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.