Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

Sharing a Realistic Future. Early Phenomenology and Sociality

Daniel Neumann

Thursday 2 December 2021

12:10 - 12:50

Zoom 1-1

In my talk, I want to consider the possibilities early phenomenology offers in terms of thinking a real, or realistic, social bond and a shared future. Especially of interest, here, is considering how a realistic phenomenological approach not based on subjective experience differs from standard accounts like the Husserlian Appräsentation or the Heideggerian Mitsein. I will proceed in two steps: 1) delineating broadly the realism of early phenomenology, especially as it relates to intersubjective knowledge; 2) considering how this realism shapes a shared future that might be more binding in nature than the transcendental position.

Ad 1) In the phenomenology of Hedwig Conrad-Martius, Edith Stein, and Gerda Walther, we find the notion that the phenomenological method is able to address the essence of reality itself, that is how reality appears by virtue of its own constitution as opposed to its being constituted by consciousness. This creates a different kind of evidence than the Husserlian method, which reflects on the Leistungen of consciousness. Realistic phenomenology lets the real phenomena unfold by themselves, affording a much more emphatic appearance of alterity. While in Conrad-Martius, this unfolding is mostly related to the question of knowledge of the reality of space and time in the broader sense and the constitution of nature in the narrower sense, Walther and Stein are more concerned with direct social phenomena like empathy. But the realistic attitude does not have to pertain neither to knowledge nor to sociality. When relating it to the problem of the future, it can be considered as the question of how we can anticipate a future, which is common insofar as we can relate to it as our reality.

Ad 2) The phenomenological realism of future can be considered on two different levels. The realism of knowledge: because knowledge, here, is not defined by being known by me, but by how the phenomena present themselves, the question of a common knowledge is one of the constitution of phenomena. Thus, the argument is not about subjective opinions or irreconcilable, individual positions, but about the different ways we are affected by the same, real phenomena. Here, a realism of sociality becomes thinkable. Based on the realistic position, intersubjective modes like empathy cannot be conceived as mere imaginations or representations of alterity. Rather than the problem of how one consciousness relates to the other, sociality is constituted by the reality of phenomena they refer to. And yet, this reality is not an sich, but is always already phenomenologically mediated. One of the challenges will be to bring out how a form of intersubjectivity is already operative in, and cannot be separated from, the realist outlook, with which the phenomenological method is concerned. A point of departure, here, will be the idea of an “ontological” community, found in Stein and Walther. But more than in a historical reconstruction, I will be concerned with how these realist notions of community are open to thinking a futurity, which is predicated on their very realism. The question then is: how can we phenomenologically address the coming of a common future?