Erano questioni un po’ da manicomio: una terminologia da medici dei matti. Per la pratica ci vuol altro! I fumi e le filosoficherie son da lasciare ai trattatisti: la pratica dei commissariati e della squadra mobile è tutt’un altro affare: ci vuole della gran pazienza, della gran carità: uno stomaco pur anche a posto: e, quando non traballi tutta la baracca dei taliani, senso di responsabilità e decisione sicura, moderazione civile, già, già: e polso fermo. Di queste obiezioni così giuste lui, don Ciccio, non se ne dava per inteso: seguitava a dormire in piedi, a filosofare a stomaco vuoto, e a fingere di fumare la sua mezza sigheretta, regolarmente spenta.

Carlo Emilio Gadda, Quer pasticciaccio brutto di Via Merulana.[1]

§1 A clueless detective

We are all familiar with this kind of scene, and with how quickly a throng can condense around the spot, its size proportional to the gruesomeness of the incident. Let us suppose, thus, it is one of those physical, dramatic murders that, at least when it befalls the rich or famous, ensnares our imagination and lingers in people’s memories for a long time.

Make it a wealthy fellow. Murdered in a bustling commercial boulevard while slipping out of his company’s head office. In spite of the many witnesses, the killer gets away, leaving the victim and the turmoil behind him. Let us suppose, also, that a police detective has been dutifully called to the site. First, he examines the victim. Then, he approaches the crowd — their resolution to stick around showing no signs of wavering — and asks for any witnesses who could tell him something about what took place there. One of them steps promptly forward: “Yes, I observed the entire scene. I was passing by when I saw the old man being stabbed in the stomach”. Another witness, though, overhearing the exchange, thinks it a good idea to add his own impression of the situation: “I watched the whole thing myself. I was standing right here and, though it happened very fast, I saw clearly that the man was murdered.”

What would we think of this detective if, instead of having been reassured of the situation, he now asked, perfectly puzzled: “Well, something’s off here! One of you must surely be wrong: was the man stabbed or was he murdered?”


§2 The mob

Mobs are amusing objects. Where the hurried glance of the passer-by might take the occasional crowd in the street as a mere lump of people, gathered around some fleeting interest or barely extraordinary occurrence — the unavoidable coagulation of human traffic in a metropolis — a more patient gaze, informed maybe by a persistent habit of discrimination, often reveals that mass to be a rather incongruous amalgamation of the most disparate types of city-dweller.

Besides, what comes together in a mob is not just the people, but also their prospect of whatever is the focus of their collective attention. Let us consider again the mob that has formed around our crime scene. If we asked people to describe what they saw or what they heard to have happened, at the end we would have an accordingly rich assortment of descriptions. “A ruthless killing, it seems,” one might briefly reply. Another, already informed of the situation, could tell us that “a well-known industrialist had been attacked.” “It must have been a deep wound, there was an awful lot of blood,” someone would say, with a keener eye, while those more easily impressed might quickly give in to an emotional response: “a horrible tragedy,” “a painful thing to watch.” Finally, somebody who knew who the man really was — maybe someone who had worked for him — could certainly read the situation differently, and present us with a much less impartial description: “if you ask me, I’d say he had it coming, the fat pig.”

Now, would it not be reasonable to suppose, standing before a seemingly endless variety of descriptions, that one could maybe, for a moment, be struck by a question similar to that of our confused detective, and wonder whether we are really talking about the same fact at all? Well, if one asked any of the people at the scene, there would be no hesitation: that is the incident we’re referring to, right there in front of our eyes. To be sure, any detective — were he to have a slight chance of solving this crime — would have to know beforehand; he would have to take for granted that all of this was the case. His case to solve. In order to crack it, in order to find the culprit, he would listen to every witness and write down, in his report, all the information gathered from the testimonies. He would have to consider the situation from under every aspect: the shape of the wound and the intent of the killer; the victim’s blood type and his private aspirations; his conjugal and social relationships; his public image and possible enemies; and so on. There must be no doubt as to the correctness of these procedures. For all purposes, we are indeed talking about one and the same fact, and we are not making a mistake in setting off to deal with it in its entirety. We are simply going about our lives the way we always do.

