Where Heidegger talks about “world” he will often appear to be talking about a pervasive interpretation or point of view which we bring to the things of the world. This, in any case, has been the view of many commentators. But there is little sense in speaking of “a point of view” here since precisely what Heidegger wants to indicate with the concept is that none other is possible. And there is no more sense in speaking of an interpretation when, instead of an interpretation, the “world” is meant to be that which can keep us from seeing, or force us to see, that what we have is one. Heidegger’s concept is quite like Kierkegaard’s “sphere of existence” and Wittgenstein’s “form of life,” and, as with them, it enters his inquiry only at its limits, when a problem moves out of his depth, or jurisdiction.
While philosophical reflection is temporally-historically so conditioned, its aim is the universal and eternal. These however are, and are reflectively discernible, only in and through the individual and temporal. Or better: since the universal and individual, eternal and temporal, are not distinct things or opposites, but constitute reflectively characterizable aspects of the concrete situation of being, reflection must break forth out of non-reflective immersion in the present actual situation. In so doing, it does not leave that situation but constitutes that altered mode of absorption within the concrete situation which attempts to elicit in conception the universal and eternal accessible to it. –Richard Gotshalk, “Reflection and Seeing”
The following words of Heidegger’s have been on my mind for the past couple of weeks.
We all still need an education in thinking, and before that first a knowledge of what being educated and uneducated in thinking means. In this respect, Aristotle gives us a hint in Book IV of his Metaphysics (1006a ff.). It reads…”For it is uneducated not to have an eye for when it is necessary to look for a proof, and when this is not necessary.”
This sentence demands careful reflection. For it is not yet decided in what way that which needs no proof in order to become accessible to thinking is to be experienced. Is it dialectical mediation or originary intuition or neither of the two? Only the peculiar quality of that which demands of us above all else to be admitted can decide about that. But how is this to make the decision possible for us before we have admitted it? In what circle are we moving here, inevitably?
Aristotle’s passage–and its non-kissing cousin in EN–have become more and more deeply embedded in my thinking and teaching. My Seven Deadly Sins course this summer (now just ended) in many ways pivots on the EN passage. I take that passage to insist on differences in kind among objectivities, differences in kind among, say, geometry and history and philosophy and rhetoric. I have grown increasingly resistant to attempts to solder philosophy to science or to mathematics–or to whatever. (Not that I was ever very receptive to such attempts.) Philosophy is its own thing and not another thing. Perhaps Heidegger gets a little too invested here and there in soldering philosophy (or thinking) to poetry (that is a topic for another time), but generally he is acrobatically adept at sundering philosophy from other things. (Heidegger inherits the form of his Idealist predecessors’ metaphilosophy even if he rejects its specific content. –Compare him here to Bradley or to Oakeshott.)
Anyway, I do not like thematizing philosophy as argument, as argumentative. Why should philosophy be beholden to proof? I do not mean that philosophy should jettison proof or that proof does not matter. But why should it be essential? I am happy to say that argument has its place, an honored place, in philosophy. But there is no reason to believe that gaining admittance to philosophy requires an inference ticket (apologies to Ryle). –That does not mean that we just throw open the doors–free admission! –No, but some things may get in without an inference ticket. –Ok. But what, and why, and when, and how? –We need a sense of what is relevant in philosophy, to philosophy, and a sense that relevance itself is not a matter (always) for proof. (In what circle are we moving here, inevitably?) We need to understand what it looks like to be educated and uneducated in philosophy, so that we can embark on our philosophical education.
We glimpse here why the vocabulary of late Heidegger runs through the all the inflections of ‘receptive spontaneity’, why hearkening and following a path become leitmotifs of the work. The claim of relevance is not always to be established by argument; sometimes the claim of relevance is simply the peculiar quality of certain things, a claim that demands acknowledgment from us. We hearken to such things. We follow in their paths. Their relevance is their solemn power, calling us to free response. We make ourselves available to thought.
Here’s a thing about Heidegger. For all that is forbidding and foreboding in his writing, he can produce passages of a peculiar beauty. Often, the passages seem to come from next-to-nothing, like a mouse spontaneously generated from grey rags and dust. Or they suddenly loom up, unforeseeably jutting out of an apparently flat landscape.
