Braver Reading Group: Chapter 5 – Early Heidegger: Fundamental Ontology

[If you’re just joining us, please click on the cover icon on the right side of the page to see the post that gathers all the discussions of Braver Reading Group, or click here.]

1. Plea for Attention to Philosophical Context

In a footnote to “Predicate Meets Property” Mark Wilson notes that he had thought of presenting his view as an interpretation of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, but he was dissuaded by the fact that the book sometimes seems to operate as a Rorschach Test for philosophers. He wanted people to respond to the philosophical content of what he was saying instead of entering debates about what Wittgenstein “really meant” (of course if one has a competing Wittgenstein who can do the relevant philosophical work better than Wilson’s, then that’s fine, but most of the debate should still be philosophy, not hermeneutics).

Part of what makes a great work of philosophy great is that it does function as Rorschach Test for other good philosophers, and certainly Being and Time is no exception. For these books the main question about philosophically interesting interpreters has got to be what they are doing with the text, and where that goes philosophically. What does early-Heidegger-as-pragmatist (Okrent) allow us to do? Similarly with early-Heidegger-as-virtue-theorist (Bernasconi), early-Heidegger-as-anti-representationalist (Dreyfus, Gibson, Okrent), early-Heidegger-as-radical-externalist-about-scheme-content (Harman), and early-Heidegger-as-transcendental idealist (Blattner, Crowell/Malpas et. al.). The “real Heidegger” yields such diverse interpretations that all impact on on-going philosophical dialectic in non-trivial ways. Like any great philosopher, this is a part of of his brilliance.

So when we look at Braver’s presentation let’s please be sensitive to what “the early Heidegger” is doing in Braver’s book. [And before saying anything about this I should be clear about one point, by “early Heidegger” we mean the Heidegger of Being and Time and surrounding writings, not the brilliant earliest pre-Husserlian Heidegger who was doing interesting things in reaction to his teachers (the first 1919 formulation of Vorhandenheit/Zuhandenheit is in reaction to Rickert, who is discussed in this regard in History of the Concept of Time, but then the citation of the very same discussion is dropped in Being and Time), the Southwest School neo-Kantians, nor  Heidegger right after that whose lectures of that period that spends 9/10ths of the time going through the ritualized dance of setting up the phenomenological verbiage. Being and Time is (among other things) a brilliant (though possibly inconsistent) working out of his earliest anti-neo-Kantian insights in the context of a very neo-Kantian Husserliana, the different interpretations above are all to some extent in reaction to the tensions between these two aspects.]

The key point about reading Braver on the early Heidegger charitably is to note that his discussion is the first sustained, careful, and charitable (c.f. Ferry and Renaut’s influential-in-Europe French Philosophy of the Sixties: An Essay on Anti-Humanism) attempt to see what happens when you construe the dialectic such that it takes seriously Foucault and Derrida’s own claimed debts to the later Heidegger. Braver sets up the early Heidegger to be able to explain this version of the later Heidegger in maximal clarity. This is his primary purpose, and the context in which we need to understand the application of the realism matrix. His secondary purpose is of course the rapprochement between the analytic and continental traditions, not by meta-philosophical exhortation, but rather by showing the interesting things that happen when you instantiate such rapprochement. His fascinating discussion of Davidson and Heidegger at the end of the chapter is an example of this.

2. Extremely Brief Overview

Like Hegel’s objective idealism and Nietzsche’s stage six physics, the early Heidegger’s phenomenological ontology is presented here as starting with a particular critique of realism and then re-establishing certain of its tenants. Hegel did this re-establishing with necessary historical progression, Nietzsche with the will to power, and the early Heidegger with the account of Dasein in the second part of Being and Time. All three critique, or help themselves to existing critiques of, the Kantian noumenal. All three continue to take what’s left over once you get rid of the noumenal to still be dependent on thinking in the sense of Kant’s phenomena (correlationism), and all three continue to ground necessary truths in terms of structures that in a weaker sense than noumenal radical unknowability (and arguably resulting unthinkability) transcend phenomena. Braver tells this story so as to be able to present the later Heidegger as taking this back in  a way that leads to Foucault and Derrida.

In this light we should keep in mind that the “necessity” which Kant (responding to Hume) relocated in terms of the constitutive organizing of the human mind has a lot of different properties. Without even getting into the connection with a prioricity we have: (a) that which is unchanging, (b) that which is universal, and (c) that which is impervious to human will. Here’s a cartoon suggested by Braver: Hegel, Nietzsche, and the early Heidegger all accepted the Maimon/Ficthe/Shophenhauer/etc. critique of the Kantian noumena, but were still able to reinstate certain facets of Kantian necessity by finding something that is (a) unchanging (in a sense, with Hegel and Nietzsche) and (b) universal. The late Heidegger (and Foucault and Derrida) are going to be able to reinstate some aspects of necessity without having to find such archimidean points  by weakening the traditional model of human will, which Braver will explain in terms of the vicissitudes of A5 Active Knower. This will be a radically different form of anti-realism. Once we are anti-realists about the self in certain manners, then other aspects of the realist/anti-realist distinction go away. For example- the model of anti-realism entailing that anything goes (see quote from Novalis below). Once A5 Active Knower is dropped, the very meaning of the denial of R1 Independence changes radically (I’m not convinced that contemporary analytic and continental “realists” have kept this in mind appropriately). Anyhow, again I’m just saying this now so that we do keep in mind where this is going.

[Note: me phrasing the above in terms of “will” continues to show how interested I am in a companion volume on Schopenhauer in light of Braver’s matrix and dialectic. I hope that it didn’t confuse anything.]

3. R3 Uniqueness Versus A3 Ontological Pluralism

R3 Uniqueness is shown to be falsified by Heidegger’s account of Vorhandenheit (presence at hand/objective presence), Zuhandenheit (readiness to hand/readiness), and Dasein (humanity).

3.1. The Zuhandenheit/Vorhandenheit Reversal

The Cartesian tradition had lead to Rickert and Husserl (and to what Haugeland calls “Good Old Fashioned Artificial Intelligence and Robotics,” which Wheeler has recently masterfully shown to be properly understood as the working out of Descartes’ own views, when you read more than just the Meditations) explaining values and practical concerns as something the mind adds to a more original perception of  an objective reality of entities that subsist over time. In his 1919 lecture series on Windelband and Rickert, Heidegger argued that this gets things upside down. For him (what he would go on to call) Zuhandenheit (readiness to hand/readiness) is a realm of engaged practical activity where objects’ identities are always in terms of their relations to other objects (we move the hammer in order to hammer nails, in order to build houses, in order to protect ourselves from the weather, etc. etc.). In addition to being relational, this realm is always already valuative (the hammer exists as part of a complex form of life that essentially involves certain values, e.g. it is good not to have to sleep unprotected from the weather) and modal (“thrown possibility,” the hammer’s nature as a piece of equipment holds in virtue of what it can do). Vorhandenheit (presence at hand/objective presence) is the realm of objects that can be conceived to exist over time without their identity formed by relations to anything else. Heidegger argues that we only conceive of such objects after we factor out the properties (relational, valuative, modal) that characterize Zuhandenheit. That is, we only conceive of “objects” existing as discrete things over time in virtue of abstracting from our valuative, relational, modal immersion in the world. Thus, the way we normally operate in the world is just the opposite of the Cartesian model of the mind.

If you take Heidegger’s anti-Cartesian inversion to just describe some contingent psychological fact of the way human beings happen to think when they are being neither philosophical nor scientific, then it’s not that interesting.  But if you take the reversal to be more fundamental, then it’s one of the most important moves in the history of philosophy.

For example, Humean problems about normativity get off the ground by thinking of the universe as a set of self subsisting objects and wondering how values could get involved (similarly with Hume’s problems of modality). But if “the universe as a set of self subsisting objects” is already parasitic on a relational, valuative, and modal realm, then you can’t pose Hume’s problems.

There are two poles of approaches by which to make Heidegger’s insight non-trivial. The first is in the traditional sense by interiorizing Heidegger as a kind of neo-Kantian, where the closest we can get to reality is the realm of phenomena. But then (so it goes), there is no “reality” by which to contrast the “psychological” mechanisms he reveals. Of course there are all sorts of ways such a view can be worked out. Braver’s early Heidegger is one of them (given that the late Heidegger drops A5 Active Knower, it becomes more misleading to call it neo-Kantian). The problem with this reading is that (as others have argued, see below) it tends to collapse either into Berkeleyan or Kantianism (in the sene of giving rise to the Maimon/Fichte/Schopenhauer critique).

At the complete other end of the spectrum is Harman’s guerrilla sense by externalizing Heidegger and seeing the Vorhandenheit/Zuhandenheit reversals as holding of objects in a universe without people (and it is no accident that Harman does not see a radical break between the early and late Heidegger). While Harman critiques Okrent and Dreyfus, his reading of Heidegger legitimates their appropriation of Heidegger’s insights to develop a non-Cartesian philosophy of mind and language. If Harman is right, then it is nothing at all perverse to use Heidegger to solve the mind-body (sign-signified) problem in  in favor of body (signified). [Not that this is Dreyfus or Okrent’s considered view; but the ability to do this with their Heidegger’s has sparked a lot of analytic interest in Heidegger.] The problem with this intepretation is that it ends up striking people as frankly anthropocentric. In what sense can two rocks interacting be said to be valuative in the sense that Dasein’s world is valuative? We now solve Hume’s problems about modality and normativity at the expense of a kind of pan-psychism or animism. Even worse, we can pose Hume’s critiques about the explanatory role of religion (and Kant and Heidegger’s Humean critiques of theology) for the new view.

I don’t pose this to address this debate, but just to show that the non-triviality of Heidegger’s insight does not on it’s own presuppose radical forms of anti-realism (because one can adopt it in a realist manner like Harman, and then also like Braver’s interpretation of late Heidegger, keep it without commitment to A5 Active Knower). I think this strengthens Braver’s case.

3.2. A3 Ontological Pluralism (171-175)

In Braver’s discussion, the first reason the early Heidegger is a pluralist is that there are different modes of being that are not reducible to one another.

3.2.1. The First Reason

From the Heideggerian perspective,the defender of R3 Uniqueness is the person who ontically wants to take a class of beings as the really real ones, and explain everything else in terms of them (downgrading the objective status of anything that can’t be so explained), and who ontologically also wants to reduce different modes of being to one fundamental mode. Consider a person (what Heidegger calls a “Dasein”), who can be conceived of as a self subsisting object, or machine-like combination of such objects (Vorhandenheit, also as subject to Dennett’s physical stance) as a tool for manipulation either by evolution or other puppet masters (Zuhandenheit, also as subject to Dennett’s design stance), or as something else (e.g. Aristotle’s reasoner, Kant’s active world-constituting mind, Dennett’s intentional system, the early Heidegger’s locus of care, etc.). The paradigmatic anti-pluralist wants to collapse this ontological diversity

So the first way Heidegger defends pluralism is by denying that such a reduction is possible. And this does seem to follow from the Vorhandenheit/Zuhandenheit reversal. Almost, if not all, reductive plans wrongly try to reduce the other entities and modes of being to a subset of entities conceived in the Vorhandenheit mode of non-modal, non valuative, non-relational objects that self subsist over time. A great deal of philosophy results from what to do with modality and values when this is your metaphysics. But if Heidegger is right that the very mode of Vorhandenheit (objective presence, presence-at-hand, the physical stance, etc.) is derivative, only achieved by abstraction from (or, more realistically, emergence out of) a more originary realm of Zuhandenheit, then the reductive hopes are smashed. We must learn to live with A3 pluralism. Here’s Braver.

In particular, we ourselves exit in a fundamentally different way than substances: we are temporally stretched out, free (in some sense), self-interpreting, purposive, and so on, none of which can be accounted for in terms of substances “It has to be shown that the mode of being of human Dasein is totally different from that of all other entities: (in Husserl 1997, 138). This ontological pluralism could be explained as a simple dichotomy, however–those entities which are Dasein have one mode of Being, non-Dasien another. Heidegger goes further, however, to state that one and the same entity can be in different ways. When a pen is being used to write, inconspicuously withdrawing from attention, it is in the mode of ready-to-hand. On the other hand, if it runs out of ink an draws attention to itself as a useless thing to be stared at, it changes over to present-at-hand. Which is the real pen? Heidegger’s position is that this is a bad question; entities simply can be in more than one way. “Beings have stages of dicoverability, diverse possibilities in which they manifest themselves in themselves. There are diverse stages–and one cannot say that, for example, physics has the genuine knowledge of the solar sphere, in contrast to our natural grasp of the sun” (Heidegger, MFL, 167; see also Heidegger; HCT 38; Heidegger, BP 68). The demand that things must really be one way (R3) is a realist prejudice, an assumption that becomes self-confirming by filtering out all disconfirming experience. (173-174)

3.2.2. The Second Reason

There is a second sense in which Heidegger is an A3 pluralist. Even within a mode (Vorhandenheit, Zuhandenheit) or ontologically interesting sets of objects (if that’s the fair way to characterize Daseins and, later, artworks).

