martes, 18 de diciembre de 2007

Interpreting Heidegger on Kant, from Lacan

Heidegger's reading of Kant in "Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics" offers this obscure passage in the course of explaining "Pure Thinking in Finite Knowing":

"In the representing of a linden, a beech or a fir as a tree, for example, the particular which is intuited as such and such a thing is determined on the basis of a reference to the sort of thing which 'applies for many'. Indeed, this applicability to many characterizes a representation as concept, but nevertheless does not yet hit upon its original essence. For its part, then, this applicability to many [instances] as a derivative character is grounded in the fact that represented in the concept is the one [das Eine] in which several objects agree...The oneness of this one must allow anticipatively kept in view in conceptual representing, therefore, and it must allow for all assertions concerning the many which are determinative."

Here the weight of the argument turns to the workout of some crucial concepts: the one, the many, determinative, representation and agreement. Heidegger is here calling attention to the fact that representation, for Kant, can be understood in two ways: an essential primordial way, and in a secondary derivative way. In order to clarify, let us proceed systematically, beginning with the unessential, but most obvious, reading:

(1) Representing an object concerns conceptually grasping those universals which identify the object represented as such. For example, to represent a tree, to account for what a tree is conceptually, means to represent branches, leaves, wood, etc. These are the concepts which in assertion determine what my representation is about, i.e. the universals under which I identify the content of my representation. Therefore, to representation, qua conceptual understanding, belongs the identification of some universal quality which applies universally to many, to all objects of its kind: for my representation to be about trees means that in asserting I refer to the universal under which one may recognize this particular as an instance of the universal uttered. This is not to say that there ought to be more than one actual tree in existence, but merely that representing through concepts concerns allowing for many objects to occur as instances of itself. To say my thought is about a tree means that it is about the sort of thing all other trees could be, sharing conceptually with other trees what belongs to the particular as just an instantiation of what belongs uniquely to the concept of a tree- i.e. things with branches, made of wood, belonging to the kingdom of plants, and so on. But because this particular character is at the same time a universal that applies to many it is a one only insofar as it can keep in view how different entities must belong to this universal. Concepts thus determine what the object is by means of placing it under the rubric of the universal which refers to other objects of a kind. This is what Heidegger means by representation conceptually being based on seeing the many in one. Thus the classic Kantian point should be echoed that¨"it is mere tautology to speak of universal of common concepts¨. These concepts must already involve a reflection in order to occur in a consciousness (is not this basic necessary correlation between the universal as the unifying of the many under the rubric of one consciousness precisely what in Absolute Idealism allows for the sublation from consciousness to self-consciousness, and then to spirit?).This is why, for Heidegger, reflection in the sense of concept assigning, determines the content of the representing- whatness (Sachheit).

(2) However, this meaning can only be derivative; since pure conceptual representation must cannot be found just in any particular instance (appearance). This pure conceptual content must be obtainable a priori, read as a pure function capable of determining the given intuition. This raises a fundamental problem, since the pure concept 'the one' object in its unity. Before this fragmented conceptual representation, there is a primordial grasping of the unity to which all conceptual determinations belong. Here we should resist reading Heidegger (and Kant) as underlining the point that the whole not apprehended merely as the sum of its parts, i.e. the tree is not grasped first as a collection of branches, leaves and oak, but is seen undifferentiated in its concrete unity as a thing. We are all familiar with the kind of Quinean problems that stem from these sort of considerations, and we say nothing of interest here by just repeating them. The proper reading is in direct continuity with Heidegger's earlier point that the 'thing-itself' is not the unknown object behind appearances (noumenon), but the thing itself as it can only appear as appearance in finite knowing. That is to say, that the representation of objects qua appearances, by being subservient to the being which it did not itself produce, belongs a fundamental incompleteness, a certain lack which embodies the substance of the 'thing itself' as that which resists the symbolic representing; and thus remains outside the scope of finite knowledge (as we know, Kant later attributes this primordial unifying of intuition-understanding as Transcendental Apperception).

What Heidegger has in mind is thus not that underlying my conceptual fragmentation of the thing under the universals which relate it to other objects lies a 'real' thing outside of my cognitive faculties; but more radically, that 'the one' is precisely that which must be pressuposed as resisting conceptualization- not because it is beyond our primitive reach as finite thinking creatures, but because it is essential to the conceptually determined object that it be only given as appearances, in an incomplete, inherently fragmented character- from the conceptual 'many in one'.

This is not to echo Deleuze's point that at first we have a 'plurality' as would be, for example, the amalgamate of possible predicates attributed to any object which precede the object's unity as such.
On the contrary, here Heidegger and Kant can be read off as making the same point as Lacan makes when he states that the Real is the surplus which both results and causes symbolization; that conceptualization is therefore not only never in touch with the 'the one', but that 'the one' is nothing but this gap between the determinative conceptual plurality of the symbolic and the traumatic real which can never be attained. It is precisely the peculiarity of finite thinking that it should suffer this gap as the objective because it must intuit that which it did not bring into being. That which just lies there and can only be approached from the understanding through concepts is the circumventing around the Real object as a mere phantom, as the gap, the lack or the incompleteness which is proper to the appearance. This lack/surplus has as of recently been developed in Zizek's 'The Parallax View' in more substantive detail.

This 'keeping in view the one object', as above the particularizations granted by conceptual, determinative thinking, is what Kant calls 'Reflection'. But 'keeping in view' here does not mean, of course, that the subject apprehends the object preconceptually and remembers it; but refers to the moment where the subject is immediatly introduced into the symbolic order, the initial trauma where "the deliberation whereby representations can be grasped in one consciousness". This unity is, of course, fulfilling the function of uniting the many under the one, of potentially unleashing the symbolic order in motion. Heidegger is well aware of this function in Kant:

"...with reference to this oneness the many can be likened to one another... in the concept, something is not merely represented which tactically belongs to many; instead it is this belonging, insofar as it belongs, in its oneness. [which is represented]". This is to say, representation does not grasp the object first to then apply concepts to it, but the object is only there as the remainder, the surplus which resists symbolization and to which the conceptual must refer in order to be determinable. Concepts, in order to sustain themselves as meaningful, must refer to 'the one' object under which they are laden, and to the constitutive excess which sets the symbolic order in motion. This and nothing else is the Real of the object.

viernes, 14 de diciembre de 2007


If only my imagination were green-striped
They wouldn’t chuckle without air.
Thoughts you’d read from louder eyes
Everything they knew we dreamed was theirs.

They gave their bodies in, to the famished crowd,
As a gift to barren shells- so in their sterile beds;
Would stand the inseminated pearl, fostered in their banks
Like seed from boy and egg from girl.

She was sculpted with purple silk from neck to knees
Splattered like a running fountain, glistening like marble teeth.
He wore hyphened shoes, unsettling with their black beaks
Elevated like pompous nostrils, eye-bossing as they pinned,
Beneath the cuddling ground beneath, everyone and everything
With their gurgling tap-dance as hummingbirds aloud.
And famished curves like even lips.

The folk inspects their bodies anew, but…
Between the hushed perplexity and startled gaze,
They conceal a trembling awe; petrified, amazed
So that their heart-learnt decree of love,
Fell apart in standing-grace.

Now hush…
The clotted atmosphere will waft the world
If one lets go a single word.

And bow down at the unsettling truth,
Armed with a meek grin and melting face
That no inner-life could make you glow
Like they did then
Even if the soul could resonate until time’s yawn, all aloud
That no poem could elevate the immobile flesh

lunes, 3 de diciembre de 2007

More Dreyfus - On the ready-to-hand and equipment

Dreyfus draws a crucial distinction between:

(a) Entities ready-to-hand (designation about the mode of being of the entity, ontological characterization, existentiale)
(b) Equipment (designation about social entities, in relation to other equipment, ontic determination)

Following his interpretation, he deduces that equipment is limited to the sort of entities which are man made, products of culture such as hammers or flags. Such socially constituted entities are, in Dreyfus’ view, unlike merely ready-to-hand entities, in that the former must of necessity be related to other pieces of equipment within a framework of remissive references (what he calls a ‘holistic web’) and never on their own. The hammer as understood in being used can only perform as a hammer within a framework of other equipment, like nails and doors; it can never function in isolation from other man-made equipment. The fallen tree used as a bridge, on the other hand, may be used by us in our crossing, but it needn’t be understood in relation to anything else; it lays there not by human decision but by natural chance.

The crucial misunderstanding here is to be spotted in the last sentence. For it is not clear at all how exactly we are to distinguish between the holistic web operative in cases of mere readiness-to-hand and those in cases of equipment. Presumably, the latter have the obscure quality of only being understood in relation to other equipment, within a referential whole in a manner not proper to mere entities ready-to-hand. To the answer that related pieces of man-made equipment are what distinguishes equipment from merely ready-to-hand entities we must ask: how are merely ready-to-hand entities to be understood, if not in a holistic web of man-made references? Clearly, they cannot be understood as particular, self-sufficient or isolated substances, i.e. the fallen tree used as a bridge is anything but a mere object in speculative reflection. The other alternative is to say that all entities ready-to-hand are understood within a web of references, whether they are equipment or not.

