2018-2020:The Development of an Existential Ethics

through a Phenomenological Approach to Political Judgment.

Project development

Scientific Reports

1 January – 31 December 2019

A. RESEARCH ACTIVITY

The research from the second stage of the project has been carried out in three directions:

  1. Continuing the research from the previous stage, by studying Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception, with a special focus on the relation imagination–judgment and on the connection between perception and judgment. In this context, I concentrated on the possibility of connecting the understanding offered by the body (Merleau-Ponty) with the understanding that Arendt calls “common sense”: in The Life of the Mind, she discusses it (in line with Aristotle’s koine aisthesis) as a sixth mental sense that links the information received from the five basic senses of the body; and, in Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, analyzes it (in line with Kant’s theory of judgment) as that sensus communis associated with the reflective judgment. From this perspective, I will explore the possibility of involving the body in the process of judging politically more than Arendt does. The results of this direction of research will be included in the second paper elaborated within this project.
  2. Comparing Kant’s theory of aesthetic judgment with Arendt’s interpretation of it (from her Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy and earlier texts), in order to achieve the second objective of the project, that of investigating the question of the validity of reflective judgments: how this question appears in Arendt’s political interpretation of Kantian aesthetic judgment and, furthermore, how it can be thought within the existential ethics. Considering the sub-objectives detailed in the description of the project, I identified more clearly a fundamental difference between the Kantian approach, which is transcendental, and the Arendtian one. Kant connects judging to the community of all human beings, who can perceive the beautiful because of their universal faculties and whose judgments claim, therefore, universal validity, independent of empirical conditions. Arendt’s approach, being in harmony with her own political thought, places judging within concrete communities; she contextualizes it: political judgments are formed through a process led by the intention of reaching a possible agreement with others – not with any others, but with those involved in or affected by the situation or the problem that is being judged. Arendt does not disregard individual autonomy, which is so important for Kant, but sees it in relation to heteronomy or, in other words, she thinks it in connection to belonging to a community – a plural community, of course, that is, consisting of a plurality of individualities. This represents a new reason why the Arendtian elaborations on judgment can be interpreted existentially, starting from being-in-the-world with others.

In the second paper, I discuss this departure of Arendt from Kant and show that it is connected to her distinction between philosophy and politics, which also supports the distinction she makes (and Habermas criticizes) between truth and opinion. However, I argue that, from an existential perspective, the process of opinion formation that Arendt calls judging can be connected to truth: to the truth understood, more originarily, as disclosure (aletheia); thus, it can be connected to the self-disclosure that takes place in the form of “the call of conscience” analyzed in Being and Time. From this perspective, I argue that Arendt’s account of judging is not restricted to the “spectator” (to the one who judges situations in which s/he is not directly involved), as some commentators maintain, but it applies also in the case of the “actor”, of the one who is involved in the situation s/he is judging.

3. Achieving the third objective of the project, namely to argue that, understood existentially, political judgment is originally a pre-reflective process, being involved in Dasein’s authentic (self-)understanding, as the ability to “judge” in the sense of discriminating between the authentic and the inauthentic possibilities. The preparation of this argument involved the careful identification of all the resources that the existential analytic has to offer for thinking in existential terms the process of reflective judgment, described by Arendt as “representative thinking”. This does not mean to dispose of the reflective dimension of judging; it means to show that it is not fundamental, but merely derivative. Fundamental is a pre-reflexive understanding which, to the extent that it is authentic, is “representative” in the sense that the one who judges understands her/his own situation from the perspective of the plurality of others, “representing” their plural perspectives in her/his own self-understanding. Some parts of the argument will be developed in the second paper, and others in the third paper, which will be elaborated in the third stage of the project and in which I will show that Dasein’s authenticity implies precisely the assumption, by reflective judgment, of this prior understanding; this idea will support the connection between judgment and personal identity (making this connection is the fourth, and last, objective of the project).

B. OTHER ACTIVITIES

In 2019, I worked on the first two papers and prepared the elaboration of the third. I planned to send the first two papers for publication in 2020, because I wanted both of them to benefit from the research carried out in 2019. All three papers will be submitted for publication in journals indexed in the Web of Science (Arts and Humanities Citation Index).

