Unità della ragione e modi dell’esperienza. Herman Cohen e il Neokantismo. Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi [Salerno 21-22-23 maggio 2007]
Unity of reason and modes of experience. Hermann Cohen and Neokantianism. Acts of the International Study Conference, Salerno, 21st-23rd May 2007.
Edited by Gian Paolo Cammarota. Published by Rubbettino. Collection Università degli Studi di Salerno-Collana Scientifica (254 pages, 2009, 23 €)
[Editor’s note: The following review, prepared by Mr. Leoni, introduces a recent collection of essays related to Hermann Cohen and neo-Kantianism that emerged from a conference held at Salerno/Italy, in 2007. We plan to introduce such publications to the American reader on a regular basis, but book notes, such as the following, cannot replace critical discussion. We hope that some of our readers and colleagues will contribute critical book reviews to this web-publication in the future. If interested, please contact email@example.com.]
This volume, dedicated to the President of the Hermann Cohen Gesellschaft, Prof. Helmut Holzhey, collects papers presented at a 2007 conference held in Salerno, Italy.
The book (like the conference) is divided in four sections, containing between three and five papers each, of which we will give a detailed summary later. Most sections are thematically coherent, except the first section, which gives the impression of having collated every subject that did not fit neatly into any of the other sections.
Half of the featured articles are in German, the other half is in Italian. The very first paper, by Helmut Holzhey, is an Italian translation prepared by the volume editor from the German, and there is another chapter that constitutes a translation from German to Italian. No reason is given why these chapters are given in translation. The volume includes a second paper by Professor Holzhey, this one in German. Language confusion between German and Italian also seeped into some of the articles, where the same books, sections, and chapters are sometimes referred to in Italian and sometimes in German. There is a German Bible quotation in an Italian paper, whereas quotations of Hermann Cohen’s works are usually translated. These editorial flaws do not affect the quality of the papers.
The third section of the book constitutes an homage to Professor Holzhey, whose 70th birthday occurred during the conference.
Section I: Esperienza, logica della conoscenza e questione del metodo (Experience, logic of knowledge, and the problem of method)
In Che cosa significa fare esperienza? Professor Holzhey analyzes the different meanings of the term “experience”, focusing on experience “in life” rather than on experience in the Kantian sense of sensory perception, as one might have expected. Holzhey recognizes that Cohen did not address this problem extensively, but he tries to give an account that would be consistent with Hermann Cohen’s approach. Following that approach, he proceeds from scientific experience qua experiment, but then he distinguishes between three types of “lived” experience, namely, hermeneutical experience as a negative historicized experience that shakes what one used to believe, religious experience as an illuminating moment made communicable, and philosophical experience, one that is eo ipso connected to a new dimension in thought. The article ends by raising a fundamental question, namely, “How much experience does philosophy need?” One would have liked to see the author expand this question in a stand-alone contribution.
In In Principio era il pensiero. L’antipsicologismo radicale di Hermann Cohen e alcune sue conseguenze (In the beginning was thought. Hermann Cohen’s radical anti-psychologism and some of its consequences), Stefano Poggi (Florence University) gives an account of the strong and structured opposition emanating from Cohen and fellow members of the Marburg School to psychologistic theories of knowledge, despite some apparent convergences between logic and psychology in some definitions of judgment (especially in Logik der Reinen Erkenntnis). This opposition, Poggi says, could not have been maintained “without a decisive move, without any kind of regret, to a level of metaphysical idealism [or better] of a non-departure from such a level.”
This essay situates Cohen’s anti-psychologism in an uninterrupted tradition stretching from Plato’s Sophist to Heidegger’s early works. Despite its brevity, the essay is clear and persuasive. It may be asked, however, whether Poggi exaggerates the debt Heidegger owed to Cohen in regard to the former’s distance from contemporary psychological approaches to consciousness. After all, Heidegger’s teacher Edmund Husserl similarly denied the relevance of empirical psychology in matters of first philosophy.
In a chapter titled Hermann Cohens systemtheoretische Subjektslehre (Hermann Cohen’s system-theoretical doctrine of the subject), Werner Flach (Emeritus Professor at Würzburg University) gives a short but well-rounded depiction of the role of the subject in Cohen’s system, particularly in the moments of aesthetic perception and understanding, of the relation between the perceptional subject and the propositional subject, and finally of the role of the subject in Cohen’s philosophy of religion. This is a mainly expository paper providing a comprehensive overview on a major topic in the study of Cohen’s transcendental philosophy.
