Friday, April 18, 2008

The Paranoid Style in American Science

Clark, at Mormon Metaphysics, has a Sideblog to a very interesting article: The Paranoid Style in American Science. It's a fascinating discussion of what happens when doubt becomes the guiding principle in politics, PR, philosophy, and science.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Malpas on Heidegger and Nazism

I'm beginning to go through Jeff Malpas' Heidegger's Topology: Being, Place, World and just barely got to his section on Heidegger and National Socialism. He makes an interesting point about the notion of place in Heidegger's thought and when it took prominence, decidedly after his fiasco with Nazism. Here's an extended quote:
Thus the addresses from the early 1930s in which Heidegger seems to align himself with elements of Nazi ideology combine the vocabulary of Being and Time with ideas and images also present in Nazi rhetoric, including notions of "Volk" and of "Blut und Boden," but they do not deploy any developed notions of place or dwelling as such (and the distinction is an important one, both within Heidegger's own thinking and within thought, politics, and culture more generally). Talk of "Blut und Boden" seems to feature in Heidegger's vocabulary in only a few places, and although the notion of "Volk" does have a greater persistence and significance, it too is almost entirely absent from Heidegger's postwar thought. Significantly, it is in his engagement with Hölderlin, immediately after his resignation of the rectorate, in 1934-1935, that ideas of place and dwelling begin to emerge more explicitly (though still in a relatively undeveloped form) as a focus for Heidegger's thinking. Moreover, the influence of Heidegger on contemporary thinking about place does not stem from the work in the 1920s and early 1930s, but rather from that of the middle to late 1930s and, especially, of the period from 1945 onwards, particularly essays such as "Building Dwelling Thinking." In this respect, the strategy that appears in Harvey, Massey, and Leach [which he just analyzed] seems to be one that attempts to discredit ideas explicit in the later thinking largely on the basis of the political engagement apparently present in the earlier. (20)
I will admit, the question of Heidegger's relation with Nazi ideology is not a topic that interests me, so I am not someone who can speak about the issue in an informed way. However, the above does seem to present a decent case for how to distinguish Heidegger's thought on place from Nazi ideology by situating the former in Heidegger's developed interest in Hölderlin in his post-Nazi period.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

More Online Books

I've recently stumbled on Fark Yaraları = Scars of Différance by way of Continental Philosophy and found a huge assortment of books that will be of interest to anyone interest in Husserl, Heidegger, and Deleuze (among others). As with the previous post, most of these are in RAR format, so try to get your hands on WinRAR to take advantage of this great selection.

Also, Continental Philosophy has a link to a site that has a number of texts on religion, philosophy, and philosophy of religion. The Cambridge Companion series' should be of particular interest.


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Heidegger Reexamined, 4 Vols.

This is probably one of the most important posts on Heidegger I have given to date. Hubert Dreyfus and Mark Wrathall got together and created an anthology of, in their mind, some of the best and most important works on Heidegger's thought. Normally you would have to pay a small fortune (at least on a student's income) to get your hands on this set. I've been searching for online copies for some time and, with one failure, I've finally located them! They are in RAR format, so you need to download WinRAR or another program that unpacks it, but you can get a trial version. So enjoy!!!!

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Merleau-Ponty on the History of Philosophy

I recently acquired Merleau-Ponty's The Incarnate Subject: Malebranche, Biran, and Bergson on the Union of Body and Soul, the notes from a lecture course he gave at Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and the University of Lyons to prepare students for the qualifying exam for the agrégation in philosophy. In it he has an interesting statement on how one does the history of philosophy:
The objectivity of the history of philosophy is only found in the practice of subjectivity. The way of understanding a system is to ask of it the questions with which we ourselves are concerned: it is in this way that systems appear, with their differences, and bear witness whether or not our questions are identical to those which their authors themselves posed.

