I stumbled across this Huffington Post article on Brian Leiter’s blog, again… I would agree both of these cultural figures unintentionally exhibit cultural dilemmas … But, wow,  Rebecca Black (aka, in this article, the proficient “Ms. Black“) is “illustrating”, “articulating” and even “observing ” the crises of western man. And Charlie Sheen is transcending his nihilistic age. This “model” does nothing more than reveal the stress of our economic crisis, rather than addressing a genuine philosophical “dilemma” – when philosophers overtly take desperate and demoralizing measures to can their ideas and sell them to consumers. For me, this analysis has stooped beyond a 3rd rate sociological experiment . It’s propping up blatant insincere pop culture as an intelligent articulation of a philosophical dilemma, in desperation for a good sales pitch. This is an insult to my studies. (My comment is the same on the Huffington Post).

 

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After reading Brian Leiter’s lambasting of Simon Critchley’s new promotion in New York, I figured I would do a little re-reading of Critchley to see if his writing was all that torturously awful – turns out, Chritchley’s the guy I remembered: simple, direct, and enjoyable to read.  It seems to me he deserves the attention and respect most of the philosophical world likewise gives to Leiter.  Am I missing something here?

An excerpt from Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time entitled “Phenomenological Method of Investigation” [1] illuminates the significance of the notion of “possibility” intrinsic to the task of descriptive phenomenology.  This is what I want to focus on here.  This will involve a focus on Heidegger’s notion of horizons as a way of descriptively contextualizing “appearances” and the possibility of the phenomena they grant access.  This specific character of description is important for understanding the formative influence of Heidegger’s “phenomenological hermeneutics” on Gadamer’s hermeneutics applied in the human sciences in Truth and Method.

Building upon the legacy of Edmund Husserl’s emphasis on intentionality, Heidegger sought a way for the phenomenological student to dispose herself toward truth as revelatory (alētheia).  Husserl not only inaugurated the project of phenomenology as a science of intentionality; he re-introduced an attitude toward philosophy, in general, as a descriptive task of opening up the possibilities for phenomena to manifest themselves as intelligible and meaningful conscious experiences.  “Intentionality” was emphasized as the primary model of this conscious experience[2].  Description’s thematic investigation of this model was fundamental to analyzing the phenomena that revealed itself within this intentional conscious experience.  After his Logical Investigations, Husserl’s later work was concerned with reducing the subjective relation of consciousness and objects to its formal components by isolating this conscious experience and “bracketing” off all other epistemological and scientific presuppositions.  This was the chief significance of his eidetic reduction (from “eidos”)[3]  Heidegger, however, criticized a particular flaw in the way Husserl investigated this experience.  This flaw was identified in Husserl’s failure to account for the historicity fundamental to any descriptive project about the possibilities of experience. 

 One of Heidegger’s many contributions to phenomenology seems evident in his ability to account for the finite reality of any science.  His appropriation of logos (traditionally derived from the Greek word “λόγος”) situates and embodies scientific disciplines primordially within human discourse.  This discourse finds its mode of manifestation in time.

 Heidegger’s notion of eidos was quite different than the way Husserl understood it.  Heidegger’s conception of “formal causality” in his essay, “The Question Concerning Technology”[4] is important to note.  This is where Heidegger famously gives a rather unique interpretation of eidos.  Although Heidegger does not explicitly respond to Husserl in this way, the aforementioned essay is important for understanding the ideas Heidegger might have had in mind when criticizing Husserl’s transcendentalism.  Instead of traditionally reading Aristotle’s four causes as that which “produce” something, Heidegger argues the four causes should be understood as “ways of being responsible for something” (314).  He goes on to argue that the eidos of an object is the aspect in which it presents itself by its appearance.  Yet, as we cannot understand the four causes apart from each other, we cannot understand eidos apart from telos (traditionally understood as “final causality”).  In relating telos to circumscription, he then says, “Circumscribing gives bounds to the thing.”  Yet, “with the bounds the thing does not stop” [italics added] (315).  It is even more important to note that this way of bringing something forth (“presencing”) is not excluded to “manufacturing” or “craft.”  It is integral to the way we approach any and every object of inquiry through our discourse about it (315, 317).  The importance of arguing that “the thing does not stop” was to account for the fluid character of all objects within our perceptual field.  This fluidity is characterized by the temporality of the way in which objects present themselves to finite consciousness.

