Séminaire "Les Platonismes en Phénoménologie" (C. Majolino / A. Lernould / E. Mehl)

Intervenant: Daniele De Santis. "Phenomenology and Theory of Ideas."

Daniele De Santis "Phenomenology and Theory of Ideas"
20 février 14h-16h -B1.663

In a footnote to her 1936 book Finite and Eternal Being Edith Stein writes: “It seems to me that the beginnings of a phenomenological theory of essences, as it is present in the works of Husserl and his school, for the first time points the way to an understanding, a just appraisal, and a fruitful elaboration of the life work of Plato and the metaphysics of Aristotle”. As she had already said in this very same note, the “great difficulty” with which these two had to contend “lay in the fact that they found themselves face to face with the entire realm of ideal being and naturally had a difficult time groping their way through the multiplicity of this territory”. Accordingly, in their “attempt to get hold of the Ideas, they seized alternatively upon essences, essentialities or ideal objects”.

Stein’s talk of a phänomenologische Wesenslehre here is to be understood not just as referring to a need, on the part of the emerging philosophical movement, for a systematic theory of essence which would characterize phenomenology as an “eidetic science”. It ought to be interpreted as referring to a true discussion or debate that silently accompanied phenomenology itself from the outset. Indeed, the discussions as to the sense, roles and definitions of phenomenology as a descriptive science that erupted after the release of Husserl’s first masterpiece, and his subsequent turn to a “transcendental” form of phenomenology, went hand in hand with another, less known yet equally important discussion: the one concerning both the development and significance of a self-consistent theory of Ideas. The debate—involving some of the phenomenologists from the Göttingen and Munich “circles”—bore not only on the demand for a careful distinction between notions such as essence, essentiality, eidos and Idea, but first and foremost upon the necessity for a systematic “theory of Ideas” within the framework of a formal theory of object or formal. In a nutshell: the discussions revolved around three major themes:

(i) The distinction between individual and non-individual formations, hence their relevant characterization;

(ii) The necessity of accounting for their relation;

(iii) A satisfactory classification and description of all the different kinds of Ideas.

Who took part in the discussion concerning the theory of Ideas among the phenomenologists? Who contributed, either silently or explicitly, to animating the debate? For the sake of brevity, two major groups can be distinguished. On the one hand, there is what we could dub the “core” of the discussion, which can be found in a series of three essays published in the official organ of the movement, i.e., the Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung. We speak here of core because these essays explicitly address the topic in connection with both Husserl’s Logical Investigations and Ideas I, and are interconnected in such a way that they form a unitary whole (it is important to note that the talk of a “core” needs also to be understood heuristically, that is to say, as providing us with a sort of “reference point” that can orient the investigation).

In chronological order, they are:

- Jean Héring, Bemerkungen über das Wesen, die Wesenheit und die Idee (1921);

- Roman Ingarden, Essentiale Fragen. Ein Beitrag zu dem Wesensproblem (1925);

- Herbert Spiegelberg, Über das Wesen der Idee. Eine ontologische Untersuchung (1930).

On the other hand, there is what we can label the “periphery”—by which we mean contributions which either (a) did not explicitly tackle the problems mentioned above (i, ii, iii) and simply touched upon them; (b) that, although directly dealing with those problems, were not published in the Jahrbuch or (c) that for “chronological” reasons did not directly take part in the debate. Under (a) one can find: Wilhelm Schapp, Beiträge zur Phänomenologie der Wahrnehmung (1910), Arnold Metzger, Der Gegenstand der Erkenntnis (1925). Under (b) fall, for example, the writings of two former students of Pfänder and Geyser in Munich: Maximilian Beck, Ideelle Existenz (1929) and Wilhelm Pöll, Wesen und Wesenserkenntnis (1936). Finally, (c) would include texts such as Edith Stein’s Endliches und ewiges Sein, or What is Philosophy? by Dietrich von Hildebrand.