The history of philosophy is a confrontation, a communication with systems, analogous to that which we are able to have with persons. Even though philosophers may choose, their choice is always accompanied, as if in the margins, by a suspicion of what is overlooked. All consciousness of a thing is, at one and the same time, consciousness of what is not this thing. Each philosophical choice stands out in relief against the background of what was not chosen, and it is in this way that philosophers communicate; it is the residue which maintains the dialogue among persons and, consequently, the history of philosophy.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

My Thesis Prospectus

Part of my absence the last few months has been my initial work on my thesis. After much work with my primary thesis advisor, this is the mostly-finished prospectus:

Embodying Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy of Depression:
A Phenomenological Critique of Aaron Beck

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (hereafter CBT) is one of the dominant therapeutic paradigms in our time. With its focus on cognition, however, CBT virtually ignores the body and its role in human existence. My thesis will be a philosophical critique of CBT through the question of the body’s role in human existence. While it is admitted that CBT is a clinical and not a philosophical discipline, I believe that every method in every discipline is grounded by (sometimes implicit) philosophical theories and that an examination of those theories should be a vital aspect of psychology (Gadamer, 1960/1989; Slife & Williams, 1995). I will focus on Aaron Beck’s CBT model and will use depression as the target psychological phenomenon by which to compare Beck’s model with my phenomenological alternative. My analysis will primarily be informed by Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of embodiment. This thesis is not meant as a refutation of CBT, but an attempt to find those structures of active embodiment that essentially undergird and give meaning to cognition as understood by CBT.

The first section of the thesis, essentially the first chapter, will be my literature review of CBT followed by a brief look at the body’s place within that literature. Aaron Beck’s (1976) cognitive-behavioral therapy combines cognitive psychology’s focus on meaning with behaviorism’s theory of learning (Rupke, Blecke, & Renfrow, 2006). Beck (1976) proposed that “[p]sychological problems…result from commonplace processes such as faulty learning, making incorrect inferences on the basis of inadequate or incorrect information, and not distinguishing adequately between imagination and reality” (p. 20). The behavioral aspect of cognitive-behavioral therapy provides a theory of learning and action. Psychological disorders develop when we habitually pair objects, people, events, and actions to certain values, beliefs, and/or consequences (Farmer & Chapman, 2008). With this understanding, depression is grounded in various beliefs: “I am unworthy,” “I am/life is hopeless,” or the unrealistic and ultimately futile belief that “I must be perfect” (Riso & Newman, 2003). These beliefs are “maladaptive schemas” through which the depressed person interprets the events in their lives, essentially filtering out those things that don’t cohere with the belief and emphasizing those things that do. The goal of the therapist, then, is to help the patient correct their maladaptive schemas through vigilant reflection and evaluation of their beliefs, reality testing, and the development of cognitive skills to similarly evaluate and work past future maladaptive schemas, possibly supplemented by medication (Beck, Emery, & Greenberg, 1985, Chapter 11).

The body is rarely mentioned in works on CBT. Naturally, the body is implied in the very notion of behavior and one can easily find discussions of the brain in relation to the usefulness of medication. Beyond these, the most prevalent use of the body is in reference to the “body image”: “one’s perceptions, attitudes, and experiences related to one’s body, especially his or her physical appearance” (Cash & Hrabosky, 2003, p. 255). The body, then, can be said to have a two-fold significance in CBT: first, it is the physical (what I will call the objective) body; second, it is the body as represented in the mind (what I will call the cognitive body).1

The second part of the thesis will be an extended exposition of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of embodiment. The first chapter will be a discussion of Merleau-Ponty’s notions of “form” in Structure of Behavior (1942/1963) and the figure-ground structure of experience in Phenomenology of Perception (1945/1958). These concepts form the background from which to understand the motile structure of the body. The second chapter will be an analysis of the arguments and evidences given by Merleau-Ponty and others (e.g., Gallagher, 2005) for the “body schema” —“a global, practical, and implicit notion of the relation between our body and things, of our hold on them…[a] system of possible movements, or ‘motor projects’” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962/1964, p. 5)—in contrast to the “body image” of either objectivistic or cognitive models of the body. The final chapter of this section will be an analysis of the temporal structure of embodiment, including the encultered nature of embodied action and experience (Ingold, 2000; Bourdieu, 1980/1990).

