To conduct such a dialogue
requires that the participants are attentive to each other and do not talk past each
other. Above all, dialogue demands a certain modesty and non-aggressiveness, a
willingness to listen and a refusal to try to overpower the other partner. By placing
at the center the weight of the respective opinions, dialogue is a mode of experimental testing (Erproben) or inquiry; its fruit is not the triumph of one opinion
over another, but rather a mutual learning process in the course of which partners
gain a better understanding of both the subject matter and themselves. This feature
leads Gadamer to a poignant formulation of the relation between dialogue and
hermeneutics, a formulation which is quintessential for his entire approach:
What characterizes a dialogueis precisely this: thatin the process of question and
answer, in giving and taking, talking at cross purposes and coming to an agreementdialogical discourse performs that communication of meaning which, with respect to the written tradition, is the task of hermeneutics. Hence, it is more than a metaphor: it is a
recollection of what is originally at stake when hermeneutical inquiry is seen as entering
into dialogue with a text.5

Dialoguing with a text, just as dialoguing with a human partner, is a difficult

process fraught with many pitfalls and possible derailments. Occasionally,
Gadamerian hermeneutics is accused of, or identified with, a facile consensualism,
with a happy blending of views devoid of conflict. To some extent, his Truth and
Method has encouraged this construal, especially through its notion of a fusion of
horizons. As we read at one point: understanding does not recognize limits but is
always the fusion of these horizons supposedly existing by themselves.6 Yet, at a
closer (and more sympathetic) look, what is involved here is not so much a fusion
in the sense of convergence but rather an unlimited openness to horizonsin such
a manner that interpretive understanding can never be fully stabilized or completed.
This aspect is admirably highlighted by Gadamer at another place when he speaks
of the tensional character of all understandinga tension deriving from the distance
or difference between reader and text, between self and other, between present and

Ibid., 267269.
Ibid., 367370.
Ibid., 306.


F. Dallmayr

past. Hermeneutics, he writes, must start from the position that a person seeking
to understand has a bond with whatever a transmitted text tries to say and thus is
connected with the tradition from which the text speaks. At the same time, however, hermeneutical inquiry is aware that this connection does not have the character of an unquestioned, self-evident consensus (as would be the case in an unbroken
stream of tradition). Hence, the tensional nature of all understanding. Hermeneutical
work, Gadamer adds pointedly, is based on a polarity between familiarity and
strangeness (Fremdheit)although this polarity should not be construed psychologically (with Schleiermacher) but ontologically. He explicitly states, Here is the
tension: the play between strangeness and familiarity encountered in tradition is the
mid-point between a distantiated object of history and membership in a living tradition. The true locus of hermeneutics is this in-between.7
This tensional character also affects the circular quality of interpretationwhat
is called the hermeneutical circle. As one should note, this circle is not a closed
sphere permitting only an empty turning round and round, but an open circle fostering a learning process or a steady amelioration and transformation of understanding. This, in any event, is the construal which was favored by Heidegger. In
approaching a text, the reader projects a fore-meaning of the wholewhich, however, suffers shipwreck because parts or portions of the text refuse to be integrated.
Hence, a new holistic projection is neededtriggering an ongoing adjustment of
parts and whole. In Gadamers description, it was Heidegger who gave to the circle
an existential-ontological significance deriving from the constitutive role of understanding for human Dasein. Given this constitutive role, the circle for Heidegger
cannot achieve closurealthough it points toward an infinite completion. In
Gadamers words: The circle of whole and part is not dissolved [or terminated] in
genuine understanding but, on the contrary, is most fully realized. Seen in this
light, the circle is not formal in nature but ontological; it is neither subjective nor
objective but rather pinpoints understanding as the interplay of the movement of
tradition and the movement of the interpreter. The anticipation of meaning that
governs the interpreters understanding of a text is not an act of subjectivity but
proceeds from the commonality linking us with the tradition. But this commonality, Gadamer adds, is never finished but in a constant process of formation

Ibid., 295. This midpoint is well captured by Nikolas Kompridis when he stresses the importance
of resisting two extremes: thinking of ourselves either as standing completely outside our traditions, in no way affected by or indebted to them, or as identical with our traditions, fatefully bound
to or enclosed within them. See his Critique and Disclosure: Critical Theory between Past and
Future (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 7. Compare on this issue also my Hermeneutics and
Deconstruction: Gadamer and Derrida in Dialogues, in Critical Encounters: Between Philosophy
and Politics (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987), 130158; and my Self and
Other: Gadamer and the Hermeneutics of Difference, in Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities,
vol. 5 (1993): 101124.
Gadamer, Truth and Method, 293. Continuing this line of thought, Gadamer (293294) perceives
in hermeneutical understanding an anticipation or fore-conception of completeness (Vorgriff der


Cross-Cultural Encounters: Gadamer and Merleau-Ponty

Hermeneutics and Practical Application


Hermeneutics is not, and has never been, a purely abstract theory, but is closely
linked with lived experience and human conduct. This linkage has been intensified
in recent times with the shift from methodology to ontology when understanding
comes to be seen as part and parcel of our living and being-in-the-world. Yet, even
in earlier times, the linkage was never entirely lacking. As we read in Truth and
Method, an integral part of traditional hermeneutics was the so-called subtilitas
applicandi, the ability to bring the meaning of a text to bear on a given situation.
Thus, it was commonly assumed that a proper understanding of textual meaning
involved something like applying the text to the situation of the interpreter and
reader, that is, to relate that meaning to practical human conduct. Gadamer gives the
prominent examples of scriptural and legal or judicial interpretation. Clearly,
scriptural exegesis was not just meant to increase theological knowledge, but to
provide a resource for pastoral preaching which, in turn, was designed to mold the
lives of the faithful. The same connection prevailed (and prevails) in judicial
interpretation where the judge is asked to discern the relevance of a legal norm in
the particular situation or context. A law, Gadamer comments, does not just exist
as an historical object or entity, but needs to be concretized in its legal validity by
being interpreted. Similarly, the gospel does not exist simply as an edifying
historical document, but needs to be approached in such a way as to disclose its
message of salvation. Hence, in order to be properly grasped, a given textwhether
scriptural or legalneeds to be understood at every moment, in every concrete
situation, in a new and different way. As a consequence, hermeneutical
understanding always involves a mode of application.9
As indicated before, this linkage with application or practical conduct is greatly
intensified in Heideggers ontological approach. Construed as an interpretive creature, human Dasein now is seen to conduct his/her entire life under hermeneutical
auspices. From the angle of Heideggers hermeneutics of facticity, Gadamer
writes, understanding is no longer a method through which an inquiring consciousness targets a given object; rather, it means being situated in a temporal happening,
in an ongoing process of tradition (berlieferungsgeschehen). In fact, understanding proves to be itself a lived happening and as such a mode of human conducta conduct which is neither predetermined by fixed rules (presumably beyond
interpretation) nor purely whimsical or arbitrary. In this context, to illustrate the
sense of happening, Gadamer invokes the tradition of Aristotle, and especially the
legacy of Aristotelian ethics which is not an ethics of purely cognitive principles
(like Kantian morality) nor of irrational will power (like emotivism), but an ethics
of concretely lived praxis. On the level of practical application, he writes, Aristotles
ethical analysis offers a kind of model of the problems of hermeneutics. As in the
Vollkommenheit) aiming at the disclosure of truth (and hence bypassing any kind of
Gadamer, Truth and Method, 307309.


