Thoughts on Braver, "later Heidegger", and ontic realism

In this post, I want to take some time to outline the extent to which I disagree with Lee Braver’s analysis of Heidegger in chapter six of his A Thing of this World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism. The reason I have chosen this purely negative analysis is because if I included all the points on which I agreed with Braver in addition to all the points I disagree on, this would be a a rather long and boring post (as it is likely to already be too long, and perhaps boring). By jumping straight into the areas of disagreement I have with Braver, I hope to show that according to my interpretation, early Heidegger and later Heidegger do not explicitly contradict each other but rather, only reaffirm the central philosophical insights towards which Heidegger was working at throughout his entire life. To get started, I am afraid that I must disagree with the first sentence of chapter six:

Hegel, Nietzsche, and the early Heidegger were all engaged in the project of working out the implications of Kant’s anti-realism while simultaneously trying to break free of certain ways of framing the issue.

For me, this sentence is highly loaded and misses the ways in which Heidegger sought to establish a crude form of ontic realism throughout his career, especially in Being and Time (BT) but also in his later works as well. As I see it, early Heidegger was not seeking to confirm Kant’s anti-realism through a “temporalizing [of reality] into the forms of engaged instrumentality or disengaged inertness.” As I have tried to argue elsewhere, when one reads Heidegger in terms of “determining reality” as either Dasein infused (ready-to-hand) or in terms of “disengaged inertness” (present-at-hand), one misses the way in which Heidegger was an ontic realist through his conception of presence. Basically, I see Braver as largely missing the realist orientation of BT when he claims that early Heidegger was arguing for A1 mind-dependence by denying a mind-independent reality through phenomenological-ontology. By missing the realism of Heidegger, the “givenness” of the clearing of being that is so important in later Heidegger becomes obfuscated in light of relativist sound bites like “truth as unconcealment” or “es er-eignet sich” (which, though, aren’t necessarily relativist blurbs). Allow me to elaborate on phenomenological-ontology:

For both Braver’s early and later Heidegger, there cannot be a distinction between appearance and reality because “reality” itself fluctuates according to whether Dasein is engaged or disengaged and hus particular historical attitude and cultural background. When engaged, reality consists of referential value-structures related to practical comportment (tool-mode); when disengaged, reality consists of value-less present-at-hand objectivities (staring-mode). It is no surprise then that Braver reads BT has one more book working out the implications of Kantian anti-realism through the denial of noumena and replacing it with a mind-dependent reality that constantly fluctuates depending on the attitude or mode of  Dasein the perceiver. However, on my reading – following Taylor Carman in his Heidegger’s Analytic – early Heidegger (and later Heidegger, in his own way) very much sought (contra Braver) to establish an ontic realism which includes a distinction between appearance and reality (with reality understood in a special, Heideggerian sense of course). This is done through multiple conceptual tools, namely: being as presence, the definition of phenomena and semblances, the as-structure, and truth as unconcealment. All of these conceptions seek to establish several points which throw a wrench in Braver’s distinctions between early and later Heidegger as anti-realist and realist, respectively.

To start, being as presence and the distinction between phenomena and semblance do much to get rid of the notion that Heidegger was in the business of denying a mind-independent reality. It is precisely the fact that the totality of entities in the world (presence) is independent of our consciousness of it that allows for the possibility of it being presented to us in the first place. This is the “it” of the “es gibt”; the “it” when one says “It’s raining!”. For Heidegger,  only on account of there being a world independent of us that we can make an interpretation of it, seeing the entities in the world as something. It is only through Kant that we got the idea that the world perceived by consciousness is dependent on that consciousness to appear as it is. In contrast, by defining phenomena as that which appears, without there being any noumena “behind” that appearance, Heidegger in BT seeks to get rid of this indirect representationalism and replace it with a direct realism.

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)

Following Husserl, early Heidegger wishes to get rid of the noumena/phenomena distinction, but as against Braver’s interpretation, does not do so by denying the capacity to see appearances. In the following passages, we can see Heidegger point out the logical problem in Kant’s analysis of phenomenology, and we can simultaneously see how the result of recognizing this distinction is a limiting, Kantian style critique of ontology that says only as phenomenology, is ontology possible :

Kant uses the term “appearance” in this twofold way. According to him “appearances” are, in the first place, the “objects of empirical intuition”: they are what shows itself in such intuition. But what thus shows itself (the “phenomenon” in the genuine primordial sense) is at the same time an “appearance” as an emanation of something which hides itself in that appearance – an emanation which announces. (BT 54)

[This is Heidegger’s update on Kant’s definitions]“Phenomenon”, the showingitselfinitself, signifies a distinctive way in which something can be encountered. “Appearance,” on the other hand, means a referencerelationship which is in an entity itself, and which is such that what does the referring (or the announcing) can fulfill its possible function only if it shows itself in itself and is thus a “phenomenon.” (BT 54)

Only as phenomenology, is ontology possible. In the phenomenological conception of “phenomenon” what one has in mind as that which shows itself is the being of entities, its meaning, its modifications and derivatives. And this showingitself is not just any showingitself, nor is it some such thing as appearing. Least of all can the being of entities ever be anything such that “behind it” stands something else “which does not appear.” (BT 60)

We see then that Heidegger did not think the appearance/reality distinction was entirely wrong, he only thought that it needed to be conceived in a way such that when we fail to perceive the world as it really is, we are merely seeing a semblance i.e.  an ontic malfunction. In all other cases, we are perceiving the world as it is, with “is” being understood in the ontological sense given by the referential systems of value-structure (ready-to-hand, etc).

