- Heidegger Becoming Phenomenological: Interpreting Husserl through Dilthey, 1916–1925 by Robert C. Scharff
Robert Scharff's new book wants to set the record straight. For too long, scholars have focused on the topic of Heidegger's thinking, being, and have read Being and Time as a hermeneutic revision of Husserl's transcendental phenomenology, which, like the latter, "takes positions" on philosophical questions, advances "theses," and, for all its emphasis on subjective experience, invites "objective" assessment. Scharff's alternative picture, focused almost exclusively on Heidegger's lecture courses between 1919 and 1925, looks something like this:
If one carefully examines Heidegger's reading of Dilthey during this period, one will see that Heidegger always approaches Husserl's phenomenology with a "Diltheyan" question in mind: not, What is phenomenological ontology? but, How do I become phenomenological? (148). Heidegger's "becoming phenomenological" is framed by his grasp of the "motivational basis" of Dilthey's hermeneutics, which the latter, a child of his epistemology-dominated time, never explicitly pursues: how to be an "interpreter" rather than a "knower" (xviii), how to discern the "life-concern" (101) that speaks in a philosopher's writings despite being clothed in the "conceptual machinery of secondhand enculturation" (xv). Behind Dilthey's efforts to carve out an "epistemology" of the human sciences, Heidegger locates a mindfulness (Besinnung) that strives "to go along with the living-through of life," attending to what is at issue in its "expressions" (11). Such mindfulness contrasts with Husserl's reflective (reflektierend) attempt to "thematize" life as the topic of a science, and this, Scharff argues, is what animates Heidegger's criticisms of Husserl, not just some overemphasis on "the theoretical" (10).
Scharff's book thus presents Heidegger's "destructive retrieval" of Dilthey as the basis for a "destructive retrieval" of Husserl (87): looking past the distortions of Dilthey's scientistic self-conception, Heidegger identifies an incipient hermeneutic philosophy that motivates a deconstruction of Husserl's reflective-objective "categories" and replaces them with "formal indications," concepts that point us toward the very life from which they emerge (111). Hermeneutic phenomenology is thus an "intensification" of life that illuminates life "from within" rather than distancing itself from the "factic" life-concerns belonging to our historical situation (118).
Scharff presents his interpretation in two stages. Part 1 begins with Dilthey's involvement in the Verstehen-Erklären debate (23–36) and Husserl's arguments against "historicism" (36–41). The contrast with Husserl then frames Heidegger's retrieval of the "standpoint of life," which Dilthey rarely discussed explicitly (49–73). Scharff, the author of a book [End Page 341] on August Comte and a scholar of the history of science, expertly leads us through the nineteenth-century background while elucidating the fundamental tension in Dilthey's work. Drawing on Heidegger's lecture courses, Scharff argues that Heidegger's concern is to "appropriate" Dilthey's concept of life in a phenomenological way, ignoring the neo-Kantian baggage (50). Verstehen is not a method but a clue to "becoming" phenomenological.
Part 2, in turn, examines how this retrieval of life informs Heidegger's appropriation of Husserl. Important here is Scharff's discussion of how Heidegger unpacks the "ambiguities" in Husserl's "Philosophy as Rigorous Science" (88–98), which paves the way for a critical appropriation of Husserl's "principle of all principles" (98–104). Husserl's "principle" intends a move back to lived experience, but this gets lost in the aim of founding a science that "brackets" the natural attitude in favor of the "distancing" attitude of reflection (112). In contrast, the phenomenologist must "stay with" her own life in a Besinnung that is "identical with living-through it" (118). In conclusion, Scharff explains where this leaves us: phenomenology must always remain "provisional," and philosophers should acknowledge what Heidegger's path from Being and Time onward suggests: philosophy is never really about advancing theses and taking positions; it is about avoiding "technique-happiness," staying close to one's own lived experience to find...