Here the problem becomes transparent: we may trivially respond that the merely ready-to-hand takes part within a holistic web of non man-made references, but this seems to leave the distinction unexplained existentially. How this distinction is to be explained as an existential phenomenon seems quite hard; indeed it seems that we must start talking about how different particular pieces of equipment are related to other pieces of equipment as if we were taling about relations between particular substances. These divisions may be, at best, categorial and thus ontic, since the crucial lesson to be understood is that in readiness-to-hand one never experiences something like relations between particulars, but an integrated whole. The distinction between social and non-social entities seems to relapse into the view that in readiness-to-hand the understanding differentiates entities in terms of their relations qua particulars.

But this is decidedly inconsistent with the idea that no such relations are involved in readiness-to-hand: the integrated whole Heidegger speaks about is ontologically prior to any ontic determination in which such relations or differentiations could be made. It doesn't help to say distinctions are implicit rather than reflective, since that would seem a relapse into Husserlian intentional analysis, i.e. giving an account of how noematic content is determined in peculiar intentional comportments. Upon closer look, it seems the peculiarity attributed to equipment, namely their relational character to other equipment, does very little to help Dreyfus' case once compared to paradigm examples of what would be merely ready-to-hand entities. To show this, let us consider a simple example. It is clear that all entities ready-to-hand must take place within the framework of a referential whole. The fallen tree log can only be used as a bridge if I am engaged purposively in order to cross it; it acquires its readiness-to-hand in the circumspective dealing in purposive acting. In order for the fallen tree to be understood as useful-for-crossing it must obviously be understood in relation to the two extremes conjoined by the tree, to the water and space between the log and the river, and so on.

This understanding clearly does not see the 'bundle' of the tree and the two sides connecting the river as a relation between different entities; the ready-to-hand is always given as a whole and never as a heap of particulars or relations among them, unlike substance talk in theory. Rather, circumspection integrates both the subject and his environment in the act of crossing in such a way that they are a unity, integrated within the horizon of a towards-which, an end which guides the acting Dasein in absorbed coping. Likewise, the tree that provides a shade on a sunny day can only be understood as shelter if it is circumspectively connected to the sun as burning, for the sake of sheltering. This connection, it must be said, can only be provisionally named, since strictly both the sun and the tree are integrated and understood in relation to a proximate task: sheltering.Case in point, the sun is just the 'unpleasant burning' and the tree is understood as the 'sheltering body'.

In sum, entities ready-to-hand are understood always within a peculiar horizon of understanding, in terms of a distinctive possibility to which Dasein has been more of less delivered and which acquires its peculiar character from the previous familiarity of the world common to Dasein. In this case, the burning sensation and the refuge of shadowy areas articulate the situation in which the Dasein moves and goes about his world. In this engaged, absorbed, pre-ontological understanding of the world, we always project ourselves futurally with respect to available possibilities. And this applies to entities ready-to-hand whether they are man-made or not.Having said this; it becomes much harder to see what peculiar quality the ready-to-hand gains as equipment. That it belongs to a region of entities produced by man seems a plainly ontic determination just like the one between objects with intrinsic properties and those relational properties.

But as said above, it remains absolutely unclear how this distinction can be made at the existential level: both trees and hammers seem to operate within articulate wholes for specific purposes; the referential holism is in no interesting way peculiar in man-made objects or conventions. That the hammer is necessitated by the nail is no different from saying the log used to crossed over may only be understood in relation with the two extremes of the river. Clearly, in both examples there is no explicit reflection on hammers or nails, just as little as there is about logs and rivers. The situation merely presents itself in terms of possibilities open for a particular purpose, in an integrated manner. It would therefore appear as if the distinction between entities ready-to-hand and equipment was either trivial (ontic determination) or inconsistent (by claiming ontologically subject does after all experience entities as related particulars, albeit implicitly).

I think Heidegger would therefore simply not make the distinction as Dreyfus does: readiness-to-hand designates the mode of being of the kind of entities which are put to use in circumspection and thus function as an equipmental whole, an integrated unity into which the subject belongs and which is guided without reflection for the sake of something. In this sense all entities ready-to-hand are entities which are used within such an integrated nexus for specific purposes. Tools such as hammers are just as imbedded with nails as fallen logs are with rivers in circumspection. The end of the task, the 'for the sake of which' articulating the horizon of a proximate task, determines the know-how that takes opens a region of entities and a sphere of referential relations. In other words, for Heidegger equipment designates just how the equipmental-wholes which are constitute our commerce with entities ready-to-hand are used for the sake of some purpose; never as a parts attached as prostheses to a subject in acting, but as an equipmental-whole.

This misreading is peculiar in Dreyfus' self-labeled 'Wittgensteinean' interpretation of Being and Time all throughout his lectures and text. This is already recurrent on his book, as in for example the following passage, announcing the interpretation to follow about Heidegger's conception of 'the One' (or 'the they' in Macquarrie-Robinson):

"Heidegger's basic point is that the background familiarity that underlies all coping and all intentional states is not a plurality of subjective belief systems including mutual beliefs about each others' beliefs, but rather an agreement in ways of acting and judging into which human beings, by the time they have Dasein in them, are"always already" socialized. Such agreement is not conscious thematic agreement but is prior to and presupposed by the intentionalistic sort of agreement arrived at between subjects." [Pg. 88]

The line of thought pursued by Dreyfus here is clear: the unveiling of entities ready-to-hand and of the nexus of significance is always socially constituted, and never articulated in isolation from public, shared practices. This seems, however, to provoke certain questions relevant to the question of the ready-to-hand and equipment. Namely, if the background familiarity which articulates all coping and intentional states is social, then are we to assume that it is equipment that which is first and foremost disclosed for Dasein's coping? For it is far from clear that using the tree log as a bridge is 'social' in the sense which Drefyus here seems to want to imply. Perhaps one might grant to Dreyfus that most of our conventional ways of coping with the world (indeed, through language, social norms, and so on) are socially determined. This seems a harmless hypothesis, and almost trivially true. But it is far from clear that our dealing with entities acquire their familiarity primarily in this way.

In fact, Dreyfus goes all the way in his reading, claiming that"Society is the ontological source of the familiarity and readiness that makes the ontical discovering of entities, of others, and even of myself possible." [Ibid]Again, this begs questions about the relationship of equipment with the ready-to-hand, and thus between the entities proper to our everyday involvements and the mode of being in which they are disclosed. For if we want to say tree logs used as bridges as non-societal and yet still ready-to-hand, then it plainly follows that either the disclosure of entities cannot always be social, or that all ready-to-hand entities must be disclosed by social influence. But this latter hypothesis renders Dreyfus' story inconsistent, since the presumed distinction between the ready-to-hand and equipment consisted in the latter's being social as opposed to the former. If we make all entities necessarily social, then we seem to relapse into the view that all ready-to-hand entities are equipment, or else devolve into making a plainly ontic distinction between man-made objects and natural objects. If socially determined entities are thus the 'ontological source' of all further commerce with entities, it seems we would have to posit equipment as preceding ontologically the purely ready-to-hand; a thesis which remains altogether outside of Heidegger's own.

On the other hand, if we resist the distinction drawn by Dreyfus, we might still sort out a relevant story of how the uncoverdness of entities is never world-independent. The tree used as a bridge is not man-made or intended as such, and yet it still remains true that for it to be used as a bridge it must take place within purposive action; indeed the sort of action which can only take place within a familiar world where roles and acts are already constituted and hoped in some way or other. This amounts to saying that the 'for-the-sake-of-whiches' relating Dasein to any entity's appropriation as available must in some way already respond to a familiar world- and it is perhaps in this sense that we should understand Heidegger.

