UB Alums and colleagues contribute essays for publication

Bridges: In Honor of Kah Kyung Cho

Bridges: In Honor of Kah Kyung Cho.

On the occasion of commemorating service to a Department and a University which ran for almost fifty years, that had its start at a time of the anti-war movement and the student protests of the late 1960s, and ended at the time of digital globalization and economic precarity of the late 2010s, it is worth remembering Professor Kah Kyung Cho’s turbulent beginings. It may well be said that his early life was determined by such a series of rare events, and strokes of good fortune, which one encounters only in the fictional world of a novel. But, at the same time, Prof. Cho’s life tale was the offspring of a different era, an era that seems today a distant past, when hardship, insecurity, danger, and eventually chance, ruled. Read more.

This webpage features the contributors and their essays in the publication, Bridges: In Honor of Kah Kyung Cho. The publication is also available as a digital file and/or in printed form by contacting the co-editors.

Bridges: In Honor of Kah Kyung Cho

Kah Kyung Cho, PhD.

Kah Kyung Cho, PhD


For further information on the publication, Bridges: In Honor of Kah Kyung Cho, contact:

  • Thanos Spiliotakaras, Co-Editor <aspiliot@buffalo.edu> 
  • Justin Murray,  Co-Editor <jmurray9@buffalo.edu> 

INTRODUCTION by co-editors Thanos Spiliotakaras and Justin Murray

On the occasion of commemorating service to a Department and a University which ran for almost fifty years, that had its start at a time of the anti-war movement and the student protests of the late 1960s, and ended at the time of digital globalization and economic precarity of the late 2010s, it is worth remembering Professor Kah Kyung Cho’s turbulent beginings. It may well be said that his early life was determined by such a series of rare events, and strokes of good fortune, which one encounters only in the fictional world of a novel. But, at the same time, Prof. Cho’s life tale was the offspring of a different era, an era that seems today a distant past, when hardship, insecurity, danger, and eventually chance, ruled.

Full introduction

Bridges: In Honor of Kah Kyung Cho


Co-editors Thanos Spiliotakaras and Justin Murray

On the occasion of commemorating service to a Department and a University which ran for almost fifty years, that had its start at a time of the anti-war movement and the student protests of the late 1960s, and ended at the time of digital globalization and economic precarity of the late 2010s, it is worth remembering Professor Kah Kyung Cho’s turbulent beginings. It may well be said that his early life was determined by such a series of rare events, and strokes of good fortune, which one encounters only in the fictional world of a novel. But, at the same time, Prof. Cho’s life tale was the offspring of a different era, an era that seems today a distant past, when hardship, insecurity, danger, and eventually chance, ruled.

As a young boy growing up in his native Korea under the rule of imperial Japan, he developped a knack for languages and a burning desire to study. But his first dream, of becoming an aeromechanical engineer, which he nearly touched when admitted to the Yokohama Engineering College, evaporated when Japan surrendered in 1945. But this first stroke of fate was but a cloud with a silver lining, as it made him turn to - as he later described - “another job of the ‘air’”, namely philosophy! As an undergraduate at Seoul National University, he witnessed the horrors of the Korean War. Casualties of young people became the order of the day, and Cho was the one of only two students to graduate from his program, with 25 fellow students either killed or captured. However, continuing his studies meant trying to reach Japan, which was only possible at the time via illegal ferries with tickets bought on the black market. But, Cho was not going to let another dream vanish, even if that meant, in his first attempt, a 22-day back-and-forth of trying to cross the front line and being captured in doing so. The second attempt led to what initially seemed the end of his hopes, but in reality proved to be the begining of his future: his capture by the 24th division of U.S. Army, who were operating in the area. There, his language skills made him quickly useful as an interpreter, and, despite never managing to reach Japan, lieutenant Thoman Sheehan didn’t forget his service, and later wrote him a letter of recommendation, praising his command of the English language as surpassing that of native speakers. That letter played an important role in opening a window for Cho to a different world: becoming the first Korean national to earn a Doctorate in Philosophy in Europe. After the U.N. occupation of South Korea in 1952, he managed to earn a scholarship to pursue graduate studies in philosophy at the renowned University of Heidelberg in Germany. 

Little could he imagine, when he, heavy-hearted, thousand miles away from his homeland, first landed in Frankfurt, demolished from the Allied bombing. Or when he first cast his eyes over the beautiful city of Heidelberg, with its castle and the great university auditorium where Hegel once lectured, how his five-year stay would completely shape his philosophical personality. His first brief encounter with that, aloof, dark-eyed man of small build, sharply chiseled profile, and “an ancient Egyptian air”, Karl Löwith, was only the prelude to what was to follow: a first advanced graduate seminar in Heidegger’s Being and Time, offered by both Löwith and Hans-Georg Gadamer, the other director of the philosophical seminar, an inaccessible mentor but an impressive free-style lecturer, whose improvised speech in class could be printed verbatim. The young foreigner from Korea, who regretted not having brought with him the old authoritative-looking, printed in Gothic, volume of Being and Time, which he had discovered a year earlier in an antiquarian bookstore in Pusan, was unknowingly thrown into the center of the first post-war Heidegger controversy, incited by his two best disciples. His philosophical development was rapid: from his first seminar on Being and Time, to his first Referat on Fichte’s Address to the German Nation, to his self-corrective study of volumes of Husserliana, to his eventual defense of his PhD dissertation Einheit von Natur und Geist under Löwith in 1956, Kah Kyung Cho was struck by a world-disclosing experience of philosophical apprenticeship. But before leaving Germany, he fulfilled a final wish, when, in January 1957, he visited Heidegger himself in Freiburg. There, Cho managed to squeeze Heidegger’s confession that bringing his own thought to converge with that of Lao Tzu was his “secret wish”, a phrase that was to live with Cho for years to come.

The following ten years saw Cho not willing to compromise with a secured position at  Seoul National University, where the familiar, there, practice of returning to Eastern philosophy after studying Western philosophy, would have maintained – as he confessed – an unexhausted, undying interest in the latter throughout his whole life. He had, instead, another frontier in mind: that of the English-speaking philosophical world. Spending those years between teaching in Seoul, working with Ludwig Landgrebe, close associate of Husserl, at the Husserl archives in Cologne, and holding visiting appointments at various U.S. Universities (Yale, Kent State, Indiana, Eastern Illinois, Central Michigan, Western Michigan, to name a few), a final stroke of coincidence sealed his fate: in the early spring of 1962, a stop at University of Pennsylvania during an organized tour for Fullbright scholars gave Cho the chance to satisfy his curiosity and meet in person the editor of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Marvin Farber. A brief conversation, which included Farber’s immediate question “What do you think of Heidegger?”, were to set the course of his foreseeable future. It seemed that it satisfied Farber’s, unbeknown then to Cho, antipathy towards Heidegger. When Farber, a few years later, returned to teach at Buffalo, he not only offered Cho a visiting position, but tried to stop him when he was packing his books at the end of the one-year spell. It was too dangerous to go back to Korea, with a new war imminent, Farber protested, and, besides, Cho was in his eyes the ideal heir to his chair, now that his retirement was approaching. During the next year, no less than thirteen letters were sent from Farber to Cho back in Seoul, and his persistence, which even drove him to write to the president of Seoul National University requesting to release Cho, managed to even bend the Fullbright obligations, and Cho was allowed to leave after only one year.

In the next 47 years, as a Professor at the University at Buffalo, Kah Kyung Cho rose to one of world’s leading scholars in Phenomenology and Comparative East-West philosophy, becoming editor of important and prestigious journals, member of international research institutions and associations, and receiving awards and grants. But first and foremost  Professor Cho never failed to inspire his students, supervising in total 23 PhD dissertations and 14 MA dissertations until his retirement, which led him climb the rank of SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in 1994. But, Professor Cho, who never forgot his turbulent early life of war, insecurity, and danger, and acknowledging that his career would have never started, had he not been fortunate to receive financial assistance, established, soon after his retirement in 2017, an endowment, the “Dr. Kah Kyung Cho Excellence Fund”, for assisting students of philosophy in need, as a humble way of saying thank you. The following pages in this volume belong to his former students, and the colleagues he worked closely with, who commemorate his retirement by remembering their time together, and by devoting philosophical pieces in his area of specialization.*

—Thanos Spiliotakaras and Justin Murray, Co-Editors                         

* All biographical and anecdotal references are derived from Professor Cho’s own narrations in class, and his autobiographical piece “The Way of Philosophy as Paideia: Heidegger and His Two Disciples in Heidelberg” in Philosophy and Culture 1:Comparative Thinking (May 2007):1-39


Eric Chelstrom, PhD, Cho as Mentor

Eric Chelstrom, PhD.

Eric Chelstrom, PhD

Eric Chelstrom, PhD, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Edward and Linda Speed Peace and Justice Fellow, St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.

Dissertation: Intersubjectivity: A Phenomenological Contribution to Collective Intentionality (2010).

Bio: Eric Chelstrom is currently Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. He was the campus’s Edward and Linda Speed Peace and Justice Fellow for the 2016-2017 academic year. His research has moved from general questions about collective intentionality and phenomenology to issues of how oppression and systematic injustice force us to revise how we think about collective intentionality and how horizon intentionality functions in such cases. He’s serves as the St. Mary’s chapter advisor to Phi Sigma Tau and has been their Ethics Bowl coach. He is the author of Social Phenomenology (Lexington, 2012) and several articles and book chapters. A revised (and improved) version of his dissertation was published as Social Phenomenology: Husserl, Intersubjectivity, and Collective Intentionality by Lexington Books in 2012. 


Cho as Mentor

Eric Chelstrom, St. Mary’s University


Working with Dr. Kah Kyung Cho while at the University at Buffalo was an honor. I am extraordinarily grateful for his presence in the department, especially as someone who came to work in phenomenology. His guidance and support was paramount to my adjustment from a focus on Martin Heidegger’s philosophy to Edmund Husserl’s. Cho’s own personal transformation in his thinking along similar lines was invaluable as a resource against which to consider my own trajectory. What’s more, his patience as I neared the end of my coursework and was only then working through important questions surrounding the nature of intersubjectivity, having by then recognized that most criticisms of Husserl’s account thereof seemed to misapprehend his problem rather fully. Were it not for an accident by which I encountered the collective intentionality literature, I would have struggled further. Cho took all of this in stride, and was helpful in planting seeds to germinate as my own thinking matured. His support of my thesis work is something for which I will not forget. 


I would describe Cho as a teacher and advisor as embodying a palpable blend of hermeneutical attunement and a very Daoist embodiment of wuwei. This requires some unpacking. What’s more, it is worth acknowledging that to some students, who expected something more direct or in the form of lecture, Cho’s courses seemed sometimes to drift. Yet it was always precisely in that apparent drift where the real instruction always happened. Cho is remarkably sensitive to who he is in conversation with and what they are thinking. His stories are layered, intentionally or not, with nuances of context that inform and anchor plausible interpretations of philosophical concerns, and direction by which to further pursue additional study. For instance, in working toward coming to form my dissertation’s plan, Cho consistently emphasized correlation as of paramount importance. At the time, I had yet to really grasp the full weight of correlation and its implications for Husserlian phenomenology. But as it slowly came into focus, Cho’s words reverberated more clearly for me. Later on, as the dissertation began to take shape around questions of collective intentionality, Cho’s direction again shifted; this time to talk of the work of Jan Patocka and Giambattista Vico. I have since come to appreciate more fully the work of Patocka, as it was instrumental in helping think about how the intentions constitutive of forms of solidarity might be thought of. More generally, Patocka is helpful for thinking about normative and practical engagements in the lifeworld that shape the intersubjective context in which a person finds their self. 


I admit to still being somewhat unclear as to how Vico’s work will be fully helpful. Though, I have not lost sight of the seed which Cho planted to that end. My surmise is that Vico’s work is illuminative for thinking through the intersections between social and historical constitutions of normative states of affairs. However, Vico’s humanistic commitments also clearly bear importance for a non-reductive understanding of the social world. I suspect further that Vico’s work is fruitfully read in relation to early phenomenological accounts of sociality found in Adolf Reinach, Aron Gurwitsch, and Alfred Schütz, which Cho understood I had immersed myself in. 


To return to the claim that Cho is hermeneutically attuned, it is his capacity as an advisor or instructor to interpret his interlocutor’s position, to anticipate how key concepts presently accounted for might develop, coupled with his vast repertoire of knowledge of the philosophical canon which come together to that end. What’s more, Cho understands well the role in which framing plays in establishing meaning. Perhaps this is owed to his time studying Martin Heidegger or Hans Georg Gadamer, though it is central to Heidegger’s “Question Concerning Technology.” Heidegger thinks of enframing as “the destining of revealing.”[1] In brief, what this signifies is that which is enframing has its disclosive possibilities delimited in advance. This more or less tracks how decision frames are understood today, as establishing pre-judgments surrounding possible outcomes or interpretations. Often Cho appears to understand unhelpful framing around considering possible meanings, and subtly suggests alternative ways of framing a question or path of thinking. Even if his answer to a question might appear incongruent with how the questioner is thinking about things, Cho’s redirection is in the interest of moving the questioner to understanding more than being satisfied to offer the appearance thereof. 


On reflection, it is owed to some of this that my peers and I were often unsure what to make of some of the things that Dr. Cho would say to us in class or in advisement related to dissertation work. Some of my peers, as an honorific, anointed Dr. Cho “The Phoenix.” Their intent was to capture both his agelessness and his sagastic demeanor. It is in association with these that I reference the Daoist interpretation of wuwei. A surface appreciation of the attribution of wuwei in Cho’s case could be satisfied by recognition of the effortlessness associated with his action, or the apparent non-action some treated unduly critically in Cho’s teaching style. In both he has been a model in the development of my own professional comportment in the classroom. There is wisdom in appreciating that the aims of teaching require the skillful instructor to do more by doing less. 


And yet, as indicated above, I take that to be merely scratching the surface of how wuwei should be thought of here. To add depth to this concept, consider a famous passage from the Zhuangzi. In the third chapter of the Zhuangzi, Lord Wenhui witnesses a skillful butcher working at their craft. Wenhui marvels at the butcher’s technique and skill. The butcher, in response to Wenhui’s praise, asserts that “What your servant values is the Way, which goes beyond technique.”[2] The butcher then informs Wenhui as to how a butcher’s perception and embodied practice changed as he learned his trade. “When I first began cutting up oxen, I did not see anything but oxen. Three years later, I couldn’t see the whole ox. And now, I encounter them with spirit and spiritual desires proceed. I rely on the Heavenly patterns, strike in the big gaps, am guided by the large fissures, and follow what is inherently so.”[3] In part, this reflects the process of the learner in the development of their skill. At first, I can only see what my everyday habits of perception allow me to see. I must learn to unsee or see beyond the naiveté of everyday perception. As one’s skill and mastery develop, one is better able to attenuate to that what is important to the task at hand. I think less of the steps and elements, and learn to see, and embody more a feel for what it is that I am aiming to do. But the purposiveness of the intent, nonetheless remains. It is work to undertake the task, work in my establish both a practical skill and the cognitive framing that helps shape my perception and judgments. Only when full mastery is achieved does the need to apply effort fade away. One’s perception is acute, one’s body in harmony with one’s action, where one’s activity is harmoniously embodied holistically. Working with Cho as a student was often like being the fumbling novice working alongside effortlessness. And while the temptation in such cases is often for the novice, in lieu of their deficits of knowledge, to fail to appreciate mastery, Cho’s patience and warmth of person helped disarm such worries.[4]  


The Zhuangzi does not stop there, to emphasize the nature of mastery, the butcher expresses for Wenhui the correlation between skillful action and the wear on tools of the trade. Cho’s undeniable sharpness over his decades of service to the University and department was never in question from his peers. Still more relevant to my appreciation for Cho is what follows, the butcher adds “when I get to a hard place, I see the difficulty and take breathless care.”[5] Cho’s attunement to his students and their needs is slow at the right times and fast at others. His reliance on and respect for our thinking through matters and coming to the conclusions for ourselves, and the lived bodily need to do that work in order to achieve mastery is clear. His careful attention to detail enables his careful judgments as to where and how our work not only stands in its present form, but well into the future. To some his stories of biographical details of philosophers might have appeared off topic, I recall clearly telling peers that this was a style associated with the German tradition, having been exposed to a similar form of conducting classes while at Northern Illinois University. However, on reflection – which Cho respected was ours to choose to engage in or not – they contained details accounting for inconsistencies in common interpretive strategies, cautionary remarks about projecting details onto texts and more. For example, Cho’s story of cautioning Heidegger not to conflate Sein and Dao as Heidegger was inclined to do, and which is once again in vogue in the Heidegger literature, is worth reflecting on. The urge to see Heidegger everywhere if one is immersed in Heidegger, or any similar thing, is something we must choose to resist. It also shows a deficit of skill acuity, if we reflect back on the story of the butcher. The butcher didn’t see oxen everywhere, the butcher learned not to see the ox at all. To see Heidegger everywhere is one problem, to fail to see past Heidegger to the phenomena themselves would be far more concernful and telling, particularly since such an approach to thinking about Heidegger, or Husserl, or any other figure, would entail failure to maintain focus on the right things in the right ways. To this, learning to see past that which I’m engaged, to keep in view the phenomena, I can only express gratitude towards Cho. I would not be the phenomenologist I am today without his tutelage. His influence will also surely continue into the future as well. Thank you Professor Cho for all of your guidance and teaching, I am honored to have been able to call myself your student. 


[1] Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. William Lovitt, trans. New York: Harper Perennial, 1977: 30

[2] Zhuanzgi in Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, Philip J. Ivanhoe & Bryan W. Van Norden, eds. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2001: Ch. 3, 225

[3] Ibid.

[4] Here I have in mind what in psychology is known as the Dunning-Kreuger effect

[5] Zhuangzi, 225

Craig Clifford, PhD, Philosophical Memories: Buffalo, Germany, Texas

Craig Clifford, PhD.

Craig Clifford, PhD

Craig Clifford,PhD, Professor of Philosophy, Tarleton State University

Dissertation supervised by Professor Kah Kyung Cho: On the essence and danger of technology: Plato on sophistic technique and Heidegger on modern technology (1981)

Bio: DR. CRAIG CLIFFORD did his undergraduate work in Plan II (the liberal arts honors program) at the University of Texas at Austin with a concentration in philosophy. He completed his PhD in philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1981, writing a dissertation on Plato and Martin Heidegger under Professor Kah-Kyung Cho. He studied German and attended lectures on Plato by Professor Emeritus Hans-Georg Gadamer in Heidelberg, Germany, in the summer of 1978.

See full bio

Bio: DR. CRAIG CLIFFORD did his undergraduate work in Plan II (the liberal arts honors program) at the University of Texas at Austin with a concentration in philosophy. He completed his PhD in philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1981, writing a dissertation on Plato and Martin Heidegger under Professor Kah-Kyung Cho. He studied German and attended lectures on Plato by Professor Emeritus Hans-Georg Gadamer in Heidelberg, Germany, in the summer of 1978.

