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5 Phenomenology of the Natural World and Its Promise

5 Phenomenology of the Natural World and Its Promise

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5 Patočka Non-Eurocentric Philosopher

(b) The cognition of movement as principle of phenomenality brings about the thematization of life and of human existence as movement on the one hand, and of

the Earth as the ultimate referent of movement on the other. For if movement in

the primordial sense, i.e., a movement lived from within, is the realizing flux of

our accomplishing activities, the referent of such a flux is the Earth, which is a

permanent and immobile substrate. “Immobility of the Earth belongs to the

primordial orientation of the world.”46 “The Earth is the prototype of everything

massive, corporeal, material; it is the universal body of which all things are in

some sense a part.”47 Here Patočka is evidently inspired by Husserl’s late manuscripts entitled “Grundlegende Untersuchungen zum Phänomenologischen

Ursprung der Räumlichkeit der Natur” in which the founder of phenomenology

declares the “Overthrow of the Copernican theory in the usual interpretation of

a world view. The original ark, earth, does not move.”48

(c) The Earth as physis and primordial Nature: “Through the aspect of the Earth as

the bearer and the referent of all relations we therefore also encounter the Earth

as a force and a power.”49 The Earth as power and master of life and death is the

nutritive Earth.50 In this sense, the Earth is physis, the primordial Nature. As

such, the Earth is the principle of genesis-phthora, generation and corruption.51

The Earth as primordial Nature is the inchoative Nature.


J. Patočka, “Le monde naturel et la phénoménologie”, Le monde naturel et le mouvement de

l’existence humaine, p. 30; “The ‘Natural’ World and Phenomenology”, in Jan Patočka, Philosophy

and Selected Writings, Erazim Kohák (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1989),

p. 255.




Edmund Husserl, “Grundlegende Untersuchungen zum Phänomenologischen Ursprung der

Räumlichkeit der Natur”, in Philosophical Essays in Memory of Edmund Husserl, ed. Marvin

Farber (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1940), p. 307; “Foundational Investigations

of the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature”, Eng. trans. Fred Kersten, in Husserl:

Shorter Works, ed. Peter McCormick and Frederick A. Elliston (Notre Dame, Indiana: University

of Notre Dame Press and Brighton, Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1981), p. 231. In a succinct passage Husserl explains that “the ‘earth’ as the unitary earth-basis cannot be at rest and therefore

cannot be experienced as a body which not only has its extension and its qualification but also its

‘place” in space, and which can possibly exchange its place and be at rest or in motion. As long as

I do not have a presentation of a new basis, as a basis from which the earth can have sense in interconnected and returning locomotion as a self-contained body in motion and at rest, and as long as

an exchange of bases is not presented such that both bases become bodies, to that extent just the

earth itself is the basis and not a body. The earth does not move… The earth as a whole whose parts

… are bodies; but as a ‘whole’ the earth is not a body.” “Grundlegende Untersuchungen zum

Phänomenologischen Ursprung der Räumlichkeit der Natur”, p. 313; Eng. trans. p. 225, translation



J. Patočka, “Le monde naturel et la phénoménologie”, in Le monde naturel et le mouvement de

l’existence humaine, p. 30; “The ‘Natural’ World and Phenomenology”, in Jan Patočka, Philosophy

and Selected Writings, p. 255.


J. Patočka, “Le monde naturel et la phénoménologie”, in Le monde naturel et le mouvement de

l’existence humaine, p. 31; “The ‘Natural’ World and Phenomenology”, in Jan Patočka, Philosophy

and Selected Writings, p. 256.


J. Patočka, “Méditation sur Le Monde naturel comme problème philosophique”, in Le monde

naturel et le mouvement de l’existence humaine, p. 103.


Phenomenology of the Natural World and Its Promise


(d) Primacy of the practical over the theoretical within the natural world: “That

which allows initial access to the natural world is not contemplative reflection,

but reflection as integral part of the praxis, as component of action and internal


(e) The irruption of human existence as the movement of the human life constitutes

an “earthquake”. It has neither motivation nor ground. It shows the abyssal

nature of human existence and its primordial nothingness.

The Earth itself has been shaken. If we are grounded to qualify human being as inhabitant

of the Earth, the Earth suffers an earthquake from human being. Here human being discovers her/his existence, not as accepted and rooted, but in her/his total nakedness—and she/he

discovers at the same time that the Earth and the sky have a trans, a beyond. This means

also that there is nothing in them which can give existence a final support, a final rootedness, a final goal, a ‘why’ valid once and for all.53

The Earth as inchoative Nature of the primordial order, the emphasis on primordial nothingness and the abyssal nature of human existence, the primacy of praxis:

these are themes foreign to the onto-theological tradition of Western metaphysics,

but not at all foreign to the Eastern philosophical tradition, in particular to Chinese

Daoist philosophy. A phenomenological reading of Laozi’s Daodejing shows that

the Dao should be understood as inchoative Nature of the primordial order: the Dao

is at the origin of myriad things which provides them with form and substance,

while the Dao itself is not an object of direct experience. Since the Dao is beyond

the order of things of appearance, it belongs to the order of Nothingness. This line

of interpretation can be confirmed by Laozi’s own text. In the Daodejing we read:

The Dao that can be spoken of is not the constant Dao.54

Compare to a thing, the Dao is shadowy and indistinct. Instinct and shadowy, yet within it

is something that appears. Shadowy and indistinct, yet within it is something substantial.