Actual attention to our experience suggests openness to widely disparate ways of Being: “Even in a rough analysis a multiplicity of intrinsically founded levels of being are manifested within the being of things and of equipment alone.” (Heidegger, BP 305)

. . . .Even within a single mode of Being, ready-to-hand tools offer multiple perspectives. Since they are defined by their context of referential significance, that is, their position in the network of instrumental relations which ultimately depends on our roles, a tool can change character as our roles change. A flat tire will be very different to a professor trying to get to work than to a mechanic, being an obstacle to work for one but work itself to the other. Rather than rejecting this instability as evidence of subjectivity and unreality, Heidegger wants us to accept it as the fully legitimate nature of this mode of Being.

It is precisely when we see the “world” unsteadily and fitfully in accordance with our moods, that the ready-to hand shows itself in its specific worldhood, which is never the same from day to day. By looking at the world theoretically, we have already dimmed it down to the uniformity of what is purely present-at-hand, though admittedly this uniformity comprises a new abundance of things which can be discovered by simply characterizing them. (Heidegger, BT 177/138; see also 1`41/106)

Presence-at-hand is itself a legitimate perspective which reveals real beings, but it denies the realty of the ready-to-hand- tools that it covers over in its ontological Gestalt switch. (174-175)

4. A5 Active Knower (175-181)

Braver shows that there is a sense in which early Heidegger supports A5 Active Knower. (1) He explicitly takes himself to be engaged in a transcendental project in the Kantian sense (set aside the inconsistency of taking oneself to provide conditions of possibility for cognition while characterizing possibility itself as something thrown into the cognizer’s (Zuhandenheit) world), and (2) more specifically:

But what determines which mode they are in is how Dasein approaches them, or what Heidegger sometimes calls Dasein’s “projecting” or “projecting a being on its Being.”

Heidegger explicitly ties Dasein’s different ways of projecting to the two modes of non-Dasein Being. One way to project is scientific “thematizing” where the “aim is to free the entities we encounter within-the-world, and to free them in such a way that they can ‘throw themselves against’ a pure discovering–that is, that they can become ‘Objects.’ Thematizing Objectifies” (Heidegger, BT 414/363). On the other hand, if I become preoccupied with something else while using a pen and let it fade from conscious awareness, then I make it ready-to-hand. Of course, the pen has to cooperate, writing roles must be available within my society, and so on, but it is still my action that gives it its ontological character. “What determines an entity as such ready-to-hand equipment, then, is that we have adopted a certain attitude or relationship to it” (Richardson 1986, 17; see also 19). If I then stop writing and stare at the pen, letting its usefulness and emotional resonances fade out, I have rendered it present-at-hand. As Guignon says, “Our projections determine the Being of entities” (Guignon 1983, 201; see also Versenyi 1965, 27; Poeggler 1970, 293). Placing at least some control over conceptual assignment, as well as focusing on the basic dichotomy between temporal and non-temporal categories, are two distinctly Nietzschean elements in Heidegger’s early thought. (180-181)

This is all correct, but I think there is another important sense in which even in his early stages Heidegger is leaning towards a more passive knower. If you accept his basic Vorhandenheit/Zuhandenheit inversion and have a strong enough version of the A5 Active Knower, then there is one way to get ontological pluralism on the cheap. You merely hold that the mind is free to abstract non-trivially distinct kinds of sets of self-subsisting objects from the Zuhandenheit soup. This kind of abuse of scheme-content distinctions to some extent characterized German Romanticism after Kant:

. . . .then everyone will be his own physician, able to acquire a complete, assured and exact feeling for his body, then man . . . will perhaps even be able to restore lost limbs, to kill himself by mere volition and only thus acquire true knowledge of the body, the soul, the world, life, death and the spirit world. It may possibly depend on him alone whether a dead person is reanimated. He will compel his sense to produce for him the shape he demands, and he will be able, in the most real sense to live in his world. (Novalis, cited in Safranski, p. 130)

It is both to Heidegger’s immense credit and a central part of his continuing philosophical import that he himself resists this (though I think the similarities between the era of the “philosophers of 68” (especially as this work has leaked out into non-philosophy departments) and the people inhabiting Safranski’s “wild years of philosophy” is probably due to shared confusion about these very issues, which many people reading this blog will have been exposed to by freshman level students enthused to study philosophy after seeing The Matrix one too many times).

As far as I know, there is no hint of this kind of thing in the early Heidegger, on the contrary we can get into the realm of Vorhandenheit by “tarrying” or just trying to stare without being to caught up in our projects. We have to let go and open up to do this. This is profoundly passive. In the next chapter Braver shows how this aspect of the early Heidegger actually leads to quite radical changes and a complete rejection of the Kantian A5 Active Knower.

5. A1 Phenomenological Ontology

Everything written above (including the passive knower version of Heidegger) can be worked out in a manner consistent with R1 Independence. Graham Harman explicitly does this. Most philosophers of mind and language moved by the Heideggers of Dreyfus and Okrent do at least implicitly as well. So there’s a huge set of philosophical and interpretive issues that we can’t do justice to here.

Phenomenological Ontology, on the other hand, cannot be worked out in a manner consistent with R1 Independence. Braver shows how what the early Heidegger took from Husserl fits perfectly with the “dump noumena, treat what’s left as still depending on human thinking” maneuver of Hegel and Nietzsche.

Heidegger’s most basic tenets entail this rejection of noumena. His definition of Being as the presencing of that which is present (which represents his “granite of spiritual fatu,” in Nietzsche’s term) on the one hand, and the identification of beings with the totality of that which presents itself on the other, are flip sides of the same coin. Starting from this definition of Being, it is virtually tautological that anything that in principle cannot present itself to us cannot be considered real, while whatever is present to us has real Being without needing an absent Idea, God, or noumenon for support. Going in the other direction, once we reject noumena, the realm of beings left is coextensive with the realm of phenomena or what shows itself to us. “The question of being is thus raised, it is even answered. We have to do solely with the genuinely scientific way of answering it, which attempts to define the sense of the reality of something real insofar as it manifests itself in consciousness.” The raising of the question of Being guides its own answer, since the only way we can possibly investigate it is by appealing to evidence that is in principle available to the inquirer. The only Being we can talk and think about is not evidence- or experience-transcendent. Thus the meaning of the Being of beings is ultimately whatever is involved in becoming present to Dasein, or what he calls “presence within the clearing.”

This view represents Heidegger’s early theory of Being, which I will call Phenomenological Ontology (PO). It represents his counterpart to Hegel’s Objective Idealism and Nietzsche’s Step Six Physics; that is, the strain of this thought that has surpassed the Kantian Paradigm and twisted free of meta-physics by rejecting even the coherence of a realm inaccessible to human experience. (184)

5.1 Being

This point is then made about Being herself.

A transcendent Being would be of no relevance (not just of no use) to human thought since it could not sustain intelligible discussion. Heidegger puts this more directly when he says that “our investigation . . . asks about Being itself in so far as Being enters into the intelligibility of Dasein” (193/152). For the realist, Being itself and Being insofar as it enters into the understanding of Dasein are importantly distinct, and identifying the two fatally compromises inquiry as the search for true reality or “what is there anyway.” For the Phenomenological Ontologist who has completed the mounting break with the noumenal realm (A1), however, the claim amounts to little more than a truism; we can only think, talk about, and attribute Being to what is in principle encounterable. Being just is Being as it shows itself to Dasein (see Versenyi 1965, 46) (186)

This all seems to have a strong whiff of Hylas and Philanous about it. Isn’t all of this just Berkely’s argument again and again? Try to conceive of something existing unconceived. You can’t. Therefore to be is to be shown to Dasein.

5.2 Equipment (Zuhandenheit)

With regards to the world of equipment, we have:

Equipment, also called “the in-order-to,” hangs from the goal or “towards-which” of the task at hand; a hammer is only a hammer insofar as it is related to hammering. The towards-which, however, only functions within the context of a “for-the-sake-of-which,” that is, a broader, self-defining role or project we take up as a (futile) attempt to settle the issue of our Being (see Heidegger, BP 301). Without Dasein’s care for its own Being driving her to pursue projects via tools (again, widely construed), there simply would be no such thing as equipment, since what it means to be a tool is to occupy a place within or be “involved in’ the network of instrumental chains anchored on our roles. . . . As Richardson puts it, “What determines an entity as such ready-to-hand equipment, then, is that we have adopted a certain attitude or relationship  to it” (Richardson 1986, 17; se also 19; Pruss 1999, 36; Okrent 1988, 80) (186-187)

This is really quite stunning. Remember that there is a very strong sense for Heidegger in which the relational, modal, valuative mode of Zuhandenheit is more basic than the Vorhandenheit realm of self subsisting objects, which exist either as abstracted from or emergent relative to the Vorhandenheit realm. But if the Zuhandenheit realm is itself mind-dependent, then the self subsisting objects in the universe will be mind dependent.

We should note that the claim of dependence here isn’t just that human perspective is involved in viewing what exists as Vorhandenheit or Zuhandenheit. That is consistent with the claim that humans are viewing objectively existing things and properties. Rather, what is being attributed to Heidegger is the much stronger claim that the ready to hand properties themselves are somehow entirely a function of human interests. This leads to the greatest a poria in the early Heidegger’s thought.

5.3 Objects (190-198)

If Zuhandenheit is not R1 Independent, and Vorhandenheit is derivative (“founded”) on Zuhandenheit, then Vorhandenheit is not R1 Independent. This leads Heidegger to say things that are incredibly problematic, giving rise to what Herman Philipse calls “a Kantian version of the probelm of the external world” (“Heidegger’s “Scandal of Philosophy,” The Problem of the ‘Ding an Sich’ in ‘Being and Time,’ Transcendental Heidegger, 168-198). Braver nicely  presents some of the problematic issues in this section. The key incoherence on Heidegger’s part is in Section 44(c) of Being and Time where he ends up saying things that entail that there are beings without being. These beings previously existed even though nothing is true about them (“all truth is relative to Dasein”) which directly entails that it is not true to say that they exist, which is what Heidegger does say about them. Note that this kind of incoherence is exactly the Maimon/Fichte/Shopenhauer/Hegel/Nietzsche problem with the noumenal realm!

As Braver shows, a central fissure in Heidegger scholarship concerns what to do with this aspect of Heidegger. He states the problem and Heidegger’s own strategy beautifully,

Heidegger’s considered opinion is that as a mode of Being, presence-at-hand is as dependent on Dasein as any mode. The problem is that discussion of this mode immediately runs into paradoxes, since on of its apparent features is independence of Dasein. Ultimately, Heidegger wants to acknowledge phenomenologically that we do find this feather, but still claim that it is founded in Dasein, “That to which all understanding of being-at-hand, actuality, must be traced back” (Heidegger , BP 119).

Of course only as long as Dasein is (that is, only as long as an understanding of Being is ontically possible), “is there” Being. When Dasein does not exist, “independence” “is” not either, nor “is” the “in-itself.”. . . In such a case it cannot be said that entities are, nor can it be said that they are not. But now, as long as there is an understanding of Being and therefore an understanding of presence-at-hand, it can indeed be said that in this case entities will still continue to be. (Heidegger, BT 255/212)

This passage solves the puzzle. As long as Dasein is around and has an understanding of Being–including an understanding of presence-at-hand which claims Dasein-independence–we can intelligibly say that present-at-hand objects do not need Dasein, that is, they can exist before or after Dasein as a whole arose or it will pass away. However, this Dasein-independence itself is dependent on Dasein, since it is a meaning which can only manifest itself within a clearing. Paradoxically, Dasein-independence is itself Dasein-dependent. . . (193-194)

On page 195 Braver further works this out in terms of stars being ontologically dependent upon us but not ontically dependent.

I have to confess that I just don’t get this. We were interested in being (which for Heidegger is a weird mixture of what following the Greeks most philosophers still regard as two separate things- actuality and essence (c.f. the brilliant explicit discussion of this in Heidegger’s Nietzsche lectures, where he equates the birth of metaphysics with the mistaken separation of actuality and essence)), but now we have bifurcated being into two things: being-for-Dasein and something else. This something else is the sense in which the stars still actually exist without us. Truth is supposed to be reserved for the first sense of being, but we continue to make assertions we take to be true about the second sense of being (i.e. “there are beings without Dasein”). But this is Kantian in exactly the sense that Maimon and Fichte criticized. As discussed in my post on Hegel, Braver’s discussion is an instance of what Meillassoux calles “doubling down” on meaning. There are two senses in which one can assert “there are beings without Dasein:” (1) the assertion is true in some sense internal to Dasein, and (2) the assertion is meaningless if meant to assert something external to Dasein.

Obviously, we’re not going to solve this issue in a blog post. Arguments against the kind of solution Braver attributes to Heidegger are organizing problematics of Graham Priest’s Beyond the Limits of Thought and Meillassoux’s After Finitude. (I should also mention in this context that John Protevi has traced a “what might have been” realist Heidegger from The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, which makes the title of Dummett’s anti-realist The Logical Basis of Metaphysics more ironic than Dummett possibly realized).

