Claude Romano: At the Heart of Reason

Claude Romano (2015). At the Heart of Reason. Translated by Michael B. Smith and Claude Romano from Au cœur de la raison, la phénomenologie. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. 651p.

Book review by Renxiang Liu, originally written in July 2020.

This is a bold work attempting to justify the original impetus of phenomenology in the face of criticisms coming from contemporary analytic philosophy. At the same stroke, Claude Romano proposes to transform phenomenology, initially expressed in its Husserlian version, so as to purge it of remnants of psychologism, naturalism and transcendentalism, thereby letting it stand the test of rigorous argumentation.

Romano titles his book At the Heart of Reason. What strikes us first is that reason should have a “heart”. The idea runs contrary to the usual image we hold of reason, i.e., exact, timeless, purely conceptual—and, to that extent, heart-less. To bring reason back to its “heart”, then, means outgrowing the prevalent conception of reason—impoverished because one-sidedly excluding sensibility—and to rehabilitate the continuity between sense and understanding, experience and concepts, perception and thinking.

To do this, Romano attacks an assumption widely shared in contemporary analytic philosophy despite disagreements between its branches. The assumption is aptly called “the Kantian framework”; it is the idea that (a) experience is chaotic, completely order-less and structure-less, and (b) order in our knowledge comes only from conceptual thinking mediated by language, which relies on the spontaneous activity of the mind. (xii)

Such a framework is observed, for example, in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: it suggests “a distinction between the radical contingency of the world and the necessity of logic, which is absolutely independent of the world.” (133-134) The denial of order to experience is rooted in the nominalist metaphysics which analytic philosophy inherits from classical empiricism. The consequence is a dilemma. Either all order, essence and necessity are dispelled from the factual world into formal logic or grammar, so that any semblance of material (experiential) necessity is explained away as association, habit, custom, or convention; they are not necessary in a genuine sense but contingent at bottom. Romano calls this “psychologism”, which even includes contemporary, causal accounts of mental processes in cognitive science; its problem is that, in order to account for the (a posteriori) genesis of order, it must presume that order to begin with—hence an infinite regress.

Or, following the intellectualization of Kant in neo-Kantianism, the autonomy of experience is denied; experience is supposed to be conceptual through and through. This applies also to linguistic philosophers like Sellars, Davidson and McDowell, who replace Kantian categories with grammar. The result is that our experiential contact with the world becomes subject to a generalized doubt: one can never eliminate in principle the possibility that the world is but a capricious projection of active consciousness—after all, it is constituted in consciousness alone.

Both paths end in an impasse, and Romano argues that the problem originates from the dichotomy between sensibility and thinking, and accordingly from the denial, since the years of logical positivism, of any a priori necessity beyond the sphere of logical tautology. Such a ‘Kantian’ framework is hardly faithful to Kant himself; after all, Kant considered mathematical knowledge to be synthetic a priori—in fact, a large portion of the Critique of Pure Reason is meant to show how such a kind of knowledge is possible for the finite, human way of knowing.

In a similar vein, Romano proposes to revive Husserl’s concept of the “material a priori”. The term signifies the structures that necessarily belong to experience. Experience thus bears with it a pre-linguistic, pre-predicative order; it may be articulated into linguistic forms but is irreducible to the latter. Perceptual experience, Romano argues, is essentially indeterminate and continuous; whereas propositions are determinate and enclosed—they have clear, definite boundaries. (63-64) Perceptual experience thus exceeds any propositional articulation of it. In this argument Romano makes, we recognize a Merleau-Pontian appeal to the immemorial of nascent experience.

An exposition of the material a priori, then, calls for a extension of the concept of meaning beyond the linguistic sphere. Sense [Sinn] would thereby be liberated from definite significations [Bedeutungen]. In other words, perception cannot be exhausted by a semantic content, and a fortiori a “propositional attitude”. (66)

Such is the genuine breakthrough Romano locates in Husserlian phenomenology. Later in the book, he will deepen the idea with an account of the life-world and a “holism of experience”. However, the phenomenological insight suffered, in Husserl’s own hands, from a remnant prejudice of Cartesian origin. The prejudice exhibited itself in a largely epistemological problematics of certainty, which was by no means overcome in Kant’s transcendental turn.

