below: Sonnets, #137, 5
table of contents commented bibliography and index say what? noframes


If eyes corrupt by over-partial looks
anchored in the bay where all men ride
Why of eyes falsehood hast thou forged hooks
Whereto the judgement of my heart is tied?
New foundations for subjectivity: phenomenology and hermeneutics show how immersion in presence opens thinking beyond ideas.
A Penrose (aperiodic) tiling
Always before ambitious European thinkers had tried to leap toward perspectives allowing thought to identify itself with the totality of what is. But thinkers now had more interest in thought exhaustive of its subject than thought totalizing it. Of all the thinkers here under primary consideration, only the mature Whitehead would offer the world a new metaphysical system. This new 'exhaustive' thinking posed the question: With what kind of density must we 'pack' our thought to get close to the way things actually go on?


Before, the 'I' was hypostatized as a construct whose stability was rationalized by assigning it to the past tense as a 'seer', now the challenge became to discover how closely that experience of identity could be brought to presence within the changing stream of 'seeing' itself
. Edmund Husserl's phenomenology made the purest, most direct, and most self-aware movement in this direction. With his phenomenological reduction he tried to dissolve the landscape of judgements by which we fix our place in the world, then he attempted to give an account of the fabric of conscious acts by which we glue together and make into evidence the clues of experience. Finally he tried to distill a basis for the 'I' from this activity by tracing it back to core structures of experience which we cannot put into question without derailing the very synthetic activity of being aware of things and their meanings. For Husserl, the thoughts came thick and fast, and he exhausted himself before he exhausted his subjects. Husserl reinitiated this type of project several times from several points of departure, never really satisfied. The story goes that there remain over forty thousand pages of his writings unpublished in the Husserl archives in Louvain.
Edmund Husserl

He hath strange places
crammed with observation

Wilhelm Dilthey was born in 1833, twenty-six years before Husserl (1859-1933). His archives have over one hundred thousand pages yet unpublished. In Dilthey and Husserl, mind's productivity, Romantic thought's central explanatory principle, comes incarnate for the sake of working to rescue mind from the kind of blindness to reality hidden in ideas. Dilthey's commitment to description, if anything, pushed him even harder than Husserl into the stream of things:
Wilhelm Dilthey
It is as if lines have to be drawn in a continually flowing stream, figures drawn which hold fast. Between this reality of life and the scientific intellect there appears to be no possibility of comprehension, for the concept sunders what is to be unified in the flow of life. The concept represents something which is universally and eternally valid, independent of the mind which propounds it. But the flow of life is at all points unique, every wave in it arises and passes.

Wilhelm Dilthey

Unlike Husserl, who regarded the self-constituting movement of mental activity as the thread which would lead us from the labyrinth of the ruins of ideology, Dilthey had faith in what much broader and historical patterns of human life-experience could teach us if we rose to the occasion of giving them adequate description.
Dilthey's most important insight was in deriving his descriptions from trying to treat our perceptions of others' experience as the 'building blocks' of worldly meaning. This required much thinking and rethinking concerning the process of interpretation. While Husserl's efforts revolutionized the philosophical meaning of the the notion of phenomenology inherited from Goethe and Hegel, Dilthey's challenge to situate processes of interpretation as foundational to the human life-world brought newly to the fore a method called hermeneutics which had previously played its major role in trying to make sense on what basis interpretation participated in understandings of the scriptural Word of God.

From his own immersion in the unavoidable 'hermeneutical' circularities of interpretation, Dilthey came to experience field-like interdependent coherences of feeling and meaning to be constitutive of the life-world of human culture. He scorned the notion that the world of consciousness is built from separate egos to which the social world then comes to be somehow added. For Dilthey, reflective self-experience was distilled from participation in social meanings and so could be no true starting point or basis for real knowing. In the history of western thought such dethronings of the 'I' have been extremely rare.
Bayeux Tapestry (segment) (1077)
speculation turns
Phenomenology and Hermeneutics may well have been the two most important types of method which the mainstream of Philosophy brought to birth at the change of the centuries. Even today, much thinking sets its sights by triangulating with these two tall accomplishments. The work of Paul Ricoeur continues to move in eloquently working to harmonize those paths, while the enormous impact of Martin Heidegger on modern thought owes much to how he appeared to fuse phenomenology and hermeneutics into a way to approach a description of nothing less than Being as such.

Eugene Delacroix's 'Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard' (1839)

In one aspect, Husserl's achievement is the undeniable rigor of his demonstration that phenomenology has fundamental philosophic status. Phenomenology has since given thinking a coat of many colors, though Husserl's original rendering showed mostly the gray-on-gray belonging to philosophy's more technical concerns. What has come clear, from the diversity of subsequent phenomenologies, is that each one must learn its methods from its subject, not from a rigor which could be pre-certifiable by traditional philosophy. Perhaps Husserl joins the ranks of historical figures who paid the price for leading of being themselves left behind.
Dilthey's hermeneutical descriptions were as much at pains to constitute the process by which different peoples' experience is woven between them into a world of meaning as Husserl's were to constitute individual experience by exhibiting the lamination of sensations, intentions and significations. But while Dilthey often waxed eloquent, virtually intoxicated by the flow of life-experience to which he had set his mind in thrall, the life of Husserl's mind seems an exercise in sobriety. This great soliloquist and practitioner of doubt, like Hamlet, repeatedly urges 'once more remove' to his friends so that his pristine new foundations for philosophy may be set on ground not haunted by inconclusive spirits from the past.