For what it’s worth, I think that there is nothing wrong with Braver’s interpretation of Heidegger qua interpretation of Heidegger here. I’m just not convinced that Heidegger’s position is coherent. From some of my earlier posts it’s clear that I had hoped that a non-Daseinocentric (mis)reading of Heidegger such as Graham Harman is the way to go, and it might be for lots of reasons (it yields an fascinating metaphysics, its take on scheme-content contrasts very nicely with John McDowell, and pace Harman’s own views it justifies the Dreyfusarian appropriation of Heidegger), but I worry that my hope just elided the original problem.

As a point of philosophy Priest is correct that something like Cantor’s paradox was imperfectly expressed by the Kant of the Dialectic (I am not saying that this is all that’s going on there) and others before him, and that this understanding of the problem space (for all that some bloggers here hate it) motivated a tremendous amount of 19th century philosophy and mathematics. But then, as Priest shows, Russell’s expression of Cantor’s paradox is the canonical form for nearly every other paradox discovered, including the original “affectation” argument against noumena on which (according to Meillassoux and Priest) Phenomenological Ontology founders. So even if you save Heidegger from the affection argument by Harmanizing him, if your theory doesn’t have anything interesting to say about all the other paradoxical arguments isomorphic to the affection argument (the very arguments that give rise to versions of the phenomenal/noumenal distinction in the first place!) then you haven’t really won the game. You’ve refused to play it.

In this regard, I should say that I think a decent anti-realist (in some of the senses Braver adumbrates) response to the paradoxes more generally might be able to defend as workable the move he attributes to the early Heidegger. This (as well as the realist option) needs to be worked out in reference to Priest and Meillassoux’s work.

In addition, once the later Heidegger drops A5 Active Knower, everything changes radically, including this problematic for Phenomenological Ontology! At least some of the takes on this problematic will be (dis)solved by the move to late Heidegger.

[Before marching forward I should note one more thing about Braver’s move of, following Heidegger, sometimes suggests that noumenal sounding talk is meaningless. The claim that stars existed before the possibility of human life is true if the assertion is understood in some sense internal to Dasein’s ambit, and meaningless if not. I should also note that much of the discussion in analytic philosophy prompted by Paul Bogghosian’s “The Status of Content” is relevant here too. Boghossian raises the question of whether statements of where the truth-apt/meaningless distinction falls can themselves be claimed to fall on the meaningless side of the distinction. The thought is that if you think they fall on the truth-apt side then you have to be a semantic realist, and that it is incoherent to think they fall on the meaningless side. Therefore you have to be a semantic realist. Tennant fantastically reconstructs and critiques Bogghosian’s argument inThe Taming of the True, but more recent arguments that use three valued semantics to model some of these issues can be read in response to Tennant (there’s a really fascinating paper in Mind that I can’t find right now).]

6.  A2 and A4: Rejection of Correspondence Truth and Bivalence (198-207)

In “On the Essence of Truth” (a transitional piece written a few years after Being and Time, and published in Basic Writings) Heidegger trenchantly argues that to claim that the set of true assertions is co-extensional with the set of assertions that correspond to reality is not to explain what truth is. What are we actually determining when we determine that some assertion corresponds to some fact? Minimally: (1) that the fact obtains, and (2) that the assertion corresponds to the fact. This first sense is the more origninary conception of truth for Heidegger. When we say it’s true that John is a friend or that John is a true friend we’re talking about the facts, not about assertions or correspondence.

This is of a piece with the anti-representationalism of Being and Time (and History of the Concept of Time and the 1919 lectures long before that) We don’t perceive a representation of the table to which the mind then adds valuative and modal predicates. It’s the other way around. We first interact with the table as a piece of ready-to-hand equipment, and via the “in order to” relation the table itself refers to other items of equipment. Our activity manifests practical grasp of this deferring realim.

In Division 1 these are the building blocks from which cognitive and linguistic (Section 33: “an assertion is a pointing out that refers and communicates”). And Heidegger’s model of truth is part of this.

However, just as the present-at-hand is grounded in the ready-to-hand, so its correlate assertional or propositional truth is also parasitic on a more fundamental form of truth. “Assertion is grounded in Dasein’s uncovering, or rather in its disclosedness. The most primordial ‘truth’ is the ‘locus’ of assertion; it is the ontological condition for the possibility that assertions can be either true or fasle–that they may uncover or cover things up: (Heidegger, BT 269/226). The original locus of truth is Dasein’s uncovering or clearing, that is, her experience of beings which enables them to be corresponded to in the first place. Assertions are only derivative truth-relations that occur after Dasein’s switch-over to the non-engaged attitude (see 57/33; Heidegger, BW 122). (200)

As Braver notes, this is Dummettian through and through (or rather, Dummett is Heideggerian through and through). Bivalence (and the law of non-contradiction) is at best a regulative ideal on the logic of correspondence truth, that is, truth of linguistic assertions. But there are two more levels. (1) The logic of unconcealment itself. The later Heidegger will allow that at different points in history incompatible truths may reveal themselves to Dasein. (2) Assertions about beings without Dasein. “Heidegger explicitly states that without Dasein, Newton’s laws are neither true nor false, a clear violation of bivalence.” (201) So,

We can see that Heidegger does accept R2 Correspondence Truth, but redefines (see Heidegger, HCT 51) and limits it. It is only true of present-at-hand objects, and it necessarily presupposes the more primordial truth of uncovering or disclosure (A2), which he calles aletheia.

One might quibble a bit about how this is put, because Heidegger does assert quite a bit about the modal, valuative, and relational realm underlying the Vorhandenheit’s arena of present-at-hand objects. But in either case, alethia is the way in which facts themselves are revealed as true,  prior to the question of whether an assertion corresponding to that fact is thereby made true (and anything incompatible with that assertion false as a result).

Note again that one could accept all of this without making the more originary conception of truth depend upon Dasein. Heidegger’s entire critique is consistent with aletheia being something that happens whenever any two objects interact. The rock by itself is primordially a vorhandenheit realm of possibilities involving possible and actual relations to other entities. When it hits another rock many of these are “concealed” and some unconcealed or revealed to the other rock.

But, given A1 Phenomenological Ontology this insight becomes irrevocably Daseinocentric.

“The Being of truth is connected primordially with Dasein. And only because Dasein is as constituted by disclosedness (that is, by understanding), can anything like Being be understood. . . . Being and truth ‘are’ equiprimordially” (Heidegger, BT 272/230). (205)

This is related to the worries of the previous section. In particular, just as interpreters have difficulty making sense of objects existing prior to Dasein, it is hard to make sense of falsity on the model of aletheia.

Ernst Tugendhat famously notes a progressive change in the definitions of truth in Section 44 of Being and Time from uncovering the entity “just as it is in itself” to simply uncovering the entity. Dispensing with the “as it is in itself” clause prevents us from comparing the appearance with the real entity, thus closing down the traditional logical space of correspondence truth and falsity. Heidegger identifies truth with uncovering in general rather than with accurate uncovering, prompting Tugendhat to object that “this theory leaves out of account precisely the phenomenon of truth in its specificity” (Wolin 1993, 251-52,  257).

Tugendhat is right to see radical implications in Heidegger’s thought. “A true assertion is not directed at the entity as it shows itself immediately, but instead at the entity as it is in itself. This difference intrinsic to self-manifestation between any immediately apparent givenness and the thing itself is not taken into consideration by Heidegger: (Wolin 1993, 255). However, the radicality of this new conception of truth actually fits Heidegger’s dismissal of the in-itself, for what is the appearance to be compared with in order to generate falsity? Given Heidegger’s Phenomenological Ontology, the thing-in-itself cannot even serve as the “regulative idea of critical questioning” that Tugendhat suggests (260). “Appearance as appearance or object does not need at all still to correspond to something actual, because appearance itself is the actual” (Heidegger, PIK 69). There simply is nothing else to correspond to for PO. (205)

The only thing I find dissatisfying about Braver’s book (and it’s a brick so that’s saying a lot) is his treatment of this issue. Remember we’ve got two notions of truth here (and a specific notion of neither for certain metaphysical propositions): (1) aletheic and (2) correspondence. Braver accepts that there is no falsity on the aletheic notion of truth in what strikes me as too cavalier a matter. Tugendhat has argued that there is a bug in Heidegger’s thinking, and Braver tells us that this is really a feature.

If we reject aletheic falsity how can we still have correspondence/assertional falsity? Weren’t we told earlier that correspondence is fine as far as it goes, that the only problem came from not seeing it as derivative? Or are we supposed to reject correspondence falsity, so that we have to say that no assertions are false? Why can’t we use the notion of coherence truth Braver sketches in relation to Kant? [See page 46, the view is very similar to the Ayer that Austin critiqued in Sense and Sensibilia.] If I can’t say that any assertions are false, why should I accept anti-realism over realism? Isn’t opting for one to take it to be more likely that that one is true and the other false?

In addition to Dahlstrom’s canonical book (section in googlebooks starts HERE), there are a couple of interesting recent papers on this very issue: (1) Rufus Duits (2007) On Tugendhat’s Analysis of Heidegger’s Concept of Truth. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 15 (2):207 – 223, (2) William H. Smith (2007). Why Tugendhat’s Critique of Heidegger’s Concept of Truth Remains a Critical Problem. Inquiry 50 (2):156 – 179.

7. R6 Realism of the Self-Authenticity (211-228)

Braver shows how in Division 2 Heidegger puts forward a realist view of the self. Heidegger’s brilliant discussion of “the they” in Division 1 suggests an anti-realist view.

This interpretation of the self as completely defined by societal structures would be the fulfillment of ED and A6, the complete immersion of the self into the world without remainder. This would complete the progressive erosion of R6 Realism of the Subject, one of the processes we have been watching since Kant inaugurated it by distinguishing the noumenal self from transcendental subjectivity and focusing the attention of theoretical knowledge on the latter. However, Heidegger does not maintain this position in his early work. Like Hegel and Nietzsche, he falls back into an attenuated R6 Realism of the Subject in two different ways which I will discuss in turn. (212)

For Heidegger “existentialia,” which are predicated of Dasein, are different in principle from “categories” which are only predicated of non-Dasein entities. Then the first way in which he has an essentializing view of the self is in terms of his account of an authentic self.

Heidegger even endows this true self with the traditional qualities of Being that he refuses other entities. One of the main targets of Being and Time is the view that “that which can be shown to have the character of something that constantly endures . . . makes up the real Being of those entities of the world which get experienced (Heidegger, BT 128/96; see also 125/92). This age-old prioritization of constant endurance or presence is based on present-at-hand ontology and its concomitant temporality. However, Dasein’s existential structures are awarded the status of being the real ones precisely because “in every kind of Being that factical Dasein may possess, [they] persist as determinative for the character of the constantly present throughout ontic fluctuations in content, so they must constitute the true nature of the self. Correlatively, one of the flaws of the average everyday self is that it “has been dispersed into the ‘they,’ and must first find itself” (167/129). The they-self has been dispersed into projects which come and go like ephemeral fads, “driven about by its ‘affairs.” So if it wants to come to itself it must first pull itself together from the dispersion and disconnectedness of the very things that have ‘come to pass'” (441/390). If this happens, a new possibility that was prevented by the hustle and bustle of fallen everydayness emerges.

The phenomenon of this authentic potentiality-for-Being also opens our eyes for the constancy of the Self. . . . The constancy of the Self, in the double sense of steadiness and steadfastness, is the authentic counter-possibility to the non-Self-constancy which is characteristic of irresolute falling. Existentially, “Self-constancy” signifies nothing more than anticiaptory resoluteness. (Heidegger, BT 369/322) (216)

This view of authenticity is both descriptive and normative; it describes an ideal we can fall away from or achieve, upon how we cope with things like anxiety and death. In addition to pointing out how weird this ideal is, given his critique of objective presence driving everything prior, Braver also makes really interesting points connecting Heideggerian authenticity to Kant on pages 220-221.

The second sense in which Heidegger reinstates the realist self is his analysis of time and care.

What is relevant for my discussion is that, just as Heidegger insists that he has gathered up all of Dasein’s existentialia, he also claims ot have dug down to the deepest level in his analysis of the layers of Dasein’s self. First there is the surface level of Dasein’s average everydayness; this is made possible by Being-in-the-world, whose unifying condition is care, which in turn rests on time. Like Kant, this analysis explains our organizing structures. . . . (224)

8. Donald Davidson’s Understanding of Understanding (225-251)

This is such a philosophically rich discussion that it deserves a separate post. Time constraints prevent me from giving it the space it deserves. Braver discusses three critiques of Davidson on radical interpretation.

  1. Most communication takes place unproblematically and immediately without involving anything that we would normally call interpretation, that is, an evidence-based process of making inferences about meaning.
  2. Cases of interpretation do occasionally occur, usually when some difficulty in comprehension arises, but these are by their very nature atypical and should not form the basis for a theory of communication.
  3. Theoretical knowledge is in general a bad model for linguistic competence.

