Ludwig Binswanger: The Transcendence of Love by Joeri Schrijvers


Ludwig Binswanger’s phenomenological masterpiece, the Grundformen des menschlichen Daseins (1942), has long been neglected in the contemporary debates on transcendence and self-transcendence specifically and in contemporary philosophy of religion in general. This article seeks therefore to introduce Binswanger’s thought on love, the most basic and even fundamental form of Dasein into current debates on transcendence. It is for this reason that we will compare, at the end of this text, Binswanger’s work to that of Levinas and that of Derrida and Caputo.

Binswanger (1881-1966) was primarily a psychiatrist, who worked in the sanatorium Belle vue in Switzerland. This place was one of the most exciting meeting-points for people who then spearheaded intellectual and artistic life. Freud visited the place very often and Heidegger, too, has frequented the place at least one. During the early forties of the previous century the psychiatrist Binswanger digressed, so to say, into phenomenological philosophy. He had then already build a name for himself in the domain of psychology and psychiatry, notably with the books Traum und Existenz (1930), which triggered the thought of Michel Foucault, and Über Ideenflucht (1933). Already in these works, his fascination for the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl is obvious, but the publication of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (1927) proved to be, for him as for many others, a landmark and sparked him to write his phenomenology of love. The Grundformen, then, in which this phenomenology condenses, was first published in 1942.

His digression into phenomenology has not been a success. Very quickly, the Grundformen came under the attention of Heidegger who dismissed it as a “misunderstanding” of Sein und Zeit, stating that Binswanger confuses ontic and existentiell matters with matters of ontological and existential importance (Heidegger 2001, 115 and 190-2). For Heidegger, just as little as the biologist or the theologian was able to pose the question of the meaning of being, just as little could one expect from psychiatry to entertain this question. It is not to be excluded that Heidegger’s dismissal of the Grundformen caused Binswanger to abandon his straying into philosophy and returned to question of psychology. His Melancholie und Manie (1960), for instance, seems to have had a considerable impact on the field and what is now called Daseinsanalyse has arguably found a definitive form through Binswanger’s doing. It is for these reasons, too, that Binswanger’s impact on the philosophical debate has been scarce, although reception of his work has begun in France and in Italy. Yet these works mostly focus on Binswanger’s work in psychiatry and the philosophical importance of the Grundformen undiscussed (Gros 2009; Coulomb 2009; Cabestan and Dastur 2011; Basso 2011 and 2017). In Italy, in effect, very soon after the publication of the Grundformen, Danilo Cargnello published a summary and interpretation of the book in 1947 already. It has been translated into French just last year (Cargnello 2016). Cargnello too, however, argued that Binswanger’s Grundformen revealed only the ontic importance of love and therefore seems to have agreed with Heidegger’s later judgment.

Yet the question of love has not thereby been settled and one can argue that the question is, today still, legitimate: where does the phenomenon of love figure in Sein und Zeit? The question was raised earlier, notably by Karl Löwith in his Das Individuum in der Rolle des Mitmenschen (1928) which is cited by Binswanger, and later of course by Hannah Arendt. Heidegger had indeed only mentioned love once in a footnote on Augustine, where the latter states that to know God one must love God. Apart from this, it is remarkable that it is the primary negative mood of anxiety and the question of finitude regulate Heidegger’s magnum opus. One can therefore, legitimately i.e. philosophically, wonder whether or not the phenomenon of love shows a different ontology than the one Heidegger has conveyed to us. It is my contention in this article that this indeed was Binswanger’s aim and that, in fact, he has, on this score, delivered: the phenomenon of love, ultimately, shows the facticity of the ‘all with all’, the basic phenomenon of togetherness, rather than the ‘all against all’ which transpires through Heidegger’s analysis of anxiety and the Jemeinigkeit of one’s death.

