Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Cogito and the Gift: An Analysis of the Relationship between Descartes and Jean-Luc Marion

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Cogito and the Gift: An Analysis of the Relationship between Descartes and Jean-Luc Marion

Article excerpt

Jean-Luc Marion has emerged as one of the leading figures in contemporary philosophy, and his phenomenology of givenness has attracted wide commentary, and criticism, from both secular philosophers and Christian theologians. Marion's most well-known contribution to phenomenology is found in his "phenomenology of givenness," especially as articulated in his discussion of the "saturated phenomenon"-i.e., a phenomenon which is saturated by phenomenological intuition and cannot be determined or delineated by the observer, but rather makes possible the experience of the observer.1 Marion's quest for the saturated phenomenon develops with many issues in the background, including the attempt to overcome metaphysics and the (im)possibility of a mystical search for God; but the most common theme that Marion draws on for his phenomenology is the desire to find a "third reduction" for phenomenology beyond Husserl's reduction of phenomenology to the things themselves and Heidegger's reduction of our experience of the things themselves to the Being of beings.2 Marion identifies a hidden commonality in both Husserl and Heidegger's analyses in the fact that they both talk about these phenomena (the things themselves, and Being-in-the-World/ Death) as given (whether this givenness takes the form of Husserl's Gegebenheit or Heidegger's Es gibt). This talk by the German phenomenologists about a "given" alerts Marion to the possibility that the primordial (reduced) phenomena in Husserl and Heidegger's thought-objectness or beingness, respectively-alerts us to an even more primordial non-phenomenon that gives the possibility of all subsequent phenomena-a non-phenomenal phenomenon of givenness.

Marion summarizes the anatomy of this saturated phenomenon by provocatively calling it "an unconditioned phenomenon"-a phenomenal experience that is unconditioned by the individual's lived existence, and which instead conditions the individual and makes possible lived existence itself.3 This formulation, and the phenomenological arguments behind it, is obviously strange, and even paradoxical-a judgment Marion himself embraces-and has left both philosophers and theologians struggling to interpret Marion's thought and its repercussions. Some thinkers such as Dominique Janicaud and John Milbank completely reject the possibility of a paradoxical non-phenomenal phenomenon and opine that Marion illegitimately mixes philosophy and theology into a concoction that would be a fatal poison to both phenomenology and Christianity.4 On the other side there are many people who, even while reluctant to embrace all of Marion's conclusions, enthusiastically engage with his phenomenology of givenness and explore its consequences for philosophical and theological thought.

If our sketch of Marion's work stops here, we can safely claim to have summarized the main reasons for his fame in the English-speaking world; but we have neglected to mention half of Marion's work, for although he is most well known as a constructive phenomenologist, Marion developed his career as a scholar of Descartes. Although Marion first became known in English with the initial translation of God without Being into English in 1991, his work on Descartes's philosophy was neglected until Cartesian Questions: Method and Metaphysics was translated in 1999.5 The relatively lukewarm reception that Marion's scholarship on Descartes has received outside of France is hardly surprising, given that Descartes does not attract the same level of interest from the outside world as he does from the French. But it remains nonetheless unfortunate that Marion's scholarship on Descartes has passed largely unanalyzed in English; or, as Derek Morrow poignantly writes, "[critiques] of Marion's thought betray a certain impertinence in assuming, quite gratuitously, that one can safely ignore a substantial portion of Marion's corpus and still arrive at an accurate understanding of his intention."6 Marion himself seems to offer an implicit critique of this tendency to read his texts in isolation by explicitly juxtaposing his phenomenological innovations with discussions of Kant, Descartes, and Aristotle's thought, in addition to the obvious discussion partners of Husserl and Heidegger. …

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