The problem stems from the urge to account for the necessity we find in the material a priori of experience. Husserl is right in seeing that such a necessity is structural, though not emptily formal, and his concept of intentionality is precisely devised to formulate these structural necessities, which Husserl also calls essences. The task of phenomenology is thus a striving towards an intuition of essence [Wesenschau] by means of phenomenological reduction and eidetic variation. This, however, leads to many difficulties and ambiguities in Husserlian phenomenology, beginning from the Logical Investigations and persisting throughout his transcendental turn. We shall see in detail how this is the case according to Romano.

Husserl’s early characterization of intentionality in the Logical Investigations inherits from Brentano the problematics of distinguishing in-person (authentic) presentations from uncertain (inauthentic) ones. Husserl isolates the intentional content from the intended object with the help of a Platonism that hypostatizes the intentional content into ideal entities. While the intended object is transcendent to the intending act, thus contingent and may not exist, the intentional content is immanent to the act and certain in an evidence [Evidenz]. Though this move seems to allow Husserl to account for the at-once indistinguishability between a veritable perception and a perceptual illusion, the accompanying assumption of a separate and autonomous layer of intentional content allows for an ever-persistent doubt, for what we encounter within the later (and we can only encounter things within it) is always an ambivalence between the appearance [Erscheinung] of an existent thing and a mere semblance [Schein] with no real correlate. For Husserl, what is “real” [reell] is the immanent content, as opposed to what is “intentional”, i.e., the transcendent object. The problem of universal doubt thus persists in Husserl’s transposition of Cartesian doubt into his epochē and phenomenological reduction, because the latter, though without any explicit ontological commitment, is still aimed at discovering what is apodictically certain, so that it may serve as the source of necessity in the material a priori.

According to Romano, even Husserl’s doctrine of fulfillment—based on a renewed account of inner time-consciousness—fails to address the difficulty concerning generalized doubt. If Husserl characterizes authentic presentation, not as intuited at once, but as giving itself in a continuous and open series of fulfillment, it remains true that each installment (called an “adumbration” [Abschattung]) is uncertain, and thereby the entire flow could be illusory. After all, does not an “empty intention”, incapable of being fulfilled by a transcendent thing, still qualify as immanently “real” [reell] according to Husserl’s standards? As long as certainty is modelled after that of the cogito (be it real or transcendental), there is no hope to establish the transcendent world as also certain. If one adumbration cannot offer certainty, neither can a series of them.

From this line of reasoning, it follows naturally that the isolated, immanent stratum bearing all that is certain must claim an unequivocal ontological status; hence Husserl’s Platonism of meaning and essence. This leads to further problems. If the meaning of a real object were a separate, ideal object, then in our characterization of the latter we would inevitably run into an overdetermination by language; meaning would be construed as nothing beyond the words, or proposition, into which we put it; after all, an ideal object must have a clear and definite ‘shape’. In order to avoid this intellectualization of meaning, which is so characteristic of the “Kantian framework”, Romano suggests that we understand meaning as adverbial, i.e., not a separate object but only the manner of our being related to the real object through intentionality. This point, according to Romano, was not made clear until Heidegger suggested the ontological difference between Being and beings.

Similarly, in Husserl’s essentialism, essences are considered as ideal entities. The only approach to them is thus the Wesenschau, which renders phenomenological description necessarily ahistorical. The way out, Romano submits, would be an “essentialism without essence”, which subscribes only to what a thing essentially is, i.e., what makes it the thing it is, without invoking any entity-like essence. It is to this extent that phenomenological descriptions are a priori and are open to controversy whenever they rest on what Romano calls “transcendental arguments”. (238)

In fact, the whole vein of transcendental philosophy is based on a hypostatization of the mediating layer (intentional content or essences) so much so that our direct and naïve contact with the world is hindered. This philosophy isolates “lived experience” [Erlebnis] from that which the experience is about, so as then to question how this lived experience is possible (to which one may respond with causality, constitution, etc.). A sphere of immanence is prescribed, which must then open up to transcendence. But, if the question is formulated thus, it is already ‘too late’, for it would be impossible to recover the enigmatic autonomy of transcendence. The transcendental ego would have to be posited at the origin of all transcendences, constituting them, not only in terms of meaning, but also (inevitably) in terms of being. The entire world would then be enclosed in a pure consciousness.