I realize that this approach to Heidegger’s ontic realism is sloppy, so allow me to try and summarize what we have established so far. In both Kantian and Heideggerian systems, there are “phenomena” – that which shows itself. For Kant, that which shows itself is merely an extension of our own consciousness, and in this way, what “shows itself” is but a mere appearance because if it could really show itself, we would be perceiving the noumena and not the phenomena. For Heidegger, in contrast, that which shows itself can either be a true phenomena seen “as it really is”[the existential is] or it can be a semblance, where we see something as something it isn’t [existentially]. Both cases are dependent on the possibility of something “showing itself” to us. In the case of the semblance, what “shows itself” is the misrepresentation e.g. when seeing a stick in the grass as a snake, what “shows itself” is the appearance of the snake. When truly experiencing a phenomena, and not a semblance, what “shows itself” is the thing in the world itself e.g. seeing a stick in the grass “as” a stick. In both cases, there is never, strictly speaking, a phenomena which is also an appearance, as in Kant where both phenomena and semblances must be appearances, whereas in Heidegger, only the semblance is the appearance and the phenomena is the “showing itself in itself” (keep in mind though that a semblance is also a phenomenon in a way because it is showing itself “as itself”, which is a misrepresentation. This introduces Heidegger’s distinction between a Kantian “mere appearance” and a Heideggerian “semblance”).

We are now in a position to see the importance of the “as-structure” for dealing with Braver’s claim that early Heidegger was committed to a Kantian A1 anti-realism. With the being of Dasein conceived as presence, being is understood as “that which determines entities as entities”(BT 24/SZ 6). Accordingly, we can now see why Braver might be mistaken in assuming that truth as unconcealment “eliminates the distinction between correct and incorrect unconcealment”.  With the as-structure of interpretation, as outlined by the distinction between semblance and phenomena, we can see how it is possible to correctly see something “as it is” or incorrectly see it as “something which it is not”. This correctness or incorrectness of perception is only possibile with the capacity for language and the referential totality of tool-modes and language games. The man who sees the hammer as a hammer – as something to be used in construction – is seeing it “correctly”; whereas the man who sees the hammer as a piece of art to be displayed in his house is seeing it “incorrectly”. However, the seeing something “as it is” is not a correspondence with the “thing in itself” of Kant, but rather, only a “correspondence” in the minimal sense of playing along with an established language game that is “there”, irrespective of our individual consciousness by virtue of being communal and socialized.

Coming back to being as presence, I want to now discuss the connection between R6 realism of the subject and Braver’s interpretation of early and later Heidegger. For Braver, early Heidegger is committed to a discovering an a-historical “deep, true structure of the self” with later Heidegger being committed to destroying such a transcendental enterprise. However,with the being of Dasein conceived in terms of presence and the ways in which we can variously interpret that presence as one thing or another, we come to a conception of the self that isn’t quite as transcendental or a-historical as Braver and other scholars might imagine. If one conceives of the basic structure of the self in terms of interpreting the present, ontic world in various ways according to language games and the as-structure, and then couple this world-interpretation with a reflexive self-interpretation that is intimately related to this world-interpretation, then one does not get a picture of a static, transcendental subject, but rather, of a dynamic flux of world-interpretations and self-interpretations that change in accordance with the world-interpretations and vice-versa.

The only thing “transcendental” to Dasein is the fact that the most basic and underlying self-interpretation which feeds back into the world-interpretation is the interpretation of selfhood, or “I”-ness.  Dasein sees huself in terms of an “I”; indeed, Dasein lives hus entire world through this conception, both in authentic and inauthentic modes of being (being as presence). In the inauthentic mode, caught up in the daily affairs of life, we unconsciously let slip expressions like “I am so flustered!”. In the authentic mode, we can consciously reflect on our experience and think “I am the author of my actions” or “did I really see that snake or did I just see a stick?”. In both modes of authenticity, the “I” structures the basic hermeneutics of world and self intepretation. It is also the “I” which gives humans the capacity to “own” or “possess” anything, including an identity, a house, a feeling, or a perception. It is the basis for “mineness”.

While some who are more anthropologically inclined can challenge the universality of the “I” and establish that there are humans who might not even use the term nor think of themselves as individuals, according to Heideggerian thought, these people would not really count as “Dasein” given that they are incapable of stepping back and asking the question of the meaning of being (being as presence), which is “do I know what that thing is?” For Heidegger, the very basic phenomenological standpoint presupposes a basic form of I-hood or self-hood given that it is only a self that can recursively wonder if it has seen the world as it is or think about its experience in terms of a self-reflective agent. While such a definition of humanity or Dasein-ness is inherently circular, Heidegger never balks at this circularity, but rather, embraces it because from a developmental standpoint, we who think in such terms were never given a choice about the matter: being raised in the modern world necessarily imprints self-hood upon our children, barring ontic malfunction. The degrees of authenticity and world/self-interpretation vary dramatically of course according to culture, but the basic subject-object structure of mine-ness and interpreting the world as if it were “you” who “looks out” at the world and owns one’s perceptions is, for Heidegger, a “transcendental” requirement.