Once the explicit reference to Davidison are removed from these objections, the combined analysis bears a startling resemblance to Heidegger’s analysis of Being-in-the-world. Heidegger’s criticisms of traditional and in particular Cartesian conceptions of the mind and understanding anticipate to a large degree the objections these three prominent analytic philosophers pose to Davidson. Furthermore, Heidegger also offers a rich, fully worked out analysis of (to speak loosely) human nature, thought, knowledge, and language comprehension that connects these three objections into an organic whole, just the kind of analysis Dummett calls for at the end of his piece (see Lepore 1986, 475-76) (234)

Braver’s discussion shows just this.

The Davidsonian will likely respond to Braver the same way that people respond to Dreyfus’ Heideggerian critique of Good Old Fashioned Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, arguing that Heidegger’s critique may apply to our conscious experience, but that nonetheless subconscious processing proceeds exactly the way that traditional Artificial Intelligence predicts.

This rises and falls with the ability to provide a Heideggerian explanation of the relevant phenomena, and comparing it with more Cartesian accounts.For example in the case of perceptual knowledge Noe’s enactivism attempts to model the empirical phenomena as well as answer the relevant philosophical arguments for sense data (Mark Silcox and I present it this way in Chapter 2 of our book). In the case of fully developing an anti-Cartesian Heideggerian account of language (that covers in detail the successes of linguistics, among other things) I’m particularly interested in Brandom’s inferentialism, which is half the way there, and Okrent’s fascinating new book on animal cognition and the sources of linguistic intentionality. Braver’s connecting this approach with a critique of Davidson is a really important piece of the puzzle.

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About joncogburn

Cogburn is a stereotypical beatnik, with a goatee, "hip" (slang) usage, and a generally unkempt, bohemian appearance, studiously avoiding anything resembling work, which he seems to regard as the ultimate four-letter word. Whenever the word is mentioned, even in a line like "That would work," he jumps with fear, yelping, "Work?!" He serves as a foil to the well-groomed, well-dressed, straitlaced Mikhail, and the contrast between the two friends provides much of the humor of the Reading Group.

69 thoughts on “Braver Reading Group: Chapter 5 – Early Heidegger: Fundamental Ontology

  1. What a post! There is much I want to comment on, but I am afraid that I will have to resort to nit-picking given the length of your post and the many different problems you picked up on with Heidegger. I think one thing that sort of stood out to me was when you made the oft-heard claim that:

    Remember that there is a very strong sense for Heidegger in which the relational, modal, valuative mode of Zuhandenheit is more basic than the Vorhandenheit realm of self subsisting objects, which exist either as abstracted from or emergent relative to the Vorhandenheit realm.

    If Zuhandenheit is not R1 Independent, and Vorhandenheit is derivative (”founded”) on Zuhandenheit, then Vorhandenheit is not R1 Independent. This leads Heidegger to say things that are incredibly problematic, giving rise to what Herman Philipse calls “a Kantian version of the probelm of the external world”

    I see this a lot in the Heidegger literature but I think such a reading is a largely a resultant of the Dreyfusian interpretation of Heidegger sneaking into the back of room with its “absorbed” coping model of human cognition. This in turn is a result of not paying attention to the distinction between being as presence and presence-at-hand. Macquarrie and Robinson are largely to blame for this ambiguity even though they emphasize the distinction in a footnote. Presence, as Heidegger discusses it, is essentially the “es er-eignet sich” of the “es gibt”. Presence as conceived in Being and Time is essentially the “it” of the “it gives” of later Heidegger. It is the pure event “happening”. It is the “there” towards which the neologism “Dasein” is metaphorically pointing. In this way, R1 independence is built into the structure of human disclosure given that what is being “presented to” us is exactly that mind-independent objective structure needed to establish a realism of the external world.

    Basically, it seems to me that if you take into account primordial being as presence and couple it with the as-structure of interpretive understanding wherein being becomes “that which determines entities as entities”, you avoid the problematic claim that objectivity is derivative from the ready-to-hand. With the conception of being as presence, it is actually the opposite. The presencing of the world to Dasein the entity is only on account of the world being occurrent in the first place, “there” and objective, something which we can “run up against”. It is the unique linguistic constitution of Dasein that allows us to interpret this objective world in terms of the ready-to-hand, but we shouldn’t confuse being-disclosure as presence with the idea that the world can be scientifically discussed as “present-at-hand” only on the basis of our more basic ready-to-hand referential involvements given through language possession.

    In this way, the problems you mention about the “double-meaning” of truth and being, and of the active-passive knower, become solvable. Dasein is passive insofar as being-disclosure is founded upon being as presence, but active insofar as we are always interpreting that presentation of occurrent entities in various ways related to our engaged, social coping. Furthermore, truth as unconcealment is the “openness” towards the presence of entities, and the truth as correspondence (stars really exist) is dependent on the linguistic capacities of humans to express the question of the meaning of being (“do stars really exist?”). Heidegger doesn’t belabor this point about the mind-independence of stars because frankly, it is pre-reflectively and reflectively obvious.

    Again, thanks for the awesome first post. Hopefully my comment makes some sense in regard to the issues of realism and anti-realism you level against Heidegger.

  2. Chapters 5 and 6 are both on Heidegger and are ridiculously long – with these two chapters combined, I’d say, we have a third of the book that is basically about Heidegger with first four chapters being another third and the last two chapters on Foucault and Derrida being another third, i.e. Kant + Hegel + Nietzsche together get as much attention as Heidegger – just an observation, not a criticism by any means. Maybe you should have planned more time on Heidegger than a chapter a week?

    • I recommend skipping the Davidson section, which shaves 1/3 off the chapter. I take up Davidson because of his critique of conceptual schemes which are an important component of the continental figures, but the overall narrative doesn’t require anything in that section. That reduces the chapter to a more manageable 65 pages. As Jon said–it’s a brick.

  3. Great post, mind-blowingly dense – it would be interesting to see what Harman might have to say about your take on his reading of Heidegger – too bad you guys apparently pissed him off and he’s a no-show here.

    • I should note that Harman wrote a really excellent review of Braver’s book, (“A Festival of Anti-Realism: Braver’s History of Continental Thought,” Philosophy Today, Summer 2008 (Vol. 52, no. 2)) last year. You can get it on-line at .

      Anyone who is comfortable with following a dialectic down the rabbit hole to aporia is going to sometimes exasperate more systematically minded folks who need to bracket certain issues to get on with their projects. Whenever conversation has broken down here it’s usually over something in this neighborhood.

      In this respect (in addition having a very full plate) Harman has kind of having moved on from defending continental realism generally towards working out his specific post “Tool-Being” realist ontology.

      But of course that’s fine. Let a thousand ontologies bloom.

  4. I think what I mostly want to do is agree with Gary and disagree with Braver, although it’s not entirely clear whether I disagree with Braver, as his typically insightful and nuanced account gets most of the important ideas laid out and basically kicks ass.

    But if we allow one more little twist to the “ontic realism” story, it remains the case that the sense of the present-at-hand is to preexist Dasein. And if the ontological story, which I wouldn’t phrase in terms of “constitution” (does Heidegger do so? I’m honestly not sure) contradicted that sense, it wouldn’t BE sense, but nonsense. This seems to be Meillassoux’s basic argument, but that’s why I think the argument is wrong.

    I think the kinks get ironed out in the later stuff, although I haven’t read Braver’s next chapter yet. If we recognize that an event is the limit of the coherence of any ontic situation but not a miracle–in other words, if we recognize that Dasein or the event itself can be accounted for by, for instance, a story of biology and emergence–but ONLY in the terms established by that event–in other words, we have to accept the biological-emergent account before we can allow it to account for Dasein or, nore broadly, an event–we can see that an ontoligical-alethiological account givs us MORE opportunities for true statements, not less–Heidegger never talks about an epochal shift in terms of falsity. So I am sticking up for a certain “ontic realism” here, and one more twist of the tale in Braver’s chapter would give us that too–sure, the extant only has sense based on an ontological clearing, but it would have no sense of ontology was productive of the ontic.

    Sorry if this is gnomic or terse, if necessary I’ll clarify more tomorrow.

  5. Also, I agree with Braver that if there were an “in-itself” it could NOT be present-at-hand–I agree with the overall soundness of his reading, in other words. The are cryptic statements in “Basic Problems of Phenomenology” about a “neutral sense of Being” that seem to go against everything else Heidegger ever said, but I think they are best interpreted along Braver’s lines; as with Nietzsche and the two senses of “truth,” I think he gives a basically accurate rubric that allows us to interpret such apparent contradictions. But I still want to maintain a certain “ontic realism” for Heidegger, but I think in a different sense than is demanded here.

  6. “The Davidsonian will likely respond to Braver the same way that people respond to Dreyfus’ Heideggerian critique of Good Old Fashioned Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, arguing that Heidegger’s critique may apply to our conscious experience, but that nonetheless subconscious processing proceeds exactly the way that traditional Artificial Intelligence predicts.”

    No. No Davidsonian would do this. Davidson is not in the business of offering speculative psychological explanations of how understanding works. What he wants to do is show that a speaker who had a theory of truth for a speaker, of the right sort (not just any true set of biconditionals will do), would be equipped to understand that speaker. And then see what that could tell us about what understanding requires, however we happen to do it (which is a question for psychology).

    See, for instance, the first paragraph of “Radical Interpretation”.

    • The problem I have is that it’s never really specified what is supposed to be on the two sides of convention T. The most specific was during “Generative Semantics” (see Harris’ book “The Linguistics Wars” for an accessible account) when everyone bought into the idea that a sentence of formal logic would be on one side and a sentence of natural language would be derived by “transformations” to yield the other (Davidson specifically endorses this in a couple of essays of the period).

      But that architecture is as disconfirmed as phlogiston theory is at this point. Most syntactic approaches (including Jackendoff and Cullicover’s recent one) don’t even use movement any more. And even in Chomsky’s minimalist framework (the last holdout for transformations) you derive the semantic interpretation step by step with the surface structure of the sentence (originally Montague’s insight!)

      But from a linguistics perspective, with the exception of that period Davidson (again, no linguist would accept the architecture; it either overgenerates or ends up hopelessly unclear and hence ungenerative in any case) there is really no there there.

      So with the exception of some of the arguments concerning events, Davidson’s framework has nothing to offer people either working within the formal semantics tradition (generally Montagovian) or people who reject that tradition in favor of just working on acquisition and syntax for the next five hundred years or so.

      This is I think one of the reasons (and this strange phenomena has been discussed several times in Leiter Reports threads) Davidson’s impact a philosopher has shrunk so radically in just fifteen or so years. Contra this, I think all of Davidson’s substantive philosophical conclusions can be restated without talk of convention T and “a theory of truth,” and it is a real virtue of Braver’s discussion that it illustrates this. [I also think that philosophers of language should still be following linguistics in the manner that Davidson did in the late 60’s. Unfortunately much of the field has fossilized at that time period (e.g. Wright and Hale’s otherwise excellent Blackwell companion volume; *none* of the essays cite any of the now absolutely canonical essays in the Partee Blackwell semantics volumes!)]

      I realize that this may be a quibble with just the way you phrased this (reading it maybe de dicto instead of de re, or something like that). But the real danger is that Chomsky’s gripe about postmodernism (unfair, because ignorant of the philosophical background), that once you get past all the verbiage the insights are banalities that everyone already new, is in danger of happening with Davidson scholarship. The convention T stuff is either incoherently vague, or disconfirmed by linguistics. This leads to the suspicion that he was using all of that to just repeat trivialities.

      I don’t think this is the case. But that shows why it is important to do precisely what Braver has done.

      • “But from a linguistics perspective, with the exception of that period Davidson (again, no linguist would accept the architecture; it either overgenerates or ends up hopelessly unclear and hence ungenerative in any case) there is really no there there.”

        That’s because Davidson was not doing linguistics, and apart from a few unfortunate bits in (very) early essays, he doesn’t pretend to be doing it.

        He likes to tell an anecdote about how, early-on, he and one of his graduate students sat down with a Jane Austen novel and decided they were going to figure out the logical forms of every sentence in the book. To show how much progress they were making. They never figured out how to handle the first sentence, and Davidson said that was about when he realized that trying to work out a “semantics for a natural language” in the way he had wanted to was really not tractable. Which did not make the effort less enlightening, in his view. The point wasn’t just to get a True Semantics, it was to see what the effort could reveal about language. For instance, that you needed some sort of recursive structure to it and that you needed to relate some subsentential parts to items in the world to generate truth-conditions for sentences in any sort of manageable way.

        “This is I think one of the reasons (and this strange phenomena has been discussed several times in Leiter Reports threads) Davidson’s impact a philosopher has shrunk so radically in just fifteen or so years.”

        Davidson’s influence was never that strong; what was influential was a certain reading of him, based heavily on his very early “semantics for a natural language” program-papers. After the mid-eighties (especially following “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs”) that program is barely intelligible from a Davidsonian point of view: What it was supposed to be doing shows up as deeply confused. And mainstream work in the philosophy of language still is largely oriented to trying to get a project like that to work (or trying to establish What A Word Really Refers To, or trying to build something on “modal intuitions”, or some such rubbish that Davidson had always followed Quine in rejecting).

