My research is aimed at understanding and rehabilitating post-Kantian philosophy in order to develop it today as a viable mode of philosophical inquiry. On the one hand, this involves scholarship in the history of philosophy focusing on traditions that take their lead from Kant, including German Idealism, German Romanticism, Neo-Kantianism, and phenomenology; on the other hand, it involves the ongoing development of the insights contained in these post-Kantian traditions in the form of systematic philosophical methods and positions that can sustain contemporary scrutiny in the face of a number of challenges.
In previous work, I have taken up the challenge to post-Kantian philosophy from various forms of philosophical naturalism, suggesting that post-Kantian philosophy (and in particular, phenomenology) provides a principled basis for rejecting a reductive and exclusive scientific naturalism, while nevertheless offering us a way of understanding nature as the unifying ontological ground of phenomena and our understanding of them. Naturalistic explanation becomes the attempt to explicate how natural being manifests itself in phenomenology, as much as in physics. In drawing out connections between phenomena, empirically and phenomenologically, we explicate natural being, and this, I argue, is all the naturalism one should need—a phenomenological naturalism.
The second set of challenges concerns the rigor and methodological respectability of post-Kantian philosophy. Here, the concerns can largely be attributed to a lack of understanding of the methods and motivations of work in the traditions that constitute post-Kantian philosophy, a lack owing to systematic neglect or longstanding misreading. More sympathetic and careful historical scholarship, along with original research which builds on those foundations, can help to correct this lack, and, can foreground the extent to which contemporary scholars can learn from what they have overlooked in Kant and his descendants.
Finally, I am engaged in research that aims to address what is probably the most widely held objection to post-Kantian philosophy, namely that it is objectionably idealist in regards to its ontology. My current work aims to show that post-Kantian idealisms are far less objectionable than is generally supposed, and this because they are far less committed to subjectivism about reality than is generally supposed. The working out of these issues lies at the heart of the historical development of post-Kantian philosophy, and especially in phenomenological ontology’s treatment of time and temporality.
Turning now to specific works-in-progress, I am currently developing four research projects, and a proposal for an edited volume.
“Big Nothing: Art, Authenticity, and Understanding” will appear as a chapter in the Routledge collection, Limits of Intelligibility: Issues from Kant and Wittgenstein, alongside essays by A. W. Moore, James Conant, and Graham Priest. My essay compares Wittgenstein’s attempt to say the unsayable in the Tractatus to Heidegger’s talk about ‘the nothing’ in “Was ist Metaphysik?” Against Wittgenstein’s contention that talk about the grounds of intelligibility can only be nonsense, I argue that Heidegger succeeds in making sense because he directs our attention to a feature of the way that beings manifest themselves. A ‘logical analysis’ of Heidegger’s language might direct us to look, paradoxically, for a ‘Big Nothing,’ but it is the character of that very looking which allows to get a fix on the meaning and significance of ‘the nothing’. I turn to Audre Lorde for a model of the kind of activity that is involved in understanding talk about the nothing.
“Time Will Tell”, examines the role of temporality in constituting both the subjectivity of subjects and the objectivity of objects. Kant and the phenomenologists tie subjectivity very closely to temporality, with Merleau-Ponty saying, at one point in Phénoménologie de la perception, “I myself am time.” Drawing on works by Merleau-Ponty and de Beauvoir, I argue that rather than expressing a strongly subjectivist ontology, understanding temporality as a constitutive ontological principle tells us what objectivity amounts to: with respect to the reality of subjects just as much as objects, only time will tell.
A related project, “Disjunctivism and Self-awareness in Martin and Merleau-Ponty”, elaborates on M. G. F. Martin’s claim that misperception can lack positively felt features that explain its indistinguishability from veridical perception. A. D. Smith raises the worry that a lack of positively felt features makes it unclear how misperception could be a case of conscious awareness in the first place. Martin responds, somewhat cryptically, that misperception still involves “having a point of view or perspective on the world.” To explain what this could mean, I use resources from Merleau-Ponty’s Phénoménologie de la perception to show (i) that our perspective on the world is always necessarily constituted by a partial lack of self-awareness, and (ii) that this lack of self-awareness can explain the possibility of misperception without adding any positively felt features to our awareness. Finally, I show how adopting Merleau-Ponty’s view allows the disjunctivist to answer the objections raised by Susanna Siegel in “The Epistemic Conception of Hallucination”.
In “Architectonic Drift”, I compare Ernst Cassirer’s conception of system with Kant’s and with Hegel’s. For Cassirer, the symbolic forms that make up human culture constitute a system because our diverse ways of meaning-making are all ultimately oriented towards a single end: the realization of human freedom. Breaking with his predecessors, however, Cassirer does not think that this end-directedness implies that the system of symbolic forms follows a fixed course of development along a fixed set of branches. I explain why, according to Cassirer, human culture remains in a perpetual state of ‘architectonic drift’—a dynamism in which the unity of the system is maintained through the spontaneous mutation and mutual accommodation of basic meaning-making functions, giving rise to a plurality of concrete symbolic forms in historically contingent configurations.
I am also in the process of developing a proposal for an edited volume titled From Jena to Freiburg: Transcendental Philosophy from German Idealism to Heidegger, that will trace the trajectory of post-Kantian thought, focusing on underexplored historical and conceptual connections between German Idealism, German Romanticism, Neo-Kantianism, and phenomenology. English-speaking scholarship has most often approached these post-Kantian traditions separately (with the occasional exception of studies examining them in pairs). My co-editors for this project will be Nicholas F. Stang (Toronto) and G. Anthony Bruno (Royal Holloway). Our hope is that bringing together distinguished scholars of these narrower post-Kantian traditions with an invitation to view things through a wider historical lens will produce new insights and new readings of the philosophical issues and problematics facing post-Kantian philosophy.