More generally, Romano locates Husserl’s problem in the “stratified” models Husserl often applies in philosophizing, for example, to language, to consciousness of Others, and to scientific objectivity. Different strata (e.g., self-consciousness and empathetic consciousness) are given equal footing so that they may ‘overlap’ in a single act, while in fact many of them are qualitatively different, that is, of distinct ontological orders. The result is a levelling reification. Moreover, what is primordial is often construed as a contingent addendum. (Incidentally, this strategy also opens the door to relativism: for example, if language and the experience it expresses are separated as two strata, we are easily led to believe that language—studied as an object in linguistics—structures experience without remainder, which is a fundamental presumption of cultural relativism. Relativism, at bottom, is idealist. (488))

In a sense, Romano places the internal difficulties of Husserl’s phenomenology at the origin of some of the external objections to phenomenology in general—objections from Ernst Tugendhat, Moritz Schlick, and Wittgenstein, etc.. The most obvious example would be Husserl’s idea that we have an indubitable knowledge of immanent lived experience. To the ears of a post-Fregean analytic philosopher, this idea would sound like a vestige of Cartesian introspection, which runs in the face of Wittgenstein’s critique of private language. It is not so much that introspection is proved to be deceptive; the case is rather that analytic philosophy circumvents it with externalist approaches because introspection is too unreliable. As a result, Husserlian intentionality is ‘purified’ as linguistic intensionality in the hands of John Searle, David Woodruff Smith, etc.. In thus criticizing Husserl, however, analytic philosophers share with him the “Kantian framework”: both parties agree that meaning is conceptual through and through; their disagreement is only about how we approach this conceptual layer—if not through introspection of lived experience, then through external observation of linguistic patterns.

When problematizing analytic arguments per se, Romano works insightfully. Not only is he capable of excavating the core of Husserl’s breakthrough in response to external criticisms; he also develops many original ideas. To give one example of the latter, Romano argues that “there is no reason to consider the body / brain as subjective.” (456) Subjectivity can never be found in the human person in a form that is already objectified; rather, it must be captured at work. Consequently, a causal (e.g., neurological) account of subjectivity is not of subjectivity at all.

Things are less obvious when it comes to interpreting Heidegger. For the most part, Romano makes positive use of Heidegger’s ideas, especially those set against Husserl’s orientation. Accordingly, Romano hardly mentions external criticisms of Heidegger. But he does offer his internal critique of Heidegger, mostly concerning the residue of transcendental philosophy in Being and Time. Though Romano fully acknowledges Heidegger’s practical conception of Dasein, he has a whole batch of arguments showing that Dasein remains a heir of Husserl’s transcendental ego—for Dasein is the ground of meaning of being thanks to its understanding; it forms [bildet] or shapes the possibilities of the world. (397) Romano’s objection is that this move would risk reducing the world to the projection [Entwurf] of Dasein, which again results in skepticism or relativism. More importantly, the excess of the world would be trivialized; so would our own finitude.

We will see later to what extent this objection is justifiable. For now, let us look at a more interesting critique of Heidegger concerning his relation to anthropologism. Initially, anthropologism was what Husserl accused Heidegger’s ‘existential’ phenomenology of: whatever Heidegger spoke of Dasein (e.g., Being-towards-death, guilt, resoluteness), Husserl considered non-essential to the transcendental structure of consciousness as such; they are but contingent findings about human being, while philosophy allows for no ontic anthropological import. Heidegger, on his part, considered himself the first one (with the possible exception of Kant—as presented in Heidegger’s Kantbuch, of course) to take Dasein’s finitude seriously, i.e., no longer aligning it against a supposedly infinite knowing, as was common practice in the ontic science of anthropology. Instead, Being and Time articulates finitude from within Dasein, via its Being-towards-death (which means the gesture of ‘towards’ precedes both Dasein and death per se). This move allowed Heidegger to incorporate into his fundamental ontology an ontologically ‘purified’ anthropology, which begot the name of existential analytic.

