«And yet, Europe does share a common philosophical language again!» – that was the thought lurking in the back of my mind while reading the beautiful, gloomy article by Timothy Garton Ash (L’Europa sfiorita a 20 anni dal muro, Repubblica, 6/11/09). For I had just spent some hours – some really happy hours – reading through most of the contributions to a recent Husserl International Conference, held in Munich last month (Die Aktualität Husserl, Ludwig Maximilian Universität München 8-10/10, organized by Prof. Verena Mayer and her research group). Some of them we are publishing on this blog, with the authors’ permission.
Europe once more shares a philosophical language – or at least it could. We do master one again. We have gone through the very beginning of a major philosophical turn in this century: the beginning of a gradual reciprocal understanding between modern cognitive (neuro)science and phenomenology. We are learning to conceive of them as two complementary efforts aiming at – respectively – the study of the necessary neurological conditions of a personal life, and their embeddings in the relevant whole of a living (human) person, that is the very subject of all our scientific questioning.
Phenomenology has shown the importance of replacing vague everyday talk about such pseudo-entities as “representations”, “sense data”, “qualia” or even grossly unanalyzed, complex phenomena such as the mind, the soul, the body and the natural, artificial and social objects of the life world, with rigorous, faithful, “phänomengerecht” descriptions of experience on the one hand, and of the experienced world on the other. For experience and the experienced world are the very background of our scientific enquiry, as well as the concrete embeddings of all normativity: logical, axiological, practical. They are the very foundations of our “normal” reason – theoretical or practical.
Yet to be founded on something does not mean to be reducible to it. This, along with rigour in descriptions, is the major contribution of phenomenology to knowledge: the concept of ontological dependence or Fundierung, enabling us to escape both dead ends of the alternative between dualisms and reductionisms of all sorts, and to sketch a way of doing justice both to our increasing knowledge of nature in ourselves and to the increasing demands of practical reason (justice) in our personal and social world.
Shaun Gallagher and Dan Zahavi, in their best selling The Phenomenological Mind, have pointed out some reasons for this promising “rapprochement” between phenomenology and cognitive science – which would also represent a potential resolution of the contingent split of philosophy into “analytical” and “continental”. Among these reasons, they mention a revived interest in phenomenal consciousness, the advent of embodied approaches to cognition and the amazing progress in neuroscience. One can also refer to many predecessors of Zahavi and Ghallagher in this rapprochement between philosophy and sciences of the mind – and of the embodied mind, or person. Among them are the very heirs of the Munich and Goettingen early phenomenological circles, whose members, having survived Nazi persecution, spread our way of thinking and methods of research all over the world; the analytical students of Intentionality; the formal ontologists and discoverers of the so called Austrian-analytic philosophy (cf. WWCP.pdf; http://ontology.buffalo.edu); the uninterrupted tradition of phenomenology and experimental phenomenology within psychology and psychiatry; some scholars and researchers who contributed to a better understanding of our classics in the phenomenological Archives of Europe, from Löwen to Paris; and, last but perhaps not least, the rich variety of Italian phenomenological schools which this website and blog was born to give voice to.
Many of the best analyses in phenomenology are, so to speak, essays in the ontology of concreteness – of life and of the experienced world. Many of the best ones on phenomenology are methodological essays presenting a possibly fruitful new approach to the cognitive sciences and the philosophy of mind. Those which we shall make available on this site for study and discussion are of both kinds. We also invite anyone interested in the development of a free research community in the spirit of the early phenomenological circles – or rather of Husserl’s dream of Mitphilosophieren – to register and contribute to any of these website sections, in English or in other European languages.
As an opening paper in this section, I propose Verena Mayer’s contribution to the Munich Conference (a working paper in progress), which offers a thorough discussion of the reasons which led cognitive science in its early computational model to explain away subjectivity – or even, as Gallagher and Zahavi would put it, «to mistake phenomenology for a subjective account of experience”. For a subjective account of experience, they add, “should be distinguished from an account of subjective experience».