A Telling Bit of Criticism from the Phenomenology Camp

When Tim Hyde reviewed my book The End of Phenomenology back February, it was clear to me that he found it only lukewarm. That’s fine with me, and I’m not going to answer his criticism point by point. One point continues to eat away at me even today, however, and I believe it worth commenting on because I think it reveals something about the kind of strategy used by defenders of phenomenology whenever their camp comes under attack.

In a discussion of the phenomenological reduction, and after quoting my commentary on Merleau-Ponty’s claim that the reduction is impossible because it can never be completed, Hyde corrects my inference and points out that the task of phenomenology is to always return to the beginning of phenomenology so as to take up the task anew. This is a common trope in phenomenology: citing its incessant attempts to reboot its project as precisely one of its chief virtues. As Hyde concludes, “Phenomenology can always have a future; what it cannot have is a past.” I see the point here, even though I disagree. But philosophical disagreement is not what I want to engage in here. More interesting to me is the way that Hyde justifies his point–by quoting Heidegger. Or rather, to be more precise, by quoting Heidegger quoting Heidegger. Here’s Hyde’s reference, used to justify his conclusion above:

Or as Heidegger puts it in “My Way to Phenomenology,” quoting himself from Being and Time, phenomenology’s “essential character does not consist in being actual as a philosophical school. Higher than actuality stands possibility. The comprehension of phenomenology consists in grasping it as possibility.”

This is the kind of appeal to authority that we find too often in phenomenology’s secondary literature. But it is not just any appeal to authority. This particular quote demonstrates so well, quite ironically, the defensive game that is in many ways the norm of phenomenological criticism. Not only is this an appeal to authority that is somehow supposed to satisfy the demands of argument, it is an appeal to an authority whose very authority is authorized by none other than himself! If this isn’t the argumentative equivalent of solipsism, I don’t know what is. This kind of retort to phenomenology’s critics has now replaced the usual “You’re clearly not reading phenomenologist X in the right way” as my favorite.


About plasticbodies

Contemporary philosopher.
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2 Responses to A Telling Bit of Criticism from the Phenomenology Camp

  1. S.C. Hickman says:

    Hi Tom, finally gotten around to being able to read your work on Speculative Realism. Wonderful judgments and assessments. What’s interesting is that I began reading Richard Sebold’s work Continental Anti-Realism which takes the Analytic/Phenomenology divide as the starting point for his investigation of anti-realism. Reading yours and his work in unison has been enlightening. I’m slowly posting a base review to stir interest with some of my regulars. Hope your work infiltrates and stirs people to more than this lukewarm gesture of a phenomenological defender. It deserves a better reading that he offers. Sad how philosophers like scientist have this great need to defend their turf even if they know that it’s probably a losing battle. Obviously what’s at stake for such beings is their career more than their actual thoughts on the subject.

    Keep the aspidistras flying as Orwell used to say!

  2. plasticbodies says:

    Thanks for the kind words. Always appreciate your insightful commentary.

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