Great line by Heidegger (also a note on pragmatism)

In contrast to [the] historical path toward an understanding of the concept of world, I attempted in Being and Time to provide a preliminary characterization of the phenomenon of world by interpreting the way in which we at first and for the most part move about in our everyday world. There I took my departure from what lies to hand in the everyday realm, from those things that we use and pursue, indeed in such a way that we do not really know of the peculiar character proper to such activity at all, and when we do try to describe it we immediately misinterpret it by applying concepts and questions that have their source elsewhere. That which is so close and intelligible to us in our everyday dealings is actually and fundamentally remote and unintelligible to us. In and through this initial characterization of the phenomenon of world the task is to press on and point out the phenomenon of world as a problem. It never occurred to me, however, to try and claim or prove with this interpretation that the essence of man consists in the fact that he knows how to handle knives and forks or use the tram. (Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, p. 177)

Some would say that this line is definitive textual evidence against a pragmatist reading of Heidegger. However, this would be a mistake insofar as pragmatism is also not committed to claiming that the essence of man consists in the usage of knives and forks. If anything, pragmatism has perhaps the best explanatory gloss on both pedestrian equipment use and the so-called “higher” faculties afforded by language and culture.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Great line by Heidegger (also a note on pragmatism)

  1. I think pragmatism really just wasn’t well known in pre-war Europe. There were exceptions, but that’s what they were: exceptions. By and large what was known was a caricature of what James and Dewey were really arguing (not to mention Peirce with whom ignorance of his technical views is much more understandable given his non-presence in the academy).

  2. John Townsend

    Makes sense. How could I ‘know how’ to handle tools, if I did not already understand ‘as what’ these entities are to be approached, i.e., as tools?
    Before knowing-how to drive a car, I must first understand the mode of being of a car as something-with-which-to-drive.

    From a Heidegerrian point of view, it seems the ‘danger’ of pragmatism lies in the tendency to misunderstand, or fail to address/interrogate altogether, the Self (as well as the ontological difference). Even if pragmatism integrates “…both (practical) pedestrian equipment use and the so-called ‘higher’ faculties afforded by language and culture” it still risks (perhaps unknowingly) ‘leaping over’ issues such as these, e.g., only treating the ontic level of ‘coping’ with beings (even non-thematically).

    See the long note in: BT div. two, ch. 3, n. xix (esp. the second and third paragraphs) which is page 496-497 in my copy.

    That being said, it seems that Heidegger was dismissive of pragmatism at the time of his interview with Der Spiegel. Even earlier on, in S&Z, it seems about 9/10 times Heidegger writes the word as “practical”, in quotes (and preferring instead, of course, ‘care’). This is where Dreyfus may incur criticism, taking the “understanding of being” as always coping (on top of more coping) with beings; does he not, in some sense, fail to leave the ontic dimension in his analysis? Moreover I would add Dreyfus fails to give adequate weight to the Mitwelt. Maybe some of that, although a bit scattered, will resonate.

    Finally, as long as the topic involves Heidegger quotes, here is one of my favorites:

    “World is the title for the play [das Spiel] that the transcendence of Dasein as such plays…Being-in-the-world is the original playing of the play which every factic Dasein must get into in order to be able to play itself out in such a way that all through its existence this or that is the game played on factic Dasein.”

  3. Gary Williams

    Clark, you are exactly write. Pragmatism was written off by 20th century thinkers as being simply irrationalism, relativism, or some kind of subjectivism. This is, of course, a source of great consternation for those who try to move beyond the metaphysical tradition, which philosophers are never privy to let happen while there are still philosophical “puzzles” for naturalism and radical empiricism.

    John, I think James and Dewey were very unlikely to have leaped past important questions such as the ontological foundation of conscious self-hood. James at least was very much concerned to think carefully about the nature of the selfhood and higher-level conscious operations (his concept of the fringe was the original explication of a “horizon”, which Husserl read and borrowed from). Moreover, whereas Heidegger might be profound in his thinking, James was at least more clear and concrete. That’s my one big gripe with phenomenology as a tradition. Whereas their slogan is “to the things themselves!”, their abstractness and lack of concretion often leaves me puzzled as to which things they are talking about.

  4. I think that comparison of Heidegger and the pragmatists is apt. I think the pragmatists had the tools for the Heideggarian style of analysis that we see continuing on up until recently. (Is it just me or does it seem like he’s falling out of “fashion”?) It’s just that often the pragmatists didn’t conduct the kind of inquiry that we see among the Heideggarians. Putting the two traditions in conversation can be very helpful precisely because I think the pragmatists offer a much cleaner and clearer language in which to analyze Heidegger’s insights (or others such as Levinas, Derrida, Gadamer, etc.)

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