2005: Summaries

Contents (in Dutch)

Jan A. Aertsen
Summary: How Can a Philosopher and Theologian Teach Something Like That? Duns Scotus’s Criticism of Thomas Aquinas
Already in the Middle Ages the honorary title Doctor communis was conferred on Aquinas, but in fact he was never “the common teacher”. About twenty-five years after his death (1274), the Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus voiced an uncommonly severe criticism: he cannot imagine a theologian and a philosopher maintaining that which Aquinas teaches. The conflict between these thinkers of stature is the subject of this essay.
(1) We first describe the epistemological problem, that of the “adequate object of the intellect”, from which Scotus develops his criticism, and than analyze (2) his theological and (3) philosophical objections to Aquinas’s position. But something is to be said against the analysis of the Doctor subtilis: (4) his criticism proves to be one-sided and departs from suppositions, not shared by his opponent.

Ciano Aydin
Summary: Nietzsche on Reality as an Organized Strife of Wills to Power
In virtue of what do things have an identity? This question still lands us in great difficulties and confusion. Against the traditional Aristotelian view of reality, which clings to firmness and stability in the world, Nietzsche postulates his conception of reality as becoming. Nietzsche’s alternative conception of the world is characterized as an organized strife of wills to power. The continuous change that we experience on the one hand, and the durability that we seem to perceive in the world on the other hand, are not explained as two different and opposed aspects of reality; nor are the change and richness that we experience in the world reduced to a fixed, universal principle. Rather, the notion of being is taken up in the notion of becoming: becoming is understood as the continuous fixation of reality in processes of mastery, and as a dynamic that serves life in its unceasing striving to overcome itself.

Chantal Bax
Summary: Interiority and Religiosity. Confronting Wittgenstein’s ‘Psychology’ and Wittgenstein’s ‘Theology’
A significant part of Wittgenstein’s later writings deal with psychological phenomena. Again and again he tries to show that thoughts, feelings, etc., cannot be understood as objects or processes in some private inner realm. According to Wittgenstein the soul does not reside inside of us, but should rather be located in between of us. Thus offering a new way of portraying several dichotomies (such as those between the inner and the outer, the public and the private, and the self and the other), Wittgenstein can be said to rethink our concept of the subject. Or should we rather say that he proposes to reduce the soul to the body, the personal to the communal – in other words, that he in fact tries to ‘unthink’ subjectivity? To answer this question, this article confronts Wittgenstein’s ‘psychology’ with his ‘theology’. For contrary to what he writes on the psyche, Wittgenstein in his writings on religion stresses the individual instead of the collective and the private instead of the public. By showing that Wittgenstein’s theology is actually compatible with his psychology, it is argued that Wittgenstein cannot be said to proclaim the ‘death’ of the subject.

Rudolf Bernet
Summary: Homesickness and Nostalgia
The author wants to show that homesickness is not brought about by the intrinsic appeal of one’s home-ground. Rather wistfulness for bereavement makes home a precious good. From this it becomes understandable why returning home arouses more often disappointment than it relieves one’s sick feelings. Whereas homesickness has mainly a spatial connotation, nostalgia actually concerns the uniqueness of past experience as well as time’s transience. In both cases a further distinction has to be made between brokenhearted aching and mourning renunciation. Remembrance always is a work of mourning too, and therefore pathological forms of homesickness and nostalgia are equally characterized by their inaptitude to remember as well as to live mournfully with a loss. The homesick deprives himself from any bond to a real place. For the disconsolate nostalgic the invocation of “the good old days” has to substitute the lost present and future. Only the one who bade farewell, delights in remembrance. As in a dream the longing for something lost comes there to fruition.

Natalja Bonic
Summary: Obviousness and Semblant Truth with Heidegger
The article explores the problem of untruth with Heidegger by way of an analysis of the notion of obviousness, conceived in Being and Time as semblant truth. Heidegger depicts obviousness as a particularly cunning mode of untruth, one which conceals something by seeming to disclose it. How to understand the semblant character of obviousness? What kind of deception does obviousness entail so as to make us mistake it for the truth? A close examination of the nature of the relation between obviousness and truth exposes a number of difficulties involved in Heidegger’s early conception of untruth, whose resolution will eventually require Heidegger to seriously revise the basic principles of his early ontology.

