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Phenomenology and Philosophy of MindReview - Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind
by David Woodruff Smith and Amie L. Thomasson
Oxford University Press, 2005
Review by Manuel Bremer, Ph.D.
May 16th 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 20)

Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind collects essays that take up the recent trend of reconsidering and reacquiring the phenomenological movement for the philosophy of mind and the cognitive sciences.

The book is divided into five parts. The first part 'The Place of Phenomenology in Philosophy of Mind' contains essays by Paul Livingston on logical analysis, Galen Strawson on intentionality and Taylor Carmon on the 'inescapability of phenomenology'. The second part 'Self-Awareness and Self-Knowledge' has essays by David Woodruff Smith and Amie Thompson on reflexive content and first-person knowledge, as well as an essay by John Bickle and Ralph Ellis on phenomenology and neurophysiology. In the third part 'Intentionality' Johannes Brandl deals with the 'immanence theory of intentionality' and Richard Tieszen on abstract entities. The fourth part 'Unities of Consciousness' contains essays by Wayne Martin on 'the logic of consciousness', Sean Kelly on temporal awareness and Kay Mathiesen on collective consciousness. In the fifth part 'Perception, Sensation, and Action' Clotilde Calabi deals with perceptual salience, Charles Siewert with sensorimotor intentionality and José Bermúdez with bodily awareness.

Although the title refers to phenomenology in its entirety the articles focus mainly on Edmund Husserl as the founder and leading figure of phenomenology. One paper deals with Brentano, as a fore-runner of phenomenology. Four papers have a second focus on Maurice Merleau-Ponty.  Alfred Schütz is mentioned (as 'Schutz') in passing. Sartre plays no role at all.

Relating a traditional (philosophical) approach to current state of the art theories may take at least the following six forms. The list from top to down shows a decreasing commitment to a literal reading, but an increasing argumentative strength. The essays in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind are mostly placed on the lower half of the list.

(a)    One may argue for a return to the traditional theory. Although literal in its understanding of, in this case, phenomenology, the problem of this approach is that it cannot explain, why the theory went out of favor in the first place. Historical accidents (like missing translations etc.) to the side leaving theories behind usually has reasons which are still in force. In the worst case this approach may lead to rationally insufficient motivated swings of the pendulum or fashions with respect to theories. Fortunately no-one in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind takes this stance.

(b)   One may re-introduce a theory by removing some of the theses which caused its major problems, i.e. opt for revision. In this vain Woodruff Smith and Thomason 'take Husserl to be a realist, not an idealist' (10). This is a major revision, since for Husserl after 1905 (i.e. the Husserl of 'pure phenomenology' mostly referred to in the book) idealism is not an add-on, but the crucial ingredient for his transcendental theory of constitution and 'genetic phenomenology'.

(c)    A version of revision which does not announce itself as revisionary is denial, the strategy to re-interpret some major thesis as claiming something else. So Livingston claims that Husserl's eidetic reduction (of experiencing essences) is a version of conceptual analysis as practiced in the analytic tradition. This misses the central point that Husserl's method is crucially exercised by a sole subjects relying on (immediate) 'evidence' whereas linguistic analysis secures the objectivity of its findings by relying on intersubjective meanings of a public language. A difference that resulted in the ascent of analytic philosophy and the demise of eidetic phenomenology.

(d)   A neutral, but not very exciting position can claim that the traditional theory is compatible with recent findings or state of the art theories. This justifies why one may still cling to the traditional theory, but gives no reason why one should do so. Positively it shows that there is a continuous thread of theoretical developments. It integrates the traditional theory into the present picture. Bickle and Ellis argue, in the first part of their paper, that contrary to first impressions Husserl's phenomenology is compatible with recent neurophysiological data on inducing phenomenal states by microstimulation of the brain. Brandl proposes that on a proper reading Brentano's theory of immanent objects may be a theory of mental representations.

(e)    The mostly applied strategy when returning to traditional theories is partial usage. Partial usage takes up theses that contain at least some content that goes beyond current state of the art theories. The aim of turning to the traditional theory is to identify blind spots of current theories or supplement them, or solve some of their problems by resources already present in the traditional theory. Many of the papers in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind are examples of partial usage. Thomasson sees Husserl's 'phenomenological reduction' as a method that not only distinguishes itself from inner-observation accounts, but may contribute to a current theory of the structures of self-knowledge. Kelly criticizes current theories of the Specious Present with Husserl's theory of time consciousness. Mathiesen works towards a theory of collective consciousness as collective simulation, taking its clues from Husserl and Schütz. Siewert and Bermúdez use Merleau-Ponty's theory of embodiment and non-representational knowledge of one's body for more comprehensive theories of visual attention and action.

(f)     The least literal, but in a way argumentative strongest, since less historically compromised, position is congenial development, i.e. working in way very similar to the traditional theory without adopting some of its specific methods or theses. Given some broad general idea of phenomenology a proponent of this strategy argues systematically for its tenets. Somewhat in this fashion Strawson argues for the thesis that only conscious states can be intentional states. Woodruff Smith presents an overview of his phenomenological theory of reflexive content (relating a perception not only to its content but simultaneously to the perceiving subject).

Phenomenology contains resources and ideas that can support and promote progress in the (analytic) philosophy of mind. Although biased towards Husserl (in some ways of reading him) Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind shows how to use phenomenology in a fruitful way.

 

© 2006 Manuel Bremer

 

Manuel Bremer, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Germany


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