The final section will consist of an analysis of depression through Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of embodiment. It will attempt to answer the following questions: how is depression situated within the motile body? What is the relation between the temporal structure of embodiment and the most common symptoms of depression? Why is it important to examine depression by way of the objects that we interact with in an embodied way? How does the above account for the success of cognitive-behavioral therapy? Finally and tentatively, what potential therapeutic techniques can help in developing a therapeutic approach geared to the motile body?

1. Bennett and Hacker (2003) point to a propensity within cognitive science and neuroscience to equate the brain with the whole person. Though pertinent to the issues discussed in this thesis, neural reductionism is not going to be explicitly addressed, though I believe the critique I will give can also apply to this approach.


Beck, A. (1976). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. New York: International Universities Press.

Beck, A., Emery, G., and Greenberg, R. (1985). Anxiety disorders and phobias: A cognitive perspective. New York: Basic Books.

Bennett, M., and Hacker, P. (2003). Philosophical foundations of neuroscience. Oxford: Blackwell.

Bourdieu, P. (1980/1990). The logic of practice (R. Nice, Trans.). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Cash, T., and Hrabosky, J. (2003). The effects of psychoeducation and self-monitoring in a cognitive-behavioral program for body-image improvement. Eating Disorders 11(4), 255-270.

Farmer, R., and Chapman, A. (2008). Behavioral interventions in cognitive behavior therapy: Practical guidance for putting theory into action. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Gadamer, H-G (1960/1989). Truth and method (J. Weinsheimer & D. Marshall, Trans.). New York: Continuum.

Gallagher, S. (2005). How the body shapes the mind. Oxford: Clarendon Press

Ingold, T. (2000). The perception of the environment: Essays in livelihood, dwelling and skill. New York: Routledge.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1942/1963). The structure of behavior (A. Fisher, Trans.). Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945/1958). Phenomenology of perception (C. Smith, Trans.). London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962/1964). An unpublished text (A. Dallery, Trans.). In The primacy of perception (pp. 3-11). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Riso, L., and Newman, C. (2003). Cognitive therapy for chronic depression. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 59(8), 817-831.

Rupke, S., Blecke, D., and Renfrow, M. (2006). Cognitive therapy for depression. American Family Physician, 73(1), 83-86.

Slife, B., and Williams, R. (1995). What’s behind the research: Discovering hidden assumptions in the behavioral sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Malpas on Heidegger's Topology and Later Heidegger

Jeff Malpas provides a critique of Edward Relph's critique of his Heidegger's Topology: Being, Place, World. The last four paragraphs are particularly interesting:
Heidegger’s Topology attempts to provide an account of the way in which place provides a starting point for Heidegger’ s thinking as well as an idea toward which it develops. Indeed, it is only in the very late thinking, from perhaps 1947 onward, that Heidegger’s topology emerges in a fully developed form (although a form that can only be appreciated when viewed in terms of the problems in the earlier thinking to which it is also a response).

If we are to take Heidegger as making a significant contribution to the philosophical analysis of place in the 20th century, then it must be primarily on the basis of the later thinking rather than the earlier. But the later thinking also makes demands on the reader that are much greater than those of the earlier work—demands that follow, in part, from Heidegger’ s own attempts to think topologically—and as a result the later thinking is more prone to being misread and misconstrued.

I had hoped that Heidegger’s Topology would go some way toward correcting this tendency, but if Relph’s comments are taken as an indication, the work would seem to have fallen short of at least one of its objectives. On the other hand, if the sort of topology or topography in which I take Heidegger to have been engaged and to which I take my own work to be a contribution does constitute a different, if not entirely unprecedented, mode of thinking, then perhaps one simply has to accept certain inevitable difficulties in the communication and elucidation of that thinking.

