Date Created: 2018-08-30 06:27:26



This paper argues for the position that making of absolute claims is neither a sign of weakness of reasoning or illogicality nor peculiar to metaphysics alone; it is a phenomenon that can be found in phenomenology as well. The paper uses the thought of Jean Luc Marion as a case study of absolute claims in phenomenology. Four concepts in Marion are discussed in this regard. They are namely: icon and idol, gift and givenness, saturated phenomena and revelation. A careful analysis of the concepts shows that while Marion successful frees himself from metaphysics, his phenomenological assertions are laden with absolute claims. 


                                      Almost every independent thinker in the history of human thought wants, if not to start afresh, at least to make a breakthrough that will convince the listeners of the insufficiency of the intellectual answers prior to this particular contribution. Are we going to say that all our predecessors were wrong?[1]

          We have chosen the above quotation to introduce this paper because of its relevance to the topic of discourse. From Friedrich Nietzsche the popularly acclaimed philosopher who proclaimed the death of metaphysics to Edmund Husserl and Heidegger who were the leading proponents of phenomenology; to latter thinkers such as Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas and Jean Luc Marion who “smuggled” theology into phenomenology or at best who attempted to use phenomenological methods to speak about theological  issues, we have one unmistakable point running through their ideas - the desire to make a breakthrough in the  intellectual world  and of course the presumption that the intellectual heritage prior to them with its deep root in metaphysics was grossly insufficient and as a matter of fact a dead system of thought.  

          In this paper we argue for the position that making of absolute claims which is one of the reasons why phenomenology considers metaphysics outdated is not an exclusive peculiarity of metaphysics alone but also a phenomenon of strong influence in phenomenology especially in the thought of Jean Luc Marion. The paper defines what “absolute claims” is; it looks at absolute claims in metaphysics and phenomenology. It examines Jean Luc Marion’s deconstruction of metaphysics, what Marion understands by phenomenology, discusses some concepts suggestive of absolute claims in Marion’s thought, and offers a critique of Marion as done by some scholars and finally, evaluation and conclusion.      

                                    A  general  conceptualization of absolute claims.

          By “absolute claims” we mean any categorical statement or assertion that forecloses any possibility of negotiation or dialogue with opposing ideas. Absolute claims tend to look down on similar ideas and dismiss other alternate ideas as being inferior or outdated. This can equally apply to any system of thought or set of ideas that are not ready to let vanquished alternate ideas to thrive. John Hick asserts that “...the term absolute is not ...being used as a precision instrument. Its operative meanings are revealed in its uses, which are in fact various.”[2] Although John Hick discussed absolute claims within Religious pluralism context his definition of the concept makes it applicable to the topic of this paper. According to him, absolute “strongly suggests uniqueness and the impossibility of being surpassed or even equalled...”[3]  the insight provided by Hick it makes it clear that we can discuss absolute claims in metaphysics and phenomenology in the context of Jean Luc Marion’s submissions.

Philip E. Devine[4]  gives three characteristics of absolute concepts which we wish to re-adapt in this paper: (a) they are stated as exception less, (b) those proposing the rules have not admitted any exceptions so far - or else have included any exceptions they have come to recognize in their formulation of the rules, (c) and when someone raises the possibility of an exception, a heavy burden of proof rests with him. Absolute claims come in different forms, conceptual, religious dogmas, scientific theories and political ideologies. One common denominator is the rigid, unyielding   and presumption that other view points are not right or below standard.

While Marion displaced metaphysical way of addressing theological concepts he replaced metaphysical concepts with new phenomenological concepts: such as idol and icon, saturated phenomenon, givenness, intentionality and distance, etc. Even the metaphysical concepts he spared such as revelation and charity are not spared phenomenological conceptualization in ways suggestive of absolute terms. The extent to which his discussions of some of the concepts chosen for analysis are addressed in terms of absoluteness is the direct interest of this paper.

                                   Absolute claims in metaphysics and phenomenology.

That metaphysics makes absolute claims is not in doubt, even the etymology of the subject matter gives it away as such. The word is from the Greek words meta ta physika meaning beyond the physical. William L. Reese describes it succinctly:” The term, meaning ‘beyond physics’ came from the position of an untitled book by Aristotle in the classification of his works made by Andronicus of Rhodes. The term thus meant ‘the book beyond the physics.’ In a conceptual sense the description of metaphysics is, then, thought of as a study of ultimates, of first and last things its content going beyond physics, or any other discipline.” [5]A branch of knowledge that lays claim to the study of first and last things makes no pretence about its claim to absolutes. Jay Newman confirms the above point when he describes metaphysics as the “science of absolute presuppositions, and hence, an historical science.”[6]

Dr Marie Baird[7] gives us a broad insight to some of the absolute presuppositions of metaphysics. She describes metaphysics as a systematic understanding of what is. Metaphysics ultimately aims to uncover the ultimate ground of things, provide exhaustive analysis of what is. It has its roots in Aristotle’s science of being in general and ultimately the unchanging being. The Being of metaphysics is the ground of other beings. The causa sui of other beings. Metaphysics claims to be the first philosophy, it posits that Being is objectively and exhaustively knowable and systematizable. Metaphysics also assumes to be the correlation of being and rationality. The problem of Being remains the central concern of metaphysics. That is the reason why most scholars define it in relation to being; as a matter of fact it is generally regarded as the science of Being qua being. Margrit  Shildrick describes the point thus: “Metaphysics asks what it means for a being to be and understands the answer  to this question as ‘Being.’ This Heidegger   took to be “the Being of Beings.” This fundamental metaphysical position- endeavour to establish a truth about the totality of beings as such.” [8]

