Thoughts on Braver and early Heidegger

This post is for the online reading group of Lee Braver’s A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Realism.  The chapter we are discussing this week is on “early Heidegger”. In this post I want to quickly review the basic thesis of Braver’s historical assimilation of early Heidegger to Kantian theory and explain why this reading might undermine our attempt to make sense of Being and Time on a level beyond that of a “failed project”. I have already attempted to explain in another post how Braver’s definition of Dasein fails to capture his ontic realism by conflating the ontological difference between the occurrent entity Dasein is (a human individual) and the special mode of being of that entity (being-in with the existential structure of care and temporality).

We can see right off the bat that Braver does not think that with Being and Time Heidegger had successfully overcome the problems inherent to the “Kantian Paradigm”, which is committed to several forms of anti-realism, including sophisticated forms of anti-realism concerning the mind-independent world and as we move away from Kant and into Hegel and Nietzsche, to anti-realisms of the subject. Braver is right to say that in terms of the Kantian paradigm, Being and Time is at once the “highest point and its undermining”, but wrong to say that this undermining was only really accomplished in his later work. As I see it, every important conceptual scheme utilized by later Heidegger to supplant Kantian thinking can already be found in Being and Time. Furthermore, any reading of Being and Time that claims Heidegger was merely working “within” the Kantian Paradigm but had not yet managed to climb out of the idealist hole fails to see the ways in which Heidegger “upgraded” the problematic features of Kant without altogether abandoning the Kantian ship.

In my view, Heidegger only needed to tweak a few small but crucial aspects of the Kantian paradigm in order to make philosophical progress. The representationalist aspect of Kant had already been triumphantly overcome with Husserl, who had argued that the noumena-phenomena distinction is loaded with representationalist baggage and only phenomenology is necessary for ontology proper. Indeed,

In everyday behavior, say, in moving around this room, taking a look around my environment, I perceive the wall and the window. To what am I directed in this perception? To sensations? Or, when I avoid what is perceived, am I turning aside from representational images and taking care not to fail out of these representational images and sensations into the courtyard of the university building? (Basic Problems of Phenomenology)

In this way, we can see why Dreyfus is wrong to assimilate Heidegger into an completely anti-Husserlian framework. Furthermore, this passage illustrates the neat way in which Heidegger replaced the representationalism inherent to Kant with a Husserlian direct realism of sorts  (for more on this, see section 7 of Being and Time and also, William Earle’s Objectivity: an Essay In Phenomenological Ontology) . By dealing with the indirect representationalism of Kantian thinking through a direct epistemological realism, Heidegger finds a way to correct the problematic reality/appearance distinction. He does this, not by getting rid of the distinction altogether (as Braver’s Heidegger wants to do), but rather, by working an account of perceptual, interpretive error into his direct perceptual realism. We get this through the concept of phenomena and semblance in section 7.  See the post I linked to earlier for an elaboration on this point. Basically, by introducing the as-structure of hermeneutic interpretation, Heidegger is able to account for the way in which our perception can see something “as it is” or see it “as” something which it is not, such as when we interpret a stick in the grass for a snake.

For Heidegger, we truly possess the capacity to see something “as it is”, but only on the basis of our pre-reflective understanding of ontology, which incorporates an understanding that something into our understanding of what it is. That something is is dealt with in Heidegger’s ontic realism through the conception of presence, wherein the world really is “there”, independent of our perception of it. This is the basic Greek conception of phenomena. That our perception could be mistaken, seeing a “semblance” and not a phenomenon, is accounted for by our understanding of the referential whatness of the familiar environment. Only on the basis of our linguistic categorization of the world in terms of tables, chairs, desks, pens, etc. can we see something either “as” it is or “as” something it is not e.g. seeing a the stick “as” a stick, or seeing the stick “as” a snake. This conceptual filtering is not of the Kantian sort, wherein the entire presence of entities itself is an appearance of some non-accessible reality, but rather, of the kind where we possess the ability to interpret the world only on the basis of growing up in an occurent world independent of us that is broken into referential for-the-sake-of-whiches by our linguistic community.

This entity[the world] is intraworldly. But innerworldliness nonetheless does not belong to its being, rather in dealing with this entity, nature in the widest sense, we understand that this entity is as something occurrent, as an entity that we run up against, to which we are given over, that for its own part always already is. It is, without our uncovering it, i.e. without our encountering it in our world. Innerworldiness devolves upon this entity only when it is uncovered as an entity. (Basic Problems)

With that said, when Braver claims “For Heidegger it is the appearance/reality distinction itself that defines metaphysics”, he is missing the basic hermeneutic point that appearance/reality distinctions are not only built into our basic perceptual apparatuses, but also into our ways of talking to each other about the world. This ability to ask the question of the meaning of the being of an entity is based on the interpretive as-structure of the our psychological constitution, which is in turn based on the linguistic capacity to know “what” something is (a stick, not a snake) and “that” it is (the stick exists independently of our perception of it).

By combining direct epistemological realism with a realism of the world (presence) and a realism of the perceiver (Dasein as an embodied/embedded entity), we come to a conclusion that looks Kantian, but fundamentally isn’t. The world is there. It exists independelty of us (for otherwise, how could evolutionary history be true?). The human entity is capable of understanding this world in terms of the as-structure, which allows for an appearance/reality distinction that doesn’t actually rob us of the ability to see the world as it really is. We can be mistaken in seeing the stick as snake, but because the stick really is there independently of us, we can investigate into the matter and realize our mistake through the question of the meaning of being, and determine that the stick is really not a snake, but rather, a stick. The stick is a stick. This doesn’t mean that the linguistic concept of “stick” captures everything there is to know about sticks. There is still much to be known scientifically about sticks including its atomic properties and what not. Language and knowledge is constantly evolving and feeding back into the as-structure reflexively. But when it comes to the being of the stick, its ontology, we already have an understanding of what it is through the referential totality of for-the-sake-of-whiches. It is something that falls off of trees and it is something that can be picked up and used as a tool. This basic understanding of usefulness is the value-structure of worldliness that signifies Heidegger’s decisive break with Husserl over the “contextless” of perceptual objects. But that is another post.

In this post, I have tried to give an account of some of the things that Braver gets wrong when he claims that Heidegger only moved past the problematic Kantian framework in his later work, but not Being and Time. Unfortunately, I do not have time to go into detail about all the things Braver gets right about Heidegger, which would make for a much longer post than this one. Braver is a fine reader of Heidegger and the chapter is an overall an excellent introduction to his thought, especially in context of other major continental figures. Nevertheless, I feel like I must defend early Heidegger against all those who claim Being and Time was a failed project that needed revamping from the ground up. As I mentioned earlier, I am of the opinion that every seed of thought for his later work can be found in Being and Time. I am convinced that the only reason Heidegger moved beyond the language of Being and Time was because everyone was too wrapped up in the funky grammar of Dasein and his various neologisms to fully understand his phenomenological-ontology and the implications it had for overturning western metaphysics. But we should not be surprised that Heidegger took an intellectual journey in the evolution of his conceptual vocabulary, because afterall, Heidegger loved to emphasize how his works were not works at all, but Paths.

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2 responses to “Thoughts on Braver and early Heidegger

  1. Pingback: A Thing Of This World Reading Group. « Perverse Egalitarianism

  2. Pingback: Thoughts on Braver and “later Heidegger” | Minds and Brains

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