Monday, November 5, 2007

Autumn, Week 6 Meeting

Here's a summary of our discussion from last Thursday:

1. Dasein (§4, §5)

a. By way of review, we recalled that dasein is the entity to be interrogated in asking the question of the meaning of being, since it is the entity that understands both its own being and the being of other entities. We made a list of things that Heidegger says about dasein: it has to do with man or human beings; we are, each of us, dasein; it's the entity that inquires; it has possibilities; it has discourse; it has the potentiality for logos; it's something for whom being is an issue; it relates to its being; it tends to understand its being in terms of the world; it is ontically near but ontologically far; it's not quite the same as what's traditionally called the 'subject' in philosophy.

b. We saw that 'Dasein' is an ordinary German word meaning 'existence,' and literally means 'being (sein) there (da).'

c. We proposed that dasein is distinct from other entities because it reflects on or thinks about itself, how it should live, what it is, and so on. But we worried that understanding this self-relation as 'reflection' or 'thinking' might define dasein in a way that cuts it off from ordinary life and going about in the world. We related this to the idea that dasein's being is an issue for it – that its being is caught up in some kind of questionability.

d. We talked about what it means to say that dasein's being is existence, and noticed that this is different from other statements of the human 'essence.' We did not reach a satisfactory interpretation of what 'existence' means. In particular, we wondered whether the claim that dasein "has its being to be" just means that dasein is, or whether this is an Aristotelian claim that says that dasein must become what it is in the sense of satisfying its function or fully realising its essence. Similarly, we wondered about what it means to say that dasein has the possibility to be itself or not be itself, and tentatively related this to the idea of people existing 'authentically' or 'inauthentically' (without defining these terms). We wondered if this was an ethical or moral claim, or something else entirely.

e. We reached an interpretation of the terms 'existentiell' and 'existential,' deciding that the existential describes ontological questions, investigations and claims about the being of dasein in general, while the existentiell describes cases of Dasein as entities living out their own particular lives in each case. We looked at the following paraphrases of the terms, by re-arranging Heidegger's words at the end of Being and Time, §3: The existential is 'the character of an understanding of the context [Zusammenhang, hanging together] of the structures that constitute existence,' the existentiell is 'the understanding of oneself which leads along the way of deciding one's existence (by taking hold or neglecting).'

f. We acknowledged that dasein's pre-ontological understanding of being is not a set of beliefs, but is embodied in practices. For example, our understanding of what it is to be masculine or feminine is not a set of beliefs so much as the particular ways in which we speak, act, move, and carry out our lives. We talked about the claim that ontology cannot simply take over dasein's pre-ontological understanding, since dasein has a tendency to misunderstand its own being and because its understanding is always filtered through a tradition and that tradition's ways of understanding being, which may not be suitably grounded in the phenomena. So we can't just make assumptions about what it is to be dasein. We saw that this is why the existential analytic – the analysis of dasein's way of being – is necessary for Heidegger's project.

2. Being and Time

We talked about what kind of results Heidegger will come to in this text, and in particular the fact that they will not be free-floating assertions or slogans. We noticed that Heidegger ends the book with a series of questions rather than a set of claims. We related this to his talk of phenomenology, and the idea that what he is trying to do is to make something manifest to us, to show us something.

3. The Phenomenon (§7a)

a. We talked about the phenomenon as the self-showing (that which shows itself in itself and from itself). We wondered whether something might show itself to one person in one way and to another in a different way, and so what the criterion is for a phenomenon showing up adequately, correctly or truthfully. We distinguished the phenomenon from:

i. Semblance, which shows itself, but not as it is in itself. We gave the example of the sun, which seems to move around the earth.
ii. Appearance, which does not show itself but is announced or indicated by something else, which does show itself. We gave the example of the Black Death, which does not show itself but is announced by black lumps, which do show themselves.
iii. Mere appearance, which does not show itself from itself. We mentioned, but did not fully discuss, this.

We noticed that the concept of phenomenon underlies semblance, appearance and mere appearance, since these all involve something showing itself. They are each distinguished from the phenomenon because they lack one of its components (showing itself, in itself, from itself).

b. We worried that under certain descriptions, the example of the sun can demonstrate either semblance or appearance (or even mere appearance). We pointed out that Heidegger is here not so interested in perfectly distinguishing these three from one another (and indeed allows them to overlap), but is trying to distinguish all three from the phenomenon as the self-showing.

4. Logos (§7b)

a. We noted that logos is a kind of telling or discourse. We looked at these four features Heidegger points out about logos: (i) It lets a phenomenon show up, (ii) it lets something show up in a public way, in a way that communicates, (iii) it lets something show up as something, and (iv) it uncovers entities, taking them out of their hiddenness and into the truth.

b. We flagged the fact that while we know that discourse or logos is speaking when it is fully concrete, we don't really know what it is. Heidegger will discuss it fully later.

c. We noticed Heidegger's brief discussion of truth in this section, which describes truth as discovery or making manifest and falsity as deceiving or covering up. We wondered about the criteria for this – how we can be sure that something is made manifest as it is?

d. We mentioned that Heidegger derives the traditional interpretations or translations of 'logos' ('reason,' 'judgment,' 'concept,' 'definition,' 'ground,' 'relationship') from his own interpretation of it as letting something be seen.

5. We did not talk about temporality as the meaning of dasein's being and as the horizon for all understanding of being (§5). We did not talk about the destruction of the history of ontology and why this is necessary for Heidegger's project (§6), although we did note that Heidegger does not get to this portion of the planned text. Finally, we did not put Heidegger's accounts of the phenomenon and of logos together into his concept of phenomenology (§7c), but will talk about this next time.


Nikhil said...
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nate said...

I want to build on some interesting points in Nikhil's post.

1. Heidegger says more about both existence and the 'in each case' locution in our reading for this week, so it will be good to see if what you say about those terms matches up with how he goes on to elaborate them. Looking ahead, I.1 makes me read 'in each case' slightly different from you, in that I think that there can be several 'cases' of one and the same way of being human--several cases of biologist dasein, for instance. I think the 'cases' are what are properly addressed and referred to using personal pronouns ("'I am,' 'you are'").

2. This opens up an interpretive and philosophical question: Why does Heidegger seem to distinguish between (a) dasein itself (or dasein in general), (b) dasein more specifically as a particular way of being human, (c) cases of dasein as (what I am arguing are) individual people through whose lives and actions dasein exists, and, finally, (d) particular modes of dasein's existence (authenticity and inauthenticity)? Are there any other entities and ways of being that seem to exhibit all these levels of classification and specification?

3. Your reading of 'its being is an issue for it' is a suggestive way to interpret Heidegger here. It's interesting that you want to describe the issue as one of dasein's "defining" and "choosing" itself, and it makes sense, since Heidegger at least describes the difference between authenticity and inauthenticity as one of taking hold and choosing, on the one hand, and forgetting, passing over, or losing sight, on the other. Perhaps the 'issue for it' is not 100% up to dasein to determine and choose, though. Look at Heidegger's description of dasein's historicality in §6: "Whatever the way of being it may have at the time, and thus with whatever understanding of being it may possess, dasein has grown up both into and in a traditional way of interpreting itself: in terms of this it understands itself proximally and, within a certain range, constantly. By this understanding, the possibilities of its being [i.e., its existence] are disclosed and regulated." This makes it sound like, although dasein has some say, some agency, over how it interprets itself, how it understands itself, which possibilities are ones in terms of which it is able to make sense of itself, this is always done against the background of whatever "its past" is, whatever it means to say that "in its factical being, any dasein is as it already was, and it is 'what' it already was. It is its past, whether explicitly or not." (All quotes there are from H 20.)

4. One other interesting aspect of your discussion of the 'is an issue for it' business is where you say that dasein defines (I think you could also say 'determines,' to make it more ambiguous between dasein's making itself and dasein's finding itself to be a certain, determinate way) itself as A by existing or comporting itself toward the possibility of being A "in a way typified by a sort of action." What do you have in mind, there? What kind of action? Can you give an example, 'fill in the A,' as it were?

5. Finally, I would keep in mind Heidegger's point about existence being an ontical affair when you read I.1. Ask yourself, Whose being is at issue? At which level (of the (a)-(d) I sketched out in my point (2) above) does existence occur? We know that if something is ontical and relates to dasein, it is existentiell, and if it's ontological and relates to dasein, it's existential. Again, which branch of the distinctions I suggested in point (2) above would each of those terms apply to? Here, too, it might be helpful to try to come up with an example in terms of which you can explain each of those levels of distinction.

Somewhat random and inconclusive thoughts, but I hope something in it seems worth thinking about. Post a response if anything either doesn't make sense or has made you think of something else to say about this.

Nikhil said...
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