Our ability to understand it to be the same event all these people are talking about — our ability to recognize its identity, over and against the multifarious apprehensions of the mob — is, in truth, characteristic of how we experience the world, and is even a fundamental feature of this experience. As Husserl would put it, we are taking a glimpse here at “how human beings naturally live”[2] . And he would further explain it:

I am conscious of a world, endlessly spread out in space, endlessly becoming and having become in time. I am conscious of it, and that means above all that I immediately find it intuitively, I experience it. Through seeing, touching, hearing and so forth, in the various manners of sensory perception, corporeal things in some sort of spatial distribution are simply there for me. (ibid.)

And yet, while we immediately experience the world in sensory perception, spreading within time and space, this does not mean that it is experienced in this way alone.

I find myself in relation to the one and the same world, though it is constantly changing with respect to its make-up, content-wise. It is continuously 'on hand' for me, and I am myself a member of it. This world is not thereby there for me as a mere world of things [Sachenwelt]; instead, with the same immediacy it is there as a world of values, a world of goods, a practical world. Without further ado, I find the things before me outfitted with the make-ups of things but just as much with valuable characteristics; I find them to be beautiful and ugly, pleasing and displeasing, agreeable and disagreeable, and the like. Things stand there immediately as objects of use, the 'table' with its 'books', the 'drinking glass', the 'vase', the 'piano', and so forth. (ibid., p. 50/ transl. pp. 49-50)

What is characteristic here is that the world appears populated not only with physical but also with social objects; with symbols, instruments, works of art and institutions; with bodies as well as souls, some of them even belonging to human beings, most of these humans belonging to communities of various sorts[3].

Most importantly, all of that is given to us as already being arranged within nature. “Constantly,” says Husserl, “nature is given to us, and we, the persons, we are given ourselves to us and given to others as belonging in nature.”[4]. The natural and the social coinhabit, so to speak, a common place, and it all appears as being “simply there for me” — which could just as well be taken to mean “being there for me simply” — just as there was the incident in front of the crowd. What happens is the “mobbing” of those many different worlds (of things, values, practical goods, and so on), which ultimately appear to us as the world of our everyday experience: that one shared, meaning-laden, awful mess of a world in which we live.

Reflecting upon these multiple ways of looking at the world, conjoined in the assessment of our criminal incident, would it not be forceful to say, in Anscombean fashion, that this is a case of the same event under different descriptions?


§3 Another concept of description

And yet, this is not the only way we go about our lives. A contrasting example would be that of, say, a natural scientist having accepted the task of producing a report on the geological composition of some recently-discovered island. The boundaries of his description, in this case, are to be set not only by the territory of the island but also, and in a quite different way, by the kind of description he is expected to carry out.

The man would have set his gaze on a very specific path: his task is not to account for the human activities on the island nor to include in his report any aesthetical consideration of its landscape. For a naturalist who had his intentions set on writing a strictly scientific description, the eruption of Vesuvius would never have been “the lips that never lie,” or something witnessed by Pliny, but only the explanation of some kind of rock formation, or the result of a certain degree of seismic activity. And even if the geologist had to describe human interference in the terrain of the island, for instance, he would not be describing the human interference so much as the geological effects caused by some kind of agent.  

This geologist would not do like Melville in his description of the Galápagos, who sketches the portrait of his Enchanted Islands by depicting the dreariness of the landscape as well as by presenting the census of its inhuman and animal inhabitants, by showing us ruins of the forays of buccaneers and by retelling the tales of the many attempts at settling in on those islands: the vain endeavours of self-proclaimed kings and well-known madmen. Not at all. He must, instead, restrict his interest, artificially and methodologically, in accordance with the proper scientific import of his description. All he sees is nature, Husserl would say[5] and, as a result, he traces to himself a domain, meaning this island under this specific, strictly geological consideration.

