Jan Hartman
Principia, 31-044 Kraków, ul. Grodzka 52
Jan Piasecki

Jan Piasecki (rec.)

Polish Journal of Philosophy, vol. IV, no. 1, 2010.

Jan Hartman, Przez filozofię [Through Philosophy] (in Polish), Aureus, Kraków 2007 558 pp., ISBN 83-60741-00-X

Through Philosophy conceives philosophy as a special mode of theoretical thinking (theorein) distinct from others modes of grasping of reality, namely the scientific and the mystical. But this specially philosophical mode of thinking is problematic and is not commonly recognized. Hartman undertook a task of differentiation and theorization of this specifically philosophical mode of thinking mainly in his former books: Philosophical Heuristics [Heurystyka filozficzna (1997)] and Techniques of metaphilosohy [Techniki metafilozofii (2001)]. Through Philosophy, which is a volume of texts on diverse subjects (among others transcendental philosophy, bioethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, Kant, Descartes and Nietzsche), can be considered as a book that is, to some extent, a presentation and a realization of a philosophical programme, which was presented thoroughly in Hartman’s books stated above. I think that we cannot discuss particular theses included in separate articles, because it would be quite difficult to discuss all the issues raised by Hartman in this book. Rather, in this paper, I outline Hartman’s programme and its realization, and try to show whether and how it works.

Hartman (After Philosophy?) makes a diagnosis of philosophy: philosophy is not in a good condition. The diagnosis concerns the theoretical and institutional conditions of philosophy that are strictly connected. We face the fact that, according to Hartman, in contrast to others sciences and humanities, philosophy is not a coherent academic discipline. For example: on the one hand, content of philosophical dictionaries and encyclopedias is so diverse that it is impossible to find a theoretical criterion, which can be grounds for a choice of these terms. On the other hand, there is no common philosophical tradition among philosophers in the world: the word “philosophy” does not have the same meaning for Anglo-Americans, the French, and Germans. Furthermore there is no such thing as a canon of philosophical books, which are read by all philosophers. The canon, that has many variants, is rather a postulated and virtual idea. This institutional weakness of philosophy is not overcome neither by hermeneutics nor by analytical philosophy. The former closes philosophy in its history and poses that philosophy reflection is dependent on analyses of texts whereas philosophy should deal with notions. The latter is not attached to the word “philosophy,” and either goes toward sciences or changes its name explicitly to “cognitive sciences.”

According to Hartman it is very difficult either to point out a commonly acknowledged philosophical attitude, or to build an identity of philosophy on the grounds of eternal philosophical questions that lost their power. Therefore, for Hartman, we can appoint only one ground for philosophy: to recognize philosophy as a specific way of critical and reflective thinking. In other words, the ground for philosophy as an autonomic discipline is philosophy as such. Thus the ground for philosophy is metaphilosophy. That, of course, refers to transcendental and Hegelian conceptions. Hartman outlines the programme of professionalization of philosophy. The history of philosophy, with its sophisticated methods of doxography, is not apt to preserve the theoretical content of philosophy; neither is hermeneutics. Only a metaphilosophcial project can fulfill these expectations. Although Hartman’s idea is quite ambitious, his proposal, according to himself, is not revolutionary. Moreover, he does not promise us too much. It is not a revolutionary project because philosophy is something that has been already done and probably we cannot add anything really new to philosophical theoretical concepts. We can only constantly revive the language of philosophy and constantly internalize its theoretical load. But the point is that we still do not have theoretical instruments that allow us to pass from one philosophical discourse to another, and to translate concepts and terms of one system of thought to another, and we have not internalized and conceptualized yet all these metatheoretical techniques. In other words, we are not critical enough, and in consequence when we want to cultivate metaphilosophical reflection we stick to the language of a particular system and we become involved in particular problems instead of investigating metatheoretical matter. Hartman introduces here a concept of a neutrum. The neutrum is an empty conceptual function that allows us to neutralize the power of particular concepts that plays the central role in a discourse. To put it more simply, the neutrum allows us to say everything that can be said in a particular problem. It allows us to investigate all the conditions of possibilities and conceptual assumptions of a discourse. As Hartman says, the philosopher does not have to declare himself in favour of or against some particular beliefs, but staying in the metaposition he can get all possible states and opinions.

How does the realization of this idea look like? For example, (Hartman realizes this method in articles on idea, existence or transcendentalism) one has to work with concepts and not with texts, one has to follow the internal logic of notions, and one should ask oneself what can be said on this subject and what are the conditions of possibility of this discourse. That is the method of faking (from Latin fingere) discourses. One fakes a discourse because one does not want to allow the discourse to lead him, but one wants to control the discourse and its conditions. Obviously, this method cannot be used mechanically, but according to Hartman, we are able to acquire and develop it. Philosophical heuristics allows us to embrace the entire theoretical scope of a problem and does not force us to accept any particular stand. Therefore philosophical heuristics can be considered a purely theoretical thinking that is cultivated for its own sake and that justifies itself in itself. Hartman proposes for us techniques of metaphilosophy that allows us to use philosophical achievements in self-knowledge that have been scattered throughout the history of philosophy and never have become a common philosophical heritage. Theoretical content of philosophy is – of course – known through the text, but as Hartman claims, even if we presumed that theoretical content is accessible to us only through a complicated process of interpretation, we have to admit that theoretical content is all that really matters in philosophizing. Thus Hartman criticizes hermeneutics. Hartman points out that hermeneutics is about a work (a book, a text) and not about notions. Besides that, hermeneutics puts text and sense together, and in consequence, we do not think, we just understand. But understanding is something different that thinking.