The "for-the-sake-of-which" signifies an "in-order-to"; this in turn, a "towards-this." . . . These relationships are bound up with one another as a primordial whole; they are what they are as this signifying in which Dasein gives itself beforehand its being-in-the-world as something to be understood. (120) [87]

If a man expects to cross the river, as part of the act guided by the hope of reaching the vegetable plains, then we see the extent of Heidegger's radical denouncement of subjectivist tendencies. Even if the log is not man made, the equipmental-whole conformed in such circumspection must operate in relation to an end which is determined by my relationship to others- i.e. to some sphere of familiar roles and potential uses, expectations, hopes, all of which presuppose the world as its background. However, in this sense Heidegger does not intend an average notion of the social as being equivalent to his notion of world: 'the others' in question are those which I identify myself as being equal to, and which conjointly articulate the entire nexus of entities and purposes which guide activity (i.e. the vegetables, the buyers, the family to be fed, the morning sun which announces the time for harvest, etc):

By "others" we do not mean everyone else but me--those over against whom the "I" stands out. They are rather those from whom, for the most part, one does not distinguish oneself--those among whom one is too. This being-there-too with them does not have the ontological character of a being-occurrent-along-"with" them . . . This "with" is something of the character of Dasein; the "too" means a sameness of being as circumspectively concernful being-in-the-world. "With" and "too" are to be understood existentially, not categorially. By reason of this with-like being-in-the-world, the world is always the one that I share with others. The world of Dasein is a with-world. Being-in is being-with others. (154 155) [118]"

[Dasein] finds itself primarily and usually in things because, tending them, distressed by them, it always in some way or other rests in things. Each one of us is what he pursues and cares for. In everyday terms, we understand ourselves and our existence by way of the activities we pursue and the things we take care of." (BP, 159.)
Since the way in which entities are disclosed within the world and thus understood is never in isolation to some specific purpose and thus some familiar background, one never acquires the neutrality needed to engage in the sort of intentional analysis proper to Husserlian phenomenology. Of course, the relevant question to follow is how exactly this background gets in place. But we should resist the conclusion that all of our commerce with entities depends on the presence of other human beings of necessity; since one might easily imagine hypothetical scenarios in which entities are still dealt with in isolation of humans. (Tarzan, alien abductions, virtual reality simulators and so on). In any case, the crucial point is that Dasein cannot dispose of its familiarity within a world articulated by different projects and expectations. That these expectations include the realm of the social, of language and culture in general is just the necessary consequence of being already in an environing world, which is interpreted in various ways and varying degrees. Heidegger's notion of being-with should thus be approached with caution here:

In clarifying being-in-the-world we have shown that a bare subject without a world never"is" firstly, nor is it ever given. And so in the end an isolated "I" without others is just asfar from being firstly given. (152) [116]

This passage suggests that the public world of Dasein needs the other in the form of society, of explicitly occurent individuals which coexist with Dasein to articulate a shared world. But this seems to all too easily lend itself to silly objections about virtual-reality-sort of examples whereby a single human being might nonetheless develop all of its functions in isolation of others. Likewise, we may think of other embarrassing examples of socially alienated human beings raised by animals, abducted by aliens, or whatnot. I take it Heidegger's point here is not to say Dasein needs of other existing human beings as essential to being-in-the-world; but that even in the lack of the other, an understanding of the world is only possible if there has been a public world accessible in some way.

Thus, the virtual reality simulator might indeed produce a perfectly capable human being, since it is not sufficient to say others do not exist to render being-the-world impossible, but that for any interpretation of the world we must presuppose some background or other and as such an interpretation. In this case, whatever is programmed into the simulator would need to already have arisen from Dasein qua public being. In order to use language, to engage in purposive activity, one must already lend itself to interpretation of the world and to other entities within some framework; and this constitutes Dasein's activity whether it dwells amidst other humans or not:

"The phenomenological assertion that "Dasein is essentially being-with" has an existential ontological meaning. It does not seek to establish ontically that factically I am not occurrent alone, and that others of my kind occur. . . . Being-with is an existential characteristic of Dasein even when factically no other is occurrent or perceived. (156) [120]"

Although Dreyfus acknowledges this feature of of being-with, it's implications on his own reading are left unquestioned. For if Dasein's purposive action presupposes the structure of being-in, and this structure remains even in the absence of others, then it seems hard to see how equipment as social ready-to-hand entities are in any way different ontologically from non-equipmental ready-to-hand entities. Once again, it seems clear that the interpretation of all entities operates on the background of a publicly shared world, a world that may broadly be called social. But it is far from clear that from this determination the man-made equipment is social in any more than the rest of entities.

"Whether there is any particular other there or not, when I perceive or use tools or speak, I'm always already involved in a shared world. According to Heidegger, "being-with" is a basic structure of Dasein's being, more basic than relating to particular others. Even when I am not encountering others nor using equipment, others are there for me. I have a readiness for dealing with them along with my readiness for dealing with equipment. Being-with would still be a structure of my Daseining even if all other Daseins had been wiped out." [Df, Pg. 100]

But this 'readiness to cope with equipment' cannot be the readiness to cope with others, since clearly being-with is an essential structure of Dasein, whether it deals with hammers, or logs, or whether it rests underneath the shade of the tree in speculative reflection. How, then, are we to sort out Dreyfus' notion of the ontological priority of the social with Heidegger's idea that that being-with is an existential feature of Dasein? Provisionally, it appears that if we want to call Dasein social it is in the broad sense of being-with; in the sense in which the background practices into which Dasein is embedded always functions in correlation to an other which is undistinguished from oneself (whether this be in language, or in the implicit act of harvesting for the merchant). That significance is always conformed in direct correlation to others, even in their absence, explains why even in cases of isolated coping we do not act as self-enclosed minds or substances. But in this sense, being-with just refers to Dasein's projection of determinate possibilities into which it has been put; it does not mean that Dasein must first learn 'social conventions' or learn language before it can start coping in its proper human way. Dreyfus seems to conflate these two levels of Dasein's understanding in the following passage:

"Of course the human organism must at some time begin to take a stand on itself by pressing into human possibilities. It cannot do this just by reflex action or even by animal directedness. Before it can humanly cope, the baby must be socialized into shared, ongoing activities by imitating people and accumulating the necessary experiences until it begins to do what one does for-the-sake-of whatever it is one is." [Pg. 133]

But here Dreyfus once again mistakes Dasein's projection onto determinate possibilities as something Dasein can only do from aculturation, from being embedded into social roles through interaction with other human beings, language and so on. What happens, then, with the allegedly disavowed reflex acts the baby experiences early in life? What mode of being do entities acquire when Dasein does deal with its environment before it has learned to deal with it appropiately? Clearly, this cannot be pure presence-at-hand, since according to Heidegger this only occur derivatively from readiness-to-hand. But if entities dealt with in this manner have the mode of readiness-to-hand, then the role aculturation plays becomes harder to grasp ontologically. It seems trivially true to say Dasein learns to cope with the world by becoming familiarized within a social world. But this clearly can't be the whole story, for we still need to account for those sort of dealing with entities which occur before we are imbedded into social roles. In fact, if projecting is unreflective and yet opening distinctive possibilities, then why are reflex actions, and natural instincts exluded from such projection? Heidegger is completely unambiguous in this respect:

"Grasping [that upon which it projects] would take away from what is projected its very character as a possibility, and would reduce it to the given contents which we have in mind; whereas projection, in throwing, throws before itself the possibility as possibility, and lets it be as such." (185) [145]

The way out of this shortcoming is to realize that readiness-to-hand is already proper to Dasein's dealings in the world, even before social aculturation takes place. That is, reflex activity, as well as instinctual drives (hunger, thirst, and so on) can be situated as part of affectedness- dispositional states into which we are thrown and which always already open up a sphere of possibilities for dealing with entities in such-and-such way. As to the specific mode of being of entities in these dealings (say, in a baby's dealing with the mother's breast) Heidegger's reply would be that it would be as readiness-to-hand; the horizon opened by the affectedness of hunger, in conjunction with the mother's nursing, operates as the horizon of understanding for the act of feeding. This leads us into two immediatly evident problems: (1) If so, then are we to say animals too deal with entities in the mode of readiness-to-hand? And (2) Why isn't the mother's nursing already an act of aculturation (as indeed Lacanians would be fond of pointing out as the moment of 'symbolic castration').

For the purposes of this post, we cannot extensively deal with the first question. Although Heidegger's account of animal behavior suggests that they lack a world and therefore the character of Dasein. This he deals with explicitly in his 1929/30 Lecture course 'The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics'. However, even there Heidegger does not draw an explicit distinction between the allegedly purely instinctual behaviour of animals and the sort of dealing which babies have before aculturation takes place, or as a matter of reflex. A provisional response might be that although animals do deal with entities in the mode of readiness-to-hand, they lack the possibility of discourse, language and thus of being capable of dealing with entities present-at-hand. This, in turn, might compromise the priority of circumspection as Dasein's most characteristic quality. Alternatively, that social conventions may indeed become imbedded into Dasein's circumspective activity might grant the peculiarity of this mode of being to Dasein. Even so, it remains quite unclear how this should function in any way differently from the behaviour which animals exhibit in becoming familiar into certain practices and into a certain environment. In his account, Heidegger limits himself to discussing less blurry examples, such as insects. Still, this is a broad topic which we cannot deal with effectively here.