We can consider a domain, if we want, as being delimited by a potentially infinite chain of questionings, as long as these questionings stick to the corresponding theoretical interest. In Husserl’s words, our “theoretical pursuit never has to lead us away from the domain; no matter how far we penetrate into its infinite horizons, it is a self-enclosed horizon that we can never trespass”[6]. Certainly, I can still have different descriptions of the same object: I can talk about limestone or about a sedimentary rock mainly composed of calcite. I can also go further in the classification of various types of limestone according to their composition or relate them to other kinds of sedimentary rock and so forth. No matter how much we add, though, no matter how extensive and varied we make our descriptions, we can always continue our investigation with concepts that belong to this domain — in our case, natural scientific concepts (instead of, say, mathematical or sociological). One will thus never leave the domain, unless there is a shift in the theoretical interest.[7]

The fact that the case of the social scientist is more complicated than that of a geologist or zoologist should not lead us immediately into thinking it cannot be explained in a similar fashion. The political scientist, for example, does not ignore that the institutions he studies, the communities, the events and the social relations, all depend, one way or another, on a physical structure, on a natural world. Yet this is no objection to our claim. All these structures, for him, appear as precisely that: the structures underlying the objects of his study. They are not for him, as they are for the natural scientist, the goal of his interest; nor are they that in terms of which is to define and investigate his own field.

Any justification of a truth, in the case of the social scientist, is to be given in terms of its own fundamental concepts, regarding objects of the social world. The methods he uses must be in accord with this domain of objects, and the legalities which explain the events and objects of his subject matter are distinct from the causal nexus which explains the natural world. Surely, we cannot deal here with the matter of how exactly justification in the social sciences is essentially different from that of the naturalist.[8] Suffice it to say that when the historian is asked whether he is sure that the October Revolution marked the end of the Provisional Government, it is no answer — or at least not enough of an answer — to simply point at the new occupants of the Winter Palace, or indeed to point at any other physical fact. The answer must be grounded through the fundamental concepts of the domain of such political or historical research.

This is also the reason why, strictly speaking, there can be no natural history of man — the impossibility of which does not even require any imagination to be recognized. A quick look at Prichard’s descriptions of the flattened skulls of Titicaca, or of the dietary habits of the Botocudos, and one will realize that not a single man is to be found throughout those pages.[9]

What all these examples show, anyway, is a certain concept of description, different from that involved in the notion of ‘under a description’, and according to which we can speak of something as not belonging within a description. Thus, for instance, mental states do not belong in a geographical description, and aesthetical considerations do not belong in the description of a political scientist. The many descriptions under which a fact may fall do not matter here; rather, it matters what kind of facts belong to this or that description. And of course, the two concepts are not exclusive: even if not everything can belong within one certain description, one can still have many descriptions of the same thing belonging to this certain description. However compatible they may be, though, ‘description’ here designates not a single term and not a certain linguistic form of expression, but a whole piece of knowledge: a part of a theory, its boundaries set by the sort of theoretical interest with which it is invested. A description, in this sense, charts a domain of objects, instead of distinguishing meanings for the same object.

Now, the scientist who pursues this type of theoretical interest is, first of all, engaged with the world in a way that is radically unlike that of men and women in their everyday business. There is something in scientific activity that fundamentally differs from what we do when we shop for groceries or talk to our friends. It is what Husserl calls, with a deceptively simple label, the attitude of the scientist.[10] Moreover, someone living in this theoretical attitude will then have — at least in the case of our familiar, positive scientists — some kind of restriction in his interests, according to the domain of the science he is engaged in. That means he can no longer rightly and freely count on that identity which, in our crime scene, for example, allowed us to refer to it indistinctly as a murder or a stabbing, as tragedy or as poetic justice. Were a forensic anatomist to analyse this crime scene, the very question of knowing whether the natural event he describes is identifiable with this or that social fact, with this or that value attached, would be, in an important sense, off-limits.