Dr. Clifford has taught at Tarleton since 1983, including an annual Presidential Honors Seminar on “The Concept of a Liberal Education.” He also regularly teaches the philosophy of the Italian Renaissance for the Honors College study abroad program every summer in Urbino, Italy.

He is the author of In the Deep Heart's Core: Reflections on Life, Letters, and Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 1985); co-editor with William T. Pilkington of Range Wars: Heated Debates, Sober Reflections, and Other Assessments of Texas Writing (Southern Methodist University Press, 1989); author of The Tenure of Phil Wisdom: Dialogues (University Press of America, 1995); co-author with Randolph M. Feezell of Coaching for Character: Reclaiming the Principles of Sportsmanship (Human Kinetics, 1997) and a second edition under the title Sport and Character: Reclaiming the Principles of Sportsmanship (Human Kinetics, 2010); and co-editor of Pickers and Poets:  The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 2016).  His essays, guest columns, and reviews have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines.


Craig Clifford, PhD, Philosophical Memories: Buffalo, Germany, Texas

In 1973, I applied to the Ph.D. program in philosophy at SUNY-Buffalo because of the journal, Philosophy and Phenomenlogicial Research, and because Marvin Farber had studied with Edmund Husserl.  I wanted to study Heidegger, and even though Farber was emeritus by that time, I thought a department with a student of Heidegger’s teacher would be a good fit for me. When I got to Buffalo, I found out that Farber had become a Marxist naturalist and fervent critic of the phenomenological tradition, with a special animus toward Heidegger.


But to my pleasant surprise when my wife, admitted to the Ph.D. program in comparative literature, and I arrived in Buffalo, I discovered that Farber had hired Kah-Kyung Cho, a Korean who had studied with Hans-Georg Gadamer and Karl Löwith in Heidelberg in the 1950s. My philosophical trajectory and career cannot be imagined without the role that he played.   For my other love, Plato, I discovered Jonathan Ketchum, an older graduate student who held seminars at his house in the country. At the age of 68, I am currently working on a long-delayed book on Plato heavily influenced by Ketchum’s brilliant unpublished works.  And at the first meeting of the new graduate students with John Corcoran, director of graduate studies, the guy sitting next to me leaned over and said in an accent that made me feel like I was back home in Texas, “You’re from Texas, aren’t you?  I’m from Oklahoma.”  Randy Feezell and I became friends for life. We co-authored a book on sportsmanship that has gone through two editions.  Randy retired a few years ago from Creighton University, and when he visited us recently we reminisced about our formative Buffalo days. We make many choices in life and we have some control over our fates, but the ancient Greeks were right to see fate as the most powerful force in a human’s life—in this case, a positive fate, or, if you prefer, an incredible stroke of good luck.


What can I say about the young Professor Cho of those days?  His understanding of the role of a professor seemed shaped by his Korean and German experiences.  Yes, he taught us philosophy, and his knowledge of German philosophy was immense.  When we studied Gadamer’s Truth and Method with Professor Cho, his mastery of that text was almost intimidating, and it was a bit scary to give our reports on sections of the text in front of someone who had studied with Gadamer.  But he was always gentle and dignified.  Sometimes we had the feeling that a moment of silence after one of our presentations was his gentle way of letting us know we had fallen short of the mark, but that might have been imagination.  He was a good teacher, not in an in-your-face Socratic sort of way, but in a fatherly, nurturing kind of way.  And once he took you under his wing, the obligation not to disappoint him was paramount. Much in the way Gadamer and Löwith mentored him, or so I imagined, Professor Cho guided us and opened doors for us in a way that may have shaped me even more than the classroom experiences.


Professor Cho brought some of the most important German philosophers to campus, and he often asked me to be their chauffeur—most notably, Karl Otto-Apel, Ernst Wolfgang Orth, and Hans-Georg Gadamer.  In my rickety VW Rabbit I transported them from and back to the airport, took them to the Albright-Knox Art Museum, and shuttled them between their hotel and the campus.  I thought I was providing a service, but Professor Cho—I realized in retrospect—was giving me an opportunity to talk one-on-one with these major German philosophers. 


I could tell stories forever about the encounters with Gadamer, but let me pick a few.  To this day, I think of Gadamer when I go to an art museum.  At the Albright-Knox he would walked past seven or eight paintings without pausing, then stop in front of one that he wanted to dwell on.  We would spend ten or fifteen minutes looking at and discussing that one painting.  The image of Franz Marc’s Die Wölfe is still vivid in my mind because of the way Gadamer talked about it, calling attention to how the red of one of the wolves is repeated in the flank of the deer, anticipating the wolf’s attack.


On one of Gadamer’s visits to Buffalo, Professor Cho invited his graduate students to his house to meet Gadamer.  I remember sitting on the coach in the living room with Gadamer. That semester we were studying Truth and Method, working both in the German original and with the first edition of the English translation.  Gadamer asked what we thought of the translation.  Do I tell him the truth, I thought to myself—that it’s horrible, even sloppy typographically?  I did, but as diplomatically as possible.  He then said he liked teaching in America because, unlike German students, American students speak up, ask questions, say what they think.  When I latter sat in on Gadamer’s lectures on Plato in Heidelberg, I observed an auditorium full of students silently writing down every word he said, never asking a question.


When I picked up Professor Orth at the airport, I got lost.  He commented that he didn’t think the campus would be that far from the airport.  I said I was taking the scenic route.  He asked why we had passed the same building three times.  We became good friends, and my wife and I lived with him and his family in Trier for a month in the summer of 1978. We kept up for years, and he came to visit us several times when he was in the States for a conference or to give a lecture.  When we were living in Annapolis, he gave a lecture on rationality at Georgetown University which we attended.  He pronounced “rational” with a long a throughout the talk.  Afterwards, a German who was studying at Georgetown raised his hand and told Professor Orth that he had mispronounced the word.  Professor Orth said to the student that he was pronouncing the word as it is pronounced in Texas, and that he learned that from me.  I said, of course!


When I told Professor Cho that my wife and I wanted to spend the summer of 1978 in Germany, and that we were going to enroll in a German language program in Heidelberg, he worked silently behind the scenes to get us connected.  He contacted Gadamer and told him we would be there and that we would sit in on his lecture on Plato.  As it turned out, Gadamer liked to retire to a Weinstube after class and talk informally with his students.  Those conversations were of course in German, so I still shudder to think what I must have sounded like in my fledging German to one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century.  Gadamer spoke with great admiration and affection about Professor Cho and regaled us with stories about the young student Cho.


Karl Löwith, Professor Cho’s other teacher and mentor, had died just a few years before we arrived in Heidelberg, but his widow still lived there.  Professor Cho contacted her and asked her to look out after us.  When we met her, she showed us pictures of her husband with the young Cho.  And, after hearing that we were in Germany in order for me to better my German, she insisted that we come to her house twice each week to practice German. To help me with my difficulties pronouncing a German short e, she had me practice this sentence over and over:  “Ein Engländer ist kein Engel.”


If you achieved his respect, Professor Cho worked tirelessly to enrich your experience.  We sometimes jokingly called him the “godfather,” because he took care of us and took care of things, of course with considerably more grace and less violence than a mafia godfather.  And that was not easy in those times.  The department was extremely “diverse,” to put it politely:  Cho the phenomenologist, a Frankfurt-school Marxist, a Soviet-line Marxist, an array of analytic philosophers, a Wittgensteinian, a couple of traditional history of philosophy folks, a logician.  Philosophers tend to be convinced that their questions are a life and death matter and their opinions infallible—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing—but that means that there was always something akin to an intellectual civil war raging.  In countless ways I won’t recount, Cho worked quietly behind the scene to project us.  Just one example:  At my dissertation defense, one member of the committee accused me of not having a statement about method and asked me to explain my method.  Always a lover of the big questions and engaging conflict, I was about to say that my dissertation was an attack on methodological thinking.  But Professor Cho beat me to the punch and said, “That question is unacceptable at this stage in the process.”  I was disappointed, but he was probably right to keep me out of that fight.  The intellectual warfare toughened us and prepared us for what was to come, but Professor Cho made sure that we survived it.


Where did this all lead?  Well, I did not become an acclaimed academic philosopher, as that auspicious beginning might suggest.  I did end up teaching philosophy at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, and for the past couple of decades I’ve been the director of the Honors College there. I have published seven books (counting the ones I’ve authored, co-authored, and co-edited), none of them standard academic philosophy.  However, everything I’ve written is informed by the study of philosophy I did under Professor Cho in Buffalo.  And everything I’ve written is philosophical in the best sense of the word.  Sometimes I think Professor Cho might have been disappointed that I didn’t take a more traditional academic path, but I hope that he understands that I have been true to the promise he saw in me, a public intellectual playing gadfly to generations of students in my home state and writing books, op-ed pieces, and essays for a general audience.


In fact, an appreciation of homeland is something I learned from German philosophy and my experiences with it.  As I climbed the hill above Todtnauberg to see the cabin where Heidegger wrote Being and Time, I had the realization that I should not ape Heidegger’s German—how many Heidegger scholars have done that!—but that I should seek to be a lover of wisdom in light of my own deep roots.  I tell that story in Learned Ignorance in the Medicine Bow Mountains:  A Reflection on Intellectual Prejudice. But all of that comes from an experience I had over forty years ago that I could not have had without the guiding hand of Professor Kah-Kyung Cho.


I am ashamed that I have not done a better job of keeping in touch with Professor Cho, and I offer this rambling essay as a feeble compensation. Prost, Herr Professor Cho!  

Seon-Wook Kim, PhD, My Memory of Professor Cho’s Existential Philosophy

Seon-Wook Kim, PhD.

Seon-Wook Kim, PhD

Seon-Wook Kim, PhD, Dean, College of Humanities, and Professor, Department of Philosophy, Soongsil University, Korea

Dissertation: Judgment and Communicative Rationality: A Study of the Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt and Juergen Habermas (1999).

Further information forthcoming.


My Memory of Professor Cho’s Existential Philosophy

Seon-Wook Kim, Soongsil University


In 1979, when I was a student studying philosophy at Soongsil University in Seoul, there were not many philosophical books written by Koreans. Other than introductory texts, there were few monographs with original ideas. Philosophy students at that time had to study mainly through texts in English or German.


But Professor Kah-Kyung Cho's book Existential Philosophy was a rare case. Since I was interested in the subject, I was naturally drawn to the book sitting on the college library shelves: I had been fascinated by Nietzsche's works since my high school days.

It turned out to be a difficult text. It explained the context of 20th century existential philosophy by detailing the theories of Kant, Hegel, and the Neo-Kantians. It also systematically outlined how differently theist and atheist existential philosophies approach the core ideas of existential philosophies. Existential Philosophy also showed how those ideas were changed and shaped by later philosophers.


In the early 1950s, in the midst of the Korean War, the South Korean government started a program that sent promising students to study abroad. Kah Kyung Cho was selected by the program and left the warring country for Germany. As a university student, his competencies in English and German were already excellent, and he loved detailed, articulate philosophy. This led him to first study aeronautical engineering, as he was attracted to the precision of machinery. His love for precision in mechanics naturally led to a love for precision and articulation in thought, that is, in philosophy. Thus, he changed his subject from aeronautics to philosophy in college. 


Cho resumed his philosophy education in 1952 in Germany, where he received his PhD under Karl Löwith. Upon his return to Korea in 1958, he began working on a book in Korean, which was published in 1961 under the title Existential Philosophy. Not only was this book the best Korean philosophical text of its time, it stood out as an excellent monograph among those of its kind in any language. To this day, it is well regarded.


However, it was a difficult text for an undergraduate freshman. I remember turning the last page of the book without understanding much of it. While I was eager to learn more about the author and his work, I noted that he, curiously, didn’t seem to exist in Korea. The author’s information in the book only told me he was a professor at Seoul National University, but he was no longer present there or anywhere in Korean academia. In fact, he was already in the United States, teaching philosophy at the University at Buffalo, but there was no way for me to know this at the time. I was just an undergraduate at a different school, and this was 1979, before a time in which I could have looked him up on Google.


Professor Cho entered my life again when I was a PhD student at Soongsil University’s Department of Philosophy. I was preparing to study abroad in Germany, and he visited the department as a Distinguished Visiting Professor. He was invited by the philosophy professor Johan Zoh, who was the President of Soongsil University at the time as well as an old friend of Professor Cho. For one semester, Professor Cho led two seminars titled Phenomenology and Debates on the Methodology of Social Sciences. They were large seminars, attracting graduate students from Seoul National University, Yonsei University and Sungkyunkwan University. His lectures made me change my mind about studying in Germany in favor of the United States. When the seminar ended, I was able to meet him right before his departure and talk to him about my plans. He agreed to write a recommendation for me.


I received several acceptances from schools in the US, but I chose the University at Buffalo because Professor Cho resided there. When I arrived at the airport with my family, he himself drove out to pick us up, and Professor Sekyen Kim-Cho, his wife, fixed us our first dinner at their home. I remember watching then presidential candidate Bill Clinton giving a speech on the TV at 9 p.m. When the speech was over, Professor Cho drove us to our place in his car.

Around that time, a new edition of Existential Philosophy was published. Some of the language was made more accessible, and the vertical writing format was switched to the modern horizontal format. Korean is written in blocks and so can be written horizontally or vertically; old texts were commonly written from top to bottom.


I read the new edition of Existential Philosophy. Only then, after having studied many other texts, did I understand most of the book, and perhaps because the author was right nearby, it felt like the text was being spoken directly to me. I sometimes used the contents of the book when I lectured as a TA at UB, and the students always responded well to it.


The last time I visited Professor Cho in October 2017, he lived in his big house alone since his wife Professor Kim-Cho had passed away a few years before. I stayed with him in his spacious home for a few days and had many conversations with him. Even then, when we went to a nice restaurant for breakfast on my last day, he drove me in his old Benz; he was 89. Among our many conversations during those three days, one was on my experience with Existential Philosophy. I told him that it would be nice to translate it into English for the benefit of English readers. However, he was not interested in translating it by himself into other languages. He said he would appreciate it if someone else translated it, and he would rather put his time towards producing new work.


If you search for Existential Philosophy on Korean search engines, you will find that Professor Cho’s book is still considered one of the best on the subject. Among philosophy texts in Korean, I cannot think of any others that are as enduring; it remains widely read even 60 years after its first publication. The book continues to stimulate thought and guide readers to the depths of existential philosophy, but only for Korean readers, of course.

Seung-Chong Lee, PhD, Naturalist Transversal of Deconstructionism: Chuang-Tzu, Derrida, and Wittgenstein

Seung-Chong Lee, PhD.

Seung-Chong Lee, PhD

Seung-Chong Lee, PhD, Professor of philosophy, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea

Dissertation supervised by Newton Garver: Wittgenstein's Attitude Toward Contradiction (1993).

Bio: Seung-Chong Lee received his Ph.D. at UB in 1993. Late Dr. Newton Garver was his supervisor, and Dr. Kah Kyung Cho was a member of his dissertation committee. His dissertation thesis, "Wittgenstein's Attitude Toward Contradiction" was chosen by the UB philosophy department as the winner of the Perry Award for Best Dissertation. Currently, he is a professor of philosophy at Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea. He co-authored with late Newton Garver, <Derrida and Wittgenstein>(Temple University Press, 1994) and translated it into Korean, as well as three works in Korean: <If Wittgenstein Were Alive>(2002), <Crossing Over Heidegger>(2010) and <From East Asian Thoughts>(2018). He translated Wittgenstein’s <Philosophical Investigations>(2016) into Korean with the translator's introduction and expansive running commentaries.



Naturalist Transversal of Deconstructionism: Chuang-Tzu, Derrida, and Wittgenstein*

Seung-Chong Lee

Half of what I say is meaningless. I say it so that the other half may reach you.
-Kahlil Gibran-


1. Hand

What is knowing? Philosophers have frequently treated the issue of knowing as the equivalent to that of cognition or knowledge. ‘Knowing’, ‘cognition’, and ‘knowledge’ are all words used as nouns. Among the three, only ‘knowing’ and ‘cognition’ can also be used in verbal forms. ‘To knowledge’ is grammatically incorrect while ‘to know’ and ‘to cognize’ are not. Upon such facts, the following could be hypothesized: contrary to cognition and knowing which refer to both the process and the subsequent outcome, knowledge only refers to the outcome of the process.

Knowing, cognition and knowledge share the common ground of being associated with language. In the case of knowledge, its association with language can be defined in terms of the idea of system. In the field of science, knowledge refers to a set consisted of more than two sentences linked by certain co-relation. When that co-relation can be elucidated, knowledge becomes systematic. In the case of knowing, there exist aspects which are rather difficult to express in words as in the case of ‘knowing how to ride a bicycle’. Such knowing can be traced back to the ancient Greek term techne, which means the acquisition of a technique. Similar to the acquisition of a technique through trial and error, when the distance between humans and the object world is shortened, knowing in terms of techne is brought about. In order to become skilled at riding bicycles, one must first ride a bicycle and to efficiently handle tools, one must necessarily grab a tool in one’s hands first. In a similar fashion, knowing as in techne is achieved when actually put into practice.

Contrary to techne, Plato defined knowing in terms of theoria. The definition of theoria is ‘to see’. Seeing in itself insinuates the implicit existence of a distance between the one who sees and the object being seen, namely, the object world. While techne aims at reducing the distance, theoria which aims at increasing the distance, is the pioneer of theoretical knowing which strives to explain the world through objectifying it. Thus theory is the descendant of theoria.

Seen in chronological order, techne must precede theoria; however throughout the history of Western philosophy, techne has always been in subordination to theoria. The line of reasoning which has prevailed to this day is that technology is simultaneously a derivation of techne and a byproduct of science, which in turn is the offspring oftheoria and the apex of theories. Even in Western philosophy which touts 2,500 years of history, theoria boasts absolute superiority over techne.



2. Encounter


Deconstructionism as represented by Derrida should be discerned as a philosophical apparatus which can be applied to a wide range of epochs in the history of philosophy rather than a specific philosophical theory tied to certain period. In short, on the grand timeline of philosophy, deconstructionism occupies a space before Plato’s and after Derrida’s. Just as the text is not an exclusive property of the author, deconstructionism cannot be claimed by the christener. In accordance with the meaning of a text, the significance which deconstructionism bears expands over the boundary of purpose and experience originally set by the author and the christener. Such are the destinies of a text and deconstructionism.