F. Dallmayr

case of the practice of virtues, hermeneutical application is not merely an occasional feature or subsequent addition to the process of understanding, but rather
permeates this process from beginning to end. As in ethical praxis, application does
not just consist in relating a pre-given general principle to a particular case; rather,
the interpreter has to make sense of his/her situation in light of the broader process
of tradition (comprising both that situation and the text). Hence, in order to understand a text and its general teaching, the interpreter must not try to disregard his/
her particular hermeneutical situation, but rather must correlate that text with this
situation if understanding is going to be possible at all.10
Moving beyond the strictly ethical dimension, Truth and Method also comments
on some social and political implications of hermeneutical application or praxis.
As Gadamer indicates, such application cannot really happen in a society or political regime where norms or rules of conduct are entirely static and exempt from
further interpretation, that is, where there is a ban on creative exegesis and transformation. At the same time, hermeneutics cannot flourish in a society or regime dominated by arbitrary power or a Hobbesian sovereign. In Gadamers words,
hermeneutics presupposes a dialogical give-and-take occurring in a continuity of
tradition: Where this is not the casefor example, in an absolutist state where the
will of the absolute ruler is above the lawhermeneutics cannot exist, since the
ruler can abrogate the rules of interpretation. In such a situation, the arbitrary will
of the ruler (who is lege solutus, or not bound by any law) can render decisions
without regard for the law, and hence without the effort of interpretation. Thus,
hermeneutics, for Gadamer, presupposes a constitutional regime (perhaps a democratic constitutional order) which does not rely on arbitrary decisions or willful
domination and which makes room for the hermeneutical balancing of whole and
parts and the dialogical inquiry into the conditions of social justice and fairness. It
is part of a properly constituted legal order, he writes, that the decision of a judge
[as well as the policy of rulers] does not proceed from an arbitrary and unpredictable
fiat, but rather from a just weighing up of the whole or the balancing of all elements
involved in a situation. The possibly democratic connotations of this outlook are
evident when Gadamer adds that anyone [that is, any citizen] is capable of undertaking this just weighing up, provided she has immersed herself in the concrete
particular situation as seen in a broader social context.11
Gadamers comments on application and practical conduct are not limited to
Truth and Method. Some ten years later, he published an essay specifically focused
on the relation between hermeneutics and practical philosophy. As the essay emphasizes, hermeneutics should not be viewed simply as an abstract theory, but always
implies or implicates a reference to practical conduct. Since its earliest beginnings,
hermeneutical inquiry has always claimed that its reflection on the possibilities,
rules and means of interpretation is somehow directly useful or advantageous for
lived praxis. For this reason, he notes, interpretation has often been treated as an art
form or artistic skill (Kunstlehre), rather than a routine technique. As in the earlier

Ibid., 309, 324.

Ibid., 329.


Cross-Cultural Encounters: Gadamer and Merleau-Ponty


volume, the essay traces the development of hermeneutics from its roots in scriptural
and juridical interpretation to the shifts occasioned by Renaissance humanism,
Reformation, and post-revolutionary Romanticism and historicism. As before, the
basic sea-change in the meaning of hermeneutics is attributed again to the work of
Heidegger, to his break with the static (or presentist) metaphysics of the past, and his
inscription of understanding into the lived, temporal experience of Dasein. It was
Heideggers great merit, we read, to have broken through the aura of self-evidence
of the Greek concept of being, as well as the presumed self-evidence of the modern concept of consciousness or subjectivitythus paving the way for a new
understanding of being as a mode of temporal experience and practical conduct.
In this context, Gadamer stresses the significance of Heideggers famous lecture on
What is Metaphysics?treating this lecture as an illustration of (what might be
called) a hermeneutics of suspicion. By focusing on the elusive quality of the being
(the is) of metaphysics, he writes, the lecture queries what metaphysics really
denotes in contrast to what it claims to be. Understood in this manner, Heideggers
query acquires the force of a provocation and reveals itself as example of a new
conception of interpretation.12
By turning to being as lived occurrence, Heideggers work forcefully discloses
the intimate linkage between understanding and praxis (which had always been
implicit in the hermeneutical tradition). As in Truth and Method, Heideggerian
ontology is correlated with Aristotles notion of practical philosophy (though
minus the latters metaphysics of substances). In Gadamers account, praxis and
practical philosophy in the Aristotelian tradition are not the antithesis to theory or
theoretical thought, but rather intimate a thoughtful conduct. The semantic field in
which the word and concept praxis have their proper place, he writes, is not
primarily defined by its opposition to theory or as the mere application of a (given)
theory. Rather, praxis denotes the mode of conduct of living beings in the broadest
sense. Differently phrased: praxis means the actuation of life (energeia) of anything aliveanything that displays in some fashion life, a mode or conduct of life
(bios). To be sure, by contrast to animal behavior, human life conduct is distinguished by a certain measure of deliberation and the employment of language and
symbols. The most important distinction, however, prevails between practical conduct and mere instrumental fabrication or technical production (poiesis, techne). In
Gadamers words: Practical philosophy is determined by the line drawn between
the practical insight of a freely choosing person, on the one hand, and the acquired
skill of an expert (which Aristotle names techne), on the other. Hence, practical
philosophy has to do not with readily learnable crafts and skills but rather with
what is fitting for an individual as citizen and what constitutes his/her civic virtue
At this point, the connection between praxis and hermeneutics emerges clearly
into view. To quote a crucial passage of the essay:


Hans Georg Gadamer, Hermeneutics as Practical Philosophy (1972), in Reason in the Age of
Science, trans. Frederick G. Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981), 93, 101102.


F. Dallmayr

The knowledge that guides action is essentially called for by the concrete situations in
which we need to choose the fitting response (das Tunliche)and no skillful technique can
spare us the needed deliberation and decision. As a result, practical philosophy seeking to
cultivate this practical ability is neither theoretical science (in the style of mathematics) nor
expert know-how (in the sense of mastering technical processes), but a knowledge of a
special kind. [As in the case of the hermeneutical circle] this knowledge must arise from
praxis and, though moving through various generalizations, must relate itself back to

Hermeneutics and Inter-Cultural Dialogue

From Gadamers perspective, hermeneutics is related not only to practical conduct

in general, but to such conduct in a given time and place. In our time of globalization when different societies and cultures are pushed closer and closer together,
hermeneutical understanding is bound to transcend local contexts and to acquire a
cross-cultural or transnational significance. At this point, members of a given society or culture are called upon to interpret not only the modalities of their own tradition, but the complex lineaments of initially quite alien texts and life forms. To make
headway in this endeavor, individuals and groups have to bring to the encounter
their own fore-meanings or pre-understandings and then expose them to correction or revision in an interactive (or dialogical) process of give-and-take. Gadamer
has been keenly attentive to these cultural issues in some of his later writings, especially in a text on the Legacy of Europe and the ongoing process of European
For Gadamer, Europe represents a model of that unity in diversity characteristic
of hermeneutical dialogue where, coming from distinctly different backgrounds,
each partner seeks to discern the others meaning. The deeper philosophical and
hermeneutical significance of Europe, he observes, resides not in its presumed
universality but in its multicultural and multilingual composition, in its historical
practice of cohabitation with otherness in a narrow space. In our time, this cohabitation can provide a lesson for humanity at large, for an evolving ecumenical world
culture. In his words: To live with the other, as the other of the otherthis basic
human task applies to the micro- as well as to the macro-level. Just as each of us
learns to live with the other in the process of individual maturation, a similar learning
process holds true for larger communities, for nations and states.14

Hermeneutics and Practical Philosophy, 9092. The same volume also contains Gadamers
important essay What is Practice [Praxis]? The Conditions of Social Reason (1974), 6987.
Although perhaps unduly sidelining Heideggers influence, Richard Bernstein is surely correct in
saying that Gadamers hermeneutics stands firmly in the tradition of practical philosophy that has
its sources in Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics and Politics where understanding takes the form of
phronesis. See his Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983), xivxv.
Hans-Georg Gadamer, Das Erbe Europas: Beitrge (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1989), 2831. As he
adds: And here it may be one of the special advantages of Europe thatmore than elsewhere


