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“The Gate of Reality”: Hedwig Conrad-Martius’s Idea of Reality in Realontologie

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Hedwig Conrad-Martius

Part of the book series: Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences ((WHPS,volume 8))


The question “what is reality?” that opens Realontologie (HCM, 1923), the establishing book in Hedwig Conrad-Martius’s (HCM) oeuvre, establishes her realistic metaphysics. In her opinion, the firmly established “blinding insight” in modern philosophy regarding the unfathomable contrast between the ideal and the real blocks any access to the question of reality. To counter this, HCM’s ontology seeks the “gateway of reality”, meaning the datum-point where things “elevate” themselves from nonexistence or mere ideal existence but do not yet arrive at “operative Being” or realistic fulfillment. The discussion in this chapter distills three characteristics of the real that should be capable of addressing what she refers to as the “task of Being”. Each is personally imposed upon the real and brings about the fulfillment of the essence inherent in it: corporeality (Leibhaftigkeit), selfness (Selbsthaftigkeit), and primordiality (Primordialität). The suggested interpretation of each of these three seeks to unravel the contrast between the real and the ideal in favor of what she regards as the only genuine and primordial opposition that separates the real from nonexistence.

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  1. 1.

    In the title of this chapter, I preserved the translation of the German phrase “Tor der Realität”, which appeared in the early version published as an article in 2014. As explained in the Introduction, I later found the phrase “gateway” to be more appropriate, and it is employed in other contexts in this book, apart from this title.

  2. 2.

    HCM clarifies the essential difference between her study and the scholastic approach as follows: while “within the entire scholastic system essence implies this and non-other than the concept of reality […], we believe that it would have been ontologically especially important to signalize a moment by which natural real-entity (naturhafte Realentität) as such distinguishes itself from plainly real-entity (schlecthin Realentität)” (HCM, 1923, 174 n. 1). For more on the scholastic aspect in HCM’s thinking, see: Habbel (1959).

  3. 3.

    This essay is based on seminar that HCM delivered during the winter semester in 1955/1956 that dealt with phenomenology.

  4. 4.

    HCM was committed to “essence intuition” (Wesensfassung), which she shared with the early phenomenologists of Munich Circle which, apart from her, included a group of intellectuals and philosophers from Munich, the first generation of the phenomenologists, whose prominent members included: Alexander Pfänder, Johannes Daubert, Moritz Geiger, Theodor Conrad, Adolf Reinach, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Maximilian Beck, Max Scheler, Jean Hering, Alexander Koyré, Roman Ingarden, and Edith Stein. In Realontologie, HCM declares her principle reliance on the “pure essence intuition in the Husserlians’ ideatic sense” (HCM, 1923, 159), which in her opinion is applicable in any thinkable object sphere, see HCM (1916b, 355 n. 1). Elsewhere she refers to it in greater detail, see HCM (1965a, 377; 1965b, 347). The early phenomenologists were inspired by Husserl’s struggle in Logical Investigations against psychologism, relativism, and varying reductionisms (Husserl, 1970a, §23 51, §31 74/1975, §23 82, §31 117), in particular by his principle that it is possible to observe consciousness” condition apart from the thinking subject (Husserl, 1970b, III, §5 10/1984a, III, §5 240). For further reading about this circle, see Avé-Lallemant (1975). HCM admits the influence of Logical Investigations on her, see: HCM (1923, 355). For further reading about the method of “essence intuition”, especially in the realistic school of phenomenology, see Reinach (1921), Pfänder (1913), Pfeiffer (2005, 1–13), Schmücker (1956, 1–33), Ebel (1965, 1–25), Avé-Lallemant (1959, 89–105), Walther (1955, 190).

  5. 5.

    The term “bearer” has several appearances already in Doctrine of Appearance, usually as a character of the I (HCM, 1916b, 482), of the spirit (HCM, 1916b, 407, 514), of the senses (HCM, 1916b, 497–498) or of the body (HCM, 1916b, 525–526), and not as an ontological creature that accompanies the essence.

  6. 6.

    HCM clarifies that this observation should be understood as a “methodological illustration” rather than as an indication of a genetic and simultaneous becoming of the essence and the bearer (HCM, 1923, 172 n. 1). Moreover, admitting the existence of God requires regarding reality as constituted (by Him). However, her argument in Realontologie keeps the independency of the philosophical path, unlike later writings, in which the theological aspect becomes important and apparent. For further reading, see: Hart (1972, 545–638), Pfeiffer (2005, 87–107).

  7. 7.

