Heidegger Journal #5

Journal # 5 (2/27/04)

Heidegger addresses those who make objections to environmental experience based on its presupposition of the reality of the external world by explaining why they are precisely missing the point. At first it would seem that there are exactly two options: either reality is, or it isn’t. We must either accept the presupposition of reality as the ground from which we work, or else “declare it a fiction” (p.66). But Heidegger exposes this as being fundamentally theoretically minded, producing a need for an approach to a problem that is shown to be absurd in the sphere of environmental experience. “Certainly the entire fullness of environmental experience is heavily laden with presuppositions,” he admits, the acknowledgment of which creates this ‘burning question’ about reality that demands to be solved (p.65). But Heidegger in turn questions the very need for that question in the contexture of the environmental sphere. The question “inhibits every step forward,” he says, “because it is constantly there in its appeal to the critical consciousness,” essentially inviting the theoretical attitude to captain a ship it doesn’t know how to sail (p.65-66). Once we take up the epistemological problem of the existence of external reality, the theoretical attitude has slipped in the back door unnoticed, as we are now “presupposing epistemology and its way of questioning” (p.66). We find, in fact, that “in order to strip away the presuppositions of environmental experience… we make other assumptions” (p.66). The theoretical approach simply buries itself trying to get to the bottom of things; there is only ever more dirt. Once we “devote ourselves purely to our own sphere [the sphere of experiences],” however, “the former anxious avoidance of any kind of ‘presuppositions’ ceases. Precisely at this stage, where we are steering towards the centre of the problematic, it is not at all a matter of making ‘presuppositions’” Because it is not “in its nature a theoretical posit,” environmental experience can never be a presupposition”(p.67, 79).

The theoretical attitude hangs upon the lived experience of the personal, historical ‘I’; this lived experience is its contexture, from which certain things are focused upon, taken out and examined, or objectified. If the entire context of all our cognition were the theoretical attitude, a line would be nothing but a series of dots, a symphony nothing but a collection of notes. When Heidegger looks at the lectern, he sees not just “a sensation of brown, as a moment of [his] psychic processes. [He] sees something brown, but in a unified context of signification in connection with the lectern” (p.71). But he can objectify ‘brown’ itself by “brushing away everything until [he] arrive[s] at the simple sensation of brown” (p.71). The theoretical attitude must reside within something in order to function properly, otherwise it is stuck trying to “explain one being by another, [and] the more critical it becomes, the more incoherent it is” (p.73). That something is environmental, lived-experience. It is this lived experience which gives our cognitions dimension. The theoretical destructs (in Heidegger’s sense of the term) this dimension, lifting a now-designated-‘thing’ out of lived experience. Heidegger calls this ‘de-vivification’ [Ent-leben] and states that “reality… lies in the essence of thingliness. It is a specifically theoretical characteristic… Experience of the environment is de-vivified into the residue of recognizing something as real [and] the historical ‘I’ is dehistoricized into the residue of a specific ‘I-ness’ as the correlate of thingliness” (p.75, emphasis added). Therefore it is easy to see why the question of the reality of the external world is precisely the wrong question to be asking, according to Heidegger. This question de-vivifies the environmental experience of the personal, historical I, lifting ‘things’ out of its surroundings and reducing that I to ‘a specific… correlate of’ those things (p. 75). The dependence of the theoretical attitude upon the environmental or lived experience of this I is clear as well, as we see that it has no material with which to work without the I’s surrounding world. It needs the environmental experience to lift things out of!

The infringement of the theoretical attitude upon the environing world begins at the stage where the still historical I apprehends a ‘given’. This is the point at which the “authentic meaning of the environmental… in its signifying character [is] taken out,” and it is, as something given, “diluted to a mere thing” (p.75). The stage before this pivotal moment, the pre-theoretical environmental experience, is a not-yet intentional intuition that Heidegger characterizes as hermeneutical. Hermeneutical intuition is the understanding intuition “from which all theoretical objectification… falls out,” an “empowering experiencing of lived experience that takes itself along” (p.99, emphasis added). The motion is important here; the I must be moving, always ‘taking itself along’ in order to remain “primordially living and experiential” in the pre-theoretical sphere (p.98).

c. Mary Kathryn Gough, university paper
details: Katie Huffman (married, Gough) // Philosophy 340 // Professor Halteman


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