Throughout this paper, deconstructionism travels through time and space, ultimately landing on the soil of East Asia during the tumultuous time of ancient China. Upon landing, deconstructionism intertwines with a stream of thought or a trace penetrating the ancient text of the Chuang-Tzu. We will record and analyze the philosophical photosynthesis which takes place upon the encounter. In addition to deconstructionism however, we stumble upon another type of philosophical thought: naturalism. Naturalism is a philosophical perspective that is just as significant as deconstructionism for it touts similar lengthy history and high flexibility, capable of being applicable to an equal range of epochs in the history of philosophy. We will respectively discuss deconstructionism and naturalism in relation to theoria and techne. In short, deconstructionism undertakes the philosophical operation of deconstructing theoria while naturalism stands to buttress techne. Through these two processes the significance and status of deconstructionism and naturalism can be ascertained. Nonetheless, it is important to understand that these two processes are not necessarily contradictory to each other. The main objective of our discussion is to demonstrate the harmony between the two processes manifested in a text called the Chuang-Tzu.

In Wittgenstein’s later philosophical works the harmony between deconstructionism and naturalism can be found as well. Henry Staten[1] and Newton Garver[2] both clearly verified the traces of these two philosophical currents in Wittgenstein’s later works. Lee has discussed the way in which the two currents are mutually interweaved with Wittgenstein’s later texts.[3] Hence, Wittgenstein will appear with high frequency in our discussion. For instance, if the Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu could be compared with Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,[4] then the Chuang-Tzu would be comparable to Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.[5] The Tao Te Ching and the Tractatus share a homologous form and content in that they draw limits to language by using restrained language in aphoristic form. On a similar note, the Chuang-Tzu and the Investigations also share a homologous form and content in that they utilize fictional dialogues and album-like compositions which contain the philosophical insight of allowing things to be the way they are and of being content to accept various things. The transition from the Tao Te Ching to the Chuang-Tzu bears homology to the transition from Wittgenstein’s earlier Tractatus to his later Investigations in that in terms of philosophical spirit, similarities and differences are intertwined. 

Between the Tao Te Ching and the Chuang-Tzu, and between the Tractatus and the Investigations are interweaved sameness and differences. Homology, which refers to sameness imbedded in differences, can also imply differences within sameness. The difference between the Tao Te Ching and the Tractatus could be observed in the fashion in which they draw limits to language: while the limitations set by Tractatus apply mainly to the subset of meta-philosophical propositions in itself, those of the Tao Te Ching apply to all language—not just meta-philosophical propositions—, though in a vastly different philosophical sense and for vastly different reasons. Furthermore, while the Tractatus claims that logic mirrors the world, similar claims are not found in the Tao Te Ching. Moreover, regarding fictions and their uses by Chuang-Tzu and Wittgenstein, the latter’s refined dialogues are in no way similar to the former’s wild flights of fancy. As for the transitions in the two pairs of works, in contrast with the Tao Te Ching and the Chuang-Tzu, the Investigations contains a partial criticism of the Tractatus. In discussing Derrida with Chuang-Tzu, the two aspects of the differences and sameness within homology require both impartial and deliberate examination.[6]



3. Bird


No one can possibly confuse Derrida with Chuang-Tzu. Hence, it is needless to say that the two are vastly different in various aspects. Along with seeking homology between the two, the task of investigating in detail how they differ remains to be explored. Nonetheless, this task will be tackled later for finding the sameness between them may be more conducive to our study. 

The first homologous trait between Derrida and Chuang-Tzu can be found in their emphasis on metaphor. According to Derrida,[7] metaphors play an intrinsic role in the usage of philosophical language as a whole. Besides, Wittgenstein is in line with this notion as well. He further proceeded to state that what he devised are not new thoughts but original similes.[8] Here, it seems harmless to include metaphors among his alleged similes.

In Aristotle’s classic definition, “metaphor consists in giving the thing a name that belongs to something else”.[9] In Chuang-Tzu’s language metaphors are matched with “saying from a lodging-place” (寓言): “You borrow a standpoint outside in order to sort a matter out” (Chuang-Tzu, p. 106). Furthermore, Chuang-Tzu elaborates that “saying from a lodging-place works nine out of ten” (Chuang-Tzu, p. 106). The first episode found in the very first page of the Chuang-Tzu can also be viewed as saying from a lodging-place or as a metaphor:


In the North Ocean there is a fish, its name is the K’un: the K’un’s girth measures who knows how many thousand miles. It changes into a bird, its name is the P’eng; the P’eng’s back measures who knows how many thousand miles. When it puffs out its chest and flies off, its wings are like clouds hanging from the sky. This bird when the seas are heaving has a mind to travel to the South Ocean. (The South Ocean is the Lake of Heaven.) In the words of the Tall stories, ‘When the P’eng travels to the South Ocean, the wake it thrashes on the water is three thousand miles long, it mounts spiralling on the whirlwind ninety thousand miles high, and is gone six months before it is out of breath.’ (The Tall stories of Ch’i is a record of marvels.) Is the azure of the sky its true colour? Or is it that the distance into which we are looking is infinite? It never stops flying higher till everything below looks the same as above (heat-hazes, dust-storms, the breath which living things blow at each other). (Chuang-Tzu, p. 43)


In “White Mythology” Derrida (Derrida 1971, p. 226) discusses Heidegger’s etymological interpretation of the Greek term metapherein,[10] which is the root of metaphors. The meaning of metapherein is “to transfer.” The act of transferring rests on the distinction of two specific domains through which the movement takes place. In the quoted passage above, a division between the North Ocean and the sky, a fish named K’un and a bird named P’eng, and the North Ocean and the South Ocean is apparent. In between these points of division, transferring occurs. As K’un, through metamorphosis, turns into P’eng, it soars and flies from the North Ocean to the South Ocean.

Through metamorphosis, soaring, and flight, K’un travels across the divided territories. Yet the divided territories were already ontologically linked even before K’un’s independent action of flight took place. In fact, the very action of Kun’s flight may have been capable based on the existence of such connection. This connection, according to the quoted passage, is defined as “heat-hazes, dust-storms, the breath which living things blow at each other”. Even though their presence is not clarified (“When the Way is lit, it does not guide, ...” (Chuang-Tzu, p. 57)), heat-hazes and dust-storms can be interpreted as metaphors for the Way due to their intrinsic ubiquity (“There is nowhere it (the Way) is not” (Chuang-Tzu, p. 161)) and role in bridging [heaven and earth] (“the Way ... deems them one” (Chuang-Tzu, p. 53)).

Examination of P’eng’s flight pattern reveals another linkage between the divided territories. Although in the passage quoted above, P’eng is described as flying off from the North to the South Ocean, another bird named Yüan-ch’u which appears in the very same Chuang-Tzu under the chapter “Autumn Flood”, flies from the South to the North Ocean. After all, azimuths which distinguish north, south, east and west are relative. For example, Taiwan is simultaneously located relative to the south of Korea and north of the Philippines. As an azimuth is not a unique property of a region but a relative property determined by the entire topography, the direction which P’eng or Yüan-ch’u flies toward should not be given any significance. Directly after the line on heat-hazes and dust-storms follows a discussion of the possibility of discerning the relativity of a perspective and how to overcome it. Doubting whether the sky’s azure is its intrinsic color is an example of such. Recognizing that the color is a byproduct of our relative perspective, and understanding the relative perspective of P’eng, which is that when it looks down from above the earth will be tinged with the same azure, transcend us onto a state beyond relativity. Such transcendence is the power of metaphor as transference.


4. Wind


The second homology between Derrida and Chuang-Tzu can be observed from the new interpretation of difference. According to Derrida, “There is nothing outside of the text”.[11] Text is not a vehicle through which the author conveys his thought or meaning. On the issue, Derrida states as follows:


... the writer writes in a language and in a logic whose proper system, laws and life his discourse by definition cannot dominate absolutely. He uses them only by letting himself ... be governed by the system. ... the person writing is inscribed in a determined textual system. (Derrida 1967, pp. 158, 160)


An author is subordinate to a text or language. Derrida’s assertion that an author “is inscribed in a determined textual system” exhibits influence of Heidegger’s later philosophy of language inscribed in Derrida’s thoughts.[12] According to Derrida, the movement of a text inscribing a letter is called différanceDifférance at once implies difference and deferral, and is interwoven with Derrida’s insistence that meaning is dissemination.[13] In French, dissemination is ‘la semence’, which is derived from the Latin word ‘semen’. ‘Semen’ in turn is intimately related to the Greek term ‘semainein’, which means ‘to signify.’ Thus in linguistics, the element of meaning is referred to as ‘le sème’ in which semé depicts seeds that had been disseminated over a field.[14] In short, the seeds of the text’s meaning are disseminated over the field called the text. This movement of disseminating is différance. Yet since there is nothing outside of the text and hence everything is a text, “the movement of différance, as that which produces different things, that which differentiates, is the common root of all oppositional concepts that mark our language”.[15] Upon the foundation of such pairs of polar concepts, metaphysics and theories are framed. Derrida condenses this as “differences ... are the effects of différance” (Derrida 1972c, p. 9).

The episode on wind at the beginning of the chapter “The Sorting Which Evens Things Out” in Chuang-Tzucould be interpreted as placing grave significance on the concept of différance. After opening up by giving utterance to “this time I had lost my own self,” Tzû-chi of Nan-kuo relays the following story to his student:


That hugest of clumps of soil blows out breath, by name the “wind.” Better if it were never to start up, for whenever it does ten thousand hollow places burst out howling, and don’t tell me you have never heard how the hubbub swells! The recesses in mountain forests, the hollows that pit great trees a hundred spans round, are like nostrils, like mouths, like ears, like sockets, like bowls, like mortars, like pools, like puddles. Hooting, hissing, sniffing, sucking, mumbling, moaning, whistling, wailing, the winds ahead sing out AAAH!, the whirlwind a mighty chorus. When the gale has passed, all the hollows empty, and don’t tell me you have never seen how the quivering slows and settles! ... Who is it that puffs out the myriads which are never the same, who in their self-ending is sealing them up, in their self-choosing is impelling the force into them? (Chuang-Tzu, pp. 48-49)


If “heat-hazes, dust-storms, the breath which living things blow at each other” functioned as the metaphor for the Way in the Chuang-Tzu, then the wind produced when “that hugest of clumps of soil blows out breath” is its counterpart in the passage above. The quotation describes in detail how the Way is disseminated through various hollows and openings to produce multiple sounds. Chuang-Tzu’s proposition that “There is nowhere it (the Way) is not” (Chuang-Tzu, p. 161) can be comprehended along such context.

Here, it is significant that the talk of the multiple realizations of the Way follows on the heels of Tzû-chi of Nan-kuo’s saying that he had lost himself. To have lost oneself is to have emptied oneself like an empty hole. Only through apertures can wind produce sound. Since wind cannot pass through them, closed areas do not produce sound. Chuang-Tzu expresses such as follows: 


Only the Way accumulates the tenuous (虛). The attenuating is the fasting of the heart. (Chuang-Tzu, p. 68) 


The tenuous (虛) is where the Way accumulates. Tzû-chi of Nan-kuo emptied his mind in order to let the Way enter without obstacles.

The openings, however, in which the Way accumulates the tenuous take individual forms. Hence on one hand, “puff[ing] out the myriads which are never the same” (Chuang-Tzu, p. 49) is possible. On the other hand the one “who in their self-ending is sealing them up, in their self-choosing is impelling the force into them” (Chuang-Tzu, p. 49) is actually the wind, or the Way. Both myriad creations represented by sounds and the differences among them are effects of the Way. In this aspect, the Way resembles différance which launches dissemination. Although the object of dissemination has switched from meaning to sounds, the difference is insignificant. On the issue, Chuang-Tzu offers the following:


Saying is not blowing breath, saying says something; the only trouble is that what it says is never fixed. Do we really say something? Or have we never said anything? If you think it different from the twitter of fledglings, is there proof of the distinction? Or isn’t there any proof? (Chuang-Tzu, p. 52)


Chuang-Tzu’s stand on the question is negative. One reason may be the relativity of perspective we examined earlier yet it seems necessary to further probe this issue along Derrida’s line of reasoning.




5. Butterfly


The third homology between Derrida and Chuang-Tzu can be found in their attitudes toward any philosophical position including judgments over what is right or wrong. Through Derrida, we earlier saw that “the movement of différance, as that which produces different things, that which differentiates, is the common root of all oppositional concepts that mark our language.” Yet “... an opposition of metaphysical concepts [which constitutes philosophical text] (for example, speech/writing, presence/absence, etc.) is never the confrontation of two terms, but a hierarchy and the order of subordination”.[16] Formation of hierarchy and the order of subordination created by opposition of metaphysical concepts proliferate to affect the hierarchy and order of subordination of theories or positions founded upon these concepts. Derrida’s deconstructionism focuses on accusing and deconstructing the violence engendered by the hierarchy and order of subordination imbedded in the linguistically formed text and theory.

Among deconstructionism’s various facets, le supplément which Derrida discovered during the process of deconstructing Rousseau’s text, is worthy of notice. Le supplément at once exhibits a trait of being a supplement to something while also being a substitute. Le supplément (supplementary substitution) by functioning as active grafting from the outside rather than passive supplementation from the inside, deconstructs the boundary between inner and outer space. By grafting, through utilization of le supplement in terms of grafting, pairs of dichotomies found in Rousseau’s text such as presence and absence, nature and civilization, vowel and consonant, good and evil, Derrida (Derrida 1967, Part II) substantiates that each pair is in relationship of le supplément. We should interpret grafting and le supplément among concepts not in the context of concepts but instead in the context of theories or positions based on these respective concepts.

Chuang-Tzu’s ideas of simultaneous birth (方生設) and of letting both alternatives proceed (是非兩行論) can be read in such perspective. After telling the tale about variety of sounds, Chuang-Tzu adds:


Of the hundred joints, nine openings, six viscera all present and complete, which should I recognise as more kin to me than another? (Chuang-Tzu, p. 51)


His comment on the inappropriateness of grading diverse sounds or body parts and accordingly committing favoritism can be interpreted as a warning and criticism towards centralism and its authoritarian elements incurred by theories. To theorists who select and accordingly endow privilege only to that of man among sounds of heaven, earth and man and utilizing it to settle between the right and the wrong as if the meaning and the criterion embedded in his sound correctly reflect reality, Chuang-Tzu has the following to say:


No thing is not ‘other,’ no thing is not ‘it.’ If you treat yourself too as ‘other’ they do not appear, if you know of yourself you know of them. Hence it is said: 


 ‘“Other” comes out from “it,” “it” likewise goes by “other,”’ 


the opinion that ‘it’ and ‘other’ are born simultaneously. However, 


 ‘Simultaneously with being alive one dies,’


and simultaneously with dying one is alive, simultaneously with being allowable something becomes unallowable and simultaneously with being unallowable it becomes allowable. If going by circumstance that’s it then going by circumstance that’s not, if going by circumstance that’s not then going by circumstance that’s it. (Chuang-Tzu, p. 52)


The above paragraph is reminiscent of a drawing by Escher in which two hands are drawing each other. In the drawing, one hand is drawn by the other, while the latter is drawn by the former. The two hands being drawn by each other are mutually in the relationship of le supplément. An act of drawing each other is also an act of grafting upon each other. In addition, the two hands engaged in the act of drawing each other delineate their differences as well as eternally defer the encounter between the two. They could be seen as embodying the movement of différance. Chuang-Tzu describes such movements of le supplément and différance through the following stories: 


Last night Chuang Chou dreamed he was a butterfly, spirits soaring he was a butterfly (is it that in showing what he was he suited his own fancy?) and did not know about Chou. When all of a sudden he awoke, he was Chou with all his wits about him. He does not know whether he is Chou who dreams he is a butterfly or a butterfly who dreams he is Chou. Between Chou and the butterfly there was necessarily a dividing; just this is meant by the transformations of things. (Chuang-Tzu, p. 61)


Chuang-Tzu and the butterfly are similar to the two hands in Escher’s drawing. Just as the two hands draw each other, Chuang-Tzu and the butterfly dream of each other. Dream is an illusion. Illusion is produced through effacing reality. Yet when each dreams of the other, the distinction between illusion and reality is deconstructed. The picture displaying the two hands in Escher’s drawing holding not pens but erasers rubbing off each other’s existence will appropriately portray the relationship of Chuang-Tzu and the butterfly, each dreaming of each other.




6. Parting


We have thus far examined three homologies between Derrida and Chuang-Tzu following the order of the Chuang-Tzu. If our focus has been on the common ground within differences until now, it will now shift to examining the differences within the common ground. The differences between the two have already been adumbrated in the homologies previously examined. Chuang-Tzu, unlike Derrida, uses le supplément in terms of grafting not as a tool of differentiating but as a method of balancing. If language is a system of differentiation, then the Way exists beyond such differentiation. According to Chuang-Tzu:


The Way has never had borders, saying has never had norms. It is by a ‘That’s it’ which deems that a boundary is marked. ... Hence I say: ‘To “discriminate between alternatives” is to fail to see something.’ (Chuang-Tzu, p. 57) 


This is why the sage smooths things out with his ‘That’s it, that’s not,’ and stays at the point of rest on the potter’s wheel of Heaven. It is this that is called ‘Letting both alternatives proceed.’ (Chuang-Tzu, p. 54)


If Derrida’s deconstructionism is seen as a philosophy of différance, then Chuang-Tzu’s philosophy deconstructs even that différance, striving to arrive at balance and absolute affirmation. Such an approach by Chuang-Tzu resembles both Nâgârjuna’s and Wittgenstein’s approaches in that even after discovering the emptiness in things and language, such emptiness itself is also drained out.[17]

Let us then hear what Wittgenstein has to say on the issue:


My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them¾as steps¾to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

  He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright. (Wittgenstein 1961, 6.54)


“My proposition” here denotes propositions expressing Wittgenstein’s philosophy. “Recogniz[ing] them as nonsensical” indicates the absence of meaning in those propositions. As we must “throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it,” the statement that “he must transcend these propositions” insinuates the need to empty out the propositions’ emptiness again. Through the procedure of vacating even the emptiness of philosophical language we can finally “see the world aright.” Yet even here, there exists a clear difference between Chuang-Tzu and Wittgenstein. It is significant to note that while Wittgenstein’s concern of nonsensicality is limited to his propositions in Tractatus, Chuang-Tzu’s spreads out to all language.

Derrida himself acknowledges that deconstructive operation itself is open to deconstruction by itself. “It[Deconstruction] deconstructs itself. It can be deconstructed”.[18] This possibility, however, has not been concretely realized by Derrida himself. On the contrary, Derrida’s followers have rather displayed tendencies to systematize or even to transform his philosophy into a type of metaphysics.[19] Derrida, reserving the practice of deconstructing his deconstructionism, is indirectly responsible for such phenomenon.[20]

At this juncture, Derrida and Chuang-Tzu depart. We will follow the road of Chaung-Tzu for a bit more. After discussing the idea of simultaneous birth (方生設), Chuang-Tzu immediately follows with this:


This is why the sage ... opens things up to the light of Heaven; his too is a ‘That’s it’ which goes by circumstance. What is It is also Other, what is Other is also It. There they say ‘That’s it, that’s not’ from one point of view, here we say ‘That’s it, that’s not from another point of view. Are there really It and Other? Or really no It and Other? Where neither It nor Other finds its opposite is called the axis of the Way. When once the axis is found at the centre of the circle there is no limit to responding with each other, on the one hand no limit to what is it, on the other no limit to what is not. Therefore I say: ‘The best means is Illumination.’ (Chuang-Tzu, pp. 52-53)


To Chuang-Tzu, deconstruction is merely a remedy and a means to arrive at the axis of the Way and illumination of absolute affirmation. It is similar to a door which opens up to another world upon deconstructing and emptying oneself in order to cope with the approaching infinite vicissitudes in a satisfying manner. Now we shift from the Way to its axis, and from the Way to where it leads us. The axis of the Way amounts to an imaginary line about which a door rotates. What exists outside the door through which we must pass in order to move our body to where the Way leads us? Where is the metaphor of P’eng and the axis of the Way leading us to? In order to answer these questions, we need to read one of the chapters of Chuang-Tzu called “What Matters in the Nurture of Life” which follows the chapter of “The Sorting Which Evens Things Out.”