        But, that is Leiter. He has his own agenda as to what is “live” and what is “dead” in analytic philosophy. The portions of analytic philosophy where John McDowell is revered (rather than being called “McDarkness”) have a different story to tell about the last 20 years of Davidsonianism. Such is academic politics.

      • Nice point about McDowell. I like what he takes away from Davidson in Mind and World. I hope to be able to study that more deeply in the next year or so.

        I still have a hard time not reading 2/3ds of the papers in “Essays on Truth” and half or so of the ones in the actions/events book in terms of linguistics.

        I am comfortable saying that Brandom style inferentialism needs to pay more attention to linguistics, for example Discourse Representation Theory and (more recent work on reference fixing) work on the indefinite. Not that Brandom (or Davidson or McDowell) are doing linguistics, just that one needs to pay attention to what linguistics has established.

        This is a bigger topic, analogous to the connection between physics and metaphysics. Obviously there are great philosophers on the naturalistic and non-naturalistic side though.

    • It’s true that Davidson at times denies that anything like radical interpretation occurs when we speak with another (TLH 111-2, SCT 324-5, PR 127-8, PDD 252). The jungle explorer, radically ignorant of a newly discovered tribe’s language, may have to go through these machinations, but we don’t when we’re talking with a friend in our native tongue.

      But at other times he says that “all understanding of the speech of another involves radical interpretation” (ITI 125, cf. ITI 279, SIO 147-8, TLH 62, TLH 107, RD 82n.5, RD 84, PR 143). Not jsut that it could, but that it does. The “first contact” scenario merely brings out features that characterize all speech comprehension, according to this account, which agrees with Quine that radical translation starts at home. This is when he explicitly characterizes language comprehension as the construction of hypotheses which get confirmed or disconfirmed by the data of the speaker’s further words & actions: “your knowledge of what my words mean has to be based on evidence and inference: you probably assume you have it right, and you probably do. Nevertheless, it is a hypothesis” (SIO 66). And “finding out what others think is in the same general line of business with finding out how hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water…. We learn how to talk about other people’s states of belief, desire, intention, hope, and doubt using the normal sort of observable evidence” (PDD 225, cf. TMK 88).

      The problem with the first characterization—that it doesn’t actually occur, but the fact that it could underwrites mundane comprehension—is that claiming that it rarely happens makes its relevance to our normal speech unclear. Sure, one could paint a house with a toothbrush, but if no one ever does that except in unusual circumstances, what does it tell us about normal painting with a brush? Isolating the conscious reconstruction of another’s meaning from standard cases where this doesn’t take place makes it hard to bring them back together again in a meaningful way. In other words, if we can understand our friend without radically interpreting her, then radical interpretation doesn’t shed any light on how this happens. The real question is, how does this non-interpretive understanding happen, which is what Heidegger addresses.

      In any case, it’s very hard to summarize in a post what I said much more carefully in the book.

  7. I see that everyone’s back from there July 4th vacations – well, I am, so it’s good to see the conversation continuing. I will try to write a rejoinder today or tomorrow, but I have to say that there are so many interesting things in this Heidegger chapter, that I’m at loss. Plus, we have a whole other Heidegger chapter for next week, so plenty of time…

  8. “I still have a hard time not reading 2/3ds of the papers in “Essays on Truth” and half or so of the ones in the actions/events book in terms of linguistics.”

    Well he has four other books. He worked for another twenty years after “Essays on Truth and Interpretation” came out after all. And his most important papers on truth came in the 90s: “Meaning, Truth and Evidence” and the three parts of “The Structure and Content of Truth” are absolutely key to his thought. And it’s absolutely, unquestionably impossible to see what McDowell is taking from Davidson without “A Coherence Theory of Truth or Knowledge” (poorly named, see “Afterthoughts”) and the other essays in “Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective” (especially “Three Varieties of Knowledge”). His best work came out after the Leiters of the world stopped even pretending to understand him.

    • Oh man, let’s not get into a “beat up on Brian Leiter” festival. I think my remark earlier was careless, and I should note that there are two or three of McDowell’s prominent students who participate a lot in the comment section of Leiter reports.

      I met Davidson a couple of times when I was in grad school a decade ago, but it was when he was in the period of giving that paper where “triangulation” is presented as a solution to the Kripke-Wittgenstein paradox.

      It was cool to drink wine with one of my heroes, but I found it pretty depressing that in the discussion section he had no response whatsoever to the the obvious application of the paradoxical argument to whatever rule is supposedly being sanctioned by society as a whole (the Putnam of the same era was quite eloquent on how this very issue made McDowell vastly more interesting than Kripke’s own “skeptical solution”) Davidson’s lion was definitely in winter.

      The paper he presented was so bad that I didn’t go on to check out much of the later stuff (of course I’ve read “A Coherence Theory” and the other papers in that anthology (ed. Lepore? I forget)). And the Dummett/Wright/Tennant tradition I was working in on these issues just tended to discuss the earlier papers, though of course Wright and McDowell dialectically overlap in interesting ways.

      In any case, thanks for the recommendation. I’ll read the “Three Varieties” piece.

  9. “I met Davidson a couple of times when I was in grad school a decade ago, but it was when he was in the period of giving that paper where “triangulation” is presented as a solution to the Kripke-Wittgenstein paradox.”

    (Point the first: Kripkenstein is not Wittgenstein. Now that the ritual denunciation is out of the way….)

    “Triangulation” is not an answer to Kripkenstein’s puzzle; it’s a way of pointing at why we don’t need to answer it. When we recognize that attributions of actions (adding, quadding) only make sense against a background of interactions with other speakers and a common world, the problem drops out as pointless. If you say he’s quadding, then that means he’s doing something different than he’s been asked to do, and so you have to revise some of the other things you attribute to him (he must have either not understood the request or failed to add despite intending to, etc.), but there’s no global threat, because the attribution of adding or quadding is part of a holistic process of making sense of a speaker as one among many whom are all interacting with our common world.

    Kripkenstein says the problem is that you are given a certain sort of e.g. marks on paper (“100, 102, 104″ etc.”) and what is the X which makes it a fact that this is adding which has gone wrong rather than quadding done correctly? Davidson doesn’t offer any such X. Nothing makes it the case that he’s adding rather than quadding; I say that he’s adding because that’s how it seems best to me to make sense of him, given what else I hold to be the case about him and about other items in our world. (Which is not to say that my own judgement is the X; my judgement says that what is given is adding (done badly), and not mere marks. It adds nothing independently specifiable which could be added to the “mere” marks to make them be adding. So if there is a real doubt, as opposed to a Kripkensteinian paper doubt, about whether a certain bit of ink is adding or quadding or whatever, then there is no a priori way to answer the question. We answer it as strikes us best at the time, with whatever wit or luck or cleverness we might employ in the process. No general rules for the application of rules are to be had.)

    “I found it pretty depressing that in the discussion section he had no response whatsoever to the the obvious application of the paradoxical argument to whatever rule is supposedly being sanctioned by society as a whole”

    It strikes me as awfully queer to ask the post-“Epitaphs” Davidson for a response to this. He’s no sort of communitarian, so why should he need to have a way to defend the communitarian “answer” (Kripkenstein’s “skeptical response”)? I suspect (not having been there I can do no better) that he had no answer because the question betrayed that communication had broken down somewhere along the line.

    • No. That paper was explicitly on the Kripke-Wittgenstein paradox. He spent about twenty minutes explaining it and then another thirty explaining triangulation, and then two minutes claiming that triangulation solved the paradox.

      The paper one would need to read to charitably get the official Davidsonian line is”The Second Person” Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. XVII, (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1992). I suspect the paper he was giving before he died was a descendant of that.

      • I’m familiar with “The Second Person” (and with the other places where he discusses Kripkenstein and triangulation, such as the last few pages of “The Social Aspect of Language” and (most importantly) “Three Varieties of Knowledge”). Davidson’s considered approach is along the lines I laid out above; I suppose he might’ve given a bad conference paper once upon a time that tried a different tack. (See Akeel Bilgrami’s “Norms and Meaning for an extended discussion of Davidsonianism and Kripkenstein; Davidson had “nothing but praise” for Bilgrami’s paper.)

  10. On page 195 Braver further works this out in terms of stars being ontologically dependent upon us but not ontically dependent.

    I have to confess that I just don’t get this.

    Yes, this is a problem. I think perhaps one approach to this question would hinge on how one understands or rather, reads externalism into Heidegger. For what it’s worth I tend to think Heidegger takes on a social externalism. This is to say, the social conditions of intelligibility are external. This can be connected to the externalism of Putnam I think. Really, I’m thinking of Putnam’s semantic externalism, e.g. water argument. This tack is taken up by (if I recall correctly) Taylor Carman in _Heidegger’s Analytic_ . I think Carman tends to refer to Heidegger as an “ontic realist,” which might be of some help with regards to this issue. That is, from this perspective the existential analytic doesn’t demand that the reality of “occurrent” (p at hand) entities warrants any sort of rational demonstration. I’m too lazy to copy out the passages, but see esp SZ Section 43, esp. 206ff.

    By the way, great post, Jon.

  11. This rather famous (infamous?) passage is interesting in light of some of the issues raised with regards to correspondence:

    There is” truth only insofar as and as long as Dasein is. Entities are only uncovered then and only disclosed as long as Dasein is at all. Newton’s laws, the law of noncontradiction, and all truths in general are true only as long as Dasein is. Before there ever was any Dasein, there was no truth, and after Dasein is no longer, there will be none, since then it cannot be as disclosedness, discovery and uncoveredness. Before Newton’s laws were discovered, they were not “true”; from that it does not follow that they were false, or even that they would be false if uncoveredness were no longer ontically possible. Just as little does this “restriction” involve any diminishment of the being-true of “truths.” (SZ, 226-7)

    Sorry, I’m about to say some obvious things, but I think Heidegger doesn’t reject truth as correspondence. Rather, it seems to me he is far more interested in focusing on the ontological categories which makes such a judgment possible. So, obviously what we have is an ontological analysis and the ontic analysis. Now, as far is ontic goes, I don’t think it’s all that far from scientific realism. Yet, clearly the analysis of truth is the ontological question of what is “underneath” truth. Naturally, in this ontological analysis truth and being are very closely related. Many have er..balked at this relation between truth and being…

    Tugendhat–somewhere– argued that truth as unconcealment makes falsehood unintelligible since both true and false proposition uncover entities, just not as they are. So, in turn Heidegger appears to be rejecting the principle of non-contradiction. The question is, I think, what is Heidegger after with this analysis of unconcealement? One could make the case that such an investigation has as its goal the explanation of how propositional truth is founded. Then it would seem that Heidegger for the most part allows for propositions as correspondence, but seeks an ontological elucidation of precisely how this can be. The other tack may be something like this. Truth as uncoverdness is not Dasein’s disclosedness nor does it entail propositions corresponding to the way things are. Instead, it is the capacity of interpretations to bring entities to light against a background of prior practical “uncoverdnesses.” This allows for truth as correspondence by providing us with a background against which things can be judged true. However, if we go back to your point about stars I think the problem may be that we aren’t really getting at what it is that grounds the ontic nature of entities. I wonder if this is even fair game for us to expect of Heidegger???

  12. Harman has some comments up here on “what Heideggerians always say” in reaction to his work.

    I don’t think that his post is in response to any of our discussions, but it would be interesting to see what our discussants think about them in the context of our discussion.

    • I think Dr. Harman has a steep road ahead of him if he seriously wants to convince other philosophers that:

      Once you read it this way, there are no grounds for distinguishing in a basic ontological way between the human relation to a cotton ball and a flame’s relation to that same cotton ball.

      It seems to me like Harman is conflating metaphysics and Heideggerian ontology. In terms of basic metaphysics, Harman is of course right that the human “relation” to cotton is different only in degree, not kind, to fire’s “relation” to cotton, but this is not really the point Heideggerians want to make when discussing the “world poverty” of cotton-balls or non-human animals. The basic point which Harman seems to either dismiss or ignore is that biological organisms have experience and cotton balls do not, with humans having a very special, linguistically and socially filtered experience.

      By talking in grandiose terms and highly exaggerating and poeticizing the claims of his opponents (“rift in the cosmos” etc), Harman seems to be only talking to himself. Harman is right when he says “human Dasein is merely an extremely complicated and interesting sort of object, differing only in degree from the reality of a flame or ball of cotton.” However, the key thing which Harman seems to ignore is that the “difference in degree” between the human and the cottonball leads to one object having existential and psychological experience, and the other one not having any sort of experience whatsoever, barring panpsychism. So really, when Heideggerians talk about differences in “ontological relation” to the world, they are really only talking about ontology in the special sense of phenomenological-ontology, which is in terms of psychological experience, not basic metaphysics of world-relation or whatever.