This peculiar, autobiographical form of transcendental self-hood looks largely different from Braver’s interpretation of early Heidegger, but strikingly similar to his later Heidegger, which is focused on different historical epochs of being. So while it may seem from my posts that I disagree with Braver on every issue in regards to the interpretation of Heidegger, I actually agree with him on most substantial issues, especially in relation to later Heidegger. In most respects, I think his later Heidegger is spot on but my real contention is that his early Heidegger needs to look more like his later Heidegger and both his early and later Heidegger need to look more like realists. When Braver says that later Heidegger “eliminates the distinction between reality and appearance”, I am worried that Braver is turning Heidegger into more of a relativist than he deserves credit for. Although Braver quotes Heidegger saying “both Galileo and his opponents saw the same ‘fact’,” I am not sure that Braver really does does justice to Heidegger’s ontic realism by fleshing out just what “presencing” entails.

Furthermore, it seems like Braver is conflating the absolutely crucial Heideggerian definition of “[B]eing” as “that which determines entiteis as entities” with the standard definition of “that which is“.  I see this ambiguity about what “being” refers to throughout Braver’s text. By never explicitly making the distinction between Heidegger’s definition of being as the disclosure-interpretation of presencing and the standard definition of being, Braver seems to equate later Heidegger’s insistence on the truth of Being as historical with a general relativism about the “truth” of various “worldviews” [I might be wrong on this interpretation of Braver, it is an awfully long and detailed chapter and I probably missed something]. I think this is largely due to the conflation I just mentioned between Heideggerian disclosure-being and the capital B being of “reality”.  We can see this on pg 270 when Braver says:

If we are not to begin with the presuppositions that tell us what reality must be like – especially unchanging, univocal, and so on – then we must take Being as it occurs in these various forms without dismissing them as merely transitory and thus unreal.

Braver consistently persists in confusing “reality” – the totality of entities being presenced – with “Being”, which for Heidegger, was defined in BT not as “reality” or anything like that, but rather “that which defines entities as entities”. This is the as-structure of interpretive-perception. Admittedly, this ambiguity is largely Heidegger’s fault given that he only seems to defines being that way in the introduction to BT and just assumes that the reader will pick up on what he is talking about in all his later work. Again, we can see Braver being led astray by this conflation when we says on pg 274:

The meaning of Being, the goal of [BT], was the temporality that human Dasein project which makes Being possibile, similar to Kant’s transcendental subject projects time and space.

When read through the lens of ontic realism and being as the disclosure-of-presencing then “Dasein making Being possible” is trivial given that it would translate to “Dasein makes it possible for there to be a disclosure of the presenced world to Dasein”. No where in such a reading would there be the anti-realist subjectivity that links early Heidegger to a  truly Kantian project. We see then that later Heidegger and his insistence on epochal being is only carrying out the logical conclusions of what being as presencing entails: the disclosure of the present, ontic world to a human perceiver is necessarily a historical event given the temporality of human lifespans. All later Heidegger was doing was fleshing out the conception of presence and making the historical aspect of being as presence more explicit, although all the hard philosophical work was already done in BT. Implicitly, such a epochal conception of being was there all along if one realizes that the presence of the world happens on a timescale of earlier and later.

I wish I could continue further in working with Braver’s text on all these issues because he does such a good job laying out all the essentials of Heideggerian thought whether you agree or disagree with him. It is a shame that I can only begin to touch on Braver’s scholarship here. Despite my issues with realism, Braver summarizes better than most what a historical phenomenology-ontology looks like, and his scholarship of the Gesamtausgabe is highly impressive and deserving of much praise. It is only in regards to the historical development of Heidegger’s thought that I disagree with Braver (there are also some terminological problems surrounding his use of “reality” that I take issue with, but hopefully my discussion above will help clear that up). In my opinion, the seeds of his later thought can be found implicitly and explicitly in BT and related lectures.

With all that said, I apologize that this post isn’t that informative about later Heidegger as it should have been. In my defense however, the important things I have to say about later Heidegger only make sense if you have a good conception of what early Heidegger was doing, and I wanted to connect the two projects of early and later Heidegger into a cohesive hermeneutic project framed in terms of ontic realism, as suggested by Taylor Carman.

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15 responses to “Thoughts on Braver, "later Heidegger", and ontic realism

  1. Pingback: Braver Reading Group: On Later Heidegger « Perverse Egalitarianism

  2. Hi, Gary.

    Nice post. Good stuff here. First off, I am largely sympathetic to your claims regarding the “early” and “late” Heidegger. You also seem quite indebted to Carman, which isn’t a bad thing at all. However, Braver addresses commentators that favor an ontic realism at work in Heidegger quite directly in the previous chapter (190ff). In turn, your claims against Braver –in this regard–tend to lose their force because you haven’t confronted his counter to ontic realism. I say this as someone who is rather taken and almost convinced by Carman’s argument for Heidegger’s ontic realism.

