2007: Summaries

Contents (in Dutch)

Ciano Aydin
Summary: Towards a Process-Pragmatic Grounding of the Concept of Identity: Peirce on Potentiality, Interaction, and Regularity
Peirce offers us a perspective on identity that is less problematic than the Aristotelian, essentialist approach, which still latently, but deeply influences a lot of contemporary, analytic views on identity. The problem of the essentialist view is that it precludes the possibility of real novelty, and fails to account for the dynamic connectedness of the world. Peirce’s account of identity does more justice to these elements. His view will be elaborated on the basis of his phenomenological categories of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness. The crucial point that will be made is that from Peirce’s process-pragmatic point of view things and persons have no pre-given, independent identities, but identities emerge by virtue of regulated interactions.

Jocelyn Benoist
Summary: Two (or Three) Conceptions of Intentionality
Except for some eliminativists, the notion of intentionality is considered to be one of the common goods of 20 th century philosophy of mind. However, this rather general label may hide deeper differences. In his ‘Husserl Memorial Lecture’ Jocelyn Benoist investigates the different possible conceptions of intentionality and the problem of its nature. To examine this question he concurs with Wilfrid Sellars and John McDowell by positing an alternative between two conceptions of intentionality, taken either as a relation or not. From this point of view he shows how Franz Brentano, who at the threshold of contemporary philosophy regained this notion, maintains a non-relational understanding of intentionality, whereas Husserl and McDowell up to a certain point adopt a relational conception — even though the formalism of relation might in fact not be the most appropriate to render the whole flavor of Husserl’s position. The author wants to demonstrate that inside the conception, which rightly or wrongly is called relational, a new choice has to be made, depending on the moment actually assigned to this formalism of ‘relations’ and to the extent in which the ‘relation’ is taken for granted. Eventually, he intends to contrast philosophies of two kinds: those which in the last resort rely on a concept of acquaintance, itself undiscussed, and those which convert intentionality into a means for describing the perpetual ‘presence’ while defining its problem.

Christophe Brabant
Summary: Ricœur’s Hermeneutical Ontology
In this article, an overview is given of Ricœur’s ontological thinking. Although Ricœur never dedicated a whole book to the theme of ontology, it is present in most of his articles. In his study on the will he approached ontology initially through a strictly phenomenological method. After his analysis of the symbols of evil, in which hermeneutics was used as a philosophical instrument, he discovered the importance of linguistics in philosophical questions. Consequently, his thinking underwent a linguistic turn and evolved into a phenomenological hermeneutics. Through his dealings with ontology, it became clear that ontology is influenced by hermeneutics as well. A firm and stable ontology seems no longer conceivable and should be exchanged for a hermeneutical ontology that articulates being within the horizon of language. In this respect, Ricœur develops the concept of metaphor through which the ‘seeing as’ leads to a ‘being as’. Although Ricœur acknowledges the dynamic and contingent character of being, his thinking aims at a dimension beyond historical dynamics. However, in trying to clarify the problems of ontology, he discover that it is not possible to solve the aporias of being. Still, language offers him an alternative opportunity to develop an account of being, namely narrativity, in which being is expressed in respect to its dynamic character and with the awareness that we always try to get a view on the whole from within.

Antoon Braeckman
Summary: The Moral Inevitability of Enlightenment and the Risky Nature of the Moment. Reading Kant’s Was ist Aufklärung?
Kant’s famous essay Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung? has developed into the representative text of philosophical Enlightenment in the course of the past two hundred years. Yet most interpretations tend to assign a univocal meaning to Kant’s text that is incompatible with its apparent polysemy. While taking the latter into account, this article wishes to closely investigate Kant’s essay and offer a plausible interpretation if its meaning.
On the basis of this reading, it becomes apparent that we should understand Kant’s historical-philosophical interpretation of the Enlightenment in a normative sense. As a result, the emphasis in the text shifts from a historical-philosophical promise of a totally “Enlightened Age” to a precarious, risky “Age of Enlightenment” which Kant claims to live in. There is ample textual evidence that Kant, who was aware of the risky nature of the moment, wanted to intervene with this essay by cherishing the hope for a possibility of a bit more actual Enlightenment.

Roland Breeur
Summary: Opinions of the Stomach. Alain and Descartes on the Passions
According to the French thinker Alain (1868-1951), Descartes’ Treatise on The Passions of the Soul (1649) contains three layers. First there is the pure physiological account of the passions: the body as mechanical unity (“automaton”). In a second layer Descartes develops a more psychological account: the passions described from the point of view of the union of the soul with the body. And in a third one, he points to the existence of pure intellectual passions (as the “intellectual joy”). What is the relation between these three layers? And how does our knowledge of the existene of these layers contribute to our control over the passions as such?

