Europe, or the Infinite Task: A Study of a Philosophical Concept

Europe, or the Infinite Task: A Study of a Philosophical Concept

Europe, or the Infinite Task: A Study of a Philosophical Concept

Europe, or the Infinite Task: A Study of a Philosophical Concept

Synopsis

What exactly does "Europe" mean for philosophy today? Putting aside both Eurocentrism and anti-Eurocentrism, Gasché returns to the old name "Europe" to examine it as a concept or idea in the work of four philosophers from the phenomenological tradition: Husserl, Heidegger, Patocka, and Derrida. Beginning with Husserl, the idea of Europe became central to such issues as rationality, universality, openness to the other, and responsibility. Europe, or The Infinite Task tracks the changes these issues have undergone in phenomenology in order to investigate "Europe's" continuing potential for critical and enlightened resistance in a world that is progressively becoming dominated by the mono-perspectivism of global market economics. Rather than giving up on the idea of Europe as an anachronism, Gasché aims to show that it still has philosophical legs.

Excerpt

The unmistakable sense of urgency that characterizes Edmund Husserl's explicit thematization of, and central focus on, Europe and the West in his reflections in the late 1930s must certainly be understood as a response to a precise historical and political reality—namely, the rise of fascism. And, where intellectual life is at stake, it must be seen as a response to German Nazism's hostility toward spirit (Geist). If, however, these late works are viewed exclusively from such an angle, then Husserl's recourse to Europe's cultural history and its origins in Greek philosophy as a means to counter the barbarism of the time may appear hopelessly naive—the response of a philosopher living in the thin air of his high-flown abstractions—particularly if one thinks of the atrocities that were still in the offing. Nonetheless, the political realities of the day do not entirely explain the central importance granted to Europe in these writings. Indeed, in the so-called Vienna lecture, titled “Philosophy and the Crisis of European Humanity,” and subsequently in his unfinished work, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, though Husserl clearly has fascism's grip on Europe in view, he in fact diagnoses a disease and a crisis in which Nazism is simply the most blatant symptom. It is a crisis of such drastic proportions that only a complete shake-up of Europe's traditions—its entire intellectual and cultural history—could offer hope of bringing about a reversal of Europe's otherwise inexorable decline and end. If Europe becomes so prominent in Husserl's late thought, and if he conjures its Greek heritage in the idea of a universal rational science, then it is because for him Europe is intimately tied to the very idea and promise of reason and rationality. What is called . . .

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