Monday, April 28, 2008

Spring, Week 4 Meeting

Our fourth-week meeting picked up from our first-week discussion of dasein and death. We had a looser discussion ranging over several tough questions. Here is a quick description of most of those questions:

(1) We discussed whether there can be dasein without human beings, if, as John Haugeland argues, dasein is a way of life that embodies an understanding of being. We also wondered whether there can be persons without dasein. We did not, however, come to a consensus on the answers to these questions, but instead took up another question: (2) Supposing that some person ‘survives’ the death of her way of life and comes to adopt some other way of life (we might say, ‘comes to be born into’ some other dasein), how should we conceive of what, or who, persisted ‘in between’ the death of the one and the incipient existence of the other? What makes it intuitive to ask this question is the thought that someone whose way of life is dead may nevertheless ‘subsist’—move from place to place, cook and eat, have a partner and a children (would this count as a ‘family’?), etc. If, ‘in between’ the one dasein and the other, there is no overarching context in which to make sense of the person’s activity, how are we to understand what the person is doing? Do we have to make recourse to merely physical, biological, neurological explanations? Is there a minimal, ‘dasein-like’ intelligibility to the person’s activity, even in the absence of a robust milieu in which to make sense of her? (3) We also puzzled over the appropriate ‘scope’ or level of generality for locating the phenomenon of dasein. Can something as specific as ‘fourth-year Heidegger reading group participants at the University of Chicago in 2007-2008’ count as dasein? Does something as general as ‘the Western European way of life’ have enough of a particular sense to bring anything dasein-like into view? Finally, we discussed various things that seem to count as misunderstanding being. One might, more ‘locally,’ understand the being of spatial (extended) entities in terms of location at a discrete, determine position in absolute space, rather than in terms of whatever quantum probability function (or whatever) constitutes the contemporary, accepted conception of the spatial. A different example would be understanding one’s own being in terms of the ‘anyone’ self [das Man] and one’s factical, worldly concerns, rather than in terms of one’s ownmost ability-to-be. A more egregious form of misunderstanding seems to be ‘crossing levels’ or regions of being, for example, by understanding mental phenomenon in terms appropriate to physical or neurochemical phenomenon (assuming this counts as a mistake!), or, to give a clearer example, understanding something ready-to-hand as merely present-at-hand. We did not elaborate on this question, but it was raised in connection with the description of dasein as an entity that essentially understands being—if dasein dies, is that because it embodied a fatal misunderstanding of being?

Next week we will meet with Jonathan Lear and discuss his book Radical Hope, in which he describes something very much like Heidegger’s notion of authentic existence. We hope this will give occasion to reflect on and further discuss our questions from this meeting.

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