Landgrebe, Ludwig (1902–1992)

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One of the most faithful followers of Edmund Husserl's phenomenology and phenomenological philosophy, Ludwig Landgrebe is equally known for his own contributions to these fields. What characterizes Landgrebe's work is his combination of philosophical issues and arguments with the precise delimitation of principles (or essential structures) whose rejection involves a contradiction. For example, he maintains that if one negates awareness, one nevertheless presupposes an awareness of this negation. (Landgrebe prefers the term "awareness" to "consciousness" due to the many traditional meanings associated with the latter.) As an assistant to Husserl, Landgrebe edited a number of Husserl's texts, including the classic Experience and Judgment. As a professor of philosophy at the university of Cologne, he formed a following of phenomenologists among whom are such notables as Klaus Held, Ulrich Klaesges, and Donn Welton. Landgrebe attracted students and audiences by his vast scholarship and personal modesty, both of which were seamlessly coupled with conceptual and logical clarity. While at home in all the modern speculative metaphysics, from Descartes through Kant, German Idealism, Nietzsche, and twentieth-century French thought, Landgrebe did not engage in speculative philosophy. When asked at DePaul University (Chicago) during a discussion of Husserl's understanding of the "subject" what its proper phenomenological status is, Landgrebe replied: "If I were to speculate, I would say that it is a monad with a window."He lectured widely in Latin America, the United States, and Eastern and Western Europe.

For Landgrebe, phenomenological philosophy is an effort to combine as clearly as possible an exposition of a given philosophical position, an analysis of the prejudgments or principles without which such a position could not be maintained, and an examination of the adequacy of the principles necessary to account for it within the context of the phenomena encountered in human awareness. For example, Kant proposes to account for all knowledge on the basis of a priori structures in the manner of a transcendental deduction that explicates the empirical domain; but he does not, on Landgrebe's view, account for the mode of awareness required to secure access to the a priori domain at issue in this deduction. Such awareness is required, according to Landgrebe, if the a priori, or any other epistemological, ontological, or even metaphysical conditions are to be evidentially legitimated. This does not mean that Landgrebe avoids treating such conditions in terms of their conceptual meanings; however, he maintains that anyone positing such conditions will also have to show the manner in which they are accessible to awareness, because failing this, the one positing them is placed in the untenable position of positing conditions that she is unaware of. Only the interrogation of such awareness will be able to decipher what is essential in each condition. Thus Landgrebe's analyses and investigations are designed to articulate the awareness implicit in the most fundamental experiences that open up what is essential in the experienced, lived world.

Themes of Landgrebe's Work

Landgrebe's work has three major themes: philosophical anthropology, the basic structures of awareness, and history.

the first theme

The first theme, according to Landgrebe, is called for by modern philosophical, cultural, and historical relativity. Within the latter, two claims are preeminent: (1) that different cultures, historical periods, and societies offer various, even clashing, interpretations of human beings; and (2) that modern scientific and technological thinking offers the means to "make" the human into something "new" or even radically different from what it has been previously. Landgrebe points out that these various views and proposed transformations of the human assume a tacit "essence" as far as awareness is concerned, which allows the difference inseparable from the different views and transformations to be directed toward something that appears to awareness as an invariant. Without the latter, no sense could be made of the claim that what "humans" are depends on cultural, historical, social, and even technical definitions and constructs. All these are different from one another. Yet simple differences would allow only the claim that at different times and in different places there were descriptively different creatures, which could only result in a catalogue of the various differing depictions. But even those who claim that there are radical differences in cultures, societies, and histories, still insist in using the phrase "different humans"and it is this phrase that implicates the appearance of an invariant across all differences.

the second theme

Landgrebe's second theme maintains that neither empiricism, with its emphasis on the contingency of facts, nor rationalism, with its stress on conceptuality and universal necessity, is adequate to account for concrete human awareness. The former, with its succession of impressions, cannot account for the continuity and unity of experience. The latter, as is obvious from Kant, can account for neither the unity of experience without positing the "I think" accompanying all representations, nor for the individuality wherein such representations could be attributed as "mine." In terms of philosophical anthropology, empiricism reduces the human to a "factum brutum," whereas rationalism treats the factual human as an instance of a universal concept.