Dim and dark, yet within it is something essential. That essential thing is very real, within

it is something that can be experienced.55

Something undifferentiated is formed, born before heaven and earth. Silent and void, it

stands alone and does not change; proceeds in a circular way and does not corrupt, it is

capable of being the mother of heaven and earth. I know not its name, thus naming it by the

acceptable term of Dao.56


Ibid, p. 101.

J. Patočka, “Notes sure la préhistoire de la science du mouvement: le monde, la terre, le ciel et le

mouvement de la vie humaine”, in Le monde naturel et le mouvement de l’existence humaine,

p. 10.


Tao Te Ching, bilingual edition, Eng. trans. D. C. Lau (Hong Kong: The Chinese University



Press, 1989 (1st ed. 1982)), Ch. 1, p. 3; the original Chinese text reads:


Tao Te Ching, op. cit., Ch. 21, pp. 32–32; the original Chinese text reads:

為 ,








Tao Te Ching, op. cit., Ch. 25, p. 37; the original Chinese text reads:






, 強


5 Patočka Non-Eurocentric Philosopher


By Nothing(ness), we name the beginning of heaven and earth; by Being, we name the

mother of the myriad things.57

The myriad things in the world are originated from Being, and Being from Nothing(ness).58

Since the principle of deployment of the Dao is regulative of movement of the

physical as well as of the human order, the deployment of the Dao is the principle

of phenomenality because it is by virtue of Dao’s deployment that things come to

appearance. On the other hand, to Laozi, the human subject is emerged from and

modeled on the world (“Heaven and Earth”), while the world is emerged from and

modeled on the Dao.59 Thus Laozi’s Daoism is a non-anthropocentric and nonsubjectivist philosophy which contains elements for a non-theocentric cosmology.

Though we are not able to give a detailed presentation of Laozi’s concept of Dao

and its related issues here60 we hope to point out that Patočka’s phenomenology of

the natural world and movement of existence as a-subjective phenomenology gives

resonance to Laozi’s Daoist philosophy. Thus the non-Eurocentric character of

Patočka’s phenomenology lays the ground for the encounter between phenomenology and Chinese philosophy, in particular the Daoism of Laozi.


In the Place of a Conclusion

We all know that Laozi’s conceptualization of nothing or nothingness has been

mocked of by Hegel. In the eyes of the nineteenth century Prussian King of philosophy, the Dao spoken of by Laozi is void, deprived of any intelligible content. Thus

Chinese Daoism is relegated to the lowest position in Hegel’s ladder of history of

philosophy. With Patočka’s thematization of the Earth as primordial Nature, of

movement as principle of phenomenality, of the non-foundational nature of human

existence as movement—all these being elements of an a-subjective phenomenology which have received attention in Laozi’s Daoism—the philosophy of Laozi has

a chance to be understood and thus reevaluated by the approach of this phenomenologist of the Other Europe. Patočka’s act of phenomenological seeing contributes to

avoid the Eurocentric bias of both Hegel and Husserl.


Tao Te Ching, op. cit., Ch. 1, p. 3; the original Chinese text reads:


Tao Te Ching, op. cit., Ch. 40, p. 61; the original Chinese text reads:






“Man models himself after earth, earth models itself after heaven, heaven models itself after the

Dao, and the Dao models itself after Nature.” (




Tao Te

Ching, op. cit., Ch. 25, p. 39.


For a more detailed account of the concept of Dao and Laozi’s philosophy, cf. our interpretative

essay: “To What Extent Can Phenomenology Do Justice To Chinese Philosophy?—Attempt at a

Phenomenological Reading of Laozi”, supra, Chap. 3.


In the Place of a Conclusion


Patočka’s act is phenomenologically lucid, morally courageous, and politically

heroic. So do the founders of the Patočka Archives, who, under the most risky conditions, succeeded to safeguard the philosophical legacy left behind by one of the

most noble European spirits, a philosophical legacy which from then on can be

shared by the “plurality of the Post-European Humanity”.61


This chapter is dedicated to all those who had participated in the gigantic work of the safeguard

of the Patočka Archives, foremost of them Professor Ivan Chvatik.

Chapter 6

Europe Beyond Europe: Patočka’s Concept

of Care for the Soul and Mencius.

