In a sustained consideration of the notion of ‘futurity’ in phenomenology, Neal DeRoo describes phenomenology as a ‘promissory discipline’. 1
Having worked through the way in which epistemology opens onto ethical, political, and religious domains in phenomenological inquiry, DeRoo concludes as follows: ‘By opening ourselves to the essential role of futurity in phenomenology, we have opened ourselves also to new possibilities, new pursuits, for the present and future of phenomenology.’ 2
The present volume aims at exploring such possibilities and pursuits as displayed in phenomenology, today
, in the hope that doing so will facilitate thinking about where phenomenology might be going, tomorrow
Nonetheless, it is worth asking straightaway why bringing together scholars to think about the future of phenomenology is even needed? Edmund Husserl famously articulated a crisis in the ‘European Sciences’ and, more recently, Michel Henry expressed worry about a crisis for ‘culture’ more broadly due to the objectivist tendencies of scientism. 3
For both Husserl and Henry, phenomenology is offered as something of a prescription for the illness that threatens humanity. However, is it the case that phenomenology, itself, now faces its own crisis? Like a doctor working in a communicable disease lab, has phenomenology caught the sickness that it was trying to cure? Such questions are certainly important for the future of phenomenology, and in order to face the challenge head on, the final section of this volume provides essays by scholars who think that phenomenology is no longer the best drug available.
However, this volume is not united by a sense of crisis, but rather a sense of uncertainty resulting from simultaneous diversity and narrowness. Phenomenology is diverse in that it spans philosophical traditions and styles, it occurs internationally rather than having a specific geographic locus, and it is applied to nearly every area of philosophical inquiry. It is narrow in that there are many different phenomenological camps that get established around competing orthodoxies. As such, it can be difficult to articulate a unified conception of what it is that phenomenology aims to do and why it matters that such things get done. Yet, is something like a ‘unified conception’ even desirable for phenomenology? In his chapter, Tom Sparrow finds the diversity of phenomenological approaches to be reason to doubt that phenomenology can continue to be of significant value in contemporary philosophy. In response, though, Bruce Ellis Benson contends that such diversity allows for the potential narrowness to be a reflection of the breadth of phenomenology’s application, rather than of the elimination of its relevance. Accordingly, rather than asking ‘Is phenomenology in crisis?’ this volume asks ‘How can what passes under the name of “phenomenology” stand as a resource for contemporary philosophical inquiry, human culture, personal identity, and social life?’
Only by answering this question can phenomenology hope to have a future—and the specific answers offered to this question can then stand as proposals for that future. This volume is unified, then, not by a threat to phenomenology, but by a hope for it. The hope is that phenomenology can avoid the fate of so many ‘mega-churches’ and find a way to be a mile wide, as it were, without only being an inch deep. In light of this hope, the chapters in this volume are wide-ranging and visionary, rather than all being narrowly focused on only one aspect or dimension of phenomenology’s promise in line with a singular conception of phenomenological orthodoxy. In this sense, the volume itself is prescriptive more than proscriptive. Rather than shutting down possibilities, the contributors attempt to open such possibilities up for discussion and debate, and also for challenge and critique. Philosophical resources must make room for the possibility of philosophical refutation and this volume allows for both. Crucially, visions for the future might turn out to be compelling or catastrophic. Yet, responsibly owning up to such uncertainty is, itself, a task to which phenomenology can distinctly attend.
In light of such hope, while admitting of such uncertainty, the contributors to this volume demonstrate that perhaps more than any other contemporary philosophical movement, phenomenology is able to bring together diverse thinkers to work on pressing challenges that humanity faces in a time of globalization, environmental awareness, religious tension, and political gridlock. To be sure, such challenges are difficult and phenomenology cannot do everything. Nonetheless, phenomenology attends specifically to the givenness of the world and getting clear on how things confront us is an important first step in the task of thinking about how things might be transformed for the better. As such, phenomenology must be considered as not only occurring in the twenty-first century, but as presented for the twenty-first century. United in this effort, the contributors to this volume all offer bold proposals for specific questions, themes, and thinkers that should receive sustained attention as the debates unfold in the coming decades.
Visionary proclamations, however, can often fall short on content and specifics. Refreshingly, though, this is not the case for the chapters in this volume. Striking a fine balance, the contributors have all dug deep in order to think broadly. Not content with merely calling for questions to be asked and issues to be considered, the contributors both ask the questions and offer concrete suggestions for how best to answer them. They not only consider what issues might be considered, but also provide constructive analyses for how such issues should be approached. Attempting to be simultaneously historically sensitive and also future-oriented, hermeneutically aware and also critically engaged, the chapters contained herein do open spaces for the future of phenomenology, but more importantly they describe what such a future can and possibly should look like.
