Monday, April 7, 2008

Spring, Week 1 Meeting -- Part I


We were very lucky to have Professor John Haugeland as our guest speaker at this meeting. Prof. Haugeland contributed to the renewed interest in Heidegger’s philosophy amongst English-speaking philosophers in the late 20th century by arguing that Division II of Being and Time – with its discussion of death, conscience and guilt – is not peripheral (as many readers initially thought) but is instead central for understanding Heidegger’s claims about dasein, being and time. You can find links to some of Prof. Haugeland’s articles on Heidegger here.

We began by situating ourselves in the text: we have seen, in Division I, that dasein's being is to be grasped in its unity as care. But before we begin to draw conclusions about being from this, we need to be sure that we have all of dasein in view. Heidegger begins Division II by pointing out that we haven't considered either dasein's authenticity or its totality. II.1 analyses death, which is dasein's ‘end,’ so as to determine how dasein can be a whole.

Why analyse death? We know that death is a significant feature of human life, but we also know that the existential analytic is preparatory for working out how being can be intelligible. This means that only those phenomena that shed light on what it takes for Dasein to understand being are included in the existential analytic. So death must be connected to the understanding of being – but how?

Prof. Haugeland answers this question by interpreting death as the breakdown of an understanding of being. He holds that if Being and Time is a book about how being makes sense, then it must consider how being can fail to make sense or be misunderstood. Death is this failure. This reading is in contrast to the usual "existentialist" interpretation of II.1, which takes death as the mortality of human beings. Prof. Haugeland's interpretation requires a novel reading of several of the key concepts explored in Division I, including 'dasein' itself. (Note that in summarising the discussion, we have retained much of Prof. Haugeland's evocative and idiosyncratic language).

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