Workshop: The Phenomenon of Reality

The phenomenon of the real is deeply ambivalent: Is it reality that shows itself, such that phenomenology is the discipline that can account for a real-ontological self-manifestation? Or is reality rather the product of a constitution by the subject, for whom the world is, in the first place, a transcendent experience? Or is reality shaped by both processes, the self-showing as well as the constitution, such that only the meeting of a constituting subject and a self-giving reality can generate world? 

Along these lines, some of the early phenomenologists have discussed the real and ideal modalities of the experience of reality. In this workshop, we want to consider some of these historic aspects more closely and contrast them with more contemporary approaches. Next to the discussions between Husserl and other early phenomenologists, we are interested in what the method of phenomenology has to offer in addressing the phenomenon of reality more broadly considered. What are the modalities of the appearance of reality as reality? Can this phenomenon be naturalized? What are the metaphysical stakes that a phenomenological approach in particular can bring (and has brought) to the discussion of real and subjective reality?

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The workshop is organized by Tina Röck, University of Dundee and Daniel Neumann, Center for the History of Women Philosphers and Scientists, Paderborn University.

The event is hosted by the Center for the History of Women Philosphers and Scientists, Paderborn University, directed by Prof. Ruth E. Hagengruber.


Thursday, September 22 (via Zoom)

15:00 – 15:10 Welcome
15:10 – 15:30 Emiliano Trizio (Ca’ Foscari University Venice): A Phenomenological Foray among Possible Worlds and Quasi-Worlds
15:30 – 15:50 Lee Braver (University of South Florida): The Misjudgment of the Miracle of Language by Grammar and Logic
15:50 – 16:10 Tina Röck (University of Dundee): The Thing as Fourfold – Transforming the Idealism-Realism Debate
16:10 – 17:10 Discussion
17:10 – 17:30 Coffee Break
17:30 – 17:50 Josef Seifert (Internationale Akademie, Liechtenstein): The Ur-(Primordial)phenomenon of Reality. Its Incorrect Determination by Husserl and Insufficient Phenomenological Grasp by Scheler
17:50 – 18:10 Anna Varga-Jani (Pázmány Péter Catholic University): Reality Fulfilling in Temporality. Parallel Analyses in Early Phenomenology: Hedwig Conrad-Martius and Edith Stein
18:10 – 18:30 Daniel Neumann (Center for the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists, University of Paderborn): Contact or Constitution. Reality in Early Phenomenology
18:30 – 19:30 Discussion


  • Emiliano Trizio: A phenomenological foray among possible worlds and quasi-worlds

    In order to cast light on the phenomenological approach to the problem of reality and to defend it from some of the recent criticisms that have been put forward by the contemporary advocates of realism, I will discuss the way in which phenomenology takes up and transform the very idea of possible (and impossible) world.

    It will appear that our intuitions of what counts as a possible reality must undergo a transcendental criticism overcoming the objectivistic and naturalistic presuppositions underlying them. The resources of the resulting notion of possible world and quasi-world as “possible correlates” of various forms of intersubjective life will be illustrated.

  • Lee Braver: The Misjudgment of the Miracle of Language by Grammar and Logic

    We can think of the basic metaphysical inquiry as either the question about being itself or the question about being itself. The first version attempts to break out of human experience and thought to conceive that which is wholly independent of us; the second emphasizes that no matter the topic, it remains an inquiry with us at the end doing the conceiving. The first way of asking considers the second way confused and irrelevant; the second considers the first naive and ultimately incoherent.

    I will address this questionable dichotomy through some of Heidegger’s thoughts on the way the phrasing of our questions sets the horizon of our answers. That is, it determines the basic parameters for what kinds of solutions our inquiry will be open to accepting and even capable of encountering. Then, the next question for these questions is, how can we ask differently, better, to open ourselves us up to think of reality and our relationship to it otherwise? I will not be answering this, but nor will I just pose it.

  • Tina Röck: The Thing as Fourfold - Transforming the Idealism-Realism Debate

    Any determination as to whether any philosophy implies an idealistic or a realistic stance is to presuppose certain conceptual distinctions: the inner from the outer, the real from the constituted, the subjective from the objective. Phenomenology as a tradition tends to undercut and complicate these simple distinctions and dichotomies, since the intentional act is ultimately an encounter, a meeting that constitutes meaning, appearance, and world. This is the reason why Husserl was able to characterise his philosophy as a sui generis idealism.

    In this talk I will outline how Heidegger takes this phenomenological stance further and develops an ontology of connection in his account of the thing as a gathering in the fourfold. The thing as fourfold provides us with a phenomenologically grounded way to talk about the world (or objects) that transforms the traditional idealism and realism debate from a debate focused on the opposition between inner and outer to a discussion about connection, relation, the in-between, meeting, dialogue, or co-constitution. The old opposition of inner and outer, of thinking and thing (object) results from an abstraction of the processual and relational gathering that is the thinging thing.