Hartman heuristically goes through the concepts of transcendental philosophy, Cartesian cogito, and philosophy of reflections and arrives at an outline of a theory of competence (among others: The General Idea of Transcendentalism [Ogólna idea transcendentalizmu], Heuristic analysis of transcendental discourse [Heurystyczna analiza dyskursu transcendentalnego], Heuristics of reflection [Heurystyka refleksji]). These analyses show how much Hartman’s philosophical heuristics is immersed in the tradition of philosophy of reflection. But on the other hand, these analyses show that Hartman conceives philosophy as, let me use the term, bios theoretikos. It means that philosophizing is a certain practice that causes inconvenience to the philosopher and requires from him a lot of effort. On the one hand, for example, a philosopher cannot equate the truth with an advantage in discussion, but at the same time, he cannot neglect arguments for his stance (Difficulties in philosopher’s work [Trudności w pracy filozofa]). Moreover, the philosopher has to maintain a balance between respect for the particular philosophical tradition (it means that in his investigation he has to consider what has been written on the subject) and his own independent theoretical work. On the other hand, a theoretical thought is immersed in and dependent on psychological processes, and that is the reason why mistakes and simplifications slip into philosophical thoughts. Thus Hartman admits that a philosophical text is a necessary prosthesis for thinking. Outside of the text our thoughts are just thinking that is contingent and misty. The text gives thinking form, and carves it into the proper shape of thought, where contingency and vagueness are (or should be) replaced by necessity and evidence. Our memory is fallible and limited; we cannot rely on the certitude of our psychological processes of thinking. In short, we seem to be permanently incompetent in philosophy. In Prolegomena to a Theory of Competence [Prolegomena do teorii komeptencji] Hartman defines competence as an acquired skill, a virtue, and an ability that can be modified in the process of its application. Hartman claims that because objectively we can be competent only in narrow and very specialized topics, however we consider ourselves as competent academic teachers, researchers, politicians and agents. The huge amount of knowledge, that is required to make a competent decision, or to give a competent lecture exceeds the psychological abilities of an average human mind. Therefore Hartman postulates a method for management of incompetence. But, according to Hartman, before we develop such a method, we have to investigate the problem of competence: we have to consider the condition of possibility of being competent, and research dialectics between incompetence and competence.

To summarize, Hartman’s main idea is to construct theoretical and methodological instruments that improve and enhance our thinking, bringing it to a higher level. Hartman’s point of departure is immanency of thinking, and he does not exceed it. Thus his project inherits all objections that can be raised against transcendental and reflective philosophy. The first objection has a political character: this kind of discourse leads to totalitarianism. Hartman is conscious of this objection, but he claims that rationalism rather leads us to liberalism than to totalitarianism. One is rational, one knows one’s limitations and one takes into account one’s fallibility. Moreover, Hartman states that reflectivity that is involved in philosophical heuristics does not take possession of entire discourse in order to control entire rationality and to justify and legitimize a political order. Philosophical heuristics only reflects rationality and does not take of any particular position. Rather it is a perpetual motion of thoughts. The second objection is that we cannot have any objections at all. In other words, all objections are pre-critical (pre-heuristic). On the other hand, critical discourse (heuristics) is dependent on pre-critical: philosophical heuristics is a permanent introduction to philosophy that explains to us the conditions of possibility of rational discourse, but does not develop the discourse as such. Furthermore, philosophical heuristics closes philosophizing mind in its immanency and one cannot expect any results from thinking.

Hartman seems to fear this enclosure of philosophy. This can be seen in his bioethical and political texts (What is bioethics today? [Czym jest dzisiaj bioetyka?], The cloning of human beings as a challenge [Klonowanie człowieka jako wyzwanie], Morality and Politics [Moralność i polityka], Not-Modern liberalism [Nie-nowoczesny liberalizm]). Bioethics and political philosophy can be considered attempts to build a connection between theory and praxis. And here Hartman would seem to be inconsistent, for another place he claims that the gap between theory and praxis cannot be overcome by speculation (Essential Formalism of Practical Philosophy [Istotowy formalism filozofii praktycznej]). But we could consider both bioethics and political philosophy as different types of practice that have their own immanent goal (telos): to improve medical procedures and political institutions. Here rational discourse is a part of these practices and it serves to gain a concrete goal. This goal, obviously, as Hartman says, is immanent to the practice, but transcendent to the thinking. Hartman admits that philosophical speculation is futile to some extent. Philosophy does not give us anything that does not belong to thinking. Philosophy is thinking for the sake of thinking. Therefore, it seems, that we can neglect mentioned objections: pre-critical approaches expect from philosophy a certain result or a certain final resolution. This kind of demand cannot be fulfilled by thinking.