Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Autumn, Week 10 Meeting

At this meeting we discussed the world, worldhood and equipment. We began with a restatement of Heidegger's concept of world in plain language: "[A] world is a system of purposes and meanings that organises our activities and our identity, and within which entities can make sense to us" (Richard Polt, Heidegger: An Introduction, p54). We then considered:

1. The four senses of world (§14):

(a) 'World' means a totality of present-at-hand entities. We suggested understanding this sense of 'world' in terms of 'what's there.' We debated what would count as examples of intraworldly entities in this sense, and considered material objects, numbers, spaces and unicorns. While we didn't come to a consensus about them all, we did agree that material objects count as a good example of 'what's there' in this sense of 'world.'

(b) 'World' means the being of intraworldly entities. We suggested understanding this sense of 'world' in terms of 'what could be there.' We glossed this sense in terms of a set of constraints, rules or possibilities for being an entity in the realm or domain in question. We talked about Euclid's axioms as an example of this sense of world, since they give the rules by which we can make sense of, and know about, geometrical entities.

(c) 'World' means that wherein a factical dasein lives. We suggested understanding this sense of 'world' as the 'lived world' or 'lifeworld,' and had an extensive discussion of the 'world of stacking (books in the library)' as an example of this sense of world. We pointed out that this is a world in which entities show up both publicly (a 'we-world,' constituted by social practices) and meaningfully (a world of significance). We noted Heidegger's description of this sense of world as being that which is closest to us, the everyday environment surrounding us. We also noted a parallel between Heidegger's use of 'present-at-hand' in his description of the first sense of 'world' and his use of 'factical' in his description of the third sense of 'world.' On this parallel, 'factical dasein' would seem to mean a dasein that's 'there.' (Note: Heidegger will expound upon this sense of 'there' in I.5.)

(d) 'World' means worldhood, the "a priori character" of any world, in general--what belongs to, or makes sense of, a world, insofar as it is a world.

We noted that Heidegger's use of 'being-in-the-world' as another term for dasein's existence uses 'world' in the third sense. We also went on to discuss the third and fourth senses of 'world' in more detail, as summarized in the numbered points below.

2. We noticed that the phenomenon of the world is usually overlooked because it is so close to us that it's difficult to see, like a pair of glasses. Heidegger's analysis of the world, then, is phenomenological in this sense: it attempts to allow the world, which normally hides itself in its very obviousness, to show itself. Heidegger starts with our closest, everyday world (the environment, an example of the third sense of 'world') and with the entities we encounter in it (equipment, or ready-to-hand entities). (§14, §15) Heidegger describes our life in this world as our "dealings" with the ready-to-hand (and, we noted later, with other people who share this world, too). He refers to such dealings with the term 'concern,' and he calls the sort of understanding by which we can make sense of our world and the entities in it 'circumspection' (a conception of understanding which uses the metaphor of sight, like our phrases 'now I see,' 'see what I mean,' 'point of view,' 'shed light on,' and so on).

3. Using the example of the world of stacking, we considered what it is to be an entity in this world (again, an entity Heidegger calls 'equipment' and 'ready-to-hand'). A book shows up as an entity in the world of stacking by making sense in terms of the activity of stacking (the living of the stacker's way of life, so to speak). Heidegger discusses the being of equipment by pointing out a number of interconnected structures in terms of which the book makes sense as an entity in the world of stacking. The overall name for this structure is the 'in-order-to' structure. The book shows up in the world of stacking because it's used in order to shelve and arrange the library's collection. The in-order-to structure has three related components. (a) The book shows up in terms of the role it plays in the activity of stacking. Heidegger calls this kind of usefulness the 'in-which' of the book's readiness-to-hand. (b) The book shows up as that which the stacker stacks; Heidegger calls this the 'with-which' of the book's readiness-to-hand. We noted that the book itself only makes sense within the larger context of other equipment involved in stacking: the stacks themselves, the stacker, the stacker's co-workers and boss, library browsers, the library's floors and rooms and building, call numbers, carts, etc. Strictly speaking, all these together constitute the with-which element of the in-order-to structure, here. (c) The book shows up as being useful for a certain task, used toward a certain purpose, in this case, keeping the collection organized so browsers can find it. Heidegger calls the purpose of a piece of equipment's role the 'towards-which' of its readiness-to-hand. We noted that the in-order-to structure, particularly when we consider the 'towards-which' element, points to, or refers to (or, Heidegger says, "signifies") further 'in-order-to' structures. For example, the book is useful in order to organize the collection, which itself is in useful in order for, say, the stacker to keep her job and continue to get paid, which is in order to fulfill work-study requirements, in order to keep getting financial aid, in order to stay in college, in order to get a degree, in order to be a chemist. (§15, §16, §18)

