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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