Binswanger conceded much to Heidegger. In the 1962 preface to the Grundformen, he was careful to distinguish between his own phenomenological anthropology and Heidegger’s ontological quest for the meaning of being by labeling his own work famously as a “productive misunderstanding” of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (Binswanger 1993, 5).1 Yet there is an ambivalence, it seems, in Binswanger’s admission: certainly, he agrees that his own phenomenology is an anthropology and certainly it remains, as Heidegger argues, on an ontic and existentiell level. It are these admissions that seem to prove Cargnello’s reading of Binswanger, stating that “Binswanger has always been, before all else, a psychiatrist. It is correct, we believe, to say that, when dictating his phenomenological anthropological lesson, he always had forms of alienation in mind, even when he does not speak of them explicitly or only through some allusions in this work [the Grundformen]” (Cargnello 2016, 41). I will not deny the fact that Binswanger’s phenomenology has an anthropological and psychiatric aim, but the very fact that this aim is not made explicit, or only seldom alluded to, seems to imply that the Grundformen served another goal. For this, I believe, we need to return to the preface of 1962, which Cargnello probably did not know. Here Binswanger says that “the core of my divergence with Heidegger does not so much lie in the fact that I understand fundamental ontology anthropologically but rather, conversely, in this that I seek to understand love […] ontologically. And [in this respect] too, the phrase of Szilasi proves to be true: it is on the basis of new modes of experience that we succeed in outlining new possibilities for experience” (Binswanger 1993, 5). Everything conceded, we must therefore acknowledge here already that Binswanger never really conceded that his phenomenology of love was without ontological importance. It is this importance that we will outline in the remainder of this text. First, we will briefly remind ourselves of the main characteristics of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit.


It is quite understandable that Heidegger’s book has such an impact on his contemporaries. Here was a philosopher who was able to speak about what is most common and most everyday of our lives: talking to others, reading magazines, hammering, etc. Heidegger was the first to speak about our being-in-the-world. Heidegger sparked a whole tradition of existentialism with his enquiries into the moods of fear and anxiety. Yet he always maintained that such an existential anthropology had never been his aim. His was a quest for what is most proper to the human being from an ontological viewpoint: what can we learn about ‘being’ from the human being, considering that the only being that knows about being is the human being? Here lies a difference already with Binswanger’s phenomenological anthropology which asks: what is it for the human being to be?

In a sense, then, Heidegger’s criticism of Binswanger, namely that he confuses ontic and existentiell experience with ontological questioning is correct. For Heidegger, what matters is not this or that ontic experience, but rather the very fact that we, as human beings, experience. Heidegger’s ontology, then, queries for what some have called ‘the experience of experiencing’ of, in phenomenological ontological terms, ‘the appearing of appearing’. Heidegger’s anthropological starting-point only serves this purpose because it is in each case the human being that experiences or is acquainted with appearances.

Therefore even Heidegger needed a sort of passage-way between ontic experience and ontological matters. This passage-way, as we will see, is the experience of anxiety, which serves as the bridge between our everyday being-in-the-world and what lies ‘beneath’, ‘beyond’ or ‘within’ it: the question of being and of ontology. It is on this precise point that Heidegger will be criticized by many of his famous followers. One might think here of Levinas’ infamous statement that “in Heidegger Dasein is never hungry” (Levinas 2002, 134), implying that by disregarding certain ontic experiences, such as hunger and the need of a home, Heidegger might have missed certain ontological issues about the human being and being as well. It might very well be that Binswanger was the first to pose such questions to Heidegger: what if some other ontic experiences than anxiety show us a different way of being, if they open modes of existence that teach us a different lesson about being and what it is for us to be than Heidegger taught? ‘In Heidegger’, Binswanger worries, ‘Dasein never loves’.