The second question, however, pertains to the core of our argument with Dreyfus. For how are we to distinguish between animalistic, non-reflective coping with entities and socio/cultural non-reflective coping with entities? Is readiness-to-hand proper to both? And if, according to Dreyfus, equipment is only proper to the second, then what kinds of dealings comprise non-equipmental ready-to-hand entities, if not on the basis social or instinctual/reflexive dispositions? It seems we arrive here at a crux: for if Dreyfus wants to say equipment is only proper to social entities but that readiness-to-hand is nonetheless a broader category which applies to other things, it is once again unclear as to how these other non-equipmental ready-to-hand entities are any different than socially determined ones. More crucially, it appears now that socially imbedded projection is the condition of possibility for the distinctiveness of human being, this would imply equipmental ready-to-hand entities must precede all other commerce with entities, including merely ready-to-hand entities. But this is clearly absurd, since babies already engage with entities in various ways as a result of instinct and of reflex, before they are imbedded in social conventions. What then, are we to say about the baby in such a state? If my previous suggestion is right, then readiness-to-hand applies analogously to both socially determined practices and uses, as well as entities used as a result of reflexive/instinctual activity. That is, although both cases may clearly differ in their respective kind of affectedness, and thus obviously in the kind of entities and understanding involved in disclosure, there is from the moment of birth Dasein insofar as there is a projection of possibilities which disclose entities as ready-to-hand, viz. as entities incorporated in circumspection for the fulfillment of a given purpose. This applies to the baby's drinking milk from the mother's breast, as well as to his later manipulation of toys and use of language. Heidegger's account is indeed simple and yet broad enough to cover for both of these cases:

"With equal primordiality, the understanding projects Dasein's being both upon its "for-thesake-of-which" and upon significance, as the worldliness of its current world. . . . Projection is the existential being make-up by which [Dasein's] factical ability to be gets its room for maneuver." (185, my italics) [145]

More to come later...

jueves, 22 de noviembre de 2007

domingo, 28 de octubre de 2007

What is the mode of being of the hammer when it is withdrawn?

Dreyfus finds Heidegger to be very confused about the status of entities which are not being put into use or being theorized about. The problem seems to be that Dreyfus reads Heidegger as saying that entities have a mode of being independently from their modes of apprehension. Entities which are ready-at-hand in use, are in some way, expected to be tracked outside of the particular mode of comportment in which they take place. Case in point, he takes hammers to be something one could ask about outside actual cases of hammering (mode of readiness-to-hand) or thinking/speaking about hammers (mode of presence-at-hand). He thinks we would need to posit that the hammer falls somewhere between the deficient modes of (un) availability which occur upon a breakdown of a piece of equipment.

But I think Dreyfus is completely on the wrong track here: insofar as we are asking about the hammer as a particular entity we are dealing with it as something present-at-hand. In readiness to hand, Heidegger tells us, we deal not with particular entities- but with a holistic web of references in relation to the towards-whiches of our comporting, in which there is only an equipmental-whole. This is tantamount to saying that entities ready-to-hand can never be understood in isolation or outside of the role they play in the respective referential-whole and so that they couldn't have the character of particulars- there are no hammers in the mode of readiness-to-hand. Paradigmatic cases of engaged agency are those in which one is actively dealing within a context of equipment for particular purposes, in which no objects stand-against us whatsoever. Entities ready-to-hand are imbued with the subject in the act's directedness; entities ready-to-hand are entities not with respect to the subject as objects, but as the active Dasein relates to entities with respect to their appropriateness or inapropriateness inside a holistic web of references and for foresighted purposes. In no way is absorbed coping a dealing with a mere heap of entities through relational attributes. In this sense, we may not speak of particular entities as belonging to the mode of ready-to-hand, strictu sensu, even if for didactic purposes it is necessary to refer to 'the hammer' or 'the doorknob'. Let us keep in mind this clarification for the rest of our exposition.

Dreyfus' confusion arises from a methodological mistake. He interrogates about the mode of being of the hammer qua hammer, that is as an entity present-at-hand since in questioning entities must appear in such way. But he asks about the mode of being of the hammer present-at-hand when it is not being thought of or dealt with at all. To note why this question is not reasonable for Heidegger one must remember that the two kinds of entities Heidegger distinguishes here are always and of necessity determined in relation to different ways of comporting towards entities. To ask what is the status of hammers when we are not thinking about hammers or using hammers, is still to be making a question about hammers - about some definite object with definite qualities. This means that as soon as we posit a question about an entity as an object it is already determined in advance as having the mode of being of presence-at-hand; even if this object is the sort of object which is normally incorporated within an equipmental-whole in the mode of readiness-to-hand, or if it is merely passed over in indifference. This is not to confuse, of course, all assertion as understanding as dealing with mere presence-at-hand; clearly, when we express ourselves in language we do not for the most part do so in abstraction from our involvements, but we do so to 'point out' something, deal with what appears as unavailable, and so on. The shift from engaged agency with the ready-to-hand to interpretative assertion does not yet abstract the entity from its involvement relations, but merely turns an original involvement with the entity within the whole, to making an interpretation about the entity.

The being which is held in our fore-having--for instance, the hammer-is primarily available as equipment. If this being becomes the "object" of an assertion . . . there is already a changeover in the fore-having. Something available with which we have to do or perform something, turns into something "about which" the assertion that points it out is made. Our fore-sight is aimed at something occurrent in what is available. (200)[157-158]

But the question about hammers interrogates explicitly about the hammer as an entity as it stands in isolation from its appropiation in use, that is to say, independently from any sphere of involvements from which it could be interpreted. That is to say, not only to we ask about hammers in an interpretative fashion, but we already perform the abstraction proper to the present-at-hand by de-contextualizing the hammer from taking place within involvements.

The problem thus arises from Dreyfus reading Heidegger as saying that hammers can be something that occurs in abstraction/theory in the mode of presence-at-hand; and which at the same time can be dealt with as as hammers with another mode of being, such as readiness-at-hand or deficient readiness-to-hand. But we must realize that entities present-at-hand are what in each case is given when we comport ourselves in theory or questioning; so that questions about hammers qua hammers are about entities which couldn't have another mode of being. To ask about hammers outside of the comportment proper to their respective mode of being (in this case presence-to-hand) is to ask a meaningless question; the equivalent to questions such as "how does something look when it is not being looked at". It is precisely the isolation of entities with respect to their potential inclusion within an equipmental/involvement-whole that precisely defines an entity as being present-at-hand.

This way, we must be cautious to remember that any talk about particular objects or entities in such a way is, for Heidegger, to deal with them as that something which is presently determined in questioning and theorizing. In this case, the purported thought experiment about hammers is to deliberate about either:

(1) A now-not-yet: thinking about what would happen if someone were to comport themselves indifferently with respect to the hammer;
(2) A now-no-longer: as when I am asking about would happen if someone had comported themselves indifferently with respect to the hammer.
(3) A now: as when I am asking about what is happening now that someone is comporting themselves indifferently with respect to the hammer.

The question about the mode of being of the ignored hammer thus turns out to be ambiguous between:
(a) What is the mode of being of an entity (present-at-hand), such as a hammer, when it is passed over indifferently by the Dasein?
(b) What is the mode of being of an entity (present-at-hand) when I ask about it being passed over by an indifferent Dasein?

Both questions are about particular entities, so of necessity they must be questions about an entity posited as present-at-hand. Question (a) seeks to ask a question about an entity present-at-hand in an alternative scenario where it may be somehow the same entity only with a different mode of being. This reasoning naturally results from misunderstanding the status of entities ready-at-hand. One thinks: just like the hammer can be either an object present-at-hand or a piece of equipment ready-to-hand, we can ask about how hammers show up in indifference. But this is to forget that we never had such a thing as the hammer as something ready-to-hand to begin with; the mistaken assumption begins from thinking that entities ready-to-hand can be particulars. To be accurate, we would have to say that hammers belong to the equipmental-whole geared towards hammering, but not as bundled parts or entities.

Therefore, question (a) has already determined in advanced the mode of being which belongs to what is questioned-that is, to the questioned hammer that is present-at-hand. This is necessarily implied by the inclusion of 'hammers' as particular entities into the form of questioning. To talk or theorize about isolated, self-sufficient entities such as objects with properties is always to talk about an entity present-at-hand, i.e. about this particular entity, the hammer, and how it is when it falls out of relation to the particular Dasein. But this is clearly a nonsensical question following Heidegger- to ask about a Dasein-independent entity in this way makes it downright incomprehensible. It asks paradoxically 'how am I comporting myself towards hammers when I am not comporting myself towards hammers'.

Yet this is something Heidegger is well-prepared to avoid, since he holds that all of our commerce with beings is determined by the various comportments which are proper to the Dasein as existing. We cannot reasonably ask about the 'mode of being' of an entity determined by the Dasein's comportment as if it could remain the same without entering into relation with the Dasein. Particular objects such as hammers are already constituted in relation to the Dasein as present-at-hand, and there's nothing 'behind' the entity determined by such comportment which we could meaningfully speak about. We just have no idea as to what that would be like. This is not to say objects or properties cannot be if there is no apprehensive Dasein, as idealists would, but only that the apprehension of entities with respect to their modes of being is to talk about how they take place for Dasein's understanding in some way or other. To sever the link between the hammer and the mode of comportment in which it is constituted as such is to relapse into the view that objects are what is given first, ontologically. Dreyfus actually acknowledges this in his commentary, even if he misses the point in lecture:

"But of course we must ask these questions from within that understanding of being that
alone gives sense to the questions. We cannot meaningfully ask, What would have been
occurrent if Dasein had never existed? if by that we mean, What would have been the case
if the above question made no sense? That would be to treat being--intelligibility--as if it
were in itself."