    Correct me if I’m wrong: ontic realism simply asserts that occurrent entities exist independently of human practices, despite the fact that the intelligibility of these entities is dependent on Dasein’s b-in-the-w. I do think such a view has the advantage of making some sense of Heidegger’s rather maddening claim that “Being (not entities) is dependent on the understanding of Being.” If MH postulates that entities exist regardless of Dasein’s existence, then it seems he is indeed committed to something like ontic realism.

    Yet, this initial reading is rather frustrating since its seems to me to be inconsistent with the broader methodological insistence that runs through SZ. Put simply, ontology is only possible through phenomenology. If phenomenology is construed as the making manifest of things through the understanding of Dasein, then the claim that entities are not dependent on this understanding is tenuous at best. If ontology requires phenomenology, can MH suppose the existence of something of which Dasein is aware as utterly independent of Dasein’s understanding? This seems to be Braver’s point (190ff, e.g. A1-Mind Dependence).

    So, it’s probably best to not read it that way. Although you have given good reasons why one should (and I’m still thinking through this). Here’s the thing: If we want to stick with H’s “method” we may take the above quote as claiming that the idea of “occurrent” entities is the notion of one that exists independently of us, e.g. as an “in-itself-for-us.” Or to put it in more Heideggarian parlance, we may say that part of the intelligibility of PaH objects lies in *thinking* of them as having an independent existence. This does not commit us to claiming PaH objects *do* have mind-independent existence. I think that partially, we might think of the very being of PaH entities resist our categories and at bottom, insist upon their independence from our own understanding. Yet, I wonder if this should (better) be understood as the very mode of their disclosure. This is to say, the manner in which a bunch of things manifests itself is not a salient feature of these entities in itself. I’m not sure, but if we are to claim more than this I fear we are ignoring H’s basic methodological claim that any account of what is can only be possible vis a vis phenomenology.

    I think one of the central questions in this regard is this: is the causal structure just is another structure of intelligibility?

    Now, I think you are is right to distinguish hermeneutic from causal conditions. Certainly, from the fact that there are certain conditions under which objects are intelligible to us, which is a hermeneutic claim, it does not follow that without us there would be no objects, which is a causal claim. This would be simply to state the antirealist view. H is not partial to this view either.
    I think that the important point, however, is not the rough equivalence of a statement that entities do in fact exist (and have a spatial and temporal structure to boot) apart from our understanding of them. I think Heidegger would reject this claim as well as its denial. I’m just not sure (as much as I would like) that it makes any sense to talk about things apart from Dasein’s understanding of them. Why? Well, Dasein is that being through which the being of things is revealed…but then again, there is some compelling ways to get behind the contrary. Anyway, a question (at long last). Can we get at what grounds the ontic nature of entities? That is, I wonder if this is even fair game for us to expect this of Heidegger.

  3. Gary Williams

    Shahar,

    However, Braver addresses commentators that favor an ontic realism at work in Heidegger quite directly in the previous chapter (190ff).

    Thank you for pointing me to this passage, I don’t know how I missed it before.

    However, in response I would say that Braver is just missing the theoretical implications of what a perceptual realism would entail in terms of Heidegger’s phenomenological-ontology. I think the reason behind this is that Braver is still working with a representationalist conception of perception wherein “objects appear as permenent, unchanging, independent objects, so that is how [Heidegger] describes them.” This reading of Heidegger’s realism is misleading in that it ignores the difference between a phenomena and a semblance and fails to be theoretically sensitive to realist theories of perception. The distinction between phenomena and semblance was set up early in BT precisely to establish the conceptual possibility of phenomenological-ontology.

    Take, for example, the perception of a flower. On Braver’s view, a phenomenological-ontology would be about describing the flower “as it appears” to the entity Dasein. It “appears” as objective, so therefore, it must be independent of Dasein according to our “thinking”. This reading conflates the difference between phenomena and appearance. For Heidegger, when looking directly at the flower, the flower does not “appear” to us, with something “behind” that appearance “emanating”. In Gibsonian terms, there is a direct information pick up of the invariant structural features of the flower by virtue of how perception of the ambient optic array works. Light reflects invariant structure, we pick up on that light in perception, direct perception of the world is achieved. From a realist Heideggerian perspective, the perception of the flower as an “appearance” would necessitate that we are making an interpretation of the flower as something non-flowery. What the flower “is” is determined by the referential value structure of language games. When seeing the flower directly, you implicitly and explicitly “know” 1. that the flower is there, independent of your conscious mind but still “in” your conscious mind and 2. what it is, in terms of how they are “in-themselves” – ontologico-categorially i.e. seeing a hammer as something-for-hammering.

    William Earle is good on this point in his essay Objectivity:

    Consciousness is nothing but the appearance of reality to some subject. And therefore reality is both in and out of the mind simultaneously; for the mind is related to reality by apprehending it. The mind is therefore not simply related to itself, or to its ideas, or to images of reality, or representations, or signs, or effects of reality. It is related to reality itself.

