Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Martin Heidegger's Being and Time - A Paradoxical Phenomenontology

In the introductions to Being and Time (1927), Heidegger asks the unasked question of the meaning of the word ‘Being’ to “reawaken” the concrete “meaning of this question” within the “horizon of time” from its trivialization by traditional ontology from Plato to Hegel. (§1, 1) Where ‘ontology’ designates the structure of individual beings in a universal system of Being itself, ‘ontic’ designates the discrete analyses of individual beings. Heidegger indicts the tradition of ontology for concealing the pre-ontological meaning of Being as an objectified ontic being of systematic ontology. (e.g. Hegel’s Logic) The prevailing objection of ontology to the question of the meaning of Being had been that if ‘Being’ is nothing more than the “most universal and emptiest of concepts” that is immediately apprehended as the simple ‘is’ of grammar, then no essential distinctions may be wrested from any analysis of ‘Being’. (§1, 2)  Heidegger responds that since “we do not know what ‘Being’ means”, nor even what the ‘is’ of the question signifies, any such grammatical formulation remains circumscribed within a merely ontological understanding of the meaning of Being. (§2, 5)

Heidegger attempts to circumvent the objections of ontology by compressing the structure of Husserl’s onto-phenomenology, which surreptitiously imports the eidetic criteria of bracketing and analysis from other ontologies (e.g. psychology), into a phenomen-ontology, in which Dasein immanently constructs its own “ontico-ontology” at the paradoxical interstices in and beyond ontology. For this purpose, Heidegger collapses Husserl’s extrinsic intentional relation of noesis-to-noema into the intrinsic inter-relationship of Being-to-Being in Dasein. Like Husserl, he brackets all self-evident and apodictic “dogmatic constructions” of ontology (e.g. Aristotle’s laws of logic) from his interpretation of Dasein, so that it may “show itself in itself and from itself” from within its intrinsic self-reflection without the aid of any extrinsic categories.

Heidegger introduces the term ‘Dasein’ to envelop all possible meanings of Being towards which we talk, view, intend, as well as what and how we are in “the fact that something is, and in its Being as it is; in Reality; in presence-at-hand; in subsistence; in validity” of what ‘there is’.” (§2, 5) He defines Dasein in at least eight difference ways in the introductions to Being and Time: as the (i) self-reflexive questioning of Being upon Being (ii) that is “each of us himself”;  as (iii) “the ways in which man behaves” that (iv) “has its Being to be”; in (v) the soul (anima) that constitutes (vi) “each of us”; which  (vii) “understands something like being”; and which (viii) defines “man’s being” as “the potentiality for discourse.” Dasein thus uniquely constitutes itself by reflecting upon the question of the meaning of Being; by the reflection of Being on Being in Being; as self-reflective Being.

Heidegger explains the pre-ontological ‘understanding of Being’ of Dasein as a ‘comportment’ towards Existenz: where Existentiell reflects on the pre-ontological intentional reflection upon the contingency of ontic Existenz, Existentiality reflects on the ‘context’ of all ontic structures. Since Dasein includes both the pre-ontological Existentiell and the post-ontological Existentiality, Heidegger contends that ontontology “has its own foundation and motivation in Dasein’s own ontical structure” and the analytic of Dasein, rather than phenomenology or any other positive science, is the “fundamental ontology, from which alone all other ontologies take their rise.” (§4, 13)

Heidegger chastises the ‘rough’ and ‘naïve’ positive sciences for neglecting to analyse the absolutely unquestioned presuppositions, or ‘basic concepts’, that they have each inherited from the pre-ontological primordial past. The analytic of Dasein is meant to interrogate both the pre-ontological and the post-ontological concepts of Being “with equal primordiality.” (§4, 13) Heidegger admonishes the positivist presumption that “real progress” in science comes from “collecting results and storing them away in ‘manuals’” and contends, to the contrary, that the “real ‘movement’ of the sciences” only occurs “when their basic concepts undergo a more or less radical revision.” (§3, 9) 

The analytic of Dasein may resolve these crises of the sciences by “run[ing] ahead of the positive sciences” to produce new concepts. In contrast to the Neo-Kantian “kind of ‘logic’ which limps along after” the positive sciences to “discover its ‘method’”, the analytic of Dasein “leaps ahead” of each by producing is own methods, logics, and ontologies through the self-reflection Dasein “with time as its standpoint.” (§3, 10)  

However, Heidegger complains that the meaning of ‘Time’, no less than the meaning of ‘Being’, has been reduced to a function for dividing the ontological categories (e.g. temporal and supra-temporal) in which Time is “made visible in its ‘temporal’ character.” (§5, 40) He counters that “Dasein ‘is’ its past in the way of its own Being” because it productively “’historicizes’ out of its future on each occasion.” Heidegger defines this productive ‘historicality’ as “the state of Being that is constitutive for Dasein’s ‘historicizing’” through a reflection on the conditions of ‘temporality’ “which makes historicality possible as a temporal kind of Being which Dasein itself possesses”, and which “is prior to what is called “history” or “world-historical historizing.” (§6, 41)

Heidegger claims that the question of the meaning of Being can only “achieve its true concreteness” and “positive results” by “the process of destroying the ontological tradition” (§6, 49); by analysing the genealogical conditions for the functional subordination of Being and Time to ontology; and by illuminating how these originary conditions have been re-conditioned as functional components within ontology. The blocking and concealment of the inmost meaning of concepts is thus the result of re-conditioning the genealogically, historically, and temporally conditioned concepts for the purposes of an unhistorical and atemporal ontology. Its paramount negation is determined by the conflict between an originary genealogical conditionality rooted in the primordial depths of Being and an artificial ontological re-conditionality that is uprooted for ontology.