Heidegger’s Topology does not, however, stand alone. Not only does it seem to me to be supported by the work of others in the same field, most notably, by that of Ed Casey, but it should also be read against the background of my other work. In this respect, Heidegger’s Topology is only the second book in what should be a sequence of works that will together, I hope, provide a more fully elaborated account of the philosophical topology that is adumbrated in Heidegger.

I believe the second book is his Place and Experience: A Philosophical Topography. I'll be getting both soon (for my thesis) and look forward to reading his insights.

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A Chance Discussion of Existentialism at a Buffet

Jay Wilkinson, at Twin Cities Daily Planet, talks about dining at Kim Huoy Chor and overhearing a conversation:
Two 45-50 year old guys ate and skipped back and forth in matching books and discussed Heidegger, existentialism and other such things well beyond me. At one point one of them mentions “Schlomo Levin (or some such name) – he was a German Jewish philosopher in the last century.”
This, along with a few chance relationships, ends up uniting a few tables for discussion. Why can't this happen in my town?

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Brains Are Overrated"

The Times UK has an interesting article on a British author I have never heard of, Ramond Tallis. In his younger years, as an "angst-ridden adolescent, preoccupied with suffering, death and a fear of the meaninglessness of life," Tallis got interested in philosophy, including "Plato, Leibniz, Spinoza and his favourite, Heidegger." His latest work, The Kingdom of Infinite Space: A Fantastical Journey Around Your Head sounds rather interesting. Has anyone else heard of him and/or can tell me more about his work? His publications sound interesting and the topics he addresses seem to have a Heideggerian feel about them.

In a 2006 interview, Tallis makes a good Heideggerian claim when, in the paraphrase of the interviewer, he says, "it is the metaphysical dimension that makes us human - brains are not computers, they don't process "information" in the limited and technical sense that computers do, instead they support the existence of a person in a world of meaning and value." He may be someone to look into.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

New Dreyfus Being and Time Lectures

About a week ago Kestrell wrote an entry on new Podcasts available from Berkeley, including Hubert Dreyfus' 2007 lectures on Being and Time. The semester, of course, is still going so I imagine more will be added as time goes on. I've listened to a few of them and they are quite good. Also check out his Existentialism in Literature and Man, God, and Society in Western Literature. Enjoy!

NOTE: new lectures have been put up, so take a look!

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Situated Body (Janus Head)

The latest edition of Janus Head (9/2) is on the situated body with contributions by Shaun Gallagher, Jonathan Cole, and Andy Clark, among others. Some good ideas from various perspectives for those who are interested in the question of the body.

Don't forget to take a look at the book reviews section which includes works like Andy Clark's Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again, Antonio Damasio's The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, and Jaegwon Kim's Mind in a Physical World: An Essay on the Mind-Body Problem and Mental Causation. Also take a look at the available Symposia.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Genes Cannot Debunk Heidegger

An interesting quote from a review of Bill McKibben's Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age:
It might be possible someday, using genetic engineering, to give a child a brain smart enough to understand why Heidegger is wrong, but there is no getting around the fact that he will have to undergo the experience of learning about Heidegger first. There are no genes for Heidegger debunking.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Three Good Dreyfus Works

Recently Hubert Dreyfus published a paper in Philosophical Psychology 20/2 (2007), 247-268, titled "Why Heideggerian AI Failed and How Fixing it Would Require Making it More Heideggerian." It can be found online here. It is an excellent summary of Dreyfus' thinking on this topic that also takes into account more recent work, like Michael Wheeler's Reconstructing the Cognitive World.

Another is an interview for Conversations with History titled Meaning, Relevance, and the Limits of Technology. The text can be found in the previous link and the interview can be found here.

The last is Dreyfus' Presidential Address to the American Philosophical Association, Overcoming the Myth of the Mental: How Philosophers Can Profit from the Phenomenology of Everyday Expertise. This is a good defense of the relevance of phenomenology to modern philosophy. Enjoy!

