Tuesday, August 28, 2007

B&T 10: Truth and the End of Division I

Part 9

Remember the question of the meaning of being? Well, we’re back to it. That question is only possible if something like an understanding of being already is. An understanding of being belongs to Da-sein.

This section is about the source of a great many philosophical problems. The understanding of being - both ontically and ontologically - initially orients itself to innerworld beings. That’s how being as such is passed over for things that are objectively present. Being = reality. This section has some great stuff about the problems of reality, but I think it’s basically build up to Heidegger’s discussion of truth as aletheia.

The question is, what connection does truth have with being? Heidegger says three things about the traditional concept of truth. First, its traditional position is in the proposition. The judgement. Sentences are where truth “happens.” What truth is, is agreement of the judgment with its object. The correspondence theory of truth. And it was Aristotle that initiated both of these ideas when he created logic.

Heidegger begins his critique of the traditional idea of truth by saying that the concept of “agreement” is entirely general and empty. What exactly this “agreement” is is obscure. It is meant to be a formal relation of the ideal content of the mind to the real thing about which one judges. What corresponds is two ontic things. The content of a statement is related to an object; these are two things that can have a formal relation to one another. What Heidegger ends up saying is that correspondence isn’t so much wrong as it is insufficient. This is the best example of the movement I mentioned at the beginning; the common sense version of truth is taken, and deepened.

Rather than correspondence, truth is aletheia. Disclosure. Truth lets being appear in themselves; a true statement discovers a showing that already existed. Truth is both opening and closure - for example, when you see an apple as an apple, you close off seeing it as a pear.

It might be useful here to recall the three aspects of disclosure - understanding, interpretation and discourse. We exist understandingly; we exist in the truth.

Now, all three of these elements are, initially and for the most part, fallen. They are fallen into publicness. This means that Da-sein is usually disclosed to itself as something that it is not - this is inauthenticity. Because disclosure is fallen, Da-sein is also in untruth. Da-sein is both in truth and untruth.

Constituted by disclosedness, Da-sein is in the truth. There is truth only insofar as Da-sein is. This applies to everything, including something like scientific truths. To say there is eternal truth is not proven until one proves Da-sein is itself eternal.

That's the end of Division I. Eventually I'll do a single post on Division II, which is where the book gets really hard. The three ecstasies of temporality! Anticipatory resoluteness! All that good stuff.

Monday, August 27, 2007

B&T 9: Care and Angst

Part 8

On the first page of chapter 6, Heidegger summarizes everything that has been said thus far. On the basis of attunement, Da-sein has a mode of being in which is brought before itself - it is disclosed to itself in attunement. It is disclosed to itself in its thrownness. Thrownness is a way of being of a being that is its possibilities; it understands itself from them, and in them. It projects itself upon its possibilities. Being in the world involves both taking care of things and being with others. The self is, initially and for the most part, dispersed in the they and entangled in the world. So, the average everydayness of Da-sein can be described as, and I quote from page 170, “entangled-disclosed, thrown projecting being in the world which is concerned with its ownmost potentiality in its being together with the world and in being-with the others.” Easy as pie.

So what is the point of this chapter? Being in the world is a structure that is primordial and constantly whole. Until now, the structure’s moments have all been discussed individually. Understanding, attunement, being with, etc. But how is the totality of the structural whole to be described? What unites everything that’s been said so far?

Care. Care is the unity of the structural totality of Da-sein BitW. Care is actually BitW as such. This isn’t the same as wishing, urging, watching, etc; these things are founded on care. But what discloses care as fundamental? What is Da-sein’s fundamental attunement?

Angst. Angst is what provides the basis for grasping the totality of Da-sein. Remember the description of fear? Fear is fear of something. One can find this desk fearsome. It’s something present, something in the world. What distinguishes Angst from fear is that angst does not have an object. Angst is anxious over nothing. Literally, the nothing. Nothing definite, nothing present.