But Romano points out a tension in Heidegger’s treatment of existential analytic in Being and Time. On the one hand, what is factically [faktisch] human is discussed under the title of “average everydayness” [durchschnittliche Alltäglichkeit] or “fallenness” [Verfallen] in Division One of Being and Time. On the other hand, what is factically human is not yet what is essentially human—the former characterizes an “inauthentic” mode of being of Dasein, the latter an authentic potentiality-for-being [Seinskönnen] disclosed by anxiety. It looks as if human were not enough human because of ontological forgetfulness. This paradox is summarized in Romano’s claim that, for Heidegger, “Dasein must be man [sic] and must not be man, have the essential characteristics of man and not have them.” (249) There is, so to speak, an implicit distrust of anthropologism in Heidegger, which (Romano claims) results from seeing anthropologism as a variant of relativism, which Heidegger (1962, pp. 449-455) saw in Wilhelm Dilthey’s work—a relativism incommensurable with Heidegger’s essentialist position regarding fundamental ontology. (248) The tension is also shown in the ambiguity of Heidegger’s use of “Dasein”: sometimes it denotes the essence (Being) of human, sometimes it is itself the entity each of us is. (250) Romano argues, by contrast, that such a view obscures human finitude, for whatever belongs to the contingency of human “arch-facticity” does not receive a proper treatment but is instead dismissed as non-essential. The phenomenon of birth, for example, is largely absent in Heidegger’s work. Considering Heidegger’s radical project of articulating finitude, his own treatment in Being and Time turns out to be not anthropological enough. Again, an essentialism that reifies essence is what prevents Heidegger from pursuing finitude to its extreme.

In the face of this, Romano suggests a Merleau-Pontian approach—one that relies less on essences imposed from on high and advocates the continuity between the contingent and the essential—which Romano boldly calls “realism”. To be sure, such a realism is purged of naturalism, psychologism, and objectivism—after all, nature, psyche / mind, and objects are all concepts which apply only to phenomena in the Kantian sense. Romano’s is a naïve realism which seeks to restore our trust in the life-world before doubt, which serves as the unarticulated, pre-linguistic and immemorial ground against which alone any doubt may arise. This sense of the Real, devoid of definite, determinate content, is however paradoxically characterized as a “full and complete positivity.” (369) The reason to posit such a plenum (like Bergson did, as well as Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and Deleuze following him) is that whatever is articulated from the indeterminate horizon cannot have been created anew by the subject but must somehow be already there, underlying. Romano adds a twist (of Heideggerian inspiration, I suppose) to this realist tradition by saying that the indeterminate horizon “in-appears”, i.e., appears in withdrawal instead of an outright occultation. (368) So, the withdrawal of the Real is not due to a mystic immanence, but to the finitude of appearing, which is reminiscent of Heidegger’s idea of the fundamental concealment underlying and nourishing any partial unconcealment, exhibited, for example, in the Earth [Erde]’s “telling refusal” in The Origin of the Work of Art. (Heidegger 1993, pp. 179-180; Heidegger 1995, p. 139)

I will return to this idea of the Real once I reach the end of my critical assessment of Romano’s admirable work. Before that, however, let me first pay tribute to some specific arguments Romano adopts which look problematic.