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Concise Statement of Dasein's Essence

In his first day in Burghölzli Auditorium of the University of Zurich Psychiatric Clinic, Heidegger provided the most concise definition of Dasein than I have yet to find in any of his other works. Dated September 8, 1959, this definition also includes many developments in Heidegger's later work, which makes it all the more fascinating and, I think, useful.
[T]o exist as Da-sein means to hold open a domain through its capacity to receive-perceive the significance of things that are given to it and that address it by virtue of its own "clearing".
Zollikon Seminars, 4/H4.
I will address each part of the quote in turn.

"To hold open a domain": Dasein, as being-in-the-world, is always already holding open a world. The active nature of 'world-opening' was recently accentuated to me by a statement by Merleau-Ponty in The Primacy of Perception: "We must say that at each moment our ideas express not only the truth but also our capacity to attain it [i.e. the idea] at that given moment" (21). To be able to think implies the opening up of a particular world wherein that thought is meaningful and, hence, possible; to be able to speak meaningfully, then, is to remain in (or sustain) an opened domain at the time one is thus thinking. We see the tight relation between ideas and the opened world in various phenomena: when someone says something in one domain that we are not presently open to, what they say is alien, enigmatic, or perhaps humorous when situated within our current domain. So it is a matter of remaining within an open domain and, indeed, having a grasp of when particular domains are relevant and/or appropriate for our context. Either way, to be Da-sein is to actively "hold open a domain."

"Through its capacity to receive-perceive": as the being that is in-the-world and that dwells in its openness (Offenheit), Da-sein has a capacity to "receive-perceive" (Vernehmen-können) things. Heidegger uses this term to differentiate it from the psychological approach of "seeing [things] in a sensory fashion with the eyes" (ZS, 35/H44). In relation to perception, Heidegger has been quite clear: first and foremost we see beings, things, not bare sensations. The dominant psychological theory of perception requires a distinction between sensation, understood as bare sensory stimulation, and perception, understood as the cognitive ordering of sensations into meaningful objects. Whatever may be said of the physics and physiology behind this understanding of perception, it is not primarily where human beings dwell and insofar as psychology is the study of human beings it must be grounded in an understanding of the human mode of being if it is to be relevant.

The capacity to "receive" speaks of the relation between Da-sein as the opening and beings as that which comes into the open. The metaphor of the open can be easily misunderstood: Da-sein's openness is not merely present-at-hand such that it passively sits and waits for things to be deposited in it, like an empty box that we use to store things. Rather, Da-sein's openness, as constituted by practices, attunements, and a totality of inter-involved beings, is more like a filter that polarizes the world such that beings that are relevant to my current projects may appear if present.

While the opening is not a present-at-hand thing, similarly it is not a subjectivistic attribution of value and meaning onto a meaningless objective thing. As Heidegger states in the "Letter on Humanism," man does not unilaterally decide how beings appear, but it is always a question of man creating and sustaining an opening appropriate to the kind of beings that man is concerned with (paraphrase; Basic Writings, 234). This "receiving" is particularly important in relation to the "given to it" in the original quote, to be addressed below.

"To receive-perceive the significance of things": as early as Being and Time, Heidegger claims that we first see the significance of things for our projects, according to our world, not the thing itself with its present-at-hand properties. We are ecstatically open to beings because we care about things, thus they can appear in a significant and meaningful way (in the least as either relevant or irrelevant for our concerns). For a being who literally "does not care," things would not appear as things. This would be the highest expression of the so-called "objective" viewpoint where, at best, one would see bare sense data if one would not simply be catatonic and thus not 'see' anything at all. But Da-sein does not exist in such a state; even in the case of depression, where all beings and events get reduced to the same meaningless level, our mode of being-in-the-world is a deficient mode of concern, not the absence of concern. That we first and foremost see significances, rather than bare sense data that must be constructed into meaningful things, is one of Heidegger's great insights.