Where Husserl’s ontophenomenology had un-posited and re-posited irreal atemporal essences, Heidegger’s phenomenontology reflects upon the ‘historicality’ of the temporal horizon of Being to compress Husserl’s un-positing and re-positing into the singular self-reflection of Dasein. He explains that this ‘historiological inquiry’ is meant to excavate the primordial self-reflexive understanding of Time to “discover tradition, preserve it, and study it explicitly” by recovering the genealogical conditions of all historically conditioned beings that have been hidden in the “elemental historicality of Dasein.” (§6, 41)

Heidegger purports to seize possession of the “ownmost meaning of Being” in the historicality of the temporality of Being through a historiological inquiry in which Dasein reflects on its own constitutive Being and “understands itself as historiological.” (§6, 42) Since this self-reflection also constitutes Dasein, “Dasein is as it already was” and inescapably “is its past”. (§6, 41)  But Dasein may “fall prey to the tradition” whenever it objectifies Being and Time in an ontology that conceals, blocks, and forgets the “primordial ‘sources’” from which “categories and concepts” have been genealogically derived. (§6, 42-43)  To ‘loosen up’ and ‘dissolve’ this “hardened tradition” of ontology, Heidegger proposes a hermeneutic of Dasein for the phenomenological excavation of the genealogical conditions of all conditioned beings that have been ontologically schematized in history. (§6 44)

Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein seems to be “self-conscious allusion to the Transcendental Analytic” of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. (Carman 2003 10) Kant describes his “analytic of concepts” as a genealogical investigation into “the possibility of a priori concepts by seeking them only in the understandings their birthplace and analysing its pure use in general.” (A66/B90) Immediately after describing the dissolution of traditional ontology, Heidegger rejects the “vicious relativization of ontological standpoints” by alluding to Kant’s genealogical analysis. He writes: “In thus demonstrating the origin of our basic ontological concepts by an investigation in which their ‘birth certificate’ is displayed.” (§6, 44) But Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein is distinguished from Kant’s transcendental analytic by its novel conception of Being: where Kant conceives of Being, like Hegel, as a category of “unconditional unity” in pure and “empty intuition” (cf. KrV A404, SL §132), Heidegger, like Schelling, as that “presence-at-hand” in an “unthinkable dynamic darkness” (cf. §2, 5, WA 8:212). And where Kant’s transcendental analytic is meant to trace the genealogical conditions for transcendental possibility of faculty of understanding, Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein is meant to trace the genealogical conditions for the unconditioned presence of beings.

Heidegger pursues these genealogical conditions through the hermeneutic of Dasein, which is meant to excavate the “primordial signification” of the “phenomnenon” from its accumulated layers of auxiliary semblances. This hermeneutic is imminently paradoxical because the ‘showing’ of every phenomenon “goes together with the Being-present-at-hand of disturbances which do not show themselves” as an “announcing-itself by something which does not show itself, but which announces itself through something which does show itself.” Whatever phenomenon is shown is also not shown so that “what appears does not show itself.” (§7.A, 51-52) The hermeneutic of Dasein consequently revolves in an open circle of “relatedness backward or forward” (§2, 8) that repeatedly reflects upon Being without every completely subsuming beings into Being. Since hermeneutics is combinatory and circular while analytics is linear and divisive, and Heidegger – no less than Husserl – cannot honestly admit any ontological concepts, such as the arithmetic concepts of division and combination, Heidegger must gradually abandon the analytic of Dasein in a movement away from ontology that foreshadows his later Turn (Kehre) from philosophy towards the poetic hermeneutics.

At the conclusion of the first introduction, Heidegger writes that “fundamental ontology, from which alone all other ontologies can take their rise, must be sought in the existential analytic of Dasein.” The analytic of Dasein was intended to divide the various significations of basic concepts (e.g. Being) in the hope of finding an “inner relationship between the things meant by these terms.” (e.g. Heidegger divides Phenomenology into an analysis of A. Phenomenon and B. Logos). Where Husserl had (a) bracketed empirical facts and (b) analysed eidetic essences for the purpose of synthesizing the pure essences in eidetic connections in ‘Absolute Knowledge’, Heidegger has (a) circumvented ontology and (b) analysed the significations of Being for the purpose of (c) excavating “most primordial way of interpreting Being.” (§5, 38) But Heidegger could never complete his analysis because his analytic of Dasein had merely re-spun Husserl’s paradoxical ontophenomenology into an even more tightly knotted paradoxical phenomenontology: Heidegger had compressed Husserl’s noesis-to-noema intentional relations into a singularity of self-reflective relationality that promised to infinitely re-enact its paradoxical ontico-ontological constructions. Where Husserl had distinguished, opposed, and subsumed empirical psychology into an imminently collapsing eidetic phenomenology, Heidegger further radicalized Husserl’s ontophenomenology into an infinitely re-ennacting and re-collapsing phenomenontology. (§4, 35) 

For a fuller critique of Heidegger and phenomenology, see my essay Plato Against Phenomenology

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