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  • Date :
  • 6/9/2004
Roman Ingarden

Roman Witold Ingarden was born on February 5, 1893 in Kraków. He initially studied mathematics and philosophy in Lvóv, and in 1912 went to Göttingen where he studied philosophy under Edmund Husserl, taking four semesters of seminars with Husserl, from 1912 to 1914, and again during the summer of 1915. Husserl considered Ingarden one of his best students, and the two remained in close touch until Husserl's death in 1938 (their philosophical correspondence was eventually published as Husserl'sBriefe an Roman Ingarden). Ingarden also studied philosophy in Lvóv with Kazimierz Twardowski (who, like Husserl, was a student of Franz Brentano). When Husserl accepted the chair at Freiburg, Ingarden followed him, submitting his dissertation “Intuition und Intellekt bei Henri Bergson” in 1917, for which he received his Ph.D. in 1918, with Husserl as director.

After submitting his dissertation, Ingarden returned to Poland for the remainder of his academic career, first teaching mathematics, psychology and philosophy in secondary schools while he worked on his Habilitationschrift. That work, published asEssentiale Fragen in 1925, attracted some attention in the English speaking philosophical world, being reviewed twice inMind (by A.C. Ewing in 1926 and by Gilbert Ryle in 1927).With the publication of his Habilitationschrift, Ingarden was appointed as Privatdozent at the Jan Kazimierz University in Lvóv, where he was promoted to Professor in 1933. During this time his most well known work,The Literary Work of Art, was first published (1931, in German), followed byThe Cognition of the Literary Work (1936, in Polish). His academic career was interrupted from 1941-1944, when (due to the war) the university was closed, and he secretly taught philosophy at the university, and mathematics to secondary school children in an orphanage. At the same time (and despite the bombing of his house in Lvóv), Ingarden was working intensively on his magnum opusThe Controversy over the Existence of the World (the first two volumes of which were published in Polish in 1947 and 1948 respectively). In 1945 he moved to Jagellonian University in Kraków, where he was given a chair in 1946, however in 1949, (under Stalinization) he was banned from teaching because of his alleged "idealism" (ironically, a philosophical position against which Ingarden fought for most of his life) and for being an “enemy of materialism”. The ban continued until 1957, at which point Ingarden was reappointed to his post at Jagellonian University, where he taught until his retirement in 1963 and continued to write, publishing such works asThe Ontology of the Work of Art (1962) andExperience, Artwork and Value (1969). Ingarden died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage on June 14, 1970, while still fully engaged in his philosophical projects. A careful, detailed, and fully documented account of Ingarden's biography may be found in [Mitscherling, 1997], which also does much to settle the inconsistencies in earlier partial accounts of Ingarden's life.

Like many of Husserl's students from the Göttingen period, Ingarden is a realist phenomenologist who ardently resisted Husserl's apparent turn to transcendental idealism in theIdeas and thereafter. Although his training is phenomenological, his work on the whole is directed not towards understanding the basic structures of consciousness, but rather towards ontology. Indeed, Ingarden is one of the foremost practitioners of phenomenological ontology, which attempts to determine what the ontological structure and status of objects of various types must be, based on examining essential features of any experience that could present or provide knowledge of such objects—a method based in the assumption that there are essential correlations between kinds of objects and the modes of cognition by means of which they can be known.

Ingarden's best-known works, indeed the only ones known to most of his readers in the English-speaking world, are his works on aesthetics, especially literature—works that offer unrivalledly sophisticated and subtle accounts both of the ontological status of works of art of various kinds, and of our means of cognizing them. His phenomenological approach to aesthetics strongly influenced the work of Michel Dufrennes, and there are also strong resonances between his work on the ontology of art and contemporary analytic work in aesthetics, e.g., by Joseph Margolis, Nelson Goodman and Jerrold Levinson.The Literary Work of Art has been particularly influential in literary studies, where its effects are visible in Wolfgang Kayser's workDas sprachliche Kunstwerk and in the development of the schools of New Criticism and Reader Response Theory in the work of such theorists as René Wellek and Wolfgang Iser, respectively.

Nonetheless, the frequently exclusive focus on Ingarden's work in aesthetics is somewhat unfortunate and can be misleading about his overall philosophical focus and goals, for Ingarden produced an enormous body of work on a wide variety of topics. He was among the first to (in 1934) raise the classic criticism of logical positivism that the verifiability criterion of meaning is itself unverifiable, and produced a large body of work in epistemology, ontology, metaphysics, phenomenology, and value theory. The relative obscurity of Ingarden's work in these other areas is attributable in part to the relative isolation and interruption of academic philosophy in Poland in the period of World War Two and Soviet occupation, and in part to language barriers. Before the second world war, Ingarden (being German trained) published his works mainly in German, thus his early works such asThe Literary Work of Art appeared in German early in his career, and were to have a broad impact. But during the war, Ingarden (in a gesture of solidarity) switched to writing in Polish, a language speakers of English and other Western European languages were unlikely to read, and so his major works on ontology went largely unnoticed by the wider European and Anglo-American philosophical circles. His major work in ontology,The Controversy, for example, was not translated into German until 1964, and (except for a small part, printed under the titleTime and Modes of Being) remains unavailable in English.

Seen more as a whole, Ingarden's body of work revolves not around aesthetics, but rather around the realism/idealism problem -- an issue that was to dominate his thinking ever since, as a young man, he recoiled against Husserl's transcendental idealism. As I will discuss in §3.1 below, Ingarden's work in aesthetics was actually motivated by his interest in the realism/idealism problem. His studies in fiction and the ontology of art were intended to form part of a large-scale argument against transcendental idealism, based in emphasizing the difference between ‘real’ entities entirely independent of our minds, and social and cultural entities that (as ‘purely intentional objects’) owe their existence, at least in part, to human consciousness -- thus showing that, in virtue of the very meanings of the ideas involved, the ‘real world’ as a whole cannot be properly treated as a purely intentional object owing its existence to consciousness.

In developing a positive position, Ingarden sought a middle path between the reductive physicalist realisms popular among analytic philosophers, and the transcendental idealism adopted by Husserl, rejecting the simplistic bifurcation between entities that are ‘mind-independent’ and those that are ‘merely subjective’. His most important and lasting contribution may lie in providing a richer ontological framework that could track the different ways in which many objects of the ‘life-world’ of daily experience depend on human intentionality and on mind-independent reality, and in developing a moderate realist position that offered room not only for independent physical reality and for consciousness, but also for the whole variety of life-world objects that owe their existence, in part, to both.

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