Cross-Cultural Encounters: Gadamer and Merleau-Ponty


Just as in the case of hermeneutical dialogue, the point of inter-cultural encounter

is not to reach a bland consensus or uniformity of beliefs but to foster a progressive
learning process involving possible transformation. For this to happen, local or
indigenous traditions must be neither jettisoned nor congealed (or essentialized). As
Gadamer points out, the role of local or indigenous traditions is a feature endemic
to the hermeneutical circle with its emphasis on fore-meanings or pre-judgments
which are seen as corrigible but not expendable starting points of understanding. In
a similar fashion, participants in cross-cultural encounter are expected neither to
erase themselves (in a vain attempt to go native), nor to appropriate and subjugate
the others difference; rather, the point is to achieve a shared appreciation and recognition of differences (what Heidegger used to call letting-be). In Gadamers
words: Where the goal is not [unilateral] mastery or control, we are liable to experience the otherness of others precisely against the backdrop of our own prejudgments. The highest and most elevated aim we can strive for in this context is to
partake in the other, to share the others alterity. The stakes, in this encounter, are
high, both for individual societies and for humanity at large. In fact, the future
survival of humankind (he says) may depend on the proper cultivation of crosscultural understanding and dialoguemore particularly on our readiness not to
utilize the immense resources of power and technical efficiency [accumulated in
some states] but to pause in front of the others othernessthe otherness of nature
as well as that of historically grown cultures of peoples and countries. If we are
able to do the latter, a transformative and humanizing learning experience may
result: for we may then learn to experience otherness and human others as the
other of ourselves in order to partake in one another (aneinander teilzugewinnen).15
As Gadamer leaves no doubt, his observations were not narrowly tailored to
European integration but were relevant for broader global developments. Although
initially triggered by Western colonialism, social and political ferment now engulfs
countries around the world. What we are witnessing, he writes, is in truth a
global process which has been unleashed by the end of colonialism and the emancipation of the former members of European empires. The central issue today is no
longer Europe, but the cultural changes produced by the global economy and the
world-wide network of communications. In this situation, many societies today are
engaged in the difficult search for a mode of life capable of reconciling their own
traditions and the deeply rooted values of their life-world with Western-style economic [and technological] progress or advancement: large segments of humanity now are facing this agonizing dilemma.16
In an interview with an Indian political thinker, conducted a few years before his
death, Gadamer clearly pinpointed the global significance of hermeneutical understanding. The human solidarity that I envisage, he stated at that point, is not a
global uniformity but unity in diversity. We must learn to appreciate and tolerate
her inhabitants have been able or were compelled to learn how to live with others, even if the others
are very different.
Gadamer, Das Erbe Europas, 3134.
Ibid., 35, 4648.


F. Dallmayr

pluralities, multiplicities, cultural differences. As he frankly conceded, such appreciation is in short supply and actually undermined by the rampant power politics
pursued by military-industrial complexes: The hegemony or unchallengeable
power of any one single nationis dangerous for humanity; it would go against
human freedom. Hence, he added, that unity in diversity which has been a European
legacy must today become a global formula: it must be extended to the whole
worldto include China, India, and also Muslim cultures. Every culture, every
people has something distinctive to offer for the solidarity and well-being of
To develop and corroborate Gadamers perspective I want to invoke the testimony of two thinkers friendly to his hermeneuticsthe first directly, the second
indirectly. The first is the Canadian political philosopher, Charles Taylor, who, following in Gadamers footsteps, has underscored the importance of hermeneutical
interpretation both for philosophy as such and for the academic practice of the
human and social sciences.18 Moving beyond the confines of textual exegesis, Taylor
also has ventured into the domain of inter-cultural understanding and dialogue, concentrating in particular on the difference between the traditional Western conception
of selfhood and the Buddhist notion of no-self or emptiness of self (anatta,
sunyata), together with the contrasting social imaginaries deriving from this difference.19 Significantly, Taylor has also tackled one of the persistent conundrums or
charges leveled against hermeneutics: the charge that understanding everything
means condoning everything, such that hermeneutics is left devoid of critical ethical standards. As he has pointed outin any essay specifically dealing with intersubjective and inter-cultural recognitionunderstanding others or another culture
does not always entail acceptance. What another culture has in its favor is only a
presumption of wortha presumption calling for attentive study, but capable of
being dislodged or defeated through contestation. To be sure, once hermeneutical
understanding is seen not as a neutral occurrence, butwith Gadamer and
Aristotleas an ethical praxis, understanding is already inhabited by an ethical
criterion (and does not need to be supplemented by borrowings from critical theory, as Paul Ricoeur has sometimes intimated).20


Thomas Pantham, Some Dimensions of the Universality of Philosophical Hermeneutics: A

Conversation with Hans-Georg Gadamer, Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research,
vol. 9 (1992): 132.
See, e.g., Charles Taylor, Gadamer on the Human Sciences, in Robert J. Dostal, ed., The
Cambridge Companion to Gadamer (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 126
142; and Interpretation and the Sciences of Man, in Taylor, Philosophy and the Human Sciences:
Philosophical Papers 2 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 1557.
Charles Taylor, Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights, in Joanne R. Bauer
and Daniel A. Bell, eds., The East Asian Challenge for Human Rights (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press, 1999), 124144.
Charles Taylor, The Politics of Recognition, in Amy Gutmann, ed., Multiculturalism and The
Politics of Recognition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 6668, 7273. Compare
also Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Critique of Ideology, in his Hermeneutics and the


Cross-Cultural Encounters: Gadamer and Merleau-Ponty


The other thinker more indirectly or distantly related to hermeneutics is John

Deweysometimes called Americas philosopher of democracy. In large measure, Deweys so-called pragmatism can actually be seen as a practical philosophy, displaying distinct affinities with Gadamerian hermeneutics. A central parallel
resides in the refusal to divorce thinking from doing, in the effort to link theory and
praxis under the rubric of lived experience. Together with Gadamer (and Heidegger),
Dewey rejected the legacy of Cartesian rationalism focused on the cogito, together
with its corollary, the spectator theory of knowledge which exiles the observer
from the context of human being-in-the-world. In opposing that theory, he did not
opt for a crude empiricism or positivism but rather insisted that sense data or sensory phenomena are perceived in a semantic frame of significancea frame provided by language and symbolization (and hence in need of interpretation). Together
with Gadamer (and again Heidegger), Dewey did not subscribe to a static metaphysics of essences, but rather preferred a dynamic ontology in which being and temporality converge in an ongoing process of disclosure of possibilities. Most importantly,
human life for Dewey was not a solitary venture, but basically formed in the crucible of interhuman interactions or transactionsa crucible closely connected
with communication, dialogue, and contestation. As in the case of Gadamers
hermeneutics, social interactions for Dewey were a mode of praxis (in the
Aristotelian sense) and as such imbued with ethical connotations. This aspect is
illustrated in his presentation of society as an ethical community and especially in
his depiction of democracy as the idea or ideal of community lifean idea
constantly in the process of improvement or perfection.21
In view of my concern here with inter-cultural understanding, there is another
parallel between the two thinkers which deserves to be highlighted. Dewey was at
no point a fervent nationalist, nor a supporter of rigid friend-enemy distinctions (as
formulated by Carl Schmitt). This aspect is particularly evident in his essay on
Nationalizing Education, written during a time of war. The essay sharply distinguishes between a benign and a destructive sense of nationalism or patriotism. Too
often, he writes, the development of a sense of national unity has been accompanied by dislike, by hostility, to all without. What has happened is that skillful
politicians and other self-seekers have known how to play cleverly upon patriotism and upon ignorance of other peoples, to identify nationalism with latent hatred
of other nations. Especially during war time, many influential people attempt to
foster the growth of an inclusive nationalism by appeal to our fears, our suspicions,
our jealousies and our latent hatreds. Such people like to measure patriotism by
our readiness to meet other nations in destructive war rather than our fitness to
cooperate with them in constructive tasks of peace.
Human Sciences, ed. and trans. John B. Thompson (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,
1981), 63100.
See in this respect especially John Dewey, Search for the Great Community from The Public
and Its Problems (1927), in John Dewey: The Later Works, 19251953, vol. 2, ed. Jo Ann Boydston
(Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988), 325327. Compare David Foot, John
Dewey: Americas Philosopher of Democracy (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998).


F. Dallmayr

By contrast to this outlook, Dewey upholds the prospect of a global ecumenism

which does not erase local or national loyalties, but uses them as a springboard for
inter-cultural cooperation. We are faced, he states, by the difficulty of developing
the good aspect of nationalism without its evil side: of developing a nationalism
which is the friend and not the foe of internationalismwhich is a matter of
ideas, of emotions, of intellectual and moral dispositions.22 As it seems to me, this
prospect is not far removed from, and even coincides with, Gadamers vision of a
global unity in diversitya unity not imposed by one single nationand his
plea that the future survival of humankind may depend on our willingness to
engage dialogically with others on both the personal level and the level of larger
human communities and cultures.

