Sunday, March 27, 2011

Heidegger's Notion of "Dasein"

Photobucket


Heidegger was the next evolutionary step beyond Husserl in the development of phenomenology. Husserl dealt with objects in much the way that Descartes did; we are conscious of them, they are intentionally conscious of them. In this version of phenomenology we understand the essential structures apart form the reality of objects.[i] He regarded them as objects and his version of phenomenology is about how we regard objects as actors on stage in the Cartesian theater. This approach of Husserl is known as “transcendental phenomenology.” Heidegger takes a different approach, known as “hermeneutic phenomenology.”[ii] Heidegger deals with objects, aspects of our perceptions in being as we live our lives, in the way that fish regard water, as something so close to us, so all pervasive, so fundamental to existence that we don’t even notice it. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is his concept of “ready-to-hand.” Or an even better example would be the carpenter who is so use to his tools the use of them is second nature. He doesn’t have to be careful with the hammer he just hammers. He doesn’t think about what he’s doing because it’s so much a part of his being he doesn’t need to think about it. Such is our encounter with being and with most things in being. This is misleading because the subject is extremely complex. There is a multiplicity of opinions as to what Heidegger was really saying, and the philosopher himself doesn’t help by clarifying.[iii] Heidegger distinguishes first between a general sense of being for anything or everything, being itself, and the being of human beings that is aware of itself, what Sartre calls “being por soi,” being for itself. The being of inanimate objects Sartre calls “being en soi,” or “being in itself.” To distinguish between being in general or apart form any particular thing (being itself) and that of an individual, the use of the term “a being” is employed by translators, while Heidegger himself uses the German terms “Sein” (being) and das Seiende for the latter. Human being in particular Heidegger speaks of as Dasein, which is by its nature vested with an implied social dimension.

For Heidegger the Western tradition has erred with Aristotle in assuming humans are rational. We develop theories of rule keeping and decision making that assumes humans are rational; this turns out to be superficial. We are also irrational, we have depths and we are complex creatures, we don’t understand ourselves.[iv] The Western tradition erred with Plato in assuming that we can understand the world in a detached way by taking a step back and developing a theory of theory, “discovering the principles that underlie the profusion of phenomena.”[v] The mistake is in thinking we can have a theory of everything. Heidegger opposes the idea of a theory of everything. We cannot have a theory of what makes theory possible. This calls into question the foundations of Western thought.[vi]

Since Descartes philosophers have been struck with the epistemological problem of explaining how the ideas in our mind can be true of the external world. Heidegger shows that this subject/object epistemology presupposes a background of everyday practices into which we are socialized but that we do not represent in our minds. Since he calls this more fundamental way of making sense of things our understanding of being, he claims that he is doing ontology that is, asking about the nature of this understanding of being that we do not know--that is not a representation in the mind corresponding to the world—but that we simply are. [vii]

Heidegger sides with Kierkegaard rather than with Descartes. Cartesian doubt is phony, the Cartesian theatre of the mind is contrived and thought and awareness flow out of being rather than standing as a conclusion to a philosophical premise, “I think, therefore, I am.” As Dreyfus points out, refereeing to SK’s view “I am, therefore, I think.”[viii] Heidegger questions the concept that we gain control of our lives by clarifying the principles which govern our action. It may not be possible or even desirable to do so. These principles work best for us when they remain in the background. “What is important and meaningful in our lives is not and should not be accessible to critical reflection.”[ix] There are many ways to put the reason, because our actions “lack seriousness” or because we can’t generalize properly, but probably the best reason for this is because when we try to clearly all the principles we construct pre conceived categories that are of necessity incomplete or wrong simply because we can’t know the principles and work by them at the same time.

This is an un-Heideggerian reason, its my reason but I think it applies to what he is saying: clarified categories are pre conceived and that contradicts the way we work in categories that are hidden. The success of the way we work with the principles is that we don’t know them, or don’t know all about them, we couldn’t use them properly if we were trying to figure them out all the time. Thus the answer is to allow the sense data to suggest the categories to us. Otherwise we try to group or herd sense data into the pre conceived categories. Heidegger calls this inexplicable background (the undisclosed principles) that enables us to understand, the understanding of being. These hidden functions, the principles, operate for all aspects of our lives. They are in the meeting of every person we encounter and in every confrontation with life we endure. Heidegger’s approach to working with these hidden principles without trying to explicate them is the source of such slogans as “back to the things in themsevles.” He’s trying to get under the formalized understanding of principles and encounter the actual principles themselves as they work from within. This is what he means by doing hermeneutics form within a hermeneutical circle. [x] Heidegger’s notion of being is very important to this work, as the concept of God as being itself (or the ground of being) is the central point, and Heidegger was a major influence upon Tillich, who is the central figure carrying the ball for he notion of God as being itself. Yet Heidegger’s notion of being is extremely complex. To really do it justice would require a book in itself. Therefore, the important part for my purpose is to understand what Tillich took away form Heidegger’s understanding of being itself. One thing Tillich didn’t get from Heidegger was the notion that God is being itself. So Tillich’s admiration for Heidegger had limits. Tillich’s view that God is being itself is rejected by Heidegger, also by Bautlmann , Barth, and Reinhold Neibuhr.[xi] Nevertheless it will be important to understand some basic ideas relating to Heidegger’s concept.