Landgrebe holds that this fails to account for the distinguishability of individual subjects from one another. To confront this issue, Landgrebe's investigation begins with the life-world and our direct experiential "opening" to it. Movement, in correlation to the things of the environment, is an epistemic requirement needed to form primal perspectivity, time awareness, and special formations. From the movement of the eyes that trace out the contours of things, to traveling around the planet, the focus and maintenance of the identity of anything is formed by body movements (kinaesthetic processes), movements that, for Landgrebe, manifest the body side of the transcendental subject. Moreover, various higher-level linguistic structures are formed at the level of movement, such as "if-then" implications: "If I want to see the other side, then I shall have to walk around the thing." Access to time and space is equally provided by bodily activities: "If I want to see the other side, I will have to be there and then." Activities also reveal the fundamental human "intentionality" and purposive understanding, including the instrumental selectivity of proper and unfitting factors leading to the fulfillment of purposes.

For Landgrebe, activities form habits and the primacy of the practical "I can" or "I cannot" perform something. They comprise singular "habits" (though not in the Humean sense of the association of ideas) that distinguish one individual from another. Such distinctions arise as activities oriented to common tasks wherein we begin to recognize our "otherness" on the grounds of what we can and cannot do, and not on the basis of the initial encounter with others as subjects or minds inside of bodies. Intersubjectivity is primarily formed at the level of bodily abilities such that we recognize ourselves and others on the basis of activities. The latter, in turn, are not arbitrary, but emerge in correlation to things that make "objective" demands on such activities. This means that the world is neither in doubt nor our construct. As "Euclidean beings," we must move around and not through things.

This claim must not be confused with any kind of realism or naturalism. According to Landgrebe, the natural presence of the world still requires an explication of the processes of awareness that are structurally distinct from the composition of things. Hence, metaphysical speculations might suggest that a special-temporal object is actually a flow of energies, or a slowly changing substance, but for awareness the thing is an X that is maintained as constant and given through the formation of movements and perspectives, of expectations of the next side and the unification of the previous side as sides of the same X. The X suggests the possibility of an indefinite ability to explore the given thing, an ability that is proper to it. One can see it from more perspectives, take it apart, and thus open up the "inner horizon" of the explored X. This complex process comprises the phenomena through which the real thing is experienced.

This level of primal awareness also opens up the "outer horizon" such that the thing is in a room, the room is in a house, the house is in the field, the field is in a region, and so on. The opening up of the external horizon is equally founded on the "I can," which is able to go on exploring and hence comprising an open space-time horizon which, while implicit in the initial awareness of the thing, opens up possibilities for exploration of the world. One may be aware that in one's own region there are hills, and more hills, but the horizon does not close; it is possible that beyond the hills there are deserts, lakes, flatlands, forests, cities, and strangers who "do things differently."

This horizon extends into indefinite possibilities that the ego can concretize by going from its region to that region "then" and discovering whether its intentional orientation toward the "that and then" region, say, as a possible desert, is concretized or disappointed. The ego expected a desert and there appeared a lake. Without such a horizon of possibilities and expectations there would be no mistakes. Empiricism and rationalism fail at this juncture. It needs to be said that at the level of movement the formation of horizons belonging to awareness involves a shift from direct perceptual fulfillment to an open world-horizon whose possibilities can only be partially concretized in direct awareness. Hence, on the one hand, in this awareness there is a "consciousness" that suggests perceptual fulfillability, whereas on the other hand, this same awareness is experienced as a transcendental condition for the experience of the world as a totality, albeit one completely accessible to a singular subject in her engagements with the world. This state of affairs leads Landgrebe to his next step: historical awareness.

the third theme

Historical awareness, Landgrebe's third theme, manifests itself as a horizon of the past achievements of others and their appropriation by the current inhabitants of the life world, including the manner that they may vary such achievements. At this level, Landgrebe raises the question concerning our experience of the historical past and rejects Hegelian dialectics, Marxian materialism, and empirical research. None can "travel to the past," except symbolically, and none can account for such would be symbolic understanding. Apart from that, such metaphysical "accounts" of history assume a continuous theoretical time without, however, offering any justification for its continuity. In this sense, we cannot think of history as a succession of events "in time" ruled by causes, or a deduction from the "eternity" of the "laws of dialectics" (either Hegelian or Marxian). Rather, history is an active engagement of making and building, of concrete projects based on what we can do and what others have done. What they have done is present to us such that we too could have acted and performed similar tasks, but we no longer do them in this way. We have acquired different abilities and hence have no necessary continuity with our predecessors.