Merleau-Ponty and Inter-Corporeal Engagement

By way of further elaboration, I want to turn to another dialogical and cross-cultural

thinker roughly of Gadamers generation: the French philosopher Maurice MerleauPonty. What renders Merleau-Pontys work particularly important in the present
context is his opposition to an idealistic consensualism and his insistence on the
linkage between dialogue and embodiment. As he continuously emphasized, dialogue is not simply a cerebral process or an abstract meeting of minds but rather
involves a concrete existential and bodily engagement among participants. This
point is made particularly forcefully in his essay titled Dialogue and the Perception
of the Other, contained in his book The Prose of the World (assembled posthumously by his friend Claude Lefort). Distinguishing between a purely abstract, logical algorithm and a concrete encounter between human beings, Merleau-Ponty
states boldly: Alongside the analytic truth espoused by the algorithm and leaving
aside the possibility of the algorithms being detached from the thinking life in
which it is born, we affirm a truth of transparency, recovery, and recollection in
which we participatenot insofar as we think the same thing but insofar as we are,
each in his own way, moved and touched by it. This being moved and touched in
an encounter cannot and should not be understood as a simple intellectual convergence but rather as a kind of mutual embroilment and trespass: the trespass of
oneself upon the other and of the other upon me.23
In his essay, Merleau-Ponty first turns to the silent relationship with the other,
as a prologue to the understanding of speech. In opposition to writers on intersubjectivity, he considers it not sufficiently noted that the other is never directly present face to face. In effect, the interlocutor or adversary is never quite localized: his
voice, his gesticulations, his twitches, are only symptoms, a sort of stage effect, a
John Dewey, Nationalizing Education (1916), in John Dewey: The Middle Works, 18991924,
vol. 10 (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1975), 202204.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Dialogue and the Perception of the Other, in Claude Lefort, ed., The
Prose of the World, trans. John ONeill (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 133.


Cross-Cultural Encounters: Gadamer and Merleau-Ponty


ceremony. Their producer is so well masked that I am quite surprised when my

own responses carry over. What comes to the fore is that the others self is not
pre-constituted, and exists neither before, nor somehow behind the voice, but rather
emerges in the encounter itself, in the inchoate relationship being forged. The
other, in my eyes, Merleau-Ponty writes, is always on the margin of what I see and
hear, he is this side of me, he is beside or behind me, but he is not in that place which
my look flattens and empties of any interior. This insight leads him to one of his
stunning formulations which are a trademark of his existential phenomenology:
Myself and the other are like two nearly concentric circles which can be distinguished only
by a slight and mysterious slippage. This alliance is perhaps what will enable us to understand the relation to the other that is inconceivable if I try to approach him directly, like a
sheer cliff.24

In the encounter with another human being, the other is both my partner or
accomplice, and different from, or non-absorbable, by me. I give birth, MerleauPonty writes; this other is made from my flesh and blood and yet is no longer me.
How is that possible? The solution to the riddle must be found in the realization
that the difference I encounter is not only external but internal, that somehow I am
myself inhabited by difference. There is, we read, a myself which is other, which
dwells elsewhere and deprives me of my central location. At this point, the roles of
the seeing subject and what is seen are exchanged and reversed. For MerleauPonty, the central issue is to understand how I can make myself into two, how I can
decenter myself or become decenteredhow the experience of the other is always
at the same time a response to myself. Like the other human being, the self is not
a compact entity or thing; nor is it a self-transparent mind (or cogito). From this
angle, there cannot be a fixed or stable human nature nor a self-contained identity. In lieu of the atomistic units found in an imaginary state of nature, all that
one finds is a fluid cohabitation in a dwelling place to which none of the partners has
privileged access or the unfailing pass-key: It is in the very depths of myself that
this strange articulation with the other is fashioned. The mystery of the other is
nothing but the myself of myself. What is intimated here is an identity constituted
by non-coincidence, but unable to escape elsewhere (outside the world).25
Ultimately, the dwelling place of which Merleau-Ponty speaks is not an individual, nor even a collective project, but rather a shared experience where seeing
and being seen, speaking and being heard come together. It is the very bodily experience, he says, that marks my hold on the world and makes me capable of perceiving another imprinted with the same hold or bond. As long as it adheres to
my body like the tunic of Nessus, he continues in another vintage formulation, the
world exists not only for me but for everyone who makes gestures toward it. There
is [perhaps not a universality of reason but] a universality of feeling or sensation
and it is upon this that our relationship rests, the generalization of my body, the

Ibid., 13334.
Ibid., 13435. On the issue of identity and non-coincidence compare the exemplary study by
Bhikhu Parekh, A New Politics of Identity: Political Principles for an Interdependent World (New
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).


F. Dallmayr

perception of the other. Thus, the notion of an interpersonal (and inter-cultural)

relation for Merleau-Ponty is incomplete or inadequate as long as it does not take
account of our embodiment or intercorporeality. This means that there would not
be others for me if I did not have a body, and if they had no body through which
they could slip into my field [or world], multiplying it from within, and oriented to
the same world as I. To be sure, the notion of a same world here does not mean
a uniform or identical world but only a plural and loosely shared world, because
everyone opens onto it in different ways: A field tends of itself to multiply, because
it is the opening through which, as a body, I am exposed to the world.26
At this point, Merleau-Ponty turns (or returns) to language, and first of all to the
silent language of sensations and bodily interactions. The problem of understanding words is no greater or lesser than the task of understanding how the movements
of a body patterned into gestures or actions can reach us, or how we are able to
find in these spectacles anything other than what we have put into them. The solution, for Merleau-Ponty (as for Heidegger), consists in the bracketing of a constituting ego, of a self-contained mind or subjectivity. What we have to grasp, he notes,
is that our sensibility to the world, our synchronized relationship to itthat is, our
body, the thesis underlying all our experiencesremoves from our existence the
density of an absolute and singular act, making a transferable signification of our
corporeality, and creating a common situation. The same process operates in
speech and especially in reciprocal speech or dialogue. With regard to the particular gesture of speech, we read, the solution lies in recognizing that, in the experience of dialogue, the others speech manages to reach us in our significations, and
that our words, as the replies attest, reach in him his significations. This mutual
encroachment testifies to the power of language which is in principle inexhaustible,
and also to our participation in a shared cultural worldor at least our effort to
foster communication across and beyond sedimented cultural worlds. In this sense,
the language we speak is something like a dispersed or anonymous corporeality
which we share across boundaries.27
In this connection, Merleau-Ponty introduces a thought which points beyond
neutral communication in the direction of ethical and political practice. The expressive operation, and speech in particular, he states, establishes a common situation which is no longer merely a juxtaposition or a relationship of knowing but a
community of doing. At this point, the common world fostered by language
involves not only a sharing of ideas or points of view but a sharing of practices
which includes a willingness to learn about unfamiliar practices, rituals, rites, and

Merleau-Ponty, Dialogue and the Perception of the Other, 137138. As he adds (139): We are
trying to awaken a carnal relation to the world and the other that is not an accident intruding from
outside upon a pure cognitive subjector a content of experience among many others but our
first insertion into the world and into truth. As should be clear, truth here refers to a disclosive
truth, not a propositional truth. On this distinction compare Nikolas Kompridis, Disclosure and
Critique: Critical Theory Between Past and Future (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), also my
Between Freiburg and Frankfurt: Toward a Critical Ontology (Amherst, MA: University of
Massachusetts Press, 1991).
Merleau-Ponty, Dialogue and the Perception of the Other, 139140.