Antoon Braeckman
Summary: The Privatization of Politics. Marcel Gauchet on the Tension between Human Rights and Democracy
The aim of this article is to focus on a central element in Gauchet’s diagnosis of our age, namely the tension between human rights and democracy. Since the second half of the nineteen seventies, the era of ‘departing from religion’ (la sortie de la religion) has been completed, and we now find ourselves in a ‘society of individuals’ (la société des individus). This goes along with an eclipse of the state and of public reason: the waning concern for the common good. The reason for the existence of politics and the state now seem to lie exclusively in their utility for individuals or interest groups within society. The symptom par excellence of this development is the human rights discourse. Gauchet’s claim in this respect is that the unilateral emphasis on human rights threatens democracy as it inevitably obfuscates the necessary counterpart of the individual and its private sphere, i.e. the state. As a result, the individual loses track of its own ground of existence. From this viewpoint, democracy in the name of one of its major pillars (the rights of the individual) seems to destroy another major pillar (the state as the guardian of those rights).

Roland Breeur
Summary: Malebranche on Restlessness and the First Man.
In The Search after Truth, Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715) claims that the first man, Adam, had the same senses as we do, that he felt the same pleasures and pains as we do, but without being distracted from God. But after he had sinned, his senses revolted against him and enslaved him, as they do us. In other words, because of the original sin the union that joins our mind to God and which raises us above all material things is weakened by a union with our body, a union that debases us and which is the main cause of all our errors and miseries. This article tries to analyse these errors and miseries in relation to man’s search after truth.

Michael Dunne
Summary: Richard Kearney’s ‘Philosophy at the Limit’
This paper examines a recent trilogy of books by Richard Kearney collectively entitled ‘Philosophy at the Limit’. Kearney is perhaps best known to the wider academic world because of his publications on, and dialogues with, Contemporary European Philosophy. In the first of these books, On Stories, Kearney, in common with many contemporary thinkers seeks to push back the frontiers of philosophy to include all forms of narrative such as literature, film, theatre as well as other disciplines such as biblical studies and psychoanalysis. What distinguishes Kearney’s approach from others is that his writings embody a concern for the ethical. The second work, The God Who May Be is perhaps the more interesting of these books, philosophically speaking. Here Kearney sheds new light on an old question and challenges many of the traditional theistic conceptions. Finally, in Strangers, Gods and Monsters we have a contemporary reflection on the notion of ‘otherness’. In all, these three books contain an interesting and engaging presentation of some of the central themes under discussion in the continental tradition.

Marcel Gauchet
Summary: Democracy in Search of a New Start
Democracy today is in search of a new start. The conclusion of the present article is based on the analysis of democracy’s contemporary crisis. Considered from a historical perspective, Western liberal democracy is the result of an interplay between three vectors of autonomy: politics, i.e. the constitution of the sovereign (nation)state, law, i.e. the protection and warranty of individual rights, and socio-historical dynamics, i.e. the orientation towards society’s common future. As an effect of the far-reaching (social) emancipation of the individual, being itself the result of the development of the welfare state, the accent in contemporary democratic regimes has radically shifted towards the rights of the individual. Consequently, the dimensions of politics and socio-historical dynamics have become completely obfuscated. By the same token, contemporary democracy tends to destroy two of its historical cornerstones on behalf of one of them: the guaranteeing of the individual’s rights. It may be clear that this present-day development displays itself as a major crisis of democracy, without implying, however, the end of it. Democracy today is rather in search of a new start, as was stated at the beginning.

Tim Heysse
Summary: Authority, Contingency and History in Ethics. A Study of Bernard Williams’s Relativism of Distance
The aim of this paper is to study Williams’s relativism of distance and to examine the conception of the history of ethics that follows from it. Relativism of distance, applied to the history of ethics, can be understood as saying that the language of appraisal is inappropriate in confrontations with ethical outlooks of the past; no real judgments are made. The author argues that this view does not follow from Williams’s general meta-ethical position. Moreover, he tries to show that it rests on an implicit but implausible view of the hermeneutics of history. More in particular, it rests on the premise that we should set aside our ethical convictions while studying the past. In the concluding section, an alternative view is explored with regard to the attitude that we should adopt towards the historical processes that have shaped our own ethical outlook. This analysis, purged of Williams’s implausible view of the hermeneutics of history as it is, is actually more in line with his meta-ethics than his own relativism of distance.