    There is thus a double-significance of ontology as phenomenology. First, following from it there is no representational mediation between what manifests itself as itself, and our consciousness of that manifestation. In this way, the phrase “only as phenomenology is ontology possible” is just a reminder against Kantian forms of indirect representationalism, which loads the word “appearance” with metaphysical baggage Husserl and Heidegger attempt to shrug off. Second, phenomenological-ontology rests on the double-meaning of “is”. Throughout BT, there is a distinction implicitly and explicitly made between an “ontic” is, and an “ontological” is. The ontic is says that stars “are” independent of human perception. The ontological is, speaking in terms of being as presence and the determination of stars *as* stars – as things shiny in the sky with a referential value-structure, is dependent on Dasein the perceiver. This is merely a tautology.

    So while Braver is right to say that humans interpret the world *as if* it were independent of us, and this implies an anti-realism of sorts, the actual manifestation of the world as presence – if we are to accept common sense and scientific physicalism – then implies that the presencing of the world is necessarily based on some ontic, causal structure. On this point, we don’t need to try and understand what Heidegger was saying in order to come to a sound conclusion regarding realism. The mind-independence of stars is obvious to common sense.

    Here’s the thing: If we want to stick with H’s “method” we may take the above quote as claiming that the idea of “occurrent” entities is the notion of one that exists independently of us, e.g. as an “in-itself-for-us.” Or to put it in more Heideggarian parlance, we may say that part of the intelligibility of PaH objects lies in *thinking* of them as having an independent existence. This does not commit us to claiming PaH objects *do* have mind-independent existence.

    I think you are right here, but I don’t think that you have given the whole story. The mind-independence of the presence of the totality of entities can be established in two ways, both reflectively and pre-reflectively. The reflective dimension is the “thinking” about the mind-independent world that you mention. Pre-reflectively however, we have a grasp of how the world is independent of us by how we “run up against it”. As Rorty points out, the is-seems distinction is built into our basic pre-reflective discourse and understanding.

    Again though, we need to keep in mind the almost play-on-words that Heidegger uses in regards to being. When defined in terms of how he uses it in SZ 6, “Being is dependent on the understanding of Being” simply means “[the disclosure of the world to Dasein is dependent on Dasein having an understanding of the world [with understanding the world defined in terms of having a disclosure of the world i.e. being-in-the-world]”. This is just trivial and follows from his dual definition of being as presence and also as the classic ontic “is”.

    Anyway, a question (at long last). Can we get at what grounds the ontic nature of entities?

    I think that Heidegger believes this question can already be answered by science, which is terminologically capable of getting at the “ontic nature” of entities. Indeed, ontic is really defined in terms of what kind of vocabulary empirical science uses.

  4. You write: “I think that Heidegger believes this question can already be answered by science, which is terminologically capable of getting at the “ontic nature” of entities. Indeed, ontic is really defined in terms of what kind of vocabulary empirical science uses.”

    Meh. My feeling is that Heidegger himself was not all that interested in say, the ontic question of why the nature of the universe is the way it is ontically or some such. Of course, I think you’re right it’s a job for science to address. My problem is that I’m not all that convinced that science is up for it.

    Really, there is a sense in which one could (with Heidegger I think) simply side step this whole debate about realism in this context. Science is a practice. It’s something that we humans do, not as something that is reducible to a procedure for exposing the scaffolding of the world. The aim of the practice of science is to characterize the PaH, sure, but it is a practice all the same. The practice of science, like any other practices, reveals things to us in a particular way. The mistake the realist would make, from this perspective, is to insist that this manner of discovery is somehow more fundamental than other ways in which, in MH’s language, the Being of things manifests itself. Yes, yes, we should of course appreciate that scientific practices reveal all sorts of cool and interesting things, but we should not do so in a manner that disavows the recognition that things can be disclosed in multiple ways. Science is but one manner in which the world is revealed. Sure, it’s useful for many things, and more useful than other ways of encountering the world in some respects, but I don’t think it should be understood as the one and only way to encounter things. Or better: as the one and only way things are. At bottom, all the meta- descriptions of the way in which the world is disclosed in various scientific practices do not in and of itself matter to those practices.

  5. Lee Braver

    Thanks for your kind words and questions, Gary.

    Shahar, you nailed one of my arguments on the head, namely, that mind-independence is itself part of the way present-at-hand objects present themselves to us (made possible by categorial intuition) which explains the passages where H seems to assert a straightforward ontic realism/ontological idealism. I tried to show in detail how, when you tease apart the details of what he says in these passages, you find these qualifications.

    The other “quick” argument against ontic realism is the question, what are these mind-independent beings like? H seems to identify them as present-at-hand objects, but this just can’t work: presence-at-hand is a mode of Being and Being, all parties agree, is Dasein-dependent. It’s these, to my mind, immediate problems with ontic realism that push me to more hermeneutically complex devices. I just don’t see how it could possibly work in the context of H’s most basic and most pervasive ideas.

    Gary writes: “For Heidegger, when looking directly at the flower, the flower does not “appear” to us, with something “behind” that appearance “emanating”.”

