Call for Abstracts: Phenomenology and transcendental idealism

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CfA for a seminar for doctoral students and young researchers in phenomenology hosted by the University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne.

Call for Abstracts
Seminar for doctoral students and young researchers in phenomenology
hosted by the University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne

« Phenomenology and transcendental idealism »


Luz Ascarate (University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, ISPJS): [email protected]
Circé Furtwängler (University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne , ISPJS): [email protected]
Quentin Gailhac (University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, HIPHIMO): [email protected]

Husserl’s phenomenology has sometimes been harshly criticised for its methodological and philosophical basis: transcendental idealism. At first glance, the thesis that phenomena exhaust the whole meaning of reality’s being (a thesis which gives the phenomenological movement its name) seems to anchor it very deeply in idealism. On the other hand, from the very beginning of the phenomenological movement, phenomenologists have distanced themselves from an idealism that would presuppose subjectivist principles, or that would prevent access to things in themselves or to other conscious subjects in their dimension of transcendence. Already among the phenomenologists of the very first generation, the transition from the Logical Investigations to the Ideen I in Husserl’s thought was a source of misunderstanding: a great number of phenomenologists believed that it would only be possible to remain faithful to the philosophical ends of phenomenology by going beyond the idealism inherent in transcendental phenomenology. However, from Fink to A. Schnell, transcendental phenomenology persists in its claim to be authentic phenomenology. If we try to reconstruct a single spirit which underlies all the reversals of perspective and method among the various representatives of the phenomenological movement, two problems arise: one concerning the status of the transcendental in the phenomenological project, and another concerning the relationship of phenomenology to idealism.

The transcendental is an issue that exceeds the phenomenological corpus and extends to the whole history of philosophy. More precisely, it is a question that is at the crossroads of the history of philosophy and that of phenomenology – a crossroads that can be understood, as Husserl did in the Krisis, as the manifestation of a single teleological history of reason. From the idea of an excess of Aristotelian categories to the Scholastic transcendentals, the transcendental possessed an ontological dignity that in the late modern period – and specifically with Kant – was subjected to an epistemological framework. For Kant, in fact, the transcendental is related to the conditions of the possibility of knowledge. Kant’s “German Idealist” successors were then confronted with the challenge of overcoming this strictly epistemological approach, which was perceived as a limitation of the mind’s access to the transcendental.

When Husserl calls his transcendental phenomenology idealism, he intends to give a new meaning to old terminology. For Husserl, idealism refers less to the construction of a system as it does to the recovery of the powers of the mind: equipping it with intuition that is not merely empirical, but categorical, eidetic and intellectual. Similarly, the transcendental cannot be understood beyond the noetic-noematic correlation, which reveals the experience of the constitution of meaning. It does not simply designate the conditions of the possibility of knowledge, but also the opacity inherent in the operative life of consciousness, and the dynamic of its escape from any static categorisation: the impossibility of experience being grasped under the category of “thing” or “fact.”

From the first generation of phenomenologists, voices have sought to develop another phenomenology freed from Husserl’s transcendental apparatus: the Munich-Göttingen school (Pfänder, Reinach, Conrad-Martius, Scheler) sought to orient phenomenology unto an ontological, realist or naturalist path – while the existential tradition, inaugurated by Heidegger, substitutes Dasein for transcendental subjectivity. Within post-Husserlian phenomenology, the critique of Husserl’s transcendental idealism and of German Idealism became commonplace, as found in the writings of Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Beauvoir and Ricoeur – it was often influenced by the Marxist interpretation of German Idealism, which was a critique of the system’s distance from reality. Finally, in recent years, attempts have been developed to naturalise phenomenology and German Idealism; to integrate the transcendental perspective into experimental protocols (Bitbol, 2014; Malabou, 2009).

The seminar will thus focus on the following questions:

Theme 1: Definitions of the transcendental
From the framework of conceptual analysis, what is the meaning of the transcendental and of idealism in Husserlian and post-Husserlian phenomenology? Can phenomenology detach itself from a transcendental perspective? Can phenomenology detach itself from an idealist perspective? What are the advantages and disadvantages of including these concepts at the centre of the phenomenological project?
The work of A. Schnell, A. Steinbock and H. Inverso allows us to understand the transcendental and idealism in an expanded meaning, within a generative phenomenology. For Scheler, Ingarden and Blumemberg, on the contrary, it is necessary to go beyond the idealist and transcendental framework of phenomenology to be faithful to the phenomenological project.

Theme 2: History of the concept of transcendental
From a historical perspective, does phenomenology fit into the idealist tradition by extending it? Does German Idealism allow us to better understand the phenomenological project? Is the history of the concept of the transcendental indispensable to phenomenology?
Husserl himself comments upon the German Idealist tradition: not only in the Krisis, but also in his reflections on ethics as Kunstlehre. Theoretical motifs from the philosophies of Kant and Fichte have also been attributed to Husserlian phenomenology since its reception in post-war France (Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur, Hyppolite).

Theme 3: Criticisms and defences of the transcendental:
Are the criticisms of the insertion of the transcendental and idealism in phenomenology the result of an acute understanding of the phenomenological project which surpasses Husserl’s own? Or, on the contrary (as was Husserl’s view), do they merely betray the authentic meaning of phenomenology?
For Patočka, Husserl does not give a sufficient account of phenomenality. In his view, doing so would require going beyond the idealist framework of transcendental phenomenology. From this perspective, can we understand the post-Husserlian tradition as a defence or a critique of the transcendental and the idealism of phenomenology? Ricoeur’s phenomenology was constituted partly as an overcoming of Husserlian idealism. On the contrary, Richir’s phenomenology defends the transcendental by simultaneously orienting it toward an idealism of the powers of the imagination.

Practical information:
Contributions will be favoured that aim to introduce lesser-known authors in the history of philosophy; that is, authors who have been neglected by the philosophical tradition.

Abstracts of contributions should not exceed 350 words. They should be sent in a document prepared for double-blind review (without the contributor’s personal information). A title, five keywords, the main theme, and an essential bibliography should be included in the abstract document. In the body of the e-mail, please indicate your name, degree obtained or in progress, a contact e-mail, and the name of the institution to which you belong.

Contributions should be written in French or English.

Contributions should be sent to [email protected]

Deadline for submission: 15 August.
Replies: 15 September
Publication of the seminar programme: 26 September

Dates of the seminar: October 2021-May 2022 (the exact schedule will be specified later) at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (in person)