Attempts to portray metaphysics from a positive perspective cannot escape its absolute stance to issues phenomenology disagrees with. For instance John Sallis avers that: “Metaphysics...would have nothing to do with airy nothing; it wants to know nothing about the nothing. Nor would it have anything to do with such illicit trafficking back and forth between heaven and earth. Accordingly, metaphysics has always been suspicious of imagination.”[9] This claim readily portrays metaphysics making absolute claim, since it wants to know nothing about nothing. Sallis obviously was trying to defend metaphysics against phenomenology he dismissed phenomenology as a conceptual attempt to make nothing out of nothing, he declared categorically: “The end of metaphysics is, then, the release of imagination into the entire field, the return of the repressed.”[10]His attempt to discredit phenomenology by portraying metaphysics in positive perspective within the context of our discourse in this paper inadvertently or perhaps deliberately presented it in absolute term, which is one of the major discontents of phenomenologist against metaphysics.

There is no general agreement among phenomenologists about what the discipline is. There are many phenomenologies, one point however is clear, it is multidisciplinary, phenomenology intersects with philosophy, psychology, theology and anthropology etc. The word phenomenology is from two Greek words: phainnomenon meaning appearance and logos meaning study of, it can therefore be described as the study of phenomenon. Though phenomenology developed within philosophical and psychological milieu it has reached a level where it claims a distinct identity in the comity of academic disciplines. Edmund Husserl and later his student Martin Heidegger have been generally credited to be the founding proponents of phenomenology though the history of the discipline predates them. While Husserl’s phenomenology follows the trajectory of transcendental idealism otherwise known as constitutive phenomenology, Heidegger is considered to be the founder of existential school of phenomenology on which hermeneutical trajectory built on later. Both have profound influence on the thought of Jean Luc Marion the scholar of interest in this paper.

Paul Gorner in his article titled, “Heidegger’s Phenomenology as Transcendental Philosophy” offers a coherent definition of what phenomenology is he writes:  “As the name suggests, phenomenology is the study of Phenomena. But it all depends on what is understood by ‘phenomenon.’ By phenomenon Heidegger understands ‘that which shows itself (das sich-an-ihm-selbst-zeigende)...Phenomenology in the formal sense is the letting be seen (shenlassen) of that which shows itself.”[11] Robyn Horner describes it succinctly as the “study of what gives itself to consciousness and how it is given.”[12] The definition proffered by Horner would seem to suggest that phenomenology is about physical objects and the way they are perceived by the sensory organs; Horner debunked such simplistic understanding in these words: “Phenomenology is not simply a means of examining that which is manifest as present, but also that which is unapparent. In fact, it is because phenomena are sometimes not readily given that phenomenology is necessary.”[13]

Our immediate concern at this stage is to find out if phenomenology makes absolute claims like metaphysics. While it is dangerous to make general statements or to isolate ideas and concepts expressed by phenomenologists, one is scarcely left with any other choice but cite relevant examples from scholars in this regard. First, there is no better scholar to begin with than Husserl himself. Paul Gorner has this to say about his phenomenology that is highly suggestive of absolute claim.

Phenomenology is the study of essences and relations between essences by means of Wesensschau, a kind of non-sensory seeing or intuiting of essences. The essential truths which phenomenology lays bare are a priori and because everything has its essence the a priori is not restricted to the merely formal but can pertain to literally anything e.g. there are a priori truths about sensation...[14]

One cannot talk of essences without failing into metaphysical error of absolute claim. Moreover, the concept of a priori is absolute claim that whatever one is saying is self evident truth.   

Second, Encyclopaedia of Phenomenology asserts that, “From its inception, phenomenology shared the anti-metaphysical spirit of analytic philosophy, shared a belief in the importance of logic and mathematics for philosophy ,and inspired a sort of minute, careful, ground level fieldwork avoiding generalizations.” [15] The above statement obviously attempts to absolve phenomenology of absolute claims since it avoids “generalizations,” but its anti-metaphysical posture is no less an absolute claim than metaphysical absolute claim about Being. We need not look too far for evidence than the proclamation of the end of metaphysics by phenomenology. Jean Luc Marion himself makes this statement on metaphysics, “The end of metaphysics is thus in no way an optional opinion; it is a fact of reason, whether we accept it or not, it inevitably holds sway over us as an event that has arisen.”[16] The statement is unambiguously clear on its absolute claim in favour of phenomenology against metaphysics. In the same write up Marion attempts to exonerate phenomenology when he posits that: “Phenomenology is instituted by a tautological principle, the principle of non-presupposition...”[17] The statement that follows does not seem to support that conclusion. He asserts: “There is phenomenology when and only when a statement gives a phenomenon to be seen; what does not appear in one fashion or another does not enter into consideration.” [18]The double affirmation about phenomenon mentioned above sounds absolute in terms of reference. As a matter of principle, “Phenomenology demands of phenomenalists that they shall forgo particular closed systems of philosophy, and share decisive work with others toward persistent philosophy.” [19] This attitude to scholarship as mentioned by Forrest Baird and Walter Kaufmann is a distinctive characteristic of absolute claim in relation to the systems of philosophy black listed by phenomenology.

