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Christopher Macann (born March 3, 1941) is a philosopher who has devoted his life to the further development of the phenomenological position advanced by Martin Heidegger in Being and Time. Rather than accepting the conventional view that the two main forms of phenomenological philosophy—transcendental and ontological—are intellectually opposed, Macann conceives of them as stages in the ‘genesis’, or coming into being, of human consciousness. The logic of this genesis is comprehensively explored in Macann’s four-volume Being and Becoming (2007), which employs a Hegelian approach to integrate transcendental with ontological phenomenology—and to integrate phenomenology more generally with analytic philosophy. The aim of Macann’s programme is nothing less than to resolve the key dichotomies of contemporary philosophy, and to begin the task of reconciling Western intellectual traditions with the basic tenets of […].
Macann has taught philosophy at the Universities of Paris, California, Pennsylvania, London and Bordeaux, and is a research fellow of the , whose two year fellowship he held at the University of Heidelberg.
Christopher Elton Macann was born into a diplomatic family stationed in India. He lost his father in 1944 on the same day that his brother Peter was born. His mother, Cecile Rosemary Macann, remained in India until after the end of World War Two and then brought her sons back to England. Christopher and Peter were both sent to , Winchester, where they served as choral scholars in the Cathedral choir. Both brothers subsequently boarded at Tonbridge School in Kent.
Christopher went to Oxford University to read History at Lincoln College but switched, after a year, to Modern Greats (Politics, Philosophy and Economics). At Oxford he was introduced to philosophy in the form of Logical Positivism (Ayer) and Linguistic Philosophy (Wittgenstein and his disciples). His growing dissatisfaction with Oxford’s style of philosophy found sympathy in one of his professors, Sir Isaiah Berlin, who helped to re-orient Macann’s thinking in a Continental direction, and encouraged him to do his doctoral work in France.
At the University of Paris (the Sorbonne), Macann found a notable sponsor in Paul Ricoeur, who undertook to direct his doctoral work. Ricoeur subsequently invited Macann to teach British philosophy at the newly founded philosophy department at Nanterre. Macann’s teaching experience at Nanterre (1967-8) was cut short by the French student revolution of 1968, which however left him more time to complete his doctoral thesis.
In 1969, Macann took up a visiting appointment at the , which was transferred to a tenure-track position at the new UC campus at Santa Cruz (founded 1965). At that time, UC Santa Cruz sought to offer a Continental alternative—with a particular emphasis on phenomenology—to the orthodox Anglo-Saxon philosophy taught at most American universities. One of the two full professors in the Philosophy Department at UC Santa Cruz was a Husserl specialist, and the other was a Hegel and Heidegger specialist.
Following ideas developed in his doctoral thesis, and encouraged by UC Santa Cruz’s aspirations in Continental philosophy, Macann conceived an original phenomenological philosophical project of his own, which he termed ‘Being and Becoming’. But the extensive scope of this project meant that it could not be completed in time for his tenure review, so instead he began work on an epochal interpretation of the history of modern philosophy (covering eleven major historical figures). When this project also proved too extensive for the timing of the tenure review, Macann concentrated finally upon an interpretative transformation of Kant’s Critical philosophy, for which the historical precedent was Heidegger’s Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics.
Despite the positive response of the philosophy department as a whole, Macann’s Kant book was sent out for re-appraisal by the University of California and judged to be insufficient to justify a tenure appointment. This same book nevertheless sufficed to secure for Macann an Alexander von Humboldt research fellowship, the world’s most prestigious fellowship in the field of Continental philosophy. The Kant book was also later published on the recommendation of Hans-Georg Gadamer as “going beyond Heidegger”. The philosophical project offered and rejected for tenure at UC Santa Cruz indeed provided Macann with material for a life-time’s work in the field of phenomenological philosophy, a programme that is now largely complete.
Macann lives near Bordeaux in France in a neo-Gothic château, which also does chambres d’hôtes (bed and breakfast). Frequently amongst the guests are philosophers, other academics, and philosophy students.