The discontinuity does not imply that we are not open to the understanding of how they made things, what purposes are present in their buildings, implements, and comportment. We may learn some abilities from what they did, but also vary them in order to perform our own tasks. As was the case with the horizon of awareness, history comprises a horizon of what others have accomplished, thus extending our own horizon of possibility for transforming and varying our own abilities. This means that the historical others extend my perception and abilities, thus forming a "poli-centric" field of understanding. Our own perceptions would be limited without the others from whom we "borrow" perceptions and abilities and thus recognize our limitations and possibilitiesall of which, indeed, are open to the future. This view prevents speaking of a singular historical aim. Some tasks are completed and discontinued, the accomplishments abandoned; others are taken up in part after the builders and makers have long since disappeared, and still others are postponed for the future. The historical horizon of possibilities cannot be concretized in a totality; hence this openness precludes any claim that history has a singular purpose.

For Landgrebe there is another level of historical awareness: the transcendental. This type of awareness comprises a way to access the modes of perception that others assumed in their understanding of the world. Thus, whereas we may not have any knowledge of Aristotle's psychological, social, political, and personal life, we can say, from his writings, that Aristotle regarded the world as composed of substances. Each substance could be regarded under specific categories accessible to him as well as to us. In this sense, historical awareness of others is not regarded psychologically or internally, but as a mode of awareness that comprises a transcendental orientation toward the world accessible to anyone. Even when we disagree with Aristotle or Plato, we also must be aware of the way Plato or Aristotle regarded the world. This type of awareness is already intersubjective and is a condition for the claim that our own awareness is limited and in turn extended through others. We can "borrow" Aristotle's mode of awareness and enhance our own. This illustrates the sense in which for Landgrebe we comprise a field of poli-centric awareness that has historical depth prior to specific temporal locations. From this vantage point Landgrebe avoids various theoretical dilemmas. If a social philosophy claims that all social life, including theoretical thinking, is a result of material conditions, then previous historical views would not be accessible to us, because we do not live under those conditions. In turn, the view that all theories are based on given material conditions is itself a specific theory that reflects current material conditions; as such, it would follow that such a theory cannot make a universal claim. The same holds for theories of history that are premised on the notion that history is a contingent fact and all necessary truths, even in logic, are a result of "historical development." A contingent fact cannot be posited as a ground of necessity, because its "sense" as such a fact excludes "necessity."


Finally, beyond advancing the above theoretical issues, Landgrebe also engaged in the controversies surrounding the issue of whether there is one life world that is presumed as a ground of various societies and cultures, or whether such societies and cultures comprise distinct and, at times, incompatible life worlds. For Landgrebe this controversy reveals a most fundamental issue of awareness. If there were one life world, and we were completely immersed in it, then we would not be able to recognize our immersion in it. If there were more than one, we would then either belong to one or another and thus would interpret the other in terms of our own; hence, we would fail to recognize the distinction between them. If we can achieve access to both, then we cannot belong to either and must have an awareness of both and their differences. This awareness is taken for granted in all such comparative studies, and makes its appearance with Landgrebe's question: For whom are such life worlds given? This opens the discussion of transcendental awareness in its own right, apart from this or that (however radically different) content of such awareness. And it belongs to Landgrebe's enduring merit as a phenomenologist that this discussion can only be enriched by the consideration of his seminal researches into these three major themes of his work.

See also Husserl, Edmund; Phenomenology.


works by landgrebe

Philosophie der Gegenwart. Frankfurt: Ullstein Buecher, 1961.

Der Weg der Phäenomenologie. Guetersloh, Germany: Guetersloher Verlagshaus, 1963.

Major Problems in Contemporary European Philosophy, from Dilthey to Heidegger. Translated by Kurt F. Reinhardt. New York: F. Ungar, 1966.

Phäenomenologie und Geschichte. Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1968.

Perspektiven transcendentalphäenomenologisches Forschung; für Ludwig Landgrebe zum 70. Geburtstag von seinen Kölner Schülern. Hrsg. von Ulrich Klaesges und Klaus Held. The Hauge: M. Nijhoff, 1972.

Phaenomenologie Heute; Festschrift fuer Ludwig Landgrebe. Herausgeber Walter Biemel. The Hauge: M. Nijhoff, 1972.

Experience and Judgment: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic. Translated by James S. Churchill and Karl Ameriks. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973.

The Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl: Six Essays, edited and translated by Donn Welton. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Faktizität und Individuation: Studien zu den Grundlagen der Phänomenologie. Hamburg: Meiner, 1982.

Algis Mickunas (2005)

Burt Hopkins (2005)