    I’m very surprised at having this interpretation hung around my neck; you’ve been very concerned about my use of “appear” since the beginning of the reading group. I spend quite a bit of time, in both the early & later Heidegger chapters (181-98, 261-73), disentangling Heidegger & Kant’s notions of appearing. I’m quite familiar with the passage in the INtro to BT (I refer to it in the book), tho I find the discussion in HCT 80-89 far superior. I’m using appear as roughly equivalent to presencing or manifesting, and specifically without the Kantian “merely” attached to it. This is really one of the single most important points in the book, and one I hammer at ad nauseum, if I do say so myself. I suspect that a lot of this disagreement is a semantic confusion over the word “appear.”

    Gary: “the seeing something “as it is” is not a correspondence with the “thing in itself” of Kant, but rather, only a “correspondence” in the minimal sense of playing along with an established language game that is “there”, irrespective of our individual consciousness by virtue of being communal and socialized.”
    “What the flower “is” is determined by the referential value structure of language games.”

    So, the true identity of something is socially determined? Then, can we make sense of a society being wrong about something? If so, then we need a noumenal remainder outside its views to contrast it with; if not, we have the epochal relativism you reject.

    “The mind-independence of the presence of the totality of entities can be established in two ways, both reflectively and pre-reflectively.”

    This is a good point; it’s a shade of meaning I painted over. I don’t think it fundamentally changes anything, but you are exposing a lack of nuance in my account.

    “the presencing of the world is necessarily based on some ontic, causal structure”

    Unless I’m really misunderstanding you, this looks like onto-theology–making Being or presencing the effect of a being, one of Heidegger’s mortal sins.

  6. Lee Braver

    One more thing:

    Gary: “Braver consistently persists in confusing “reality” – the totality of entities being presenced – with “Being”, which for Heidegger, was defined in BT not as “reality” or anything like that, but rather “that which defines entities as entities”.”

    I discuss this distinction, among other places, at pp. 325-28.

  7. Gary Williams

    Dr. Braver,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. Your comments are extremely useful for honing my realist argument. To address some of your concerns:

    that mind-independence is itself part of the way present-at-hand objects present themselves to us (made possible by categorial intuition) which explains the passages where H seems to assert a straightforward ontic realism/ontological idealism

    If we accept the basic phenomenological point that mind-independence is part of the way the objects present themselves, should it not then be a straightforward conclusion that the world external to our bodies is very ontically real, and that the stars we perceive are actually “there”, irrespective of how we look at them? For me, interpreting Heidegger in terms of ontic realism has both the double-whammy of being common sensible and also fitting in with many passages in BT.

    I mean, Heidegger says it pretty explicitly in some places:

    Entities are, quite independently of the experience by which they are disclosed, the acquaintance in which they are discovered, and the grasping in which their nature is ascertained. But being “is” only in the understanding of those entities to whose being something like an understanding of being belongs. (SZ 183)

    Furthermore, to answer your question:

    The other “quick” argument against ontic realism is the question, what are these mind-independent beings like? H seems to identify them as present-at-hand objects, but this just can’t work: presence-at-hand is a mode of Being and Being, all parties agree, is Dasein-dependent.

    It seems to me that from a formal point of view taking by BT, we don’t really need to further define what mind-independent entities are like, because for one, entities have already been formally defined as existing independently and secondly, there are many different kinds of entities in the world, all existing ontically in various ways. Trying to say “what they are like” would require an extremely bulky ontic-categorial analysis. In BT, Heidegger is strictly working with the formal-ontological definitions of entities so any definition of “what they are like” will be restricted to something simple like “entities are occurrent” or something like that. I think the term “occurrent” answers your question about how to talk about present-at-hand entities without contradicting the statement that present-at-hand entities are dependent on Dasein. Occurrent entities are both disclosed as present-at-hand and ready-at-hand. So while the mode of being of the occurrent entities are dependent on Dasein (this is tautological), the actual occurrent structure is not. This explains, obviously, why stars are not ontically dependent on Dasein to exist, but are “ontologically” dependent on Dasein to “exist” as “stars”.

    Thus,

    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. (GP 240)

    Along with Dasein as being-in-the-world, entities within-the-world have in each case already been disclosed. This existential-ontological assertion seems to accord with the thesis of realism that the external world is Really present-at-hand. In so far as this existential assertion does not deny that entities within-the-world are present-at-hand, it agrees – doxographically, as it were, with the thesis of realism in its results. (SZ 207)

    Heidegger goes on to say however that this kind of realism differs from traditional realism in that the reality of the external world is not something that can be “rationally proved”, but rather, is always already presupposed for humans.

  8. Gary Williams

    Oh, and thanks for pointing out the places in your book where I had missed your clarifications.

  9. Gary Williams

    The practice of science, like any other practices, reveals things to us in a particular way. The mistake the realist would make, from this perspective, is to insist that this manner of discovery is somehow more fundamental than other ways in which, in MH’s language, the Being of things manifests itself.

    I don’t know, based on this, would you say that a scanning electron microscope is equally “fundamental” as what is given to us through the naked, eye? That seems like a path I wouldn’t want to go down if I expect to be taken seriously outside of philosophy. How is a bubble chamber not a more substantive, object-centered view of the world, in the sense of “standing under”? The “particular way” of science is to reveal to us how things are regardless of what anyone believes.

  10. Lee Braver

    “should it not then be a straightforward conclusion that the world external to our bodies is very ontically real, and that the stars we perceive are actually “there”, irrespective of how we look at them?”