Consider the abrupt apotheosizing of the inner form of philosophy in this passage:
Only if we go along with this work [Hegel’s Phenomenology] with patience–understood in the sense of really working with it–will it show its actuality and its inner form. However, the form of this work–here as everywhere else in genuine philosophy–is not an addition which is meant for the literary connoisseur. Nor is the question that of literary decoration or of stylistic talent. Rather, its inner form is the inner necessity of the issue itself. For philosophy is, like art and religion, a human-superhuman affair of primary and ultimate significance. Clearly separated from both art and religion and yet equally primary with both of them, philosophy necessarily stands in the radiance of what is beautiful and in the throes of what is holy.
(It is fascinating how this passage resonates with the Preface of PI. Wittgenstein there relates how he pictured the essence of the book he wanted to write, and how he then came to repent of the picture. He realized that the actual inner form of his book was the inner necessity of the book’s issue itself–and that the book’s inner form was not one that proceeded from one remark to another naturally and without breaks. So when he ends the Preface by conceding that he has not written a good book–or not as good a book as he would have liked to write–he is not measuring his lack of success against the pictured essence of the book. And he is not measuring the book’s literary decoration or his stylistic talent, where each of those is understood as ‘additive’. No. He is measuring the book, measuring himself as its writer, against a full realization of the book’s own actual inner form, a full realization of its own inner necessity. Every force evolves a form, yes; but not every force fully evolves its form.)
In the phenomenology of spirit, as consciousness’s becoming-other-to-itself and coming-to-itself, “forms” of consciousness emerge, as Hegel says; but this emergence of forms of consciousness has nothing to do with the procedure, now becoming routine and stemming from various motivations, of classifying the so-called types of world views and types of philosophical standpoints according to just any schema. These typologies and morphologies would be a harmless way of passing time, if at the same time the odd idea were not in play that, by placing a philosophy in the net of types, one has decided on the possible and of course relative truth of that philosophy. This urge toward classification and such like always begins at a time when the lack of the power to do philosophy gets the upper hand, so that sophistry comes to dominate. But sophistry provides itself and its own barrenness with some respectability by first catching whatever ventures to emerge in philosophy in the net of standpoints, and then, having given each type a label, by leaving it with the people. This label sees to it that, regarding the philosophy in question, one will be interested in its label only so as to compare it with another label. Subsequently, the literary discussions about the label give rise to a literature which in its kind may be quite considerable. Consequently, the Kant literature is not only more important than Kant himself, but above all else it reaches the point where no one any longer gets to the matter itself. The procedure reflects the mysterious art of sophistry, which always and necessarily arises along with philosophy and controls the field. Nowadays the power of sophism has “organized” itself, one of the many indications of this being the popularity of typologies of philosophical standpoints–typologies which appear in various disguises (manuals and series). Philosophy becomes a managerial concern–a diabolical condition to which the younger scientific minds, rare enough as they are nowadays, fall prey in their prime. But the reason for mentioning these seemingly remote things at exactly this point is the fact that in their confusion these typologies appeal to Hegel’s Phenomenology, in the belief and pretense that in Hegel a similar typology is aimed at, although without the benefit of contemporary depth psychology and sociology.
Heidegger, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (p. 29)
Although this seems as timely as when it was written in the 1930’s, if not more so, I am interested in it right now because I think there is a similar understanding of Bradley afoot, as if he were spreading a net of types in his work. He is not–no more than Hegel was. His work is no more managerial than Hegel’s.
Anyway, sophistry is internal to philosophy, always present when philosophy is present. Sophistry is philosophy’s shadow. And the rise of the isms is always a bad sign, in a time, in a country, in a department, in a mind.
Abiding in hope…
Ed Mooney, over at Mists on the Rivers, has been mulling over the Heidegger passage I posted yesterday, as have I. The passage fascinates me in part because so many paths intersect in it: one from Socrates and his avowal of ignorance, one from Eckhart and his working-out of contemplation, one from St. Thomas and his condemnation of curiositas as a form of cognitive intemperance, one from Neitzsche and his linking the will to knowledge to the will to power, one from Husserl and his plying of the reduction, one from Marcel and his ideal of secondary reflection, and one from Wittgenstein and his contrast of explanation and description.
