Continental Philosophy Final Exam
This was a take-home for Dr. Jim Stephens. Here are the four most interesting sections, with a look at Phenomenology.
Facing the Collapse of Rationalism
The crisis, called modernity, was the self-collapsing of rationalism upon itself. It was the moving through rationalism to find its insufficiency in dealing with the world. The modern world, progressing with the self-meta narrative of H. G. Well’s history of man as a story of man’s incredible upward progress, came to the pinnacle of the early 20th century. The rationalism of man’s using his mind to circumscribe everything, of using the mind and the scientific method to approach the world, climbed to the 20th century, what should have been the greatest of all ages. The manifestation of this age, though, was not the glowing of human existence is the best of all possible worlds, a world created by the huge effort of man’s use of his mind. Man conquered all. He faced the world as its master.
And as they watched the world began to crumble, as it fell apart. A generation grew sick within their soul , recognizing the world that had contained the faith of men was falling apart under it’s own weight. They watched the creature they had produced reach outward until it breaks away from the master and, like Yeats’ falcon and falconer, broke beyond its master. The world fell apart and there was no solidity. The progress of men was towards a wasteland. It was a vision of an apocalyptic vision of a “blood-dimmed tide.” Those 20 centuries leading to this modern pinnacle were centuries of “stony sleep” leading to the hour of a rough beast. They were the rocking of a vexed cradle to hide from of us the nature of our world, our reason and ourselves. This was historically manifested in WWI, with an age being fulfilled in the hopelessness of the death of the best minds of a generation stretched out in the bloody shit of the trenches of France.
The Beginning of Phenomenology
Edmund Husserl’s project is a project of developing a rigorous science that really deals with humans as humans. In this it is intended to be an answer to the crisis and distinguish itself from of prior philosophical positions. It will put humans in the center again, not reducing them to biology or mathematics. It will deal with the world as a human world, it would deal with the spiritual without a complete fragmentation, without the separation of man from those spiritual things that made him man. This science, this first really human science, would be different from the knowledge of the enlightenment and rationalistic knowledge by its avoidance of what Heidegger called “enframing,” the misconstruing and misinterpreting of the unconcealed. This is the danger of taking causality, biology, math, or any science or technology and using it to explain things it cannot really explain. It is this way that we get Pascal’s reference to the philosopher’s God as opposed to the God of any faith, a distortion or an obscuring of something by the reference to it. This science/philosophy, this really rigorous human knowledge, will meet man as man and not man as causality, math, biology, or any other enframing, reducing him or exalting his explanation. Man is not his explanation. We want to know the man and not the gesture at man, not the explanation of him. This would be the first real look at man, and in that be distinct from prior philosophies, and answering the crisis of the self-collapse of rationalism.
Enframing: The Rejection of Scientism in the Development of Phenomenology.
Heidegger finds Husserl’s project mistaken because of its approach to world as an enframing science and not as a new way of thinking. Husserl breaks neither from the western philosophical tradition nor from the problems of scientism and the over-extension of rationalism that lead to the crisis. Husserl’s project is still an attempt at a rigorous science, an attempt at a thorough explanation of man, meeting some sort of scientific standards that bring us to understand man as the sum of his quantitation. This project of phenomenology, before Merleay-Ponty and Heidegger rescue it, is a project that sees the problems of the decentering of man, that sees the problem of the enframing that claims man is, essentially, the explanation of man, yet seeks to respond with a mostly similar method. Husserl’s rigorous science is no less guilty, or would be when thoroughly developed, of an enframing that denied the man of being man as man. Husserl turns to science and that science, that rigorous and falsifiable science displaces the man, obscuring him and his unrevealed nature. Husserl is still seeking an objectivity that speaks of Descartes or Kant, placing him firmly in the tradition despite all his radical aspirations.