§4 On Brute Facts

In her 1958 paper, “On Brute Facts”, Anscombe provides an account of how different descriptions can be given — for instance, “leaving a quarter of potatoes at my house” and “supplying me with potatoes” — of what is, after all, the same fact.

In relation to many descriptions of events or states of affairs which are asserted to hold, we can ask what the ‘brute facts’ were; and this will mean the facts which held, and in virtue of which, in a proper context, such-and-such a description is true or false, and which are more ‘brute’ than the alleged fact answering to that description.[11]

Anscombe denies here, as she does throughout the paper, that beyond the mere moving of potatoes, there should be some factual surplus: an added amount of fact needed in order to verify a more complex description such as that of a commercial transaction. In this sense, the relation between a series of what she calls brute facts and the facts in relation to which those facts are brute is to be understood as the difference between descriptions of the same factual core.

Given, then, that there is no factual surplus to distinguish both events, in case one wants to account for there being such different descriptions, says Anscombe, one needs to look at the context surrounding the facts. In the right context, I can assure you that “supplying you with potatoes” is “leaving potatoes at your house” — insofar as nothing out of the ordinary is going on around us: as long as it is an ordinary day at the market, you are a fellow citizen, and I have no secret intentions of tricking you, for instance.

Now, Anscombe’s paper is as dense as it is short. It matters not to us how she deals with, and ultimately dismisses, certain complications in understanding the role of context in the differentiation of these descriptions, and then the way in which she herself understands it. Suffice it to say that what is most important to Anscombe is finding a way to justify complex descriptions, such as those about promises or social events. And yet, it turns out that context, whose precise role is to account for those more intricate descriptions, is always open to an infinite variation of disruptive circumstances. A grocer leaving potatoes at my house, in the right conditions, consists of said grocer supplying me with potatoes. But given unexpected circumstances — the grocer having arranged for someone to eventually take them back is Anscombe's odd example — these facts consist of nothing more than the potatoes being left at my house. So, considering that there is an infinite amount of these extraordinary conditions (and, one could imagine, there are increasingly more of them as they become increasingly absurd), context is something that can never be fully spelled out. As Anscombe puts it, there is “no such thing as an exhaustive description of all the circumstances which theoretically could impair the description of an action of leaving a quarter of potatoes in my house as ‘supplying me with a quarter of potatoes’”[12].Rather, context must be taken to consist in a certain normality of the circumstances. The result is that there is no way to justify definitively these kinds of higher descriptions. Justification is probable, at best. All that one can count on in guaranteeing the truth of a complex description is asserting the truth of the brute facts and hoping that nothing is out of place as far as context is concerned.

Not that this needs to be a problem, of course. “Exceptional circumstances,” says Anscombe, “could always make a difference, but they do not come into consideration without reason”[13]. Thus, “if one is asked to justify A,” a more complex description, “the truth of the description xyz is in normal circumstances an adequate justification: A is not verified by any further facts”[14]. This is precisely, Anscombe could add, how we go about justifying our assertions in our daily trading with the world — it is a just picture of the workings of our everyday reasoning.


§5 Context, interest and justification

Extraordinary circumstances, Anscombe had told us, such as the grocer having arranged with someone to retrieve the potatoes, could lead me to realize that he was not supplying me with potatoes, but was, in reality, just leaving them at my house with the intent of taking them back later. This is what she calls in her paper the “impairment” of a description by some unexpected disruption of the normal circumstances.