Donald Loose
Summary: Politics, Religion, and Christianity? Three Questions to Marcel Gauchet
In The Disenchantment of the World Marcel Gauchet defines Christianity as the religion of the exodus from religion. This observation seems at the same time to serve as a paradigm for a political interpretation of religion as such, and for the understanding of modern secular politics. However, Gauchet himself affirms that he considers the primary heteronomous kind of religion as the standard for interpreting religion in general. The author, on his behalf, intends to show that Gauchet is mainly relying on the modern auto-critical and hermeneutical Christian religion as an explicatory scheme for religion as such and for modern politics. This raises the question wether we even can abandon the auto-reflexivity of the auto-critical religion. Can religiosity (le religieux) ever exist without religion (la religion)? If not, does it make sense to speak of a religiosity which, disjoined from religion, finds its outlet in the political, or are we facing the same aporia again, i.e. how to define the modern political disjunct from the practice of modern politics? The author concludes that actual modern politics is taking advantage of the auto-critical, self-obliging, ethical attitude of the Christian religion and that the modern constitutional state as well as religious expression, may suffer when abandoning this. The alternative seems indeed to lead to the loss of social cohesion and the emergence of religious fundamentalism.

Ad Peperzak
Summary: Dative
In philosophy, ‘saying something about something’ implies that someone proposes a thought to some potential listener, who, in turn, responds by offering another proposition to the first speaker. Attention to the dative and donative structure of the exchange enacted in all philosophical events can be developed into a phenomenological analysis of the intersubjective, social, historical, traditional, authoritative, and dialogical properties that constitute the essence of philosophy. Such a (metaphilosophical) phenomenology cannot avoid the question of what basically binds the interlocutors in their search. Does their sought, through the multiplication of datives and proposals, seduce the participants to a friendly alliance that unites their different paths and discoveries through convergence toward the never quite revealed, but nevertheless orienting and supportive truth?

Stefan Rummens
Summary: Deliberation and Freedom. On the Normative Core of Habermas’s Theory of Democracy
This article explores Habermas’s thesis on the co-originality of the political and the individual freedom of the citizen. It is argued that individual freedom without political freedom remains arbitrary. Citizens are concrete, uniquely situated subjects. Only their actual participation in deliberative processes of democratic decision-making guarantees an adequate recognition of their particular needs and problems and an adequate realization of their individual freedom. At the same time, political freedom without individual freedom is meaningless. Political deliberation is an answer to the problem of co-ordinating the actions of citizens with divergent values and conflicting views on the good life. Therefore, political deliberation as a practice already presupposes the individual freedom of the citizen.

László Tengelyi
Summary: Experience and Infinity in Kant and Husserl
A reflection upon Husserl’s notion of an “Idea in a Kantian sense” calls for an inquiry into the relationship between experience and infinity. This question is first considered in Kant’s doctrine of antinomies. It is shown that, in the Critique of Pure Reason, infinity is held to be a mere idea, which, however, has an indispensable regulative function in experience. It is at this point that Kant is compared with Husserl, who, drawing upon the notion of regulative principle elaborated in the Critique of Pure Reason, conceives of a thing in its particular reality as an Idea in a Kantian sense. A major difference between the two thinkers is particularly emphasized: Kant uses his analysis of the antinomies for justifying his distinction between the ‘thing in itself’ and ‘appearance’; Husserl, on the contrary, tries to overcome this opposition. It is argued for that this difference between the two philosophers arises from two different notions of infinity: whereas Kant has a potential infinity in view, Husserl, who is familiar with Cantor’s mathematical and philosophical thoughts, relies upon a scientifically established form of actual, but nevertheless open infinity.

Marin Terpstra
Summary: Charles Taylor on Religion as a Public Affair
Recent publications by Charles Taylor (Varieties of Religion Today, Modern Social Imaginaries) have considered the meaning of religion in modern secularized society, especially with regard to the construction of political identities. This critical study points to an inconsistency in Taylors approach to religion. In his criticism of William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience, Taylor argues that James’ conception is one-sided: it overlooks a crucial feature of Catholicism, the need namely for a mediation of the divine. James’ conception of religion, on the contrary, starts from individual experience. In Taylors description of the development of the relation between politics and religion, however, this critical attitude seems to vanish. Instead of working out a political philosophy, Taylor hides himself behind sociological and historical considerations. The paper argues that a political philosophy should be mindful of the consequences of Taylors remarks in the field of the philosophy of religion. In order to do this, use is made of Carl Schmitt’s notion of ‘political theology’ and his thesis concerning the “anti-Roman affect” in the political history of the West. Any political philosophy that is prepared to consider the relations between ‘politics’ and ‘religion’ should take into account the varieties of religion and their impact on politics.