Cross-Cultural Encounters: Gadamer and Merleau-Ponty


customs. Willingness to learn about such practices, in turn, involves a form of existential participation or engagement: a participation in past memories, present agonies, and future hopes and aspirations. Clearly, such participation moves beyond the
level of narrow self-interest and idle curiosity, proceeding in the direction of ethical
well-being and a shared concern with the good life. In this respect, Merleau-Ponty
joins Gadamer, as well as Taylor and Dewey, in the endeavor to foster a great community without hegemony, exploitation, and oppressiona community which
today has to be dialogically cultivated on a global level. To recall the statement
made by Gadamer in his interview with the Indian colleague: The human solidarity
that I envisage is not a global uniformity but unity in diversity. We must learn to
appreciate and tolerate pluralities, multiplicities, cultural differences. To this one
might add a statement by Merleau-Ponty about cross-cultural learning, in an essay
dealing with the emerging global space-time matrix in our period:
Civilizations lacking our philosophical and economic equipment take on an instructive
value. It is not a matter of going in search of truth or salvation in what falls short of [Western]
science or philosophical awareness, nor of dragging chunks of mythology as such into our
thinking, but of acquiringa sense of the theoretical and practical problems our institutions
are faced with, and of rediscovering the existential field they were born in and that their
long success has led us to forget. The Orients childishness has something to teach us, if
it were nothing more than the narrowness of our adult ideas.28


Ibid., 140141; and Everywhere and Nowhere, in Signs, trans. Richard C. McCleary (Evanston:
IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 139. Compare also John Dewey, Search for the Great
Community, in The Public and Its Problems (1927; reprinted, Athens: Ohio University Press,
1954), 143184.

Chapter 15

Phenomenology of Public Opinion:

Communicative Body, Intercorporeality
and Computer-Mediated Communication
Joohan Kim

Abstract This essay reviews conceptual as well as historical backgrounds of public opinion and emphasizes the relevance of phenomenological perspectives for
public opinion research. The phenomenological concepts, such as being-in-theworld, intersubjectivity, intercorporeality, communicative reason, and in-betweens,
become all the more relevant to public opinion research than ever. The reason is that
the essential nature of the interactive digital communication technologies, on which
contemporary public opinion formations are based, can be adequately captured by
the phenomenological concepts. Particularly, this essay focuses on the relevance of
Heideggers concept of Dasein, or being-in-the-world, for better understanding of
the nature of public opinion in the age of the Internet and the digital media.

Public opinion is extremely difficult to define,1 and researchers seem to lack a single, clear definition. Harwood Childs, for example, collected as many as 50 definitions from the literature.2 In fact, some scholars insist that the concept should be
abandoned as hopelessly vague or misleading, while others argue that there is no
need for a definition because everyone knows exactly what public opinion means.3
The concept of public opinion, however, has not been abandoned; on the contrary, it
has become a household word with ubiquitous polling results patronized by the
mass media on every major issue.
Too often, however, opinion survey results are equated with public opinion,
although many critics have warned that an aggregation of individual opinions must

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, The Spiral of Silence: Public OpinionOur Social Skin, 2nd ed.
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993); V. Price, Public Opinion (Newbury Park: Sage,
In Noelle-Neumann, The Spiral of Silence.
Hermann Oncken, quoted in Noelle-Neumann, The Spiral of Silence, 59.

J. Kim (*)
Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
H.Y. Jung, L. Embree (eds.), Political Phenomenology, Contributions
To Phenomenology 84, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-27775-2_15



J. Kim

not be confused with public opinion itself.4 Particularly, the mainstream of public
opinion researchmostly carried out by American political scientists and political
communication scholarsconceptualizes public opinion as an aggregation of individuals mental property (idea or cognitive elements) on public issues.
Nevertheless, scholars with critical and philosophical perspectives have paid
scant attention to theorizing public opinion, one of the most crucial conceptual
inventions of modern democracy. As a result, the concept of public opinion has been
monopolized by empirical social scientists equipped with statistical methods, and as
such, most theories in public opinion research are based on psychologism, or scientism on human mind, objectivism, and empirical positivism.
Ironically, it is philosophers of social sciences, phenomenologists in particular,
who have completely abandoned the concept of public opinion in their critical theories against empiricism, even though the mission of phenomenology is deconstruction of empirical approaches and objectivism in human sciences.5
In this essay, I will review the conceptual as well as historical background of
public opinion and emphasize the relevance of phenomenology to studies of public
opinion. Historical overview reveals that public opinion is a modern invention produced by the press, or the first mass medium. Many of the basic principles and
fundamentals of modern democracyone person one vote, freedom of speech, individualism, nation-states, reading-public, representative system, and the public
sphere, as well as modern science and religious revolutionbecame possible only
after the introduction of printing technologies.6
The tight relationship between the press and public opinion implies that interpersonal communication, and thus digitized interpersonal media technologies will bring
about major changes to the nature of public opinion.7 This is why I would argue that
the phenomenological conceptsbeing-in-the-world, intersubjectivity, intercorporeality, communicative reason, in-betweens, and so onbecome all the more relevant

Dewey (1927); Price, Public Opinion; Susan Herbst, Numbered Voices: How Opinion Polling Has
Shaped American Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).
Alfred Schutz, The Phenomenology of the Social World (Northwestern University Press, 1967);
Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers Vol. 1: The Problem of Social Reality (Hague: Martinus Nijhoff,
1973); Jean-Paul Sartre, Search for a Method (New York: Vintage Books, 1968); Winch, Trying to
Make Sense (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987).
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism
(London: Verso, 1991); Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change:
Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1979); Alvin W. Gouldner, The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology: The
Origins, Grammar, and Future of Ideology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976); Jrgen
Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of
Bourgeois Society (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989 [1962]).
Joohan Kim and Eun Joo Kim, Theorizing Dialogic Deliberation: Everyday Political Talk as
Communicative Action and Dialogue, Communication Theory (2008), 18, 5170; R. O. Wyatt,
E. Katz, and J. Kim, Bridging the Spheres: Political and Personal Conversation in Public and
Private Spaces, Journal of Communication (2000), 50, 7192; R. O. Wyatt, J. Kim, and E. Katz,
How Feeling Free to Talk Affects Ordinary Political Conversation, Purposeful Argumentation,
and Civic Participation, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly (2000): 77, 99114.

15 Phenomenology of Public Opinion: Communicative Body, Intercorporeality


to public opinion than ever, since the interactive digital communication technologiesthe global computer networks like the Internetare transforming those
abstract phenomenological concepts into tangible media.

The Predicaments in Conceptualizing Public

Opinion: Voice of God or Voice of the Stupid?

The term opinion originated from the Latin opinio, a translation of the Greek
doxa. Doxa is the collective sentiment of the demos (people), based on insufficient
judgment and knowledge, and beyond complete demonstration.8 According to
Peters (1995), the Romans translated doxa as opinion and epistm as scientia, and
it is from them that English and other European languages inherit the sense of opinion as judgment resting on ground insufficient for complete demonstration.
Gabriel Tarde, the French sociologist who worked at the turn of the twentieth century, theorized the tight relationship between the press and public opinion for the
first time, also defined opinion in this manner: Opinion, as we define it, is a
momentary, more or less logical cluster of judgments which, responding to current
problems, is reproduced many times over in people of the same country, at the same
time, in the same society.9 The German Meinung (opinion), too, has the meaning of
insufficient judgment, subjectively as well as objectively.10
Traceable to the ancient Greek word doxa, opinion had for a long time the meaning
of incomplete knowledge and uncertain judgment, the realm of prejudice, probability, and authority, as opposed to science.11 Historically, as Baker12 has pointed out, the
principal characteristics of opinion were flux, subjectivity, and uncertainty. But in
early theories of modern democracy, public opinion took on characteristics of universality, objectivity, and rationality. Peters13 calls this a dramatic shift in the concep8

John Durham Peters, Historical tensions in the concept of public opinion, in T. Glasser and
C. Salmon eds., Public Opinion and the Communication of Consent (New York: The Guilford
Press, 1995); Price, Public Opinion.
Gabriel Tarde, Lopinion et la foule (Paris: Alcan, 1898/1901), 3.
Kant, in Noelle-Neumann, The Spiral of Silence, 60.
Peters, Historical Tensions in the Concept of Public Opinion, 5. Plato believed that politics was
about techn or skill, conducted according to scientific knowledge or epistm. Therefore, he
maintained that the polis should be ruled by a philosopher-king, who has epistm or clear and
scientific knowledge, rather than by common people, who have only doxa. Aristotle, on the other
hand, emphasized the importance of practical wisdom and the common sense of doxa. He believed
that the sciences of action, namely politics and ethics, require grounding in a different kind of
knowledge than epistm. Because all human action is historical, practical, and contingent (Ibid.,
4). Indeed, the ancient Greeks actually used doxa for decisions reached in political assemblies:
doxa thus also has the sense of consensus or views held in common (Ibid.).
Historical Tensions in the Concept of Public Opinion.