7. Ox


The chapter of “What Matters in the Nurture of Life” begins in the following fashion:


My life flows between confines, but knowledge has no confines. If we use the confined to follow after the unconfined, there is danger that the flow will cease; and when it ceases, to exercise knowledge is purest danger. (Chuang-Tzu, p. 62)


The above phrase describes how life and knowledge belong to separate categories and warns us of the danger imminent in merging the two things so as to follow knowledge in terms of life or to know life. In order to read the phrase with more depth, let us read it in conjunction with the words of Wittgenstein’s:[21]


‘Knowledge’ and ‘certainty’ belong to different categories


In the context of Wittgenstein’s language, ‘knowledge’ is in relation with theoretical knowledge while ‘certainty’ is with life. Although it will be examined in detail later, the problems of knowledge are implicitly involved with justification and refutation while certainty is obtained through the facts from the natural history of man. 

Keeping these two phrases in mind, let us look at the highlight of the chapter “What Matters in the Nurture of Life”:


Cook Ting was carving an ox for Lord Wen-hui. As his hand slapped, shoulder lunged, foot stamped, knee crooked, with a hiss! with a thud! the brandished blade as it sliced never missed the rhythm, now in time with the Mulberry Forest dance, now with an orchestra playing the Ching-shou.

‘Oh, excellent!’ said Lord Wen-hui. ‘That skill should attach such heights!’

‘What your servant cares about is the Way, I have left skill behind me. When I first began to carve oxen, I saw nothing but oxen wherever I looked. Three years more and I never saw an ox as a whole. Nowadays, I am in touch through the daemonic in me, and do not look with the eye. With the senses I know where to stop, the daemonic I desire to run its course. I rely on Heaven’s structuring, cleave along the main seams, let myself be guided by the main cavities, go by what is inherently so. A ligament or tendon I never touch, not to mention solid bone. ... However, whenever I come to something intricate, I see where it will be hard to handle and cautiously prepare myself, my gaze settles on it, action slows down for it, you scarcely see the flick of the chopper ... ’ ‘Excellent!’ said Lord Wen-hui. ‘Listening to the words of Cook Ting, I have learned from them how to nurture life.’ (Chuang-Tzu, pp. 63-64)


The following story goes hand in hand with the passage above:


Duke Huan was reading a book at the top of the hall, wheelwright Pien was chipping a wheel at the bottom of the hall. He put aside his mallet and chisel and went up to ask Duke Huan

‘May I ask what words my lord is reading?’

‘The words of a sage.’ ... ‘Speaking for myself, I see it in terms of my own work. If I chip at a wheel too slowly, the chisel slides and does not grip; if too fast, it jams and catches in the wood. Not too slow, not too fast; I feel it in the hand and respond from the heart, the mouth cannot put it into words, there is a knack in it somewhere which I cannot convey to my son and which my son cannot learn from me. This is how through my seventy years I have grown old chipping at wheels. The men of old and their untransmittable message are dead. Then what my lord is reading is the dregs of the men of old, isn’t it?’ (Chuang-Tzu, pp. 139-140)


Both stories are consisted of conversations between the upper class and the underclass. In the second story, such class distinction is made more explicit through the duke being at the top and the wheelwright being at the bottom of the hall. Throughout the above two stories, Lord Wen-hui and Duke Huan are the spokespeople for the knowledge of letters (theoria). (According to Rousseau,[22] one of the causes for inequality present in the human society is the appearance of letters.) Despite the fictitiousness of the two stories, upon this fictitiousness Chuang-Tzu has engraved the character for letters (文) in Lord Wen-hui’s name (文惠) and placed a book in the hands of Duke Huan. These spokesmen of knowledge, through the lowly butcher and the wheelwright, acquire wisdom of life. The butcher and the wheelwright, however, acquired their wisdom not through letters but instead through the life-long training of techne. As illuminated by Wittgenstein earlier, such falls not in the category of knowledge yet in the category of certainty.[23]

Despite having mastered techne which cannot be expressed in words, the attitude of the butcher and the wheelwright towards approaching their crafts is absolute prudence. Their site of work exists not in text but in life itself. By being intimately linked with life, the techne they acquired corresponds well with the techne discussed earlier. Having attained proficiency in techne, the butcher (cook) and the wheelwright represent the axis of the Way.


When once the axis is found at the centre of the circle there is no limit to responding with each other. (Chuang-Tzu, p. 53)


To the butcher, where the bones and the muscles of a cow are intertwined is one of the critical situations of such vicissitudes. Nonetheless, he manages by applying the techne he mastered with prudence.

Words cannot express the Way of techne nor the Way of (nurturing) life. On this issue, Wittgenstein had once made the following observation:


The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem. 

 (Is not this the reason why those who have found ... that the sense of life became clear to them have then been unable to say what constituted that sense?) (Wittgenstein 1961, 6.521)


To the wheelwright, the books left by the sage were merely considered a residue for such a reason since the Way is realized not through words but through action. As Kant stated, philosophy cannot be taught and as Gibran asserted, only half of what is said can actually reach us.

Many of the basic things we acquire through life resemble the techne which the butcher and the wheelwright mastered. Throughout life, we have become familiarized with commanding, asking, speaking, conversing, walking, drinking, and enjoying and the techne that is acquainted with each activity has a face that is indescribable in words. These elementary facts are what Wittgenstein calls as “a part of our natural history” (Wittgenstein 1967, §25). Our lives are consisted of facts from natural history. Wittgenstein’s phrase “my life consists in my being content to accept many things” (Wittgenstein 1966, §344) is in line with Chuang-Tzu’s philosophical attitude of “‘That’s it’ which goes by circumstance” (Chuang-Tzu, p. 54). Such is the naturalistic aspect shared by Chuang-Tzu and Wittgenstein which marks a sharp contrast with Derrida’s deconstructionism.

In one aspect, facts from the natural history of mankind are given as facts while in another aspect, they are obtained through effort. (Consider a child learning to walk.) To arrive at the stage of mastery, tremendous amount of effort is required.


When the P’eng travels to the South Ocean, the wake it thrashes on the water is three thousand miles long, it mounts spiralling on the whirlwind ninety thousand miles high, and is gone six months before it is out of breath. (Chuang-Tzu, p. 43)


Arriving at the stage of ‘That’s it’ which goes by circumstance and be content to accept various things may call for a lifetime of practice similar to how the butcher and the wheelwright had done. Moreover, such practice is achieved through life beyond texts, and deeds beyond deconstruction.

The naturalism that we find in Chuang-Tzu through this paper is different from the popular Taoist naturalism of effortless action (無爲). In contrast to the latter which aims at returning humans to nature, denying human effort, the former recognizes human commitment and action. In spite of the difference, it is classified as naturalism for Chuang-Tzu, along with Wittgenstein, acknowledges the fact that human deeds do not violate the general facts of natural history of man but instead are confined by the very same facts. Similar to Wittgenstein’s observation in which the general facts of human’s natural history are naturally acquired through practice, to Chuang-Tzu, the Way of (nurturing) life is naturally acquired through practice. In this aspect, both Chuang-Tzu’s and Wittgenstein’s naturalism bear the face of human and thus may be called as naturalism with a human face.[24]


I have the pleasure and honor of knowing Professor Kah Kyung Cho for more than three decades, going back to my graduate days at SUNY Buffalo. My study of Heidegger with him at that time changed the rest of my life. In deep admiration, I dedicate this paper to him, a great teacher of German intellectual tradition and comparative philosophy.

[1] Staten, H. (1984) Wittgenstein and Derrida. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 

[2] Garver, N. (1994) This Complicated Form of Life: Essays on Wittgenstein. LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court

[3] Lee, Seung-Chong. (1993) “Two Phases of Philosophy of Language,” Philosophy and Reality, vol. 19 (Korean).

[4] Wittgenstein, L. (1961) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Trans. D. Pears and B. McGuinness. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

[5] Wittgenstein, L. (1967) Philosophical Investigations. 3rd edition. Ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and R. Rhees. Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

[6] We will not delve into the issues concerning neither Chuang-Tzu’s authorship nor the consistency throughout Chuang-Tzu’s Inner, Outer as well as the Mixed Chapters. Translations of the Chuang-Tzu used in this text are from Chuang-Tzu (1981) Chuang-Tzû: The Inner Chapters. Trans. A. C. Graham, London: George Allen & Unwin, hereafter referred to as Chuang-Tzu.

[7] Derrida J. (1971) “White Mythology,” reprinted in Derrida (1972b) Margins of Philosophy. Trans. A. Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982, p.209

[8] Wittgenstein L. (1980) Culture and Value. 2nd edition. Ed. G. H. von Wright. Trans. P. Winch. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p.19

[9] Aristotle. (1984) The Complete Works of Aristotle. 2 vols. Revised Oxford translation. Ed. J. Barnes. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1457b8.

See Garver, N. and Seung-Chong Lee. (1994) Derrida and Wittgenstein. Philadelphia: Temple University Press., ch. 2 for more detailed study onthis subject.

[10] Heidegger, M. (1957) Der Satz vom Grund. 5th edition. Pfullingen: Neske, 1978.

[11] Derrida, J. (1967) Of Grammatology. Trans. G. Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976, p. 158

[12] Seung-Chong Lee (1999) “Heidegger’s Phenomenological Archeology of Language,” Phänomenologishe Forschungen, Sonderband.

[13] Derrida, J. (1969) “Dissemination,” reprinted in Derrida (1972a) Dissemination. Trans. B. Johnson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

[14] Seung-Chong Lee (1998a) “A Life of the Identity: A Report on Mediational View of Language,” in Sang-Hwan Kim (ed.), Philosophical Studies on Media, Seoul: Nanam Press (Korean).

[15] Derrida, J. (1972c) Positions. Trans. A. Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 198, p. 9. 

[16] Derrida, J. (1988) Limited Inc. Ed. G. Graff. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, p. 21

[17] Seung-Chong Lee (2007) “Go on Like a Rhino’s Horn,” Philosophy and Culture, vol. 1. Seoul: Korean Philosophical Association.

[18] Derrida, J. (1985) “Letter to a Japanese Friend,” reprinted in Wood, D. and R. Bernasconi. (eds.) (1988) Derrida and Différance. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, p.4 

[19] Even in Gasché, R. (1986) The Tain of the Mirror. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press., which is regarded as the most authoritative work on Derrida’s philosophy, we find this tendency. See Rorty’s criticism about this work in Rorty, R. (1989) “Is Derrida a Transcendental Philosopher?” reprinted in Rorty, R. (1991) Essays on Heidegger and Others. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[20] Seung-Chong Lee (1998b) “The Closure of Philosophy,” paper presented to the spring conference of the Korean Philosophical Association (Korean).

[21] Wittgenstein L. (1966) On Certainty. Ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright. Trans. D. Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, §308.

[22] Rousseau, J.-J. (1968) The First and Second Discourses Together with the “Replies to Critics” and “Essays on the Origins of Languages.”Ed., trans., annotated V. Gourevitch. New York: Harper and Row, 1986.

[23] It does not follow that for Wittgenstein, certainty is simply equated to techne in terms of knowing how. Knowing how is fallible and therefore not always certain. As we will see shortly, however, the resemblance between techne on the one hand and the certainty of the general facts of natural history on the other hand is to be found in that both lie not in the realm of epistemic justification or refutation but in the actual course of human life.

[24] Seung-Chong Lee (1995) “Naturalism with a Human Face,” Philosophical Studies, vol. 36 (Korean).

Douglas Low, PhD, Merleau-Ponty, Modernism, Structure, and Postmodernism*

Douglas Low, PhD.

Douglas Low, PhD

Douglas Low, PhD, Library Faculty Emeritus, University of West Florida

Dissertation: Husserl’s Phenomenology and Philosophical Materialism (1995).

Bio: Douglas Low wrote his M.A. in humanities, entitled “Husserl’s Phenomenology and Philosophical Materialism,” under the guidance of Professor Kah Kyung Cho in 1975, State University of New York at Buffalo. He later completed a Ph.D. in philosophy under the direction of Professor Harold Durfee in 1985, The American University, Washington, D.C.  His dissertation was later published as a book entitled The Existential Dialectic of Marx and Merleau-Ponty. He served as a philosophy faculty at Urbana University of Ohio from 1987 to 2000, attaining the rank of full professor of philosophy in May 2000. While at Urbana University he received an award for teaching excellence in philosophy from Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education in 1997. After pursuing his interest in computers and information science, he continued his career at the University of West Florida as a library faculty and a reference librarian, retiring in 2013. His publications, including four books and over twenty-five scholarly articles, are listed here.



Remembering Professor Cho

Douglas Low


It is with great fondness that I recall my interaction with Professor Cho so many years ago at the SUNY Buffalo Philosophy Department. In those days I was a very naïve student and he was an already internationally known and well-respected continental philosophy scholar. The many years separating then and now have in no way diminished the memory of the goodwill he always displayed to students and the vast knowledge of philosophy that he was so willing to share with all of us.


I can say without any exaggeration that the time I spent with Professor Cho was one of the best educational experiences of my life. Professor Cho, who, as a favored faculty, was already working with a prohibitively large number of graduate students, graciously consented to guiding me through my MA Thesis on Husserl. Practically speaking, this amounted to a full-blown “independent study,” meeting on a weekly basis, for well over a semester’s time. I recall a very reserved, almost shy person, who, with great patience and kindness, and with great ease and clarity, explained long, difficult passages of almost impenetrable Husserl texts---impenetrable to me at least, but not him. He even tolerated my request to try to bring together Husserl’s phenomenology and philosophical materialism, something that, at least on the face of it, seemed like a contradiction. Again, he patiently guided me along this path, a path that eventually led to the profoundly synthesizing works of Merleau-Ponty, to a philosopher and a means of doing philosophy that were very different from the then and still dominant analytic philosophy of the Anglo-American tradition, to a philosopher and a means of doing philosophy that have remained with me for over thirty years. 


I have a feeling that this experience was repeated many times over, that Professor Cho patiently and knowledgeably helped many students along the way, even when the students only had a vague intuition about where it was that they wanted to go. It is hard to imagine that there is anything that an educator can do that is better than what Professor Cho was able to achieve for so many years: help students find their way with wisdom, kindness, and patience.


Merleau-Ponty, Modernism, Structure, and Postmodernism*

Douglas Low

We should revisit Merleau-Ponty’s essay late “From Mauss to Levi-Strauss,”[1] for it is still well worth reading, especially since it provides a viable way between the extremes of modernism and postmodernism. The essay explicitly challenges modernism, embraces a structural, dialectical approach, but does not go as far as many postmodernists who (after Merleau-Ponty’s untimely death in 1961) “run” with structural themes as fast and as far as they can go. The balance of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy remains one of its most attractive qualities, for his balanced explanations often provide greater clarity than his more extreme competitors. Let us trace here what he explicitly says about the short-comings of modernism and how to get beyond them using a structural approach, and, based upon what he says, let us also consider what he might have said about postmodernism had he lived to encounter the writings of its proponents.     

          Merleau-Ponty’s stated purpose for “From Mauss to Levi-Strauss” is, once again, to find a way between the subject/object dichotomy that has dominated Western thought for two millennia, and certainly since Descartes. He first applauds Marcel Mauss for insistently claiming that simply noting correlations in data (the standard modernist, objective approach) is not enough in our attempt to understand other cultures and human societies generally. We must find a way into the beliefs of the people of another culture, as they are lived by its residences (the subjective approach). Obviously both Mauss and Merleau-Ponty are here calling for a phenomenological approach, to properly enhance the objectively collected data. Yet, conversely, this phenomenological approach occurs in an objective context, for we must intuitively think our way into the lived through behavior of others in another culture and do so in a way that allows us to understand “the mode of exchange which is constituted among men by means of the institution” (Signs 115) In our attempt to understand others, lived through behavior is very important, but we must grasp this behavior in the context of rule-governed institutions, usually institutions that must be understood as symbolic systems. Merleau-Ponty is here bringing together phenomenology and the structural linguistics, and thus brings together the subjective and objective. Yet he rejects the structuralist’s characterization of these structures as universal and immutable in nature. He rejects structures understood as fixed essences. Here, he is more in agreement with the post-structuralist or postmodernist characterization of a linguistic structure as an organic system of relationships that is relative to a group and that is continually unfolding in time, in short, as neither universal nor immutable. Yet, unlike both structuralism and postmodernism, with their diminishing of the subject almost to zero, Merleau-Ponty insists, as we have just seen, that we must retain a significant role for lived through experience. In order to understand the behavior of people of another culture (or even of another demographic group within our own), we have to understand both the lived through experience of its individuals and the regulation of this experience by the society’s social/symbolic institutions. Moreover, we have to understand that the individual’s experience and the society’s symbolic institutions cross into and influence one another, for language is internalized by individuals and symbolic systems bear a meaning (which would not be possible without the lived experience of those who use the language). Thus, when attempting to understand human societies, we need to take account of experience as it is lived by the individuals as they form relationships of exchange (in a broad sense, not just monetary exchange) within these societies. We need to consider the coming together, the chiasm, of the individual’s experience and the society’s social institutions, particularly the institution of language. This also means that Merleau-Ponty embraces structure in the sense that the individual’s experience and the structures of the natural and social environment form a structure, form a Gestalt whole, as they cross into one another. And this also means that Merleau-Ponty embraces structure in the sense that individuals must be seen in context, in a field or network of relationships with other individuals and with social institutions. 

          Yet, it should also be mentioned here that Merleau-Ponty, by focusing on relationships, does not focus just on the “space” between individuals (or words), as Derrida’s postmodernism does. For Merleau-Ponty the relationships are vitally important, for they help define what (or who) a person, a thing, an idea, or a word is. Yet the constant referring (or “deferring” and “differing,” to use Derrida’s terms) elsewhere does not erase the original trace (as it does for Derrida). For Merleau-Ponty there is still presence in the context of absence, still a stable meaning in the context of open-ended relationships. (More on this below.)