But a second point in Heidegger’s existential analytic, however, deserves our attention. For his quest for what is most proper to the human being has a peculiar aspect to it: could it be, argues Heidegger, that what is ‘most proper’ to the human being is usually avoided, or, in other terms, could it be that the human being most often is not himself (Cf. Heidegger 1967: 150-151? Heidegger, in effect, distinguishes between two modes of being for the human being: the one inauthentic, the other authentic. In the first mode Dasein is immersed in and absorbed by its preoccupations in everyday existence. Its existence is covered, covered over rather by its care and concern for what comes next, like when I’m thinking of making dinner later while writing this article. Heidegger has no intent of moralizing here: it is not that this ‘inauthentic’ or ‘improper’ mode is bad, it is rather that ‘something goes missing’ in this mode of existence. For here, in everydayness, Dasein identifies with what he or she does in the world to such an extent that it forgets about (the fact of) its being as a being-in-the-world precisely. In short, for Heidegger, following Aristotle’s famous dictum that ‘potentiality is higher than actuality’, what is forgotten is the fact that I am, that we are and what we can be. What I am—writer, coworker, handyman—absorbs the question what I also could be completely; what we are—Belgians, Europeans—gets in the way about what ‘Europe’, for instance, could also, potentially, be. It is to retrieve such possibilities and potentialities that Heidegger turns to anxiety and the question of finitude. Anxiety, and in particular, angst over our death, operates somewhat as a phenomenological reduction for Heidegger: it makes our everyday being-in-the-world disappear in order for our worldliness as such to appear. Angst, in effect, is not a revelation of anything grand or divine for that matter. It merely makes for the fact that the world and our preoccupations in it for a while do not longer make any sense. Yet, on the other hand, angst does reveal that there is no escape from the world either: even if the world ‘as such’ does not make sense, it becomes evident to the person in anguish that there is but this world and my being as this being-in-the-world. In this regard, anxiety shows, first, that there is world and, secondly, that I will have to be ‘my’ being-in-the-world since no one can ‘be’ in my place and, thirdly, that I can do this in my ‘ownmost’ way. The latter is where for Heidegger a liberation of sorts lies: anxiety over my being-in-the-world in this sense functions as a sort of retrieval of new potentialities for this Dasein that in each case I have to be.


Binswanger shares this primacy of being-in-the-world for philosophical reflection. It is indeed important to realize that Binswanger does not reject Heidegger’s analysis. He simply states that “this truth lacks love”—diese Wahrheit mangelt die Liebe (Binswanger 1993, 218). Heidegger’s authentic and heroic Dasein might be powerful and courageous, it knows next to nothing, Binswanger argues, of the phenomenon of love and its hints of our original being- together. It is this ontic experience of love, of my love for this very ontic you and her love for me, that puts Binswanger on track of a different ontology than Heidegger had in mind.

Even though Binswanger was one of the first thinkers to pose the question of love to Heidegger, his philosophy of our being-together has certainly had its predecessors. One need not think only of Löwith but also Martin Buber’s philosophy of dialogue is influential on Binswanger’s phenomenology, although Binswanger is mindful particularly of what happens to those others not immediately drawn into the ‘I-Thou’-relation. Levinas’ thought, too, can be aligned to where Binswanger’s was heading: the former’s conclusion of Totality and Infinity, namely that there is in being an “intersubjective curvature of space” (Levinas 2002, 291) receives in Binswanger’s phenomenology an important clarification. Such intersubjective curvature has recently also been explored by Jean-Luc Nancy who has convincingly shown that the truth of Descartes’ ego cogito, only certain of its own existence, can only be true if it is communicated to the other, to “each of Descartes’ readers” (Nancy 2000, 31): the point is, of course, that the solipsism involved in Descartes’ phrase immediately undoes itself, is rendered inoperative at the least, as soon as it is published, read, and disseminated.

Binswanger might therefore be called a forerunner of many contemporary philosophical trends, for if one of the critiques leveled against Levinas was that his priority of the Other was ultimately grounded in God and religion and if it was this critique that made Jacques Derrida (who first leveled the critique) and later Jean-Luc Nancy speak of an address and a greeting in being, a salut without salvation, then this ‘salut sans salvation’, too, seems predicted by and present in Binswanger’s phenomenology (Derrida 2005). Binswanger in effect does not speak of religion, even if his thinking might be helpful for a contemporary theology and many of his ideas stem from the Christian tradition in the first place. His account for instance of the fact that there is no love for self was developed by Augustine centuries ago: if, for the latter all love of self is sinful, for Binswanger, however, secularized thinker as he is, the love of self is deformed expression of true love, which plays between the two lovers and ultimately between us all.
Let us listen to Binswanger and turn to the phenomenology of love, which adds significantly to the contemporary debate, for if Derrida, Levinas and Nancy would all say that ‘there is no meaning for one alone’, Binswanger would contribute: ‘there is no love for one alone’ either, for it is love that dwells between the two of us and in the end all of us. Here is Binswanger’s version of the ‘intersubjective curvature’ and the greeting in being.

“But is certain that all the going and the seeking and encountering somehow belong to the secrecies of eros. It is certain that, on our wounded ways, we do not advance and push forward simply because of our deeds but are always drawn to and enticed by something [gelockt von etwas] that seemingly always awaits us somewhere yet is always veiled. There is something like a longing of and for love [Liebesgier], a curiosity of love in our striding forward even then when we seek the solitude of the forest […] All lonely encounters are intermixed with something very sweet, may it only be the encounter with a huge tree standing alone or the encounter with an animal of the forest which stops inaudibly and eyes us though the dark. As for me, it is not the embrace but the encounter that is properly decisive of the erotic pantomime. No moment when the sensual is more spiritual or the spiritual more sensual than in the encounter […] Here one finds a mutual aiming-for-the-other yet without lust [Zueinandertrachten noch ohne Begierde]. A greeting is something borderless. Dante dates his ‘new life’ back from a greeting that was imparted on him. Wonderful is the cry of a great bird, the peculiar, lonely sound, prior to the world, loud at dawn from the highest evergreen, heard somewhere by a rooster. This somewhere, this indeterminacy which is already a passionate longing, this crying out of the stranger to the stranger [dies Schreien des Fremden nach der Fremden] is what is awesome. The encounter promises more than the embrace can hold on to” (Binswanger 1993, 73).

It is this phenomenon of ‘Lockung’, our being drawn to others and otherness, which conveys Binswanger’s ontology, for if the experience of love is an ontic instance of my being drawn to this particular ontic you (and her being drawn to me), this ontic experience is only possible because of this Lockung and borderless greeting that is part of a “higher order of things” (Binswanger 1993, 73): it is, for Binswanger, part of the ontological ‘makeup’ of being. Binswanger’s agreement with Heidegger is however not to be underestimated. The experience of love is therefore played out nowhere else than our being-in-the world and grafts itself onto Heidegger’s existential analytic. Binswanger, on the other hand, argues that in the experience of love another finale insinuates itself than the experience of finitude which, for Heidegger, was the sole eschatology that could be imagined in secular times. Let us listen to Binswanger one more time:

“the problem of the human being now needs a new solution. If we can no longer look for it in ‘the transcendent’ or the eternal realm, then we will need to seek in the temporal and finite realm, in Being and Time, in being-in-the-world therefore. Yet in these realms alone not all accounts are settled. There remains a residue that does not befit finitude, the yearning [Sehnsucht] beyond the worldly finitude of Dasein for unification with infinite and eternal being” (Binswanger 1993, 368).

By enclosing the human being in its world, and the concomitant finitude, not all accounts are settles and there remains a yearning that makes us look elsewhere and for something other. Rather, this yearning is and shows itself as our enticement to others: being-in-the-world is for Binswanger, from the first, a being-with-others and an inter-esse (literally: being between) in the other. It is this interest, this desire and this yearning that makes for Binswanger’s most fundamental take on human existence.

This yearning is most clear in the experience of love, where the one obviously longs for the other and the other desires me. Here already, we need to make clear that the experience of love does not answer this yearning: love, in Binswanger, is not what ‘settles the account’ of our finite being and love, similarly, does not ‘befit finitude’. This is a first indication why we will argue that there is no ‘metaphysics of presence’ in Binswanger. Although love does not answer the longing of finitude, it does give this longing a sense of direction. In a nice German word play, Binswanger contends that love turns our wandering into a ‘walking’ in the world: the Wanderung becomes a Wandel, a striding forwards together (e.g. Binswanger 1993, 95). This experience in finitude of something that does not befit finitude, however, will for Binswanger give way to a quite particular experience of infinity: it is an experience of infinity from within finitude—in-finitude: the infinite ‘shows itself’ or attest to itself phenomenologically, i.e the ‘how’ of the experience of love cannot be described without taking its infinite and eternal aspect into account.

Before jumping to the ontology of love, however, we need to pay mind to the ontic experience of love. This experience is first of all an experience of my belonging to this very ontic you whom I love and her belonging to me. This reciprocal phenomenon, in which I give myself to her and she gives myself to me, in turn gives way to a belonging to being: our co-longing turns out to be a belonging to one another and being. It is, in Binswanger’s terms, an experience of a Heimat, a being-at-home in the world, which he carefully crafts against Heidegger’s Unzuhause. In this way, the experience of love creates a mode of existence that Binswanger calls a ‘in die Welt über die Welt hinaus sein’—a being ‘beyond’ the world whilst being-in-the- world. Here too, it is important to note that our finite being in love is accompanied by an intuition of infinity.

In this regard, one needs to show how the experience of love overrides the temporal structure of Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein. It does so by overruling both the spatial as well as the temporal aspect of the existential analytic. By doing so, the experience of love conveys an intuition of infinity beyond the established borders of the word. As for the temporal aspects, the temporality of the experience of love is such that none of the lovers is ‘ahead of oneself’, as when Dasein is concerned and preoccupied by entities within-the-world and so opened to the future. Lovers, on the contrary, are not ahead of ‘oneself’ but we are, as lovers, always and already ahead of ourselves: whatever happens, will happen to the two of us.

The spatial structure of Dasein is affected as well by the experience of love. This overturning of spatiality occurs in both a negative and in a positive manner. Negative, in that the ‘space’ of love shows itself in and through a negativity, a ‘bad infinite’ as it were of borderlessness as in the song ‘my home is nowhere without you’ or, for an older generation, ‘since my baby left me, I found no place to dwell’. But the space of love just as well turns into a positivity, in that no place is ever uncanny if you are there: the experience of love is thus positive as well because it is ‘without borders’.

This spatial and temporal aspect of overturning of love of Dasein’s world makes for the fact that love effects its own horizon, much like we today would say of Jean-Luc Marion’s saturated phenomenon or Claude Romano’s event. Peculiar to this experience of love, however, is first of all that the intuition of infinity takes place nowhere else than in the world. Yet, secondly, and even more remarkable is that thise paradisiacal state of a pure love never really seems to happen. It is here that Binswanger is a predecessor of a great many trends in contemporary philosophy, not in the least Derrida’s deconstruction and critique of a metaphysics of presence. Binswanger’s dialectic of love and world, as we will see, states clearly that this pure love, if it happens—s’il y en a, if you will—only happens in and through the impurities and adversities of the world. Its condition of possibility is therefore at the same time its condition of impossibility. Binswanger’s phenomenology of love is, then, far removed from a romantic theory of love ‘hover over the waters’.


What we find in Binswanger is then a sort of Derrida avant la lettre: the pure love only happens in and through living in the world or, to state it in Derrida’s terms: the ‘beyond’ of love is only experienced ‘in’ the world. We should recall that with such a ‘au-delà dans’, as a formal structure of transcendence, Derrida “subscribes to everything Levinas says about peace and messianic hospitality, about the beyond of the political in the political” (Derrida 1999, 117). One might then safely conclude that Binswanger not only prefigures Derrida but also Levinas’ transcendence of the other. We will come back to this in the conclusion, but now we must venture the idea of a ‘pure’ love that does not entirely coincide with itself, that shows a ‘beyond’ of the world ‘in’ the world. It is through such a discrepancy and discontinuity as well that Binswanger will evade a metaphysics of presence in his phenomenology of love: the experience of love is not, and can never be, an experience that would hold the truth of all other experiences. It will always be kept in check by the experience of world, even if the latter should be conceived as a lack of love.

Of this dialectic between life and love or between love and world, one can detect two accounts in Binswanger’s Grundformen. The first is, if you will, the life of love and the second speaks of the ‘love of my life’; the first treats how love always and already has to relate to the world, whereas the second shows how love infuses and injects the world with the spirit of love.

As for the ‘life of love’ in the world, Binswangers argues that the lovers are, dialectically, both in the world and without world at the same time—it is not a temporal succession that is at issue here. In the world, the lovers have to balance between, on the one hand, a Sorge um die Liebe (a ‘concern for love’) and being-in-love on the other. In the world, love is always and already dealing with entities-within-the-world, as when one for instance is preoccupied by who is going to pick up the children from school. As such, this ‘fall of love’ is not to be avoided, but Binswanger makes clear that, in time, these preoccupations might substitute themselves for a proper experience of love: the things in the world veil and conceal the ‘us’, you and me, who are born from love. The other fall of love describes the opposite tendency: the lovers are that much involved with one another that they are unable to relate their love to the world. This happens, for instance, when the lovers lose friends over their relationship. The experience of love here becomes what Levinas has called a solitude à deux.

Love is about the proper balance between world and love itself. Here is Binswanger again:

The ‘true’ relation between ‘love and world’ shows itself neither in you and me retreating from the world nor in us dissolving in the world. Yet [the relation] is not a simple switch between both ‘movements’ as in some sort of succession between ‘sufficing to one another’ and ‘having enough of each other’. It is not these ‘real’ possibilities that are intended but the fact of the possibility of the permeation of the world of concern and sollicitude with the spirit of love on the one hand and the transparency of the world of concern through this spirit on the other. Herein lies the dialectic of love and world (Binswanger 1993, 85)

Here again we see that, for Binswanger, love cannot be without the world. Its existence is such that it is as this ‘back and forth’ between world and love. The experience of love therefore is not an experience like a religious experience of sorts which supposedly conveys the ‘beyond’ of the world in such a way that once and for all the truth of this world would be revealed. On the contrary, love’s very movement, its dynamic, is to go out to the world, reveal itself there and fuse the ‘lack of love’ so clear in the world with the ‘spirit of love’.

This is even more clear if we examine Binswanger’s account of ‘the love of my life’, his take on this very ontic you whom I love. Binswanger here insists on the difference beteween this ontic you (Du) and togetherness (Duhaftigkeit ûberhaupt). Even though it is through my love for this empirical you over here that I am finally to imagine the fact that love extends to all and that I am put on track on this enticement, this gelockt werden von etwas that rages through being, there never is any final identification between this lover here and love ûberhaupt: even though I transcend myself in my love for here and she transcends likewise, we both discover that love, similarly, transcends the both of us. Even though we experience the truth of who we are and who we can be in our love for one another, our experience of love is not the truth of love altogether. In our belonging to one another, what we experience is that love cannot be contained and limited to us and that it is of the essence of love that, in principle, anyone can (and should) be loved and that it therefore extends to all beings. It is this difference between ‘my’ love and ‘love überhaupt’, between the ontic embrace and the ontological encounter that reveals the infinity proper to love to me, to us. Yet here too, for Binswanger, it is the ‘back and forth’ between the empirical and the ontological that is most important: without our being drawn to one another, we would have not had the idea of such an ontological communion just as without this communion raging through being it would not be possible for me, for us to love in the first place.

There are several examples of this dialectic between ‘love’ and world in Binswanger’s work, not the least of which is his wariness of religious love. This love, Binswanger states, is defective because it loves someone or something ‘up on high’ but is unbalanced by an ‘ontic you’ down here in the world. Such a fusion with a divine source so misses the fact that love is only by attending to world and asserting itself there. But, similarly a love that sticks with the ‘ontic you’ misses the point and dismisses the fact that love cannot be contained and that ‘thing between us’ desires to be stretch out the world over. This is most obvious by one of the more intriguing examples Binswanger gives of the discrepancy between my ontic love and the ontological idea of love in general. The “compulsive question of many young brides”, for instance, “‘why this one and no one else, why now and not some other time, why at all and not never?’” makes “the ontical fact” clear that “loving primal encounter and this encounter here have not (yet) coincided [nicht zur Deckung gelangt sind]” (Binswanger 1993, 75n.28). Binswanger argues for several reasons for such a non-coincidence: some pertain to the particular ‘you’—it might not be the right one, the bride may have some stress disorder that keeps her from affirming the ‘we— others pertain to the primal togetherness—the loving Dasein as ‘We’ cannot ‘pronounce’ itself at all here, it does not ‘speak’ to the lovers.

What to make of such an example? First of all, in order not to upset female readers, it goes without saying that these questions pretty much pertain to everyone. Even apart from the context of marriage, it would be simply awkward if such questions would never pose themselves and ever stop being posed. Philosophically one might argue that such non- coincidence is the rule rather than the exception. One might legitimately wonder whether such a coincidence every actually occurs and whether or not, a dogmatic certainty in this regard (I love you for this and this reason) would not end love altogether. The indications of temporality seem in effect to indicate that, in the spirit of Derrida and a certain phenomenology, it takes a life-time to coincide which means, simultaneously, that in love this coincidence never ‘coincides’ properly, i.e. is never attained once and for all. This is what the dialectic of love and world shows: true love needs time—it takes the world to get to know your lover and you need time to learn to love.

Love, then, for Binswanger has a history (Binswanger 1993, 129): it shows itself only ‘in’ the world and in history, but shows itself there as not entirely ‘of’ the world. This also makes for Binswanger’s rather progressive standpoint that love is not dependent on the tradition: what is ‘of’ this world will be lived differently throughout the various ages. In this way, different forms of love, as for instance same-sex marriages, add to the idea of love rather than diminish this idea. “The spirit of human love does not hover over the waters, it does not merely offer us heaven, but also expands onto and into the world which it conquers” (Binswanger 1993, 85). It is this back and forth between love and history that Cargnello misses by insisting solely on “the suprahistorical level” of love and by relegating all of love’s march to and in the world, to that which is not love and displays a lack of love, to the domain of care (Cargnello 2016, 89 also 79-80). Yet the overcoming and overturning of any rigid distinction between love and care, letting the latter be fused and injected with the spirit of love, is exactly Binswanger’s point and why he occupies an exceptional position in contemporary philosophy, let alone theology—who else has described the incarnation of love in the world, its march towards that which lacks love, in such a compelling manner? In philosophy, however, we have, after Derrida and after a new phenomenology, been waiting for an account of the passage-way between the ontic and the ontological, the empirical and the transcendental or between historical ‘meaning’ and metaphysical ‘signification’, to recall Jean-Luc Nancy’s distinction, only to find that, back in 1942 Binswanger had given us precisely this passage-way. It is urgent then to compare Binswanger’s breakthrough to other developments in contemporary philosophy.


We would like to conclude by comparing Binswanger’s account of love to more contemporary versions of thinking transcendence in contemporary philosophy. Love is an experience of infinity within the limits of the world. In love, the lovers embrace and kiss one another, but this embrace only ever serves as the starting-point of an imagining an encounter and a love of all for all. The transcendence of love so conserves but does not contain the encounter with infinity. This encounter therefore still exceeds the ontic embrace of the lovers and transcends their reciprocal transcendence to the entirety of beings, to ‘the animal eyeing us through the dark in the forest’ for instance. In turn, there is not one experience of love that holds the truth of love ‘in general’: many forms of love need to be included and make for the essence of love.

This differs from, for example, Levinas’ account of the transcendence of the Other, where finitude and immanence conserve and contain transcendence. Levinas’ ethical transcendence keeps transcendence as it were in check within the face, within, that is, the borders of a certain humanism. If we turn to Derrida and Caputo’s account, who exploit a possibility already present in Levinas, than we need to state that here finitude and immanence conserve nor contain the experience of transcendence. Here, in effect, tout autre est tout autre, and since ‘every other is every bit as other’ my responsibility towards this immanent and ontic other is always and already an injustice towards the transcendent other over there, at least toward the ‘other next to this other’ here—the third. In this way, Derrida and Caputo seem to erect a free-floating transcendence of sorts, that is, one that that never actually seems to happen.

Of these three accounts of transcendence, the transcendence of love, of the Other and of the Tout Autre, we might safely say that Binswanger’s account is to be preferred: it not only shows us the passage-way from the ontic to the ontological, from the empirical to the transcendental, all the while taking both the ontic and the ontological serious (something which cannot be said of Heidegger), it also gives us a sense of the today much sought for ‘incarnation of meaning’, of the intertwining of meaning and materiality, so outwitting and overruling, I would say, the ‘trace of an absence’, dominant in deconstruction.


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