"Things that are given to it": things are "given" to Da-sein. As in "Letter on Humanism," man does not force beings to appear, does not bring them to presence by mere force of will; they are gifts. Being is that which gives, es gibt (it gives). Man creates and sustains the opening by way of his cares and concerns, thus giving a space for being to enter in; being gives that which man can bring to presence given his concerns, yet essentially exceeds that presence. This is the clearing where the event of appropriation (Ereignis) occurs: man's opening and being's giving, both of which are co-necessary. Technology is a danger because it forgets this receiving/giving, uncovering/covering, but sees things as merely present resources that are only available as resources. The same may be said for every appropriation: when our concern is appropriately interacting with beings, the way in which beings come to presence (as the dynamic relation between presence/absence) will be covered over and necessarily so. When our concern is getting about in the world, the mode of presencing cannot be of concern; the latter is necessarily reflective in nature and must be its own matter of concern. Philosophy, as fundamental ontology, brings Ereignis to remembrance.

"And that address it": in the realm of technology "man [is] the master of being" ("The Turning," in Question Concerning Technology, 39). Being is the mere presence of endlessly interchangeable materials that are understood through man's calculating concerns, that exist solely for those concerns. In this view, beings cannot "address" Da-sein since beings are merely present as materials. When Da-sein properly dwells, however, beings address man as this particular being in this particular context with this particular use. Mark Wrathall put it well:

Rather than increasing the universal and uniform availability of everything, we need instead to learn how to let things be things rather than resources, and develop practices attuned to the things that are peculiar to our local world with their own particular earth, sky, mortal practices and divinities.
How to Read Heidegger, 111.
Beings must condition us in their particularity rather than us merely conditioning them as resources for our own concerns. We should let them address us as much as we address them.

"By virtue of its own 'clearing'": I have yet to discover if Heidegger is using "opening" and "clearing" as synonyms, but this part of the quote re-emphasizes the human aspect of being-in-the-world. Heidegger often uses the word Geschick in reference to man's clearing. The common translation is "fate" or "destiny" (see above reference to "Letter on Humanism"), but it can also mean "skill," "aptitude," or "aptness." Man's clearing sets the stage wherein beings can appear as meaningful; it, in a sense, sets up in advance (makes fateful) the possibility of beings appearing within a particular world. But this is also skillful insofar as our worlds are constituted by practices of which we must gain aptitude, whether at an everyday level or as masters. Similarly, these practices must be enacted appropriately; they must be properly geared to our current context such that we are not enacting, say, a world of competition when we should be enacting a world of care or love. Beings, if they do appear, appear by virtue of man's clearing a space for them to appear (and by virtue of being's gift of being).

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Lived Embodiment and Addiction

I just jumped on to Media Fire, the free file-sharing site that Continental Philosophy tends to use. About three months ago I mentioned the acceptance of one of my papers for the ISTP Conference in Toronto. I've just uploaded that paper, titled Lived Embodiment and Addiction, and would welcome comments, criticisms, etc. Here's the abstract again:
A common assumption in much of psychology is that the body is best (if not solely) understood as a physically deterministic entity, even when the existence of a mind/psyche is granted. Here I wish to explore an alternative conception of the body—that of lived embodiment—and make a modest proposal on its ramifications for how we understand addiction. I begin by discussing some of the important assumptions of the physicalistic model, namely linear temporality, causal determinism, and the notion of "habit" implied in those assumptions. Next, I will discuss an alternative conception of embodiment, drawn particularly from Maurice Merleau-Ponty and supplemented by the phenomenology of Martin Heidegger. The lived body, as found in our everyday movement in the world, exhibits a non-linear temporal horizon through which the world is habitable. I do not act from the temporally punctualized t1 to t2, but I act 'during the lecture,' 'as I cook,' or 'during the conference'; the temporal horizon is spanned. Similarly, it does not follow the if-then logic of causal determinism or rationality, but is based on "motivation"—rather than if I do this, then that will be the result, bodily motility is structured as if I am to do this, then I need to or must do that. For the body to act in a motivated way means its being "geared" towards the world according to specific intentions and, thus, it acts meaningfully. Lastly, "habit," rather than being a learned response to stimuli, is a "style" of being in the world, a particular way of dealing with various contexts. With the above in mind, I propose that the embodied aspect of addiction cannot be fully understood in causal terms, but must include the body’s circumstantial grasp of the world, motivation-based actions, and stylistic modes of being in the world.