Tranquilization makes one feel at home; angst interrupts this feeling. Angst makes one feel uncanny. Falling prey does not run from possibilities or things, but to them, in order to find tranquilization. Angst thwarts this; angst is anxious about being in the world as such. It is in fact angst that individualizes Da-sein; it does not create an isolated subject, it merely brings Da-sein back before itself out of the they. The world loses its significance, and Da-sein is brought back before itself out of dispersion in the they.

So the unity of Da-sein lies in the fact that it is concerned in its being about that being. BitW itself is care. Being with things is taking care of them and being with the Mitda-sein of others is concern. Being concerned about its being, Da-sein is always being ahead of itself, projecting forward into possibilities. When Da-sein is being ahead of itself in such a way that it is being towards its ownmost possibility - which is death - the possibility of being free for authentic existentiell possibilities is opened up.

In Division 2, this is what will come to be known as anticipatory resolutness - the being towards death that individuates one, allows one to pursue one’s own possibilities as opposed to the possibilities handed over to it by the they.

Because that possibility is determined by freedom, one is just as free to leave one’s possibilities entirely to the they. Do everything the way one does things.

Now, the basis of the structural totality of Da-sein, care lies “before” every attitude and position of Da-sein. Care is the a-priori condition of both theory and praxis. Political and social action are only possible for a being that is unified by care.

In section 42, which I looked at midnight last night, Heidegger relates a roman myth about care. If there’s one point in Being and Time that has no need to exist, this is it. Every time I look at that chapter I think Heidegger must have had Stephen King’s editor. Anyways, the point of the chapter is that care rules Da-sein’s “temporal sojourn in the world.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The New Atheists

Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, etc. The new atheists. Sooner or later, I'll read Dawkins and Hitchens' books. I've seen them in many interviews and I've read many of their shorter essays on religion. I don't know anything about Dawkins' actual body of scientific work, but I have read a lot of Hitchens' journalism. Hitchens is clearly a smart man and he is one of the best in his chosen profession.

This being said, the new atheists have waded into deep waters, and their water wings are leaky.

I've been meaning to write posts on this subject for sometime, but have had a hard time putting my thoughts together. So, I'll use Terry Eagleton to give me a running start.

In his review of The God Delusion entitled "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching", Eagleton properly puts Dawkins in his place. Rather than choosing and defending a side on the stupid old atheist/theist continuum, Eagleton simply cuts Dawkins off at the knees by pointing out that one can't set Dawkins' naive scientific matirealism against one of the most ubiquitous and productive forms of human life.

Check out the first three paragraphs, at least.

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster. These days, theology is the queen of the sciences in a rather less august sense of the word than in its medieval heyday.

Dawkins on God is rather like those right-wing Cambridge dons who filed eagerly into the Senate House some years ago to non-placet Jacques Derrida for an honorary degree. Very few of them, one suspects, had read more than a few pages of his work, and even that judgment might be excessively charitable. Yet they would doubtless have been horrified to receive an essay on Hume from a student who had not read his Treatise of Human Nature. There are always topics on which otherwise scrupulous minds will cave in with scarcely a struggle to the grossest prejudice. For a lot of academic psychologists, it is Jacques Lacan; for Oxbridge philosophers it is Heidegger; for former citizens of the Soviet bloc it is the writings of Marx; for militant rationalists it is religion.

What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them? Or does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case? Dawkins, it appears, has sometimes been told by theologians that he sets up straw men only to bowl them over, a charge he rebuts in this book; but if The God Delusion is anything to go by, they are absolutely right. As far as theology goes, Dawkins has an enormous amount in common with Ian Paisley and American TV evangelists. Both parties agree pretty much on what religion is; it’s just that Dawkins rejects it while Oral Roberts and his unctuous tribe grow fat on it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

B&T 8: Disclosure, Idle Talk, Ambiguity, Curiousity

Part 7

The final aspect of being in is discourse. This isn’t language - it is the ontological condition of language. That which is disclosed by attunement and understanding is articulated by discourse. Discourse is a shared event; the listener understands the speaker because they are articulating meaning that is already there. Spoken disclosure is to share what is disclosed.