J. Kim

tualization of public opinion: Opinion went from being a chief source of prejudice
(the target of many thinkers of the Enlightenment) to being its banister. Opinion, villain of philosophy, became public opinion, hero of politics. The concept of public
opinion, however, still held the meaning of incomplete and unstable judgment.
We, thus, are now heirs to two conflicting understandings of public opinion. On
one hand, there is vox populi, vox deithe voice of the people as the voice of God.
On the other hand, there is vox populi, vox stultorumthe voice of the people as the
voice of the stupid.14 The one is the ultimate source of political power and legitimacya product of rationality. The other is a phantom, an ever-changing, precarious flux, that is the outcome of thoughtlessness or irrationality.
Tarde manifests this mixed conceptualization of public opinion as well.
Sometimes he calls public opinion a dangerous thing; at other moments, he thinks
of it as a rational power that substitutes for the king. Tarde argues that the public
(as owner of rational opinion, or vox dei) should be distinguished from a crowd
(the owner of irrational opinion, or of vox stultorum). In the process, criticizes his
contemporary Gustave Le Bons15 characterization of the modern age as the era of
the crowd. Tarde points out that, besides the crowd, there is also the public,
which is a dispersion of individuals who are physically separated and whose cohesion is entirely mental. The invention of printing has caused a very different type
of public to appear, Tarde writes, one which never ceases to grow and whose
indefinite extension is one of the most clearly marked traits of our period.16
In many places, Tarde clearly pointed out that the new public is the product of the
new media of his own time, or the press. Thus three mutually auxiliary inventionsprinting, the railroad, and the telegraphcombined, he argues, to create
the formidable power of the press, that prodigious telephone which has so inordinately enlarged the former audiences of orators and preachers.17
In his theory of the public sphere, Habermas,18 too, uses the term opinion to
refer to incomplete and unstable judgments and public opinion for the publics
rational and collective judgments. According to Habermas, opinion is a judgment that lacks certainty, whose, truth would still have to be proven.19 But public
opinion is the enlightened outcome of common and public reflection,20 which
arises from rational discussion in the public sphere. Thus, public opinion always
requires participation in a process of critical debate21 or conversation. Lopinion
was the opinion of the public eclaire, writes Habermas, articulated through the
press and salon discussions.22

Noelle-Neumann, The Spiral of Silence, 175.

1960 [1895].
1969 [1901], 277.
1969 [1901], 281.
Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, 89.
Ibid., 96.
Ibid., 92.
Ibid., 98.

15 Phenomenology of Public Opinion: Communicative Body, Intercorporeality


Looking back at the historical development of public opinion, Habermas likewise points out that public opinion, or opinion publique, is a late eighteenthcentury coinage that would refer to the critical reflections of a public competent to
form its own judgments;23 it came to appear in the Oxford Dictionary only after
1781.24 Public opinion, like conversations in the public sphere, was a new phenomenon resulting from the press, and it could scarcely be separated from the instrumentthe press.25
With Tarde and Habermas, then, we concur in believing that public opinion
though sometimes ill-formed, ill-informed, and volatilefar from being the voice
of the crowd, is a major means that individuals in a society joined by mass media
can form themselves into a collective force. Not the voice of God, necessarily, public opinion is neither the voice of the stupid. It is however, the voice of the people,
however various and disarrayed.

Public Opinion: Political Function or Individual


Social scientists have usually understood public opinion in two ways: What we may
call the functional definition, which originated mainly in political philosophy, and
the cognitive definition, which arose mainly from social psychology. These two
understandings are not incompatible; one focuses on the aggregate, the other on the
The functional conceptualization emphasizes the role of public opinion as a
force in democracy. A remarkable example is Hans Speiers classic definition: Let
us understand by public opinion, for the purposes of this historical review, as opinions on matters of concern to the nation freely and publicly expressed by men outside the government who claim a right that their opinions should influence or
determine the actions, personnel, or structure of their government.26 In this sense,
democracy, as a procedural method for decision-making, always presupposes public
opinion. Schumpeter, too, understands that Democracy is a political method, that
is to say, a certain type of institutional arrangement for arriving at politicallegislative and administrativedecisions.27
The functional conceptualization understands public opinion as an outcome of
deliberations in the public sphere and as an input for the political system.28 In this

Ibid., 90.
Ibid., 95.
Ibid., 93.
Hans Speier, Historical Development of Public Opinion, American Journal of Sociology (Jan.
1950): 376388, 376.
Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (New York, 1942), 242.
Pamela Johnston Conover and Donald D. Searing, Studying Everyday Political Talk in the
Deliberative System, Acta Politica (2005), 40, 269283; Michael X. Delli Carpini, Fay Lomax


J. Kim

sense, public opinion is represented to the political systemthrough elections,

opinion polls, pressure groups, parliamentary systems, protest movements, and the
like.29 Public opinion is a link between the public sphere (which as a life-world is
closer to concrete everyday life) and the political system (which as a system is
closer to abstract institutions).
Bryce30 anticipated this line of thinking: We talk of public opinion as a new
force in the world, conspicuous only since governments began to be popular. Yet
opinion has really been the chief and ultimate power in nearly all nations at nearly
all times. It is only by rare exception that a monarch or an oligarchy has maintained authority against the will of the people.31
Thus, the functional conceptualization views public opinion as the ultimate
source of political power. In fact, political power can be conceived in two ways: one
is a Weberian conception in which power is understood as a possibility of forcing
ones own will on behaviors of others. The other is a communication-oriented
understanding such as we can see in Arendt,32 who defines power as the ability to
agree upon a common course of action. Here, The fundamental phenomenon of
power is not the instrumentalization of anothers will, but the formation of a common will in a communication directed to reaching agreement.33 This power, in turn,
emerges as public opinion.
Arendts understanding of public opinion is useful for our understanding of the
function of the public sphere because it combines public opinion, communication,
and power into a single system. Political power is never a characteristic of an individual, but of a group; therefore, the fundamental source of any kind of political
power is consensus, engendered by communication. Arendt argues:
It is the peoples support that lends power to the institutions of a country, and this support
is but the continuation of the consent that brought the laws into existence to begin with.
All political institutions are manifestations and materializations of power; they petrify and
decay as soon as the living power of the people ceases to uphold them. This is also what
Madison meant when he said all government rests on opinion, a word no less true for the
various forms of monarchy than for democracies.34

This line of thinking is somewhat different from the usual understanding, since it
views public opinion as the fundamental source of political power rather than a
mere brake or curb against political power.
Cook, and Lawrence R. Jacobs, Public Deliberation, Discursive Participation, and Citizen
Engagement: A Review of the Empirical Literature, Annual Review of Political Science (2004), 7,
Jrgen Habermas, Political Communication in Media Society: Does Democracy Still Enjoy an
Epistemic Dimension? The Impact of Normative Theory on Empirical Research, Communication
Theory (2006), 16, 411426.
James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, Vol. 3 (London: Macmillan, 1973 [1888]).
Ibid., 14.
Hannah Arendt, On Violence (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970).
In Habermas (1994), 211.
Arendt, On Violence, 41.