    Yes, the world is real and independent of us, ontically considered. Those big, far away, twinkly objects in the sky are in now way dependent on these cosmologically recent hairless apes. No one says otherwise. But ontologically, in terms of the significance of these facts, including the Dasein-independence of stars, all depends on our ideas such as “far away” or, most significantly for our purposes, “Dasein-independent.”

    “entities have already been formally defined as existing independently and secondly, there are many different kinds of entities in the world, all existing ontically in various ways. Trying to say “what they are like” would require an extremely bulky ontic-categorial analysis.”

    But the project of BT is to sort all the various entities in the world into a very few, very broad categories: ready-to-hand equipment, present-at-hand objects, and existing Dasein. You can certainly object that this is too abstract and he needs more detail (I think H partially concedes this in the first section of “Origin of the Work of Art”), but that is an external criticism of BT rather than unpacking what H is saying. Perfectly legitimate, just a different project. Within the context of BT, objects as they are independent of Dasein seem to be present-at-hand (certainly couldn’t be the other two), and this is a mode of Being which depends of Dasein.

    “I think the term “occurrent” answers your question about how to talk about present-at-hand entities without contradicting the statement that present-at-hand entities are dependent on Dasein. Occurrent entities are both disclosed as present-at-hand and ready-at-hand”

    I think this is mistaken. We need to look at specific texts, because occurrent is generally just an alternate translation of “Vorhanden,” translated as “present-at-hand” in BT. So this doesn’t get us out of the pah-rth dichotomy of non-Dasein entities.

    And please call me Lee. Big fan of “Mr. Show,” BTW. Did you see “Arrested Development”? More conventional, but really good.

  11. Gary Williams

    But the project of BT is to sort all the various entities in the world into a very few, very broad categories: ready-to-hand equipment, present-at-hand objects, and existing Dasein.

    I am of the opinion that BT shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into such a narrow project. While, technically speaking, Heidegger does sort the disclosure of entities into those broad categories (not the entities “themselves”), the project of BT is also about the Frage nach dem Sinn von Sein, which primarily involves a phenomenological analysis of how we understand and interpret the world through the pre-reflective understanding of being. Heidegger analyzes our basic disclosure and self-understanding in terms of facticity, care, and temporality. All these features are analyzed in excruciatingly detailed phenomenological terms, working out the existential structure of “I-hood”, conscious, guilt, anxiety, etc.

    Of course, you already know all this, which is why it concerns me that after doing such an in-depth study of BT you could reduce it to such a simple, almost reductionist project.

    Within the context of BT, objects as they are independent of Dasein seem to be present-at-hand (certainly couldn’t be the other two), and this is a mode of Being which depends of Dasein.

    I think you have to break down what it means for something to be a “mode of Being” in order to see how the disclosure of the world as “present-at-hand” is dependent on there being an ontically real world independent of our disclosure of it. We see this in the passage I quoted in my earlier post and elsewhere in BT. With “Being” defined specially in terms of being as presencing, it no longer makes sense to say that Heidegger is relegating “real” Being, (presence-at-hand) in the classic sense of the word, to being dependent on humans in the Kantian sense of the term. In order for there to be a presencing, there must be a “presence” of something at a particular ontical place in the world. You might say that I am loading the game by even saying that one can be a Heideggerian and claim there is “real” Being and a less-real, Dasein-dependent sense of the term. However, I think this reading is consistent with Heidegger’s common usage of scarequotes to dampen the strength of his claims about what “is” dependent on Dasein or not. As long as we realize that from a phenomenological-ontological perspective there is a hermeneutic dependency of the worldhood of the world on Dasein (not a metaphysical one), we can still talk about realism in a common sense manner consistent with science. I don’t think Heidegger even wanted to be read as denying what common sense realism says about the independence of stars and whether the earth would disappear if humans vanished.

    Furthermore, in terms of what Heidegger is actually “saying”, I think I am definitely sticking close to the textual evidence. I quoted some of the key passages already, but if you look at the chapter entitled “Heidegger’s realism” in Taylor Carman’s Heidegger’s Analytic, you can find a plethora of textual evidence to support a watered-down realist view. Perhaps you have already read this chapter and could elaborate on why you feel his interpretation is wrong.

    I think this is mistaken. We need to look at specific texts, because occurrent is generally just an alternate translation of “Vorhanden,” translated as “present-at-hand” in BT. So this doesn’t get us out of the pah-rth dichotomy of non-Dasein entities.

    This is a good comment. I need to look at my German text to tease out the extent to which it is true, but I don’t have that on me right now. However, while you will probably say that I am “reading into the text” what I want to read, I think that Heidegger makes generous use of play-on-words and double-meanings to express an ontical and ontological point simultaneously. Thus, Heidegger can express both an ontic realist point and an ontological-dependence point at the same time e.g. through a close semantic connection between being and presence and presence-at-hand. Why else would that connection be there if not to express a realist, presencing approach to the “question of the meaning of being”?

    Besides, Heidegger’s realism is more hermeneutic than metaphysical. Heidegger’s point is not that one can make a rational argument “for” realism, but rather, all our language-games presuppose there being an occurrent world which is accessible and “there”.

    p.s. I love Arrested Development. One of my favorite series hands down.