I cannot rise to the level of Ed Mooney–but let me say a bit more about the line from Marcel. Marcel distinguishes primary from secondary reflection by distinguishing between what we might call their ‘objects’, problems and mysteries. There is a lot to say about that distinction, and I have toyed with it on the blog a time or two (here for example). But a key idea is the idea of investigations that are, as it were, self-willed, where the investigator stands above, over and against, what he investigates, and one where the investigator is ‘object-willed’, moved to consideration of what she stands enmeshed in, alongside, and which calls out to her for consideration. We might say that in the first case, the investigation proceeds in light produced by the investigator, in the second, in light produced by the ‘object’ investigated. (Marcel works a far-reaching change on the popular understanding of mystery, which he regards, not as a darkness that overwhelms, but as a light that is blinding, –at first, but that becomes eventually the light in which we see light: think of Christ on Mount Tabor.) Heidegger seems to understand some things as worthy of thought, as calling out to us to think them, and to think in relationship to them. Curiosity all-too-often is something that we project upon the world–we think about what we regard as worthy of thought, instead of what calls us out of ourselves and into thought.
There seems to me little doubt that Walden (to hook up with Ed’s reflections) is not only a book about but a book that exemplifies secondary reflection. And I think that secondary reflection is at play too, albeit in different ways, in Socrates’ unknowledge, Echart’s contemplation, St. Thomas’ studiositas (the contrast to curiositas), Husserl’s reduction and Wittgenstein’s descriptions. It seems likely true even in Nietzsche’s transvalued knowledge. For all of these, the relationship between the investigator and the investigated transforms the investigation, and that must always already be on the mind of the investigator. The world does not bumble around us, a flattened pother of objects indifferent to their investigation and that we investigate willy-nilly as we choose, but instead structures and variegates itself around us, featuring objects that call us to thought and objects that do not. And what they reveal to us is not a matter of what we take from them but of what they give us, sometimes only after we have earned it by abiding in hope before them, listening even to their silence, waiting for them to speak. What we ‘know’ of them in such moments is not something that we can commodify, something that we can learn by banking on our own conceptions of reasoning about them, our own ability to wring answers to our questions from them.
Didn’t Aristotle push us this way, too, long ago, when he noted that the problem of method is entirely (note that word) determined by the object?
This passage of Heidegger has been rolling around in my head all day. It must be connected to something else I have on my mind. Lord willing, I will eventually figure out what that is.
Thirst for knowledge and greed for explanations never lead to a thinking inquiry. Curiosity is always the concealed arrogance of a self-consciousness that banks on a self-invented ratio and its rationality. The will to know does not will to abide in hope before what is worthy of thought. –“A Dialogue on Language”
I’ve been thinking lately about questions, philosophical questions. It seems to me–although I admit to being unable to take this thought very far yet–that one useful way of gaining insight into a philosopher’s work is by working delicately to typify the relationship between the philosopher’s questions and her answers to them. Perhaps, so stated, that seems obvious. But what I mean is typifying the relationship as such (if that can be done), independent of the particular erototetic content or declarative content of the question and answer, respectively. There are, I submit, a vast number of different typifying relationships to be discovered. Part of the reason I began to think about this was re-reading a comment of mine on G. E. Moore:
Moore insists that we often ask a philosophical question without knowing quite what question our interrogatory words express. But Moore does not ever seriously doubt that there is a philosophical question that the words express. We can rightly say that Moore doubted the clarity of the questions that philosophers asked, and we can rightly say that he often doubted whether philosophers really believed the answers they gave to the questions; but we cannot rightly say that he doubted whether there were philosophical questions to be asked and answers to be given to them. That Moore took this view of philosophical questions is shown by his deep unease with his own answers to them. Moore, I think, believed his answers; but he also did not believe his answers. (“I believe; help thou my unbelief.”) His deep unease was the result of the mismatch between his understanding of the questions and the believability of his answers to them: given his view of the questions, the very believability of his answers to them made the answers hard to believe.
Socrates’ questions and answers bear one sort of relationship to each other. Augustine’s another. Aquinas’ another. Kant’s another–and so on. Consider Heidegger, at least late: he so absolutizes the question over the answer that it is no longer clear that there is, that there could be, even that there should be any answer to the question or even an attempt at an answer. Such an attempt would violate the absoluteness of the question, allow us at least the hope of being able to end, at least for a moment, enduring the interrogative rack, to stop bearing the question mark, to finish the forever-rising inflection–to scramble off the heath and into shelter, no longer exposed as mad Lear. But Heidegger would have us stay.
(Ok, so I got a little carried away there. Apologies. But I plan to return–soberly–to this line of thought in coming days.)