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  • The Paradox of Subjectivity: The Self in the Transcendental Tradition
  • Jeffrey Edwards
David Carr . The Paradox of Subjectivity: The Self in the Transcendental Tradition. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Pp. xii + 150. Cloth, $35.00.

This book presents a response to contemporary attacks on the concept of the subject. Carr investigates the historical background to the criticisms of the "Metaphysics of the Subject" that are found in French post-structuralist thought and in critical theories descended from the Frankfurt School. In explaining this background, he targets the widely held assumption that the history of modern philosophy can best be understood in terms of a fundamentally unified conception of the subject and subjectivity that unfolds inevitably from Descartes and culminates in twentieth-century phenomenology and existentialism. Those who share this assumption fail to recognize the significance of what Husserl (in the Crisis of European Sciences) called the "paradox of subjectivity," which derives from the necessity of understanding the knowing subject both as a subject for the world and as an object in the world.

The origins of contemporary interpretations of the metaphysics of the subject are found primarily in Heidegger's thought. Carr thus devotes the first chapter of this study to the critical assessment of Heidegger's view of modern metaphysics starting with Descartes. For Heidegger, Descartes took over the dominant concept of substance from traditional ontology and transferred it to the human subject. The Cartesian subject, then, was revealed as an underlying hypokeimenon that absorbs or overpowers the world by reducing it to the representational contents of the thinking thing. Moreover, Heidegger maintained that modern thinkers did not go beyond the reductive conception of subjectivity intrinsic to the Cartesian metaphysics of substance. This Heideggerian judgment applies to the major modern thinkers. Even Kant and Husserl figure as representatives of a tradition in which "the knowing subject takes the role of substance; everything is reduced to first properties, whether as immanent in consciousness, object for the subject, or, as in transcendental philosophy, construct and product of subjective activity" (Carr, 31).

In chapters 2-4, Carr argues that the Heideggerian interpretation is inadequate with respect to Kant and Husserl. In supporting this position, Carr emphasizes the close affinities between Kant's and Husserl's conceptions of objectivity for consciousness and between their portrayals of subject and self. Specifically, Carr argues (1) that both thinkers were committed to the representationalist view of cognition that is typical of other major modern philosophers; and (2) that both presented parallel, and indeed unifiable, accounts of the relationship between the transcendental and the empirical self.

The key to explaining the fundamental agreement between Kant's and Husserl's transcendental theories lies in the concept of intentionality. There are, of course, significant differences between Husserl's phenomenological method and the procedure of inquiry into the possibility conditions of objective experience that Kant follows in the Critique of Pure Reason. Still, Husserl's portrayal of the intentional character of consciousness provides the basis for understanding how Kant's account of transcendental apperception and the original synthetic unity of self-consciousness grounds a non-representationalist theory of the subject's relation to a world of objects. Husserl's portrayal of intentionality also enables us to see how Kant's concept of transcendental [End Page 609] apperception allows for a description of the empirical self as something that is part of the objective world. Conversely, the Kantian distinction between the transcendental and the empirical self, or subject, sheds light on the sense of the distinction that Husserl draws between transcendental and natural reflection. In natural reflection, I "appear to myself as an empirical subject within a world to which I relate in causal-bodily and intentional [i.e., purposive]-motivational ways" (89). On the other hand, the consciousness of self at issue in transcendental reflection involves my awareness of the meaning-constituting cognitive accomplishments by which I am consciousness of the world as the horizon of possible objects and, at the same time, as something transcendent to consciousness.

It is Husserl's conception of intentionality, combined with Kant's understanding of the transcendental-empirical distinction, that allows us to grasp the full significance of the paradox...


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