An Intercultural Consideration



The present chapter is a modest attempt to sketch an answer to the following questions: What is Patočka’s concept of Europe? To what extent can his reflections on

Europe, as those of a phenomenological philosopher from the “other Europe,” avoid

the Eurocentric overtones of their Husserlian counterpart? Can Patočka’s conception of Europe lead to a non-Eurocentric reformulation of universalizable elements

of European humanity, in such a way as to contribute to the enhancement of intercultural understanding?1

Patočka’s concept of Europe is a philosophical one. In the first place, it is established through neither a geopolitical nor a racial determination of the term, but by

way of a philosophical reflection on “the problems of a post-European humanity.”2

Conducting his reflection as dissident European, and probably also as dissident phenomenologist, Patočka was the first philosopher within the wider phenomenological

movement to raise such problems at a time when a certain figure of Europe—the

Europe bent on “dominating the world”—“ha[d] perished, probably forever.”3 At

first glance, such an attempt seems paradoxical, not to say doomed to failure. The


This chapter is the further revised version of a paper presented under the title “Patočka’s Concept

of Europe: an Intercultural Consideration” to “An International Conference to Commemorate Jan

Patočka 1907–2007 and the 37th Annual Meeting of the Husserl Circle”, organized by the Center

for Theoretical Study, Charles University Prague, Center for Phenomenological Research, Charles

University Prague, and Institute for Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic,

held 22–28 April, 2007 in Prague and published in Jan Patočka and the Heritage of Phenomenology.

Centenary Papers, ed. Ivan Chvatik and Erika Abrams (Dordrecht: Springer, 2011), pp. 229–244.


Jan Patočka, “Die Selbstbesinnung Europas,” Perspektiven der Philosophie, Vol. 20, 1994, p. 241;

quoted from the French translation: “Réflexion sur l’Europe,” in Liberté et sacrifice. Écrits politiques, ed. and French trans. Erika Abrams (Grenoble: Millon, 1990), p. 181.


Jan Patočka, Platon et l’Europe, ed. E. Abrams and J. Němec, French trans. E. Abrams (Lagrasse:

Verdier, 1983), p. 99; Plato and Europe, Eng. trans. P. Lom (Stanford: Stanford University Press,

2002), p. 89.

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

K.-Y. Lau, Phenomenology and Intercultural Understanding,

Contributions To Phenomenology 87, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-44764-3_6



6 Patočka’s Concept of Care for the Soul

purpose it hopes to serve is prospective—seeking ways to promote intercultural

understanding in the era of post-European humanity—whereas its method of inquiry

is retrospective—trying to reformulate elements of a European humanity belonging

to the historical past. To engage oneself in quest of the meaning and significance of

a figure of humanity that has perished, probably forever—is this not wholly illusory? Yet according to Patočka, the experience of the loss of naively accepted meaning—a phenomenon the author of the Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History

calls “problematicity”—is precisely what calls us into question and challenges us so

sharply that we respond, by necessity, to that challenge by inquiring after the meaning concealed in a more profound, not immediately apparent level.4 Thus, it is at the

very moment when the meaning of Europe as a visible and tangible power, dominating the world through religious-ideological and technical-instrumental rationalities,

is going into eclipse that the question of the “true” and profound meaning of Europe

can be raised.

Patočka’s concept of Europe is philosophical also in a second, historicalphilosophical sense: Patočka closely followed the steps of Husserl in his seeking for

the profound meaning of Europe. It is well known that in his last great work, The

Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, Husserl gave a

diagnosis of the spiritual crisis in which European humanity was immersed, and

attempted to reactivate the profound meaning of Europe vis-à-vis her situation of

loss of meaning. Patočka’s own endeavor to reconquer the meaning of Europe was

accompanied by a critical discussion of Husserl’s reflections. Aware of Husserl’s

Eurocentric attitude, Patočka proposes, in one of his late private seminars, Plato and

Europe (1973), a more radical backward questioning: going back not only to the

idea of Greek philosophy, as did Husserl, but further beyond, to the situation in

which Greek philosophy was born: its pre-reflective mythical environment.5 If

Patočka still understands the task of philosophy as the self-responsibility of humanity, he conceives of it no more in the Husserlian terms of universal rational science,

but in terms of care for the soul. By a heroic interpretive effort Patočka invites us to

go back to the Greek mythological framework which is at the root of the practice of

philosophy as care for the soul. His backward questioning leads him to outline the

philosophical anthropology underlying the Greek mythological framework which

understands human existence as capable of truth and justice. Such an anthropological sketch has a double merit. Vertically it can serve as the basis for an ontology of

the phenomenalization of the world. Horizontally it can provide elements for a dialogue with the conception of human existence of Mencius Confucianism, one of the

most representative and influential schools of the Chinese tradition of moral and

political philosophy. For Mencius, the defining elements of being human are nothing other than the faculties of benevolence, righteousness, propriety and wisdom.

These four terms are arguably Chinese variants of the concepts of justice and truth.


Jan Patočka, Essais hérétiques sur la philosophie de l’histoire, French trans. E. Abrams with a

Preface by P. Ricœur (Lagrasse: Verdier, 1981), pp. 87–88; Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of

History, ed. J. Dodd, Eng. trans. E. Kohák (Chicago and La Salle: Open Court, 1996), pp. 76–77.


Jan Patočka, Platon et l’Europe, p. 51; Plato and Europe, p. 42.

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