    HCM differentiated here between two fundamentals that are usually identified with each other: “self” and “autonomy”. She clarifies that the standing of a phenomenon on its essence is not equivalent to its objectivity, to its autonomy in its existence, or to its independency (HCM, 1923, 180). This clarification is important considering her discussion in Doctrine of Appearance in which she posed the aspect of autonomy in existence as fundamental in the idea of reality (HCM, 1916b, 392). However, in Realontologie this aspect is regarded as insufficient (HCM, 1923, 162) due to the insufficiency of objectivity and absoluteness that in her view lack the aspect of “corporeality” (Leibhaftigkeit) to be discussed later.

  8. 8.

    In Doctrine of Appearance, the expression stiffness is used comprehensively (although there it is denoted by Härte while in Realontologie she uses Schwere) for signifying the material givenness-mode of the object (HCM, 1916b, 426). She argues there that despite the fact that this characteristic brings about the feeling of the I, stiffness itself is not based on its influence on the I, but in its being an “experiential confirmation” of the reality of the material felt-thing (HCM, 1916b, 514). Hence, stiffness belongs to the object and not to the subject (see: Miron, 2014). It appears that also in Realontologie the expression of stiffness characterizes the real being, but while HCM’s early efforts were addressed to purifying reality of “feeling givenness (Empfindungsgegebenheit)” from the experience of the I, here she concentrates in distinguishing reality from its concrete appearances.

  9. 9.

    Following Husserl, the early phenomenologists were convinced that perceived objects and the modes in which they become known were established upon lawfulness of essence, which is independent of consciousness and of the subject in general. The principles of object-oriented observation were phrased by Hering. See Hering (1921, 496). See here also Geiger’s characterization of “the turn to the object” (Die Wende zum Objekt) (Geiger, 1933, 13). For a detailed discussion of this observation in regard to the Munich Circle, see Avé-Lallemant (1971, 89–105), Schmücker (1956, 3–8).

  10. 10.

    This complexity emerges from the comparisons that appear throughout Realontologie, of the real being with the material one, which are not exhausted in their methodical plane. This insight is also the ground for not including materiality with the necessary requirements for being a reality, as Nicoletta Ghigi did. See: Ghigi (2008).

  11. 11.

    This argument continuing the debate with positivism marks the beginning of HCM’s oeuvre. Her first essay (HCM, 1920a) was devoted to the issue. Doctrine of Appearance is an exploration of the first chapter in her first essay (HCM, 1920a, 10–24) that received an award from the department of philosophy at the University of Göttingen. The subtitle “associated with a critique of positivistic theories”, as well as the debate with positivism throughout the text (HCM, 1916b, 345–347, 352, 357–358, 361–365, 378, 382–386, 390–391, 398–400, 423, 425), clearly indicates its roots in the first essay. In 1912, Alexander Pfänder recognized Doctrine of Appearance as a Ph.D. thesis in the University of Munich (see U. Avé-Lallemant, 1965 [1966], 212). In 1913, the expanded chapter of the award-winning essay was submitted as a dissertation, in a version rather similar to Doctrine of Appearance. In the epilogue to the special print in 1920 (HCM, 1920a, 130–131), HCM referred to this fact and explained that she left behind the direction of criticism of positivism in favor of an ontological direction. Indeed, the plan to elaborate the rest of the chapters was never carried out (Avé-Lallemant, 1971, 213).

  12. 12.

    The word in ancient Greek means relating to, or consisting of, void or nothingness yet potentially can be transformed into a material thing (unlike the absolute blank nothingness).

  13. 13.

    HCM details four elements of the real being: “selfbearingness” (Selbstträgerschaft); possessing a position of its own (Eigenposition); “tangentiality” (Tangirbarkeit); and corporeality (Leibhaftigkeit). She depicts the last one as existing in a different plane than the others, constituting itself “by and through them” as their inclusive ontic result (HCM, 1923, 187–188). Yet, in my interpretation, except for “corporeality”, the other three transpire as not having their independent status but as part of another element. In this respect signifying “selfness”, “corporeality”, and “primordiality” as the constituting elements of the real being in Realontologie expresses an interpretative stance.

  14. 14.

    The aspect of the self appears already in Doctrine of Appearance, where HCM’s discussion is aiming at establishing the autonomy of the external world vis-à-vis the consciousness and the I in general. Thus, she regards the external world as a real being (HCM, 1916b, 396) with a self-standing in being (Seinselbstständigkeit) (HCM, 1916b, 391) closed in-itself and transcendent to consciousness and spirit (HCM, 1916b, 424). In contrast, in Realontologie, the issue of the I is pushed aside in favor of the discussion of the explication of the inherent elements of the real being itself.