      My way involves fewer presuppositions. None of Heidegger’s talk of the as-structure or “openness” or the like has any virtue other than being more consonant with the basic dogma of modern philosophy that human being is some sort of special rip in the fabric of the cosmos, different from all others.

      So while his way involves “fewer presuppositions”, it also lacks the ability to talk about the complexity of human life in terms of psychology, cognition, self-interpretation, etc. in terms that allow for that very kind of discourse in the first place. It might be metaphysically “cleaner” but it is phenomenologically boring.

      • Harman’s book “Tool Being” is a fantastic read, and it also does interesting things with Zubiri and Levinas. We’d have to read “Guerilla Metaphysics” (on my list) to really evaluate the relevance of the concerns.

        As I noted above, I agree with you that the danger with externalizing Heidegger is that either: (1) you won’t have answered the philosophical problems which Heidegger should be answering, or (2) you end up with something like panpsychism or pantheism. I don’t reject these out of hand though. In this context, the first may be of a piece with Brassier’s Nihilism, which I hope isn’t true, but may nonetheless be true. For the second I just want to run it through Hume’s critiques of religion (in particular his showing that the God of the design argument can’t do the very thing he was invoked to do, since you can ask the same questions about God) and see what survives.

      • I don’t think Harman is in the business of “convincing” anybody…

        No? I thought that whole point of writing academic books was to change peoples minds in some way? You know, convince them that what you are saying is better than whats been said before.

      • From what I understand, Harman’s project (and object-oriented awesomeness in general) is about creating something new and fresh, not trying to play it to the old and moldy academia that, nonetheless, is constantly attacking him and those like him for their daring originality and innovative thinking. But I might be wrong, of course, maybe he is trying to convince others that his project is worth their attention, but in a sneaky kind of way, like he’s playing it cool and is waiting for the academia to come to him, you know?

      • Well, one of the redeeming features of reality is that it ends up making us all look like fools (cue Ecclesiastes).

        I try to take my guidance from Lester Bangs, whose character in the movie Almost Famous tells the kid that the rock bands he writes about are the enemy. When the kid stares at him confused, Bangs says, “Did they make you feel cool?” The kid smiles and says, “Yeah.” Bangs responds, “Kid, take it from me. People like us aren’t cool.”

        Of course we all forget this wisdom, but usually just in time for whatever metaphysical force ensures that “pride goes before a destruction” to open up a bucket of (sometimes dialectical) whoop-ass. [Note that I don’t mean that in a pantheist way Daniel. The metaphysical force in question is generally one’s own foolishness.]

      • Mikhail,

        I think that picture of him with Chairman Mao was photoshopped. [Sorry- if there were HTML tags for barely successful joke involving Beatles lyrics I’d have used them.]

        But in any case, where’s your project? We can’t have that. Get this man a project! Now!

        Look Mikhail, I’ve had five projects just before noon today. Sometimes I put three projects in my mouth and I eat the damned things. That’s right. I eat them. I put some mustard on them and throw them down with a cold beer and some corn nuts. I even sewed a bunch of projects on my boy scout uniform and I go out and direct traffic all over town.

        Seriously, your internet conduct shows me that you are a mauve basilisk or maybe a purple doppleganger or orc or some s**t like that. I’m going to take all my projects and go home.

        [Sorry- if there were HTML tags for barely successful joke involving previous tempest-in-a-teacup internet brouhahas I would have used them too. Let the record show I’m mocking myself in the above! Being able to do so is the perverse egalitarianism price of admission.]


      • I think “Get a project!” should slowly replace “Get a life!” And of course I agree that we simply must adopt something like “Hey, dude, wanna go throw down some projects with a cold one or two? No? Oh wait, yeah, you got that kid thing going – lame…”

      • I think it did replace “get a life” some time while you were visiting your in laws and I was visiting my parents.

        Of course we missed the replacement. We allowed our familial relations to interfere with our projects.

        I’m hoping to have bits of myself replaced with a robotic exoskeleton so that soon I will be more machine than man. As the completion nears I’ll just be a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, project machine. Cyborgs don’t sabatoge their own or other people’s projects.

        More project than a project. That’s my motto.

      • [this is not a reply to Jon’s last comment, just for some reason this comment wouldn’t go to the bottom of all the comments]

        Let’s all cool down here, please – I’m all about heated debates and I know things get out of control many a times, but it’s always good to just check out and maybe take a metaphorical smoke break. As Jon and I have already mentioned, we are very appreciative of the fact that Lee takes time away from his work and contributes to our discussions – he doesn’t have to do it and in fact we didn’t hope that he would agree to do it when we came up with the idea of this reading group, so I think this speaks for something.

        I hate being a blog-policeman here, primarily because I am myself often easily carried away in personal and unrelated topics, but I say we don’t go the route of “flames” and such and stick with the book for now. [Pretty please?]

      • Yeah, I’m with you.

        Good advice, I’m smoking a metaphorical cigarette now, and keeping my eye on the prize. Which now is: (a) getting a better reading on the incredibly difficult post-Kehre Heidegger as well as Foucault and Derrida, and (b) understanding the dialectical landscape surrounding anti-realism better.

        One of the great things about Lee’s book is that it has a good narrative structure. You want to find out what’s going to happen next. I can’t think of any other 600 page philosophy books that manage to sustain this. It really is quite remarkable.

    • I think Harman reads the “as-structure” as a “veil of ideas” sort of intermediary, which it is not.

      I think he’s wrong that Heidegger is unclear on this point; taking a hammer as “a hammer” or as “a paperweight” is in neither case a perceiving of anything but the hammer itself. In the paperweight case, Heidegger wants to say I take it to be something it’s not. Hammers are not for holding down papers; that is not their role in the “referential totality” of tool-use. But the entity itself (the hammer) is what I am getting wrong, what I am grasping as something it’s not. Falsity, for Heidegger, in this way presupposes “truth” (disclosedness/revealedness, aletheia). The entities themselves have to be there for me to get them wrong.

      I also think that Harman, at least in the several posts of his which I’ve read, misses the ontological difference. He treats being as an entity. “Being” is supposed to be something “hidden”; but in the framework of SuZ, this is nonsense. Only entities can be hidden or revealed. Being-hidden is a way of being, and only entities have ways of being; “being” does not have a way of being. Being “is” not, Heidegger says in SuZ, because only values of X which are entities make “X is” or “X is not” into intelligible claims. Which is why he starts to spell it “Seyn” and write it crossed out and in scare-quotes and say “es gibt Sein” and all of that; they’re all Heidegger failing to make sense because of an incoherence in his own thinking about being (which is also why he could never finish SuZ). Which isn’t to rubbish SuZ, or many of the lecture courses; there’s a lot that stays good, including nearly all of division one of SuZ. Blattner’s “Heidegger’s Temporal Idealism” is wonderful here.

      I also think that panpsychism is something Heidegger never gave serious consideration to. Which strikes me as reasonable: it attributes experiences and thoughts to corpses. That should strike one as pretty radically anti-Heideggerian. Death means it’s over, not that it changes by degree.

      • Daniel,

        Let me make something clearer. I wasn’t saying that Heidegger would go in for animism or panpsychism or even anything related, or that Harman would endorse that.

        The claim was that one of the way out of the aporia above is to attribute mindy like properties to the world. Some people read McDowell’s critique of “bald naturalism” and his response to Kripke-Wittgenstein along these lines.

        If you take Zuhandenheit to still characterize a world without agents people are going to accuse you of anthropomorphizing in some manner (as people accuse McDowell), because Zuhandenheit is valuative. The loose talk about panpsychism was just meant to instance this.

        And to be fair, Harman is extremely clear about where his externalist Heidegger differs from Heidegger’s self conception.

        I’m going to have a serious read of Blattner’s two books (he’s got a nice intro to S&Z too) before I post about any more of this. Thanks Daniel, Shahar, and Gary for the hat tips.


  13. “If you take Zuhandenheit to still characterize a world without agents people are going to accuse you of anthropomorphizing in some manner (as people accuse McDowell), because Zuhandenheit is valuative. The loose talk about panpsychism was just meant to instance this.”

    It doesn’t characterize entities without agents; there are agents in the world, and it characterizes entities which are in the world (our world, the real one). Being, but not entities, are dependent on Dasein, and “Zuhandenheit” is a way of being. The entities which we are proximally concerned with are entities which have as their way of being ready-to-handedness.

    What you say about the counterfactual where there are no agents (or the past where there were no agents, or the possible future where there will be no agents) can come independently of this: In the world as it is now, there are things that matter, valueable things, things that lack value, things which provide good reasons or bad reasons for certain courses of action, etc. This is McDowell’s point in denying “bald naturalism” (along with Davidson/Sellars): our everyday affairs, with all the value-ladedness and their rational (not merely causal) relations, and all that related Specialness that seems to “distinguish us from nature”, are happenings in the world (the only world), the world of nature. It’s only a bad scientism that leads us to think that “nature” has to be something independent of rationality, or merely governed by physical laws, or by biological processes which hold equally for nonrational as rational animals, etc., so that if we were “Special” we’d have to be something other than natural. We can conceive of human life, of thought, of rationality, of Geist, of Dasein, as Special in a unique way without needing to oppose this specialness to “nature”. In the course of a normal human life, a natural human life, humans develop in this special sort of way into this special sort of entity. That’s just a fact about how the natural world works: some parts of it are not intelligible in the way that physics or biology can make things intelligible.

    Panpsychism is just Bald Naturalism in a funhouse mirror: it agrees with Bald Naturalism that “nature” is something value-free, a-rational, etc. (something which is not Special), but adds that in addition to all of this it has some special “mindy” properties (not being Special is held to be identical with being Special). It doesn’t position rationality within nature; it just smashes the two together.

    Reversing this dialectical move is what happens when you move from early modern Substance Dualism to early modern Materialism: both agreed that the “world” is merely extension, they just disagreed on what else they needed to countenance. Going from one to the other does not get you out of the dualism, and it’s the dualism that’s the problem. This is McDowell’s point about the “seesaw” in “Mind and World”: Neither dualistic position is acceptable; the trick in philosophy is to see how to avoid the dualism in the first place (to dismount the seesaw).

    • My clarification didn’t clarify.

      The quoted bit of material that began your post concerns Harman’s view. He has a very interesting reading of Heidegger where you see how much of it can hold in a universe without humans (I very highly recommend “Tool Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects.”)

      Again though, the application of the Zuhandenheit/Vorhandenheit reversals to a world of objects in themselves, not dependent on humans, is Harman’s view, not Heidegger’s. But it is one very interesting way to respond to the “Kantian problem of the external world.”

      • “Again though, the application of the Zuhandenheit/Vorhandenheit reversals to a world of objects in themselves, not dependent on humans, is Harman’s view, not Heidegger’s.”

        Heidegger’s view is that entities are not dependent on Dasein (except in obvious cases: we make staple-guns, they don’t grow on trees, etc.). Blattner is good on what is different about Heidegger’s “transcendental idealism” and Kant’s. Being is dependent on Dasein (at least in SuZ — MH waffles on this later); entities are not (this is always consistent in Heidegger).

        This is tied to Harman’s apparent ignorance of the ontological difference: he’ll talk about being as something like “what a cotton ball is apart from all relations” or something like that (being “withdraws from access”). Which is just nonsense. The later Heidegger’s stuff about the “forgetfulness of Beyng” and all that has nothing to do with the sort of “veil of ideas” silliness Harmann goes in for with his bowdlerized “as-structure”. Again, Blattner is good on this (his epilogue is devoted to how much of the earlier Heidegger falls apart when MH realizes that he can never finish SuZ, and what sort of contortions MH gets into post-SuZ).

      • Daniel,

        The phrase “principle of charity” means something outside of Davidsonese. It minimally includes having actually read the work of those you contemptuously dismiss (in the context of a small subset of your apodeictic dismissals this would include Braver’s book first and foremost, but also Tennant’s “Taming of the True,” Field’s new book on truth, and Harman’s two books on Heidegger).

        Maximally it also means not being so contemptuously dismissive of people making a good faith effort to philosophize, even when you strongly disagree with them.

        But whenever you disagree with someone you end up presenting yourself essentially as a religious fundamentalist contemptuously quoting scripture at non-believers. [I get enough of such behavior here in the great state of Louisiana, and I promise that this is the last time I’ll respond to one of your posts.]

        By now typical example from your previous post- You just make your anonymous internet-self look like an posturing ass when you say that Graham Harman of all people “apparently fails to understand” Heidegger (and attributing failure to understand to someone who disagrees with you is a jerk move anyhow) and go on about his “bowdlerized” as structure.

        More generally, it is not only possible but also desirable to be polite (courteous, kind, charitable) even while wearing the internet ring of Gyges, even while feeling as passionate about Davidson through McDowell as you do. There are lots of committed McDowellians who are courteous, kind, and charitable while anonymous or not. If they can do it, so can you.

        For that matter McDowell (met a couple of times, seen interact with lots of people who virulently disagree with him) and Blattner (know people who know him) are by all accounts courteous, kind, and charitable in real life. Why don’t you act more like them? Maybe their philosophical greatness is connected to not being reflexively condescendingly dismissive?