Javier Carreño
Summary: The Imperfect Metaphor of Passion in Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments
This paper revisits the charges of fideism and irrationalism oftentimes leveled against Kierkegaard’s consideration of the relation of ratio to fides. To this avail the author engages one of the key texts in this polemic, namely the first three chapters of Philosophical Fragments. His reading centers on the rather subtle suggestion that erotic love, as a surrendering of oneself to another, plays the role of a metaphor or image for the downfall of the understanding characteristic of religious conversion. By considering the possibilities and limitations of this metaphoric relation, he suggests that the downfall of the understanding required in religious conversion occurs, surprisingly, not without an understanding, however limited, of the downfall. Because the experience of erotic love reveals where our true passion lies, we gain access to an alternative account of religious conversion according to Kierkegaard, one where ratio is not necessarily put on the verge of disappearing by fides. Moreover, thanks to this metaphoric relation, not only does erotic love itself acquire a novel meaning — under the religious command of loving one’s neighbor — but also one grasps in advance the risk of becoming dispassionate in a religious sense.

Rutger Claassen
Summary: Scarcity and Abundance. A Contest between Two Interpretations of the Human Condition
This paper discusses philosophical arguments for presenting scarcity and/or abundance as characteristic of the human condition. It criticizes those positions which present human action as characterized by either ‘universal scarcity’ or ‘universal abundance’. Universal scarcity is associated with instrumental activity and argues that the possibility of abundance supposes a Utopia of intrinsic activity which is inconceivable. Universal abundance is defended by Georges Bataille, who conceives of human life as the necessary expenditure of an original abundance. Both positions are criticized: even on their own terms, abundance reappears in the worldview of universal scarcity and vice versa. Finally, a perspective is presented where scarcity and abundance are complementary, on three different levels. On the level of the general structure of action, scarcity is implied by the fundamental teleological structure of action while abundance is implied by the fact that our actions are not dictated by (strict) necessity. At the level of social practices in general and the more specific level of the modern economic practices of work and consumption, scarcity arises wherever action is best interpreted as the satisfaction of socially formulated needs. Abundance here arises in so far as we can free ourselves of these social needs, either by subjecting them to criticism and reformulation, or by revising our membership of social practices.

Herman De Dijn
Summary: Religion, Moral Taboos, and Conservatism
In his book Rede en religie: Een verkenning, Michiel Leezenberg discusses three aspects of religion: religion as a belief system, as it pertains to moral values and the experience of meaning, and as a practice. Concerning each of these aspects, he asks himself the question of the relation between religion and rationality.
While touching on all three, this paper focuses on Leezenberg’s treatment of the second aspect of religion. Although religion is of course a system of beliefs, these beliefs are strongly embedded in specific practices, making a straightforward comparison with scientific beliefs highly problematic. The central problem discussed here is that of the relation between religious values and modern, secular (‘rational’) values. The paper argues that the opposition is not simply between religious and secular morality, but between any morality in which moral taboos play an essential role and a certain utopianism present in (much of) secular morality. This leads to an investigation of the supposed link between religion and conservatism. The paper ends with a discussion of the recent phenomenon of the ‘retour du religieux’ in the form of a growing interest in religious experience via ‘spirituality’.

Steffen Ducheyne
Summary: Whewell’s Notion of Necessity: A Systematic Study and Propaedeutic to Its Historical Development
The immense oeuvre of William Whewell (1794-1886), a Victorian monument by itself, has to some extent been treated in a stepmotherly fashion by philosophers and historians of philosophy. This paper attempts to conceptually clarify Whewell’s notion of necessity, which was a core notion in his philosophical project. The author also sketches in broad lines the historical development of this notion in Whewell’s thinking and points to the intertwinement between Whewell’s philosophy and theology. Whewell’s philosophical work was deeply based on the history of science and his doctrine of Fundamental Ideas can be interpreted as an attempt to historicize Kant’s transcendental categories.

