From Life to Existence: A Reconsideration of the Question of Intentionality in Michel Henry’s Ethics


  • Frédéric Seyler DePaul University Chicago



Affectivity, Radical Phenomenology, Ethics


Michel Henry has renewed our understanding of life as immanent affectivity: life cannot be reduced to what can be made visible; it is – as immanent and as affectivity – radically invisible. However, if life (la vie) is radically immanent, the living (le vivant) has nonetheless to relate to the world: it has to exist. But, since existence requires and includes intentional components, human reality – being both living and existing – implies that immanence and intentionality be related to one another, even though they are conceived at the same time as radically distinct modes of appearing in Henry’s phenomenology of life. Following this line of thought, we are faced with at least two questions: First, what reality does immanent appearing have for us as existing and intentional beings? And second, from an ethical point of view, what does Henry’s opposition of “barbarism” and “second birth” mean in terms of existence? As will be shown, it follows from the standpoint of radical phenomenology itself that immanent affectivity has reality for us only insofar as it finds its expression or translation in the realm of the intentionally visible and that, with regard to ethics, both “barbarism” and its overcoming in “second birth” are effective only insofar as they are mediated through representations. Henry’s critique of representation and intentionality needs therefore to be revised, especially in the field of practical philosophy, where the essential role played by intentionality has to be acknowledged even by radical phenomenology.

Author Biography

Frédéric Seyler, DePaul University Chicago

Assistant Professor

Department of Philosophy

DePaul University Chicago