  12. Hi, Gary. As per your comment about science above, that’s not quite what I had in mind. Rather, in my thinking out loud type of comment I simply meant to say something like this: of course science reveals certain things. However, the mistake would be–with MH I think–to then attempt to go beyond such a declaration and characterize the broader practice of science as something that allows us to utter “nature’s own language” as Rorty discusses in _Consequences of Pragmatism_. I don’t think that scientists understand the PaH as fundamental. Philosophers of science do, however, when they approach science from outside of its day to day practice. That is, to presuppose the “originariness” of the PaH, and in turn, causes us to turn a blind eye to the other ways in which the world can be revealed.

  13. Lee Braver

    Gary: “Of course, you already know all this, which is why it concerns me that after doing such an in-depth study of BT you could reduce it to such a simple, almost reductionist project.”

    No need to be concerned; I was just writing a bit hastily. Of course you’re right that I misspoke–this isn’t THE project of BT. All I meant was that in the context of what we were talking about–coming up with categories to describe the world–BT did this at a very high level of abstraction (3 categories to cover all beings, or rather, all ways of Being) rather than the more detailed project you alluded to as being necessary (“there are many different kinds of entities in the world, all existing ontically in various ways. Trying to say “what they are like” would require an extremely bulky ontic-categorial analysis”). I think this could be a valid criticism of BT’s phenomenology, but BT’s project side-steps the need to come up with a bunch of widely variegated categories.

    “In order for there to be a presencing, there must be a “presence” of something at a particular ontical place in the world.”

    Ontically this is perfectly right–there needs to be something there for a person in the world to genuinely perceive it. But, as I understand him, Heidegger consistently, across his career, rejects the ontological reading of this relation, i.e., that a being instigates the clearing (except for Dasein in the early work).

    “Heidegger’s point is not that one can make a rational argument “for” realism, but rather, all our language-games presuppose there being an occurrent world which is accessible and “there”.”

    I almost agree with this, but he does explicitly rule out the language of presuppositions as bringing in the model of theoretical thinking at a level far more primordial or basic. H has a great line that even calling our relationship to the world “presuppositionless” is still to theoretical. I doubt you meant that connotation, but it is worthwhile pointing it out.

  14. Gary Williams

    Ontically this is perfectly right–there needs to be something there for a person in the world to genuinely perceive it. But, as I understand him, Heidegger consistently, across his career, rejects the ontological reading of this relation, i.e., that a being instigates the clearing (except for Dasein in the early work).

    Wouldn’t it be the case that for Heidegger, this is only true given that a being can not instigate being because 1. being, properly understand, is concerned with the meaning of being and is not itself an entity to be created or destroyed and 2. the meaning of being is dependent on Dasein because it is only humans that have an understanding of being that the world is. This in turn makes it, as you put, that no entity “instigates” being because being is not itself an entity that can be “created” or instigated in a clearing. Being simply “is” the meaning of being, which is dependent on Dasein in a hermeneutic, not causal sense. The clearing of being is causally dependent of the occurrent structure of the world, but the transcendental conditions of the intelligibility of the world as a world are dependent on the faculties of Dasein. It seems then that an ontic realist could have his cake and eat it too insofar as hu keeps in mind this distinction between causal and hermeneutic conditions.

    In other words, even in BT, it isn’t Dasein that “instigates” being, because being is not itself an entity to be instigated, but rather, being is the hermeneutic condition for there to be the meaning of being, which is the understanding of being, of the disclosure of the world, that Dasein has.

    Does that make sense? So while you are right to say that, strictly speaking entities don’t literally create the clearing of being; on a hermeneutic, “transcendental” level, it is Dasein which creates the meaning of being, which is how Heidegger understands being throughout his career. “Being is the transcendens pure and simple.” But this isn’t simply an anti-realism of A1, but rather, only a hermeneutic anti-realism based on the transcendental conditions of interpretation. On a strictly causal level, Heidegger is a realist as against Kant, but only in terms of the conditions of intelligibility is Heidegger an anti-realist.

    This, at least, is Taylor Carman’s take on things and I am inclined to agree with him. It seems to be the only way to make sense of Heideggerian insights regarding the ontological-existential dependence of the worldhood without sacrificing the realism of occurrentness that grounds our modern understanding of the world.

  15. Gary Williams

    Lee,

    After reading your chapter on Foucalt, it seems to me that there needs to be a more clear distinction being made between ontic and ontological realism. I think psychiatry and the “objects” created from such a discourse is a perfect example to illustrate why ontological realism is not a good strategy in light of Historical Phenomenological Ontology. Heidegger was certainly not a realist about things like madness. However, I see more clearly now that ontological realism is not the same thing as ontic realism, wherein, as Carman puts it, “occurrent entities exist independently of the conditions constitutive of our interpretation of them as occurrent.”

    It is only by making this distinction between ontological and ontic realism that one can avoid the awkward accusation that Heidegger and Foucault actually believed the reality of stars somehow depends on humans. Ontological pluralism and ontic realism can go hand in hand. As I see it, they must be able to coexist if we are going to be able to make sense of both human culture and the success of sciences like physics and chemistry

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