15 Phenomenology of Public Opinion: Communicative Body, Intercorporeality


Interestingly, the social psychologist Tarde also looked at communication

especially conversationand opinion as the sources of political power. He writes,
The powers would act in vain if their acts were not revealed by the press and commented
upon in conversationThus the evolution of Power can be explained by the evolution of
Opinion, which in turn can be explained by the evolution of conversation, which in turn can
be explained by the series of its different sources: family teachings, school, apprenticeship,
sermons, political speeches, books, newspapers.35

Tarde saw the public sphere as the source of political power, since the public
sphere is where people talk together and form public opinion: Where power is
really forged is in the cafes, the salons, the storeswherever people talk to each
The individual understanding of how individual opinions are formed and
expressed springs from cognitive social psychology and the literature of attitude
change. Recent cognitive social psychology, in fact, uses a number of computer
metaphors to model opinion, such as memory, memory base, scanning ones
memory database, information processing, and so on, and many social psychologists now consider information processing the most important category for attitude
change. Such theories of schematic information processing are thus now common
in cognitive-oriented conceptualizations of public opinion.
According to Fiske and Taylor,37 for example, a schema is a cognitive structure
that organizes prior information and experience around a central idea or an issue,
and that guides interpretations of new information. In other words, a schema is a
frame with which people organize their idea elements, what we can call opinion
elements. People carry bundles of opinion elements in their minds (or memory or
data base) and construct and express opinions whenever it is necessary. The
opinion elements are often in conflict, and an individual can construct quite different opinions based on what elements he or she happens to use for the opinion
Much earlier, Festinger,38 in his theory of cognitive dissonance, argued that people try to reduce conflicts among their opinion elements. Thus, according to the
theory, if a person has a chance to organize an opinion about an issue by talking
about it, that person would be in a better position to reduce the dissonance or conflict. Zaller and Feldman point out: [A] person who rarely thinks about an issue and
who is confronted by an interview situation that requires a succession of quick
answers may have only one consideration immediately available in memory, in
which case the averaging rule reduces to answering on the basis of a single
top-of-the-head consideration.39 This cognitive understanding of individual opinions also suggests that people who talk about an issue may have a more coherent,

Tarde, Lopinion et la foule, 33.

Ibid., 34.
Susan T. Fiske and Shelley E. Taylor, Social Cognition (New York: Random House, 1984).
L. Festinger, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1957).
John Zaller and Stanley Feldman, A Simple Model of the Survey Responses: Answering Versus
Revealing Preferences, American Journal of Political Science (1992), 96, 579616; Ibid., 586.


J. Kim

developed, or firm personal opinion about that issuein effect reducing the degree
to which top-of-the-head responses will yield inconsistent or changeable responses.
Many empirical studies support the theory of schematic construction of opinion
by demonstrating that people do not merely reveal preexisting opinions on surveys.
After reviewing studies which show systemic variance among artifactual response
effectsbeyond the random response variance that has been attributed to measurement errorZaller and Feldman conclude that, to a considerable extent, people are
using the questionnaire to decide what their opinions are.40
What, then, happens during the process of survey interviews, and why do we
consistently get response effects? Tourangeau and Rasinski41 argue that in the
process of answering questions, people (1) decide what the issue is; (2) canvas their
minds for relevant thoughts; (3) combine ideas into a coherent attitude; and (4) map
the resulting attitude onto available response options. Features of the interview process can influence each of these steps, and therefore, the questionnaire can readily
affect what gets reported as public opinion. Survey interviews themselves, then,
function as talking processes in which people organize their opinion elements and
express opinions.

A Discursive Model of Public Opinion

The tight relation between communication and opinion formation suggests that public opinion should not be conceived as a fixed idea element stored in an individuals
mind, but a product of on-going social interactions.42 The idea of opinion as a fixed
entity must have much to do with the printed, or fixed, texts on published materials.
The interactive communication mediacomputer-mediated communication over
the global network, for exampleshould be conceived as an on-going process of
opinion formation.
When pollsters perform opinion polling with pre-categorized survey questions,
however, they assume, implicitly or explicitly: (1) that people will interpret survey
questions in the same way and draw the same meaning from the same questions; (2)
that respondents answers to the same categories (e.g., yes or agree) have the
same semantic values; and (3) that public opinion is an aggregation of attitudes

Ibid., 582. Indeed, Zaller in Politics as Usual: The Rise and Fall of Candidate Perot presented at
the NES, Philadelphia (1994), argues, in advancing his question-answering model, that for most
survey respondents on most items, there is a fairly but not indefinitely wide range within which,
whether they recognize it or not, they are ambivalent. Pollsters themselves participate in the discursive process, then, by presenting respondents questions that are largely framed by elite discourse, reporting the results, and thereby helping to crystallize opinion.
Joohan Kim, Communication, Reason, and Deliberative Democracy, Journal of Communication
(1999), 49, 137144; Diana C. Mutz, Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative Versus Participatory
Democracy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Joohan Kim, Robert O. Wyatt,
and Elihu Katz, News, Talk, Opinion, Action: The Part Played by Conversation in Deliberative
Democracy, Political Communication (1999), 16, 361385.

15 Phenomenology of Public Opinion: Communicative Body, Intercorporeality


individually expressed during survey processes. In other words, most opinion surveys simply equate public opinion with polling results.
In this light, Prices43 suggestion of the discursive model of public opinion is
insightful. The model views public opinion as a process of communication and
discourse rather than as a thing that pre-exists in people's mind to be extracted by
pre-categorized survey questions. This discursive model understands that public
opinion is an emergent product of debate and discussion, which cannot be simply
reduced to any single individuals thoughts or responses.44

Public Opinion and Computer-Mediated Communication

As we have seen, the concept of the public opinion is an invention of the eighteenth
century when the reading public emerged in Europe. Though many theorists and
historians agree that public opinion is a by-product of mass media such as the press,
relatively few scholars have raised the issue of what would happen to the public
opinions in the age of digital mediawhen interactive computer-mediated communication will replace the traditional function of the press and mass media. To
speculate on the question, we should review the nature of digital communication
technology first. Computer-mediated communication has certain features that traditional media lack: (1) digitized information, (2) interactiveness, and (3) wired
community networking or web of relations.


Digitization of Information

The digitization of information has at least two significant meanings: Once digitized, all kinds of information, whether they are texts, sounds, or images, can be
stored, transmitted, and processed with a single machinecomputer. This implies
that all kinds of human percepts can be exchanged over the computer network. As
such, we may say that computersdigitized information processorswill be the
medium of human communication in the near future.
Another significance of the digitization is that the distinction between original
texts (images) and copy disappears. Now we have multiple originals for a digitized
text. One text can produce its identical clones. From now on, any digitized texts will
not get older as time goes by, since it can produce its identical copy at any time. This
might open up a whole new ideas about time and being, the fundamental subjects
of modern philosophies. The meaning of digitized information should be considered in the context of the durability of the world:45

Price, Public Opinion.

Ibid., 2.
Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 137.


J. Kim

It is this durability which gives the things of the world their relative independence from men
[sic] who produced and use them, their objectivity which makes them withstand, stand
against and endure, at least for a time, the voracious needs and wants of their living makers
and users. From this point, the things of the world have the function of stabilizing human
life, and their objectivity lies in the fact thatmen [sic], their ever-changing nature notwithstanding, can retrieve their sameness, that is, their identity, by being related to the same
chair and the same table.

In this sense, digitized information is quite durable, and can stabilize human
life and guarantee the peoples identity. However, digitized information can be
erased completely, in a second, just by pressing a key or clicking a mouse. Digitized
information has two contradictory features at the same time: complete durability
and complete erasability. Digitized information is so vulnerable that one can delete
ones whole work within a second; nevertheless, it also has potentiality to exist
(endure) forever by producing its identical copies endlessly without any data loss
(digital information can be copied without white noise, unlikely analog forms of
information such as video tapes and films).



The advent of interactive media means the death of mass media. Mass media can be
defined as an information source shared by a large number of people simultaneously. On the contrary, interactive media, by definition, allow people to have their
own information. There is no way to know what kinds of information other people
might get from, say, the customized Internet newspaper or Video On Demand. The
interactive media may undermine the we-consciousness, since people can be
never sure about what others know, think, and feel. Interactive media, therefore, will
facilitate the trends of the social fragmentation.
Interactive technologies are not limited to the communications. They are affecting economic systems as well. Computer-mediated communication and vast databases made it possible for companies (Levi Jeans, Ritz Carlton Hotels, Custom
Foot, to name a few) to contact each and every customer directly. For example,
when you go to a Custom Foot shop in New York, they will scan your foot images
and send the information to shoe factories in Italy over the Internet.46 Analysts argue
that we are entering the age of mass customization following the mass


The (World-Wide-) Web of Relations

New media such as computer-mediated communications are opening up a new

world and community by creating web of human relations. We may conceptualize human relations in computer-mediated communication as in-between, which

New York Times, March 20, 1996.