Husserl's insistence that First Philosophy begin from the most indispensable and most present kind of knowing was part of the last important effort to cast philosophy as the 'science of sciences.' Little philosophy subsequently grew directly on the ground Husserl staked out: though it may have been sterile enough to serve science, its infertility for subsequent thinking raises questions about whether thinking should ally itself with the methods and goals of the sciences. So while Husserl pursued his phenomenology in the spirit of a science, his great influence upon subsequent thinking comes from how what he regarded as evidence differs from what the sciences need to assume. For science, evidence is found where phenomena can be reduced by analysis to their simplest 'building blocks'. Husserl's reduction, on the other hand, was toward the usually overlooked evidence given by what is most familiar - the constitutive acts which make awareness whole and which all experience relies on to give it sense. Thinkers here under discussion usually found with Husserl common cause in emphasizing such evidence of whole experience over that derived in pieces by analysis.

Though Dilthey and Husserl may not have identified their own restless involvements with methodology as a 'transformative practice' in the spirit of Nietzsche or Steiner, some kinds of kinship are evident. Their common quest was Mind's more complete incarnation in the world of human life. And as Steiner and Nietszche were not satisfied with the sort of 'conversion' or 'leap of faith' which had been the object of many earlier kinds of transformative practices, so Husserl and Dilthey did not allow themselves to be guided by the anticipation of a final philosophic system capable of solving the problems they had posed. All four maintained thinking as an open path.
A 2-D 'slice' of the 'Cubic Connectedness Locus' (4-D analog of Mandelbrot Set)
In setting the task of an 'exhaustive' thinking, Husserl and Dilthey broached streams of experience which nevertheless exhibited themselves as inexhaustible. Therefore, despite both thinkers' objective of founding a scientific kind of knowing based upon their respective phenomenological and hermeneutical investigations, their methodological innovations proved ultimately unable to bring their subject matters into a kind of compass satisfactory for science.

It is well to recall that one project central to many thinkers, scientists, and mathematicians at the turn of the century was to ground scientific and philosophic knowledge in the branch of mathematics called logic. This effort was soon to prove futile, and even as it was underway, the mathematical idea of the infinite had begun to alter mathematics' own foundations. Husserl's and Dilthey's efforts perhaps resonate with those developments in mathematics which were leading away from a foundational status for logic. If so, the kinds of science where logic - even today - retains sovereign status could never have made room for their work.

Husserl and Dilthey cannot be said to have founded the sciences they hoped for, and we must find the seminality of their legacy instead by examining in what ways they most crucially diverge from earlier kinds of thinking.
Paul Klee's 'Highways and Byways' (1929) The productive mind which for the Romantics was at the root of experience had its prototype in Kant's doctrine on how forms of identity and experience depend on mind's synthetic activity. The Romantics generalized from the 'internal' movement of that synthesis in order to describe a movement encompassing mind's activity in the world. Thus generalized, even the synthesis of experience's self-identity is understood as a moment of willing symptomatic of mind's productivity. The continuity which confirms a will as an identity is then found in the direction of its past, while the potential for discontinuity which confirms a will as autonomous - free - is found in the direction of its future. For the Romantics, ideas themselves demonstrated mind's autonomy as a creative transcendence toward the future. Husserl and Dilthey instead encountered the mind's productivity through its movement of perceptive and interpretive conformation with what is given as a flow of presence. For them, Mind moved beyond not as toward the openness of a future, but as into a presence which shows itself as more than can at once be held. In this way, phenomenology and hermeneutics exhibit Mind's transcending movement not as an autonomy expressed toward the future, but as submission found through immersion in presence.
before after
table of contents commented bibliography and index say what? noframes


Albrecht Durer's 'Adoration of the Trinity' (1511) hypostasis:    The philosophical notion of hypostasis can characterize the range of ways thought has 'substantialized', reified, 'materialized', and otherwise given a site to the experience of identity. The word, however, also has a use in the theology of the Trinity, referring to how the Three is One. The theological connotations of hypostasis are worth noting here in connection with - for example - Hegel's 'Trinitarian' dialectic of Subjective Spirit. Hegel wanted to assert that an is for experience has already implicitly taken up into itself all three moments of his dialectic in a kind of Trinitarian hypostatization.

Karl Lowith in his fascinating From Hegel to Nietzsche gives interesting evidence concerning Hegel's quasi-Rosicrucian Christianity. He however omits to discuss the admitted and apparent influence of the Christian visionary-mystic Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) at the core of the Hegelian dialectic. Boehme, along with Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) mark the beginnings of what it is that makes German thought indispensable: its advance beyond the ancient greek roots of Thomist (Aristotelian) theology or the various Neoplatonic esotericisms. That advance, in my opinion, hinges on being able to think about the process of Creation - the originality of each moment - in a way that does not depend on 'emanations' which operate in the context of pre-existing hierarchy. Even today, however, the influence of those preceding older ways of thinking remain ubiquitous, and their names are legion. They include 'metaphysics' in its popular meaning (and its new-age cousins), most occultisms including Kabbalah, and what is sometimes called 'the perennial philosophy' or 'the Great Chain of Being'.

Wilhelm Dilthey:     Quoted in Michael Ermarth's Wilhelm Dilthey: The Critique of Historical Reason, page 158.

...lineup and alibi

He hath strange places crammed with observation.

- As You Like It, II, vii, 40
For speculation turns not to itself till it hath travelled,
And is mirrored there where it may see itself.

- Troilus and Cressida, III, iii, 109

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