  1. Elaborating the first paper, which offers an existential reading of Arendt’s account of judging. It is based mainly on the results of the research carried out in the first stage of the project (from 2018) and which were partially discussed also in the paper presented in Perugia (see point 4 below), but it benefited greatly also from the second stage. The central argument is that Arendt’s account of judgment can be interpreted existentially and phenomenologically-hermeneutically thanks to the notion of imagination, which allows us to approach the Kantian theory of judgment and the Arendtian interpretation of it from the perspective of Heideggerian ontology. Actually, the ethico-political relevance of Arendt’s account of judging can be seen better through an existential interpretation.
  2. Elaborating the second paper, which brings together the results of the three directions of research detailed above (in section A of the 2019 report), being a developed and improved form of the presentation Judging – That Thinking Which Also Acts, held at the conference “SHIFTING ROLES. The Manifold Identities of Phenomenology” (see point 5 below). The central purpose of the paper is to conceive – with the help of judging – the relation between thinking and acting in a way that is more satisfying for an existential ethics than Heidegger did (in Being and Time, but also, for example, in Letter on “Humanism”) and, at the same time, to solve a problem in Arendtian thought, caused by the rigid distinction that Arendt sometimes makes between thinking and acting / philosophy and politics. In other words, I argue that judging is a way of thinking which (unlike the “philosophical thinking” criticised by Arendt) is open to action (understood as direct inter-action with others) – not only in the sense that it can guide it, but especially in the sense that it needs it, in order to obtain its own validation, and, moreover, in the sense that judging, seen existentially as understanding, is a thinking that acts, modifying the self of the one that judges.
  3. Sketching the third paper, which will specify the ways in which political judgment, interpreted phenomenologically, contributes to the existential ethics I want to develop. The paper will include new aspects of the existential interpretation of judging, including research results from the entire project, but especially from the third stage (from 2020), focusing on the connection between judging and personal identity.
  4. Elaborating the presentation Being the Host of a Stranger. An Ethico-Existential Perspective, held on 9 July 2019 at the 23rd International Symposium in Phenomenology, entitled L’épreuve de l’Etranger: Translation, Migration, Resistance (Perugia, 7-13 July 2019). In this paper, I presented the project of the existential ethics, I specified the place that judgment has in it and I proposed an interpretation of judging as a way of “hosting” the other’s perspective upon the world, as a way of encountering the other in her/his strangeness.
  5. Elaborating the presentation Judging – That Thinking Which Also Acts. An Existential Reading of Arendt’s Political Judgment, held on 27 September 2019 at the 5th Conference of the Central and East European Society for Phenomenology, entitled SHIFTING ROLES. The Manifold Identities of Phenomenology, which took place on 26-28 September 2019 at the Faculty of Law (University of Bucharest).
  6. Carrying out research at Bocconi University (Milan) for 2 months, following an invitation letter received from Professor Gino Zaccaria. There, I consulted various works on topics related to my project, such as Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, Kant’s critical philosophy and Aristotelian ethics, and I became familiar with Adriana Cavarero’s work, which is relevant for the third stage of the project.
  7. Co-organizing the international conference SHIFTING ROLES. The Manifold Identities of Phenomenology (the 5th Conference of the Central and East European Society for Phenomenology), held on 26-28 September 2019 at the Faculty of Law (University of Bucharest). I organized this conference together with dr. habil. Cristian Ciocan, dr. Christian Ferencz-Flatz and dr. Paul Marinescu, under the aegis of The Romanian Society of Phenomenology, The Institute for Research in the Humanities (University of Bucharest) and The Central and East European Society for Phenomenology.
  8. Discussing periodically with my mentor in this project, dr. habil. Cristian Ciocan, about the progress of my research and the elaboration of the papers and the conference presentations.

1 May 2018 – 31 December 2018

        The research activity from this first stage of the project has focused on the relation between judgment and imagination. The project was bound to begin with this theme, given that its general goal is to develop an existential ethics (which has been firstly configured in my doctoral thesis, starting from Heidegger’s existential analytics form Being and time) through a phenomenological approach to political judgment, starting from Arendt’s ethico-political interpretation of Kant’s theory of reflexive judgment from his third Critique.