This paper has gone to some level to argue for the position that absolute claims are common to both metaphysics and phenomenology. The concepts, context and manner of expression may differ, but the problem is not peculiar to metaphysics alone. With this we have been able to set the background for Marion’s deconstruction of metaphysics and his subsequent attempt to embark on phenomenology outside of metaphysics.

                                          Jean Luc Marion’s  deconstruction of metaphysics.

For ages, the philosophical and theological question of God has been joined to the question of Being in metaphysics. As the prospect of metaphysics as the first philosophy ran aground, its failure also seemed to indicate that the notion of God shared similar fate; at least to some philosophers.[20] Marie Baird situates the issue in contention in her commentary on Gianni Vattimo’s philosophy of secularization that identified “a ‘generative’ kind of relationship, so to speak, between the Judeo-Christian religious tradition of Western culture and the decline of the metaphysical tradition evinced     in the philosophies of Nietzsche and Heidegger.”[21]Nietzsche was the first philosopher that forcefully proclaimed the death of metaphysics. He declared the death of God, for him being is a fallacy and a vapour, the last smoke of evaporating reality. Iain Thomson asserts that, Martin Heidegger on his part embarked on a “ruthless critique of metaphysics.”[22] His destruction of metaphysical tradition leads him to the view that all western metaphysical systems make foundational claims best understood as “onto-theological.” Metaphysics establishes the conceptual parameters of intelligibility by ontologically grounding and theologically legitimating our changing historical sense of what is. His labelling of metaphysics as onto theology   helped turn a generation of post-Heideggerian thinkers into anti-metaphysicians.[23]

It is against this background that we can best understand Luc Marion’s attitude to metaphysics. As a post modern thinker he shares the general resentment of the scholars of his era against metaphysics. But as a Christian who holds his faith in esteem Marion does not subscribe to the idea that with the death of metaphysics the absolute Being (God) that metaphysics helped conceptualised died along with metaphysics. That is why most of his critics see him as dogmatic onto-theologian rather than a versatile phenomenologist that he is. His attachment  to the God of metaphysics even though under a different name other than Being in our opinion in this paper is responsible for some of the absolute claims he made in his discussion of issues which we shall point out in our exposition of some of his concepts  in the next sub heading.  

Marion attempts to recover a philosophical way of thinking about God beyond ontological categorisation; he holds that since philosophy has been deeply involved with metaphysics, thoughts about God can also go the same way. He identifies three areas of interest in his effort to sever ties with metaphysics namely: first, to demonstrate how metaphysics has met its demise, second, how philosophy has bypassed metaphysics, especially in phenomenology, and third, to show if Christian theology is essentially metaphysical or primarily dependent upon Revelation. The first two issues are of relevance to this paper.

With Heidegger as the starting point Marion notes that the major problem confronting metaphysics is how it can claim intellectual authority over two different things: common being and the being per excellence. Metaphysics attempts to bridge the gap by intersecting or “ground” that combine the two poles (common being and being per-excellence) in a reciprocal relationship. In his words: “Common Being grounds beings, even the Being per excellence; in return, the being per excellence, in the mode of causality, grounds common being... [24] If one understands Marion very well he seems to be of the opinion with the statement credited to him that “Being” is the creation of man, the “Being” created by man in turn created all beings and set the ground of all beings. In short the idea of being is a metaphysical idol. This he stated clearly in his work, God Without Being:

Being says nothing about God that God cannot immediately reject. Being, even and especially in Exo.3:14, says nothing about God, or says nothing determining about him. One therefore must   recognize the impossibility, or at least the extreme difficulty, of thinking outside of ontological difference, in some way, directly suit the impossibility –indisputable and definitive-of thinking God as such. [25]

In postulating a ground that links common being to the being per excellence, metaphysics opens itself for its own downfall. Nietzsche actually aimed at that weak link in the armour of metaphysics to deal it a devastating intellectual blow that eventually crippled metaphysics. Marion in another writing of his built on the fact with his declaration that: “Metaphysics no longer provides a reason for Being, nor does Being have a place in metaphysics.”[26]The argument as crafted by Nietzsche is that while the absolute ground of being confers legitimacy on metaphysics itself, the absolute ground cannot ensure its own ground. This metaphysics cannot shrug off. As metaphysics collapsed its God known as the being per excellence went down with it.  As stated earlier Marion’s critique of metaphysics does not affect his faith in the Judeo - Christian God whose existence is based on Revelation because; “The question of God cannot be said to begin with metaphysics .But it seems - or at least it might once have appeared - that the question of God began to be closed from the moment when metaphysics was reaching its conclusion and started to appear.”[27]

It is pertinent for us to point out that attempt by phenomenology to debunk metaphysics has not been left unchallenged. John Sallis for example avers that the idea about the end of metaphysics is simply misleading, indicating almost nothing of the immense complexity of that phenomenon that the proponents pretend to name. For him “metaphysics cannot simply terminate. It cannot simply disappear, leaving everything else intact.” [28]Since Marion is the major scholar of interest in this paper, we shall briefly consider his reaction to the idea that metaphysics cannot end. First, Marion admits that the mere mention of the concept of the “end of metaphysics” arouses controversy.[29] He therefore embarks on a comprehensive answer to the problem in his work titled: In Excess Studies of Saturated Phenomena. Marion accepts the fact that there will be a continuous struggle between metaphysics and phenomenology, he writes:

                                                   For phenomenology which - claims to be a “breakthrough,”  “a new start,” even one of the dominant figures of all contemporary philosophy–must inevitably recognize a primacy, or at least agree to have a primacy attributed to it. But has this primacy been sufficiently explicated? Its rupture with the metaphysical face of philosophy, a rupture always to be reconquered and consolidated, demands that it define anew its new primacy- and in terms that repeat nothing of the three metaphysical definitions of primacy.[30]

From the above Marion certainly concedes the fact that metaphysics is not completely vanquished. Since the establishment of the primacy of phenomenology is dependent on the continuous need to re-conquer and consolidate “ground” in the battle against metaphysics. Marie L. Baird introduced two concepts namely “kenosis” and “secularization” which we think clearly explained phenomenological understanding of the end of metaphysics in her words:

                                                   Kenosis and secularization participate in the same refusal: the self –emptying event of kenosis presages a rejection of God as the absolute metaphysical structure of reality and points rather to Being as event-ful and as such, structurally debilitated. If we add the proliferation of competitive world views that have challenged the formerly’ self evident’ hegemony of western culture, traditional western metaphysics has been cast into the dustbin of obsolete meta narratives.[31]  

The above submission of Baird clearly explained what Marion meant by phenomenological rupture with metaphysics.  After debunking metaphysics Marion proposes phenomenology as the first philosophy the extent to which he succeeds in that enterprise is beyond the scope of this paper.  Our effort so far is to set an adequate background for some of the phenomenological concepts of Marion which we shall analyse to determine if they can be regarded as absolute claims. It is pertinent to point out that his claim of primacy for phenomenology quoted above is an absolute claim in itself.    

                                      Selected concepts in Jean- Luc Marion’s Thought.

This paper will focus on the following selected themes in Marion’s thought namely, the Icon, the Idol, the Gift, Saturated Phenomenon and Revelation. It is very difficult in a single paper to exhaust the ideas discussed by Marion in relation to each concept; this paper however, intends to state as clearly as possible his understanding of the concepts chosen and find out if each has the characteristic of absolute claim. 

                                                               The Idol and the Icon

The above heading is from the first chapter of God without Being by Luc Marion; he claims that the two concepts belong to two distinct, and in many ways competing historical moments. “The idol does not indicate, any more than the icon, a particular being or even class of beings. Icon and idol indicate a manner of being for beings, or at least for some of them.” [32]Marion obviously used the two concepts to denote a way of knowing or rather a way to understand phenomenality as it presents itself to consciousness. He holds that some certain beings can change from icon to idol and vice versa, such only change status when venerated but not all beings are capable of such a change.  

For Marion the idol functions as a mirror, it does not allow the viewer to see beyond himself. Every time we attempt to conceptualize divinity in our own image we embark on idolatry, an idol would be an image of God which leads the worshippers to a human experience of divinity. Moreover, whatever concept that limits God to the idea of the human is idolatrous. Despite the harsh description of idol by Marion he beliefs that, “The idol never deserves to be denounced as illusory since, by definition, it is seen as – eidolon, that which is seen (eido, video).It even consists only in the fact that it can be seen, that one cannot but see it.”  [33]The idol is meaningful only when it is gazed at, without the human gaze the idol lacks meaning and useless. The gaze makes the idol not the other way round Marion insists, in his words:

                         The idol depends on the gaze that it satisfies, since if the gaze    did not desire to satisfy itself in the idol, the idol would have no dignity for it. The most common criticism of the idol asks with amazement how one can adore as a divinity that which the hands that pray have just forged, sculpted, decorated - in a word fabricated.[34]

Any attempt to have divinity within our grasp, or to be brought down to our level so as to be understood is also idolatrous. In the idol, the divine comes into visibility for which human gazes watch, but this advent is measured by what the scope of particular eyes can support, by what each aim can require of visibility in order to admit itself fulfilled...Thus the idol consigns the divine to the measure of a human gaze.[35]

After addressing idol in relation to divinity, Marion turns his attention to conceptual idol which he could not discuss outside religious context. According to him, “When a philosophical thought expresses a concept of what it names “God,” this concept functions exactly as an idol...The conceptual  idols of metaphysics culminate in the causa sui (as Heidegger  indicates).”[36]For him attempts by Plato, Aristotle, to describe Being in terms of ontology, the attempt of Kant from a rational perspective, Heidegger’s “moralischer Gott, the God of morality” and Nietzsche’s declaration of the death of God of metaphysics are all conceptual idols and they constitute a lower mark of divinity.  

