Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dreyfus on White on Heidegger on Death

Browsing around the web, I found an online pdf of the Forward that Prof. Dreyfus wrote for a new book on Heidegger, Carol J. White's Time and Death: Heidegger's Analysis of Finitude. I'm linking to it because Prof. Dreyfus makes (especially in section IV of the paper) an interesting and relevant attempt to map out different possible interpretations of Heidegger's notion of death (Prof. Haugeland's included). It's worth looking at in light of our most recent meeting. You can read it here.

Post any reactions in the comments!


nikhil said...
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nikhil said...

What's the shift or change that happens in findingness (in respect to which possibilities are)? At least my skimming of Mr. Dreyfus's article leads me to believe it isn't anything more than the pursuit of one's ways of being and the pursuit of maintaining one's way of being while being open to any new disclosure which appears as the possibility of the death of that way of being. The reason I have some doubts about this (resulting, in large part, from consistent confusion) is that, at least on the surface, nothing about this implies or means or necessitates any state in which full being-in-the-world unambiguously appears. Or, in other words, under this line, isn't it possible for dasein who associates itself with the they-self (say, a man is a taxidriver as his only way of being, but that driving is done thinking its just a job, I'll make money so that I can own my own taxi some day, but for now I'll do what the taxidriver company says, they call the shots for me at this point), work entirely to preserve that way of being (preserving a way of being in the they-self might be something like, covering your ears and repeating the words "its just a job" whenever someone says something which challenges the idea that taxi drivers should be) and remain open to anything which prevents the way of being a taxidriver in the they-self from being possible (distorting appeals by someone to himself that in fact, we don't take taxis anymore because we have brilliantly done public transportation, making those appeals hazy and on the order of contemptuous 'gossip' (not in the heideggarian way, but as a way to purposefully diminish that appeal)? Or maybe something like a way of being in which both anomalies and marginal practices are by definition and in their existance things which merely strengthen that particular way to be, because in a particular way to be they cannot but be recognized as strenghtening (after all, given a way of being, it isn't as if we are able to view anomalies and marginal practices in a way fundamentally seperated from how we find them). This doesn't seem to completely capture Heidegger's being-towards-death, but as far as I can tell is a possibility left open by Mr. Dreyfus's discussion

I feel like Heidegger himself should dislike this (if only because dasein in being-towards-death reveals itself as a fully structured dasein), but I don't see (though maybe before saying this I should actually read the entire book) where the account in Dreyfus's intro prohibits this sort of thing.

Something like this was why I earlier appealed to the example of an ontologist, if only because I feel like this sort of special example reveals something about being-towards-death which involves dasein shifting in its relationship to that in which it finds itself. Specifically, something like, in being-towards-death, in being open to such possibility, changes that in which one is found by revealing that it itself is towards death. Or, say you're a philosopher of some stripe, and you've gone through times wherein the question of being is shunted aside, that itself reveals itself to you as already something which you've given up. Fully engaging in metaphysics or something like that seems to miss that it is precisely in fully engaging yourself in certain ways of being that can cause us to miss that those ways of being are dead. Since we have to as well indicate that in anticipation Dasein "dispels the danger that it to recognize that it is getting outstripped" by Others, and "reveals the potentiality-for-being of Others", that suggests to me that in being-towards-death one precisely doesn't stop at fully practicing the way of being one already has, but rather engages with and (there's a better word for this) contrasts itself with the negative and positive possibilities of precisely what it ISN'T already, what it already finds as some other way of being - not merely marginal, but that which shows up as antithetical, foreign, stupid, whatever - both complete and completely weird. Suggesting, in some way, the primacy of a science like ontology, which of itself, in fully engaging with itself, already must engage with 'other ways of being' as principally other, which are included by ontology's own nature in ontology (though they seem in heidegger to have primarily negative significations). Or, an evangelical right winger christian can't at this point (in my stereotyped example) be towards death, as there are certain things in the mere preservation of itself as a way of being misses its having found itself individualized amidst other ways of being: something that can never be the case if he limits himself to new disclosure, so to speak, 'within the field'. What Dreyfus calls anomalies might even by definition simply be prevented from showing up, except if Dasein views itself as possibly already having died, which doesn't to me make sense except for 'marginal practices' and 'anomalies' not limited to being marginal but showing up as not-itself, and not merely becoming central but possibly already having been central.