Macann is best known for his ontological phenomenology: Being and Becoming (2007). Distinguishing three stages in the development of human consciousness, Being and Becoming situates ontological philosophy at the first (‘originary’) stage, analytic epistemology at the second (‘objective’) stage, and transcendental philosophy at the third (‘reflective’) stage. The fact that historically, ontological philosophy has always followed upon its transcendental complement (Aristotle after Plato, Hegel after Kant, and Heidegger after Husserl), calls for a re-instantiation of the originary stage—a reflective recuperation of the origin—thereby transforming a mere linear progression into a cyclical, spiral genesis. Along similar lines, the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty talked of ontological phenomenology as ‘reflection upon the unreflected’.
By grounding the ‘being’ of human being in its being a body, Macann has also been able to bring the structures of his cyclical ontological genesis in line with the findings of the sciences, thereby avoiding the excessively formal and non-empirical character of Heidegger’s ontology. Although Macann’s opening on Eastern philosophy—particularly the Vedantic philosophy (seen through the eyes of Sri Aurobindo) and Japanese philosophy—is only preliminary, he is convinced that the greatest task awaiting philosophy is to close the philosophical gap between East and West and so point the way towards a genuinely universal world philosophy.
The first division of Macann’s life-long philosophical programme has been published in a four-volume edition entitled Being and Becoming. Its first volume is devoted to General Metaphysics; its second volume to Natural Philosophy (Time, Space); its third volume to Social Philosophy (Personal Relations, Language); and its fourth volume to Practical Philosophy (Freedom, Ethics). In the first edition of Being and Becoming, the second, third and fourth volumes are each missing their conclusive theme (currently under development by Macann): Natural Philosophy is awaiting an enquiry into Causality; Social Philosophy an enquiry into Culture; and Practical Philosophy an enquiry into Politics.
The second division of Being and Becoming, an epochal interpretation of the history of modern philosophy which will be entitled The Descendence of Transcendence, comprises essays on eleven historical figures grouped into three epochs: a transcendent epoch (Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Hume), a transcendental epoch (Kant, Husserl), and an ontological epoch (Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre). This epochal interpretation is complete and will be published shortly.
Macann is the author of several other studies in the field of phenomenological philosophy, including Presence and Coincidence and Four Phenomenological Philosophers. He is also editor of a Routledge collection of essays, Martin Heidegger: Critical Assessments. He has been responsible for numerous philosophical translations from the French and German into English, including Michael Theunissen’s Der Andere, translated as The Other, and Phénoménologie et physiologie de l’action, by Alain Berthoz and Jean-Luc Petit, translated as The Physiology and Phenomenology of Action.
In conjunction with a former philosophy student of his at UC Santa Cruz, David Gettman, Macann founded in 1996 the Internet’s first professional e-book publishing house, through which the first edition of Being and Becoming was published in 2007 in both e-book and library (printed) editions. In addition, Online Originals has published a novel by Macann entitled Ananda and a social critique, Egoism and the Crisis in Western Civilization.
Kant and the Foundations of Metaphysics. Carl Winter, Universitätsverlag, Heidelberg, 1981.
The Other. A translation of Michael Theunissen’s Der Andere. M.I.T. Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1984.
Presence and Coincidence: The transformation of transcendental into ontological phenomenology. Phaenomenologica 119, Martinus Nijhoff: The Hague, 1990.
Martin Heidegger: Critical Assessments, editor, London: Routledge, 1992, (4 Vols.)
Four Phenomenological Philosophers, London: Routledge, 1993.
Critical Heidegger, London: Routledge, 1994.
Being and Becoming, Volume I, General Metaphysics; Volume II, Natural Philosophy; Volume III, Social Philosophy; Volume IV, Practical Philosophy, Online Originals: London & Bordeaux, 2007.
Phénoménologie et physiologie de l’action, by Alain Berthoz & Jean-Luc Petit, translated by Christopher Macann as: The Physiology and Phenomenology of Action, Oxford University Press, 2008.