There’s so many folks online whose thought I DO respect that like Heidegger, that I’m probably missing something. And I’m curious what that is. I’m curious, that’s what it comes down to. Was Heidegger essential as a path to where you are now, or do you think he has something lasting to say to us today? That’s my question.
Let me start by saying that I primarily deal with philosophy of mind. Let me also say that there is a quiet storm brewing in philosophy of mind circles, with essentially two competing philosophical paradigms standing at odds: one inspired by Descartes/Locke/Kant and the other by Heidegger/Merleau-Ponty/Gibson. The former trio is foundational in respect to the cognitivism still very much in vogue today; the latter with respect to the less established but quickly growing 4E paradigm (embodied, embedded, extended, enacted). The 4E paradigm is a direct reaction to the perceived failures of classic cognitivism in respect to understanding perception, action, intentionality, emotion, reasoning, etc. Accordingly, there are many overlapping ways to cash out the distinction between the two paradigms:
- Cartesian vs. Heideggerian philosophy of mind
- indirect representationalism vs. direct nonrepresentationalism
- strict primary/secondary qualities distinction vs. skepticism of distinction
- atomism vs. holism
- computationalist vs. Gibsonian theories of information processing
- disembodied vs. embodied theories of mind
- social atomism vs. social embeddedness/contextualism
- emphasis on the theoretical vs. emphasis on the instrumental
- theory-theory vs. the Narrative Practice Hypothesis
- reductionist vs. social constructivist approaches to higher-order cognition
- computer metaphor vs. “bundle of habits” metaphor
- literal view of language vs. figurative-metaphorical view of language
- analytic vs. hermeneutic approach to interpretation and understanding
- internalist vs. externalist approaches to perception
- dualist ontology vs. affordance ontology
- robust vs. minimalist conceptions of selfhood
- subject-as-against-objects vs. subject-as-“amidst”-objects
- Those who believe in the Myth of the Given vs. those who don’t
I can thus answer Christopher’s question of whether Heidegger has anything important to say to contemporary philosophers: Yes, of course! Heidegger’s texts were groundbreaking in respect to almost every idea in the right-hand column. Moreover, he was the first thinker to systematically defend a coherent philosophical alternative to Cartesian and Kantian theories of mind. Thinkers up until Husserl overcame the tradition in many respects, but never broke away from it in a decisive fashion like Heidegger did. Philosophers were far too embroiled within the language games of traditional philosophy to see that their theories were grounded upon a particular intellectual trajectory starting with ancient philosophy and moving up and through Descartes and Kant. I am of the opinion that Heidegger was perhaps the first major thinker to break away from the tradition in respect to all the major dogmatisms in philosophy of mind . For this reason, I must modify something that Paul Ennis said in his own defense of Heidegger:
It is important to situate Heidegger in order to defend him. He only makes sense as a thinker of and within the tradition. He is self-consciously an ‘inheritor’ of the tradition – hell he even seems to be putting himself into it as it were.
I would say instead that Heidegger only ever put himself into the tradition in order to destroy it. I think Paul would probably agree with me on this, but I think it is important to emphasis the ways in which Heidegger broke with tradition in many key areas. His ideas are so influential and so far reaching that, in my opinion, anyone working with Descartes and Kant is obliged to understand Heidegger’s alternative model of human existence. This is especially important when engaging with the cognitivism debate in philosophy of mind. While many excellent books and articles have been inspired by Heidegger’s ideas, many philosophers not well-versed in the history of philosophy lose sight of Heidegger’s larger metaphilosophical goal of overcoming the deficiencies in Cartesian and Kantian philosophy. Without understanding the historical context in which Heidegger overcame traditional views of subjectivity, his philosophical achievements are difficult to fully recognize. Conversely, traditional Heideggerians get so wrapped up in the system and the terminology that they overlook the wider context of what people like Dreyfus and Andy Clark are doing with Heidegger, namely, trying to overcome the deficiencies of the Cartesian homunculus theory.
There is much more to say on this issue of Heidegger’s intellectual lineage. One could write ten volumes tracing his thought through the work of people like Merleau-Ponty and the Gibson up and through the developments of 4E philosophy in the early 90s. The intersection between Heideggerian phenomenology and cognitive science is rich. For this reason, Heidegger has much to say to us in the 21st century.