My primary concerns with the above is that it may miss what is interpretive/methadological in a 'way of being' and that it misses something essential about the being of the they-self (in light of which, possibly, one CANNOT be the they-self). But I'm not sure, and these are just thoughts, so at the very least I'll understand better what Mr. Dreyfus and Mr. Haugland were saying. Oh, another thing I've noticed: I've probably brutalized precisely the relationship to the world that dasein has...but go figure, that not being able to read Heidegger happens at the same time I'm brutalizing the world. In other words, oops?

nikhil said...

maaaaybe what i'm trying to account for is why death has largely been associated with gods?

kate said...

Two quick thoughts on Nikhil's post (which may not touch the substance of it, but may help focus the discussion).

First, as regards the findingness of being-towards-death: Heidegger seems to waver, or he is unclear, on whether this is anxiety or readiness-for-anxiety. Since being-towards-death is something in which cases of dasein are supposed to be able to maintain themselves (ie. live), we might think that the mood of being-towards-death can't be anxiety. The reason is that anxiety is a limit-experience of the withdrawal of the everyday world (a "moment of clarity", as it were), and accordingly is not the kind of thing that can be maintained in an everyday life. But if the mood of being-towards-death is "readiness for anxiety", then it is not quite clear either i) what this means, or ii) how it counts as a mood. Is such readiness a psychological condition like being prepared to withstand anxiety should it arise? Not being surprised if it does? Being primed for it? These don't seem like moods, because they don't seem to be disclosive in the right way. So there is a genuine question as to how authentic cases of dasein find their being-in-the-world in their being-towards-death.

Second, there is an issue about whether there are ways of life which are such that it is difficult for the anomolies that might indicate death to show up at all. Heidegger will worry about something like this when he comes (in his later work) to critique the modern technological worldview. This way of life is defined by its totalising influence and its corresponding inability to see or acknowledge anything that it can't incorporate. There is a real sense in which there isn't anything that this way of life can't incorporate. So how can it encounter anomolies that might destabilise it? (We might compare Popper's critique of Marxism and Freudianism as non-falsifiable). Later Heidegger seems to firmly believe that the technological worldview will self-destruct (die) by itself, but that this might take centuries. (His infatuation with Nazism was, I believe, based on the hope that the National Socialists would usher in a post-technological age - a hope that he soon abandoned). All I can suggest here is that in such a case, the anomolies to which authentic dasein would be attentive would have to be cataclysmic. But then can a case of technological dasein really be authentic? That is: can WE be towards death? The answer is not clear.

I don't that I'm speaking directly to any of Nikhil's concerns, but perhaps these are in the ballpark of some of them.

nate said...

If I could try to pick up on another part of the comment:

The second paragraph brings up two very deep, distinct but related questions. They have to do with the plausibility of doing metaphysics (or, I bet Heidegger would grant, philosophy in general) as a way of life -- which, as such, should make sense as an activity that's open to the possibility of death. (I'll say what the two questions are in a second.)

Now, Kate gave a really interesting response to a similar issue regarding the 'technological' way of life Heidegger writes about after Being and Time. Her suggestion there was that perhaps an 'authentic technological existence' would be rare, if not impossible, since the very way of life is such that it refuses to let anomalous phenomena show up -- phenomena which would, to an authentic case of dasein, attest to some impossibility within that way of life itself. Thus, the only option would be for the lifestyle to collapse upon itself or destroy itself somehow, through neglect of the fatal impossibilities lurking within it, or something like that, all the while unforseen and uncountenanced by any cases of dasein living that way of life.