Admittedly, Romano’s “transformation” of phenomenology (Part 2 of his book) is carried out as a response to the “confrontation” of phenomenology with analytic philosophy (Part 1 of the book). As I have shown, Romano’s critical adaptation of Husserlian phenomenology usually begins with a counter-argument found in analytic philosophy, and phenomenology’s apparent susceptibility to this counter-argument is ascribed to weaknesses, ambiguities, and misconceptions in Husserl’s factual formulation of phenomenology, which reflects a residual Cartesianism. However, in doing this, Romano is sometimes too concerned with ‘closing the case’ with a decisive argument, spanning a few pages, against Husserl (or against Heidegger, for that matter). But such a ‘decisive’ argument is bound to miss the richness, subtlety and multifariousness of Husserl’s thinking in decontextualizing it; in fact, it more than often shares, with its opposing analytic position, a simple-mindedness and a one-sided pursuit for conceptual clarity and certainty. Below I shall name a few examples.

(a) In Chapter 8, when introducing the “physical” account of color perception by Jonathan Westphal, Romano uncritically cites Larry Hardin’s comment that such an account does not entail a physicalistic reduction but “introduces a phenomenological element of sorts.” (169) Then, Romano immediately takes Hardin’s analytic use of the word “phenomenological”, which means first-person, qualitative experience, as synonymous with Romano’s own version of phenomenology—a conflation that can be traced back to Dan Zahavi (2004, pp. 331-347)’s ‘naturalization’ of phenomenology. In doing so, however, the problematics of Romano’s discussion is irremediably narrowed; one no longer questions the mode of being of the ‘first person’ who ‘has’ the experience which analytic philosophy deems “phenomenological”. Pushed to an extreme, this line of interpretation even contradicts Romano’s own critique of subjective idealism.

(b) A whole critique is directed, at the beginning of Part 2, at Husserl’s notion of lived experience, which Romano interprets as “everything that is offered to consciousness in such a way that it is impossible to doubt it.” (255) In other words, lived experiences are mental episodes with definite durations, which are taken as actual objects separate from the objects they are experiences about. (264) So, in order to show that Husserl’s concept of lived experience obscures our direct contact with the life-world, Romano adopts a largely analytic reading of it, which renders lived experience a representational stratum between us and the world. The problem with that representationalist model, as shown earlier, is that the existence of the thing corresponding to immanent experience can at most be presumptive, hence the risk of universal skepticism.

This line of interpretation is not without textual support, and it is canonically expressed in the work of David Woodruff Smith (2012, pp. 134-157). However, the picture is certainly not the ‘best’ we can get out of Husserl; it even contradicts what Romano says earlier in the book about Husserl’s breakthrough. In other words, Romano’s strategy here is to defeat a strawman-version of Husserl so as then to propose an apparently original position, which, in fact, is profoundly indebted to Husserl himself.

This approach appears most problematic when Romano directs arguments, highly similar to Smith’s, against the strawman-Husserl. He insists, for example, that perception must be radically different from illusion. Though his “holism of experience” supports this position, the actual arguments he devises against ‘Husserl’s’ position—namely, that a veritable perception is at once indistinguishable from an illusion—are simplistic; they are arguments made for the sake of argument. While Romano’s underlying motive was to rehabilitate our primordial trust in the world before doubt, which is totally justified, in his argument against ‘Husserl’ he sounds like we could make sure, once and for all, that a certain perception is not illusory. (308-309) In doing so, Romano seems to confuse (a) trust in perceptual activity in general and (b) certainty in each particular perception. Romano’s holism supports (a) well, but to demand (b) would be too much and would run contrary to his suspicion of intuitive certainty for the rest of the book. It may be argued, by contrast, that Husserl’s idea of an endless postponement of the ‘final’ word about perception due to an indefinite, open series of adumbrations has the merit of avoiding overdetermination; it does not imply an indecision between truth and falsehood but names only an openness towards their possible reversal in the fullness of time. In fact, each installment of adumbration is not so much a neutral ambivalence between perception and illusion (which would indeed lead to skepticism) than a further specification of the object which, under certain circumstances, may radically transform what we have known about the object in a retroactive [nachträgliche] manner. (See Romano 2014) Apart from a few artificially contrived instances Romano mentions, which already presume a witness with the truth at hand, illusions are usually realized as illusions only ex post facto, for otherwise they would have little deceptive power. But this means that a truth is always subject to modification, and, once revealed to have been an error, it is turned not so much into a complete falsehood than into a one-sided truth which has been blind to its own one-sidedness. This essentially temporal view of perception and truth is not only compatible with Romano’s call to return to an immemorial, even primitive, trust in the world; it deepens and complements the latter in that the primitive layer is only now capable of historical determination. Otherwise, the world Romano conceives of would remain certain, for sure, but also fixed and lifeless.