4. We noted that this last 'in-order-to' is special, and distinct from the others. Strictly speaking, Heidegger doesn't call it an 'in-order-to' relation; he calls it a 'for-the-sake-of' relation. All the work of stacking ultimately makes sense insofar as it's done for the sake of being able to live in the world in question. In this sense, dasein's existence--while it only makes sense in terms of the world and equipment in which and with which it exists--ultimately makes sense as something for the sake of its ability to be, a possibility of its being (for example, being a stacker, earning money for nourishment, being a chemist). Dasein's 'for-the-sake-of-which' is something like a 'life-project', a way of being around which someone organises his life. One's for-the-sake-of-which will determine, and make sense of, the activities one engages in and the ready-to-hand entities that one encounters (e.g. books, banks, test tubes--which themselves make sense in terms of the in-order-to relation). (§15, §18)

5. The upshot of points (4) and (5) above is that to be a case of dasein is always to use equipment or encounter ready-to-hand entities (equipment), and ready-to-hand entities only make sense with reference to that ability-to-be, for-the-sake-of-which dasein exists. Thus to understand either dasein or intraworldly entities, we have to make reference to both. This is one way in which we can see Heidegger overcoming a Cartesian-style subject / object split, which is a way of thinking about people and entities that simply doesn't illuminate our everyday dealings with entities in the environment (because it doesn't let these phenomena show up intelligibly).

6. Finally, we saw that worldhood (the 'worldly' character of the world, what makes it count as a world) is the structure of all these references or relations. To be a 'world' in the fourth sense, to be worldly or 'world-ish,' is to make sense in terms of the in-order-to and for-the-sake of relations. Heidegger's term for this overall structure, the structure of a world as such, is 'significance.'

7. We noted a few more details about Heidegger's view of equipment. Items of equipment have appropriate and inappropriate uses. Thus a book is used appropriately for stacking, reading and so on, but used inappropriately for hammering. Of course, the book can be used in order to hammer, but this does not make it a hammer. It is a book used inappropriately, as a hammer. (§15) The phenomenon of appropriate and inappropriate uses of equipment shows that in using equipment, we also encounter the public world which determines such appropriate and inappropriate uses. Not only does a piece of equipment only show up by fitting intelligibly into a larger context of equipment all involved in that world, a case of dasein only makes sense of itself as a denizen of its world by encountering other cases of dasein with whom it shares that world (e.g., the boss, other stackers, browsers and borrowers). We need not literally see these other people and entities; rather, they are implied, and so show up for us, insofar as the very activity of stacking books makes sense, at all. (§15). The entities encountered in our dealings with equipment always imply or refer to a larger context of other entities, practices and norms. If this context is different (e.g., purchasing books in a bookstore rather than checking them out of the library), then the item of equipment shows up to us differently, it plays a different role in the in-order-to structure of its world. Items of equipment, or entities that are ready-to-hand, are what they are only in terms of their place in such a context or totality of references. (§15, §16)

8. Finally, Kate suggested that while in the case of the work-world or environment, these references will be the in-order-to and so on, Heidegger's mention of primitive man (§17) implies that there may be worlds where we are not primarily concerned with using things (perhaps: the religious world, the art world, the intellectual world). These will be worlds insofar as they are referential totalities (i.e. have worldhood), but will have different kinds of references than the work-world.

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