15 Phenomenology of Public Opinion: Communicative Body, Intercorporeality


consists of deeds and words and owes its origin exclusively to mens [sic] acting
and speaking directly to one another.47
According to Arendt, this in-between is no less real than the world of things
we visibly have in common. We call this reality the web of human relationships,
indicating by the metaphor its somewhat intangible qualityTo be sure, this web is
no less bound to the objective world of things than speech is to the existence of a
living bodyThe realm of human affairs, strictly speaking, consists of the web of
human relationships which exists wherever men live together,48 or in a
This new kind of community based on the web of relations is the space of
appearance,49 or the visual field of common perception,50 and as such computermediated community can have characteristics of life-world: Communicative
action is the medium in which the intersubjectively shared life-world is formed. It is
the space of appearance in which actors enter, encounter one another, are seen and
Arendt also points out that Finally, the life-world itself is filled, so to speak,
with praxis, with the web of human relationships. This comprises the stores in
which actors are involved as doers and sufferers.52 We can also compare computermediated community to a table as Arendt did: like a table, which is located between
those who sit around it; the world, like every in-between, relates and separates men
at the same time. The meanings of these three kinds of revolutions can be more
clearly understood in the relationship with public opinion and the public sphere.

Computer-Mediated Communication and the Significance

of the Body

Computer-mediated communication technologies digitize all kinds of informationall kinds of perceptible data are transformed into a series of binary digits.
Digitized information is essentially homogeneous (all are series of numbers), and as
such, it can be transmitted through a single channel. One of the significant consequences of the trend of digitization of information is that different types of sensory
data can now be processed, stored and manipulated with a single machine (computer) and transmitted through a single line (computer network). This is why we can
communicate anything and everything over computer networks and this is why digitized information is opening up a new horizon for human beings and their world.


Ibid., 183.
Ibid., 1834.
Erzahi (1995), 159.
Habermas (1994).
Arendt, The Human Condition, 181.


J. Kim

Before computers, different types of information required different types of

communication channelsphone lines for voice transmissions, electromagnetic
bandwidths for radio and television signals, postal systems for letters and printed
materials, and so on. Different types of information also required distinctive methods for storagemagnetic tapes for sounds, films for images, papers and inks for
texts, for example; but now, with computers, we can store all kinds of information
within a single digital medium. Furthermore, digitization of information allows us
to send and receive different types of information through a single line. This means
that the computer would be the medium for human communications in the very near
Already, through the global computer network called the Internet, we can send
and receive all types of information as digital-beingscomputer filesat the speed
of light, whether they are voice messages, faxes, e-mails, photo images, videos, and
even 3-D virtual reality images.53 In other words, we can exchange and share bodily
experiences54 or data of sensation of our lived experience55anything that can
be perceived by the human body. As a processor, transmitter, and storage of human
perceptions, the medium called computer literally becomes an extension of our
body. The social significance of the body has been well articulated by Hwa Yol Jung:
The body is the umbilical cord to the social. To be social is first and foremost to be intercorporeal. Only because of the body are we said to be visible and capable of relating ourselves
first to other bodies and then to other minds. The body is our social placement in the world:
with the synergic interplay of its senses, the body attunes ourselves to the world.56

Now the Internet is the umbilical cord to the social. Digital-being on the global
computer networks is another form of intercorporeal relationships. The body can be
more effectively connected to the other bodies and to the world through the Internet.
For example, through thousands of WebCams and NetCams, I can see what is happening all around the world in real time, including my friends room on the other
side of the planet. With RealAudio and RealVideo, I can listen to and watch almost


Currently, sending and downloading audio-visual digital-beings from the Internet can take a long
time if you are connected via phone line with a modem. But this problem will be solved very soon
with optic fibers. Now American telephone companies are replacing roughly 5 percent of their
copper wires with fiber every year. At this rate, within just 20 years, the whole network will be
based on optic fibers; Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital (New York: Vintage Books, 1995).
According to Negroponte, We literally do not know how many bits per second we can send down
a fiber. Recent research results indicate that we are close to being able to deliver 1000 billion bits
per second. This means that a fiber the size of a human hair can deliver every issue ever made of
the Wall Street Journal in less than one second. Transmitting data at that speed, a fiber can deliver
a million channels of television concurrently (Ibid., 23).
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,
Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological
Philosophy. Second Book: Studies in the Phenomenology of Constitution, trans. Richard Rojcewicz
and Andre Schuwer (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1952/1989).
Hwa Yol Jung, Vico and the Critical Genealogy of the Body Politic, Rivista di Studi Italiani
(1993b), 11(1), 3966, 45.

15 Phenomenology of Public Opinion: Communicative Body, Intercorporeality


every Korean network TV and radio stations, sitting in my office in Boston. We will
be able to even touch and feel warmth of other bodies over the Net in the very near
Computer scientists have also been keenly aware of the importance of the body
and the intercorporeal relationships in computation. According to Ishii and Ullmer,58
the locus of computation is now shifting from the desktop in two major directions:
(i) onto our skins/bodies and (ii) into the physical environments we inhabit. The
transition to our bodies is well represented by the recent developments in the new
field of wearable computers. Steve Mann,59 the outstanding developer of wearable
computers, argues that the basic ideas of his existential media and existential
computing are based on the philosophy of existentialism.60 Mann argues that our
bodies should become computers as much as a computer should become the body:
When we make reference to CHI (Computer Human Interaction) we call attention to the
boundary between humans and computersCHI becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,
emphasizing this boundary. A goal of existential computing is to eliminate this artificial
(unnecessary) boundary by becoming the computer, rather than merely interfacing to it.61

Jung emphasizes the primacy of the body as the material condition of sociality.62
To be social, we need to be connected to others with our bodies. The whole society
is based on our intercorporeal relationships. Humans can be social beings because
they are bodily beings.63
By allowing us to exchange and share our bodily experiences in the form of
digital-beings, computer networks open new horizons for the intercorporeality.
Sensing the significance of intercorporeal relationships, a group of computer scien57

Hiroshi Ishii and Brygg Ullmer, Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces Between People,
Bits and Atoms, paper presented at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems,
Atlanta, GA (1997); Chris Dodge, The Bed: A Medium for Intimate Communication, paper presented at the Human Factors in Computing Systems, Atlanta, GA (1997); Small (1997).
Ishii and Ullmer, Tangible Bits, 3.
Steven Mann, Eudaemonic Eye: Personal Imaging and Wearable Computing as Result of
Deconstructing HCI; Towards Greater Creativity and Self-Determination, paper presented at the
Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Atlanta, GA (1997).
The goal of the Existential User Interface (EUI) is not increased productivity (e.g., making
individuals more useful to society), but, rather, to reclaim the personal space (prosthetic territory)
lost by invasive technology. A good example of existential media is clothing. Clothing affords us
a great deal of self-determination, and serves as a useful metaphor for existential media (It is no
coincidence that clothing also formed the substrate upon which the existential computer invention was first realized). The SONY Walkman is another example of existential media (Ibid.,
Mann, Eudaemonic Eye, 2.
Hwa Yol Jung, Taking Responsibility Seriously, in Lester Embree and Kevin Thompson (Eds.),
Phenomenology of the Political (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1997), 7.
The body is the living seat and the material condition of sociality. As the co-presence of the self
and the Other, sociality is inconceivable without bodies-in-relation. It is made of fleshly connected
selves, that is, it is intercorporeal [T]he factum brutum that the body is the active mode of being
in the world and that it is the primordial location of the social. The body is indeed a carnal interbeing (Ibid., 78).


J. Kim

tists at the MIT Media Lab are developing tangible and touchable media.64
Acknowledging that current major communication technologies such as telephones,
video con