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Dukkha is Not Merely Suffering

Recently Douglas Groothuis, on his blog The Constructive Curmudgeon, offered to email the outlines of his recent sermons on Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam to anyone interested. As I have something of a vested interest in and am personally fascinated by Buddhism, I want to address a number of issues that I see in his outline (while I wait for the mp3 of the sermons themselves to become available). So, for those who have been interested in my thoughts on Buddhism, here's a start. I promise to intersperse these posts with phenomenological commentaries on various Buddhist concepts.

In order to properly grasp Buddhism one must understand its basic terms. This can be difficult as Buddhism teaches and close study reveals that every basic concept implies the others. This makes a brief account of Buddhism difficult as to talk about, say, suffering is to talk about the Five Aggregates which is to talk about the Twelve Links of Interdependent Coarising, both of which include the Path of liberation from suffering. But as we must all start somewhere, I will begin with the First Noble Truth, often quoted as "Life is suffering." While a common translation, this is also slightly misguided, as practically all 'common' understandings are. The Pali term dukkha can be translated as suffering, in the sense of pain, but it also extends beyond mere negatives. In fact, dukkha contains or, perhaps, enables joy and pleasure, but also neutrality, those experiences that are neither "good" nor "bad." Hence, if the common understanding were to merely be added on in order to make it more accurate, we would say, "Life is pain, pleasure, and neutrality." But even this is inadequate. A better translation would be "impermanence," "transitoriness," or "insubstantiality." Hence, "Life is transitory and impermanent."

Walpola Rahula (a Buddhist monk in the Theraveda/Hinayana tradition), in his work What the Buddha Taught, differentiates between three forms of dukkha: (1) as ordinary suffering, (2) as produced by change, and (3) as conditioned states. The first two, dukkha as suffering and as produced by change, constitute the common understanding. They consist of "birth, old age, sickness, death, association with unpleasant persons and conditions, separation from beloved ones and pleasant conditions, not getting what one desires, grief, lamentation, distress" (Ibid, 19). Left on its own, the first two meanings of dukkha can give the impression that Buddhism is inherently pessimistic, which is why the overarching, in my mind central, third meaning must be understood. But, as stated in the second paragraph above, this will require a foray into other concepts.

To be continued...


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Monday, July 09, 2007

Student Paper Award!

I was just informed that my paper, "The Ethical-Ontological Foundations of Modernity" (see the abstract here), was accepted for APA Division 24's Student Paper Award. You can find the Convention program for Division 24 here; I'm in the first paper session titled "New Work by Students." I'm quite excited! It's always nice to be recognized.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Essential Belonging Together of Man and Being

My paper for the International Conference on Persons, titled The Essential Belonging Together of Man and Being, is now available at the Conference webpage. It is a very brief historical look at Heidegger's understanding of being, starting from Being and Time and moving into his later work, with applications to how we understand personhood. Though generally inadequate, as such a short paper must be, I do think it turned out to be a decent paper and it could be seen as a very concise introduction to Heidegger's thought and its development. As always, thoughts, comments, and/or constructive criticisms are welcome.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Siris on Clarity

Siris has an interesting post on clarity. Following from Nigel Warburton's claim that "[c]larity is expressing yourself in a way that allows readers to follow what you are saying," Siris raises the important question: who are the readers? Can I take any clear account in analytic philosophy, walk the streets, give it to any randomly chosen passerby, and expect them to say, "Yeah, this is clear; I know exactly what they are saying!" No, since understanding and seeingly clear what another is saying depends on the background familiarity of the reader.