The question about the hammer therefore devolves to being a question about the mode of being of the hammer when it stands in relation to the Dasein through questioning, i.e. the only sensible question to make is (b). In this sense, the answer is both easy to obtain and uninteresting: the hammer has the mode of being of presence-at-hand, whether it is currently being dealt with or apprehended, or if one is merely stipulating about the possibility of not dealing with them at all. The entity in question is an entity present-at-hand as determined by the act of questioning itself. Put bluntly: it makes no sense to ask about hammers as something which is ontologically non-present at hand. One can't think hammers qua hammers [something present-at-hand] could still have another mode of being, as if both could be paired by sharing some transcendental quality or property connecting them to a particular entity.

Now, one may hypothesize the following problem: that if in indifferent activity one deals with hammers neither as objects nor as part of equipment (which is to say, does not deal with them at all), and this entails they have no mode of being, then we seem to be making even entities present-at-hand something which couldn't be without being apprehended by a human being at some point. For what mode of being could any entity have if it is not being used or thought of in theory, and it rather stands indifferently to Dasein?

This line of thought devolves in confusing the modes of being of entities with the properties of objects. Heidegger is not asserting that the properties assigned to entities present-at-hand are only good for as long as one holds them in assertion; these properties are precisely striking since when assigned they appear as having been there all along. To ask, for example, about whether the hammer is still on the cupboard when one is not paying attention to it at all is to ask whether it could be identified as something present-at-hand at some other hypothetical time (present). The subsistence of entities is never understood in isolation to their determination by a comporting Dasein, and in no way entails that entities present-at-hand need a comporting Dasein to subsist or have properties. At the most, we may conclude only that such objective determinations about entities can only be made with reference and from the active interpretation of the comporting Dasein for which these entities are presented in this way. By the same token, this means that in any case to ask about hammers is to invariably make a question about an object that is present-at-hand, and so an entity which has that mode of being. The relation to the comporting Dasein cannot be broken to ask about an entity which is only apprehended in a determinate way by the comportment of Dasein.

Dreyfus' answer is thus muddled by his incomprehension: he misreads Heidegger as saying hammers have the mode of deficient readiness-to-hand when dealt with indifferently. But this is an impossible scenario to work out; for it would mean that each and every entity which is dealt with indifferently at a given time by Dasein would have the mode of being of deficient readiness-to-hand. This is not merely implausible, but inconsistent with Heidegger's account. For it claims we should draw an ontological division between particular entities which have the mode of being of readiness-to-hand, and particular entities which have the mode of being of presence-at-hand. The former entities, it would turn out, are either directly used or else deficient ready-to-hand entities without being apprehended in relation to any use whatsoever. But how could such indifference still take the label of readiness-to-hand when it is precisely in circumspection and in express unavailability that we determine these entities in such a way? We would need to imply equipmentality played the role of some sort of property, decided in terms of its suitability or unsuitability for particular properties, and which belonged to self-sufficient entities without the need of a comporting Dasein.

This would obviously render the entire story about how ready-to-hand entities are not objects with properties as downright inconsistent. Heidegger insists for these reasons, and well-aware of these complications, that there is strictly speaking never an equipment and that only understanding an entity as something present-at-hand we can say that an entity ready-to-hand really is. Dreyfus comes dangerously close to this in his commentary when he claims:

"As we have seen, to be a hammer is to be used to pound in nails for building houses, etc. For a culture that always tied things together, there could be no hammers because there would be nothing that it was to be a hammer. But there could, nonetheless, be pieces of wood with iron blobs on the end, since wood and iron are natural kinds and their being and causal powers make no essential reference to any inorder-tos or for-the-sake-of-whichs."

Here Dreyfus misses the point. The point is that entities must of necessity appear for an understanding Dasein, even if what such understanding discloses is thereupon shown to be independent of Dasein. Although it makes sense to say pieces of wood could be irrespective of Dasein, Heidegger's point is that the world is not 'made-up' from entities present-at-hand which are then discovered; this would render Heidegger as a strict realist and an externalist. The idea that interpretation is always Dasein dependent entails that whichever way we end up characterizing nature as, even from the purview of an ontic classification of the present-at-hand, will as such be Dasein dependent. Without interpretation and readiness-to-hand preceding the present-at-hand in circumspection there would be no discoverdness of entities as particulars, no interpretative determination of any entity within an ontology of nature or whatnot. This does not mean, of course, that entities are description dependent, but that to assert 'pieces of wood' are in themselves even in the absense of Dasein is just to say that whatever gets disocovered after interpretation as occurent will prevail even after Dasein is gone. There isn't any one interpretation-description we could assign as natural in the sense that it would have been there without Dasein, since the disclosedness of entities can only take place for a comporting Dasein.

In any case, the point seems ambivalent: present-at-hand entities can subsist 'in themselves' (non-relationally to Dasein) only after a certain interpretation has taken place and can be assigned as the being of the entity retrospectively, from the interrupted sight of circumspection. Enough for now...

martes, 23 de octubre de 2007

Dreyfus Fall 2007 Podcast - Confused About Solicitude.

On the first lecture dealing with Heidegger's notion of the 'one' (or the 'they' as it appears in the Macquarie-Robinson translation) Hubert Dreyfus' sounded quite perplexed upon reading the following sentence from Being and Time:

"But because solicitude [Fursorge] dwells proximally and for the most part in the deficient or at least the Indifferent modes (in the indifference of passing one other by), the kind of knowing-oneself which is essential and closest, demands that one become acquainted with oneself." [B&T- Pg. 161].

This sentence can be broken down into the following claims:
(1) Solicitude dwells proximally and for the most part in either (a) deficient, or (b) indifferent modes of being.
(2) Essential and close knowing-oneself requires acquaintance with oneself.

Dreyfus sees no major problem with (1b): that is, he is content to accept that our dealing with other is mostly indifferent, passing each other by, taking little to no notice of the other, and so forth.
What he sees as problematic is the first part of the claim, namely that solicitude is also mostly spent in deficient modes of behaviour. He finds it harder to tie this with (2).

I think his confusion can be cleared up without much trouble. What Heidegger means by the 'deficient' modes of solicitude is certainly not equivalent to the deficient modes of equipment in which they may show themselves up as something unavailable for use. After all, the mode of being of Dasein is not that of equipment or present-at-hand entities.

But there's nonetheless a crucial similarity. I think what Heidegger means here by 'deficient' is merely that in our dealing for others we are for the most part just undergoing standard-procedural behaviour. For example, I stumble upon someone and I say 'excuse me'; or I ask for permission to go to the bathroom, I greet somebody with the customary 'Good morning!' or 'How do you do?!'. These acts do not require me to truly deal with the other as Dasein; the interaction that takes place resembles that with a computerized operator, or a metro security-bar which requires you sweep your card in order to 'get by'. In other words, we are for the most part dealing with others without ever having to 'present-ourselves', to really communicate or engage with them.

This means that in these modes, one isn't presenting oneself nor is one dealing with the other as authentic Dasein. The deficiency is, as is to be expected, to be found on both the side of the interlocutor and that of the speaker.In this sense, dealing with others resembles more like dealing with the deficient equipment that needs to be set aside in order to continue your activity. This is certainly what we do for the most part in everydayness; we do not sit and have a meaningful chat with everyone we met. Thus, (2) becomes much more understandable: in order to break through these indifferent or deficient modes of behaviour we cannot merely rely on standardized responses; we must first of all be prepared to 'give ourselves over' to the other- to not merely repeat some idly conceived discourse and expect some equally idle response. One must be prepared to say something meaningfully human, think alongside the other, consider the other's uniqueness, and even deliberate about oneself.

This does not amount to merely figuring out whether you like your coffee with sugar or milk through introspection; in that scenario you might as well be dealing with a machine. In order to 'see through them' one must perhaps follow 'special routes' to gain closeness, meaning that in order to deal with others in a manner that acknowledges the other as Dasein one must think and act in an interpretative fashion, not following guidelines. Everyone is different and there isn't a single, standard way to make this happen. That we live mostly by way of idle behaviour can be exemplified in less evident cases: books which give you a set of prepared lines to deploy when dating; courses about the sort of things one can and cannot say at job interviews; behaving in a well-mannered way at the table. One is not so much Dasein in these cases as much as a product; the job interviewer does not care about you as an existing, unique being- he merely considers you in terms some specific task you can perform, some skill you possess, some fact about where you have worked or studied, and so forth. Likewise, most of our behaviour doesn't demand anything more than to act according to certain familiar, mundane, standardized ways. In this sense Dreyfus' substitution of 'the one' for 'the they' corresponds to the specific tasks that Dasein assumes when it is dealt with in these forms of deficiencies: as a 'job applicant', as the 'waitress from whom I expect a good service', etc. In each case, specific roles are directly associated with specific tasks one tacitly expects in advance from the other, which means that Dasein is reduced to a resource, a tool, or a mere obstruction to one's doing. In some cases, it doesn't even 'stand out' at all. These are all elucidating Heidegger's later positions about how modern science ends up turning man into standing-reserve, and his views on technology.

