Topics are arranged alphabetically in the INDEX.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Challenge of Heidegger's Terms

Alice C. Linsley

In our study of ontology, we have investigated Martin Heidegger's early thought and attempted to understand his contribution to the philosophical project. As with all contributions to the philosophical project, he builds on the work of others, especially Aristotle and Husserl, and he reacts against the work other philosophers, namely Descartes. Heidegger's replacement for terms such as subject, object, consciousness, and world is "Being-in-the-world", a term he created to avoid the subject-object (mind-body; extended-not extended) discourse that had dominated Western philosophy. He also exposed the weaknesses in Husserl's approach to consciousness.

Heidegger's Being and Time (Sein und zeit) is one of the most important philosophical works of the twentieth century. It is both a systematization of the existential insights of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and a radicalization of Husserl's phenomenological account of intentionality. It is an original interpretation of the human condition expressed through Heidegger's unique use of terms. Because of the challenging vocabulary, Being and Time is one of the most difficult books to read. The fact that we are reading an English translation of a work written originally in German adds to the challenge.

Being and Time represents Heidegger's attempt at Destruktion of the Cartesian tradition that he believed was "ossified" - a rigid fossil. Or perhaps the Cartesian tradition is a stagnant pond covered with a film of algae so that everything important is hidden. That is how I would express Heidegger's concern, but by using this analogy, I run the risk of reimposing the very subject-object discourse that Heidegger sought to get beyond. I (subject) observe the pond scum (object). We can move away from this a few steps by speaking instead of Dasein's consciousness of water concealed by something. My awareness of the water is not based on my observation of the water, but on my prior experience that a pond holds water and algae grows on the surface of the water. There is something prior, as Heidegger notes in his understanding of being-in-the world. He has oriented ontology to Dasein rather than to objects. However, one must wonder how far we can move from the subject-object/mind-body discourse. (We do keep coming back to this binary feature, to merisms. In telling the story of ontology, we cannot escape it. Think Mobius strip: two edges, a single, indivisible unit.)

As we wrap up our study of Heidegger, it is helpful to review some of the neologisms that appear in Being and Time to see how Heidegger employs them.

Aletheia: Heidegger's German word for aletheia (truth) is Unverborgenheit, meaning unconcealment.

Attunement: Mood, neither knowledge nor contemplation. It is like background music that compels us to act according to the beat. Mood is the background of discourse in which we are already engaged and are expressing in our situation. Attunement arises from being-in-the-world. A mood manifests how one is and how one is faring; having a mood signals attachment (concern/care) to Dasein. Mood is why "being there" matters.

Being-in-the world: the basic and inescapable state of Dasein

Dasein: Human existence; "being there" in the sense of daily existence; being with
When a particular Dasein talks about its Being, it is as the self-evident "my Being". Dasein has two modes: authentic and inauthentic. Inauthenticity is expressed when Dasein flees in the face of its Being, its search for one's possibilities of Being; that is of not facing up to and acknowledging the meaning of one's existence. Authenticity requires facing the reality of our extinction/negation and coming to grips with the anxiety posed by our mortality.

Discourse: The articulation of the situation in which we currently find ourselves. The manifestation of our everyday existence. Called "uncovering" by Aristotle. Discourse in not simply articulation of Dasein's situation. It is also being-in-the world.

Clearing:  Heidegger uses the German word Lichtung, which relates to a clearing, as in a clearing in the woods. Since its root is the German word for light (Licht), it is sometimes also translated as "lighting," and refers to the necessity of a clearing in which anything at all can appear, the clearing in which some thing or idea can show itself, or be unconcealed. Hubert Dreyfus writes, "things show up in the light of our understanding of being." ( Being-in-the-World. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995. p. 163)

In the Eucharist, when the consecrated bread is broken in half and the two sides set apart, there is a clearing made for those who come to receive Christ.

Covering up: hiddenness, concealedness, disguise, buried

Ontic:  Heidegger often uses the term ontic in contrast to the term ontological. Ontological pertains to existence in general, whereas ontic is descriptive of a the plain facts of an entity's existence. What is ontic is what makes something what it is.

Present-to-hand:  There are three kinds of presence-at-hand:
  1. Entities within the world understood ontically 
  2. Dasein as Being-in a situation or a context 
  3. Understanding of Dasein which a particular Dasein already has. Dasein is always something "pre-ontological" in that it signifies being in such as way that one already has an understanding of Being.
Ready-to-hand:  Dasein's use of equipment, like a hammer, and our discovery or (uncovering) of the hammer's equipmentality. An object in the world with which we have meaningful dealings.

Towards-which: What our activity is directed toward, the goal of an action; for the sake of

Unheimlich : not being at home, unsettledness, existential groundlessness

Related reading: Glossary of Terms in Heidegger's Being and Time; Heidegger's Later Thought; George Pattison on Martin Heidegger; Merisms in Genesis; Heidegger and Aristotle; Heidegger in Plain English by Joshua Broggi

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Blind Science vs. Blind Faith: Some Thoughts on Breaking the Deadlock

Dallas Willard

Students in our colleges and universities live constantly in a tension between two authority systems: one more or less vaguely associated with science and the other with religion. Both systems are “blind” in the sense that the edicts they impose on thought and behavior are never, for the vast majority of people, reduced to anything close to understanding, verification, or proof. An illustration comes from a recent experience reported by one of my students.