The one thing that stands out about Hediegger’s notion of being, and Tillich’s, I’m sure it will be the first major criticism made of this work, that there seems to be no there “there.” There’s no clear simple obvious sense in wich one can actually define Heidegger’s notion of being. It is clearly much more involved than just saying “being is a from of the verb “to be” and refers to the existence of things. This is primarily because Hediegger didn’t really seem to want to say “this is being, walk therein.” His view turns upon the hidden nature of being. It’s almost in his interest, one could say, not to define being too sharply. He argued that the question of being was the most important and fundamental question for philosophy, yet one that could never be answered.[xii] When we get into unraveling Tillich’s position we see that the complexity is of major importance. In regard to Tillich this comes under the heading of “depth of being.” For Heidegger we can’t just blurt out an answer because being is hidden and is something transparent to us but something we work in and is to close to us to really understand, like water for the fish. For Tillich there’s more to being than the bits we can see or experience, so it’s not just hidden but has depths, it’s deep and complex. Philipse Surveys the ground of American commentary on this point and finds an array of differing views. Dreyfus says Heidegger’s notion of being is “an intelligibility correlative with our everyday practices.”[xiii] According to Sheehan being itself refers to the “analogically unified meaning of being”[xiv] For Michael Zimmerman it’s “the history shaping ways in which entities reveal themselves.”[xv] Philipse argue that these are all aspects but don’t tally with all of Heidegger’s texts. It’s clear they all deal with the human experience of our own being rather than the fundamental fact of existence apart forms any specifics. That is crucial to understanding Hdiegger’s meaning, because he’s talking about Dasin, human being, what means to engage in our own human form of being; that does have a social dimension.

Heidegger’s interest in being as a philosophical question, and the notion that it is the most fundamental question, come from his reading of the dissertation by the nineteenth century philosopher Franz Brentano, who dealt with Aristotle’s interpretation of being; the notion of the fundamental nature of the quesiotn goes all the way back to the Greek philosopher.[xvi] Aristotle recognizes distinctions in the many ways being is used, Brentano reflected the diversity.[xvii] Aristotle has four ways of understanding being: (1) (V7 Metaphysics, 1026a:33) Kata Sumbebekos, what something is said to be identically; (2) “being” in the sense of being true; (3) “being” in the sense of being potentially or actually; (4) Being as it is in the 10 categories. Heidegger analyses each of these aspects[xviii], but they are still only aspects of a reality that continually recedes the more one chases it. As Philipse puts it, “although Aristotle did analyze did analyze different meanings of being, he did not discover the one leading and fundamental sense from which the other meanings somehow derived.”[xix] Heidegger never does get to the answer, the upshot of all of his ferment is that toward the end of his life he intimated that being receded and was more hidden.[xx]

The social aspect in the analysis of human being will get Heidegger in trouble. Of course that’s his entre into the world of politics, or at least the intellectual tie to his philosophizing. I will not go into any detail on that matter. Heidegger was a Nazi, but history has allowed his philosophizing to continue despite his political blunder. Philosophers who were avowed enemies of the Nazis, such as Marcuse and Tillich, still wound up using Heidegger. Marcuse seems to have had no use for Heidegger personally after the war, but continue to think through the lens of his philosophy.[xxi] The view seems very different from America, approaching these thinkers through the sterility of metaphysics and abstract ideas about being, divorced form the political realities and concrete life that brought these thinkers into conflict. When we plug in the historical and political things make more sense.


[i] Paul Gorner, “Heidegger, Phenomenology, and the essence of Technology.” Online Journal, Philosophy: University of Aberdeen. Websties URL: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/philosophy/endsandmeans/vol2no1/gorner.shtml visted 6/31/10

Paul Gorner is Lecturer in philosophy at the University of Aberdeen

[ii] Hubert L. Dreyfus, Being in the World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, quotations from Being and Time by John Macquarrie, 1991, 2.

[iii] Herman Philipse, Heidegger’s Philosophy of Being: A Critical Interpretation Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1998, 3. Online page number URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=D9y2rHPCOgsC&dq=What+is+Heidegger%27s+notion+of+being+itself%3F&source=gbs_navlinks_s visited 10/4/10. online page numbers apply

[iv] Dreyfus, Ibid, 1

[v] Ibid, 1

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Ibid, 3

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid, 4

[x] Ibid

[xi] Walter Leibrecht, “The Life and Mind of Paul Tillich,” Religion and Culture: Essays in Honor of Paul Tillich, Walter Leibrecht ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1972 (originally 1959). Notes, 355 FN 2

[xii] Philipse, 8

[xiii] Hubert Dreyfus, in Ibid, 3

[xiv] Thomas Sheehan, in Ibid

[xv] Michael Zimmerman, in Ibid.

[xvi] Ibid, 5

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid, 6

[xx] Ibid, 8-9

[xxi] I say this based upon an incident recorded by Barry Katz in his Marcuse and The Art of Liberation. Apparently Marcuse made one attempt to learn how it was that Heidegger could be Nazi, he was not satisfied with he answer (which was something like “it seemed right at the time) he made no more efforts to contact his old teacher.

3 comments:

Miles said...

So Da-sein should roughly mean human existence and meaning. Or something like that. (obviously won't be able to take a precise definition.)

Metacrock said...

yea I think that's a pretty good interpretation. The form of being that human life takes, including it's social dimension and it's meaning.

Moi said...

While there are some interesting (though not unique) insights in Heidegger, I think he totally misunderstood Aristotle when he said man is a rational animal. We are, to be sure, not rational all of the time (as economics has erroneously axiomatized), but Aristotle didn't mean we always deliberate in a logical manner. Rather, we have the potential for ratiocination (or to use the scholastic jargon, "in potency"). Heidegger thus built a strawman on a faulty reading of Aristotle. Not to mention that, I think, one of the reasons he is such a trouble to read is because he himself didn't always know exactly what he meant.