          For Merleau-Ponty there is still an awareness of oneself, still a presence to oneself. Yet Merleau-Ponty is fully aware that this self-presence is not complete, for it is spread out with the flow of time. He is also fully aware of the power of language to frame human experience, including the experience of oneself. The question thus becomes how this presence is mediated by language. If we once again consider Merleau-Ponty’s use of phenomenology’s fundierungrelationship, we see that just as this relationship must be used to understand the relationship between perception and language, with each crossing into and affecting the other, yet with perception remaining the primary term, so also it must be used to understand the relationship between self-perception and language, with each crossing into and affecting the other, yet with self-perception remaining the primary term. Surely language helps frame and articulate our self-perceptions, but there is something there to be famed and expressed: our own lived through experience and how this experience of the world and others rebounds and crosses back into us. Moreover, with the awareness of one’s own experience, Merleau-Ponty recognizes, as just mentioned, that there is an awareness of this experience over time. The moments of experience overlap because they open out upon the temporality of the world. The moments of my experience hold together because they hold together in the world, and the fact that they do hold together allows us to understand the formation of a sense of self over or through time. I am aware of my experiences. I am aware that they do not just fly about anywhere but occur in a temporal sequence and occur in one place, centered in my body. These experiences are the basis for my more precise and articulated sense of self, which nevertheless must be framed by the cultural and symbolic tools that are available to me in my time and place in history. Again, it must be stressed that for Merleau-Ponty the fundierung relationship is a two-way relationship, with each term helping to define the other. Language helps frame experience and can do so in a variety of ways. Yet some expressions are better than others, for they are able to articulate this experience, to bring it out of its ambiguity, in a way that is more precise and clarifying, just as a certain distance between a perceiver and a painting on a museum wall is more clarifying. Thus, the linguistic expression plays a constructive role, but, there is something there for language to express, a relatively stable and meaningful world.

          In his effort to overcome subject/object dualism, which is prevalent in modernism, Merleau-Ponty stresses here that, like human beings themselves, “the social . . . has two poles or facets: it is significant, capable of being understood from within, and at the same time personal intentions within it are generalized, toned down, and tend toward processes, being mediated by things” (Signs 114). What we have here, expressed in the latter part of this conjunction, are personal intentions that become generalized as social intentions. But what does this mean? What are social intentions? Within the context of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, social intentions are institutionalized ways of thinking, behaving, feeling, and intending. Their origin is in the lives of individuals, in their lived through experience, as we see expressed in the first part of the conjunction. Yet, they can be generalized from this experience. Moreover, these generalized structures can then act back upon the individual’s experiences in a way that helps frame them. As an example, we might think of a business that has an explicitly stated mission, articulated by the owner or a board of trustees, with specific goals and objectives, with stated means for achieving these goals, and even with feedback means to measure success. When an individual is hired by this company, he or she is expected to get “on board,” to understand the goals of the organization and to act accordingly. These actions should also include an understanding of the implied or unspoken “rules” for interacting with others in the company and with those outside of it when acting on the company’s behalf. Again, what becomes the institutionalized rules have their origin the owner’s intentions, or in the articulated experience of all in the company accumulated over time, with the expectation that these rules will be followed by those who are employed there. Now, if there are such things as social intentions, then we must not attempt to understand the social by simply noting objective changes or the correlation of objective data. We have to understand how people live the events of their community and how the lived through and the community’s institutions cross into one another. We must understand how people live their “exchange,” their interaction, with others within the context of rule-governed social institutions, just as we should understand how the subject’s construction and articulation of sentences expressed to others are governed by the rules of a language (sometimes understood only implicitly). These rule-governed institutions must be understood as systems of symbols, which have meaning, of course, and, as such, i.e., as a network of symbolic values, limit and guide the individual’s experience and behavior. Or, to express this in another way, the individual’s behavior, with its meaning, gets framed by the institutionalized rules that guide behavior. The difference between Merleau-Ponty and postmodernists here is that, when attempting to understand the relationship between the subject and society, Merleau-Ponty retains the subject (though not the Cartesian, modernist one) while postmodernists seem to minimize (almost to nothing) the significance of the subject. According to Merleau-Ponty, we must not understand society (or a society’s culture or its language) as a system independent of its “subjective” participants but as meaningful ways of interacting that are institutionalized within symbolic systems (written and spoken). The individual frames his or her meaningful behavior and meaningful speech according to the (again, sometimes implied) rules of society’s symbolic systems, rules that have been sublimated from the lived through experience of the subjects within this society. Here the individual’s experience and the linguistic framework, the symbolic system, cross back and forth into one another, and, together, form a whole.[2]

          To sustain the above example, when an individual enters a place of business, perhaps for his or her first job, he or she must learn the rules, both implicit and explicit, that govern the interaction of the employees with customers, each other, and with the hierarchy of managers, from assistant, to mid-level, to upper management, etc., including what, how, and with what tone, can be said to others, both individually and in group meetings. Here the individual meets a specific social institution that must be grasped (sometimes without fully understanding the whole), inculcated, and used to guide his or her own behavior, as well as his or her attempts to introduce change. The individual and the social institutions cross into one another. The individual lives in and absorbs various social institutions, primarily expressed in language, makes them his or her own, and uses them to regulate his or her behavior, sometimes changing them, sometimes not, and this is how we should attempt to understand a society and even a society’s movement through history. 

          As already mentioned, these symbolic systems are variable and must not be understood as fixed, formal essences. They are systems in the making, for they are able to absorb new information or local changes by bringing about structural changes within the system as a whole. Furthermore, we must think of society as both a structural whole andthat this structure can behave differently at different times and in different places. As Merleau-Ponty expresses it, “society is itself a structure of structures: how could there be absolutely no relation between the linguistic system, the economic system, and the kinship it employs?  But this relationship is subtle and variable. Sometimes it is a homology. At others times (as in the case of myth and ritual) one structure is the counterpart and antagonistic of the other” (Signs 118). This means that social researchers must grasp what is appropriate in a particular time and for a particular place, and it also means that it is local problems that tend to generate certain mythical structures. Different peoples in different parts of the world have created similar myths, not because of some universal archetype innate in the human mind or present in some (inscrutable) field of ideal forms, but because a particular structure happens to help solve local problems. Merleau-Ponty does not deny that universals exist, but, as we have seen, he does question how they exist. Again, as we have seen, he does not accept that they are immutable essences. He does accept that general structures can be generated from the similarities of societies, or, rather, from the similar experiences that people live through even in different societies. He turns to the study of kinship as an example.


“The search for the elementary in kinship systems is going to be directed through the variety of customs toward a structural schema they can be considered variants of. From the moment that consanguinity excludes union---that the man gives up taking a wife in his biological family or his group and must go outside to form a union which requires, for reason of equilibrium, an immediate or mediate counterpart---a phenomenon of exchange begins which may be complicated indefinitely when direct reciprocity gives way to a general form of exchange. Thus models must be constructed that bring out the different possible combinations and internal arrangements of different types of preferential marriage and different kinship systems. Our ordinary mental equipment is inadequate to reveal these extremely complex multidimensional structures; and perhaps we shall have recourse to a quasi-mathematical form of expression which we shall all the more be able to make use of now that mathematics is no longer limited to quantitative relationships and what is measurable. One can even dream of a periodic table of kinship structures comparable to Mendeleev's periodic table of chemical elements.” (Signs 118)


Thus, we can generate a universal to help us understand kinship and other social relationships in different societies, and, even though Merleau-Ponty references Mendeleev’s periodic table of chemical elements, frequently thought of as precise and immutable, the universal that Merleau-Ponty speaks of is imprecise and changeable. Furthermore, and as we have already seen, Merleau-Ponty insists that these “formal structures” must have a lived component, for they are enacted by the living subjects of particular societies. In fact, he says, “this process of joining objective analysis and lived experience is perhaps the most proper task of anthropology” (Signs 119). The formal structures help make sense of the lived through experiences, and yet the formal structures must be understood as being generated from the lived through experiences themselves. Moreover, Merleau-Ponty continues, the social whole is lived by individuals as a synthesized system, for the individual’s experience is itself an intersection of all the aspects of a society. This, of course, means that “we can gain some knowledge from this synthesis which is ourselves” (Signs 119). We live the various aspects of the system as “unified” subjects; we live the social whole; we are it, and therefore have access to it from within it. Merleau-Ponty continues.


“Furthermore, the equipment of our social being can be dismantled and reconstructed by the voyage, as we are able to learn to speak other languages. This provides a second way to the universal: no longer the overarching universal of a strictly objective method, but a sort of lateral universal which we acquire through ethnological experience and its incessant testing of the self through the other person and the other person through the self. It is a question of constructing a system of general reference in which the point of view of the indigenous, the civilized, and the mistaken views each has of the other can all find a place---that is, the constructing of a more comprehensive experience which becomes in principle accessible to men of a different time and country.” (Signs 120) 


Here we see that even though Merleau-Ponty rejects much of what he finds in modernism, with its rational essences and one rational world, he does not deny the effort to discover rational explanations of our world and of the many societies and cultures within it. Yet the reason that Merleau-Ponty embraces is one that is based on our perceptual encounter with the world. Perception is structured and patterned, yet these patterns are neither logical nor based on the mere association of isolated sense data. They are gestalt patterns, meaningful structures, meaningful wholes. This is a decidedly existential, phenomenological notion of rationality, one based, in Merleau-Ponty’s case, on the human body’s lived through encounter with the world, one that reveals meaningful perceptual patterns, one that seeks an agreement of perceptual profiles, of mine as I actively open upon the world and of mine with those of other people as we actively open upon the world together. This means that rationality is not merely formal and is not to be confused with empty universal form. It is perceptual, with relatively clear foregrounds and implied and open-ended backgrounds, and it is lateral, with the overlapping of experiences that are never completely identical. When discussing the experiences of an individual, Merleau-Ponty stresses that there are similarities and differences, an overlapping that is never complete. When discussing experiences shared by different individuals, he stresses that there are similarities and differences, overlapping experiences that never reach complete identity. Yet especially when considering the similarities and differences between cultures, Merleau-Ponty stresses that “at the point where the two cultures cross, truth and error dwell together, either because our own training hides what there is to know from us, or on the contrary because it becomes, in our life in the field, a means of incorporating other people’s differences” (Signs 120). 

          Thus, Merleau-Ponty’s lateral universal embraces both similarity and difference in experience, like overlapping Venn circles can reveal what is common and what is different. As I look at the Auguste Rodin sculpture before me, I realize that the person across from me in the museum space sees the same object but from a different angle. We open upon the same world but from different perspectives. I realize that we open upon the same field, that our experiences overlap because our bodily experiences open upon the same object, but also that I will never literally be able to experience what the other experiences because these experiences are lived and individuated in our respective bodies. There is a realization that some of our experiences are the same, but also that there are differences. This is also true of our encounter with other cultures. I can experience other cultures as a variation of my own, and yet can also experience my own as a variation of the others, with the anthropologist hopefully being able to construct a way for us to see all as various human ways of bodily being in the world. In doing so the anthropologist should take care not to takes side, not to reduce one culture to another, and take care to attempt to find an intelligible framework that helps us make sense of all, at least laterally. Moreover, it is by focusing on language that the anthropologist is able to do this, for, as we have seen, language helps us bring the subject and object together and to thus understand all societies as their coming together in variable ways. In addition, language acts as the vehicle for both reason and unreason, and does so simultaneously. Just as perception presents a stable foreground in the context of an imprecise background or horizon, so also language articulates stable meanings in the context of an imprecise linguistic and cultural horizon. The precise and rational always occurs in the context of the open and implied, and we should attempt to understand this relationship. We should attempt to understand that our precise and rational explanations arise in an implied and imprecise context, in a context that helps give the rational its meaning (Signs 122). Furthermore, sometimes social structures are rigid and inflexible, allowing little or no variation in individual behavior, while at other times they are flexible and permit great freedom of individual behavior.  


“At the level of elementary structures, the laws of exchange, which completely envelop behavior, are susceptible to static study; and man, without even formulating them in an indigenous theory, obey them almost like the atom observed the law distribution that defines it. At the other end of the field of anthropology, in certain complex systems, structures explode and, with regard to determining the spouse, become open to “historical” motivations. Here, the exchange, the symbolic function, and society no longer work as a second nature as imperious as the other and effaces it. Everyone is invited to set their own exchange system; in this way, the boundaries between cultures is cleared, and for the first time, no doubt, a world civilization becomes the order of the day.” (Signs 124)


Here again, we must understand the individual subject in relation to his or her social surroundings, to the social structures that the individual helps form. Yet, we also see this relationship is variable, for it is sometimes rigid and sometimes allows great variation. What is especially important, though, is the crisscrossing relationship between the individual and social structures, for it is this crisscrossing that allows us to understand the human meaning of a society. It is worthwhile to consider what is perhaps Merleau-Ponty’s clearest statement of this crisscrossing between the individual and social institutions, specifically to the institution of language. 


“The theory of signs, as developed in linguistics, perhaps implies a conception of historical meaning which gets beyond the opposition of things versus consciousness. Living language is precisely that togetherness of thinking and thing which causes the difficulty. In the act of speaking, the subject, in his tone and in his style, bears witness to his autonomy, since nothing is more proper to him, and yet at the same moment, and without contradiction, he is turned towards the linguistic community and is dependent on his language. The will to speak is one and the same as the will to be understood. The presence of the individual in the institution, and of the institution in the individual is evident in the case of linguistic exchange.” [3]


It is clear here that Merleau-Ponty seeks to surpass the thing/consciousness dichotomy that is so ingrained in the modernist approach and modernist scholarship, which frequently attempts to understand human societies using typically objective methods. Since human societies have a human dimension, we must understand how the objective and subjective cross into one another. We must attempt to understand the presence of social institutions in the individual, as well as the individual in the institutions. We have seen above some of Merleau-Ponty’s attempt to articulate and grasp this crisscrossing relationship, particularly with respect to the relationship between the subject and the social institution of language, and below we see him state the need to understand the relationship between the subject and social institutions broader than language, even though symbolic systems are an essential part of them. 


“The reciprocal relations between the will to express and the means of expression correspond to those between the productive forces and the forms of production, and more generally, between historical forces and institutions. Just as language is a system of signs which have meaning only in relation to one another, and each of which has its own usage throughout the whole language, so each institution is a symbolic system that the subject takes over and incorporates as a style of functioning, as a global configuration, without having the need to conceive it all. When equilibrium is destroyed, the reorganizations which take place comprise, like those of language, an internal logic even though it may not be clearly thought out by anyone. They are polarized by the fact that, as participants in a system of symbols, we exist in the eyes of another, with one another, in such a way that changes in language are due to our will to speak and to be understood. The system of symbols affects the molecular changes which occur where a meaning develops, a meaning which is neither a thing nor an idea, despite the famous dichotomy, because it a modulation of our coexistence.” (IPP 55-56)


This statement, that attempts to sketch how we are to understand human beings in relationship to human societies, how we are to even understand the movement of human history, by overcoming the dichotomy between the subject and object, by weaving them together, is a profound improvement over the modernist approach that merely operates within the dichotomy. And it is so because it makes more sense, because it clarifies more than it obfuscates. It does so because it refuses to treat and study social relationships as mere things, or treat and study the lives of human subjects merely as epiphenomena, or, on the other hand, treat and study human subjects as individual rational interiors who can dominate the world.

          We have witnessed above that Merleau-Ponty clearly seeks to go beyond modernism, and seeks to do so in a variety of ways, by overcoming subject/object dualism, by focusing on structures whose parts are defined by their relationship to the whole, rather than on discrete units of that are merely associated, and by focusing on systems of symbols to grasp the crisscrossing and coming together of the subject and object. Yet, even with his focus on linguistic structures as symbolic wholes that are constantly undergoing change, something also claimed by many postmodernists, his position is decidedly different from theirs. This difference can be most clearly understood by considering the respective significance that is given to the subject’s lived through perceptual experience, with Merleau-Ponty assigning more and postmodernists assigning less. Let us look more closely at the relationship between the subject and social/linguistic institutions, at the difference between Merleau-Ponty and postmodernism, and, especially, how the subject is to be most sensibly re-conceived in the 21st Century. 


The modern subject and postmodern subject

          We should begin with a brief characterization of the modernist subject and set the postmodernist subject in relief against it. The modern notion of the subject has its roots in Descartes. The modern subject is accessed via self-reflection; the modern subject is internal, self-contained, independent, rational, a singular and immutable substance. In addition, the modern subject is the center of activity, as a causal agent. As Pauline Rosenau informs us, postmodernists seek to downplay the role of this subject “as a focus for analysis as the ‘preconstituted centre of the experience of culture and history’ (Giddens 1984: 2).”[4] She also points out that the more extreme postmodernists, referred to as “skeptical postmodernists,” question the veracity of the isolated, rational subject of modernism, and, in addition, “question the value of a unified, coherent subject such as a human being, a person, as a concrete reference point or equivalent character (Baudrillard 1983a: 167; Booth 1985; Derrida 1978; Foucault 1970: 261--62; Wellmer 1985: 436-49). The subject, they contend, is fictitious, in the extreme a mere construction (Edelman 1988: 9) . . .” (PSS 42). With Nietzsche, the postmodernists challenge the modernist subject as “fixed, substantial, selfhood,” and some regard, as did Nietzsche, the subject as “lacking in consciousness, willful, vengeful, and power seeking (Nietzsche 1979: 79-97)” (PSS 44.)[5]

          Thus, postmodernism jettisons the subject as the center of activity. The self-contained, independent, rational subject of modernism and humanism is challenged and rejected. Generally, postmodernists argue that the subject is a part of a larger social/linguistic structure and that the individual’s intentions mean little or nothing when it comes to bringing about social change. Yet, somewhat inconsistently, postmodernists still maintain the importance of the individual, as long as this “does not imply that people are free, conscious, self-determining human beings.” Postmodernists thus seek to retain the individual, yet one that is nearly anonymous, one that is merely a placeholder in the social system, one that merely plays a specific role as they are defined by the social system. As Rosenau points out postmodernists seek to replace the modern subject, yet, as she also points out, “inventing the post-modem individual will not be easy,” given the need to maintain the aware individual and the individual’s perspective, while, at the same time, rejecting the humanist, modernist subject (PSS 53).

