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  • The Significance of Indeterminacy: Perspectives from Asian and Continental Philosophy ed. by Robert H. Scott and Gregory S. Moss
  • Jingwen Zheng (bio)
The Significance of Indeterminacy: Perspectives from Asian and Continental Philosophy. Edited by Robert H. Scott and Gregory S. Moss. New York: Routledge, 2019. Pp. xiv + 388. Hardcover $150, ISBN 978-1-138-50310-6.

Indeterminacy has been widely investigated in Asian traditions--for example, the indeterminacy of emptiness (śūnyatā) in Buddhist philosophy or that of nothingness ( 無) in Daoist philosophy--while philosophers in Western traditions have paid more attention to determinacy (e.g., focusing on being and existence). The Significance of Indeterminacy: Perspectives from Asian and Continental Philosophy provides eighteen academic papers analyzing the concept of indeterminacy from diverse perspectives. It sheds light on the discussions of indeterminacy in Continental European as well as Asian schools of thought. Several books dealing with indeterminacy have been published in the past two decades, including Rosenthal's Time, Continuity and Indeterminacy (SUNY Press, 2000), Hardin's Indeterminacy and Society (Princeton University Press, 2005), and Weiss' Refiguring the Ordinary (Indiana University Press, 2008). but most of the previous works in the English-speaking world have approached indeterminacy through economic theory or linguistics. This edited volume aims to treat indeterminacy as the starting point of various spheres of genuine philosophical inquiry. A group of experts with distinct research interests have contributed to the book.

The introduction by Gregory Moss presents a philosophical history by reconstructing the legacy of indeterminacy. In the ancient Greek world, the term indeterminacy (ἄπειρον) is not defined by the negation of determinacy. Since the time of Aristotle, who states that the indeterminate always has something outside of it and thus never comes to an end, philosophers have surveyed this theme. The volume is divided into four parts according to different philosophical domains: German idealism, phenomenology and ethics, hermeneutics and aesthetics, and Asian philosophy. In what follows, I briefly discuss each part and then close with a brief evaluation of the contribution of the volume as a whole.

The concept of indeterminacy in German Idealism is investigated in the first part. According to Hegel, thinking makes the indeterminate become determinately intelligible, which involves a process of self-determining through determining what is other. Thus, the process of becoming determinate involves [End Page 12] thinking that is mediated by negativity. While Hegel emphasizes the negative sense of the indeterminate, William Desmond argues that indeterminacy in an affirmative sense is essential for determinate knowledge and understanding. He distinguishes three modalities of wonder--being overdeterminate, indeterminate, and determinate--to explain different stresses "in the unfolding of our porosity to being" (p. 55). Chapter 2 by Anthony Bruno analyzes the debates about the shift from a logic of thinking to a logic of experience in German idealism, which originated from Kant's metaphysic of a priori conditions. Bruno states that the Kantian logic indicates radical contingency, while Fichte and Hegel both try to establish rational systems to confront the problem of contingency. Schelling shifted the disputes by endorsing the opinion that the value of a philosophical system was indeterminate, since it rested on "an originally undecided act of will" (p. 77). Gregory Moss's work mainly focuses on Schelling, who argues that philosophy is performing rather than conceptualizing. To truly philosophize means to abandon the mediation of concepts and come across the field of non-knowing or indeterminacy. In Chapter 4, Nahum Brown concentrates on the concept of unactualized possibility. In Hegel's account, there are two sides of possibility: if something is possible, it can become either actual or it cannot become actual. Not to be is the negative side of possibility. In his analysis, Brown draws the conclusion that Hegel "should be recognized as a precursor for continental modal theories" (p. 120), since he has emphasized the importance of not to be and thereby engaged with indeterminacy.

Part II centers on the significance of indeterminacy for phenomenology. Steven Crowell illustrates the perspectives of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty on the phenomenological notion of a "horizon" through which the indeterminate becomes determinate. Crowell insists that both Husserl and Merleau-Ponty faced a similar problem when turning to determinacy, because the horizon they referred...


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