Heidegger’s phenomenology is a phenomenology dealing with epistemology as a mode of thinking, not as a new science. Heidegger’s phenomenology speaks of worlding of the world, of beings “brought into unconcealment.” As he says, “Color shines and wants only to shine. When we analyze it in rational terms by measuring its wavelengths, it is gone. It shows itself only when it remains undisclosed and unexplained. Earth thus shatters every attempt to penetrate it.” Heidegger thus takes intentionality far enough as to destroy hoped-for science of phenomenology. Things exist as themselves, not as the scientific way we measure them. A color is its shining, and not the measure of its wavelengths. A stone is a stone in its burden, in its rest, but not in its weight. Heidegger seeks a new way of thinking that will escape enframing. Husserl’s project has none of this.
Embodiment in the thought of Merleau-Ponty and St. Irenaeus
Looking at Merleau-Ponty’s thesis of embodiment as central to the nature of lived experience, we find striking similarities with the early church fathers, particularly the anti-Gnostic writers such as Irenaeus. That the two talk of embodiment at all is surprising when it is considered that the body is ignored in all serious academic considerations for the bulk of the western tradition, with the west’s strong propensity towards dualism. From the time the church’s early teachings on embodiment fade in the philosophical world to the time of the phenomenological projects, the body is ignored.
In the teachings of the church, specifically the work of St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, we find embodiment takes a vital role. Fighting the early heresy of the Gnostics, an extreme from of dualism, Irenaeus presents the embodiment of man as integral to who he is. Speaking of the salvation of man, Irenaeus opposes dualism with orthodox soteriology: “For the Gnostic view of salvation does not include the flesh; but if the flesh is not saved, nothing of man is saved.” There is no man separated from the embodied man. This theo-phenomenology is the founding of the two great dogmas of the Christian church, the incarnation and the resurrection. This embodiment is shown in the patristic church by their honor of the martyrs, the emphasis on the physical suffering of Christ, the insistance on the embodiment of Christ, and the necessity of physical acts of liturgy as a primary way of knowing the truth of the faith. The Gnostic proposed soteriological dualism, Christological dualism, and metaphysical dualism. Irenaeus opposed them on all of these, calling them blasphemous and claiming the church never held such things. Irenaeus opposed them stridently, avidly supporting this theo-phenomenology as vital.
This position of Irenaeus,’ the all surrounding importance of embodiment, is a position Merleau-Ponty speaks of when he says, “we are through and through compounded of relationships with the world.” Merleau-Ponty speaks to the fundamental and primordial position of embodiment when he posits that our very consciousness (profoundly contradicting Descartes’ a priori ego) comes from our embodiment in world.
We find meaning, Merlau-Ponty tells us in a statement that backs and supports Irenaeus’ attack on dualism, in our embodiment in the world. Dualism, they agree, is an abstraction that distorts or destroys meaning while truth and epistemological knowing come from an in-the-world embodiment.
1 Herman Hesse. Steppenwolf. New York: Henry Holt, 1963. Pgs 21, 22.
ii William Butler Yeats. The Second Coming. The Mentor Book of Major British Poets. New York: Penguin, 1963. Pg. 426.
vi Husserl, Vienna Lecture 9.
vii “I am certain that the European crisis has its roots in a misguided rationalism.” Husserl, 7.
viii Martin Heidegger. Basic Writings. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993. Pg. 331.
ix Ibid. See specifically the mention of causality distorting God in its enframing.
x This strikes a profoundly similar note as that of Derrida on speaking of God.
xi The entire Phenomenology movement, notably Merlau-Ponty and Levinas in addition to Heidegger, reject the Husserlian version of the project.
xii Class notes, Sept. 10, 17.
xiii This quanatation may be any sort of science, especially including biology, physics, math, or economics. This, however, is no short list. Heidegger particularly brings out philosophy for chastisement on these grounds.
xiv Husserl is 40 percent Descartes and 40 percent Kant. Class notes from Sept. 10, 17.
xv Heidegger 181.
xvi Ibid. 172.
xvii Against Heresies.
xviii Gerard Vallee. A Study in Anti-Gnostic Polemics: Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier, 1981. Pg. 18.
xix Ibid. 27.
xx Ibid. 21, 22.
xxi Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Phenomenology of Percepion. London: Routledge: 1958. Pg. xxii.