But what really happens as we pass from the first to the second description? Extraordinary circumstances must have been found to be the case, that is for sure. They must have led me to realize that what seemed like the grocer supplying me with potatoes was rather an attempt at deceit, or, in some way, a misunderstanding; either way, it was a failed transaction. Additionally, though, my attention must eventually have slipped from this failed transaction to the physical event, which did indeed consist of the carting of potatoes to my house.

If someone had simply asked me what had gone wrong, my most immediate answer would have been that “he bamboozled me,” or something of the sort, and not “well, I thought he had supplied me with potatoes, but he had actually just left them at my house.” Yet someone could, additionally, have called my attention to the relation between these facts: “How come I saw him passing by with his cart in the direction of your place, and still you say he has not supplied you with potatoes?” I would then focus my interest towards the description of the physical events that would usually have accounted for the potato transaction, and I would explicitly draw the relation between his not having been faithful to the transaction and having merely left potatoes at my place instead of that.

Anscombe’s own questions in the paper already operate by guiding our attention towards the relationship between these different kinds of events. In a certain passage, she says that if someone was asked when he was supplied with the potatoes, he would have answered simply “when the grocer left them at my house” — Anscombe’s point being to show that he would not have said anything about the context in his answer, only stated the brute facts. And while her point is sound, this remains, nevertheless, a very peculiar sort of “when” question. Usually, in this context, a “when” question would be made with the expectation of an answer referring to the time frame of the commercial transaction itself: “When did the grocer supply you with potatoes?” “Earlier this morning,” would be the much more common answer to a much more common query.

Of course, none of that should count as an objection to Anscombe’s scenario, or as denouncing the insufficiency of her account. It was not her intent in the paper to describe any of the psychological workings of these people. Her point was always to spell out the way we can justify complex descriptions in terms of more brute ones. In order to do that, she does not need to make interest, attention or attitude explicit — and she certainly does not need to set foot in descriptive psychology or phenomenology. In fact, it seems like it could well be explained in terms of Anscombe’s talk about the normal circumstances that must hold in order to justify a description in terms of another one. All that is required is that, when we speak of these normal circumstances, we do not take it only to mean things such as “we are not a Hollywood set,” or only to refer to the context “of our institutions,” but to include also other kinds of regularities. Certainly, normal context could be said to include ideas such as the way in which people behave as if they have a normal experience of the world or, if we prefer, that they behave as they usually would.

Such a normal experience, as we have seen already, would assume that people are able to freely experience the world, to navigate that multi-layered structure formed by the mobbing of different strata, and to discover, on the eventual impairment of a higher description, some other description underneath it. It would assume that one can, with a change of interest, find something else there, in roughly the same place as the object at which his interest was first directed, and ultimately as being the same fact. It is that feature which explains why I am able, throughout the course of my life, to find pleasure at the sight of carnations, but to also think of these same carnations as a gift from Celeste Caeiro; or why I can, as I watch her on television, either observe the Queen of England at an international summit, or focus on her as a point of turquoise blue amidst an ocean of grey and black.

It is worth noting, indeed, that when Anscombe goes on to actually describe the way we pass from one description to another, she moves from top to bottom, so to speak, by depicting the impairment of a more complex description and the revealing of another one underlying it. This is how our natural experience of the world unfolds. The natural attitude, Husserl would say, is the complex, multifarious one from which I can, by some shift of focus, pass to other, more specific attitudes. This shift of focus is exactly what happens when I carry out scientific research, or even when, more generally, through the course of my natural life, I merely act as the scientist, as it were; abstracting from the practical objects of my daily use, I thus consider exclusively their physical aspect. Just as in Anscombe’s depiction, these more brute layers are not the most immediately apparent, but require a purposeful concentration, or the disruption of the layers above it.

We have already noted, moreover, how Anscombe’s own philosophical procedure — the questions she puts forth in a scenario which would otherwise be a perfectly ordinary shopping trip to the market — has this function of guiding our attention. Indeed, Anscombe’s inquiry conducts our interest away from the daily tasks we usually carry out in the world — that world coinhabited by physical and social events, values and things — and into a more specific kind of questioning about its underlying stratum or, at least, about the grounds on which I can justify ordinary behaviour.

