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The Logic of Reflection: German Philosophy in the Twentieth Century.

Roberts, Julian. The Logic of Reflection: German Philosophy in the Twentieth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992. viii + 307 pp. $30.00--This book is a rich and provocative synthesis of the history and the doing of philosophy. In that synthesis, the author's detailed analysis of four principal figures (Frege, Wittgenstein, Husserl, Habermas) converges on his own representation of philosophy in "the logic of reflection"--a version of transcendentalism that Roberts traces to its Kantian source. The provocations of the book are no less clear and usually, although not uniformly, fruitful.

One might question the evident overstatement in the book's subtitle, given that Roberts, addressing twentieth century German philosophy, finds for Heidegger only ten preliminary and dismissive pages and fewer pages still for the neo-Kantians whom he himself follows; and given also his ahistorical stance on the philosophers whom he does discuss. The issues of how, in other than the loosest sense, Wittgenstein is a German philosopher, or what the relationship is among the four philosophers principally considered, or what other lines of philosophical development in Germany compete with the line emphasized here are left largely untouched.

The claims by Roberts for a metaphilosophical view grounded in the "logic of reflection"--"transcendental" rather than "realist"; "dialogical," not "monological"--are urged explicitly in the book's Introduction and Conclusion and more subtly in the critical history developed between them in which Roberts's sure dialectical grasp and skill as an explicator are notable. His contention in the individual chapters that are devoted to his four principal figures is not that they are committed to the philosophical program he himself advocates, but that in both their major contributions and the objections to which their work is (he claims) open, they point in that direction; there is, in effect, a systematic and unified philosophical moral to be drawn from their otherwise different stories. Thus he finds in both Frege and Wittgenstein the common thesis that "the structures of truth and certainty are only very inadequately rendered in natural language" (p. 55). In Frege and Husserl he finds an equally vigorous argument against "psychologism": the reduction of logic (or reason as such) to psychological matter-of-fact, "the effects of neuro-chemistry, habituation, or whatever" (p. 159). To move between this traditional Scylla of Platonizing dogmatism (of which Roberts finds Frege himself in part guilty) on the one hand, and the Charybdis of empiricist skepticism on the other, is to recognize both that there is knowledge which is more than "merely" empirical and that such knowledge also "is determinate: it has boundaries. But drawing the boundary . . . does not itself fall within that bounded determination" (p. 29). Thus emerges the transcendental move to the conditions of knowledge which, for Roberts, is all that philosophy can reasonably hope to discover. The detail of this positive side of Roberts's argument, cumulative through the analyses he gives of the four thinkers on whom he focuses, is suggestive more than demonstrated, although always imaginative and resourceful. An example is his contention (which he claims to be a transcendental condition for the Kantian view of rationality) that "ethics . . . is the grounding meta-discourse of logic" (p. 31), since the latter assumes "the interaction of distinct minds"--in Roberts' own terms, "dialogical acquisition" (p. 286).

No brief summary can do justice either to the close and intense reading that Roberts gives of the philosophers he scrutinizes or to the arechitectonic he builds on their work; the gaps that arguably disrupt this architectonic (why, for example, is it a necessary condition for my knowing that I also know "whether |you' know things that can disrupt my universal generalisations" [p. 286]?) are incentives, it seems to me, for the elaboration of what is already an unusually imaginative and sustained philosophical project.
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Author:Lang, Berel
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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