 One might say that the four causes (i.e. efficient, material, formal, and final) are hermeneutic lenses.  Instead of simply “producing something,” they are anthropomorphic tools for humans to investigate objects intelligibly and meaningfully.  They allow us to responsibly investigate the meaning of our objective concerns by relating objects to us.  If we are consistent with his principle of formal causality here, it seems that the “form” of perception would not be a model that, as he put it, “dropped down from heaven” (314).  Eidetic form does not have a timeless or transcendental structure in this way, not even the eidetic form of consciousness.  Rather, eidos denotes the way we hermeneutically investigate our experience in the world, and it cannot be torn from the way we circumscribe it by its relation to perceived ends.  Yet, our understanding of perception is not and cannot be complete.  This does not mean that we cannot understand anything about it, however.  It simply re-situates the stance of the scientist as a finite observer.  Thus, the scientist does not stand over objects with any sort of privileged access to truth about them, as if she was capable of making a transcendental judgment about her investigation.  All understanding is in a “hermeneutic circle.”  It is, simply, one of the ways of Being-in-the-world.  No one is capable of stepping outside of it, as no one is capable of stepping outside of language.  There is no dualism between transcendental understanding and finite “facts”, as we seem to find in Husserl’s philosophy.  All understanding finds its final circumscription in language, which is continuously unfolding new appearances and phenomena.  This seems to be the germ of Gadamer’s statement in Truth and Method that “we are a conversation.”

The significance of Heidegger’s turn is that he acknowledged the need for an ontological (ontos in relation to “being”) basis for conscious experience.  Heidegger argued that Being was the most self-evident and universal concept[5] to reference beginning points in philosophical and phenomenological investigations.  Thus, unlike Husserl, one could not “isolate” consciousness as some sort of transcendental subjectivity that had epistemic priority over its world.  Conscious experience was already “ontically”[6] engaged in and informed by the life-world.  What Husserl should have recognized from his own theory of intentionality (i.e. consciousness as always about something) was that consciousness only understands itself as consciousness by its perceptual engagement in the life-world.  This was the significance of Heidegger’s concept of Being-in-the-world, often translated as Dasein.  The life-world had an ontic priority, as that which pulled conscious experience into its “horizonal” setting at the very birth of “consciousness”.  As Heidegger put it, we already find ourselves “hurled” onto our horizons.  We have no transcendental free choice in the matter.  Thus, what should concern us is an ontological and, consequently, hermeneutic investigation of what has already ontically engaged us and informed us.

The contextualizing framework of this sequence is presented in Heidegger’s notion of “horizons.”  He argues that an “original explication of time” can serve as “the horizon of the understanding of Being”[7].  Horizons provide a model for objects to become intelligible and meaningful through a historical and hermeneutic process of description and interpretation.  As the descriptive process manifests relations among and between beings – relations being an essential structure of beings – it lets phenomena disclose beings in their Being.  Horizons hermeneutically condition the possibility of seeing in this way.  Identifying these horizons through explication prepares the seer’s framework for the possible showing of phenomena.  Thus, an analysis of conscious experience can finally proceed. 


[1] The Phenomenology Reader. Ed. Dermot Moran and Timothy Mooney (London: Routledge, 2002), pg. 278-287. Hereafter, “PR.”

[2] PR, pg. 78-108.

[3] Introduction to Phenomenology.  Ed. Dermot Moran (London: Routledge, 2000).  Hereafter, “IP.”

 

[4] Heidegger, Martin.  Basic Writings, ed.  Krell, David Farrell (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1993, pg. 311-341.

[5] Basic Writings, pg., 42-44.

[6] As David Krell has noted, it is not easy to distinguish between “ontic” and “ontological” in Heidegger’s philosophy.  However, one can say that ontic “refers to any way of dealing with beings that does not raise the ontological question.”  Hence, when one speaks of “ontic” one is talking about the way we most often are primordially engaged with other beings.   “Ontological” entails an investigation of this engagement.  See Krell’s footnote in Basic Writings, pg. 53.

[7] Basic Writings, pp. 60.

