Monday, February 18, 2008

Winter, Week 5 Meeting - Part I

Understanding (§31)

We pointed out that understanding, like findingness, is a moment of dasein’s disclosedness, the ‘there’ where entities can show up intelligibly to dasein. Like findingness, understanding is a structural moment of being-in which discloses the ‘who’ and world of dasein simultaneously (or “equiprimordially”). Specifically, understanding discloses possibilities in terms of which entities are intelligible to dasein. Heidegger says that this sort of disclosedness has the structure of projection. In understanding, dasein ‘projects entities onto their possibilities.’ We also pointed out that understanding is a broader phenomenon than cognition or knowledge, and involves a practical competence or skill in everyday dealings with oneself, others and intraworldly entities. Finally, we discussed how understanding operates on the ontological level (disclosing the kind of being that characterizes dasein, equipment or things, in general) and on the ontic level (disclosing particular ways to be dasein, equipment or things).

Understanding discloses dasein’s being in terms of that for-the-sake-of-which dasein exists, dasein’s ability-to-be [Seinkönnen, MR: “potentiality-for-being”]. To say that dasein exists is to say that dasein is able to understand itself as whoever it is, for instance as an American, as a carpenter, as someone devoted to justice. We noticed that Heidegger does not say which sorts of things are supposed to count as ‘for-the-sake-of’s.

Understanding discloses the being of equipment in terms of the worldly structure of significance, letting the ready-to-hand show up intelligibly in terms of its usefulness and its relation to the surrounding equipmental totality, or context of co-equipment. Understanding discloses how entities can, and should, be used. For instance, books, in the world of working at the library, are disclosed in terms of the roles they play in shelving, browsing and borrowing, along with the other books, shelves, floors, call numbers, co-workers, the boss, and so on.

Finally, understanding discloses the being of things (present-at-hand entities), for example, in terms of the theoretical laws explaining how they can possibly behave. Physical law, for example, says that it’s possible for entities with mass to gravitate toward entities with greater mass.

We wondered whether the possibilities upon which we project entities are dasein-independent, since they seem to belong to the entities themselves – particularly for present-at-hand entities. What is possible and impossible for such entities is determined by the laws of nature, and it would seem that these hold regardless of whether there are cases of dasein around (for example, by the law of gravity it is impossible for the chalk to fall upwards). But the laws of nature, and the possibilities and impossibilities that they afford, are ways of making entities intelligible, and so require that there is an entity that makes intelligible: dasein. So while the chalk certainly wouldn't fall upwards in the absence of dasein, this wouldn’t ‘show up’ as an impossibility (since there would be no understanding dasein for them to show up to). We will discuss this kind of issue further when we read §43 on reality.

We also flagged the fact that understanding is always finding (and vice versa), and so that projection is always thrown. Among other things, this means that dasein is always thrown into a range of available possibilities upon which it can project entities (including itself). For example, because we are thrown into 20th-century America, we can't understand ourselves as Samurai warriors, and we don't discover cicadas as edible.

Further, the entities themselves constrain the possibilities in terms of which they can be made intelligible – and this means that projection is not 'free-floating' but is beholden to entities and can get them right or wrong. Thus Nate could grasp the chalk as edible, but if he did so he would be getting the chalk wrong, and he gets the chalk right when he projects it onto its specific usability by writing on the blackboard with it.

This led us to discuss why Heidegger says that dasein tends to understand itself in terms of its world (and therefore misunderstand itself). We began to address this by discussing falling.


Aaron said...

We didn't manage to discuss Heidegger's discourse and talk at the last meeting. These probably aren't significant topics in Heidegger's work overall, but I'm interested in getting some idea of how the basic understanding of entities gets worked up (or dimmed down) to subject-predicate statements about the present-at-hand. Furthermore, if I'm reading him correctly, Heidegger takes his opposition to any notion of "intersubjective" communication more seriously than might be obvious. Unfortunately Heidegger makes understanding any of this very difficult.

In a given situation, a Dasein always has a primary understanding of its involvement with particular entities; a capacity for interpretation. Interpretation works out explicitly what is disclosed in primary understanding, bringing to light the entity's place in the "totality of involvements." So far interpretation seems pre-linguistic.

Discourse is related to language, but more primordial than it. It certainly isn't expressed factically in linguistic utterances. Entities have an intelligibility, which is always already articulated. Heidegger then confuses me completely: "That which can be Articulated in interpretation [apparently distinct from what's always lower-case articulated before interpretation], and thus even more primordially in discourse, is what we have called 'meaning.'" Does this mean discourse is more primordial than interpretation? That Articulation is more primordial through discourse than through interpretation? The interpretive process involves ready-to-hand entities - but in terms of a totality of involvements that is social. Discourse is directed to others - but they must to be interpreted as other cases of Dasein so one attempts to communicate, not hit a nail, with them.

In History of the Concept of Time Heidegger attempts to explain the "structural moments" of discourse. There's an about-which - simply whatever is under consideration. As far as I can tell, the set of entities discourse can be about is identical with the set of entities that can be interpreted. Discourse also has a second moment: the "said," which involves a kind of space where "the about-which is talked over" (HCT 262). Heidegger gives the example of saying a chair is upholstered, where "this being-upholstered of the chair is the said as such; it does not coincide with the chair." This allows for the possibility of symbols and factical language in a way interpretation, which is thrust upon a Dasein by whatever entities close by, does not. Heidegger sees factical language as a kind of toolset, in that it is normally ready-to-hand - within the referential totality - but can be "broken up into word-Things which are present-at-hand" (SZ 161). This seems to imply that when elements in language show up they pass, like any other entities, through the understanding-interpretation-articulation process, but that's too confusing to think about.