It’s already been said that Da-sein is dispersed into the they and thrown into possibilities. Da-sein is thrown into the they. The they has its own modes of understanding and interpretation. These are idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity. All three of these sound derogatory, but Heidegger insists this isn’t cultural criticism.

Discourse shares what is disclosed - but the mark of idle talk is that it does not go back to the original disclosure. It is discourse that only offers the most average, levelled down understanding. It’s almost like speaking for the sake of speaking; it has no relation to the being being spoken of. It’s like gossip, or “passing the word alone.” Because idle talk offers a leveled down understanding, it can understand everything. Quantum physics? No problem. I watched What the bleep do we know. Chaos theory? No problem. I watched Jurassic Park. It’s not about deception... it’s just rootless talk.

Curiosity corresponds to sight as a mode of disclosing. Just like idle talk understands everything, curiosity sees everything. Remember, BitW is initially absorbed in taking care. We take care of the things around us. Curiosity only wants to see - not see and take care. It is restless; always seeking novelty. Jumping from new possibility to new possibility. The newest theory comes out of Europe... gotta jump on it! Curiosity sees everything and idle talk understands everything. This can be confused with a “lively life.” Being able to do 10 000 things in a piecemeal way rather than dwelling with one thing.

Ambiguity has the same sort of thing going on. Ambiguity is what “everyone knows.” It knows what everyone else thinks and feels. It also knows what is going to happen and what should be done. Political opinions are usually a pretty good example of this; everyone knows what the significance of the Iraq War is. When something actually does happen, we all knew it was going to happen that way, too.

Ambiguity dominates being-with, as well. The other is “there” in terms of what we have heard about them. Gossip, piecemeal opinions, these things all too often dominate our relations with others.

Idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity constitute the entanglement of Da-sein. This is how Da-sein is in the world, initially and for the most part. Da-sein is fallen prey. It’s an absorption in the they. This entanglement is the inauthenticity of Da-sein. This entanglement is Da-sein not being itself. Heidegger says Da-sein is “tempted” into falling prey; it confuses Da-sein into thinking all of its possibilities are open to it, when in fact they are leveled. This is tranquillizing. Tranquilization is not stagnation, but busyness. Again, this is like the lively life. Always running to and fro, finding new things to distract one’s self. Being tranquilized makes feel at home.

Heidegger actually sets up an early critique of something like multi-culturalism here. This belief that all possibilities are open leads to the belief that understanding and synthesizing foreign cultures will lead to the “enlightenment” of Da-sein. Because Da-sein is tranquilized and entangled, it is alienated from its ownmost possibilities. This is inauthenticity; a loss of one’s own possibilities.

It is important to note that Da-sein be falling prey only because it is concerned, understanding, attuned being in the world.

Friday, August 10, 2007

B&T 7: Attunement, Understanding, Interpretation

Part 6

Now we’re getting to chapter 5 - Being-in as such. Da-sein’s relation to itself is mediated by its relation to the world, but this is not to suggest that being-in stands between present world and a present subject. Being-in is a unified phenomena. It is disclosure; a clearing, an illumination. There are three aspects to being-in as such: attunement, understanding and discourse. These are not three aspects that are separate things; they are equiprimordial. There are the interiority of each other.

Because being-in is not about a subjects relationship to objects around it, disclosure is not some kind of individual perspective; it’s not a mental state. There is only one clearing. The “Da” of Da-sein is its “Da,” but there is also the Da. Being there and the there of being. In my self disclosure, I am part of the disclosure of being in general. In Da-sein’s self-disclosure, it is a part of the disclosure of being in general. Being can only be disclosed through entities. That jargony paragraph hopefully helps clarify why the question of the meaning of being must “pass through” Da-sein, so to speak. In disclosing the world, in disclosing itself, Da-sein is a part of the disclosure of being.