To sum up, the account of solicitude in the abovementioned passage ties in perfectly with Heidegger's later account of how the public world is ultimately tied to inauthentic idle-talk, in which Dasein is 'lost' in the public world. This is to say that for the most part Dasein is lost in the turmoil of the 'they', as the 'one', not being authentically himself in being-with-others. This, of course, shouldn't entail that a non-deficient, authentic way of dealing with others implies 'empathy', in the vulgar sense of getting a grip of what is happening in one's 'private sphere'. For even though we are essentially Being-with and cannot dispose of the other (after all, we speak a language, belong to an epoch, a place, a culture and set of conventions) there's a fundamental difference in merely programmatic behaviour and human relationships.

The interesting question would thus be begged: 'how can we behave authentically; not merely just follow the 'they' [or, in Dreyfus’ translation, is ‘the one’] and know-ourselves?' I think there's not a single answer to this; since the position in which one stands in relation to culture and others is always unique. One cannot hope to merely prescribe a set of directives in order to discover a 'unique-self' underlying the muddled everydayness; allowing for such prescriptions would presuppose each and everyone of us shares the same world-view, has the same language, conventions, etc. These are all somewhat obvious suggestions in post-Heideggerean culture, but we shouldn't forget it was Heidegger who systematically dealt with this in a thorough fashion. The hermeneutic guideline is merely to always interpret positionally with respect to the particular narrative into which we are imbued. There isn't a single disinterested, neutral point from which we could all attempt a phenomenological reduction and thus arrive at the same grounds.

Thus, authenticity, contrary to what Dreyfus says in that very lecture, is entirely related to the topic at hand. Concernful solicitude, in its rare non-deficient modes, would have to involve both a recognition of the unique position one is in (knowing-oneself) and therefore not just speaking or listening (understanding, interpreting) through idle-talk.At the same time, this seems a tough line to draw; since even when we have meaningful conversations with others we still deploy a shared language, views, and all sorts of things which are left unquestioned. Why then, can we call this activity truly authentic, and not just another instance of disguised Inauthenticity? I think this is partly what leads Heidegger to later say that this 'authenticity' is only necessary to the philosopher: only the philosopher, who goes through the trouble of facing and sort out the conceptual turmoil that goes around in public discourse, is able to be authentic.

But at that point, I can see why 'authenticity' appeared less and less the merrier word to use for Heidegger, and why he drops it, since it would disavow most of the population on Earth, if not all of it. In this I see a clear continuity with Heidegger’s later attempt at overcoming metaphysics and arriving at a genuine attempt in thinking.

martes, 16 de octubre de 2007

Dreyfus on Heidegger's Criticism of Cartesianism - Nature as Available

In discussing how nature becomes an 'intraworldly entity which is proximally available' (BT: 128, 95] Dreyfus begins by assessing how natural materials take place in Dasein's dealing with equipment. Here I find Dreyfus' interpretation to be particularly faulty, since he posits that "Dasein's self-interpreting everyday activity and nature codetermine what can be available for what". To support this thesis, he quotes Heidegger as saying:

"In the environment certain entities become accessible which are always available, but which, in themselves, do not need to be produced. Hammers, tongs, and needle, refer in themselves to steel, iron, metal, mineral, woods, in that they consist of these. In equipment that is used, "nature" is discovered along with it by that use- the "nature" we find in natural products" (100, 70).Dreyfus interprets this passage as saying that because of the properties of iron Dasein, having some task for which these properties appear useful, "appropriates iron into its referential whole... Yet of course, nature cannot be used in any way whatsoever... When something thus becomes unavailable, its recalcitrant properties or an aspect “announce themselves”, as does nature's contribution to the equipment's serviceability".

The problem is that by saying the properties of iron allow for it to be assimilated would entail the occurent properties of iron are somehow first and foremost what determine its assimilation as equipment; something that would require that Dasein has some (unconscious) apprehension of what these properties are in putting them to use. I think Heidegger's point is rather that whichever properties get discovered and thus assigned to the entity will be in direct accordance to the role these entities may play in equipment, and thus in relation to Dasein's sense of worldhood: "even the phenomenon of nature... can be grasped ontologically in terms of the concept of the world.." [94, 65].

This priority must be kept in mind, even if these properties, once discovered, make evident how an entity can be appropriate for some uses and inappropriate for others. He makes this explicit when he states that "In equipment that is used, "nature" is discovered along with it by that use"-[100, 70, My Italics].This is different from saying that iron has a recalcitrant set of properties which cause its assimilation into practice; rather, objective determination in assigning properties can only derivatively be assigned to objects on the basis of (un)availability. This distinction is not innocent, since if we follow Dreyfus we would be forced into accepting entities have a set of objective properties before they are discovered, and thus that Dasein's appropriation must be made to fit these properties.

But this is clearly in conflict with Heidegger's view that categories are derivative from use, and not the other way around. In other words, properties, qua linguistic predicates which function holistically with respect to Dasein's world, are never interpretation-independent.Entities present-at-hand are discovered always in sight of whatever tasks Dasein is engaged in, and the equipmental-whole to which it is imbued, and so in direct accordance to how entities show themselves as unavailable in practice. Discovery, in the Heideggerean sense, is therefore not about strictly discovering properties in entities which determine their potentiality for use; but how in terms of use one may derivatively assign a peculiar description about how an object shows itself. This is why in the act of appropriating the object for use; its possibilities for objective determination are already discovered, albeit not yet determined assertorically or in theory.

The properties discovered appear as having been there before, as the 'always already', but of course not as objective determinations on present-at-hand objects.The ontological priority of practice guarantees that no single set of properties can be said to be ontologically prior to its correspondent role inside a referential whole in equipment. At this point, we still have nothing like properties in objects, but just the horizon for such a future determination. Thus Heidegger: "Anything available is, at the worst, appropriate for some purposes and inappropriate for others; and its "properties" are, as it were, still bound up in these ways in which it is appropriate or inappropriate, just as occurentness, as a possible kind of being for something available is bound up in availableness" (115, 83)

In this way, when nature ends up conspicuously showing up as present-at-hand, it is always from the horizon of availability. Dreyfus does not quite get the subtly of this point, since he interprets Heidegger as saying occurent properties, in appearing constant, must have belonged to the object before and irrespective of its appropriation as equipment. But this is not what Heidegger tells us:

"Conspicuousness presents the available equipment as in certain unavailableness... It shows itself as an equipmental thing which looks so and so, and which, in its availableness as looking that way, has constantly been occurent too." (102-103, 73, My Italics)

The crucial thing to note about that passage is that only in sight of the role of the entity in availability is it shown as having a recalcitrant set of properties. This is to say that when we discover iron to be resistant or heavy, it is always in relation to some task; it doesn't break and so is appropriate to be used as a shield, it is too heavy too when I find it unsuitable to make fishing cranes from, etc. The predicates 'resistant' or 'frail' will be assigned to 'wood' as something present-at-hand on the basis of how it turns up as (un)available, and so in terms of its appropriateness for certain purposes and projects.

The assignment of predicates which can function as properties are never Dasein-independent in the sense that the meaning of such predicates can never be understood in isolation to the activity in which the present-at-hand entity is disclosed, even if it appears as having always possessed those qualities prior to their discovery in malfunction.This thesis is backed up by Heidegger's claim that even if we were to spell out any given set of occurent properties for those objects in nature which are present-at-hand, this would still not suffice to give us the phenomenon of the world. Since being-in-the-world does not consist of synthetically piling up occurent objects prior to putting them into use, Heidegger contends use must be ontologically prior to the rubric of 'nature':

"Nature as the categorial aggregate of those structures of being which a definite being encountered within-the-world may possess, can never make worldliness intelligible." [93-94, 65] and "nature as reality can only be understood on the basis of worldliness" [History of the Concept of Time, 199].

Dreyfus understands Heidegger's claim that we are for the most part not dealing with isolated, present-at-hand entities. The cognitivist objection would be that before an entity can be appropriated into a referential whole and thus be put into use, it must have been discovered in some way or another. Heidegger accepts this much: as long as we do not think that we first deal with entities qua occurent objects which are present-at-hand, we can make room for a story about how entities get incorporated into use by circumspection. Thus even "when the equipmental characters of the available are still circumspectively undiscovered, they are not to be interpreted as bare thinghood for an apprehension of what is just present-at-hand and no more" [112, 81]. Whether this is a plausible thesis is not for us to determine here.

sábado, 6 de octubre de 2007

On Dasein's 'Mineness'.