Now, however, if one of the features of this natural attitude is the possibility of the specialization of my interest towards the world, and if this interest can even be systematically and methodologically restricted — as in the bounded, scientific descriptions we saw earlier — then in those cases, it no longer makes sense to talk about justifying such descriptions by asserting the truth of descriptions that lie outside these boundaries. As we have seen, any kind of social scientist would be expected to refer to the fundamental concepts of his domain as justification. Conversely, in the strictly bounded description of, say, an anthropologist, no amount of context impairment would be enough to transform human into animal. In these cases, the justification was of a completely different kind.

What Anscombe does seem to be providing, then, is a quite intricate portrayal of some of the different patterns of justification we employ in our ordinary, everyday activities. We say “some” because, as was suggested before, questions about social objects can perfectly be answered by reference to their own features, as for instance by making reference to its proper temporality. What we have is, most of all, an accurate depiction of the way in which, given our normal, unrestricted experience of the world, context then governs the possibilities of directing our attention, and allows us to justify some kinds of descriptions in terms of brutish ones.

Considering this picture, to talk about normal circumstances is first to talk about that which provides the setting for the correct justification of one kind of description in terms of another. It is also, though, to talk about the common ground of our ordinary ways of dealing with the world in which this justification can happen, and in which only it can take place. These normal circumstances are not merely the context in which I am right to say that the grocer leaving potatoes at my house is his supplying me with potatoes but at the same time, the context, in a more elementary sense, in which I am able to bring both these things together, and out of which any question of their relation can be put forth.

Those are, indeed, the very normal circumstances in which we can recognize that these two things are not really two distinct things, in an either-or relation. Or would someone who did not immediately understand the identity between these two facts not be utterly abnormal, just like our detective, who could not get his bearings at the crime scene? Finally, then, we could return to the beginning of Anscombe’s paper, and see this very normal context operating when, after asking whether owing the grocer could consist in any facts beyond the fact of the delivery of the potatoes, she promptly replies: “No.”[15]


§6 Non-starters and starting points

A passage very similar to Anscombe’s laconic answer in “On Brute Facts” appears in a writing published in 1979 — more than 20 years after the former (1958) and after Intention (1957) — in which she discusses objections and misunderstandings related to her notion of ‘under a description’, operative already in the writings of the 1950s. Examining it could help us better understand how the notion of normal context is central to Anscombe’s philosophy in these texts.

If one says that one and the same action (or other event) may have many descriptions, it is sometimes supposed that this must be said in the light of a theory of event-identity. Now this appears to me no more true than that one can only say one and the same man may satisfy many different definite descriptions in light of a theory of human identity. There may be different theories of human identity, yielding different results in curious describable cases. But what would we say of a theory which grants that a certain man, Dickens, wrote David Copperfield and Bleak House and that only this Dickens wrote David Copperfield, and only this Dickens wrote Bleak House — but does not grant that “The author of David Copperfield” describes the same man as “The author of Bleak House”? […] We’d say that it is a non-starter: any theory of human identity has got to fit in with the correctness of calling the author of David Copperfield the same man as the author of Bleak House […].[16]

Correspondingly – and this is her point – any theory of action must assume from the start that it is the same action we describe as, for example, the intentional action of putting a book down on the table or as the unintentional action of putting the book down on an ink puddle[17]. The identity of such an event is thus something from which one would have to start in order to develop anything like a theory of actions or events.