Perhaps Romano’s hasty dismissal of Husserl is further based on two unclarified prejudices which—I must again say—are largely analytic. The first is the idea that “constitution” must either (a) be a process or act locatable in the chronology of the genesis of that which is constituted, in terms of meaning or in terms of being, or (b) amount to an ontological ground which constantly supports and ‘fuels’ that which is constituted in an activity in the Aristotelian sense [energeia]. Only this assumption warrants Romano’s inference from constitution to an enclosed immanence. Alternatively, if constitution signifies what has always already taken place but is discovered only in retrospect, then it implies only (a) an operative [fungierende] intentionality, always at work yet rarely articulated, and (b) the participation of the subject (which Romano (2014, p. 109) calls “the advenant” in his Event and Time), both of which are compatible with Romano’s overall position.

The second prejudice is an equivocation of being with being-extant. For example, when problematizing Husserl’s notion of transcendental consciousness, Romano sees a problem in the message, conveyed in Husserl’s writings, that “it is not only the sense but the being of what is constituted that originates in transcendental consciousness.” (296) Here, Romano interprets “being” as being-extant. Notwithstanding Heidegger’s profound doubt about this interpretation, such a way of inquiry would deliver us back to a realist conception of ‘ontology’, prevalent in analytic philosophy, where we are asked to give an exhaustive list of extant things, so that whatever is not on the list (a ghost, for example) does not exist. By contrast, phenomenology never quite bothers with the extantness of worldly things; its inquiry into their ‘being’ is not a doubt of their existence but precisely a wonder at the intuitively unproblematic character of their extantness. It is in this sense that meaning converges with being; the meaning of a thing is what makes it the very thing it is (which, by the way, is Romano’s definition of essence). If ‘constitution’ has any phenomenological relevance, it speaks of ontological determination, not of ontic generation or persistence.

(c) When it comes to Romano’s ‘overcoming’ of Heidegger, the formulation of his own position (especially of the holism of experience) relies heavily on Division One of Being and Time, above all on Heidegger’s account of equipmentality [Zeuglichkeit] in Chapters II-III. This means Romano’s position is at bottom a pragmaticism. Though Romano (2014, p. 177) manages to purge pragmaticism of a remnant instrumentalism with the help of his “evential hermeneutics”, this approach still does not specify how Dasein is not just its everyday concerns or how it could possibly do ‘better’ than that. Like Merleau-Ponty (as presented in the book), Romano seems to favor a rudimentary, almost animalistic, image of human being, heavily predetermined by birth, and assailed from all sides by events alien to and infinitely exceeding it. To overemphasize ‘automatic’ life is to forget the depths of human finitude, which finds no place anyway in Division One’s “skillful coping” (to borrow Hubert Dreyfus (1001, p. 67)’s word). Heidegger had a reason to outgrow Division One and to tag average everydayness as “inauthentic”, though the actual steps he took towards authenticity were deeply problematic, to say the least. Incidentally, I suspect that the problem already arose with conceiving Dasein as just another entity [Seiende]. Once Dasein is characterized as an entity diametrically different from, yet on the same level with, non-Dasein entities, the existential analytic of Dasein in Division One becomes a regional ontology about the being of one type of entity, i.e., Dasein. Along that path, everything Heidegger says there would amount to a pragmaticist anthropology. But Dasein is never just an entity; I would even contend that Dasein mean primarily Da-sein, being-there, an original structure of ontological differentiation between the world and the self, a relationality which precedes its two terms—and only then, derivatively, does it mean an entity that each of us is. Though Being and Time must start from the second, derivative sense of Dasein, it must outgrow it and reach the first, original sense, so as to be a work on fundamental ontology, i.e., an inquiry into the ontological differentiation deeply rooted in finite temporality. (Heidegger 1962, pp. 71-75; Heidegger 1997, pp. 146-150)