        Look, we’re about to get to late Heidegger. Can we try to practice some of the hermeneutic openness that he so beautifully describes? Can you at least purchase Braver’s book and charitably quote parts of it in your tirades?

        I realize I may just be overreacting to a tone that grates on me (though that’s reason enough for me to stop responding to Daniel’s posts). Please any non-Daniels remonstrate with me if I am out of line here. As I hope Mikhail can attest, I really do welcome this kind of criticism as it helps me be a better person.

  14. “Maximally it also means not being so contemptuously dismissive of people making a good faith effort to philosophize, even when you strongly disagree with them.”

    Why should “philosophizing” be a good thing, just as such? Bad thinking is not necessarily better than not thinking. Bad philosophy is certainly more pernicious than “comment bullying” or whatever you want to accuse me of. Or at least, it’s more prone to lead to exponentially more bad philosophy. (I don’t know why you’re leaping to claims about what I must be like in real-life, or even real-life conversations, or why you’re trying to shame me by pointing out that McDowell is a nice guy (which he is) or that Blattner is a nice guy (he’s a student of Haugeland, who is a nice guy, and by all reports you’re right that he is a nice guy). We are talking about philosophy in blog comments; lighten up. We’re a half-step above people on Usenet arguing X-Men continuity.)

    Also I make no pretense at having read Harman’s books (though I flipped through “Guerilla Metaphysics” at a remaindered book shop once, before hearing of Harman online; I lumped it in with their Ken Wilbur stuff). Unless he’s a vastly different book-writer than a writer of other sorts of things, I feel fine with not looking at “Tool-Being”. Everyone that likes it seems to be enthusiastic about Harman’s silly online stuff, so I don’t know why I should expect it to be less of a waste of time than his blog is. (Though it’s a more expensive way to waste time.)

    I don’t know who Tennant is, so I don’t see how I could be dismissing him. If you’ve said something I’ve denied which Tennant has also said: my problem was with the thing said, not its parents.

    I’ve liked what I’ve read of Field, but don’t think his logic stuff is of broader philosophical interest. It’s still interesting as logic stuff, and I hope he keeps working on his puzzles, so I’m not sure what you think I’m “contemptuously dismissive” of here.

    I find your “pushing” of authors to be a weird tick; I noticed you’d repented of it on your blog recently. (Or maybe that was just “pushing your own stuff”.) Only reason I kept bringing up Blattner was you’d said you wanted to read the book anyway. (You should read it, it’s good. I haven’t read his reader’s guide to SuZ, but it was the one that Haugeland recommended if we wanted something to read alongside SuZ for his class.)

    “You just make your anonymous internet-self look like an posturing ass when you say that Graham Harman of all people “apparently fails to understand” Heidegger (and attributing failure to understand to someone who disagrees with you is a jerk move anyhow) and go on about his “bowdlerized” as structure.”

    My last name is Lindquist; says so on the blog that’s linked to every one of my comments. Daniel is my actual name. I actually don’t know why I don’t have my full name on comments here; I don’t go by “Daniel” rather than “Daniel Lindquist” out of any sort of principle. Just didn’t type the second part when I first commented, then Firefox remembered by info.

    I don’t know why you think I’m anonymous. If by “anonymous” you just meant that I’m sniping in a blog comment rather than in print: I’m complaining about a blog post, which you asked for opinions on.

    I don’t see what makes “attributing failure to understand” into a dick move, unless saying “You are flat-out wrong” is a dick move. In which case: I am in favor of dick moves. Philosophy is a game of dick moves. I think Harman is saying totally crazy things, and I think the reason he is doing so is because he’s a bad reader of Heidegger. Those aren’t even seperable claims, since some of the crazy things he’s saying are supposed to be interpretations of Heidegger. I think he is flatly wrong, both about Heidegger and about the facts. And I don’t think that there’s any real virtue to having philosophy “projects” such as “Speculative Realism” or sciencesque “research programs”. I see no way to disagree with Harman without upsetting your internet politeness sensor.

    “Can you at least purchase Braver’s book and charitably quote parts of it in your tirades? ”

    I thought I’d made clear that what I actually care about in these discussions is realism/antirealism, not Braver’s book. I also don’t see why being hostile to a book is supposed to be bad (some books are crap!), unless you just want to not offend Braver since he’s voluntarily participating in your book event. (Which is reasonable for you, but hardly a reason for me to hold my tongue about philosophical matters.)

    “I don’t know what you are talking about.

    And neither do you.”

    How can you know I don’t know what I’m talking about, if you don’t know what I’m talking about? (I don’t see this comment, but it showed up in the RSS feed with Cogburn’s name on it. Note that I don’t think this sort of comment is out of line; I just think it needs fleshing out. WHAT SHOWS that I don’t know what I’m talking about? That you are not missing important things by not knowing what I’m talking about? Though if you want to stop responding to me because I annoy you with my “tone” (I don’t know what you mean by this), then fine. Same reason I stopped commenting on Larval Subjects. Totally reasonable move.)

    • “We’re a half-step above people on Usenet arguing X-Men continuity.”
      “Philosophy is a game of dick moves.”

      Please, Daniel, speak for yourself.

      I think one of the fundamental problems here comes out clearly in your post. Apparently, you believe that flipping through a book while standing in the aisle of a bookstore gives you sufficient knowledge to dismiss an author as “crazy,” “silly,” and “flatly wrong.” Actually reading it would lend your critique more—well, actually some—plausibility.

      “I also don’t see why being hostile to a book is supposed to be bad.”

      First, as I have to lecture my first-year students in every Intro, criticizing is not the same thing as being hostile. Raising objections is not intrinsically belligerent and, conversely, being belligerent isn’t equivalent to raising an objection. Not only does critique require familiarity with the object of one’s objections, but these should be made in the spirit of charity and a shared goal of understanding more, rather than gladiatorial combat or bitter war, with enemies driven wailing from the field. Objections are great; this is how we learn. But hostility is generally counter-productive to fruitful discussion.

      Second, you’re not being hostile to a book; you’re being hostile to blogged discussions of a book. Just as flipping through a book is not equivalent to reading it, neither is eavesdropping on a conversation about a 600 page book you don’t own. These are very different media which employ very different standards, esp. of rigor in citation, argument, etc. This doesn’t mean that blogs are or should be sloppy, only that they cannot possibly, and are not meant to, faithfully capture all that is said in the book under discussion. Plenty of steps can be taken for granted or briefly indicated among a group reading a common text that will be obscure, even misleading, to someone eavesdropping without reading it. Of course you can discuss Heidegger, Davidson, et al, but we’re doing this in the context of a particular analysis of them, and laying out that context in response to each of your attacks would be unwieldy.

      “I stopped commenting on Larval Subjects. Totally reasonable move.”

      This might be the best precedent to follow in the present circumstances. I have no interest in hashing these points out in a tedious back and forth which will almost certainly result in mutual entrenchment and increased shrillness rather than the slightest persuasion. I’m only making these comments because of Jon’s request and because the discussion is becoming increasingly derailed.

    • You not being anonymous changes a great deal. Take or leave this advice, but please, please check it over with whoever your adviser at Chicago is.

      You should either stop blogging or do so anonymously until you have tenure.

      In most hiring situations there are at least 200 applicants for the job, and by the end of the process the department often consists of three factions, two of which are against each other and a smaller third which could go either way (decision theory actually predicts this). The two factions will bring in any bit of relevant data to try to persuade the undecideds. At this point there are usually five or so of the initial 200 left, all of whom are equal in research and teaching desirability (though the two opposing factions won’t see it that way). So anything relating to the candidate’s collegiality becomes fair game.

      Now I have seen one case where somebody’s blogging history was actually a plus, but this person had mad skills and as such had completely mastered the internet temptation (that we are all subject to, which is why it is important to have internet friends like Mikhail who will write you an e-mail taking issue when you give in to it) to be unfairly condescending and dismissive.

      But look at the things you’ve said. Is anyone who works, for example, on the philosophical importance of self-reflexive paradoxes going to want to hire someone who has publicly said that their life’s vocation is a waste of time? Is any member of “the Leiter crowd” going to? Is one of Fodor or Lepore’s students? Is anyone who understands Davidson, Kant, Heidegger, McDowell, Hegel etc. one iota differently than you going to want to hire someone who has publicly called them fools and dismissed their work as a priori (because it disagrees with Daniel Lindquist) beneath thinking about?

      The most important part of collegiality is being able to discuss people’s research with them in a way that is helpful to them. And you have said enough on this blog alone to come across as uncollegial to well over half of the American philosophy departments (obviously, if you are another Saul Kripke this won’t matter).

      Say you do get a tenure track job. Only a very few people going up for tenure are such that it is clear they hit it out of the ballpark prior to the process (there are usually around seven different reports in sequence, any one of which can nail you,- departmental’s, chair’s, college committee’s, dean’s, provost’s, chancellor’s, then board of regent’s) ). Most people are somewhere in the middle, depending on neurotic work by the department to convince the administration as well as external letters that don’t damn by faint praise. Unless you are Saul Kripke, being a dick to people over the internet or in person disadvantages you greatly.

      Again, my strong advice is to either stop blogging, or do it anonymously so that every random person on a search or promotion committee can’t so easily get access to your internet behavior. Mikhail will edit the above post and this one to remove self-identifying information if you want. Just send him an e-mail asking him to do so (go to the “authors” link above).

      Don’t take my word for it though. Ask one of your advisers.

      [I know I contradicted my promise not to respond to your posts. I’m responding to the fact that you are a graduate student trolling under your own name. Note that none of the above discussed whether these kinds of posts are philosophically fruitful or not.

      You are an adult. Feel free to dismiss my advice. But for your own good at least check with somebody you do respect, or lacking that, at least someone who will be involved with writing the departmental letter of recommendation for you.]

      • “Mikhail will edit the above post and this one to remove self-identifying information if you want. Just send him an e-mail asking him to do so (go to the “authors” link above).”

        Mikhail, feel free to edit my last name, “Lindquist”, into my prior comments. I wouldn’t want more people seeing my first name (and a link to my weblog) and thinking I must be anonymous. (No need to actually edit anything; I think my name is easy enough to find for anyone who wants it. Same with contact info if someone wants to say something to me outside of a public forum etc.)

        To repeat myself for at least a third time: I think work on the logical paradoxes is interesting in itself, but don’t think it has wider philosophical application. I wish all the best for Field & Priest and the other logicians I like reading (and the ones whose work I haven’t gotten into yet), but, as a point of substantive philosophy, I remain unconvinced that work on the paradoxes has significant repercussions outside of philosophical logic. This does not make it a “waste of time” and I would never say that it does. By “without wider philosophical interest” I meant “without interest outside of philosophical logic”; implicitly, I also meant “of interest within philosophical logic”. Which is as legitimate a field of inquiry as any.

        “Is anyone who understands Davidson, Kant, Heidegger, McDowell, Hegel etc. one iota differently than you going to want to hire someone who has publicly called them fools and dismissed their work as a priori (because it disagrees with Daniel Lindquist) beneath thinking about?”

        I have to have engaged with it to know enough about it to endorse it or reject it, so it can’t have been “a priori beneath thinking about” for me; at most it can be something I advise against others bothering to read (there is only so much time to spend reading, and too many good works that are easy to miss, so I regard this sort of advise as as useful as positive recommendations of works — in both cases, the advice is only as reliable as the one giving it, but such is the nature of advice).

        If your point is just that I think I can know that something is wrong “a priori” because I disagree with it: I think claims that are inconsistent with what I take myself to know to be false. This is in fact the only way I have of judging something to be false: I have to use my own corpus of belief to judge things. Failure of agreement with what I take to be true is my standard of falsity; failure of agreement with what you take to be true is your standard of falsity. So, from my point of view, being wrong and disagreeing with what I hold true are co-extensive. Modulo the indexical, the same is true for you. What you take to be wrong is what you disagree with.

        And being wrong isn’t enough to make one a fool; reasonable people can get things wrong. I don’t think Strawson’s a fool, and if I’ve said anything to suggest that I do, it was an unfortunate rhetorical excess. I explicitly said his work was interesting & worth looking at etc.; I just don’t think there’s any hope of vindicating his reading of Kant as being the historical Kant. Which is fine; nothing says the historical Kant is more valuable than a reconstructed “Kant”. (Also NB that I mean this as a substantial point of Kant-interpretation, very little of which has gone on in these comments, but which I’ve blogged about in the past. I think Westphal’s “Kant’s Transcendental Proof of Realism” gets the historical Kant right, if anyone cares.)

        Graham Harman is the only person I can think of who I have said I don’t think is worth engaging with at all. Future hiring decisions from 2025, take note: I think Graham Harman (NOT Gil Harman, who has some good stuff) is skippable. Not based on flipping through “Guerilla Metaphysics”, but based on everything of his I’ve read on his blog and every discussion of him I’ve seen online (and there have been plenty of those; as has been noted, Harman and the “Speculative Realists” seem to largely be an online phenomenon). This belief, like all beliefs, is corrigible: if I find a good reason to look at Harman again, then I’ll look at Harman again. I just don’t expect to encounter such things; but I might be shown wrong. (I don’t think that’s a live possibility, but hey, anything’s possible.) If it turns out that “Speculative Realism” is the wave of the future, I will willingly eat crow.

