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 Julian Kiverstein & Christian Skirke


Aukje van Rooden, Robin Celikates, Josef Fruechtl, Francesco Berto

Description of the research programme of the research group

The project of phenomenology begun by Edmund Husserl in the early twentieth century continues to flourish and inspire new generations of philosophers.  In particular the rich analyses of intentionality, intersubjectivity, embodiment and being-in-the-world found in the writings of classical phenomenologists remain influential for a number of contemporary debates within philosophy, and strikingly also in neighbouring humanities and social science disciplines as well as in the medical sciences. At the same time, recent years have seen a re-evaluation of classical positions in phenomenology. This re-evaluation has revealed continuities between Husserlian phenomenology and various later phenomenologists, especially Merleau-Ponty, which shed new light on the phenomenological enterprise as a whole.  Phenomenology has also been subject to powerful and influential critiques from a variety of directions. These include poststructuralist and deconstructionist concerns with the first-personal orientation of the phenomenological enterprise; worries from critical social theory about the normative vacuity of phenomenology; and, more recently, the speculative realist charge that phenomenology gives us a distorted picture of the world by assimilating it to a human life-world. These remain open issues for phenomenology. Our research project has three main goals.  First we will explore some of the many ways in which phenomenology is at work in diverse areas of philosophy today.  Second we will investigate how phenomenologists might respond to the various critiques described above.  Many philosophers have concluded, based on these critiques, that phenomenology has little to offer today’s philosophers, particularly those with normative and political concerns.  We dispute such a pessimistic conclusion but in our view there is still much work to be done in responding to these critiques.  A third stage in our project will explore some of the extant responses to these challenges in order to assess to what extent they succeed.   Examples include the inclusion of normativity through accounts of transcendental intersubjectivity (Zahavi), first-personal models of political activism (Arendt), and various phenomenological engagements with contemporary Hegelianism (Dreyfus vs. McDowell, Taylor). A central question we will take up in this third stage of our project asks to what extent phenomenology’s first-personal orientation (whether towards the “I” or the “we”) establish the limitations of phenomenology.  We will investigate this question both in relation to ontology and metaphysics (through an engagement with speculative realism) and ethics and politics (through a dialog with critical theory).

Envisaged results

Kiverstein has a contract for a monograph with Palgrave MacMillan titled the Significance of Phenomenology which will be delivered in 2014. Skirke has ongoing projects relating to Sartre on Reflection, Sartre’s concept of freedom, Shame and empathy. Dermot Moran (University College Dublin) has suggested we edit a special issue of International Journal of Philosophical Studies on the significance of phenomenology. In 2014-15 we plan to submit an NWO free competition proposal for a project dealing with some of the questions we have described above in relation to phenomenology.

Work plan and time schedule

There are three stages to our project which we hope to pursue initially through a lecture series and graduate seminars. This is something we’ve already begun with the generous support of NICA, and we plan to continue next academic year.  Over the next 18 months we will also develop a grant proposal aimed at the NWO which we hope will lead to the hiring of PhD students and postdocs and the establishment of a major international research project.  

Societal relevance

Husserl’s critique of naturalism can be seen as an attempt at arguing for the importance of the humanities, and in particular philosophy in the face of the rising authority of science.  This project remains as important today as it did in Husserl’s time with increasing pressure on the funding of the humanities.  Phenomenology is also of increasing interest to disciplines outside philosophy such as cognitive science, anthropology and sociology and the medical sciences.  Particularly important is the increasing engagement with phenomenology in the medical world among researchers that are sceptical about the dominance of evidence based medicine and are looking for a qualitative way of describing patient’s experience.  We believe such developments are also immensely important in psychiatry providing an approach to mental disorder that recognises the profound difference that pathology makes to a person’s lived experience and intersubjective relations.  These are issues we’ve begun to explore in our first (and surprisingly popular) lecture series, and plan to explore further in the continuation of this series over the next few years.  

This research group is active in the following constellations: