Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Autumn, Week 8 Meeting

NB: The reading for next time is I.3 (§14-§24). We will focus on §14-18. We will not be talking about the sections on Descartes (§19-21), and will probably not talk about the sections on spatiality (§22-§24) (which are nonetheless well worth reading).

1. We began with the question of method in raising the question of being. The method of ontology is phenomenology (§7c), which is: letting that which shows itself (the phenomenon) be seen from itself in the way in which it shows itself from itself. Phenomenology is a descriptive method, does not make assumptions, and is a special kind of seeing.

We saw that phenomenology is the method appropriate to ontology because being is the phenomenon par excellance – it does not usually show itself since it lies hidden in entities, so it needs to be allowed to show itself. Being shows itself only through entities, and does so particularly in dasein. So phenomenological ontology must begin with the analysis of dasein's being (the existential analytic). This analysis starts with dasein's everydayness (§9, §5) – its ordinary, everyday going about its life – rather than with any special or extraordinary situation.

We discussed the hermeneutic or interpretive character of the existential analytic. How does an interpretation of dasein's being connect to the ordinary understanding of hermeneutics as textual analysis? We did not reach a satisfactory answer. But we did note that in carrying out the existential analytic, we figure out how to proceed as we proceed. So perhaps this issue will become more clear as we read further.

2. We tried to get a sense for what Heidegger means by existence (§9), particularly in relation to dasein's understanding of being and the fact that being is an issue for it. We recognised that only dasein exists, and contrasted existence with presence-at-hand, which is an appropriate term for the being of entities unlike dasein. We suggested that existence may have to do with the activity or the act of be-ing (as opposed to the passivity of the present-at-hand), but worried about the appropriateness of this vocabulary. We noted that existence has to do with ability and possibility, but did not discuss further what 'possibility' means.

Heidegger scholars do not agree on what Heidegger means by 'existence.' We mentioned Kate's preferred reading (that existence is dasein's ek-sistent standing-outside-of-itself in understanding being), and John Haugeland's reading (that existence is the actuality of dasein's being lived by people in each case). We tried to draw a parallel between Heidegger's terms (existence, facticity, (falling)) and the traditional terms 'existentia' (that-being), 'essentia' (what-being) (and 'accident,' how-being). Is such a parallel appropriate? Is Heidegger in some way collapsing the traditional distinction between existentia and essentia?

3. We distinguished dasein in general from cases of dasein, on analogy with tuberculosis. Like tuberculosis, dasein always occurs in particular cases – that is, in each case (je). (The translators are sloppy in including this 'in each case' in their translation.) Cases of dasein are addressed by personal pronouns ('I am', 'you are'), so are probably people. Thus you and I are not daseins, but are cases of dasein. Accordingly, cases of dasein can each say that dasein is 'mine' ("dasein is in each case mine"). As a feature of dasein in general, this is called 'mineness' (Jemeinigkeit) (§9).

4. We saw that dasein can be mine in different ways: authentically or inauthentically (§9). Thus cases of dasein (people) can be authentic or inauthentic. We noted that Heidegger will spend the bulk of the book talking about authenticity and inauthenticity – but lamented his failure to provide examples. By way of rough orientation: Jesus and Socrates are uncontroversially authentic cases of dasein; for inauthenticity we can have in mind someone like 'the man in the suit who buys in to the system.' But need authentic and inauthentic cases of dasein be recognisably different? (Kate recommended Jonathan Lear's recent book, Radical Hope, for a brilliant portrayal of an authentic case of dasein).

We did not discuss much what it takes to be in/authentic, but did note that it has to do with (not) 'winning' or 'choosing' oneself, and suggested that this has to do with taking over or owning up to being dasein. We saw that inauthenticity is not a lesser or lower degree of being than is authenticity – unlike in Plato's Republic, in which the beautiful city is in some sense more real than other cities.

5. We distinguished the fact of dasein's being-present – its facticity – from the factual being-present of present-at-hand entities (§12). Facticity is dasein's concrete determination in each case – the details and particularities that fill out and make up any particular human life. Heidegger's will later say that 'existence is always factical,' which means that dasein's existence always happens or occurs in and as the living of a particular, determinate life. We wondered what it means to say that dasein's 'destiny' is bound up with the being of entities which encounter it in the world, and suggested that this may have to do with the fact that what kind of life you lead and what is possible for you is bound up with what kinds of entities happen to be part of your world.

6. We saw that dasein's basic state of being is being-in-the-world (§12). ('State' is not to be understood as something like a 'mental state,' or as optional or contingent. Rather, being-in-the-world is an aspect of dasein's constitution or structure, its make-up). We discussed the way in which being-in-the-world is an articulated unity (somewhat like an aeroplane), such that its parts can be considered separately but are not actually separable, and so must always be considered in terms of the whole. The following three chapters of Being and Time are organised around an investigation of each of the three aspects of being-in-the-world.

We distinguished being-in as such from a spatial relationship of insideness, illuminating this by way of Heidegger's claim that present-at-hand entities can never 'touch' each other. Only dasein can touch something qua encountering it, since only dasein is in the world in the right way. We further illuminated being-in by considering its basic mode, being-amidst-the-world. (We rejected the translation of bei as 'alongside' on the grounds that it implies a spatial separation, opting for 'amidst' instead). We saw that to be amidst the world is to be absorbed in it, and considered Heidegger's list of examples (having to do with, undertaking, considering, etc.) (SZ, p. 56). This list covers both 'practical' and 'theoretical' activities, which indicates that being-in is supposed to precede and ground the practical-theoretical distinction. But the list does not include perceiving and knowing, which are the traditional ways in which the human being's engagement with the world is expressed. This led us to a discussion of knowing.

7. The standard picture of knowledge (§13) is that it is the relation between a subject and an object which somehow meet up. We saw that Heidegger holds that knowing is possible as a relation to entities only when we hold back from our concernful engagement with them. This holding back allows us to just look at entities, and to see them as merely present-at-hand objects. Heidegger considers traditional epistemology to be grounded in the forgetting of the fact that this mere looking is based on our being-amidst-the-world.

Finally, we mentioned Heidegger's response to the objection that his notion of being-in-the-world presupposes that the knowing subject connects up with the world, and does not explain how this is possible. Heidegger responds by saying that it is not clear that such an explanation is needed at all, and that such an approach is flawed because it is 'constructivist' – it tries to conjoin two items, subject and world, instead of recognising the original unity of dasein and world in dasein's being-in-the-world.

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