American Realism in the Early 20th Century

CfP: Phenomenological and Direct Realism

Submissions are invited for a volume of The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy.

Phenomenological and Direct Realism

Guest Editors: Daniel Neumann & Alexander Ehmann

The beginning of the 20th century saw the emergence of several philosophical movements whose aim was a philosophical theory of knowledge and cognition of the world as it is in itself. The foundation of this knowledge was not to be found in the human mind, psychologically or pragmatically construed, but in the very things which the mind comes to discover. This special issue aims at a discussion of the topics of realism and knowledge of the in-itself based on two philosophical movements in particular: early phenomenology, specifically as a form of phenomenological realism that emerged in the Munich and Göttingen Circles, and direct realism, which emerged around the same time in the United Kingdom and America, with the cooperative study “The New Realism” (1912) by Holt, Marvin, Montague, Perry, Pitkin and Spaulding as the starting point for a broad discussion of perception and reality. Today, direct realism receives renewed attention by scholars such as Brewer, Locatelli, and Clark.

Phenomenology was conceived to be a new method that would lead philosophical research “back to the things themselves”. While there was considerable disagreement about the kind of methodological and ontological commitments this entailed, what one finds in many phenomenological accounts is the idea of an a priori whose validity does not depend on its being discerned by any one mind. In this respect, research on the global requirements of realism among the proponents of early phenomenology is still scant. Evidence for the a priori has been given by Husserl, Reinach, Conrad-Martius, Scheler and others in different forms of eidetic investigation. This poses the question of how to justify realist assumptions across different phenomenological approaches, and whether there is a phenomenological idea of the a priori to be formulated independently of the aforementioned positions. Similarly, direct realism in epistemology and the philosophy of mind is the view that perception is not mediated by representational means such as concepts or ideas but that things are perceived directly, thereby grounding our knowledge of and about the external world. However, it remains a largely unresolved issue of how direct realism can account for knowledge of and about things that are not directly perceivable, such as, for example, elementary particles or laws of nature. After all, direct perception of things as they are only provides epistemic access to exactly those parts of the world that are directly perceivable. Thus, if and how exactly direct realism is able to provide the foundations for a comprehensive metaphysics of the world as a whole remains an open question.

This special issue pursues a historical and a systematic interest. Historically, the contemporary emergence of two realist movements raises the question of why, and in which context, phenomenologists and direct realists came to formulate their programmatic return to realist methodologies. The systematic question concerns the overarching motives and approaches to realism in perception and intellection.

Suggested venues of inquiry include, but are not limited to:

  • What is the shared historical context between direct and phenomenological realism, for instance regarding the reception of, and dialogue with, other contemporary philosophical programs such as Gestalt Theory and Neo-Kantianism? Despite being prima facie separate movements, scholars like Külpe had connections to both. How far did these connections go, and how significant was their impact on the respective movements?

  • What are the overarching reasons and motivations for turning to a form of realism, specifically where this is understood as a corrective or readjustment of philosophical inquiry?

  • How is direct or phenomenological evidence given for the claim to mind-independent knowledge in its different variants, such as a priori laws and relations? How can direct and phenomenological realists account for the reality of, and our knowing about things beyond that which is (directly) perceivable?

  • How far do the respective realisms extend into the external world? I.e., what, beyond the a priori valid and directly perceivable, is considered “real” by these movements?

  • How are epistemological concerns founded on, or independent from, questions of ontology and metaphysics? In particular: are metaphysical preconceptions guiding epistemological considerations concerning the methods of acquiring knowledge about the world? Or are these epistemological considerations limiting what can be known and said about the metaphysics of the world?

Submission Guidelines can be found here.

Deadline for submissions: 1 October 2024