The Icon however allows us to see beyond the self, it opens out to the invisibility; it does not reduce invisibility to the visible. The icon does not contain the visible, it does not contain God, it opens the horizon of the invisible other, the divine other. It provides a door way to the other. Icon does not fall into the problem of fixation to the self. The route that is travelled is the route of love not being. Marion brilliantly expresses the point thus:

The icon summons the gaze to surpass itself by never           freezing on a visible, since the visible only presents itself here in view of the invisible. The gaze can never rest or settle if it looks at an icon; it always must rebound upon the visible, in order to go back in it up the infinite stream of the invisible. In this sense, the icon makes visible only by giving rise to an infinite gaze.[37]

When I gaze at the icon, it is the gaze of God that looks back to me, giving me back to myself. The gaze takes in both the idol and the icon; however, while the gaze constitutes the idol as idol, the gaze is constituted by the icon in a reverse intentionality. When we gaze at the icon we find a gaze gazing back at us. The gaze precedes idol but does not precede the icon, because when it gazes at the icon it finds itself already gazed at. This is the basis for the reverse intentionality. A man by his gaze renders the idol possible in reverent contemplation of the icon; on the contrary, the gaze of the invisible, in person, aims at man. “The icon opens in a face, where man’s sight envisages nothing, but goes back infinitely from the visible to the invisible by the grace of the visible itself: instead of the invisible mirror, which sent the human gaze back to itself alone and censured the invisible, the icon opens in a face that gazes at our gazes in order to summon them to its depth.”[38]

 Marion attempts a comparative analysis of the idol and the icon, according to him  the icon allows itself to be traversed by an infinite depth. However, whereas the idol is always determined as a reflex, which allows it to come from a fixed point, an original from which, fundamentally, it returns...the icon is defined by an origin without original: an origin itself infinite, which pours itself out or gives itself throughout the infinite depth of the icon .The icon recognizes no other measure than its own and infinite excessiveness(demesure); whereas the idol measures the divine to the scope  of the gaze of he who then sculpts it, the icon accords in the visible only a face whose invisibility is given all the more to be envisaged that its revelation offers an abyss that the eyes of men never finish probing...Thus, the accomplishment of the icon inverts, with a confounding  phenomenological precision, the essential moments of the idol. [39]

The idol and the icon provide the hermeneutic key through which one can best understand Marion’s phenomenology as it intersects with theology. Marion leaves no one in doubt that metaphysical concepts and categories that theology depends no longer function as a “doors to the sacred” but have turned    themselves to idols both in religious context and at the conceptual level. Metaphysical concepts ought to serve iconically in the human understanding of the divine but they have turned themselves to the end in themselves. Mankind therefore finds himself at the cross road of idolatry in many spheres of live, Marion makes no pretence about the matter. Idolatry must be consigned to the dustbin of history and we must begin to talk about God in new categories that will serve as icons rather than idols. The assertions credited to Marion above are definitive statements in their conceptualization and expression. In the absence of an alternative to “icon” the paradigm of phenomenology advanced by Marion one is left with no option than to declare his “icon” is highly suggestive of an absolute claim after all Marion is convinced beyond reasonable doubt that “icon” has successfully displaced the absolute being of metaphysics which was hitherto a conceptual idol . In its place we have the absolute icon of Marion(as gift).

                                                                      Gift and  givenness.

In his work titled, Being Given: Towards a Phenomenology of Givenness (2002), Marion embarks on the task of disproving the metaphysics of “the real,” or what he calls the given in relation to givenness, and to give credence to its phenomenological formulation. Without mincing words Marion declares, “What shows itself first gives itself-this is my one and only theme.”[40]The givenness of a phenomenon is how it appears to the intuition and the way it makes itself known to the intention is epiphenomenal. Givenness is the bedrock of phenomenality.  Marion argues against the metaphysical system in which the giver must give and the givee must receive, for example onto-theology’s conception of the being per excellence who gives being to all other beings as the causa sui. He proffers four arguments to lay bare his thesis. First, he asserts that there should not be reciprocity of givenness, once an exchange takes place, the gift vanishes, as a matter of fact, true givenness demands no exchange. Second, he avers that, no repayment is due from the givee, not out of ingratitude by the givee but because God gives consciously   and freely. Reciprocity is not necessary because unreciprocated gift is a gift even when unrecognized. [41] His third argument condemns givenness informed by ego. When ego is the motivating factor givenness is not possible. The God of onto theology that is (“event-full” in the words Marie L. Baird)   will readily fit in to Marion’s ego giver. The fourth argument posits that the notion of gift as gift must remain invisible in order to prevent the objectification of the gift by the giver. It is in non appearance of the gift that givenness remains. This does not in any way hinder the potential of phenomenality of givenness.

For Marion the gift does not need to subsist in presence in order to give itself. Gift is an alternative to being he therefore refused to ground his concept of givenness in causality, instead he premised it on phenomenological grounds. According to him:

                                      Givenness does not indicate so much here the origin of the given as its phenomenological status. Better, most often, givenness characterizes the given as without cause, origin, and identifiable antecedent, far from assigning them to it. And it is sufficient that the given –the given phenomenon-gives itself starting from itself alone (and not from a foreseeing and constituting subject) in order that the fold of givenness is witnessed.[42]

The effort of Marion here is to release givenness from the influence of being. For him the gift does not become gift at the moment of reception from the giver. “The gift is given as such, in pure immanence, and without objective transcendence, when the potential giver feels the burden of givability.”  [43]  Marion sees the phenomenological reduction as the best way to justify his idea of the gift, meaning that the reduction of all transcendence will place  the gift outside all causality.  It is pertinent for us to point out that in this context; transcendence does not necessarily mean divine, but other.  Thus, all gifts involve transcendence.  The gift is “from elsewhere.”  A phenomenological reduction involves stripping away our conceptual idols, which would reduce the other to sameness.  I must strip away everything I can know - all of my conceptual idols - and am left with undecidability.  I suppose this must be the case because any decision I make would simply be the establishing of another conceptual idol.  Horner clarifies that the gift must be “irreducible to my consciousness, and for this reason, what is important is not so much the reduction of the transcendence but the maintenance of undecidability in that very reduction.” [44]In “Being Given,” Marion further elaborates his thesis about gift thus:

                                     I have established that the description of the phenomenon of the gift does not govern that of givenness  but depends on it, because the phenomenality of pure givenness destroys and is free of the reversibility of the exchange model that restrains and warps the economy of the gift (and it alone). More precisely, if the gift can, by abstraction from commerce, be described from the perspective of the giver (without givee) as well as from the perspective of the givee (without giver), as soon as it is finally completely grasped in terms of the given phenomenon and as one of its (optional) derivatives, it must, in rigorous phenomenology, be described resolutely and essentially from a precise situation –– that of the givee   (possibly without giver or gift given) receiving the phenomenon.[45]

In normal day to day economic activities there is the presupposition that there must be a buyer as well as a seller but in phenomenology there can be a giver without a givee, since the idea of gift is not an economic exchange but that of intentionality. Marion suggests that the gift does not depend on the recipient; as a matter of fact the recipient can be phenomenologically suspended.[46] With this Marion believes he has achieved a phenomenology of gift which avoids the loopholes of causality and reciprocity which is capable of opening the way in thinking of God as a gift. As a gift is given so is phenomenon. And according to this reading of phenomenology, it becomes possible to be open to any type of phenomenon that may give itself.


This brief exposition of Marion gift and givenness is to enable us see if he makes absolute claim as far as the concept is concerned. One cannot but suspect absolute claim since his idea of gift cancels out being. His ideas of gift and givenness came under criticism by Deridda and Levinas the arguments and counter arguments between Marion and these other scholars is not necessary in this paper.


Saturated  Phenomena.

The work of Marion devoted to saturated phenomena is: In Excess Studies of Saturated Phenomena (2002). The translator’s introduction to In Excess provides a simple and concise insight into the idea of saturated phenomena. His idea of “saturated phenomena” is the categories that exceed the Kantian categories of quantity, quality, relation, or modality that they interrupt or even blind the intentional aim. Marion considers the saturated phenomena of the event (which saturates according to quantity, being unable to be accounted for),the idol (which saturates according to quality, being unbearable by the look),flesh (which saturates according to relation, being absolute),the icon,(which saturates according to modality, being unable to be looked at),and Revelation (which saturates according to all four categories at once),always attentive to the Self of the phenomenon that gives itself there and the extent to which what it gives is also shown.[47] Marion defines saturated phenomenon as the phenomenon in which “intuition always submerges the expectation of the intention, in which givenness not only entirely invests manifestation but, surpassing it, modifies its common characteristics”[48]

Dr Marie Baird gives a general outline of Marion’s “Saturated phenomena,” they are phenomena that give themselves to the intuition excessively.For Marion saturated phenomena flood the intuition without any inhibition. They cannot be mastered conceptually they invoke an endless hermeneutic. Saturated phenomena are recognized only in the effects they produce. Some example can be historical events in which the individual who has experienced it is perpetually being flooded with the phenomenon experienced, for instance a combatant soldier who experienced the world war II finds the experience of meeting prisoners in one German concentration camp a phenomenon that stares at him unceasingly, another combat soldier found his experience such a saturated phenomenon that he would not talk about it until he died even when asked to speak about it. Some other examples include birth and death. All saturated phenomena cannot give themselves the same way twice.[49]

Marion asserts that in saturated phenomena constitution encounters an intuitive givenness that cannot be granted a univocal sense in return. It must be allowed, then, to overflow with many meanings, or an infinity of meanings, each equally legitimate and rigorous, without managing either to unify them or to organize them.[50] Marion describes saturated phenomena in terms of paradoxes and invisible nature, using Kantian categories he illustrates what he meant with examples thus:

                                    If we follow the guiding thread of the Kantian categories, we locate according to quantity, invisible phenomena of the type of the event (collective or individual);according to quality, phenomena the look cannot bear (the idol and the painting);according to relation, absolute phenomena, because defying any analogy, like flesh(Leib); finally, according to modality, phenomena that cannot be looked at, that escape all relation with thought in general, but which are imposed on it, like the icon of the other person par excellence. It is also appropriate to name them paradoxes, because they do not give themselves in a univocal display, available and mastered, according to a doxa.[51]      


A brief explanation of the four ways highlighted by Marion through which saturated phenomenon is studied from phenomenological perspective is necessary before we conclude this sub topic. First, the event as saturated phenomenon is a saturation of quantity. It is historical and inexhaustible. There are multiple horizons all sharing in the same historical event, it has no end. The second is “visible idol”. This he describes as a the working of a mirror, “its splendor stops intentionality for the first time; and this first visible fills it, stops it, and even blocks it, to the point of returning it toward itself, after the fashion of an invisible obstacle.” [52] Marion claims that a painting can serve as an example of this idol. It is given without concept; it calls one to come over and over again. He argues that to see the painting more than once is “equivalent to trying to contain and resist the same saturating intuitive given by means of the grill of a new concept(or several of them), a different horizon(or several).”[53]


The third saturated phenomenon is the flesh. Marion adopts Aristotelian and Hursserlian ideas to define the flesh as “the identity of what touches with the medium where this touching takes place (Aristotle),therefore of the felt with what feels(Husserl),but also of the seen and the seeing or the heard and hearing- in short, of the affected with the affecting.” The flesh also “auto- affects” itself in and by itself, meaning the human feelings of (joy, sadness, anger etc), arise from itself, the flesh. These phenomena are unsen, are individualized and remain mine. The flesh gives me to myself.[54] The fourth saturated phenomenon is the icon. In the icon the gaze becomes the gazer. The icon looks at one with colorless eyes, and speaks in silence. Marion finally presents revelation as the most saturated phenomenon. Like the previous concepts discussed Marion’s saturated phenomenon is highly suggestive of absolute claim. We shall however differ our general assessment till the evaluation of the paper.