          Rosenau also draws our attention to a work by Ferry and Renaut, specifically to their characterization of the postmodern subject (PSS 53). This is what Ferry and Renaut have to say. 1.) After Heidegger, the subject must not be characterized as in internally independent and in rational control, but as ek-stase, as a leaping out of itself toward a preexisting world that the subject should “let be.” 2.) After Deleuze and Guattari, the subject should not be characterized as rational and integrated but as a spontaneous and disorganized “desiring machine.” And 3.) Gilles Lipovetsky draws the following conclusions about the postmodern subject. The individual must now be seen as random, detached, adjusting freely to new systems, with little sense of personal identity, with little sense of a stable, unified personality. “The individual,” Lipovetsky says, “is breaking up into a heteroclitic patchwork, into a polymorphic combination, the very image of postmodernism”---ultimately leading to “the disparate fragmentation of the self, the emergence of an individual obeying multiple logics in the manner of the compartmentalized juxtapositions of pop artists or the flat and chancy combinations of [the artist Valerio] Adami.”[6]

          Merleau-Ponty’s response to the modern subject: It will be helpful to take up Merleau-Ponty’s criticism of the modern subject by turning to his criticism of Husserl, who largely remains in the modernist tradition. As we have seen above, Husserl maintained that there were two modes of temporal intentionality, a horizontal mode, with overlapping moments of the past and future shading out from an almost indistinguishable present, and a transverse mode, which recognizes the horizontal mode but pulls these overlapping moments together in order to posit a singular transcendent object. Thus the second mode is reflective and cognitive, and, for Husserl, requires a transcendental awareness, the awareness of a transcendental ego which is needed to synthesize the lived through moments of experience. We have seen that Merleau-Ponty explicitly states that Husserl’s mistake was to describe the spread and synthesis of time from the point of view of transcendental immanence, from the point of view of a reflective and cognitive consciousness that appears to place itself outside of the flow of time because of the need to synthesize it. We have also seen that he argues that the synthesis of the different moments of experience comes from flow experience itself as these moments open upon a stable world and overlap with each in the field of the world. This renders the modernist, Cartesian, Husserlian subject superfluous. There is no need for a transcendental ego to synthesize the moments of time, for the synthesis occurs as the subject opens upon the stable temporal field of the world, as the moments of this field overlap and flow into one another. There is no need for a transcendental ego, but because the moments of time flow into one another from the present out toward the past and future, because they continuously overlap and flow into one another, the subject of experience is able to form a stable sense of self (an existential ego) over or through time.  There is no internal, reflectively given, rational, transcendental subject that is independent of the world. Yet, a stable sense of self is possible because there is a continuity of experience through time.

          Merleau-Ponty’s response to postmodernism and the postmodern subject: It is appropriate here to briefly compare the works of Merleau-Ponty and Derrida, especially regarding their respective views of temporality, for this comparison will reveal how Merleau-Ponty’s position is similar to that of a leading postmodernist, but is also different. 

          For Derrida différance” is the productive play of signs, the productive play of linguistic meaning. Différancemeans to both defer and to differ.[7] “The circulation of signs defers the moment in which we can encounter the thing itself” (“Différance” 9) and does so ad infinitum. Thus the reference to a thing or a concept or a meaning, is never fully accomplished. The meaning (or thing or concept) is never fully present. There are always implied elements that escape representation. The production of signs always implies this differed meaning, and it also implies a difference of meaning. As Derrida puts it, “each so- called ‘present’ element . . . is related to something other than itself,” to a past and a future. 


[This means that the present is constituted by] “what it is not: what it absolutely is not, not even a past or future as a modified present . . . An interval must separate the present from what it is not in order for the present to be itself, but this interval that constitutes it as present must, by the same token, divide the present in and of itself, thereby also dividing, along with the present, everything that is thought on the basis of the present . . . In constituting itself, in dividing itself dynamically, this interval is what might be called spacing, the becoming-space of time and the becoming-time of space (temporalization). And it is the constitution of the present, as an ‘originary’ and irreducibly nonsimple (and therefore, stricto sensu nonoriginary) synthesis of marks, or traces of retentions and protentions . . . that I propose to call archi-writing, archi-time, or différance.” (“Différance” 13, my bracket addition) 


Thus, we have a constituting of the present that is a dividing. We have a synthesis that is also a dividing. The present bleeds out away from itself (the dividing) into the past and toward the future, yet this bleeding is also a blending (a synthesis) of the past and future with the present. Yet, for Derrida, the synthesis is so fleeting that it is clearly the dividing that he emphasizes. Again, it is différance, as a constant deferring and differing, that is emphasized, and we also see here that Derrida even seems to equate archi-writing and différance with archi-time. Yet, before critically considering these passages, let us briefly consider a few more of Derrida’s pronouncements.  


“The sign is usually said to be put in place of the thing itself, the present thing, ‘thing’ here standing equally for meaning or referent.” [8]

“Presence, then, far from being, as is commonly thought, what the sign signifies, what the trace refers to, presence, then, is the trace of the trace, the trace of the erasure of the trace.” [9]

“The trace is not a presence but the simulacrum of a presence that dislocates itself, displaces itself, refers itself, it properly has no site--erasure belongs to its structure.”[10]

“What the trace1 refers to, presence, then is the trace1 of the trace2, the trace1 of the erasure of the trace2.”[11]

Trace1 above represents language and refers to trace2, which represents perception, which, according to Derrida, erases itself because its present is only a constant referring (or deferring/differing) elsewhere. 

          It will be useful to compare Merleau-Ponty and Derrida by considering both in light of Gestalt psychology, in order to reveal their similarities and differences. As is well-known, Merleau-Ponty is deeply influenced by Gestalt psychology. He does not accept all its assertions but he does accept much of its characterization of perception, specifically that the simplest perception is a figure on a ground. Moreover, this perceptual structure is a meaningful whole, and not a mere sum of discrete units or merely an exemplification of abstract forms. Again, the gestalt structure is a meaningful whole that is greater than the mere sum of its parts. The parts (which do contribute to the meaning) also take on meaning because of their relationship to the whole. This is relatively easy to observe when considering the meaning of the spatial structure of perception, the perception of the famous vase that can also appear as two faces in profile, for example. Here the meaning of the parts is clearly related to the whole, with the vase and faces trading places as foreground and background. Yet, this whole/part structure is also observable in temporal perception as well. The foreground, the present, appears in the context of a temporal background, with the moments of experience, past, present, and future, overlapping. The foreground present moment is meaningfully connected to the past and future as the present slides through time. Thus the temporal present occurs in the context of absence, in the context of the past and future that appear as background elements.  And, of course, we have seen Derrida make very similar claims just above. 

          It appears then that for both Merleau-Ponty and Derrida that presence occurs in the context of absence. Yet, there is a difference between them. For both, presence occurs in a horizon, but for Merleau-Ponty this figure/ground structure is more stable than it is for Derrida. Moreover, it is more stable for Merleau-Ponty because the structure of perception opens upon a relatively stable world, the spatial/temporal moments of perceptual experience hold together because they open upon a stable world. For Derrida, the moments of temporal/linguistic experience are so radically deferring and differing, undoubtedly because différance is so unencumbered by the world, that the present is reduced to a mere flash, with this flash referring elsewhere. M.C. Dillon stresses something close to this with his argument that Derrida appears to identify temporality with différance. Moreover, if he does make this identification, then he is perhaps reducing the structure of time in the free play of language---to a form of linguistic idealism.[12] Dillon’s interpretation receives support from Derrida’s own pronouncement: “Now I don’t know what perception is and I don't believe that anything like perception exists. Perception is precisely a concept . . . And I believe that perception is interdependent with the concept of origin and center and consequently whatever strikes at the metaphysics of which I have spoken strikes also at the very concept of perception. I don't believe that there is any perception.”[13] As we have seen above, Derrida also speaks of the trace of language erasing the trace of perception, again confirming the unencumbered and free play of language. Now he does seem to admit that the trace1 that erases its connection to trace2 also maintains some connection to that which it erases, for otherwise there would be no spacing, for spacing implies a relationship between terms. In addition, the synthesis of which Derrida speaks likewise implies different terms that are pulled and held together. Yet Derrida clearly emphasizes the erasure over connection, and, in doing so, he clearly seems to forget the latter. Yet, if he does this, if he does forget the holding together with his emphasis on différance, then he is left with almost nothing, with just instantaneous flashes of meaning.

          It should also be mentioned here, when discussing différance, that Derrida makes reference to Heidegger’s ontological difference, the difference between a thing and its being. 


“And thereby one puts into question the authority of presence, or of its symmetrical opposite, absence or lack. Thus one questions the limits which has always constrained---as inhabitants of a language and a system of thought---to formulate the meaning of Being in general as presence or absence, in the categories of being or beingness (ousia). Already it appears that the type of question to which we are redirected is, let us say, the Heideggerian type, and that différance seems to lead back to the ontico-ontological difference.” (“Différance,” 10)[14]


Surely influenced by Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty’s The Visible and the Invisible speaks of the visible in the context of the invisible, in the context of the implied horizon of perceptual experience. As we have seen above, for Merleau-Ponty the invisible, the implied, the opening out toward a horizon that runs beyond us, the more general sense of Being rather than simply the sense of a particular being, remains connected to, and must remain connected to, the more articulated foreground. While both Heidegger and Derrida move more toward the invisible, toward the horizon, toward Being. Yet this “freeing” of Being has a price: Being is seemingly no longer connected to concrete objects of being. Merleau-Ponty philosophy does not do this. Using his typically balanced approach, and to use a metaphor that he uses in another context, he holds on to both ends of the chain, to both the ontic and the ontological, to both being and Being, to both science and philosophy. He recognizes the horizon, the openness of experience, Being, but he refuses the flight into mysticism, the flight into a background without a foreground, into the ontological without an ontic. Moreover, if Heidegger opts for mysticism, which he undoubtedly does, Derrida goes even further, for he accuses Heidegger of remaining within a metaphysics of presence.[15] Derrida embraces the opening out, the ontological, the horizon, with a vengeance, for he prioritizes différance, that is, deferring and differing, to the point where what defers and differs disappears. Again, for Derrida erasure is prioritized over connection. Perception erases more than it connects, and language erases, rather than connects with or sublimates, its origins in perception. Merleau-Ponty’s view remains more balanced, for presence occurs in the context of absence, with, of course, absence occurring in the context of some presence. For Merleau-Ponty, language is a sublimation of our embodied perceptual openness upon the world. This sublimated language can be creative, but it cannot completely break with our embodied perceptual bonds with the world without rendering itself ineffective or even meaningless. Perception and language cross back and forth into one another and help define each other, with perception remaining the primary term, with language never completely severed from our embodied perceptual bond with the world. 

          1.) Response to Heidegger: Merleau-Ponty agrees with Heidegger’s characterization of the subject is ek-stace, as a leaping out of itself. Yet, as already indicated there are differences between the two authors. For Merleau-Ponty the embodied subject opens out upon an already existing world, but with the internal and external crossing back and forth into one another. Both the embodied subject and the world must be taken into account, yet, granted, with the world taken as the more primary term. Heidegger, on the other hand, seems to leave the subject behind with his ek-stace, with the opening upon a clearing within Being.[16] Again, for Merleau-Ponty the sense of self begins to form where the internal and external cross back and forth into one another, where one’s internal lived through experience meets the forceful patterns of the world and the points of view that others reflect back to oneself. Moreover, as we have seen, there is a synthesis of experience over or through time, with no transcendental ego needed here, as Husserl maintains. The moments of my experience are able to overlap (with a similarity of meaning) and hold together because experience opens upon a stable world. Since experience does not occur just anywhere, since it occurs in one place, in my body, since the moments of experience are synthesized there, since I am aware of these experiences and aware of them as mine, and since I am aware that others perceive me/my body from the outside, I am able to form an at least somewhat stable sense of continuity and unity of experience through time, i.e., a somewhat stable sense of self identity. Also, since I can get a sense of my own “power” (i.e., a sense of what I can achieve or accomplish) from my attempts to “transform” nature (usually with others), I am able to get a sense of myself (along with other) as an agent (or agents) of change. Thus, against the general thrust of postmodernist thought, at least that of the skeptical postmodernists, Merleau-Ponty reveals a stable sense of self that can perform as an effective agent, yet he does so with falling back into modernism.

         2.) Contra-Deleuze: David Michael Levin makes the reasonable case that there is a common misconception of the human body in the Western tradition. “According to this conception, the body is a chaos of drives: turbulent, frenzied, and without any internal principle of organization . . . And it is this body . . . that Freud wanted to repress, to tame and civilize, and the others, from Nietzsche through Deleuze and Garrity, have wanted to encourage,” have wanted to liberate for the purpose of social transformation.[17] Merleau-Ponty treats the human body differently. For him the body is able to sensuously couple with the world. The body fulfills itself in the world and in others, and vice versa. His concern is certainly not to repress the body’s sensuality or to completely “liberate” it. He seeks to find the body’s most balanced coupling with the world. For it is in this balanced coupling that each is most fulfilled in the other.

         Since the human body is not a mechanical thing but a lived through and active whole, since the hand is able to feel the sleek and the rough of a surface by its lived through movements, the touching and the touched cross into one another, help articulate one another, and thus help fulfill one another. In addition, since experience is carried into the world by the anonymous structures of the body, the lived through articulations that are expressed by one individual can pass into the lived through articulations experienced by others. Thus, in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, truth and values have their source in the body’s lived through encounter with the world and others. Lived through experience is sublimated in the more abstract expressions of speech, which folds back on the lived experience in order to express it more precisely. No single expression is the correct expression, and different expressions are always possible, yet some tend to be better than others because they are more clarifying. Likewise, no single expression of a moral principle is inexhaustible.[18] More can always be said and said in different ways, but some moral articulations tend to be better than others because they are more clarifying, because they express the sentiments of all participants more clearly than others. Here again, certain sentiments are sublimated in expressions, which in turn fold back upon these lived through experiences in order to express them more precisely. Different expressions remain possible but some seem more clarifying than others. Thus, within the context of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, truth and values are to be rooted in the body’s lived through encounter with the world and others. Moreover, if this is the case then we should listen to all experiences, to all voices, to establish both the truth and what is morally acceptable.[19]

          3.) Contra Lipovetsky: The fragmentation of experience is certainly possible, and Merleau-Ponty writes extensively about these experiences, for they help set in relief the normal functioning of the human body and mind and help define norms of human experience. Often, what is characterized as abnormal is brought about by brain damage due to traumatic injury, or a stroke, or by the wide range of diseases that afflict the human condition. It is doubtful that healthy human beings (even if alienated) experience the kind of fragmentation characterized by Lipovetsky above, especially regarding the reference to Adami paintings. This is not to deny the “figurative” meaning of artistic representations, that they represent an exaggerated portrayal of alienation, for example. It does deny that “normal” perception appears like an Adami painting, as Lipovetsky suggests. True, we perceive perceptual patterns that can be and often are open and ambiguous, that are not strictly guided logical forms or abstract geometrical figures. Yet perceptual patterns are meaningful and frequently form regular and stable patterns. They are not splintered chaos.[20]Moreover, the negative characteristics mentioned above by Nietzsche (individuals are “lacking in consciousness, willful, vengeful, and power seeking”) are surely part of the human experience but just as surely do not encompass all of it. Even a quick empirical view, especially a cross-cultural one, reveals the opposite human traits as well: increased self-awareness (through education and maturation), cooperation, forgiveness, a willingness to collaborate and share control, etc.

          Now, the modern human “agent” is defined as an independent subject capable of effecting change in his or her environment. We have seen that structuralism and postmodernism challenge this view of the agent and argue that the subject is primarily a product of social structures with very little ability to effect social change. Merleau-Ponty’s view comes between these two more extreme positions. Since the subject is embodied and as such is a part of the world, the subject must be influenced by his or her surroundings. Yet, since the embodied subject is aware of and synthesizes the experiences of his or her surroundings, the subject is not just a blind result. The subject actively takes up events and helps give them the meaning they have. This, in itself, indicates a degree of freedom for the subject, given his or her power to interrupt and interpret. Yet, Merleau-Ponty also argues that the subject has the power to move these conditions in a different direction.[21] Like being in a boat in a flowing stream or river, I cannot lift the boat out of the currents that influence it, but I can steer the boat in different directions as I am pushed along by the stream or the forces of history. Politically speaking, Merleau-Ponty certainly calls into question the modernist idea of the isolated “rational man” who nevertheless meets with others to rationally decide what is just for all. He rightfully suggests that this does not exist anywhere and never did. Yet, he does believe that we are necessarily in the world with others, and that given the human propensity to have at least some regard for the view that the other has of us, we have at least some basis for continued discussion about the move toward a society that is fair for all, one that is brought about by aware individuals actively attempting to make a difference.  

          As a “pluralist,” Merleau-Ponty recognizes different perspectives on events, and as such, the best we can hope for is not a universal view that is exactly and formally the same for all (that modernists claim), but for what he refers to as a lateral universal, one based on the similarity of human experiences because of the similarity of human bodies. We experience the world in similar, not identical, ways. Merleau-Ponty’s theory of the body’s access to the world thus opened the way to what is now called multiculturalism, or what is referred to politically as “identity politics,” with members of a particular group sharing a particular viewpoint that may be different from other groups or even the mainstream culture. Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy recognizes and respects this sort of pluralism (also recognized by postmodernists) but also maintains some hope for some common understanding among individual groups (typically not recognized by skeptical postmodernists), again referred to as a hoped for lateral universal, with individuals and groups sharing some truths but also maintaining some uniqueness and individuality. In political language, we must try to find some principles that are universal, i.e., that are fair to all, that all can agree to, and then live with our differences.[22]

          Overall, then, Merleau-Ponty develops a subject that is midway between the subject of modernism and postmodernism. Merleau-Ponty certainly rejects (as do postmodernists) the modernist idea of the subject as detached and self-contained. He stresses (as do postmodernists) that the subject is a part of a greater set of social systems, including language. Yet he clearly disagrees with the postmodernist claim that these structures (more or less completely) determine the subject. Merleau-Ponty’s subject is an aware subject that opens upon the world and is formed in relationships to it and to the subject’s social surroundings. Yet, this subject is able to meaningfully take up these surroundings, with greater and lesser awareness, and attempt move them in different directions. In addition, there is a continuity of the subject’s experience overtime because the subject’s embodied experience necessarily opens upon a stable world, where the moments of experience overlap and cross into one another, something not accepted by skeptical postmodernists. It is this continuity of experience that allows the subject to develop a stable sense of self over time. It is this stable sense of self that meets the world with some sense of awareness and perspective. It is this stable sense of self that can attempt to bring about change. 

          As we have seen, Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy comes between subjectivism and objectivism. Again, we must begin with lived through embodied experience, with an embodied experience that opens upon and crosses into the natural and social world. Both the subject’s lived through experience and the stable patterns of the natural and social world must be taken into account. Or more precisely, it is at the intersection of the subject’s experience and the forceful pattern of the natural world, as well as with the relatively stable structures of the social institutions, that meaning is formed. This intersection, this crossing into one another of the subject’s experience and the structures of the world and society is what social scientists and philosophers should attempt to grasp. Meaning does not spring full blown from the minds of isolated rational individuals. Nor is it simply the passive result of an objective structure. Nor is it merely constructed by the free play of language. It is the result of the coming together of the embodied subject and the stable (and yet also shifting) structures of the natural and social world.


Dedicated to Professor Kah Kyung Cho, whose guidance in comparative philosophy led me to a lifelong interest in the great synthesizing work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty.


