Monday, May 5, 2008

Spring, Week 5 Meeting -- Part II

Jonathan Lear on Radical Hope and Being and Time

Prof. Lear began by talking about the personal and philosophical genesis of Radical Hope. With respect to Being and Time, the concern is about the lack of clarity regarding its ethical dimension: if authenticity is an ontological or existential phenomenon rather than an ethical one, how does it show up in a life? Is it consistent with being a bad person? To really understand authenticity, we need to consider Heidegger's ontology through a concrete case. Radical Hope is an attempt to do this.

Such an approach can reveal various things about what it is to understand being that are not obvious in the abstract register in which BT is written. Jonathan outlined two of these. First, in considering the breaking down of an understanding of being, we must distinguish between the demands of theoretical reason and those of practical reason. We might think that since the Crow can still remember their old ways of life, these therefore remain intelligible. So where is the breakdown? This question reveals that while the concepts in question may remain theoretically intelligible, they are not thereby practically intelligible (as items of practical reason). The breakdown takes place in our self-understanding – it is a breakdown in my ability to make sense of myself and others in terms of these concepts. This is a breakdown in my ability to move from a theoretical understanding of the past to a practical understanding of how I am to go on in the present and the future.

Second, we need to distinguish between the psychological phenomenon and the ontological phenomenon of breakdown. It is a mistake to think that the breakdown of intelligibility at issue is a psychological state that I manifest. Jonathan clarified this mistake by outlining three senses of intelligibility and its breakdown, using the example of marriage:

1. It no longer makes sense that I am (or was) married to this person. This is an issue about my relationship to another person, and it is a psychological phenomenon.

2. The idea of marriage no longer makes sense to me. This is a problem in my relationship to a concept, and is also a psychological phenomenon.

3. The intelligibility of the concept of marriage breaks down. This does not happen to me, but to the concept or way of life itself. The concept – rather than my relationship to it – breaks down. This is an ontological phenomenon, and there are many different ways of relating to it psychologically. (Jonathan gave the example of a future kalipolis, in which the Guardians abolish all intimacy and sexual reproduction. In this situation, I might be able to remember the concept of marriage, but I can no longer take this theoretical understanding and intelligibly render myself as married.)

This third case is not a psychological phenomenon, and it does not involve a breakdown in a theoretical understanding. Rather, a way of living with this concept breaks down. The suggestion is that this is what the Crow had to endure. This shows us something about what an understanding being is – namely, that it is crucial to an understanding of being that we are able to live (with) it. Accordingly, Jonathan suggested that we take the kind of breakdown in an understanding of being that Prof. Haugeland focuses on (a theoretical breakdown, exemplified by crises in the sciences) as a special case rather than as the paradigm.

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