Now, to your example of metaphysics or philosophy as a possible way of life. This example is interesting because it is one that (arguably like Aristotle's account of the life of reflection) seems like it might be guaranteed to be 'authentic' or 'good,' simply in virtue of the sort of lifestyle it is, one whose very intelligibility comes from the pursuit of self-understanding, say, or of understanding what it means to be, in general.

Here is where I saw two different questions pop up. Say we're considering an existence for the sake of self-understanding. First, we could ask whether any particular self-understanding could fail, given that the existence is such that anyone existing in that way should -- insofar as they count as a metaphysician or philosopher -- hold herself accountable to the truth of that self-understanding. Here, it seems clear to me that death is a possibility, and one of which a case of dasein could be aware and, in light of that awareness, live authentically. Suppose, for instance, the Socrates of the Republic engaged in dialogue with his peers from a point of view where he already had some specific understanding of himself (an understanding of his soul in particular, and of what a soul is, in general). Then he would have been in dialogue with his peers with a vigilant eye toward rooting out impossibilities within that self-understanding and committing to revise his view in light of any that came up. (My line of thought here could probably be worked out more fully and clearly.)

But that was all a response to the first question, the question about the possibility of dying within some one particular self-understanding or way of living as a philosopher. This is intelligible largely because, given any one particular self-understanding, we can conceive of contrast cases that might 'take over' in case of its death. I am more perplexed by what I think is a second question, which could be raised about the philosophical way of life as such. I don't mean the life of the academic profession of philosophy, but the life of an entity that can understands being, period. I mean to be talking here about any existence oriented toward understanding what it is to be dasein, or what it means to be -- no matter how dasein or being are therein understood, in particular.

What perplexes me is that I'm not sure this is a legitimate question. Does 'understanding being, period' count as something for the sake of which dasein could exist? something whose death one could anticipate and be ready to have Angst about? The cessation of existence, period -- the failure for there to be any understanding of being anymore -- seems like a different phenomenon than death, which strikes me as something more 'localized' to the failure of some particular understanding of being. But neither does it seem to be merely the perishing of all humans (e.g., in nuclear holocaust) or the demise of all persons (e.g., when the aliens find our planet and enslave us) -- those descriptions of it don't seem to get the phenomenon into the right view.

I guess I heard the second question in what you were saying to be, 'could we live in a way that was "toward" the possibility of no more dasein, period?' And I am not sure what to think ... Was that anything like what you had in mind in your second paragraph?

kate said...

Re Nate's second question:

It seems that what's at issue here is the possibility of the impossibility of existence / Dasein itself, where Dasein is understood as 'the entity that understands being'. If this entity is people, then we are to think about the death of individuals or the extinguishing of the human race. If this entity is ways of life, then we have a breakdown of a way of life. But if Dasein is just considered as 'the entity that understands being', then the impossibility of this is the impossibility of understanding being at all - and so the death of being, the end of all intelligibility. Thinking on this would be much like thinking on the great nothingness and absence of individual death, and it has a correlate in the time before birth, which in this case would be the period prior to there being any dasein.

I'm really just thinking out loud here, but it seems that thinking about death in this way i) puts a strain on taking dasein to be a way of life; ii) reconnects the death analysis to something closer to our ordinary lived experience of being-towards it; and iii) relates to a question of utmost importance for Heidegger: why is there something rather than nothing - i.e why is there being rather than not? This question asks us to imagine the alternative - that there is no understanding of being at all - and it seems to me that understanding death as the end of all intelligibility is a way of addressing this. Correspondingly, being-towards-death would be some kind of relation to the remarkable and fragile fact that there are (that we are) meaning-constituting creatures at all.

This strikes me as a very promising direction in which to pursue the death analysis. (And as for the question, can 'understanding being' be a for-the-sake-of-which - is it not the ultimate for-the-sake-of-which, which is at issue in existence?). I'm excited - or am I just missing the point?