Hartwig Wiedebach, a prolific member of the executive board of the Hermann Cohen Gesellschaft and Professor at Zurich University, contributes an essay (in Italian translation) titled Logica della scienza vs teoria della creazione. Il ruolo dell’annientamento nella logica dell’origine di Cohen (Logic of science versus theory of creation. The role of annihilation in Cohen’s logic of origin). Wiedebach focuses on the role of Vernichtung (annihilation): at first as a necessity in science (providing the possibility of a law of thought concerning the concept of a lie), whereby what is annihilated is a positively false “not-A” (with A being the internal truth of a judgment). The second and greater part of the essay depicts the role of annihilation in the philosophy of religion, as a necessary prerequisite for access to the relation between God and nature (the latter being the created non-A, i.e., not-God). This reader was struck by the philosophical depth of this essay, which stands out among the other contributions.
In Die “Urteile der Methodik” und die Methode der Philosophie bei Hermann Cohen (The “judgments of methodology” and the philosophical method in Hermann Cohen), the late Reiner Wiehl (emeritus at Ruperto Carola University Heidelberg) describes the reciprocity between method, judgment and origin in Cohen as fundamental to the approach by which concepts are moved from philosophical eclecticism towards a critical idealism, a process Cohen refers to as Reinigung (cleansing/purification). Covering a wide range of examples from the entire work of Cohen, Wiehl highlights that Cohen was consistent in attributing a fundamental role to method and clearly conveyed the epistemic process that it entails and engenders.
Section II: Conoscenza e forme dell’esperienza (Knowledge and forms of experience)
Massimo Ferrari (Turin University) deals with the forms of scientific knowledge in Cohen and Helmholtz (Le forme della conoscenza scientifica. Cohen e Helmholtz). Focusing on the historical differences between Cohen and Helmholtz, who was influential both as a scientist and as a philosopher of science, Ferrari compares and contrasts a few seminal works of these two philosophers, mainly Cohen’s early Kants Theorie der Erfahrung and Helmholtz’s Die Tatsachen in der Wahrnehmung and Zählen und Messen. Ferrari suggests that while the two scholars maintained a close dialogue and shared many significant views, Cohen’s approach to the theory of knowledge was the one that prevailed among the neo-Kantian and critical idealist trends of academic philosophy down to Husserl who, while speaking from a different standpoint than Cohen, raised decisive objections to Helmholtz’s “nominalism” that were remarkably similar to Cohens, at least in regard to their pars destruens (in Ferrari’s words).
Though Ferrari has little to say about Cassirer, about whom he has written elsewhere, his chapter must be deemed the most historically descriptive and meticulously researched contribution of this volume.
Gian Paolo Cammarota (University of Salerno), who also served as the director of the conference and the editor of the volume, contributes an essay on ethical knowledge and moral experience in Hermann Cohen (Conoscenza etica ed esperienza morale in Hermann Cohen) that highlights the deep originality of Cohen’s late concept of “the knowledge of ethics:” in the third edition of Kants Theorie der Erfahrung (Kant’s theory of experience), published months before his own death, Cohen distinguished himself from Kant, at least in the field of ethics, by virtue of his so-called “messianic idealism.” Here, Cammarota refers to his previous work on the subject
, without dealing thoroughly with it, but we could summarize it as the “overcoming of human experience in a messianic future”
, since in our present concrete experience tends to exert a ‘tyranny’ on our spirit. Cammarota affirms the value of this reflection on experience in today’s philosophical discussions on morality and science and on the possibility of a science of ethics. Without coming to a definitive conclusion on the issue of morality, he suggests the possibility of a reversal of the order of factors in the knowledge process, with thought about the knowledge sought coming before acquisition of knowledge: ethics would take its contents from experience, without being subjected to it.
Both Gianna Gigliotti with Hermann Cohen e la fondazione kantiana dell’estetica (Hermann Cohen and the Kantian foundation of Aesthetic) and Ezio Gamba with Erlebnis. La questione dell’esperienza estetica nel pensiero di Hermann Cohen (Erlebnis. The question of aesthetic experience in the thought of Hermann Cohen) deal with a subject that Gamba deals with, in greater detail, in La Legalità’ del Sentimento Puro, Mimesis Edizioni, Milan-Udine, 2008, that we have already reviewed on this site at http://criticalidealism.blogspot.com/2010/10/review-of-ezio-gamba-la-legalita-del.html.
