Early Phenomenology

Metaphysics, Ethics, and the Philosophy of Religion

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Brian Harding , Michael R. Kelly
Bloomsbury Studies in Continental Philosophy
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , June
     256 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Editors Brian Harding and Michael R. Kelly present Early Phenomenology, not as a contribution to the history of early phenomenology or phenomenologists, or as a comprehensive survey of the contemporary relevance of this work or its authors, but rather as a collection meant to provoke something like the ressourcement movement that was so influential for mid-twentieth century Catholic theology. Their hope is that readers will see those treated as possible interlocuters and not simply as what David Tracy once characterized as period pieces or fodder for historians of philosophy—this is my example, not theirs. They also acknowledge some obvious lacunae which those working on or familiar with this period will recognize. The goal was to find authors who both knew something about this period and were familiar with current topics and discussions, and who were available to contribute something.

The volume opens with an essay by the all-too-recently deceased Lester Embree on the supposed “gap” between Göttingen and Freiburg approaches to phenomenology. This essay is followed by the translation of a brief text by Adolf Reinach on the experience—reported by his fellow soldiers—on the foreboding or foreseeing of their impending deaths in that day’s action and taken from notebooks he kept while serving in the German army during World War One. The translator, Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray, offers a detailed analysis of this text in a later essay in the second section of this volume which draws out the characteristics of this experience.

This second section consists of essays organized around the themes of a phenomenology of affect, emotion, and volition. John F. Crosby offers a comparative discussion of Dietrich von Hildebrand and John Zizioulas on the phenomenology of the person and love. Kelly follows with a critical rereading of Max Scheler on envy and resesentiment, and Marla Ubiali considers Alexander Pfänder’s approach to phenomenology as a descriptive psychology.

The third section takes up some early reactions to phenomenology. Harding discusses José Ortega’s critique of phenomenology as a species of idealism. Keith Peterson looks at Nicolai Hartmann on the relation between ontology and realism, and Robert Wood reminds readers that Martin Buber critiqued Martin Heidegger and shows how Buber’s emphasis on an epiphany of the thou can be read as a critique of Heidegger’s emphasis on the mystery of Being. This essay might well have been included in the concluding section on the early phenomenology of religion, which will, perhaps, be the one most of interest to readers of this review. Jonna Bornemark discusses Edith Stein’s reading of Theresa-of-Avila and John-of-the-Cross in light of those proposed by Anthony Steinbock and Michel Henry. Bornemark argues for the move from a more static to a more genetic phenomenology of mystical experience in Stein. Bornemark sees this development as one in which a reversal occurs between the images and the metaphors contemplated, and what they are about, followed by a return to the world—something, she suggests, that has been missing from recent “returns to religion” by philosophers.

Brian Gregor demonstrates that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was, in fact, a practicing phenomenologist in his early work. He was well aware of the work of Edmund Husserl, Scheler, and Heidegger, but focused more on historical existence than on philosophical abstractions. Bonhoeffer’s aim was a phenomenology of the person who is a social being and who lives in a community whose life, enabled by faith, constitutes a unity of act and being. Merold Westphal concludes the volume with a look at Rudolf Otto—not just as a phenomenologist of the sacred—but one who might well be better characterized as a postmodern phenomenologist. This can be seen by placing Otto in dialogue with Jean-Luc Marion and Jacques Derrida within the context of what has been called the recent theological turn in French phenomenology.

The editors should be praised for having the contributors to this volume organize their essays so that they lay out at the beginning how they are going to proceed and that they always end with some concluding remarks about what has been accomplished. This adds a coherence to the intent to provoke further research and conversation beyond what could be accomplished by simply assembling author’s responses to a proposed topic. The individual essays can also stand alone as useful provocations and will also be of interest to those working on, or seeking to learn about, the figures considered.

About the Reviewer(s): 

David Pellauer is professor emeritus of philosophy at DePaul Univeristy.

Date of Review: 
April 27, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Brian Harding is associate professor of philosophy at the Texas Woman's University.

Michael R. Kelly is assistant professor of philosophy at the University of San Diego.




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