Anscombe’s point, a very fine one that some of her Davidsonian followers may have failed to grasp, is that this kind of identity is not a theoretical claim, meaning it is not being made in light of any theory. It might even be something like a thesis, a positing about something, but a thesis which, though Anscombe would probably not put it that way, is pre-theoretical: it is not – and this is what she says – “a philosophical thesis”[18]. It simply shows the way things are: it is how we deal with our environment and how we meet and interact with other people. To give any different answer to that question than the one given in “On Brute Facts”, to take any other stance towards the identity of events than that which is assumed in “Under a Description” would be to deny the very normal context in which we deal with the world, and the mob-like identity under which we encounter its objects and events. It would be to approach philosophy like the clumsy detective approaches his crime scene. Anything that goes in another direction is, as she tells us, a non-starter[19]. That is to say, we have already had a beginning handed to us. This is the fundamental level; it is the common ground upon which any theory must be built, and upon which Anscombe herself will then be able to build her own investigations into events and actions.

That thesis, then, if we can call it that, points to an important commitment in Anscombe’s thought, and maybe hints at the sense of her linguistic method among other sorts of “ordinarianism.” For it is not the case here of either following superficial grammar, nor of correcting the course of those misled by it. What must be taken up in philosophy from ordinary life is not the way people effectively speak. Anscombe’s pictures of language-use and her own talk about philosophical concepts are anything but simple or usual. What is crucial here is the idea that philosophical talk can and must be done on that same ground where we carry out our natural, practical affairs. It is the idea that the philosopher must be something like a good detective, yes, or maybe something like an unusually ingenious grocer. And yet, such an engagement also means that the philosopher must be more like the good detective than the good scientist — at least supposing that any scientist will be, as scientists usually are, a scientist of something specific, and will have his interest set by the domain of his inquiry. This is a way of doing philosophy that struggles against specialization. In this sense, ‘ordinary’ here does not stand against ‘extraordinary’. It sets ordinary against specialized talk: the talk of an amazingly cunning layman against the talk of the specialist.

Now, this is a reasonable enough commitment, one might say. It is hardly a presupposition to want the philosopher to wander the same world as everyone else’s. It is only fair to expect him not to postulate any theory beforehand, and not to take on the attitude of the specialist. Certainly, it is more than natural to assume the philosopher not to be some kind of lunatic, and for him to be able to navigate the world, unlike the bewildered investigator of our crime scene. Since the time of Socrates, philosophy has dwelled in common space, and is meant to speak to grocers, poets and politicians alike. It is no job for a handful of specialists, but has something to do with the whole of human activity and with the integrity of a human life. In so being, it is reasonable enough to suppose that it be carried out in the context of our usual, daily experience of the world.

All of that is reasonable enough, certainly. But then again, is “reasonable enough” enough for philosophy? We have seen that Anscombe’s strategy of appealing to context in order to account for the justification of some descriptions had only a limited validity. She herself knew this quite well, and took no issue with the fact that “deception is always possible,” as special contexts can always make for a radical disruption of the normal circumstances[20]. As a common ground for inquiry, as a starting point, normal circumstances can always only allow for the building of normal, non-definitive justifications.

The need to bring our inquiry down to the city was one of Socrates’ abiding demands to philosophers, and it must not be given up. Still, was it not the same Socrates who, in his examination of practical life, requested a sort of radical justification, clearly more secure than the one which was then current in the marketplace? In his relentless, seemingly unreasonable interrogation, was Socrates not, without ever abdicating the public, political disposition of philosophy, requiring at the same time a further kind of reason, distinct from that which justified transactions in the market? Would it not be a sort of reason — as those who came after him would eventually realize — whose model was to be looked for in the dealing of the scientist, and of the mathematician in particular, more than in the activity of trade? And, in the face of this double requirement, then, how could we choose to engage in philosophy either like the good layman or like the good scientist? Could it be, after all, that our puzzled detective was actually on to something?