[1]  “From Mauss to Claude Levi-Strauss” in Signs, trans. Richard McCleary (Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Press, 1964), 114-125. First published as “De Mauss á Claude Lévi-Strauss,” in La Nouvelle Revue Française, 7e année, T. 14, no. 82, 1 october, 1959, 615-631, then reprinted in 1960 in Signes (Paris: Gallimard, 1960),143-157. Hereafter referred to as Signs.


[2] See Merleau-Ponty description of the experience of a soccer field for the player in The Structure of Behavior, trans. Alden L. Fischer (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), 168-169.

[3]  Merleau-Ponty, In Praise of Philosophy, trans. by John Wild and James Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1963), 54-55. Referred to in the text as IPP.

[4] Pauline Marie Rosenau, Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences, Insights, Inroads, and Intrusions (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992), 42. Hereafter referred to as PSS. She references Giddens, A., 1984, The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration. Berkeley: University of California Press

[5] Here are Rosenau’s references: Baudrillard, J., 1983a, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities: New York: SemioText(e). Booth, D., 1985 “Nietzsche on ‘the Subject of Multiplicity’” in Man and World: International Philosophical Review 18 (2): 121-46. Derrida, J., 1978, Writing and Difference. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Foucault, M., 1970, The Order of Thing: An Archeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage. Wellmer, A., 1985, “On the Dialectic of Modernism and Postmodernism.” Praxis International 4 (4): 337-62. Edelman, M., 1988, Constructing the Political Spectacle. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Nietzsche, F., 1979, “On Truth and Lies in the Nonmoral Sense.” Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche Notebooks in the Early 1870’s. Atlantic City, N.J.: Humanities Press.

[6] Gilles Lipovetsky, L’ere du vide: Essais sur l’individualisme contemporain (Paris: Gallimard, 1983). Lipovetsky is quoted in French Philosophy of the Sixties: An Essay on Antihumanism, Ferry, Luc, Renaut, Alain, trans. Mary H.S. Cattani (Amherst, Mass: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), 225-227), my bracket addition. Images of Valerio Adami paintings are abundantly available online. 

[7] Jacques Derrida, “Différance” in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 8, Note 10. Hereafter referred to as “Différance.”

[8]   I am indebted to M.C. Dillon’s “Merleau-Ponty and Postmodernity” in Merleau-Ponty Vivant, ed. M.C. Dillon (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), which brings together the following Derrida quotes. Dillon has definitely influenced my argument as I here present it. See Jacques Derrida, “Différance” in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 9. Quoted by Dillon, xxxiii.

[9]   Jacques Derrida, “Ousia and Gramme: Note on a Note from Being and Time, in Margins, 66. Quoted by Dillon, xxv.

[10]  Jacques Derrida, “Différance,” 24. Quoted by Dillon, xxv.

[11]  Jacques Derrida, “Ousia and Gramme,” 66. Quoted by Dillon, xxvi.

[12]  M.C. Dillon, “Merleau-Ponty and Postmodernity” in Merleau-Ponty Vivant, xxv.

[13]  Jacques Derrida “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences” in The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man: The Structuralist Controversy, eds. R. Macksey and E. Danato (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1972), 272.

[14] See also Jacques Derrida, Ousia and Gramme: Note on a note from Being and Time, also in Margins of Philosophy, 66)

[15] See John Sallis, “Heidegger/Derrida—Presence,” The Journal of Philosophy 81 (October 1984): 594–601; see especially 597 and 599–601. Sallis offers a first-rate discussion of presence in Heidegger and Derrida. See also Marek Kwiek, Rorty’s Elective Affinities: The New Pragmatism and Postmodern Thought (Poznan: Wydawnictwo Naukowe IF UAM, 1996). Regarding Derrida’s treatment of Heidegger’s presence, Kwiek cites Jacques Derrida, “Différance,” in Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 27; and Derrida, Positions, trans. Alan Bass (London: Athlone Press, 1987), 9–10. Kwiek’s book was accessed online, April 23, 2013, at http://www .policy.hu/kwiek/PDFs/EXCUR1.pdf. 

[16] See Chapter 4 above and Douglas Low, “Merleau-Ponty’s Criticism of Heidegger.” Philosophy Today 53 (Fall 2009): 273-293. 

[17] David Michael Levin, “Justice in the Flesh,” in Ontology and Alterity in Merleau-Ponty, Galen Johnson and Michael Smith, editors (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1990), 36-38.

[18] See Douglas Low, “Merleau-Ponty, Ontology, and Ethics.” Philosophy Today 56 (Spring 2012): 59-77.

[19] For the best, most recent book dealing with Merleau-Ponty’s political writings see Diana Coole, Merleau-Ponty and Modern Politics after Anti-Humanism (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007).

[20] See Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s “Eye and Mind,” where Merleau-Ponty discusses open, non-geometrical perception that is nevertheless stable and meaningful, translated Carleton Dallery in The Primacy of Perception, ed. James Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 159-190. Revised translation by Michael Smith in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader (1993), ed. Galen Johnson (Evanston, Il., Northwestern University Press, 1993), 121-149. We might also add here the “tripper” who experiences a fractured perceptual world while under the influence of the powerful drug LSD reports nothing of this sort during “normal” perception.

[21] See Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s chapter entitled “Freedom,” in Phenomenology of Perception


[22] See Douglas Low, “Merleau-Ponty and the Foundations of Multiculturalism” in Journal of Philosophical Research 21 (1996): 377-390. Online at: https://www.douglaslow.net/Merleau-Ponty_Multiculturalism.pdf

Mark Meli, PhD, Japan, Kah-Kyung Cho, and I



Mark Meli, PhD, Professor, General Department of Humanities, Department of Cross-Cultural Studies, Kansai University, Japan

Dissertation: The genesis of aware: Emotion, perception, and aesthetic value in early Japanese poetry (1997)


Japan, Kah-Kyung Cho, and I

Mark Meli, Kansai University

I was a bit surprised when I learned that Dr. Cho was basically a native speaker of Japanese. Had I known my history better at the time, it would have been no surprise. Of course, the Korea wherein he grew up was then part of Japan. Little did I imagine at the time that a kind of tenuous relationship with Japan, and the Japanese language, would be something I was destined to share with my mentor. 

Having paused (resigned?) my study of German to begin learning Japanese, the strenuous nature of the road ahead was made clear by Dr. Cho. Proudly greeting him with a bright “ohayo gozaimasu” when visiting his office for the first time after beginning classes, I was sternly rebuked with “Es ist etwas zu spät für dass!” And being after 12 noon, it certainly was. 

Before I was to depart for a year abroad at International Christian University, Dr. Cho was similarly stern. “What do you really plan to research there this year?” he asked. “You must not merely be another Westerner seeking Oriental experiences in the Land of the Rising Sun!” I answered, somewhat sheepishly, that I wanted to understand how the encounter with modernity and Western philosophy influenced traditional Japanese ways of thinking and seeing the world. Little did I know that nearly 30 years on, that would still be one of the most dominating themes in my intellectual life, although it certainly has taken on forms that I could never have imagined at the time.

Over less than a year of independent study, I learned more about reading Japanese from Dr. Cho than any other teacher I have had. It took a month for me to get through the first 15-page philosophical essay he chose to read with me, something quite post-modern dealing with “Japanese Occidentalism.”  I wanted to give up nearly daily, but he went through it with me line by line, explaining the difficult turns of grammar and even making me read the kanji aloud. After all my struggles, I was not a bit miffed when he tossed it aside as “so much garbage” when we finally finished. After six months of such training, however, I was reading 15-page philosophy essays in a day, and maybe becoming just a bit cocky. When Dr. Cho saw me carrying around note cards with vocabulary words on them, he asked how many I was trying to memorize per day. “Thirty,” was my reply, which was not a problem day by day, but after a week I found the first ones slipping from memory. “Oh?” answered the master. “In high school I did 75 each of English and German each day.”  Clearly some minds work better than others. Needless to say, I was brought down a couple of notches. 

What impressed me most was listening to Dr. Cho’s own very ambivalent life experiences in relation to Japan and its language and culture. Like how, after being caught speaking Korean in school, he was made to squat with his back against a wall and a rice kettle, filled with water, on his knees. Or how, days after liberation, he thought he might be meaninglessly murdered by a defeated soldier who swore at him while lining him up with his bayonet. 

The positive stories were more interesting. I heard all about Dr. Cho’s own mentor, Karl Löwith who, being of Jewish descent, had to leave Germany, and was given a kind of asylum for five years in Japan, until their alliance with Nazi Germany meant that he could no longer stay. (The story of Löwith’s quasi-reconciliation with Martin Heidegger is also one that few who have heard it will likely forget). Even more moving was the story of how Dr. Cho, who in 1945 had pledged to himself to never again speak Japanese, changed his mind after befriending so many Japanese Phenomenologists in Germany and being impressed by their kindness and openness, as well as the contrition showed to him by many of them. Somehow, in my mind, I also remember one reason being the frustration he felt at some of the poor German he had to listen too—but that could be something I have added to the tale myself, reflecting my own ambivalence as a Westerner working in Japan who has to deal with various levels of arrogance and competition when it comes to who speaks whose language and how well. At any rate, Dr. Cho began again by reading novels, he told me, though I cannot remember which ones. I always chuckle when I imagine the surprised expressions that he must have aroused when he first engaged them in their own tongue, these professors who had been so used to conversing with Dr. Cho in German. 

That is especially so because, especially to educated Japanese some years younger than Dr. Cho, his proficiency and the elegance with which he speaks must be particularly humbling. The formal, literary Japanese he uses is certainly a thing of the past here. 

One way in which he specifically influenced me came as a result of a lecture I heard him give at Kindai University in Osaka, while I was still a student in the city. Speaking to undergraduates in the humanities, he told them that if they wanted to understand their intellectual and spiritual heritage as East Asians, they must master kanji, Chinese characters. Japanese high school students learn the roughly 2,000 standard-use characters that they need to read a newspaper today, but often not many more than that. In kanji, he said, is held the ideas of a civilization. I took that to heart, and tried to learn as many as I could, although I must say with regret that after starting full-time work my studies have slowed. I hope to get back to them one day. 

I have been fortunate to meet with Dr. Cho many times in Japan, and to be showered with attention when introduced as his “deshi” (disciple). I have also spent time with his late wife, Professor Kim, as well as their daughter and grandchildren when they visited here. I have a fond memory of the time I went to meet him at Kansai Airport, only to receive as a souvenir a box of beefsteaks—the best in Buffalo, he exclaimed! As a student living in a dormitory at the time, it goes without saying that these were much appreciated. 

Probably my fondest memory of Dr. Cho in Japan was a simple comment he made while visiting Osaka University, where I was a graduate student at the time, and he had come to give a lecture. As was the case with many public universities in Japan and often still is, the faculty building left much to be desired. Cold concrete and draughty windows, old and ugly with wretched lavatories, we were climbing up the stairs when Dr. Cho turned to me and said in a voice meant for everyone to hear, “It’s a shame that the American’s didn’t bomb this building in the war. Then you would have had a nice, new place to study now!” The Japanese professors clearly did not share the dark humor of this comment. Of course they said nothing, coming as it did from this Great Sensei. Not to mention that it came from someone who had personally suffered under Japanese imperialism. To me, however, this comment came not from an angry or resentful Korean, but from a joking American. There was nothing mean in the words at all. He really was just poking fun at the terrible condition of the university. 

Dr. Cho is a scholar whose life and mind have spanned so many civilizations in his career. I have essays marked up by him, with notes in English, German, Korean, Japanese, Greek, and classical Chinese. He has always needed at least four languages to hold his thoughts. I am honored to have been able to share with him just two of these, and know very well that there is much to my professor that has not been revealed to me because I can’t work in the other two. My career in Japan and my entire life have been deeply influenced by Doctor Professor Kah-Kyung Cho. For that I will always be grateful, and I will always cherish the wisdom and knowledge he has shared with me over the years. 

Justin Murray, ABD, Co-editor, Introduction



Further information forthcoming.

Hans Rainer Sepp, PhD, My Encounter with Kah Kyung Cho and the Foundation of the Orbis Phaenomenologicus

Hans Rainer Sepp, PhD.

Hans Rainer Sepp, PhD

Hans Rainer Sepp, PhD, Professor, Faculty of Humanities, Charles University, in Prague, Czech Republic; Director, Central European Institute of Philosophy, Czech Republic, together with Karel Novotný.

Bio: Hans Rainer Sepp, PhD, is dealing with a genealogical theory of conceptions of knowing in intercultural respects overlapping areas of philosophy, science, religion, and art realized in the context of a renewed phenomenology of corporeity as the basis of an interdisciplinary as well intercultural oikological philosophy. Together with Kah Kyung Cho and Yoshihiro Nitta he founded and edits the book series Orbis Phaenomenologicus. His most recent book publications include Philosophie der imaginären Dinge (2017) and In. Grundrisse der Oikologie (2020).





My Encounter with Kah Kyung Cho and the Foundation of the Orbis Phaenomenologicus

Hans Rainer Sepp, Prague

It is with great gratitude that I look back on the time when I first came into contact with Kah Kyung Cho. The reason for our first contact was the 50th anniversary of the death of Edmund Husserl. At that time I was working at the Husserl-Archive of the University of Freiburg and planned to prepare an exhibition on Husserl and the Phenomenological Movement and to publish a catalogue volume.[1] For the exhibition and the catalogue I needed photographs of Marvin Farber and Fritz Kaufmann, who both taught at the University at Buffalo.[2] For this purpose I contacted Professor Cho at the end of April 1987 and asked him for help in obtaining the pictures. In mid-May I already received the affirmative answer “that the responsible archivist of the local university has arranged the necessary.”[3]

A few months later, on January 21, 1988, Professor Cho informed me that the Department of Philosophy at the University at Buffalo had come into possession of the Husserl-Farber correspondence. However, this correspondence was only a part of Farber’s estate which the University at Buffalo had received and which, as Cho stated in his letter, also contains letters that Farber exchanged with Ludwig Landgrebe, Alfred Schutz, Dorion Cairns, Helmut R. Wagner, and others.[4]  I was then able to inform Professor Cho that shortly before that, Mrs. Anna-Maria Husserl, the second wife of Husserl’s son Gerhart, who lived near Freiburg, had left us the correspondence that her husband had conducted with Farber. These letters were mainly from the years 1936 (the year of Gerhart’s emigration to the USA), 1939 to 1943 and 1945 to 1947, which were mainly about the founding of the American Society of Phenomenology and the Journal of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. In January 1991, Kah Kyung Cho wrote to me that in the 50th anniversary issue of this journal his publication of the correspondence between Edmund Husserl and Farber had appeared,[5] and in early summer of the same year I was finally able to send a copy of Gerhart Husserl’s correspondence with Marvin Farber to Buffalo.

In autumn 1991, Kah Kyung Cho told me that after a guest semester he gave in Korea, he had come to Europe at the end of September to attend the conference of the German Society of Phenomenology. There he gave a lecture on phenomenology as a medium of intercultural research. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend this conference, so we could not meet in person at that time. Besides the commitment to the documentation of the international phenomenological movement and the work ethos of a research community, the topic of interculturality remained one of our common interests. Even more so, we saw that the one required the other, because phenomenology as open philosophical research is not conceivable in any other way than the mutual mediation and examination of our own cultural traditions. At a time when intercultural philosophy was still largely unknown at German universities, and when the first sustainable advance in this direction had been made in 1992 with the Society for Intercultural Philosophy, which was founded by Ram Adhar Mall in a highly commendable manner, Kah Kyung Cho had already published his book Bewußtsein und Natursein (Consciousness and Being of Nature) with Karl Alber in Freiburg half a decade earlier, in 1987, which was subtitled “Phenomenological West-East Divan.”[6]

According to Kah Kyung Cho’s understanding, intercultural philosophizing does not intend a mere comparison of different cultures but rather the mutual philosophical penetration of the spiritual foundations of grown cultural traditions, so that in the mirror of the respective other one, one’s own illuminates anew and both approach each other without revealing their own profile. As a medium for such an approach, Cho had found phenomenology, which seems to be predestined for this function because of its attitude as a community of researchers, in that it is open to the other from the outset, realizing itself apart from the alternative of mere school tradition on the one hand or a series of lonerunners on the other. It was this connection between both a lively phenomenological research as well as its interpersonal and intercultural profile that finally brought Kah Kyung Cho and me together in the project to establish a new international book series on phenomenology.  


The idea for such a book series was in a way the result of the Freiburg exhibition and the catalogue volume. The aim of the new publication organ was to bundle worldwide phenomenological research according to three aspects: firstly, to explore what has been achieved so far in the sense of a comprehensive survey of country-specific developments; secondly, to provide translations; and thirdly, to promote current phenomenological studies, be they secondary or primary monographic works. The stock-taking should combine the critical presentation of phenomenological topics and directions with a solid documentation, whereby the assembly and discussion of divergent phenomenological approaches was intended as a springboard for original further developments of phenomenological thinking. Therefore, the series was to be conceived without a predetermined edition plan, despite its systematic approach in a certain sense.[7] As a working title for this series I had initially chosen the somewhat colorless term “Phenomenological Library” and first discussed the project in 1990 with Dr. Meinolf Wewel, the long-standing director of the publishing house Karl Alber in Freiburg, who strongly supported it from the beginning.

The idea was that three main editors should be responsible for the series, representing the three continents where phenomenological research had developed most intensively until then: Europe, Asia and America. It was fitting that I met Professor Yoshihiro Nitta, the leading phenomenologist of his generation in Japan, at a conference in Freiburg in autumn 1990. A few years earlier, Professor Nitta had also published a volume with Alber in which he presented a cross-section of current phenomenological research in Japan to the German-speaking public.[8] One year later, in 1991, when he spent a longer research stay in Freiburg and we had the opportunity to talk in detail about the conception of the book series, Nitta agreed, to my great pleasure, to act as one of the three main editors. As I was busy in the winter of 1991/1992 with the preparation of the last stations of the Husserl exhibition, which was still to be shown in Halle an der Saale and finally in Prague, and with the completion of my doctorate, the work on the foundation of the book series was delayed and with it the search for the third main publisher. But very quickly Yoshihiro Nitta and I agreed then to send a request to Kah Kyung Cho, with whom Nitta had been personally acquainted for some time. Given Cho’s interest in the phenomenological project of an open research community, intercultural issues, and intercultural exchange – a profile that was entirely also in line with Yoshihiro Nitta’s view of phenomenology – we could not have made a better choice. So I wrote to Professor Cho in April 1992 and presented him with the conception of the planned series.

My letter sent by air mail took more than three weeks to reach Kah Kyung Cho. His reply of May 22, in which he noted that my letter of April 28 had arrived “only yesterday”, was thus sent stante pede – and to my relief, with unambiguous approval. I can still remember the day when his reply letter, this time only a few days later, came into my hands. It was one of those rare moments of happiness when a long planned enterprise finally got the go-ahead. Now it could start! In the following time we exchanged a considerable number of letters, always in cooperation with Yoshihiro Nitta and the publisher Meinolf Wewel, which first of all dealt with the determination of the Editorial Board and the Advisory Board. We appointed to the Editorial Board mainly such colleagues who have themselves worked as editors of phenomenological publication organs, while we filled the Advisory Board with mainly established, supraregionally known personalities. After some hesitation, Kah Kyung Cho was also able to accept the final title of the series, Orbis Phaenomenologicus, which I proposed.[9] In preparation for the start of the series in the following year 1993, the layout of the book and the production of a special brochure were discussed, and at the turn of the year Professor Cho submitted an English version of the advertisement text.