Anyways, let’s talk attunement. Attunement is Heidegger’s ontological term for what would ontically be “mood.” It’s how you’re doing. Attunement is what makes things matter. It discloses things in a particular way. If you’re happy, than the world is a happier place. The trick is to understand that this isn’t some kind of projective psychology - you’re feeling happy and then you project onto the world your happiness. That would be an ontic psychological process; ontological attunement is disclosure. Da-sein is always already in a mood; if when you’re just relaxing, letting the wheels go round and round. In being in a mood, Da-sein is disclosed as that being which it is.

Disclosure doesn’t mean “known” as such. Da-sein actually usually avoids what is disclosed. Da-sein in fact flees from what is disclosed; what is disclosed is that Da-sein is thrown into the world. We always find ourselves in a mood; this is not the result of a seeking but rather a fleeing. We don’t encounter ourselves through rational reflection, because rational reflection is always directed to towards objects - Da-sein is not an objectively present object.

The primary discovery of the world is also through attunement — not the senses. It is because the senses belong ontologically to an attuned being that they can be “touched.” Hardcore empiricism is not able to banish mood; all it can do is flatten everything down to objective presence.

Heidegger’s big example of attunement is fear. He choose this for a specific reason that we’ll come across later. There are three aspects to fear. The first is “what” one is afraid of - it is a thing of whatever sort. A spider, a disease, a ghost. A fearsome thing. The second aspect is “fearing” itself; this clarifies what is fearsome. And why are we afraid? Because we are concerned in our being for our being. Only a being concerned with its own being can be afraid. What about animals? I have no clue.

What marks fear as attunement is that it discloses things in their ability to threaten.

So that’s attunement. Attunement is known ontically as mood; it isn’t the relation of a psychological subject to its world but rather an ontological disclosure. It is what discloses the world and Da-sein to itself; as such it is a part of the disclosure of being. It is one of the three equiprimordial elements of being-in.

The second element of being in is understanding. Like I’ve already said, Da-sein exists understandingly. Understanding is what discloses our possibilities as possibilities. This is not a cognitive process of making choices; it isn’t choosing between being a lawyer or doctor when you grow up. It discloses those possibilities in the first place. It’s also not an empty set of logical possibilities; we are always already in a possibility. We are always, in fact, projecting into possibilities. Da-sein always understands itself in terms of projects that it projects into. Because Da-sein projects forward, it is always ahead of itself. Ontologically speaking, Da-sein is always not yet. Primordially, Da-sein exists from the future. There is always something outstanding. Da-sein is the possibility of being free for... death! Death is Da-sein’s ownmost, not to be bypassed possibility, and it is unrelated to anything in the referential totality. It is what is always outstanding for Da-sein. A fuller explanation of this will remain outstanding for the time being.

Now, understanding always has its own possibilities. Understanding has the possibility of understanding itself - this is interpretation. Interpretation is understanding’s self-understanding.

Interpretation is also the actualization of possibilities that understanding discloses. Da-sein projects onto possibilities, then interprets itself as these possibilities. We take up the project of being students, then interpret ourselves as students with all the attendant frills that go with that; books, alcohol, etc.

What is interpreted, what has been explicitly understood, always has the structure of something as something. A table is explicity understood as a table.

Interpretation has a threefold structure: fore-having, fore-seeing and fore-conception. These, again, are all bound up with each other. The fore-having is the referential totality; it is the interpretation operating within that totality of reference which itself has already been understood.

When something is understood but still veiled, still unclear, still implicit, it becomes explicit through an act of appropriation - the fore-seeing. The fore-having reveals what is to be understood, the fore-seeing works specifically upon what is to be understood. This interpretation is already decided upon by a definite conceptuality - this is the fore-conception.

The interpretation of something as something is grounded in fore-having, fore-seeing and fore-conception. This is a circle, but it is not a vicious circle to be avoided; the trick is to enter the circle in the right way; this is why Heidegger had that whole discussion of the structure of the question at the beginning of the book.