Gigliotti (who has to be given a great merit for the revival of Neo-Kantian studies in Italy in the ‘90s, with her works on Nartorp and Cassirer) focuses on Cohen’s utilization of Kant’s third critique as reference for the question of aesthetics, pointing out, however, that
«it is not clear how [..] sentiment comes to be, so to speak, at the same time as the third and a forth direction of conscience», which makes the essay interesting but somehow incomplete.
Il caos nella cultura: dal principio di origine all’unicità di Dio (Chaos in culture: from principle of origin to the uniqueness of God) by Irene Kajon (University of Rome 1) tells the story of the complicated relation between God, reality, and uniqueness as it evolved in Cohen. This analysis ranges over the very early writings (concerned with the problem of Logos and mythology in the Hebrew Bible) up to a more mature conception of the “identification of the Hebrew monotheistic principle with the idealistic spirit as creator of the entire reality as human experience”
; then, it deals with the rupture with the mythical dimension that finally led to a personal relation with theodicy. Including large quotes from Cohen’s works, this paper is probably the most complex to understand if the reader has not already dealt with the problem of uniqueness in Cohen specifically.
Section III: Ragione critica ed esperienza del pensiero (Critical Reason and the experience of tought)
This section is dedicated to Professor Holzhey and therefore more focused on his contributions to the study of Cohen than on Cohen himself. We shall just mention the titles of the contributions alongside with the author.
Pierfrancesco Fiorato, Il logos della domanda: pensiero dell’origine e problematologia (Logos of the question: the thought about origin and the study of problematics)
Helmut Holzhey, Kritische Liebe zur Metaphysik - eine Zwischenbilanz (Critical Love for Metaphysics - a provisional summary)
Ernst Wolfgang Orth, Gedanken zu Helmut Holzheys Zwischenbilanz (Thoughts on Helmut Holzhey’s provisional summary)
Enno Rudolph, Anmerkungen zu Helmut Holzheys Zwischenbilanz, (Comments on Helmut Holzhey’s provisional summary)
Reiner Wiehl, Diesseits und jenseits der Ursprünge (On this side of the Origins and beyond)
Section IV: Mito, religione e filosofia. Hermann Cohen ed Ernst Cassirer (Myth, religion and philosophy. Hermann Cohen and Ernst Cassirer)
Ernst Wolfgang Orth (Universität Trier), in a paper titled Ernst Cassirers Cohen - Verständis (Ernst Cassirer’s view of Cohen), and Enno Rudolph (Universität Luzern), in Hermann Cohen - Ernst Cassirer: Lehrer und Schüler im Widerstreit. Zu Cassirers Cohenkritik (Hermann Cohen - Ernst Cassirer: teacher and student in conflict. Cassirer’s criticism of Cohen) both give an account of the complex philosophical relationship between Cohen and Cassirer.
Orth’s essays deals with their respective approaches to the problem of subjectivity and the subject process of knowledge, while Rudolph focuses primarily on the correlation between religion and myth as Todesangst (fear of death). The second part of Rudolph’s essay is dedicated to the problem of messianism, a problem on which Cohen and Cassirer are ‘incompatible’, since the latter seems to espouse a “Kulturrelativismus avant la lettre.” Both articles are well written and accessible, providing analysis and exposition, rather than elaboration, of the respective approaches of the two philosophers.
The closing article of the volume, Peter A. Schmid’s, Kontinuität und Geschichtsoptimismus bei Cassirer und Cohen (Continuity and historical optimism in Cassirer and Cohen) deals with the their respective views on the discipline of history. Though Schmid discerns a structural similarity in their respective approaches to historiography, he finds that Cassirer arrives at a more pessimistic assessment of history.
In sum, the volume is rich in ideas and detail, and it offers a useful panorama of current European Cohen scholarship. The papers are of high quality. However, as often in a volume of conference proceedings, the respect of the contributors for the thinkers analyzed (here: Cohen and other figures of or related to the Marburg School) sometimes prevents these scholars to go beyond their subject. There is a tendency, perhaps not untypical for European philosophical scholarship, to limit oneself to the description of the thought of a historical thinker or to the exposition of a particular detail or problem within that thinker’s work. While this attitude contributes to more careful reading and analysis and certainly helps avoid distortion and simplification of the theories in question, it deprives us of the more original contributions that these scholars might be able to make.
Nonetheless, the volume remains valuable to as an introduction to a range of problems in the study of Hermann Cohen in general, and to his contribution to the philosophical concept of experience in particular.