Paul Moyaert
Summary: Charity, or How to Bear Transcendence
In Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions, Martha Nussbaum suggests understanding charity simultaneously as mildness, pitiful commiseration, and altruism on behalf of the human community. This essay argues that these elements do not put charity in the correct perspective. Not mildness, but patience, should be taken as the core of charity. Rather than reinserting a person into the community, charity endures someone who is no longer capable of taking part. Ultimately, respect and pity are not the motivating forces of charity.
By relying on the traditional Christian works of mercy — the corporeal and the spiritual — an alternative view of charity is developed. Why, for one, is burying the dead considered a (corporeal) work of mercy? Undoutably, pity is an insufficient basis for justifying this attribution. Moreover, burial can hardly be interpreted as benevolence or as a form of altruism in the usual sense. Taking burial as a paradigm for other works of mercy, the author suggests that the dead body is an in-between, being at the same time outside and inside the community of men. The dead person no longer belongs to the living, nor does he or she fall radically outside the ongoing circle of interpersonal meanings. This point of view provides an approach to the so-called spiritual works of mercy. The (corporeal or spiritual) indigent other is in need of charity at the very moment that he or she is no longer capable of reacting as a person. To be charitable does not always consist in doing something for the other, but sometimes in renouncing the prospect of improvement and even in refraining from demanding that the other should behave as a person should.
Hence the title of the essay: charity means wondering how to bear the ‘transcendence’ of the other. By transcendence here, we mean the other’s estrangement from the community of men that does not yet fall outside the circle of interpersonal meanings. Charity cannot be reduced to helpfulness or readiness to help. In some circumstances, charity reveals a deeper sense by accepting and bearing the indigence of someone who cannot be helped.

Herman van Erp
Summary: The Possibility and the Validity of the Categorical Imperative. Kant’s Argumentation in his ‘Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals’
Kant’s Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten is popular as an introduction into his philosophy and into fundamental ethics in general. Its third chapter is, nevertheless, a notoriously difficult text. According to many interpreters, it raises questions rather than answering them. This article tries to answer some question s which often remain unclear even in the secondary literature: how is the logical structure of the chapter; what exactly is the synthetic character of the categorical imperative; how does freedom function as the third, connecting term in this synthesis; what is the relationship between questions concerning the possibility and the validity of the categorical imperative? In his own words, Kant wants to give here ‘a deduction of the principle of morality’ but also of the concept of freedom. The double use of the term ‘deduction’ needs an accurate interpretation. One thesis of the article is that the deduction of freedom must not be identified with the problematic deduction (or proof) of the categorical imperative. The deduction of the concept of freedom has a more modest function within the proof of the possibility of the categorical imperative. This means that the question concerning the proof of its validity is still open; but the very idea that such a proof is neither possible nor necessary evokes already the notion of the factum der Vernunft.

Joris van Gorkom
Summary: The Portrait. An Image of the Subject
This paper elucidates the relation between the subject and its image by discussing the theme of portraiture. A portrait is in essence a self-portrait. The author begins with a reading of the portrait Jacques Derrida — ritratto allegorico made by Valerio Adami. Making use of this portrait, the author will analyse several aspects of drawing and portraying. This will bring us to the theme of exposing or exhibiting the subject. What does it mean when a subject exhibits itself? Jean-Luc Nancy’s reading of Descartes will give us the opportunity to answer this question. Descartes presented himself in his Discours de la méthode as if he presented a self-portrait. Nancy, then, tries to show that the portraying of the self is necessary for presenting and thinking the self. There can be no self without self-portraying. The cogito can only think itself when it exhibits itself in a portrait.

Philippe Van Haute
Summary: Lacan Reading ‘Hamlet’. Between Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis
In his seminar on ‘Desire and its Interpretation’ Lacan gives a detailed interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. We present this interpretation as an alternative to the psychobiographic approach which has been dominant in the psychoanalytic tradition. According to Lacan Hamlet is a poetic creation and nothing else. In order to understand it we don’t have to look at the unconscious motives of the author, but at the composition of the text. The deliberate articulation of the signifier accounts for the effect of the play on its readers. According to Lacan Hamlet is a tragedy of desire that informs us on the truth of human existence. It also shows how we can get access to this truth. In that sense Shakespeare’s text can, according to Lacan, also learn us something about the aim of the psychoanalytic process. The conclusion argues that Lacan’s interpretation of the nature of the psychoanalytic process is heavily dependent on the phenomenological tradition and more particularly that it ressembles the problematic of the ‘phenomenological reduction’.

René van Woudenberg
Summary: Reason and Religion from an Epistemological Perspective
This paper deals with the manifold relations that exist between ‘reason’ and Christian belief. The plurality of relations is due to the fact that ‘reason’ can refer to a certain cognitive faculty, a norm, as well as to ‘the scientific enterprise’. The author makes three claims in this paper. 1) Even though Christian belief is not, for the most part, a product of the faculty of reason, it does not conflict with the products of reason. 2) Christian belief does not (or need not) violate norms of reasonable belief. 3) There is no conflict between what science tells us about the history of the cosmos and the evolution of life on Earth, on the one hand, and the Christian doctrine of creation, on the other.