According to Marion Revelation is the saturation of saturation, his discussion of Revelation as a phenomenon took Marion from the realm of phenomenology to the theological level. He argues that: “the unique Jewish and Christian Revelation- must be read and be treated as rightfully phenomena, obeying the same operations as those that result from the givens of the world: reduction to be given, eventmentality, reception by l’ adonne, resistance saturated phenomena, progressiveness of the transmutation from the self-giving into-self showing, and so on.”[55]

Having argued for revelation as a phenomenon worth of attention in phenomenology, Marion identified two kinds of Revelation namely: Revelation with capital “R” which refers to as a possibility in phenomenology.  The second revelation with the small “r” refers to the revelation as event in history such as those  contained in the scripture from which Marion drew ample references to support his assertions that are theologically nuanced. In order to pave way for biblical revelation as the basis for some of his claims, Marion in God Without Being posits that,

                          Biblical revelation does not say a word about being…Incontestably, biblical revelation is unaware of ontological difference, the science of Being/beings as such, and hence of the question of Being. But nothing is less accurate than to pretend that it does not speak a word on being, nonbeing, and beingness.[56]  

With the above claim, Marion probably thinks he has been able to free biblical revelation from the tainted influence of metaphysics of being. Marion is quite smart by preempting all loopholes to his thesis. In his view biblical revelation does not make being the central theme of its contents, rather than making being central as metaphysics does, biblical revelation makes a mockery of being. Marion writes: “biblical revelation offers, in some rare texts, the emergence of a certain indifference of being to Being; being thus makes sport of Being only in outwitting ontological difference; it outwits it only inasmuch as it is first distorted by another instance, the gift.” [57] The gift crosses out being, strikes it out and opens it up to nothing.


In order to be consistent in his arguments in the context of saturated phenomenon, Marion presents Christ as icon. Instead of focusing on Christ as a divine person, Marion attempts to circumvent the metaphysical trap inherent in such approach by concentrating on the cross of Christ. On the cross Christ killed the image of himself, digging in himself a measureless abyss between his appearance and his glory. “The cross only gives a figure of Christ under the paradox that hides his glory. In fact, the cross gives nothing to see: it is a scandal.”[58] Christ in the cross always refers us back to the father. With the cross Christ transcends the level of idol to the icon because the cross gives nothing to see. It is not the icon that is holy but rather the icon points to the holy.


Christ was not the first person to be killed on a cross, when he was crucified two other persons were crucified with him, by that very act people around witnessed three similar physical events. The same procedure and materials were used in carrying out the execution but the phenomenon that gave itself to the gaze of the beholders was not the same. While the other two men crucified with Christ were not gazed at as holy redeemers of the world, Christ on the cross was gazed at as holy and redeemer. The saturation from the point of view of event was radically different. Horner points out that, if we accept the teaching of Revelation regarding the person of Jesus Christ, we recognize that what took place visibly point toward the invisible, toward the holy. One may gaze at all other crucifixions and fully grasp what is seen, but by gazing upon the cross of Christ as icon, a vision is provoked and the gaze is retained.[59]     


To round off discussion on revelation, we wish to point out that Marion posits that philosophy has neither the authority nor the competence to reduce the extreme givens of Revelation to objectivizing models for the simple reason that, “the same phenomenality covers all givens, from the poorest(formalism, mathematics),to the common(physical sciences, technical objects),to saturated phenomena(event, idol, flesh, icon),up to the point of the possibility of phenomena combining the four types of saturation (phenomena of Revelation).”[60]


Of all the concepts of Marion discussed so far none is more formulated in a way suggestive of absolute claim than his idea of Revelation. The theological foundation of the concept makes it naturally prone to absolute claim regardless of what Marion wants us to belief. What we have done so far is to offer an exposition of his concepts in relation to metaphysics and phenomenology, we shall attempt an evaluation of the work.

Evaluation and conclusion

We began the paper with the presupposition that making of absolute claims is a phenomenon that is common to both metaphysics and phenomenology. The nature of metaphysics as an intellectual endeavor leaves no one in doubt that it makes absolute presuppositions, its claim to be the first philosophy and the science of Being that is the ground of all other beings is an absolute presupposition the proponents make no pretence about. Phenomenologists have since debunked that idea in strong terms. The deconstruction of metaphysics has ushered in its replacement with phenomenology as the first philosophy which holds that what gives itself to the consciousness has a priori phenomenality i.e. it is an object of study that is self evident. 