The question about the 'mineness' of Dasein has been somewhat controversial. Clearly, Heidegger cannot mean that Dasein is something that just happens inside a mind, or IN a person.Doing so would push him against the fence. In any case, the answer turns around the question whether Dasein is a private or a public term. Are institutions, societies and cultures Dasein? Or is Dasein merely ashortcut for individual human existence?

Dreyfus has (correctly) pointed that Heidegger often treats Dasein as referring to individual human existence. But I think this ambiguity is part of the problem, since it is less clear that he is always thinking of an individual. In any case, the crucial question is about what it would imply if Heidegger were to say Dasein is a subject, an individual, a particular entity. This would seem to make of it something merely present-at-hand (occurent, extant), which is of course exactly what Heidegger thinks the tradition has misinterpreted. But we surely cannot dispose of subjectvity just like that and use Dasein without any rigor to mean anything one wants; culture in some places, individuals in others, and at some points not even that. One wouldn't gain anything from such gross conceptual simplification.

But I think the answer Heidegger wants to give is that Dasein is human existence in general- and that in this framework it is never the case that Dasein is first and foremost a subject without a world. Dasein is the entity which in any case anyone could call his own. Only entities such as Dasein can ask, assert and therefore relate to being (a dog cannot ask 'what is x?' or assert 'x is y').This is different from saying that all ontologies must begin from the mind and then proceed to constitute the world, since all we are saying is that ONTICALLY Dasein is the entity which everyone can call one's own. There might be occasions, however, when explaining equipment for instance, that an analytic of Dasein shows Dasein is not 'itself':

Perhaps when Dasein addresses itself in the way which it is closest to itself, it always says 'I am this entity', and in the long run says this loudest when it is 'not' this entity. Dasein is in each case mine, and this is its constitutio; but what if this should be the very reason why, proximally and for the most part, Dasein is not itself? [Ibid]

Since the being of humans is characterized by this relation to being(existence), one can call oneself Dasein ontically as the being for whom being is an issue. This doesn't entail that when trying to explain the world we must begin by positing private mental contents opposed to external, objective stuff. It also doesn't entail that reality is 'made up' of ideas, or that what is first given is the 'I' of pure consciousness. In Heidegger's conception ofthe world, dualism is not tenable, simply because Dasein's existance doesn't begin by dividing subject and object, but by everyday involement, and dealings with Zuhanden entities (available, or ready-at-hand), which are not like this at all.

Heidegger is not saying that we are not entities or subjects but some vaguely unified spirit, but that characterizing Dasein in terms of subjectivity is to assume the world only gets experienced for and from a subject, that it pressuposes human existence entails an objectifying need for constant self-reference, whether tacit or explicit, in which the pure 'I' of consciousness accompanies all intentional acts. But 'In clarifying Being-and-the-world we have shown that a bare subject without a world never 'is' proximally, nor is it ever given. And so in the end an isolated "I" without Others is just as far from being proximally given." [B&T, Pg 152, 116]

According to Heidegger, the idea of a subject as that which weilds private contents, opposed to the world, blurs ontology up, since we have to now explain how this world comes into relation to being for a consciousness.This is either impossible (Kant) or simply unecessary (Husserl). But Heidegger thinks this problem arises from assuming that we live inside a world of ideas or phenomenal representations; the world is already disclosed for Dasein. Dasein is nothing but a relation to beings on the basis of the 'openness' of a world. There is nothing 'behind appearances' simply because what appears can only do so on the basis of the prior disclosure and assumption of the world. To deny the world is solipsism; to self-contain it isidealism. Dasein is nothing but being-in-the-world, since it has always grown into it without bulding it from theory.

Dasein is an entity, the entity for whom being is an issue. But this doesn't mean Dasein is different from the world, since strictly speaking Dasein IS being-in-the-world, and as such a world can only be for an entity like Dasein. (This is not to say the world is an invention of a mind, or that every would disappear or be destroyed if there is no subject, but that all relatedness to being can only occur for a being such as Dasein, with the possibility of calling into question 'that it is'). Dasein is not primordially an 'I' since the world precedes any such characterization. In its everydayness it doesn't deal with objects, but with equipment. It doesn't determine itself as a subject- a subsistent 'I' which and the other as an object, to ontologically attempt this reduction is what Husserl attempted and failed to do. In this sense, Dasein is 'mine' only insofar as I can claim my existence as belonging to myself as an entity, but this is no ontological determination.

That Dasein is not exclusively nor primordially a subject or 'I' does not exclude that Heidegger wants to explain how something like subjectivity, in an ontological manner, is made possible. This he does in Being and Time and the lecture courses mentioned above (1925-27).This is a difficult issue, and it has taken a lot of twists and turns inthe literature. Dreyfus has discussed this with particular detail in his book, as have a number of other commentators (Crowell, Boedeker Dostal Jr). There doesn't seem to be a concensus on the subject. I think the short answer is simply: Dasein is the way in which entities which care for being relate to being. This is broad enough to include both for self-interpretation without assuming self-interpretation to be at the basis of ontological inquiry. The 'I' is not disposed of, but neither assumed as the ontological clue.

The assertion that it is I who in each case Dasein is, is ontically obvious; but this must not mislead us into supposing that the route for an ontological Interpretation of what is 'given' in this way has thus been unmistakenly prescribes. Indeed it remains questionable whether even the mere ontical content of the above assetion does proper justice to the stock of phenomena to everyday Dasein. It could be that the "who" of everyday Dasein just is not the "I myself" [B&T, Pg. 150, 115]

As long as we don't take the fact that Dasein is an entity to imply that it is a mind with private contents first and foremost, I think all is in good order.On the general note, I think this topic can ammount for some very good questions. A good question that follows is whether animals have a world ornot (Heidegger says NO), and whether his interpretation is fair. The text where this is discussed is The Fundamental Concept of Metaphysics(1929/30). The notion of worldhood is discussed all throughout his work,including the abovementioned lecture course and Being and Time.

On Heidegger: Is being-in-the-world more fundamental than intentionality?

This question was raised by a friend of mine on discussion, and I thought i'd briefly answer it in the form of a post. A common misperception upon reading Being and Time is that somehow being-in-the-world is more originary than intentionality. Heidegger in fact grants this ontological privilige to being-in-the-world during his extensive discussion of zuhanden and vorhanden modes of comportment, but the crucial point is missed if we merely take 'fundamental' to mean more originary, specially if we carry a traditional notion of intentionality (which Heidegger rejects in his lecture courses 1925-1927, specially in the Basic Problems of Phenomenology).

I'm not sure whether 'more fundamental' would be the merrier expression. Husserl had an altogether different idea in mind when he spoke of intentionality: he thought he could map the entire constitution of thelifeworld in terms of the consciousness of the subject. According to him,through the phenomenological reductions, one could gain access to 'thingsthemselves', the phenomenal correlates of the mind as they are given. What was left for him to discuss, then, was a series of formal and regionalontologies in which he could map out the different kinds of objects thatcould appear before the mind, as well as their correspondent 'modes of presentation'.

Heidegger rejects the thesis that we can explain the constitution of thelifeworld by starting with the subject, only to then proceed to explainthe world. He thinks that the real question is not what objects arepresented to the mind, but how do objects and ontologies first becomepossible. According to him, it is phenomenological suicide to transfer thebulk of intentional life to a conscious subject since what is primarilygiven are not objects as correlates of some act (Vorhandenheit), butengaged agency in everyday practices (Zuhandenheit).According to him, both 'modes' of being are different ways of dealing withentities, and thus constitute different kinds of intentional comportments(Verhalten).

In this view, one is not first and foremost a mindconstructing a world out of intuited objects, but rather one is firstimbedded in a world of holistically familiar meanings in which one doesnot posit entities as objects in theory, but puts them to use. The entireidea is that our ontologies, the way in which entities get determined asobjects, will depend entirely on the kind of uses and practices into whichwe are imbedded. This ammounts to saying that there ISN'T a possibleontology that just gives a description of possible objects of experience.To say this is to give up on the Platonic ideal that there must be a sortof theory underlying all possible forms of discourse, and which can serveas foundational for all sciences.

Heidegger thus reshapes the traditional concept of phenomenology and says that what we must start with is not aworldless ego or mind, but everyday practices into which we are embedded.In a way this answers your last question, since Heidegger is implying itis impossible to have pressupositionless phenomenology; one can point outat the different kinds of relations Dasein has to entities and how theseoccur as ways of existing, but one cannot have a theory of all theories.One cannot explain engaged agency by appeal to some subject-objectrelation since one cannot spell out a set of rules which are unconsciouslyregulating behavior, and which phenomenology can make explicit. To expectthis is to think one must pressupose tacit theoretical guideliness inorder to build up a meaningful world or practice.