As if this weren't bad enough, there's Heidegger's "ontologically broad" notion of communication, in which "the Articulation of being with one another understandingly is constituted" (SZ 162). Of course this is much more primordial than anything we normally think of as communication. Any case of Dasein can communicate to any other in this broad sense, for it only seems to require being-with. I can't get my head around the specifics. It's too hard not to think of communication as "a conveying of experiences...from the interior of one subject into the interior of another." At a lower level, there's a notion of listening, or heeding. Presumably it doesn't have to be linguistic utterances that are understood, and while one can try to "not listen" I suspect one is always already listening to some extent. "Listening to one another" is "a compliance in being-with-one-another, a co-enactment in concern," and a manifestation of the way being with "means at the same time being 'in bondage' to the others" (HCT 266). So listening is a kind of integral structure in falling. It's a critical link from a Dasein to das Man. Authentic silence turns away from this, which is why it has little to do with factically speaking or not speaking. Other than that I have no idea what silence is supposed to be.

kate said...

Thanks for your post, Aaron. You provide some very helpful elucidations and ask some probing questions. I don't have (m)any answers, but let me say a few things in response.

First, a minor point on the significance of discourse (Rede). Rede is not particularly significant in _Being and Time_, and is seriously underdeveloped as an account of the ground of language and as a structure of disclosedness which is on a par with understanding and finding. But Rede, or something like it, will become absolutely critical for Heidegger's later work. In fact, after the mid-thirties Heidegger seems to talk about little else. When he famously says, for example, that "language is the house of being", what he is referring to is not language as we ordinarily understand it, but something very close to Rede.

But this doesn't mean that Heidegger has something that we would recognise as a well-developed philosophy of language or theory of linguistic utterance. What he is trying to get at when he speaks of Rede, language or the Greek logos is an absolutely basic human openness to being. This brings me to my second point: Heidegger's skeletal account of the arising of subject-predicate statements occurs in his discussion of 'assertion' rather than in his discussion of Rede. Assertion, recall, is derivative of interpretation, which is in turn a derivative form of understanding. If Rede is supposed to be the ground of language, why does Heidegger discuss assertion under the heading of understanding? Further, since understanding and Rede are equiprimordial and always go hand-in-hand (along with finding), assertion will be grounded in both understanding (primarily) and Rede (secondarily). So a full account of assertion will involve appeal to both. What will the full picture look like? Neither of these questions have easy answers.

By way of indicating a starting point, and third, let me say something about how I understand Rede. Actually, let me defer to John Haugeland, who translates 'Rede' not as 'discourse' but as 'telling'. What he has in mind is not only 'telling someone about something' or 'telling stories', but also 'telling things apart' and 'telling how many'. What John is picking up on is the fact that discourse is about articulating. We shall have to compare this to the articulation involved in interpretation, but for starters I think it is quite clear what kind of articulation is at stake in discourse. The word 'articulate' (artikulieren) comes from the Latin articulare, which literally means 'to divide into joints' (see also the translator's note on SZ153/BT195). Discourse has to do with what Plato describes as 'carving the world at the joints' (Sophist). It is our most basic ability to make distinctions and recognise patterns. My guess is that Rede will account first of all for our openness to the difference (or joint) between, for example, the ready-to-hand and the present-at-hand – that is, differences in ways of being.

This means that Rede is certainly pre-linguistic, although it will be expressed in language – where (I think) language is understood not as linguistic utterance, but as something like a framework that embodies or expresses the basic organisation or structure of the world (which is provided by Rede). I think that this framework will show up to us in a worldly way as "a totality of words" (SZ161), and so as an innerworldly entity – first as a ready-to-hand set of tools, and then perhaps as present-at-hand word-Things. In this, what shows up to us is the words which accrue to the significations embodied in language and provided by the jointing work of discourse. So words or symbols are the clothing, as it were, of our articulating. However, I'm far from certain about this reading. And I'm not sure how to marry this story with the story of assertion, interpretation and understanding. But one consequence of this picture which seems decidedly Heideggerian is that any consideration of 'language' should centre not on the signifier / signified distinction or the symbolic character of language (which would take language as present-at-hand), nor even on the way in which we use language in speech acts (as ready-to-hand), but rather on the way in which language articulates, divides and joints the world – that is, language as an expression of Rede, which is an element of our basic openness to being (i.e. a structural moment of Dasein's disclosedness).

Finally, as for the relation between communication and being-with: it is indeed difficult to tell how the communicative dimension of Rede is more or different than being-with, particularly if the former need not be linguistic. But I think the need to answer this question dissolves once we clarify the roles that being-with and Rede respectively play in Dasein's being. Rede is one of the three moments of Dasein's disclosedness or openness. Being-with is that aspect of Dasein's being that guarantees that Dasein is always open to other (cases of) Dasein. So we might think of being-with as a direction of Dasein's openness (namely, towards-others), and this openness itself will be constituted in part by Rede. (To use an image: if Dasein's openness or disclosedness is a spotlight, being-with means that it will shine on other Dasein, and Rede (along with understanding and finding) provides the illumination).