In the meantime we had started to send us urgent messages by fax through the publishing house. In his letter of early January 1993, still sent by conventional mail, Cho noted: “For some years now, American universities have been saving on heating and electricity by switching off all functions for the Christmas and New Year holidays. That’s 11 to 12 days, and that also means that the mail, within the campus service, is stopped”.[10]  In the same letter, Kah Kyung Cho announced that he intended to travel to Germany again in the spring because he had promised to give lectures in Cologne and Erlangen. And indeed, at the beginning of April, Professor Cho came to visit my wife and me in our former apartment in Emmendingen near Freiburg. So this was the first time that we met in person after a six-year exchange by letter. There is also a photo of us from this meeting, whereby Kah Kyung Cho jokingly remarked that this picture could one day also appear in a picture book.

In September 1993, the first volume of Orbis Phaenomenologicus, the German translation of a work by Gustav Špet, a pioneer of phenomenology in Russia, saw the light of day.[11] “It was with great satisfaction that I looked at the first volume of the Orbis Phaenomenologicus on several occasions. Its presentation was truly solid and worthy of the global intention,” Kah Kyung Cho wrote to Meinolf Wewel. “The fact that this first volume presents a hitherto little-known but important Russian representative of phenomenology and hermeneutics to Western circles is significant in terms of contemporary history and also with regard to worldwide cooperation and intercultural exchange”.[12]

As is often the case with projects, especially those designed for a longer period of time, this also happened to the Orbis Phaenomenologicus. The ideal plan at the beginning went through the baptism of fire of hard reality and was forced to adapt to the circumstances. It was clear from the beginning that taking stock of phenomenological concepts was a matter that required time. In order to start the series and publish at least one or two volumes each year, it was first necessary to resort to monographic works: translations such as Špet’s book and current research. However, the publication of the series was made even more difficult by two additional circumstances, due to Alber’s publishing policy on the one hand and my academic career on the other.

As far as Alber was concerned, Meinolf Wewel, who had supported our project so energetically since the beginning, retired at the end of 1994. Wewel presented his successor at the conference of the German Society of Phenomenology held in Freiburg in October 1994, which was also attended by Kah Kyung Cho. Dr. Erich Schönleben was the ideal choice for all of us; he had received his doctorate with a thesis on Heidegger and also had practical publishing experience. Unfortunately, after a short time, a disagreement arose between him and the Herder publishing house, to which the Alber publishing house belongs. In April 1995 I had to inform Kah Kyung Cho and Yoshihiro Nitta that after the dismissal of Erich Schönleben, the publishing house had become leaderless and that either its integration into the Herder publishing program or even its dissolution was threatening. Already at that time we considered as ultima ratiothe change to another publishing house.

However, this first crisis of the Alber publishing house was cushioned in the same year, after massive intervention by almost one hundred authors, by the appointment of another publishing director. In 1997, in consultation with the new head of the publishing house, we agreed that the Orbis Phaenomenologicus would in future consist of two sections, Perspectives and Sources, and that it would be flanked by a further series, which would include translations and monographic research also in two sections: Phänomenologie Texte and Phänomenologie Kontexte.[13] With this new constellation, another five volumes could be published in the Orbis Phaenomenologicus by 2001, including the volume of phenomenology in Korea, which Kah Kyung Cho had been very committed to promoting from the outset.[14]

Exactly five years after the first incident, in April 2000, a second crisis occurred for the publishing house of Alber, and the same scenario was repeated: the second publishing director after Wewel was also dismissed, and more than two years of uncertainty followed as to the future of Alber. In the spring of 2002, when the Herder parent company still had not made a decision, we decided to change with the Orbis Phaenomenologicus to Königshausen & Neumann – a publishing house founded in 1979 by two philosophers from the University of Würzburg. Fortunately, Alber had a happy ending when Lukas Trabert was finally appointed as the new publishing director. With great skill and personal commitment, he breathed new life into Alber and recaptured the fame of the past days with his own ideas. After the change to Königshausen & Neumann, we expanded the Orbis programme once again with a further, third category (Studies), which now again provided for the inclusion of current research work.

As far as I was concerned, as one of the three main editors I had also taken on the task of coordination as secretary of the series. The plan was to link the editorial program of a stock-taking of phenomenological research and, basing on this, its further development in intercultural exchange with the establishment of an institution. It was already clear at that time that the established Husserl Archives, with which phenomenological research in particular was associated in the first place, would have to look for new fields of activity after the expected completion of the edition of Husserl’s Collected Works. Moreover, in my view, it was necessary to broaden the perspective of phenomenological research, which was all too much tailored to Husserl. To this end, I wrote concepts for a “Center for Phenomenological Research”, either to expand existing institutions or to establish a new institution for the care of phenomenological ideas. However, the plan to expand the Freiburg Husserl Archive in this sense failed, as did attempts to establish a Phenomenological Center at the University of Halle and then at the Technical University of Dresden. In Germany, there seemed to be no longer any interest in phenomenological research. Kah Kyung Cho aptly characterized this with the words: “We speak so easily of the global impact of phenomenology, but unfortunately it is the case that the former Federal Republic of Germany still has to do a bit of coming to terms with the past in the area of phenomenology”.[15]

Thus it was not by chance that the door opened in another country: Dr. Ivan Chvatík, the director of the Prague Patočka Archive, and Professor Pavel Kouba invited me in 1995 to develop the Patočka Archive into a center for phenomenological research, the Centrum fenomenologických bádání. As part of the Center for Theoretical Study (CTS) founded in 1990 by Ivan Havel, the brother of the State President of the Czech Republic, a joint institution of Charles University in Prague and the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Archive was integrated into a flourishing interdisciplinary and international environment. At last, the Orbis Phaenomenologicus had found an anchorage that matched its intended profile! In order to breathe life into the new center, I organized, with the financial support of the Volkswagen Foundation, a series of conferences, colloquia and workshops over the almost ten years from 1996 to 2005, some of which had the original purpose of taking stock of phenomenology and resulted in Orbis volumes.[16]

Already in the mid-1990s, Kah Kyung Cho, Yoshihiro Nitta and I had considered the idea of organizing Orbisconferences, which would have the dual purpose of not only us, the editors of the series, meeting regularly, but also of bringing together editors of volume topics and of preparing the conference themes of such events for the edition. The opportunity for a first Orbis meeting was provided by the conference “The Structure of the Intercultural World” organized by Professor Ryōsuke Ōhashi in Kyoto in February 1997. It was the first time that we three series editors came together. This was to be repeated at two further conferences which I prepared under the auspices of the Prague Center: in autumn 2000 in Olomouc and in summer 2001 in Freiburg. The conference in Olomouc, titled “Future Phenomenology,” was held from the point of view of a small orbis: on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the appearance of Husserl’s Logical Investigations, I, together with Professor Ivan Blecha, who teaches at the University of Olomouc and who had taken over the excellent local organization, invited about 25 phenomenologists from as many countries.[17] The highlight was the unveiling of a commemorative plaque at the Town Hall of Husserl’s birthplace Prostějov south of Olomouc. The conference in Freiburg in 2001, which was organized in conjunction with the Fink Archive there and mainly with the participation of Japanese colleagues, dealt with an intercultural topic: “The Phenomenon of Life”. The results of this conference were later published as an Orbis volume.[18] Also published in Orbis were the contributions to a conference that Dr. Cathrin Nielsen and colleagues organized on the topic of “Phenomenology and the Body-Soul Problem” in October 2004 in Prague on behalf of the Center.[19] This event offered another opportunity to meet Kah Kyung Cho and to show him where I worked in Prague at that time.


Today, the edition work of the Orbis Phaenomenologicus comprises almost 100 volumes including the eight volumes that were published with Alber between 1993 and 2002. The coordination of the series is now linked to the Central European Institute of Philosophy, which Professor Karel Novotný and I founded in 2009 as a joint institution of the Faculty of Human Sciences of Charles University and the Czech Academy of Sciences.[20]

For many years Professor Cho had been thinking of publishing a second German book, a counterpart, so to speak, of his work Bewußtsein und Natursein, which was published by Alber. It was – how could it be otherwise! – to be interculturally oriented again and contain some of the essays that Kah Kyung Cho had written since then, either in a revised version or in a first German translation. We discussed this plan in a concrete outline for the first time in Prague on the occasion of the aforementioned conference in 2004, when Cathrin Nielsen immediately agreed to take over the task of copy editing and translating the texts not yet available in German. And of course the book should be published in the Orbis Phaenomenologicus! The publication of this book was a matter of the heart for Cathrin and me, and so we did not let up in the following years and urged Kah Kyung Cho with persistent obstinacy to help complete his work. In autumn 2016 the time had come: the stately volume with the title “Phenomenology in the Light of the East,” so beautifully formulated by Kah Kyung Cho, could finally go to press: with a volume of around 350 pages, about the same scope as its predecessor, only now printed with the larger type area by Königshausen & Neumann.[21]

This book not only contains Cho’s subtle analyses of the encounters between Eastern and Western philosophies, as in the case of Leibniz’s interest in China and Heidegger's preoccupation with Lao Tse. In it we also find the German version of the correspondence between Edmund Husserl and Marvin Farber, which Cho had edited in English in 1990 and which was published at that time in the beginnings of our encounter. But a special jewel in this volume are the personal memories with which Kah Kyung Cho breathed new life into the early years of his stay at Heidelberg University and his encounters with Karl Löwith and Hans-Georg Gadamer. Thus, this unique book is once again a living mirror for the interpersonal and intercultural character of phenomenology – a characterization with which phenomenology perhaps only emphasizes the fundamental disposition of all philosophizing in East and West, and which to bring to light is in turn Kah Kyung Cho’s imperishable achievement.[22]


[1] Hans Rainer Sepp (ed.), Edmund Husserl und die Phänomenologische Bewegung. Zeugnisse in Text und Bild, Freiburg/München: Karl Alber, 1st and 2nd ed. 1988.

[2] Marvin Farber (1901-1980) was instrumental in introducing phenomenology to the USA. Kah Kyung Cho paid tribute to his life’s work in: “Marvin Farber in memoriam: His life and work for phenomenology in the USA,” in: Phänomenologische Forschungen, vol. 12, 1980, 145-172. Fritz Kaufmann (1891-1959) emigrated to the USA, as did many other German-Jewish phenomenologists.

[3] Letter of May 15, 1987. – Kah Kyung Cho writes excellent German. The quote in its original wording: “„daß der zuständige Archivar der hiesigen Universität das Nötige veranlasst hat.“

[4] Ludwig Landgrebe (1902-1991) was a student and private assistant to Edmund Husserl, after the war professor of philosophy at the University of Cologne and founder of the Husserl Archive there; Alfred Schutz (1899-1959) emigrated to the USA and later taught at the New School for Social Research in New York; Dorion Cairns (1901-1973) was professor of philosophy and psychology at Rockford College in Illinois, then also at the New School for Social Research in New York; Helmut R. Wagner (1904-1989) taught sociology at the University of Bucknell, Pennsylvania from 1956 to 1964 and subsequently headed the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York.

[5] Kah Kyung Cho, „Phenomenology as Cooperative Task: Husserl – Farber Correspondence during 1936-1937“, in: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, vol. L, Supplement, 1990, 27-43.

[6] Kah Kyung Cho, Bewußtsein und Natursein. Phänomenologischer West-Ost-Diwan, Freiburg/München: Karl Alber, 1987.

[7] The concept was merely divided into five sections: 1. the contributions of phenomenology to philosophical and scientific disciplines, 2. phenomenology in its relation to the history and present state of philosophical positions, 3. phenomenological topics, 4. persons and regions, 5. translations and new monographic works.

[8] Yoshihiro Nitta, Japanische Beiträge zur Phänomenologie, Freiburg/München: Karl Alber, 1984.

[9] Thus he remarked in his incomparable, just as bindingly humorous as subversive-strong way: “’Orbis Phaenomenologicus’ is not to be objected to. Everything depends on the content. Just to keep the esoteric aftertaste at bay, would it perhaps be appropriate to add a German title ‘Phenomenological Circle’?” (Letter of August 24, 1992. – “Orbis Phaenomenologicus’ ist nicht zu beanstanden. Alles kommt auch den Gehalt an. Nur, um den esoterischen Beigeschmack vom Leibe zu halten, wäre es vielleicht angebracht, einen deutschen Titel ‚Phänomenologischer Kreis’ anzuhängen?”)

[10] Letter of January 4, 1993 (“Seit einigen Jahren sparen die amerikanischen Universitäten an Heizung und Strom, indem sämtliche Funktionen für die Weihnachts- und Neujahrsfesttage eingestellt werden. Das sind elf bis zwölf Tage, und das bedeutet auch, dass die Post, innerhalb des Campusdienstes, gestoppt wird”).

[11] Gustav G. Špet, Die Hermeneutik und ihre Probleme (Moskau 1918), ed. Alexander Haardt & Roland Daube-Schackat, trans. from Russian by Erika Freiberger & Alexander Haardt (Orbis Phaenomenologicus, V, vol. 1), Freiburg/München: Karl Alber, 1993.  

[12] Kah Kyung Cho to Meinolf Wewel, letter dated September 21, 1993 (“Mit viel Genugtuung betrachtete ich mehrmals den ersten Band des Orbis Phaenomenologicus, dessen Ausstattung wirklich gediegen und der globalen Intention würdig ausgefallen ist. Daß mit diesem ersten Band ein bisher wenig bekannter, aber bedeutender russischer Repräsentant der Phänomenologie und Hermeneutik den westlichen Kreisen vorgestellt wird, ist zeitgeschichtlich und auch im Hinblick auf die weltweite Zusammenarbeit und interkulturelle Austauschbeziehung bedeutsam”.)

[13] Ed. by Karl-Heinz Lembeck, Ernst Wolfgang Orth and Hans Rainer Sepp. Until 2001 15 volumes were published; later this series was continued by Alber with new editors: Jean-Luc Marion, Marco M. Olivetti and Walter Schweidler.

[14] Kah Kyung Cho & Jeon Sook Hahn (eds.), Phänomenologie in Korea (Orbis Phaenomenologicus, I: Perspektiven, vol. 1), Freiburg/München: Karl Alber, 2001; and in 1999, Phänomenologie der Natur / Phenomenology of Nature, ed. by Kah Kyung Cho & Young-Ho Lee could still be published as a special volume (“Sonderband”) of the Phänomenologische Forschungen at Alber.

[15] Letter from Kah Kyung Cho to me dated March 9, 1994 (“Wir reden so leicht von der globalen Wirkung der Phänomenologie, aber leider ist es so, daß die frühere Bundesrepublik noch in Sachen der Phänomenologie ein Stück Vergangenheitsbewältigung zu leisten hat”.)

[16] Today, the first section of Perspectives contains volumes that relate phenomenology to philosophical and scientific disciplines such as system theory, literary studies, feminist philosophy, philosophy of science, anthropology, ecology, and to positions and topics in the philosophical tradition such as Leibniz and the body-mind problem; to phenomenological topics such as epoché and reduction, phenomenality, imagery, life, corporeality, transcendence, alterity, sociality, technology, violence; which also deal with regional traditions of phenomenology such as in Spain, Slovenia, Korea and Japan and the life’s work of persons such as Wilhelm Schapp, Edith Stein, Eugen Fink, Jan Patočka, Heinrich Rombach.

[17] The contributions to this conference were published in: Ivan Blecha (ed.), Fenomenologie v pohybu, Olomouc: Univerzita Palackého, 2003.

[18] Hans Rainer Sepp & Ichiro Yamaguchi (eds.), Leben als Phänomen. Die Freiburger Phänomenologie im Ost-West-Dialog (Orbis Phaenomenologicus Perspektiven N.F., vol. 13), Königshausen & Neumann: Würzburg 2006.

[19] Cathrin Nielsen, Michael Steinmann, Frank Töpfer (eds.), Phänomenologie und das Leib-Seele-Problem (Orbis Phaenomenologicus Perspektiven N.F., vol. 15), Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2007. At this conference, Kah Kyung Cho gave the lecture “Monade contraBody-Soul Dualism. Leibniz, Husserl and the Organic World View”, published ibid., 52-66.

[20] Středoevropský institut pro filosofii (SIF), www.sif-praha.cz.

[21] Kah Kyung Cho, Phänomenologie im Lichte des Ostens (Orbis Phaenomenologicus Studien, vol. 43), Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2017.

[22] The present text was written at the Faculty of Human Sciences of Charles University.

Thanos Spiliotakaras, ABD, Co-Editor, Introduction



Thanos Spiliotakaras is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at the University at Buffalo. He is currently composing a dissertation on Kant's Critique of the Power of Judgment. Before joining the University at Buffalo, he completed a BA at the University of Athens, Greece, and a research MSc at the University of Edinburgh,UK. His research interests include Kant, Hegel, German Idealism, Aesthetics, 19th and 20th century continental philosophy. 

Tani Toru, PhD, Person and Culture



Tani Toru, PhD, ProfessorCollege of Letters/Human Studies Program, Ritsumeikan University, Japan

Further information forthcoming.


Bernhard Waldenfels, PhD, Note of Remembrance



Bernhard Waldenfels, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Ruhr University Bochum, Germany

Bio: Dr. h. c. Bernhard Waldenfels has been teaching as Visiting Professor in Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Louvain-la-Neuve, New York, Prague, Rome, and Vienna. He is co-founder of the German Society for Phenomenological Research.


Note of Remembrance

Bernhard Waldenfels, University of Bochum  


Surely Professor Kah-kyung Cho is one of the rare scholars who are really able and ready to  bridge the distance between Eastern and Western thinking, being deeply rooted in both traditions. Whenever I met him, in Buffalo or in Seoul, or when I was looking into his 

writings I was highly impressed, not only by his extraordinary scholarship but also by his fine sense for the questioning wich keeps each culture alive. He makes use of the best ideas which eastern-western philosophy, especially phenomenology and hermeneutics offer, taking Nature as a key word. Hence the Antwort auf das Fremde, * which I contributed to a Festschrift in his honour twenty years ago, still persists.


* Bernhard Waldenfels, “ Antwort auf das Fremde ” in Phenomenology of Nature: Festschrift in Honor of Kah Kyung Cho, edited by Young-Ho and Soon-Young Park: 101-113. Seoul: The Korean Society for Phenomenology, 1998. 

Photo Gallery

Caption forthcoming.
Caption forthcoming.
Caption forthcoming.
Caption forthcoming.
Photograph courtesy Angela Menditto.

Photograph courtesy Angela Menditto.