Dallas Willard
This student was walking across campus with a professor whose field is religious studies. In their conversation, the student happened to mention the resurrection of Christ. The professor's response: The resurrection is inconsistent with the laws of physics. Now, in fact, the laws of physics lie at a considerable conceptual distance from phenomena such as human death and decay and their possible reversal. This particular professor in any case, would have little if any idea where to begin showing that resurrection conflicts with physics—or why it matters, if it does conflict. Indeed, who would? Very few, I would imagine. "Science" was vaguely invoked to end the discussion, just as in other contexts, "religion" is used for the same purpose.

But then the professor probably will never be confronted with the task of actually demonstrating how the resurrection is inconsistent with the laws of physics. The student in question, an extremely bright as well as devout young man, was too gracious (and perhaps stunned) to force the issue; and certainly he would have found it difficult to show that the resurrection and physics are not inconsistent or why it doesn't matter if they are.

It is painful to observe that our culture provides no friendly meeting place for the authorities of science and religion to engage in good‑faith efforts to understand the truth about our life and our world. How many people seek or find the preparation required to deal profitably with issues such as resurrection and the laws of physics? To be genuinely open to truth and able to seek it effectively is surely one of the greatest human attainments. I am convinced that it can come only as a gift of grace. It implies faith in a cosmic context where one no longer feels the need to hide, to invoke explanations that really explain nothing at all but simply enable one to hold a position with an appearance of reasonableness.

The professor who invoked physics is surrounded constantly with things and events for which no physical explanation yet exists, nor even the beginnings of one. Just look at the physics texts and see. A most obvious case is the existence of the physical universe itself, as well as of life and human consciousness. When confronted with the de facto inability of physics in this respect, the academically sanctified dodge is to invoke chance, along with huge spans of time, for everything to "work," and further, to invoke the promise of what science (really, physics) supposedly will be able to explain in the future as it continues to make progress. But chance is not something that can produce or explain anything. Rather, it is invoked precisely at the point where there is no known explanation or cause. And if something is, indeed, impossible, it will not help to have more time to get it done. We need a demonstration of the possibility, for example, of life's emerging from the inorganic, and then we can talk about time. But the assumptions of this "scientific" evasion are so complicated and culturally protected that most people confronting it do not realize they have been handed intellectual sawdust instead of bread.

Unfortunately, religion frequently invokes its own non‑explanations as a means of holding its ground. Usually these involve the idea that God's power is so great that we can say with reference to anything simply that He did it and thus have an explanation that protects us. There's no need to look further or think further.

Now God's act as an explanatory principle has an advantage over chance in that we all know something of what it is like for an act or choice to bring something about. Nothing comparable can be said of chance. Personality is a source of energy and causation with an intelligible structure. It simply is not a physical structure. But there is no good reason it should be, and once you think about it, every reason it should not. For if it were, the fundamental feature of human life and consciousness would be destroyed or reduced to illusion. As long as we recognize that knowledge does not reduce to physics, and as long as we understand that science is just knowledge, we have every right to speak of the possibility of a science that encompasses consciousness in divine and human forms along with the physical and whatever else there may be.

The impasse of authorities confronting authorities (or intimidating others) begins to dissolve when prepared and thoughtful people devote themselves to the humble examination of facts and evidence rather than to defending their positions. It is difficult to imagine anything more necessary and Godlike than this. We must escape the cultural deadlock that is turning universities—and churches—into places of “right views,” rather than thought and knowledge, and producing a Christian personality split into a religious side and a professional, intellectual side which never come into contact.

Important work of reconciliation needs to be done. Progress is possible if a vast number of Christians, devoted and qualified, will permeate all dimensions of society and bring the Spirit and power of Christ to bear upon the points where the authority structures of the intellectual professions are in blind conflict with genuine faith in Jesus Christ.

From here.

Related reading: Reasons to Believe; The Folly of Scientism by Austin L. Hughes; C.S. Lewis on Christian Apologetics

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Heidegger and Aristotle

Alice C. Linsley

Martin Heidegger's early morning lectures at the University of Freiburg focused on the writings of Aristotle. The lectures became known as the "Aristotle breakfast club" and Heidegger's scholarly approach to Aristotle, which was philological, historical and phenomenological, influenced many of his students. Some became scholars of classical and pre-Socratic Greek philosophy; among them were Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hannah Arendt, and Leo Strauss. Strauss once wrote that Martin Heidegger impressed him as no other contemporary thinker had.

The influence of Aristotle on Heidegger's work should not be underestimated. He wanted to understand how Aristotle renders a practical understanding of being. In books IV, VI and XI of the Metaphysics, Aristotle defined ontology as the science or theory of being qua being (ὂν ἢ ὀν). It is significant that he expresses it this way and Heidegger took this as his cue to explore being qua being.

Another significant influence on Heidegger's thought was Edmund Husserl. Heidegger pointed out the weaknesses in Husserl's conception of consciousness and cognition, and in developing his thoughts he came to recognize that he was once again dealing with Plato and Aristotle. He wrote, "Phenomenology radicalized in its ownmost possibility is nothing but the questioning of Plato and Aristotle brought back to life: the repetition, the retaking of the beginning of our scientific philosophy." (History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena, p. 136)

As Heidegger read long passages of Aristotle in Greek to his students, he explored the texts in a scholarly manner, drawing on philology, history, and literary criticism. He found that ontological research is essentially historical. It requires looking behind the text; being conscious of what can be seen through the text. He wrote, "It is necessary to surpass Aristotle - not in a forward direction in the sense of a progression, but rather backwards in the direction of a more original unveiling of what is comprehended by him." (Aristotle's Metaphysics [theta] 1-3: On the Essence and Actuality of Force, p. 69)

Related reading: Crash Course on Phenomenology; Learning to Question Narratives; Dreyfus on Metaphysics and Phenomenology; George Pattison on Martin Heidegger