Mathijs Van Alstein
Summary: Inside Being: Heidegger and Metaphysics
Is it wrong to say Heidegger developed a metaphysics of technology? It doesn’t seem to be so. The distinction he makes between technology and the essence of technology, a distinction that proves to be the core of his philosophy of technology, is clearly a metaphysical one: what appears (technology) is rooted in something else that does not appear (the essence of technology). This is peculiar, for Heidegger is commonly known of course as a thinker who tenaciously tried to overcome metaphysics. In this paper, I wish to examine to what extent Heidegger’s philosophy of technology is metaphysical, and to what extent it isn’t. In doing so, I want to make clear how Heidegger could arrive at the statement that the essence of technology jeopardizes the essence of man, and why according to him insight can bring salvation here.

Aukje van Rooden en Joris van Gorkom
Summary: The Legitimation of the ‘As If’. The ‘Marginal’ Discussion between Lyotard and Nancy
Both Jean-François Lyotard and Jean-Luc Nancy have tried to understand the law within the heterogeneity of society by means of Kant’s notion of ‘as if’. Kant introduced this notion in order to respect the gap between reason and intuition; Lyotard and Nancy took it up to explain the lack of unity in society. In the margins of their work — footnotes and postscripts — they have discussed this theme and searched for the presuppositions and risks of each other’s position, as a result of which the ‘as if’ is considered from different perspectives and the philosophies of Lyotard and Nancy are illuminated in opposition to each other. Although this discussion commenced in the seventies, this theme is currently more topical than ever as is clear from the development of the European and Iraqi constitutions. An analysis of the complex discussion between Lyotard and Nancy is given to provide insight into the principles that constitute the law. Both Lyotard and Nancy are trying to solve the problem of how to judge without a given rule. Lyotard is mainly concerned with understanding the ‘as if’ as an attempt to respect heterogeneity, while Nancy criticises Lyotard for ignoring the constitution of this heterogeneity. Nancy uses the notion of ‘dislocation’ to understand both every case as an accident and the neglect of this aspect by the jurisdiction. At the same time, we will elaborate on the reception of the Kantian thinking in French philosophy. Although the importance of well-known notions such as the sublime have been emphasized many times, the relevance of the ‘as if’ has not been thoroughly investigated. It will be shown that the notion of the ‘as if’ can be fruitful for understanding the creative element of jurisdiction, that is, for judging without rules.

Koos Verhoof
Summary: Metaphysics in Discomfort. Notes to the Thinking of Martin Heidegger
Perplexity about the meaning of being is not just a philosophical commonplace with which Heideggers Being and Time begins. Perplexity is the proper condition of metaphysics. Heidegger aims at a transformation of metaphysics and this can be observed in a repetition of the two moments which determine the Aristotelian metaphysics. This metaphysics comprises ontology as well as theology, and whereas Aristotle identifies both moments, Heidegger maintains a difference between them. Although being requires an unconditional commitment, it cannot be thought as the unconditional. In a logic this is a contradiction, while according to Heidegger it is a paradox. As such, it is the ground on which we live. We know, at some instance, that we all have to be fully committed to the uncomparable and unique coming to pass of a certain entity. For this reason metaphysics appears a ‘way of living’, which is strictly our own responsibility and to which we have to return again and again.

Maurice Weyembergh
Summary: History, Religion, and Ideology according to Marcel Gauchet
This study consists of three sections. In the first section, the author posits questions regarding Gauchet’s way of interpreting history. Some of these questions particularly deal with the gap between the current experience of contemporaries who have taken part in the events and the logic of the historian’s reconstruction. The second section puts forward considerations concerning Gauchet’s changing use of the ideology concept. In the third section, aspects of Carl Schmitt’s understanding of politics are confronted with Gauchet’s conception of democracy.

Mark A. Wrathall
Summary: The Phenomenology of Social Rules
In this paper, I explore the nature of social rules, including the limitations of most theories of rules which see them either as intentionally followed by, or as objectively describing the behavior of social actors. I argue that a phenomenological description of what it is like to actually be governed by a rule points the way to reconceptualizing the role of social rules in structuring our world and our experience of the world.