“Philosophizing does not begin at some zero point but must think and speak with the language we already possess” [1]

                In an Introduction to Phenomenology[2], Dermot Moran presents Hans-Georg Gadamer’s struggle with the fundamentally historical character of understanding throughout his life’s work.  His elucidations of “historicity” and Martin Heidegger’s concept of Dasein (roughly, “Being-in-the-world”) were originally intended to carry on the legacy of Heidegger’s own responses to Neo-Kantianism and idealistic forms of Husserlian phenomenology captivating the German intellectual and academic spheres in the late 19th and early 20th century.  The history of phenomenology, officially initiated by Edmund Husserl in the 19th century, has taken many turns.   Perhaps the most significant of those turns has been Heidegger and Gadamer’s application of hermeneutics to the human sciences, and philosophy at large.  I now wish to investigate a particular branch of that hermeneutic turn. 

                The above quote presents a response to a-historical pretenses in many philosophical disciplines.  I will characterize this excerpt as a presentation of understanding as an historical event in which the learner, as a participant within one’s culture and tradition, must realize an already existent conversation with their past and possible future.   More specifically, I want to reflect on the way Gadamer identifies this event as a “hermeneutic phenomenon”, and how its “structure” is dissected into the “logic of question and answer”[3].

                The challenging premise many Neo-Kantians and Husserlians presented to academia during Gadamer’s younger years was the argument for knowledge as an a-historical possibility.  Carrying on Husserl’s legacy, many of these thinkers sought to carry on the project of establishing philosophy as a “rigorous science”, a science with, ostensibly, the same “timeless” quality of the hard sciences.  One of the deadliest presuppositions motivating this project was an ignorance of logic’s fundamentally dialogical conditions. 

                For Gadamer, dialogue derives its significance from reasoning’s function as interpretive, and interpretation is characterized by “why” questions.  When one considers reason as a condition for truthful statements, one introduces statements as an answer.  E.g., the statement “all dogs bark”, as a logical conclusion, involves a justification, but, as a justification, it is an explanation of why something is the case.  The question of “why” something is the case (illuminating the historical “facticity” of our language) gives insight into how understanding ever embarks on logical enterprises in the first place.  Humans are fundamentally seeking answers when they seek understanding.   Yet, an answer cannot be understood as an answer without a question that conditioned it.  Hence, understanding the question is always necessary for understanding the statement, which is, fundamentally, an answer.   This is the importance of understanding an intellectual problem as a question and, since it is a question that we take as addressed to us (in attempting to answer it), we recognize the question as our question.  It is also important to note that to understand one’s questions is to understand the historic and cultural circumstances that contextualize and make them meaningful.

                Language shares the same structure of “question and answer” with understanding.  Understanding is historically conditioned by the meaning of questions, realized in the medium of language that is inherited by the human subject.  This is what he means when he argues that we are situated within a “horizon”.  We are, essentially, hurled onto this horizon.  I.e., we are hurled into a net of problematics addressed to us as questions.  As linguistic beings, it is in our nature to participate in the game of life’s questions and possible answers and, consequently, one’s culture, to understand those questions and answers.  Our attempt to understand is to enter into the conversation that is fundamental to the relational significance of our humanity.

The Relationship Between “Seeing” and Questioning

                For Gadamer, Understanding (Verstehen) had to be realized as a meaningful human experience which was schematized by the visual model of “seeing”.   In this context, Gadamer’s presentation of “seeing” cannot be overstated.  Where Husserl and many other phenomenologists (maybe even later Heidegger) seemed to run with the transcendental element of seeing, Gadamer emphasized the historical conditions for seeing to occur.  Gadamer rightly argued that once seeing is brought into the investigation of understanding, as a model and structure for the identity of understanding, one must account for the human subject, historically situated, as a necessary precondition for this event.  One does not realize “seeing” in a meaningful way unless one can account for this humanistic element (i.e. the human as subject to historical and social circumstance) that makes seeing particularly revelatory.

                Seeing never occurs outside of a “horizon” and historical situation, which set the scene for the viewer.  In this way, the viewer participates in the process of understanding by being a necessary addressee of one’s culture and inherited language.  By actively understanding, one is engaging the questions of human existence, and to “understand the questionableness of something is already to be questioning[4].  A meaningful answer is not “logically posited” ex nihilo.  To understand an answer is to understand the “questionableness” of the answer.   One might also argue that the answer one gives to a question is still subject to further interpretive questions that it introduces.   One might ask, “If all dogs bark, then what is a bark?”  Hence, to understand the “questionableness” of an answer is to understand the ways it has been, is, and can be interpreted.  The moment one might realize that “all dogs bark” is true one does not simply realize a proposition or a dogma with its own independent self-positing existence.  One realizes this as true because it is a response, more particularly, their response to a question addressed to them.  This is what it means to understand the questionability of something. 

