Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2014


Merleau-Ponty has famously said of phenomenological reflection that it “steps back to watch the forms of transcendence fly up like sparks from a fire; it slackens the intentional threads which attach us to the world and thus brings them to our notice” (1962, p. xiii) Bernhard Waldenfels, whose notion of responsivity forms the focus of this reflective review, studied under Merleau-Ponty at the Collège de France in the early 1960s. Waldenfels has characterized his own work as “a further development of the existential-structural phenomenology in Merleau-Ponty’s sense” (1997, p. xvii). At the same time, Waldenfels diverges in fundamental ways from Merleau-Ponty and thus from a number of phenomenological doxa. For example, he characterizes his own “responsive phenomenology” as

an open and adaptable form of phenomenology… in which intentionality (intending, grasping something as something) is transformed into responsivity (responses to claims). What we respond to is always more than the answer we give under certain circumstances and within certain orders. Rationality can thus be understood as responsive rationality stemming from the creative answers themselves… (as quoted in Waldenfels 1997, p. xvii)

This précis, quoted at the outset of Waldenfels’ first book in English translation, raises any number of questions: How can intentionality, which Waldenfels himself characterizes as the “shibboleth” of phenomenology (2011, p. 21), be “transformed” into something else? And how could this “something else” then be described in terms of a response to “claims”? Going further, how could this responsivity, this type of intentionality, be characterized as a “rationality?” And finally, what does this have to do with the special theme of this issue, “being online?”

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This document was originally published by Phenomenology & Practice in Phenomenology & Practice. Copyright restrictions may apply.