Such work does not come without important risks and limitations. In particular the attempt to predict where things are likely to go is inherently risky. Explaining such risk, Jacques Derrida famously distinguishes between two notions of the future—the future that is predictable and foreseeable, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the future (l’avenir
/to-come) that is absolutely unpredictable and announces the coming of someone or something that is unexpected. 4
This volume attempts to keep both conceptions, or valences, of futurity in play. By envisioning and inhabiting a particular future, we also necessarily open ourselves to what couldn’t be expected in it. In fact, just as I was writing the previous sentence, a student of mine unexpectedly (he did not have an appointment) walked into my office and asked what I was working on. I told him that I was writing the introduction to a book that I was coediting, to which he remarked, ‘Well, I hope that there is some John Travolta in it.’ This was indeed a comment that I would not have expected, but, as it turns out, as a result of it, John Travolta has
indeed made an appearance in this book. I mention this odd anecdote simply to illustrate that the task that has been set for the contributors to this volume is not an easy one—expecting the unexpected is difficult business.
This task is further complicated, however, by the dynamism operative in the phenomenological tradition itself. Rather than being a dead tradition, movement, or school that is primarily considered from the perspective of historical hindsight, it is instead a living tradition—still open to further definition, expansion, elaboration, and critique. In other words, phenomenology occurs in relation to both futures about which Derrida speaks because its present is active and its future undecided. What is envisioned and enacted here will necessarily, then, be limited in a variety of ways. It is limited both by the fact that no single book can be comprehensive of all the various possibilities for phenomenology and by the fact that what has historically gone under the name of ‘phenomenology’ is, in many ways, not a single ‘thing’ such that possibilities for ‘it’ could be neatly articulated. Yet, in its very plurality, dynamism, and open-endedness, phenomenology provides especially productive ways forward for a variety of areas of human thought, moral action, and social existence.
Many others have elsewhere provided extremely nuanced and sophisticated accounts of how best to understand phenomenology. 5
Some draw the tent rather tightly in relation to the specifics of Husserl’s authorship. Others expand the tent quite broadly and understand phenomenology to be any attempt to inquire into the way the world appears and what it is like to experience it as it is given. 6
Alternatively, some argue that phenomenology is exclusively a methodology, while others claim that it contains a particular set of philosophical commitments that have ontological, epistemological, and perhaps even moral and religious implications. 7
Further, many phenomenologists operate in what might be described as a generally ‘analytic’ mode where scientific analysis is held to be the relevant evidential framework, but many others approach their work in relation to a more ‘continental’ style and tone such that a more literary and existentialist orientation is characteristic. 8
Crucially, phenomenology is global, interdisciplinary, and energetic, but it is also not without its detractors. 9
Attempting to be productively inclusive without becoming unwieldy, this volume operates with a big-tent approach to phenomenological philosophy and does so in order that the notion of phenomenology for the twenty-first century is not limited to merely one conception of what phenomenology is or can be. Accordingly, rather than focus on only one philosophical area or question as the central concern of the volume, the chapters are divided into a variety of areas that are especially important for phenomenology’s present and future, though many other areas could have just as easily been included. Divided into six sections, the volume attends to the following thematic concerns: (1) Justice and Value, (2) Meaning and Critique, (3) Emotion and Revelation, (4) Embodiment and Affectivity, (5) Pragmatism, and (6) Calling Phenomenology into Question. These thematic foci have been carefully chosen in the attempt to demonstrate the philosophical rigor and existential traction that can result from the pluralism operative in phenomenological research. Crucially, none of these themes can be isolated from the others, however. To think about justice is also to think about the possibility of critique; to reflect on emotion is to attend to embodiment; and to consider revelation necessarily requires a concern for affectivity, and so on. The divisions are, therefore, best understood not as hard lines between the essays (such that the volume comprises really six very short books all published under the same title), but merely as a grouping mechanism that sets into relief the specific, though interlocking, issues being engaged. Of course, none of these foci, taken individually, is radically novel. Indeed, they animate the continuity occurring in phenomenological inquiry despite the discursive plurality of the tradition.
In the attempt to demonstrate the activity of the current debates, then, the volume concludes with a section that provides two critics of phenomenology the opportunity to explain why they take the future of philosophy to be better off without phenomenology at the forefront of scholarly attention. For these scholars, phenomenology does face something of an existential crisis. Turning to speculative realism and cognitive science as more promising alternatives, the authors of those chapters call the volume itself to task such that there is no possibility of resting easy in the security of phenomenology’s future. Indeed, given the diversity and narrowness of phenomenology’s present, it is likely that its future will be brightest only as a result of the joint work of established and emerging scholars like those included here. As such, the final chapter is offered as a phenomenological reply to these critics in the hope that phenomenological work continues undaunted, but deeply affected and perhaps transformed by such critical engagement.
Intentionally engaging both classical phenomenology and recent ‘new’ phenomenology, the chapters variously draw on analytic and continental resources. 10
When new phenomenology is combined with the logical and epistemological rigor of classical phenomenology, and the scientific orientation and empirical analysis of many of the contemporary phenomenological approaches to the philosophy of language and the philosophy of mind, the results are sweeping and original. The outcome is something that we hope will demonstrate that whatever the future of phenomenology turns out to be (and whether it is something that we can decidedly prepare for or something, like a discussion of John Travolta, that we cannot), it must reflect the plurality and dynamism of this living tradition itself rather than shutting such aspects down in the name...