                 If understanding is seeing, and understanding is to realize a question, then to question is to see.  To understand is not to realize an abstraction.  Understanding is to see one’s horizon, i.e. one’s questions, in which the true object is presented to them.  Seeing this horizon is to realize the interpersonal mind (recall the conversational element of question and answer) in a continuous dialectic. 


[1] Gadamer, Hans-Georg.  Philosophical Apprenticeships.  Trans. Robert R. Sullivan.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990.

[2] Moran, Dermot.  Introduction to Phenomenology.  New York, NY: Routledge, 2000. 

[3] Gadamer, Hans-Georg.  Truth and Method.  Trans. revised by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall.  New York, NY: Continuum Publishing Group, 2004. 

[4] Gadamer, Truth and Method, 368.

The content of this blog will contain a rather heavy amount of descriptive and hermeneutic focuses in psychology, language, culture, religion, and, more generally, the human sciences.  Without intending to exclude any one voice, its context presupposes a readership already engaged in, or familiar with, modern and Continental philosophy (some Analytic).  I have no general intent on throwing a pitch to entice one’s interest in the subject matter, and I would largely be incapable of throwing one.  Nevertheless, the blood of the salesman still runs in my veins, and sometimes the relevance of the matters treated here will need to be sold to first be understood.

I am, at best, a novice on the material I will write about, and that is why this blog is a personal project of public experimentation.  I am currently an MA student at the University of Dallas, and my concerns are often influenced by the faculty here.  Some posts will entail journal entries, and others will entail work from more formal essays.

My current focuses are becoming more densely centered on thinkers like Hans-Georg Gadamer, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hans Blumenberg, and Martin Heidegger.  The way “question and answer” underpins the dialectical nature of assertions in language has been a relevant project of investigation for all four thinkers, and such is a current concern of my own. 

I am currently concerned with the way language integrates one into an exploration, but this exploration often appears to negate itself as an exploration.  That is, language demands intelligible affirmations and assertions that give the appearance of lopping off any further need for questions.  One is always tempted to say, in some exclusive way, where one is at or who one is, but such answers always beg a further interpretation.  And the interpretation always involves another question (e.g., what does one mean when they say they are a “creature”, or “there is no God”). 

The intelligibility of an affirmation demands a consideration of context whenever one affirms anything.  Context is sometimes determined by one’s environmental circumstances, the intention of the statement, or the person intended to hear it (or a variety of other intentions).  For Gadamer and Blumenberg, especially, questions and answers presuppose prior affirmations, and the quality of an affirmation always comes in the form of some decisive act (e.g., an assent, consent, or agreement).  This act is always intentional.  The nature of these intentional acts (e.g., where or to whom they are directed) is a task I will be concerned with in the next several posts.  

What seems to be developing is a way in which language seeks to create a meaningful or hermeneutical space for investigation and then seeks further to eliminate that space.  If we are attempting to get outside of spatial dimensions for any sort of concrete ideal, the dialectical movement of language seems to be the best way to go.  Wittgenstein’s interesting take is that philosophers introduce a new problematic through language and then seek to eliminate that problematic through further “clarifications” in language (Philosophical Investigations).  Unfortunately, this seems to bring us to some hopeless circularity.  And maybe that is when one must leave behind philosophical reflection.

Heidegger seeks a way in which language draws us into its self-clarifying movement (its own life force, so to speak).  Language disposes us toward a life of perpetually negating and positing meaning.  The space language creates always illuminates its own limits.  In realizing its limits, we have an implicit recognition of what language is limiting us from and this recognition is really an intention not yet fulfilled.  In this way, language is like Scheler’s non-spatial act.  Language should not bring us to a state of propositional rest (where we can spatially situate ourselves somewhere) but it should pull us into its own dialectical life of actualizing both limitations and new possibilities of realization.  In this way, the modality of language is not to bring us to a place  or state but to move us in a persistent mode of self-asserting act.

The above consideration hopefully sets some identifiable tone for my concerns (for now, anyway).

Happy reading.