Master's Thesis: Provisional Topic

As readers of this blog are probably well-aware, the issue of realism in Heidegger has been a pet issue of mine for quite some time. Over and over, I repeatedly hear the same claims made in regard to Heidegger. “Oh, Heidegger thinks that Being is correlated with Thought.” “Oh, Heidegger was an idealist because he didn’t have the resources to make a distinction between presence in the sense of presentability (idealism) and presence as the ground of presentability (realism).” “Oh, Heidegger was an ontic idealist because he thought all modes of Being are dependent on Dasein.”


Such positions are positively absurd in light of our existence in the REAL world! Was Heidegger a fool? Did he really think that we have no phenomenological recourse for overcoming both vapid realism and vapid idealism? Did he not explicitly say that a correlation between subject and object completely misses the phenomenon of existence, of our living and breathing and dying in a world that resists us, that presents itself or shows itself to us? Are not the conceptual resources for ontic realism already established within his very definition of phenomena as against the Kantian critique of appearances as a possible ontology? How can that which shows itself to us be a correlation of our subjectivity when Heidegger himself defines subjectivity in terms of an intentional comportment towards the world, towards the extant?  Thought is not correlated to another correlation, it is correlated to reality itself, otherwise it would not be intentional i.e. transcendental. Does he not say, over and over, that “The window, however, surely does not receive existence from my perceiving it, but just the reverse: I can perceive it only if it exists and because it exists“? How else can we make sense of this except in terms of realism concerning the external world? Any other interpretation simply renders Heidegger a fool and Heidegger was no fool, no mere correlationist, if by that we mean a vapid anthropomorphizing of reality.

Thus, I have provisionally decided that my master’s thesis will be on the issue of realism and the external world. It will be my scholarly goal to provide the conceptual resources within Heidegger* to establish an ontic realism which claims, as our common sense preontological understanding itself confirms, that physical entities exist independently of our interpretation of them as physical. Any other position is absolutely absurd in light of phenomenological-ontology being an analytic of finitude, of real existence. To construct a strawman of vapid idealism and then congratulate yourself for tearing it down is surely not an impressive feat.

I apologize for the snarky tone of this post but I am just seriously tired of hearing about the same tired story of “correlationism this” and “correlationism that” when Heidegger himself explicitly claims that a conception of “correlation” cannot possibly capture the phenomenon of intentional comportment towards extant reality i.e. of our uncovering of reality. How else can we understand the Heideggerian advance over Husserlian correlation? As Merleau-Ponty said,

To ask oneself whether the world is real is to fail to understand what one is asking, since the world is not a sum of things which might always be called into question, but the inexhaustible reservoir from which things are drawn.

*The final chapter will probably attempt to establish the theoretical viability of a direct or “naive” realism via conceptual resources outside of Heidegger, such as in Gibsonian ecological optics, dynamic systems theory, and embodied/embedded philosophy of mind.



Filed under Heidegger, Philosophy

7 responses to “Master's Thesis: Provisional Topic

  1. Paul Ennis

    Excellent choice of topic and a much needed defense these days. It seems many of us are circling around the Heidegger realism debates these days.

    Good luck although I doubt you’ll need it.


  2. Gary Williams

    Thanks Paul.

    It is really exciting to have chosen my thesis topic on Heidegger. I’m taking a class on Being and Time this semester with Greg Schufreider and it has awoken my passion for Heidegger again. I’m thrilled that I get to dive back into Heidegger scholarship after doing so much cognitive science stuff lately. I already have a couple of Heidegger scholars lined up in my sights 🙂

    Here’s a question though: how do you balance the ratio between lucid exegesis and critiquing other people’s interpretations? On one hand, I need to show that I have my own consistent interpretation of Heidegger, and on the other, I need to engage with the secondary literature. Btw, Jon Cogburn wants me to read Harman’s Tool-being, but I am not yet convinced that’s necessary; what do you think? I’m thinking After Finitude would be better to tackle if I want to address the issue of “correlationism”.

  3. Paul Ennis

    I’m not sure how to explain the balancing act that is writing on Heidegger. I tend to proceed on the following basis: short overview of Heidegger’s text (in plain English, German in brackets and not in Heideggerian jargon), one important secondary literature argument raised that contradicts my own (the rest go into footnotes to show you know the literature but don’t intend to little your text with it), and finally my own response. After a while this will just become a natural process but really it is just something you pick up and generally the dry point of a master’s thesis is to learn how to do this by trial and error.

    Tool Being is worth reading in general but it is a book that quickly leaves behind its Heideggerian background so it is hard to say. I’d get it on inter library loan if you can (it is very expensive at the moment) and have a look at the first two chapters and if you like what you see stick with it. On the other hand After Finitude is indispensible for this topic. Both myself and many other graduate Heideggerians are coming to this kind of mutual awareness of how we must deal with Meillassoux’s critique. It is also just generally an awesome book (short too and should be relatively cheap).

  4. Great stuff.

    I have a response (including why one thinking about this ought to closely study the first two-thirds of Graham’s “Tool Being”) on my blog at . I look forward to seeing what you guys think.

    I agree that the Meillassoux book is fantastic. I think his arguments actually work against John McDowell’s Wittgensteinian quietist moves, but I don’t know if I’m a good enough philosopher to make the case for this very well.

  5. Pingback: Heidegger, Realism, and all that jazz… « Deontologistics

  6. you write:

    I am just seriously tired of hearing about the same tired story of “correlationism this” and “correlationism that” when Heidegger himself explicitly claims that a conception of “correlation” cannot possibly capture the phenomenon of intentional comportment

    I could not agree more. The label “correlationist” has taken hold (not just re: Heidegger) in part because Meillassoux’s beautiful book is so original that it feels like a breath of fresh air; when I read the accounts of Heidegger’s early career, especially Arendt’s memoir for him, and the reports of the Davos encounter between him and Cassirer, I get the impression that Heidegger must have seemed the same way to his own young contemporaries: a wholly new approach cutting a swathe through the ingrown thickets of academic philosophy. But the sober distance of 3/4 of a century enables us to see that Cassirer was not a fool either. “Correlationism” will turn out to be, like “decadence,” “onto-theology,” and “logocentrism,” just another swear-word, most of the time. This does not mean that Meillassoux is merely wrong–as is often noted, he (alone of the SRists?) credits correlationism w/ being worthy of a real immanent critique–but it does mean that using “correlationist” as a term of disapprobation and dismissal is bound, in the long run, to be shown up as an abdication of philosophy.

  7. marc a.

    I love your way of writing – it is a pleasure to read it – even for people like me not being of an English mother tongue. That’s why I wanted to drop you a line and a big thank you today, as I’m following already for quite while. Did you ever consider to publish your findings? I did so with GRIN, just check for yourself if it could be a possible option ( for you, too – the best right now is that I must not put effort into kindle-formatting, but invest my time into writing.

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