Heidegger thinks it's the other way around: we are first and foremost in aworld in which we share common practices and ways of speaking, and theoryis only derivative. He wants to avoid trying to ground all kinds of beingin a causally self-sufficient source, as Dreyfus points out. There are noregional ontologies to give since there is no single way in which objectsmay be given or understood. Thus, Heidegger does not 'drop' intentionalityas much as denies it must be understood in terms of consciousness. To quote Heidegger:"The everyday way in which things have been interpreted is one into whichDasein has grown in the first instance, with never a possibility ofextrication. In it, out of it, and against it, all genuine understanding,interpreting and communicating, all re-discovering and appropiating anew,are performed. In no case is a Dasein untouched and unseduced by this wayin which things have been interpreted." (213) (169)

What is being asked about is then about this pretheoretical,non-subjectivist understanding of being, of relating to beings and theways in which these modes of being are given. This will, as it turns out,imply we cannot simply interpret objects as the correlates of some privatemind:"One of our first tasks will be to prove that if we posit an 'I' orsubject as that which is primarily given, we shall miss completely thephenomenal contentof Dasein." (72) (46) This should do for now.

Even Smaller Gripe on Dreyfus.

In his analysis of Heidegger's account of spatiality, Dreyfus takes Heidegger as blurring the distinction between distance (physical, present-at-hand) and dis-tance (also translated as deseverance, with reference to Dasein's bringing into a circumspective region some ready-to-hand entity). This distinction is determinant for Heidegger's argument that the physical space of nature (extension) is derivative to Dasein's own circumspective spatiality in which entities are dealt with as equipment ready-to-hand. The passages which suggests the confusion for Dreyfus runs as follows:

""Dis-tancing" amounts to making the farness vanish- that is, making the remoteness of something disappear, bringing it near." [139, 105]

"[Dasein] cannot wander about within the current range of its dis-stances; it can never do more than change them" [143, 108]

For Dreyfus, this ammounts to a confusion between ontic distance which can change and ontological dis-stance which doesn't. If nearness and farness are criteria only proper to physical or ontic distance, which is derivative from Dasein's own regional dis-tance which is not measured in terms of nearness, then it follows dis-tancing cannot first operate by the closing of spatial magnitudes proper to physical distance. This way, Dreyfus interprets Heidegger as making a subjectivist turn: it seems that if dis-tancing operates by bringing near, we take Dasein's spatiality in terms of the individual's private commerce with entities. But since Heidegger's story rests on the basis that the public world precedes the individual, then this turn seems inconsistent with his theory. Because of this, Dreyfus claims that Heidegger should have said that one merely enters into a region in which certain entities are available publicly, in which they would be available for anyone if they stood there. This would be tantamount to saying dis-stancing is not prone to changes in magnitude, like ontic distance in relation to the individual, but publicly accessible in terms of appropriateness or innapropriateness.

But I take it that Heidegger's point is not that we can change dis-stancing in terms of changing the spatial magnitudes which lie before us in a particular region, but exactly the opposite. That is, since Dasein cannot merely move around a region with respect to the magnitudes of spatial distances to entities, all it can do is shift circumspective activity from dealing with one entity to another inside the nexus of equipment at hand. The blacksmith stops using the hammer and picks up the nails by naturally reacting to the demands of the situation, and not by calculating distance as measurements. Likewise, if at the moment of hammering, the kettle starts boiling, Dasein may shift from his present dis-stancing to another region in which different equipment is dealt with. All of these acts involve reacting to situations in an appropriate manner and not measuring distance in an ontic sense, as Dreyfus supposes. This is crucial since only if we accept that a region must include the two-sided relation of a comporting subject to an object, we can make the transition to claim Dasein's 'bringing near' is guilty of prioritizing individual spatiality. This objection was already made by Arisaka (1995) on the following terms:

"Dasein as dis-tance has its own "individual" space, radiating from it as it beings things "close". In this discussion he [Dryefus] treats the spatiality of individual Dasein as 'private' or 'subjective' space... However, the individuality of de-severance does not imply "private space" at all, that individuality is rather derived from the structure of the perspectival givenness of regions."

If this peculiar indvidiual space belonging to regions and circumspective comportment cannot be private, it must in a way already be public. This is our clue, since we can now justify Dasein's unique spatiality as being both (1) individual- in the sense that it is ontically correspondent to the comportments of an specific Dasein, and (2) public- in the sense that the circumspective comportments of Dasein in regions are never carried forth by a self-sufficient subject without already belonging to a world of public practices. If the regions wherein Dasein dwells and opens are of necessity constituted by a shared context of public practices, then we do not risk subjectivism in attributing existential spatiality to the Dasein in his regional dealings with entities.

One must always remember that the familiar world of practices in which Dasein regularly dwells is not that of an objective region in which entities are 'piled-up' and dealt with as objects. Circumspection doesn't deal with individual entities, but only within the nexus of an equipmental-whole. Arisaka thus rightfully acknowledges that the inconsistency Dreyfus reads into Heidegger can only obtain under the objectivist interpretation of regions.

The crucial thing to notice is thus that Heidegger is not claiming that dis-tances change in terms of factual ontic distance between two entities (the subject and object). The 'bringing-near' Heidegger alludes to is not to be understood as the reduction of a given magnitude which could be measured in some way. Dis-tancing makes an entity available for use in circumspection, i.e. it is brought near to Dasein insofar as it becomes ready-at-hand. The remoteness closed by dis-tancing would therefore not be that of making an already given entity come closer to oneself, but to first and foremost make this entity available for circumspection by opening a region in concern, or by appropiately using this entity at the right time. In this sense, it is impossible to measure the dis-stances of availability of being in circumspection since one can do nothing but change the region of available entities and with it the availability of particular entities to Dasein.

Because you can’t simply go beyond a measured occurent distance in circumspection, one cannot go-beyond, overcome or withdraw from dis-stance, but only change the sphere of available entities which are far and near with respect to circumspection in some way.
In this sense, the two ways in which entities may be spatially understood with respect to dis-tance is in terms of (a) the nearness - that is to say the availability of an entity ready-at-hand, or (b) the presence of an entity in dealing with the present-at-hand. Heidegger confirms this by saying "Nearness and presence, not magnitude of separation, is what is essential." [140].

This amounts to saying that availability and presence precede any ontical determination of space in terms of physical distance. It doesn't amount to saying, as Dreyfus misreads him, that all dis-tancing must operate on the basis of presence, in the sense of the ontical presence-at-hand that would obtain from, say, an individual Dasein and his object of concern within a region. Heidegger's point is that the specific model or vocabulary used to express ontical distance is possible only from the being present-at-hand of some entity, which in turn supervenes on the availability or nearness of the entity into an equipmental-whole in circumspection.
So, when Dreyfus objects that to prioritize nearness and farness is to prioritize the spatiality of the individual Dasein, he mistakenly takes Heidegger as saying that nearness and farness are distanced in the sense of 'making-present'. Under such a reading, the objection naturally follows that the entities would be seen to stand against the Dasein, as particular objects. This would be in direct conflict with Heidegger's proposed priority of readiness-to-hand, in which for Dasein there are no objects which stand against it separated by some ontical distance.

But as we noted above, the prioritizing of nearness and presence is tantamount to the priority of the ready-to-hand and the present-at-hand over the concrete categories of a particular system, such as physics or nature. As such, the priority is given to deny that any ontic measuring of distance could ever account for dis-tancing, and that the former supervenes ontologically on the latter. Nonetheless, the objection could be raised that if this 'tendency' towards presence or nearness is what somehow makes entities available for Dasein, one would need to pressupose these entities qua particulars are somehow there but unavailable before dis-tancing. And this would, again, seem to threaten the idea that what comes first are not objects, but the equipmental-whole of circumspection.

I take it that problem doesn't appear in Heidegger's position that the 'bringing near' or 'presencing' in which Dasein becomes involved with the ready-at-hand or the present-at-hand is not the mere cutting of a distance. If we just understand di-stancing within the framework of the opening of a region in circumspection then we do not risk the charges of subjectivism. We merely state that dis-tancing must proceed by first opening a region for circumpsection in which Dasein deals with equipment in terms of appropiateness for proximate purposes and which, if interrupted, would give an entity present-at-hand. That an ontical distance could thereby be determined in relation to this entity is perfectly admissible, since all we need to show is that the ontological priority lies not in the spatial measurement of nature, but on presence-at-hand more generally, and readiness-to-hand as even more primary:

"Circumspective concern decides as to the nearness and farness of what is primarily available environmentally. Whatever this concern deals with beforehand is what is nearest... That which is presumably "nearest" is by no means that which is at the smallest distance from us. It lies rather in that which is distanced to an average extent when we reach for it, grasp it, or look at it... When something is nearby, this means it is within the range of what is primarily available for circumspection." [141-142, 106-107]