Thoreau on the (Hu)man

“See how he cowers and sneaks, how vaguely all day he fears, not being immortal or divine, but the slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself, a fame won by his own deeds.

Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. . .

Think, also, of the ladies of the land weaving toilet cushions against the day, not to betray too green an interest in their fates! As if you could kill time without injuring eternity!”

~ Henry David Thoreau, on the (hu)man


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

Continental Assignment 1

[response to a selection of handouts on Continental Philosophy]

c. Mary Kathryn Gough (maiden: Huffman), 2003(?)

It seems to me that the ‘reorientation of philosophy in this tradition’ is essentially a very healthy one The idea of saving philosophy as a discipline from itself definitely has a lot of merit. Although philosophy is a worthy calling in life, somehow the academization of the pure impulse tends to homogenize the minds of young thinkers, boxing their horizons in and sidetracking the entire discipline, making the fluidity necessary for sincerity all but impossible. This is what I gleaned from Schopenhauer’s well-stated (if rather bleak) distinction between ‘state-financed’ philosophy and Philosophy, the love of Wisdom that could “shed some kind of light on the mysterious enigma of our existence” (handout 1).

There seems to be a theme among these philosophers of breaking with institutions and appealing to more organic, internal guides in struggling with the issues of origin and foundation. Heidegger broke with Catholicism in 1919, ten years after Schopenhauer published The World as Will and Representation, not because he was strongly against Christianity itself but because he wanted to show that his phenomenology of religion was an objective enterprise. In fact, he held on strongly to Christianity and “metaphysics– though, admittedly in a new sense” (handout 2) as he continued his work. He had simply found that his metaphysics clashed with the medieval Catholic view of the world, and as he did not have the same respect for the Catholic Church of his day, he split from it and remained loyal to his new vision. He believed that his spiritual development he “owed to his freedom from ‘extraphilosophical ties'” and that “through research and teaching [he was] doing everything in [his] power to further the spiritual life of man and work in the sight of God” (handout 2).

Husserl’s later essay on Shaw and the Vitality of the West comments on Shaw’s incredible ability through his art to arrest society midstep, “arous[ing] our conscience and instill[ing] the belief that no world existing for us simply is, but that any world is what we make it or let it become through strength or weakness” (handout, p. 356). He clearly expresses his solidarity with Shaw in intent and vision and echoes Heidegger’s concern for ‘the furtherance of the spiritual life of mankind’ stating that “the only genuine meaning of science is to impart to universal life the clarity of the mind’s eye, so that this life understands itself and the meaning of its goals. It can thereby become in practice what George Bernard Shaw longs for and seeks on his part” (handout p.357).

I appreciated the opportunity to see Husserl’s personal interaction with Arnold Metzger. The glimpse inside of him and seeing how he worked and felt about things was an experience I see as very valuable, because it cemented in my mind certain things about him that will always ground my reading of his work. He comments on the “lack of clarity, immature vaguness, and incompleteness” that haunts all philosophical work up to his time, and his intent to change that, providing clear foundations in the theoretical realm of “truth and science”. “Not that I consider truth and science the highest values. Quite the contrary, “Intellect is the servant of the will,” and so also I am the servant of those who shape our practical life, of the leaders of humanity” (handout p. 361). Here he echoes, once again, the concern to see humanity come out of its blurry mistaken illness and flourish and the concern for the necessary fluidity necessary for the survival of a living philosophy that can make it happen.

I agree with Godamer that we need to be aware of our bias, and this was probably a very good place to start, considering where the next piece took us (learning to stand solidly and yet work fluidly upon tradition. The excerpts from Godamer’s Truth and Method were extremely interesting in their distinction between hermeneutical consciousness and historical consciousness, hermeneutical experience and historical experience. The idea that perfected experience as science sees it cancels out its very being while as in philosophy as he supports it perfected experience remains open to newness and therefore preserves its meaningful existence– it’s fabulous! I found so many echoes from my own heart in these pieces, but placed in context so adroitly, so nimbly and precisely… I feel a kind of sympathy with his project, although I’m sure I could not have much to add. His reference to an I-Thou relationship is very helpful, and the personal quality of it, the reverence, is what opens the door for a new way of living forward with the past rather than turning back to it as an object.

I would say the core of what Godamer is driving at here is that

“the truth of experience always implies an orientation toward new experience… The consummation of [the experienced person’s] experience, the perfection that we call “being experienced,” does not consist in the fact that someone already knows everything and knows better than anyone else…The dialectic of experience has its proper fulfillment not in definitive knowledge but in the openness to experience that is made possible by experience itself” (p.355).

This is the difference between the historical consciousness and the hermeneutic, or historically effected consciousness. We must “think within our own historicity” (p. 361), refusing to fall into the trap of “trying to master the past” or “reflect[ing] ourselves out of relationship with it” in order to preserve the ‘moral bond’ that is there (p360).

The need for a healthy philosophy is always apparent in a culture in some way, and the twentieth century was a century of tumultuous moral and ethical concerns, met by many with apathy or bitterness and others with overzealous fervor. But all met it with a blindness never (or at least seldom) felt before on such a scale and with such intensity. Philosophy strained to produce a feasible and solid ground for people to stand on.