        Thus, the objective of the first stage of research was to connect Arendt’s interpretation of the Kantian reflexive judgment to the Heideggerian ontology (which is the starting point of the existential ethics), through the notion of imagination. This objective has been addressed by following these five sub-objectives, which have been guiding my research:

        (1) Arguing that Arendt’s account of imagination allows a phenomenological-hermeneutical approach to political judgment: I could observe that the way Arendt describes imagination reminds us of the existential of understanding analysed by Heidegger (actually, Arendt even says that imagination is understanding); moreover, through a detailed research of several important Arendtian works – in particular, The Human Condition, The Life of the Mind, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, Responsibility and Judgment – I could identify other elements which pertain to hermeneutical phenomenology; even Arendt does not identify them as such, they are “at work” in her texts: e.g. the method of destruction, the understanding of truth as disclosure, the lack of omnipotence of the agent, the critique of metaphysics, or the plea for a phenomenological-hermeneutical approach to political, social and cultural events and processes.

       (2) Arguing that Arendt’s account of imagination allows an existential approach to political judgment: although Arendt originally distanced her thought from the existential analytic, considering it (unjustly) as marked by solipsism, her political ontology does not stand in a simple opposition to it; plurality, which is a central notion in Arendtian political ontology, does not actually oppose Dasein’s analytic, but can be seen as a necessary development of the Heideggerian notion of being-with (Mitsein), which is fundamentally constitutive of Dasein. In this direction, I found enough elements to support a very important argument for the present project, namely: imagination – which, through its role in the reflexive judgment, opens the individual who judges to the plurality to which s/he belongs – can also be seen, in existential Heideggerian terms, as that ability of the individual Dasein to open itself to being-with-one-another (Miteinandersein). This is the connection which makes possible the existential approach to the political judgment analysed by Arendt.

         (3) After establishing that Arendt’s account can be approached existentially, the next step was to see what can be said about imagination (as Kant understands it) from Heidegger’s perspective, more precisely from the perspective of his famous interpretation from Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (1929), where he discusses the temporality of imagination (involving thus the account of temporality from Being and Time). This interpretation is existential in nature, prioritizing the ek-static dimension of man as a being open towards being – open in the sense of transcending towards… Heidegger sees this transcendence as reflecting the fundamental finitude of the self, which, precisely because it is finite, produces (einbildet) the horizon in which the being can be given to the self, i.e. that subjective horizon in which any possible donation of the objective being occurs. For Heidegger, this preliminary production, called “imagination”, lies both at the root of the pure intuition of space and time (as forms that unify what is diverse by letting it appear as such, as diverse) and at the root of the re-presenting (vor-stellend) function of the pure intellect, through which thinking places in relation to itself what it unites conceptually (the connection between “I think” and the synthesis of judgments). Thus, pure imagination is the expression of the receptive spontaneity of the human mind. In other words, for Heidegger, the essence of imagination is precisely time / temporality, since the preliminary production (which is at work in pure imagination) functions synthetically in three ways: there is synthesis in the mode of apprehension (in pure intuition), synthesis in the mode of reproduction (in imagination), and synthesis in the mode of recognition (in concepts); and these are three precisely because they spring from the three dimensions of the primordial time: the synthesis of apprehension pertains to the present, the synthesis of reproduction pertains to the past and the synthesis of recognition to the future. Because it is in recognition that the identity (the self) is constituted, according to Heidegger the synthesis of the future is primordial in relation to the other two syntheses; the self / the subject (therefore, we can add, also the one who judges) turns out to be founded in time, which is the deepest expression of finitude and, therefore, of transcendence.