Miklós Vassányi
Summary: Reasons of Redemption. On the Specific Sense of The Reasonableness of Christianity in Locke’s Rationale of the Covenant of Faith
In Reasons of Redemption, the author, departing from Locke’s Epistola de Tolerantia (1689) carries out a philosophical investigation into the Lockean concept of reason throughout Locke’s oeuvre, in order to see how Locke finally applies it in his New Testament theology, The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695). The author first enquires into the Aristotelian concept of nous, showing that the conception of rationality of the early Locke, in his manuscript Es-says on the Law of Nature (1660) is describable with Peripatetic terminology. The author then discusses the several meanings the term ‘reason’ could carry in philosophical contexts in the works of Culverwel, Locke, Toland and Wollaston, emphasizing Culverwel’s role in the formation of the English Enlightenment concept of reason (Discourse of the Light of Natu-re, 1652). In the next points, the double nature of reason in the Lockean conception is exami-ned: reason is human in that it is finite and does not intuit the real essence of substance, but divine insofar as it is universal, unchangeable and derives from God as an efficient though not as a material cause. The author finally analyzes Locke’s arguments for the reasonableness of Christianity, suggesting that the infinite mercy of God, the ultimate ‘reason’ of redemption, may not be qualified as ‘rational’ but is the infinite surplus and difference of God’s essence.

Ben Vedder
Summary: To a Philosophical Hermeneutics of Religion
The question of the sense or meaning of religious behavior is something different from praying or religious activity itself. If one wants to understand religious activity (or if someone wants to explain his actions), one speaks from a distanced concern with regard to this activity or behavior. In a certain sense, activity must be postponed in order to produce an interpretation. The thinking way of giving an account is a different activity, another act, than the act (in this case the religious act) to which the reflecting act of thinking refers. In the first part of this paper, the question is posed as to how religious activity can be understood in terms of hermeneutic reflection. This question arises from the insight that the rationality of onto-theological thinking is no longer able to understand religious behavior. The second part poses the question as to whether religious activity can be understood from the perspective of a hermeneutical reason.

Rudi Visker
Summary: Re-reading Hannah Arendt on Pluralism, Participation and Representation
This paper situates Arendt’s ideal of political participation at the cross-roads of two entirely opposite traditions of thought: the one, anti-representationist, the other pleading for something stronger than mere representation. The first leads Arendt into playing off participation against representation in order to avoid the loss of presence that she fears the latter will entail. Whereas this line of thought seems to derive from what contemporary thought has deconstructed under the heading ‘metaphysics of presence’, Arendt’s work at the same time shows traits that unmistakeably belong to a tradition that is irreconcilable with the presuppositions of such a metaphysics. In fact, her view of freedom as an inner product of the public realm, forbids the latter to merely mirror, express or harmonize the antecedent freedoms of the private sphere. It should rather change these freedoms by transforming them and forcing them into a structure that has an independence of its own. This anti-expressivism seems to share its presuppositions with what we nowadays recognize as ‘the symbolic’ (in the sense the term has taken with Lévi-Strauss and others, like Claude Lefort).
Not having that notion at her disposal, Arendt manages to balance these two contradictory legacies by the weight she puts on the ideal of participation, and she ‘succeeds’ in doing this so well that she may not have noticed how they are at work in her own texts. In the second part of the paper the author shifts that weight to a number of quasi-concepts that Arendt did not or could not take beyond the level of metaphor, like the daimon in The Human Condition or the short passage on masks in On Revolution. Connecting these two to an ontological analysis of the difference between the private and the public, he then attempts to delineate a new conception of the public realm that, surprisingly, might salvage the meaning and sense of the separation between the social and the political Arendt was notoriously criticized for, even by those who were otherwise sympathetic to her ideas.
In conclusion, the relevance of what the author calls ‘the monumental recognition’ of appearing in public is indicated by showing its potential as a response to some of the difficulties that have set contemporary multicultural societies ablaze.

Gerard Visser
Summary: Benjamin and Phenomenology
Hannah Arendt was one of the first to point out the affinity between Walter Benjamin’s thought and that of Martin Heidegger. This article investigates Benjamin’s relation to phenomenology, his positive attitude towards it in his student years, then his neomarxist critique of it, that corresponds with that of the young Adorno. But Benjamin’s position is an ambiguous one. The essence of his early theology of language, the inspiring soul of his marxist theory, the puppet of historical materialism, testifies strongly to the phenomenological attitude. Far from being a metaphysical assumption, Benjamin’s starting point, the thesis that each expression of human culture can be conceived as a kind of language, is based on immediate lived experience. Here we find the origin of his affinity with Heidegger. Both are fundamentally interested in the primeval event of manifestation. But where Heidegger speaks of ways of being, Benjamin discerns forms of communication. Special attention is given to Benjamin’s unique concept of language, the origin and centre of which he locates in the proper name.