PS VI: Of Changes and Returns - Questions of the transcendental ** 8-12 March 2018

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes. Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange.
- The Tempest I,2.

After a year of hibernation, PS pokes its head out again. In our slumber, many a morphed image of the transcendental sneaked into our dreams. With a glance back to previous PS events, that insisted upon the Stubbornness of the Empirical, we consider these dream-images to be symptomatic: while the empirical remains stubborn, the transcendental, as the underpinnings of aesthetics or of the sciences, equally remains in question.

We propose to address this head on, in a return to a historical moment that slips out of obscurity mostly by function of its place as an object of critique in the best known philosophical streams of thought of the XX century. Instead of a ‘return to Kant’, we will immerse ourselves in the work of some of those who, in the late XIX century, called for such a return: the Neo-Kantians.

Remote enough to constitute an open field of exploration for our endeavours, Neo-kantianism represents the face of philosophy in German academia in the last quarter of the XIX century, as expressed in the standards of the Marburg and the Southwest (Freiburg and Heidelberg) schools. With Herman Cohen, Paul Natorp and Ernst Cassirer as the most prominent scholars on one side and Wilhelm Windelband and Heinrick Rickert on the other, a perhaps brutal simplification gathers all of them under the project of rethinking transcendental philosophy in opposition to a prevalent penchant for Hegelian speculation.

We suspect that thinking through some of the Neo-kantian debates will help us both continue the previous PS discussions and begin new ones, with those of you who want to join in for the first time.

The articulation of transcendentals as the conditions of possible experience (whether as categories, forms of intuitions or principles of perception) will inevitably also bring to the fore experience as such. Is it scientific or lived and how is reason configured between these poles? Especially in Cohen’s Neo-Kantianism, the re-reading of Kant’s Critiques focused on the idea of a transcendental method (‘transcendental analysis’), to be applied in virtually any philosophical inquiry: setting off from the ‘factum’ of science, this method would

trace its way back to a dynamic and ever evolving system of categories, the justificatory background to scientific claims.

Even this basic input raises a plethora of questions and curiosities, the matters of which extend from the nature of the ‘factum’ of science, to the relation between philosophy and the sciences. What position does philosophy assume vis-a-vis science and is there any implicit necessity to locate this position? Perhaps most pressingly, what happens to philosophy when the accent is on method? With further insistence, we will also have to consider what becomes of the transcendental, in a philosophy centered on ‘transcendental analysis’. And as this term is of two facets, it equally poses questions regarding ‘analysis’: what does it denote here, exactly?

Then down in the specifics, but also grounding some of these questions in the historical moment we want to study, how are we to read, for instance, both Cohen’s metaphysics and epistemology?

To consciously or unconsciously side with more familiar, XX century orientations that found in Neo- kantianism a target or an ally may be tempting, but, before we do that, we want to ask: what were the hopes and what the promises held in this return to the beginning of transcendental philosophy?

For the occasion, we have invited Howard Caygill and Marco Giovanelli to each present on parts of their research. Surely one of the most curious Kantians of today, Howard Caygill has continually worked on questions of experience, philosophies and histories of culture as well as most recently on resistance and defiance. Among much else, Marco Giovanelli has written brilliantly on Neo-Kantian philosophers and especially on the promising debate over the possibility of measuring in science and on Cohen’s publishing quasi-failure of the Principle of the Infinitesimal Method and Its History.

Thursday's dinner will mark the beginning of the event, the two lectures by our invited speakers will take place on Friday and Saturday afternoon, with Sunday devoted entirely to a general discussion before the farewell breakfast on Monday. Our imaginary for this weekend is largely made up of morning reading groups to establish a common pace and the preliminaries for a shared language, afternoon lectures to sharpen and frame our thoughts and continually branched discussions. Alongside conceptual concerns, the gambit is once again that the effort to think together and to remain attentive to the mode of discussions might help us not to reproduce the patterns that instantiate the worst of academia. In this spirit, arguments will be recomposed and stripped of shorthands to leave them open to perusing. As always, you are welcome to spontaneously add readings, presentations and whatever else to the programme.


Thursday (March 8th) will be the arrival day, departure on Monday (March 12th) morning. Staying up to 4 nights costs €20 per night, €18 per night, if you stay longer. There is a mandatory membership fee for PAF itself which is €12 and lasts for one year.
Food-wise, we will collectively organize on site, and from past experience it has come to around €10 per day, which means approximately €40 for the whole event. Email PAF ( with the dates you’d like to attend. Anyone who would like to stay longer is, of course, welcome to do so.

This PS event is prepared by Marie Louise Krogh, Mikkel Ibsen and Silvia Mollicchi.