  • Josef Seifert: The Ur-(primordial)phenomenon of Reality. Its incorrect determination by Husserl and insufficient phenomenological grasp by Scheler

    The primordial phenomenon of reality cannot be explained by anything else.
    Husserl claimed that everything temporal is real and everything real is temporal. This thesis is doubly false:
    1) Not everything temporal is real. Purely intentional objects are both happening in a virtual time and can happen in real time.
    2) On the other hand, real “being-in-time” like a human life with its flowing present cannot be regarded real in an exclusive or primary sense; it is only by moving towards nothingness. Real Being in the fullest sense must be eternal.
    Also Scheler’s claim that what constitutes reality or at least the criterion of its presence is resistance to the sense of touch or to drives, volitions and desires proves untenable.
    Neither the immediate inner experience of the reality of our own minds nor the cognition of reality possessed by purely spiritual persons has anything to do with resistance.
    Despite the character of reality as a primordial reality, there are various ways open to the philosopher to clarify this primordial reality:
    It belongs to some kinds of being, such as persons, that they possess their nature o only if they really exist.
    Reality can also be grasped by its opposites: the merely possible, purely intentional objects, and the impossible.
    Purely ideal essences (Platonic ideas) elucidate the real by being incapable of possessing really what they are the ideas of.
    The different essential moments of the real elucidate the urphenomenon of reality:
    a) an inwardness (ontic autonomy) of being
    b) ‘being in itself resolved’: real being does not, like ideas, possibilities, purely intentional objects, etc. refer to something outside itself.
    c) The actus essendi (its actualitas), that differs essentially from any other act. distinguishes the real from the possible and other kinds of being and shows itself (against Kant) to be a unique real predicate.
    d) Existence neither belongs to “what” the being is (to its ti einai) nor to “how” the being is (to its poion einai), but:
    e) Even if existence is not an “essential predicate” in contingent beings, it is a real predicate, in an ontological sense and a logical sense:
    1) Not nothing is added to a being, as Kant claims, but existence is the primary ontological predicate.
    2) Logically, something is “added to the subject-concept”, if we attribute existence to the nature meant by it.

    3. 10 ways to understand that and in which sense existence is a real predicate.
    1) The meaning of many existential questions and judgments
    2) The meditation on what happens if something possible becomes real.
    3) The essence of a being is given a completely new “meaning” trough real existence.
    4) Many human acts, for example despair, show that not nothing, but in a certain sense everything is added to a being when it receives real existence
    5) The different modalities in which existence is encountered.
    6) Every existential proposition is synthetic.
    7) Other kinds of existence besides real existence and a reflection on the nature of the “exact coincidence” between real and possible being
    8) The crucial difference between “is” in the meaning of “exists” and “is” as copula.
    9) The in itself-character of the “urphenomenon of reality” that cannot result from any transcendental constitution.
    10) The distinction between being-in potency and being-in-act.

  • Anna Varga-Jani: Reality Fulfilling in Temporality. Parallel Analyses in Early Phenomenology: Hedwig Conrad-Martius and Edith Stein

    Hedwig Conrad-Martius’s Realontologie based on Husserl’s Ideas II, where Husserl distinguishes the reality of the thing from its ideal existence in the consciousness (see Ideen II in Fonfara edition “Teilentwurf 2, §7c–d), sets out from the question of whether reality is based on the intentionally constituted experiences and is the formation of the temporal flow of the constituted nature of the world, or reality is the precondition for the constitutional act of the natural world and it discloses exactly in the act process of the experiences.

    From another perspective, Edith Stein approaches in Finite and Eternal Being to the differentiation between temporal being and atemporal or eternal being in phenomenological view by Conrad-Martius’s interpretation of the natural givenness of the body, which is the primordial carrier of the of the pure I. Stein’s question is in this regard, how personality and spirituality belong together in the spiritual constitution of the own life, and she explains it by the carrier function of the body – mind correlation, which is responsible for the transition of experiences into memory.

    Though Stein’s conclusion is much more complex as Conrad-Martius’s in the Realontologie, they both agree in the fact that not the temporality constitutes reality (in the Heideggerian sense), but reality (eternal being in Stein’s sense) is the fundament by which temporal being (in Heideggerian sense), or the temporality of the experience discloses. In my presentation I will focus on these two thinkers of the early phenomenology to contribute with some issues to the question on reality in the early phenomenology.

  • Daniel Neumann: Contact or Constitution. Reality in Early Phenomenology

    Recent discussions about idealism and realism in early phenomenology have shown that the alternative between reality as being either dependent or independent on consciousness does not adequately capture Husserl’s position, nor that of the opponents of his transcendental turn. Yet, the traditional phenomenological vocabulary used to describe the experience of reality is still prone to mislead the reader to assume notions of absolute idealism or naïve realism where neither is the case.

    Without construing this as a concrete historical discussion, I want to reflect on two notions which seem suitable to designate opposite poles in the realism-idealism discussion, namely the notion that reality is (intentionally) constituted or that it is encountered, supposing a contact between subject and non-subject. My idea here will be to view these two terms not as explanans, but as explanandum. Thus, instead of trying to describe the experience of reality using these terms, I will think about how we come, through phenomenological reflection, to consider them as adequate descriptors in the first place.

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