To sum up my reservations about Romano’s interpretation of Husserl and Heidegger, I am quite sure that none of my charges apply if I read Romano charitably enough, focusing on what he means rather than what he actually says. But I think expression matters in philosophy just as much as the idea expressed; the two are in a sense inseparable, as Romano argues following Merleau-Ponty. It is thus a duty of philosophers to hone their expressions so as to minimize the chance of misunderstanding. I hope what I said has been somewhat helpful on that account.

Finally, I have a remark on Romano’s own conceptuality, which does not rely on the accuracy or detailedness of his interpretation of other philosophers. It is about his own position of realism, which is expressed, not only in the current book, but also in Event and World and Event and Time. Romano suggests it as a remedy for the transcendental idealism in Husserl’s and Heidegger’s phenomenology. To be sure, this is a position that Romano assumes rather than vehemently argues for; in Romano’s view, it does not even need to be established, for all opposing ‘positions’ are consequences of conceptual thought going astray, while this position, which he terms “naïve realism”, is a meta-position or pre-position [Ur-position], i.e., that from which alone we set off and take definite positions. It is irrefutable like Husserl (2014, pp. 48-50)’s “natural attitude”, for any attempt to refute it already presupposes it.

However, it is one thing to offer philosophy as a ‘therapy’ so that we recover, at the heart of reason, a naïve realism ebbing back and forth; it is quite another thing to say definite things about the Real. Even if a move of the latter kind avoids slipping into objectivism, naturalism, psychologism or mysticism—which is already a remarkable feat—it risks a Spinozism, according to which whatever shows itself entails some kind of prior being which is thus shown. This move would deprive the world of any radical novelty. Realism of a Spinozist inspiration involves a metaphysical closure which precludes the improvisation of being in events; it fixates actuality retroactively in a potentiality that is nevertheless fully determinate—reminiscent of Bergson’s “virtual”. This tendency I sensed in Romano’s claim that “the Open” is a “full and complete positivity.” (369) Merleau-Ponty (2012, pp. 345-347), by contrast, argued that the world itself is ever incomplete. To let “the Open” remain genuinely open, I must say that it is neither full (Spinozist realism) nor empty (transcendental idealism); it is an undifferentiatedness that can always be further differentiated—to recall Husserl (2001, p. 42)’s term, it is an “determinable indeterminacy” [bestimmbare Unbestimmtheit].


Dreyfus, Hubert L. Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time, Division I. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1991.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell, 1962.

———. Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. 5th edition. Translated by Richard Taft. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.

———. The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude. Translated by William McNeill and Nicholas Walker. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995

———. “The Origin of the Work of Art.” In Basic Writings, edited by David Farrell Krell, pp. 139-212. London: Harper Collins, 1993.

Husserl, Edmund. Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic. Translated by Anthony J. Steinbock. Dordercht: Kluwer, 2001.

———. Ideas for a Pure Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology. Translated by Daniel O. Dahlstrom. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2014.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by Donald A. Landes. London: Routledge, 2012.

Romano, Claude. At the Heart of Reason. Translated by Michael B. Smith and Claude Romano. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2015.

———. Event and Time. Translated by Stephen E. Lewis. New York: Fordham University Press, 2014.

———. Event and World. Translated by Shane Mackinlay. New York: Fordham University Press, 2009.

———. There is: The Event and the Finitude of Appearing. Translated by Michael B. Smith. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016.

Smith, David Woodruff. “Perception, Context, and Direct Realism.” In The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology, edited by Dan Zahavi, pp. 134-157. London: Routledge, 2012.

Zahavi, Dan. “Phenomenology and the Project of Naturalization.” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 3, no. 4 (2004), pp. 331-347.

Published by Renxiang Liu

Philosopher, Phenomenologist, Humanist.

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