Ricoeur talks about this in terms of mimesis3: "the intersection of the world of the text and the world of the hearer or reader; the intersection, therefore, of the world configured by the poem and the world wherein real action occurs and unfolds" (71). It is the point where the understanding of the reader, including the kinds of texts, disciplines, and ways of thinking that they are familiar with, comes to bear on the text and influences how it is seen. This is seen particularly in literature, but also in the sciences: a proponent of string theory will approach a text on quantum physics quite differently from one that follows a Copenhagen-type approach; a philosopher of science and scientific history will read the same text in a different way, as different aspects of the text will be more salient than others.

Siris brings up the question of taste, which I think is relevant. Gadamer, in Truth and Method, gives a similar account (also relying on the Scottish philosophy): "The concept of taste undoubtedly implies a mode of knowing. The mark of good taste is being able to stand back from ourselves and our private preferences. Thus taste, in its essential nature, is not private but a social phenomenon of the first order" (36). Gadamer then goes on to recount how taste became a "subjective" thing, particularly through Kant. The essential tie to both ethics, epistemology, and, Heidegger and Gadamer both argue, ontology is lost in the wake of modernity's subjectivism and individualism.

Many readers decry Heidegger's enigmatic writing style, stumbling over neologisms and such. But once you really dwell with his writings and get a feel (or a sense) for both what he is saying and, perhaps more particularly, how he is saying it, then it is much clearer (though still not easy). The same must be true of analytical texts: it takes time, it takes developing (literally) the skills to see what the author is saying so that, even if the sentence structure is not spot on, you can still understand what they are saying. Then, when asked to demonstrate that we are reading correctly (that we really have this sense of the text), we will eventually be pushed to (a variation on) Wittgenstein's claim: "This is simply what I [sense]."

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Another Misunderstanding of Heidegger

In a piece for The Conservative Voice, writer Albert Brenner attempts to expose the myth of the Noble Savage. In the course of doing so, he quotes and comments on Peter Winch in the following:
Be that as it may; following from Martin Heidegger’s notion that ‘language is the house of being’, Winch comes to the following conclusion; “Reality is not what gives language sense. What is real and what is unreal shows itself in the sense language has”. Brutally summarized; what Winch is saying1 is that the respective discourses (i.e. language games) of disparate societies are what give sense to their approximation of what constitutes reality, in their disparate ‘realities’.
To put it bluntly, this is not "following...Heidegger"! Language is that which brings beings to light in their being, not some mere language game2 that follows the whims of society. The quote comes from Heidegger's "Letter on Humanism" that, strangely enough, argues against this kind of an interpretation. He speaks of the "dominance of the modern metaphysics of subjectivity" that would submit language to the "mere willing and trafficking as an instrument of domination over beings" (Basic Writings, 222-223). While he then immediately applies this to the technological understanding of beings—as mere resources for human consumption—it applies equally well to Winch's subjectivist interpretation. "Before he speaks man must first let himself be claimed again by being" (223). Perhaps the most apt response would be the following quote:
Man does not decide whether and how beings appear, whether and how God and the gods or history and nature come forward into the clearing of being, come to presence and depart. The advent of being lies in the destiny [Geschick: suitability, capacity, or enabling {see 220}] of being. But for man it is ever a question of finding what is fitting in his essence that corresponds to such destiny [Geschick]; for in accord with this destiny man as ek-sisting [as essentially open to beings] has to guard the truth of being. Man is the shepherd of being. (234)
Man is not the dictator of being, either as the being that absolutely determines the real (as in Winch's interpretation, or Brenner's misinterpretation of Winch) or the domineering technological man. He is the shepherd, the one who must preserve and watch over being (see "Building Dwelling Thinking," in Poetry, Language, Thought, 143-159).


  1. It is unclear on whether this is actually what Winch is saying or whether it is simply another bad attempt of the media to understand what an academic is saying. In any case, Brenner is wrong in thinking that what he says follows from Heidegger.
  2. Though I am not familiar with Wittgenstein's work, I do not think this would be an accurate understanding of what he is trying to say either.


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