Phänomenologie und Pragmatismus: Topic

Phenomenology and Pragmatism originated roughly at the same time (the latter half of the 19th century) at different places in the world: phenomenology in the German-speaking countries, pragmatism in the still-young United States. It is fair to say that these two philosophical tendencies belong to the strongest currents in contemporary philosophy. This conference is the first sustained effort to assess their mutual relationship, their cross-fertilizations. We believe this conference will breathe fresh air into contemporary philosophy by squarely confronting these two tendencies. This will shed new light on the history of 20th century philosophy, moving into the 21st century, and look ahead at how and which configurations the future of philosophy might play itself out, or how it should, given new perspectives that the confrontation between phenomenology and pragmatism open up.

Looking back at the history of 19th and early 20th century philosophy, the members of the phenomenological movement and the budding pragmatic movement have realized their mutual overlaps and have followed each other more or less closely. Indeed, some of their respective members had high respect for each other; for instance, Edmund Husserl had read William James, and James in turn Husserl. Peirce had also a high appreciation for Husserl, and Dewey, in turn, quipped somewhere, that had he lived in the Black Forest of Germany, his Experience and Nature might have sounded like Heidegger’s Being and Time. But more to the point, what are some of the real philosophical overlaps or relationships?

While the concrete dealings between members of the phenomenological and pragmatist traditions have been rather scarce (with the exceptions of the points mentioned above), it is actually astonishing how many themes and emphases they share, despite all (obvious) differences. From the standpoint of phenomenology, the pragmatist starting point from concrete experience has always been very attractive, as well as the concurrent rejection of systematizing tendencies or speculative philosophical system-building. Concrete descriptions of phenomena of consciousness have been hailed as exemplary, as in, e.g., Husserl’s praise of James’ analysis of fringes at the margins of our conscious experience. While Heidegger publicly rails against pragmatism, he nonetheless seems to share the concern for facticity and everyday existence with contemporary pragmatists who also dwell on analyzing basic forms of human experience. Some of Heidegger’s dismissive remarks against pragmatism can, in hindsight, only be explained by his quest for originality, rather than a fair assessment. In fact, some of the contemporary “pragmatic” interpretations of Heidegger’s philosophy, as for instance by Hubert Dreyfus and some of his pupils, have proven to be most fruitful and have contributed to an appreciation of Heidegger in circles where he has not at all been appreciated before.

On the other hand, from the standpoint of pragmatism, the careful description and descriptive detail of the phenomenologists’ work concerning the internal structure of consciousness in its relation to the world of experience is certainly a good starting point for a pragmatic philosophy. Another example for a fruitful encounter is Rorty’s “deconstructive” reading of the history of philosophy in his Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, which is also openly indebted to Heidegger “destruction” of the history of Western ontology. And the list continues.

As a fresh initiative to bring together these two traditions, we intend to host a three-day conference at the Forum Scientiarum at the University of Tübingen in the spring of 2017. It will be hosted in the context of the cooperation that the University has with the Universities of Helsinki (Finland) and Vienna (Austria), “Science, Culture, Society,” and will include speakers from all locations of this network. The result is that we have assembled an illustrious list of internationally renowned speakers from Germany, Europe and the US and Asia. Our deliberate attempt is to bring together experts from both sides, who have an expertise in the respective other field, but this deliberate decision and tension will allow, we believe, for an open and more productive dialogue between both traditions. This dialogue, as mirrored in the list of announced talks, will cover inquiries into concrete phenomena (e.g. attention, evaluative experience, suffering), metatheoretical concerns (e.g. transcendentalism, realism, naturalization), historical comparisons (e.g. Hegel, Peirce, Jerusalem) and intercultural as well as societal perspectives. The envisaged outcome of these wide-ranging topics is a multi-faceted reflection on the encounter of two influential philosophical movements, stirred by current philosophical concerns. We believe that this will be a path-breaking conference that will open up new fields of inquiry in contemporary phenomenology, pragmatism, and also other areas of philosophical scholarship indebted to these traditions.