Most phenomenologists will not agree with the claim that the discipline makes absolute presuppositions. While phenomenology does not lay claim to absolute knowledge or solution to issues, scholars in the field in their attempt to argue for a position do make absolute claims and Jean Luc Marion is not an exemption in this regard despite his claim in God Without Being that: “Every pretension to absolute knowledge…belongs to the domain of the idol.”[61] It is interesting how Marion turns around in his work In Excess Studies of Saturated Phenomena declaring that:

                  According to phenomenology, absolute certitude resides in the affectedness of consciousness by lived experiences from every origin, not  only, or even entirely, by thought of self, on the express condition, nevertheless, that these lived experiences accomplish a givenness -that they give themselves completely and irremediably and, in certain case, they also engage intentional objects on each occasion involved.[62]


The statement quoted above is obviously not just suggestive of absolute claim but absolute presupposition in every sense of the word “absolute.” That Marion makes absolute claims is no longer a subject of argument but fact as shown above.


It is pertinent for us to point out that making of absolute presupposition does not imply weakness of reasoning or illogicality in presentation of ideas, it does mean that a scholar no matter how cerebral he/she may be in his/her attempt to make a point can argue to the point of exaggeration or resorting to the use of concepts that make sweeping generalizations or foreclose the possibility of any alternative claim. It is precisely from this perspective that we consider Marion’s use of the concepts such as: Icon and idol, gift and givenness, saturated phenomena and revelation as absolute claims. Marion argues articulately and passionately for the position that these concepts provide an alternative to metaphysical presuppositions about Being and reality in general.


The next question we have to address is if we can reasonably apply the framework mentioned above to the concepts of Marion discussed so far in this paper. We must take cognizance of the fact that there is a “distinction between the absolute and the effective content of an assertion. The distinction is meant to explain how some of our assertions can engage with the world and actually be true even if they involve a wrong, or even incoherent, conception of things.”[63]The effective content of Marion’s concepts are reasonable and coherent however, each concept makes absolute claim in opposition to a metaphysical phenomenon. We can only absolve Marion’s concept of absolute claims if and only if they are presented as another way of looking at issues addressed and not as replacements for them.


His icon and idol provides an epistemological framework for the perception (which he called gaze) and assessment of whatever gives itself to consciousness. His discussion of icon and idol restricts phenomenological assessment of what gives itself to consciousness to empirical level, an opposing view to idealism and rationalism in the stake on how to understand what gives itself to consciousness. It has been rightly argued by phenomenologists that Marion’s epistemological framework is eidetic reduction through which any phenomenon is stripped of any natural and metaphysical presuppositions until only its essential structure remains. Nevertheless, the manner of presentation of idol and icon by Marion leaves no room for dialogue. Something is either an idol or icon, or a phenomenon can be both icon and idol at different times depending on the gaze of the human person involved. The eidetic hermeneutic does not absolve “idol and icon” from absolute presupposition it represents. For Marion “gift” cancelled or crossed out being, it is an absolute which Marion articulates in God without Being chapter three. Marion’s discussion of Saturated phenomena and the presentation of revelation as the saturation of saturation does not need further elaboration here having being discussed earlier in this paper. His position on those concepts is clearly absolute presupposition about the phenomenality of the event, flesh, icon and idol and revelation.


In conclusion, the idea of conceptual absolute claims in metaphysics and phenomenology in the thought of Jean Luc Marion is an assumption made for the objective analysis of his stake in phenomenology as against metaphysics. Since Marion introduced new concepts to replace metaphysical concepts it is imperative for us to look for a framework to assess his claim that metaphysics has ended and phenomenology has taken over as the first philosophy. We have to be sure that Marion is not “white washing” metaphysical concepts by presenting them as phenomenology. The stability of the contents and the coherence of his assertions in his commendable effort to isolate them from metaphysics offer us the ground needed for a critical evaluation of his work. Marion no doubt was able to make a break from metaphysics to phenomenology but his ideas discussed are laden with absolute presuppositions which make metaphysics odious to phenomenology.              







  Selected  Bibliography.


Baird, L. Marie. “Whose Kenosis? An Analysis of Levinas, Derida, and Vattimo on God’s Self-Emptying and the Secularization of the West, ”in The Heythrop Journal XLVIII, Vol 48,no 3. London : Blackwell Publishing,2007. 


Baird, E. Forrest  and Walter  Kaufmann. From Plato to Derrida (Fourth Edition). New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003..


Devine,E. Philip. Natural Law Ethics. London: Greenwood Press, 2000


Embree, Lester, et al, (Eds).Encyclopaedia of Phenomenology. London: Kluwer Academic Publishers,1997


Gorner, Paul.“Heidegger’s Phenomenology as Transcendental Philosophy” in International Journal of Philosophical Studies vol.10 (1),17-33. Routledge: Tylor and Francis Group, 2002


Grimaltos, Tobies and Carlos J. Moya, “Content, meaning and Truth” in International Journal of Philosophical Studies,vol.17(no 2),299-305,2009.


Hick, John.  “Religious Pluralism and Absolute Claims” in Religious Pluralism vol 5 ed by Leroy S.Rounner, Notre Dame:Notre Dame University Press, 1984.


Horner, Robyn. Rethinking God as Gift: Marion, Derida and Limits of Phenomenology, New York: Fordham University Press,2001


Iain, Thomson. “Ontotheology? Understanding Heidegger’s Destruktion of Metaphysics” in International Journal of Philosophical Studies, Vol. 8 (no 3. ,Routledge: Tylor and Francis Group, October 2000. 


William L. Reese (ed), Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion (Expanded Edition), New York: Humanity Books,1998.


Marion,Jean Luc and Thomas A. Carlson. “Metaphysics and Phenomenology: A Relief for Theology, ”Crit

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