          (4) Given this connection Heidegger makes between the structure of the transcendental imagination in Kant and the structure of the primordial temporality – brought to light by Heidegger in Being and Time (1927), through an analysis of the authentic temporality, i.e. of Dasein’s anticipatory resoluteness – the necessary next step was to reread the analysis of resoluteness from the perspective of Heidegger’s interpretation of transcendental imagination. In Being and Time, the existential aspect is decisive in the interpretation of temporality as the ontological meaning of Dasein’s being. In Kant, man appears as knowing self and metaphysical subject; in Heidegger, man’s being is care (knowledge being just one mode of care), a threefold structure made of projective understanding – disposedness – concern. In the second section of Being and Time, Heidegger shows that this threefold structure is rooted in temporality, with its three ecstases: the future is the ecstasis that opens Dasein to possibilities, so that Dasein can project itself towards them and thus be a “self”; the past is the ecstasis of returning to… and of recovering what Dasein already is; the present is the ecstasis of concern with the environmental being. The three ecstases temporalize themselves in authentic or inauthentic modes. The authentic one is called anticipatory resoluteness; it focuses on the finitude of Dasein, who, in the primordial ecstasis of the future, comes to itself and constitutes itself as self.

          The main general conclusion for points (3) and (4) is the following: the research carried out has confirmed the initial hypothesis, namely that Arendt’s interpretation of Kantian reflexive judgment can be integrated into the project of the existential ethics also because it can be connected to the Heideggerian ontology through the notion of imagination. The connection is possible due to the fact that Heidegger, in Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, insists on imagination’s role of being the common root of human faculties (an idea that appears only in the first version of the Critique of Pure Reason) and, in a second step, argues that the role played by transcendental imagination in the first Kantian critique is similar to the fundamental role played by primordial time – or originary temporality, as it is analyzed in Being and Time. Here, in the context of an ontology which is ontically founded in Dasein, the originary temporality (which is ontological) is accessible through an analysis of the authentic temporality (which is to be found at the ontic level); thus, Heidegger’s thesis that transcendental imagination is primordial time represents the bridge which can connect the Arendtian political judgment (where imagination, understood also in a Kantian manner, plays a central role) to the existential analytic, where Dasein’s authenticity is fully disclosed in the analysis of the authentic temporality, which is experienced by Dasein as anticipatory resoluteness.

       This connection between the Arendtian political judgment and the existential analytic of Dasein through the notion of imagination (in Heidegger’s interpretation of it) is essential for the development the existential ethics in the way specified at the beginning (i.e. through a phenomenological-hermeneutical approach to political judgment), because it allows us to speak of “imagination” and of “judging” within the existential structure of the anticipatory resoluteness. This connection and its implications will be detailed in a paper (which will be submitted for publication in 2019) where I intend to explore also the possibility of moving from the reflective level of Arendt’s account of judgment to the pre-reflective level of Dasein’s understanding (we imagine spontaneously and non-reflectively).

        (5) In order to develop the role of imagination within the existential ethics, I intend to broaden the horizon already reached through the Arendtian and Heideggerian perspectives, by taking into consideration other phenomenological accounts of imagination, especially those offered by Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, and focusing on the relation between imagination and judging.

OTHER ACTIVITIES:

  1. Preparing the elaboration of the first article, starting from the results of the research described above (points 1-4).
  2. Preparing the participation in two international conferences in 2019, with presentations that pertain to the thematic of this project.
  3. Organising an international conference which will take place in Bucharest (26-28 September 2019): I have been involved in co-organizing this conference together with dr. habil. Cristian Ciocan, dr. Christian Ferencz-Flatz and d. Paul Marinescu. It is about The 5th Conference on Traditions and Perspectives of the Phenomenological Movement in Central and Eastern Europe, entitled Shifting Roles. The Manifold Identities of Phenomenology, organised under the aegis of the Romanian Society for Phenomenology and the University of Bucharest.
  4. Purchasing the equipment and books required for the project: a Microsoft Surface Book 2 laptop and books.
  5. Monthly consultations with my mentor in this project, dr. habil. Cristian Ciocan, regarding the progress of my research and the new directions of research which have been opened along the way.
  6. The website of the project has been created.

N.B.: Going abroad for research has been postponed for the second part of the project, because the library of the Institute, complemented by the books purchased within this project, provided enough resources to research the notion of imagination as described above.