  15. 15.

    However, the anchor of HCM’s discussion of reality in Realontologie is essence intuition regardless of the aspect of its actual fulfillment enables the applicability of many of her arguments to both real and ideal beings. Thus, she holds that regarding the inseparability of the essence and the bearer (HCM, 1923, 170) there exists “accordance in the sense (Gleichsinnigkeit) of the situation on the real side and the ideal side” (HCM, 1923, 162).

  16. 16.

    However, the term “primordial” (Primär) is mentioned throughout Realontologie, see HCM (1923, 174–175, 181, 235).

  17. 17.

    See in this context the distinction between the “primary qualities” of the real being that enable its material constitution and the “secondary qualities” that are noticeable in its external appearing, see HCM (1923, 235).

  18. 18.

    Ghigi (2008) counts five characteristics of the real: autonomy vis-à-vis relativity of the real; whatness; materiality; personal essence; and essential stratification. Yet, in the suggested interpretation, stratification (here “divisibility” suggested as a translation of “Teilbarkeit”) is not regarded as distinctive aspect of being but as an inclusive insight that highlights in particular the aspects of fullness or depth in HCM’s idea of reality.

  19. 19.

    HCM’s discussion here falls in line with the idea of “surface” in Doctrine of Appearance that assumes this depth without referring to is as an explicit element, see HCM (1916b, 408, 425–447, 462–467, 476, 494, 526).

  20. 20.

    The treatise Realontologie has two versions: Erste Fassung (HCM, 19151919N) and “zweite Fassung” (HCM, 19191922N, 1929bN). Both exist in the Munich Estate Archive (BSM, Nachlass). The published version is taken from the second and riper version that was published under the title “first book”. The treatise is composed of three parts: (1) Realität (HCM, 1923, §1–§31 159–190), (2) Materialität (HCM, 1923, §32–§121 191–246), (3) Konkrete Stoffgestaltung (HCM, 1923, §122–§250 246–333). The third part is composed of five paragraphs: (a) Materialer Konstitution (HCM, 1923, §122–§181 246–282), (b) Ton und Geräusch (HCM, 1923, §182–§199 282–295), (c) Temperature (HCM, 1923, §200–§211 295–303), (d) Licht (HCM, 1923, §212–§250 303–333). Paragraph (d) has a second section called “FarbenEin Kapitel aus Realontologie” that appeared in the version that first appeared in Husserl’s yearbook (HCM, 1923), but in a special print (Sonderdruck) of the yearbook that was devoted to Husserl’s 70th birthday (HCM, 1929a). This chapter has a section (§251–§289) that is a continuation of the published version of the book that ends at §250) (HCM, 1923). Paragraph “d” has another section, “Geruch und Geschmack; chemische Constitution [sic]” (HCM, 1929bN) sections §289–§309 (supposed to be §290–§309, probably a mistake by HCM) that ends paragraph “d”. The last section of the first version (HCM, 19151919N, §185–§206 257–299) was not elaborated in the second version (HCM, 19191922N). Also, there is a manuscript that in the first version (Erste Fassung) was part of the section “Geruch und Geschmack” (HCM, 19151919N, §185–§206 257–299). Part of this section overlaps the chapter “FarbenEin Kapitel aus Realontologie” (HCM, 1929a). Also, there is another manuscript whose title is “Historisch-metaphysische Anmerkung” (3 pages, no archive registration) that was supposed to close part one (Realität), but from some unclear reason was not printed together with it. In the first version, HCM intended to publish a chapter titled “Natur” (probably supposed to be based on two manuscripts entitled “Natur” with sections numbered as follows: §32–§48, §32–§35, in: HCM, 19151919N), but it was erased from it, probably due to the plan that it would serve as a basis for a second book, but this never happened. However, in Realontologie important foundations were laid for HCM’s philosophy of nature, which she was intending to explore later on. In any event, in Realontologie she justifies this choice as follows: “our phenomenological goal is to let reality and thereby also later on nature in and with the genuine relations between carrier (Hypokeimenon) and the loaded (Aufgeladenen) to arise” (HCM, 1923, 171–172).


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Miron, R. (2023). “The Gate of Reality”: Hedwig Conrad-Martius’s Idea of Reality in Realontologie. In: Hedwig Conrad-Martius. Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences, vol 8. Springer, Cham.

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