[1] These were babblings for the nuthouse: terminology used by doctors of crazy people. The practice is something else entirely! Smokescreens and philosophizing are better left to scribblers and  treatise-writers: the actual practice of investigators and the judiciary police is a very different story: it takes a great deal of patience and generosity, not to mention a strong stomach and, when all the shanties of Italy are not teetering and tumbling, a sense of responsibility and steady decisiveness – civil moderation, okay, sure: and a firm grip. He turned a blind eye, don Ciccio, to these so befitting objections: he continued to sleep standing up, to philosophize on an empty stomach, and to pretend to smoke his half-cigarette, usually already snuffed out. (Translation: author and Abigail Prowse).

[2] Edmund Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Erstes Buch: Allgemeine Einführung in die reine Phänomenologie. Husserliana III/1, p. 48. English translation: Ideas for a Pure Phenomenology and a Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, p. 48.

[3] Edmund Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Zweites Buch: Phänomenologische Untersuchungen zur Konstitution. Husserliana IV, p. 182. English translation: Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and a Phenomenological Philosophy. Second Book: Studies in the Phenomenology of Constitution, pp. 191-192.

[4] Edmund Husserl, Aufsätze und Vorträge (1911-1921). Husserliana XXV, p. 145.

[5] Husserl, Ideas II, p. 183. English translation, p. 193.

[6] Edmund Husserl, Natur und Geist. Vorlesungen Sommersemester 1927, Husserliana XXXII, p. 52.

[7] One might object to the seeming arbitrariness of this staunch division of the world into self-enclosed domains. It is true that the ultimate justification for this claim lies far beyond the field of the theory of science. For a detailed exposition of the relation between the domain of a science, the ontological region to which it is attached, and a glimpse of the phenomenological justification of such a partition, see Husserl’s Natur und Geist,Hua XXXII.

[8] On this point, I cannot but refer again to Husserl’s detailed discussions — particularly Huas IV, XIV-XVI and XXXII — as well as to the wider debate it is part of, especially with Dilthey, Windelband and Rickert.

[9] A much more subtle and interesting question is whether there can be an histoire naturelle de l’âme.

[10] Again, technical discussion aside, it should be noted, at least, that this concept — the significance of which for Husserl’s project of transcendental phenomenology has only in recent scholarship been properly measured — has both a precise meaning and central place in his philosophy.

[11] Elizabeth Anscombe, “On Brute Facts,” p. 24.

[12] Ibid., p. 23.

[13] Ibid..

[14] Ibid., p. 24.

[15] Ibid., p. 22.

[16] Elizabeth Anscombe, “Under a Description,” p. 210.

[17] Ibid..

[18] Ibid., p. 211.

[19] Ibid., p. 210

[20] Anscombe, “On Brute Facts,” p. 23.


Anscombe, Elizabeth. 1981a. “Under a Description” (1979). In: Metaphysics and the Philosophy of MindThe Collected Papers of G. E. M. Anscombe, Volume Two. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. pp. 208-220.

_____. 1981b. “On Brute Facts” (1958). In: Ethics, Religion and Politics – The Collected Papers of G. E. M. Anscombe, Volume Three. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. pp. 22-25.  

Husserl, Edmund. 1952. Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Zweites Buch: Phänomenologische Untersuchungen zur Konstitution. Husserliana IV, Herausgeber Marly Biemel. English translation: Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and a Phenomenological Philosophy. Second Book: Studies in the Phenomenology of Constitution. Trans. Richard Rojewicz and André Schuwer. 1989. Dordrecth/Boston/London: Kluwer Academic Publishers.  

_____. 1976. Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Erstes Buch: Allgemeine Einführung in die reine Phänomenologie. Husserliana III/1. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. English translation: Ideas for a Pure Phenomenology and a Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology. Trans. Daniel Dahlstrom. 2014. Indianapolis/Cambride: Hackett Publishing Company.

_____. 1987. Aufsätze und Vorträge (1911-1921). Husserliana XXV. Herausgeber Thomas Nenon und Hans Rainer Sepp. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff.

_____. 2001. Natur und Geist. Vorlesungen Sommersemester 1927. Husserliana XXXII. Herausgeber Michael Weiler. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

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