        Mikhail, I apologize for responding to the concern-troll, but I didn’t want this blather to stand by itself as if I regarded it as a reason to stop commenting. Frankly, worrying about getting tenure strikes me as pretty silly at this point, and if “reviews of WordPress comment history from 2009” ends up being a key issue then I must have not done anything important, and so shouldn’t get tenure anyway.

      • Once again I find that my letter above was written under misapprehension. In my first episode of concern trolling, Daniel’s apodeictic pose combined with condescending dismissiveness led me to think he was anonymous.

        Then during the second letter I had thought he was a Ph.D student in the Chicago philosophy program who wasn’t talking with his advisers or the placement committee.

        Now I see he has a theology BA from Dallas and is in the Masters of Arts Program in Humanities at Chicago. The stuff about getting an academic job was totally misplaced given where he is in the quest.

        I am not going to further distance this discussion from what it is supposed to be about by writing a third post with advice about how to get into a Ph.D program, mostly because of what Mikhail wrote below, but also because grad. school is filled with lots of first and second year students who manifest these kinds of rhetorical virtues. Almost anyone who actually manages to get a PhD gets that chewed out of them in a way akin to the meat-grinder scene in theatrical release of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” It’s not very much fun, but I think it does make you a better person as long as the post traumatic stress doesn’t make you end up like poor Pink.

        In any case, I am very comfortable washing my hands now. And remember that it was Pilate who asks “what is truth”? Attending to the debate started by Williams below is a much better way to go about answering Pilate than anymore boring, predictable, and in this context irrelevant internet brouhaha.

        I apologize for my role in it.

  15. Sorry to keep picking on Dr. Harman and the SRs, but I have always had trouble with how SRs insist that what they are doing (using anthropocentric metaphors) is not really that different from what scientists are doing. For example, Levi said on his blog:

    However, I do think the charge that the use of a term is “metaphorical” is generally specious in philosophy…

    Scientists talk about forces exerting themselves or acting, and talk about organisms as adapting.These are all highly metaphorical locutions. I suppose I’m saying that I’m relatively unphased when it’s suggested that a term is merely metaphorical when the philosopher is doing work to stipulate a particular concept.

    The problem I have here is that saying scientists sometimes talk about their theories metaphorically is not the same thing as saying that’s only how they can discourse about their theories. In many cases, scientists can discourse in terms of raw data, graphs, diagrams, mathematics, equations, mechanical forces, physics, chemistry, cell structure etc. Humans have spent many years developing the skills necessary to properly carry out an “object oriented” investigation; indeed, such skillsets are largely successful only on account of treating the entire universe as a collection of objects.

    Thus, we can see that talking about the cotton ball and fire in terms of “actors” and “differences” is one thing, and talking about cotton and fire in thermomolecular dynamics is another. One is actually object-oriented; the other is simply a metaphorical story that may or may not have a useful purpose.

    • Yeah, I’m kind of stuck there too. That’s a much better way to put the point than as I did in terms of panpsychism or animism.

      It’s an issue I’d like to pursue when the new SR anthology comes out. It would probably be cool to look at different theories of metaphor in light of the criticism.

      A similar complaint is made about Dynamic Systems Theory as a philosophy of mind. Is all the imported talk from differential equations and whatnot just being used metaphorically? I think there’s a good response to this, but it’s one that needs to be worked out (as with the SR case).

      • For what it’s worth, Metaphor (at least according to Aristotle’s definition — and things haven’t changed too much theoretically since him, lamentably) is the instance of a speculation sentence, in Hegel’s sense at least. The problem, however, is that once you start working with metaphors in this speculative kind of way, you’re sorta stuck in some form of (neo or post) Kantianism, since metaphors are orientational, not cognitional (there’s a poorly written bit on this here. This surely fits with what Gary said above concerning ‘scientific’ uses of metaphor: they orient us, but they don’t purport to explain or cognize the phenomenon under investigation There’s no way to use metaphor without being irredeemably anthropological, if not anti-realist (As a sidenote: Hegel calls representations [Vorstellungen] metaphors for concepts in the shorter Logic), since metaphors can only work as metaphors when one is situated in a particular kind of way, with particular sensitivities, limitations, histories, etc. Metaphor only makes sense if one accepts a certain model of human finitude, and the inacessibility of certain ‘things.’ Failing this, affirmation of finitude, this incapacity to cognize some thing in itself, one can’t make sense of the fact that we do in fact use metaphors. Hans Blumenberg actually developed a whole philosophical career around this notion (although most of his metaphorological writings haven’t been translated, I think).

        As for dynamical systems theory in the philosophy of mind, I was under the impression that the major problem was that it doesn’t really explain anything — it merely describes tendencies within a given frame of competing forces. The whole thing is basically a black box explanation (so metaphorical/analogical extension is actually beside the point).

      • As for dynamical systems theory in the philosophy of mind, I was under the impression that the major problem was that it doesn’t really explain anything — it merely describes tendencies within a given frame of competing forces. The whole thing is basically a black box explanation (so metaphorical/analogical extension is actually beside the point).

        This isn’t strictly true. See chapter five “Guides to Discovery” in Tony Chemero’s “Radical Embodied Cognitive Science”, which is available for free here:


        One might posit a generally applicable type of dynamical model that accounts for a wide range of cognitive phenomena. This would allow scientists to predict that other, similar behaviors would fall under the same covering laws, and then test that prediction. Such a generalizable dynamical model could provide a guide to discovery, putting dynamical cognitive science on equal methodological footing with computational and representational cognitive science. As it happens, one such non-representational, generalizable dynamical model of cognition has proven widely applicable, and its range is constantly being extended to more aspects of cognition: the well-known HKB model and it’s extension into a more generalized coordination dynamics (Haken, Kelso and Bunz 1985; Kelso 1995; Kelso and
        Engstrøm 2006).

        And furthermore,

        Ecological psychology is more than just a unifying dynamical model; it is a unifying background theory. Ecological psychology, that is, provides a guide to discovery in the same way that atomism did for physics.

      • You’re right Gary, I spoke a little too quickly. I should have made a point of emphasizing the predictive power of dynamical systems theory. But that doesn’t make it any less of a black box explanation. Simply Identifying covering laws doesn’t explain much, does it?

      • But that doesn’t make it any less of a black box explanation.

        Well, I think the black box explanations of contemporary cognitive science are much different from anything in dynamical systems theory. With dynamical systems theory, there is nothing similar to things like the “executive function” or anything top-down like that. By explaining cognition in terms of tightly coupled causal loops, there is no cognitive “middleman” so to speak. All the hard work is accomplished by positing that cognition is simply a very complex and non-linear feedback loop between environment and body. Both are physical systems and no where in such an explanatory framework will you find a classical homculus. The agency becomes spread into the total body-brain-world system, and is not just isolated in terms of one particular brain area like the pre-frontal cortex or something.

      • You’re right of course, Gary. There is a very large difference between the kinds of explanation you’ve mentioned. And I’m far from a specialist in Cog Sci stuff, so I should probably just let the matter be. I just can’t help myself it seems — so here goes:

        There’s a tendency in discussions like this one to conflate the model for the ontology (and I think this is the underlying issue, the faultline, between Realism and anti-realism in general). I tend to think this happens in both Dynamical systems theory (DST) and various functionalist positions, especially when it comes to neural nets and whatnot — they’re functionally isomorphic with regular old computational models, and they do not have any more plausibility than modular accounts; simply put, not only are neural nets merely analogical ‘neurons,’ having little to nothing to do with the way the brain functions, anything one can implement on a net can be implemented on a regular old von Neumann machine. the only ‘advantage’ is that neural nets are ‘trained up’ by way of either an external corrective force — usually a comp sci grad student — or by some evolutionary algorithm (which has been programmed by a comp sci grad student).

        Anyway, with respect to DST, the problem is always how you interpret the attractors, vector spaces, and other operators that compose the model. The mathematical model, in other words, doesn’t explain — it models a behaviour, which has been antecedently identified, and then abstracted. The model does no observational or explanatory work. Worse, the only plausible interpretation of the model is causal — or so I think.

        So, one can get away from a representational account, but really only at the price of being forced to return to a D’Holbachian materialist determinism. Mikhail has explained elsewhere on this blog why some notion of representationality (in the sense of mental content) is necessary, viz. counterfactual reasoning, and the whole break with metaphysical determinism. When all is said and done, though, DST always ends up looking like a mathy version of behaviourism. And that is the classic version of a black-box explanation.

        All this to say, then, that there are definitely good — scientific, methodological — reasons to take DST seriously. But we shouldn’t mistake a research tool for the way things really are out there in the foggy aether surrounding the things in themselves. Nor do we even have a warrant to make that inference.

        I also find it really strange that folks interested in systems theory, which originally tried to unburden itself of ontological commitments, are trying to ontologize the system. I don’t really see how that’s productive.

      • Alexei,

        I agree with your assessment of both classic and non-classic approaches in terms of “explaining” cognition. Both are at best, scientific paradigms in the Kuhnian sense, and not much more. In terms of actually explaining semantic, representational content; that is, doing the hard work of explaining how it possible for a natural system to actually be a representation of anything at all, we haven’t really made much progress. William Ramsey does an excellent job in his “Representation Reconsidered” to explain how almost all cognitive theories of representation fail to provide an explanation for how representations actually function as representations. For Ramsey, the only representational model that avoids the hard issues of explaining semantic content is isomorphic representations like maps and whatnot. He also says that classic input-output models are still useful, but they need to be modified.

        Basically, I think all “mind sciences” are working on a preliminary level of investigation; very much in their infancy. In Heideggerian terms, we are still working with formal conceptions of the mind and I am really just as skeptical as you are when it comes to claiming to “explain” anything about the brain or mind, except in strict behavioral/structural terms as in the case of neuropsychology or straight up neuroscience.

        However, I nevertheless think there is a real benefit to DST as compared to traditional approaches because I think it emphasizes a new approach on how to “find” consciousness in the brain, which is of course, the “you won’t find it there so stop looking” approach.

      • I thought the complaint was something like this.

        (1) DST is not really providing equations to predict much of anything, especially not higher level phenomena like logical entailment. This is important because DST is presented as an alternate theory to standard AI, which can (arguably, this hinges on a lot of assumptions) be used to build video games at least.

        (2) So what do we make of it when Deleuzians put forward a metaphysics by adopting a lot of the DST terminology of phase space, attractor, and the like? In applied math the differential equations are actually predicting new measurable phenomena and allowing us to build things. What do we say when people use this same terminology in an explanation that does not yield such predictions or technology? One criticism here is that it is using the mathematical terminology in a metaphorical manner.

        I don’t know if it’s a fare criticism, but it seems similar to Gary’s concern with SR.

        I like Alexi’s point about connectionism. But even here I think we’re giving too much if we accept the idea that connectionism has been very successful engineering (even accepting the coolness of all of Andy Clark’s examples).

        So there are a couple of overlapping issues: (1) is it a very good model, and (2) are we confusing the model with the modeled.

        If you are comparing DST or connectionism with the old stuff, then the old stuff still wins on (1) as far as I can tell. Though Dreyfus and the original DST guy (his name begins with a G, I’m being dense) are right on in their negative critiques of the old stuff. This is precisely why it starts to look like merely a metaphor. We actually use dense areas of math non-trivially to design planes.

      • Hi Jon,

        Distinguishing between a model’s efficacity (for some given purpose), and the further problem concerning whether the model itself is being confused with the modeled is a crucial point. Thanks for introducing it.

        Now, I’m not sure what to make of your first formulation of the standard critique of DST. It strikes me that there is some predictive power involved in it, but the models aren’t accurate yet (i.e. there’s still a lot of research to be done). At the very least, DST promises to be able to predict certain behaviours that a given matrix of environmental conditions and forces would produce. So, I’m not sure how charitable this kind of criticism is; in point of fact, it seems like a local version of the pessimistic induction.

        That aside, I really don’t know what to say about the problem of entailment. That strikes me as a ‘silver bullet’ objection. Maybe Gary has something more to say about this.

        Now, about the deleuzean appropriation of DST: I don’t know the first thing about it (my knoweldge of Deleuze and things deleuzean is poor, to the point of being virtually non-existent). From what you’ve described, though, it sounds like these folks are conflating the model for the modeled. Hence, although we may choose to read this use as a metaphorical extension, that’s a hermeneutical alm offered to an emaciated and potentially crippled line of thought. (I couldn’t help the rhetorical flourish, sorry). At any rate, I’ve actually claimed that Badiou’s use of set-theory is little more than metaphorical (or maybe on a good day analogical), since you can actually dispense with it entirely without losing any content or structure.

      • Dr. Cogburn,

        I would be hesitant to ascribe the “old stuff” as being involved with more “higher level phenomena” without first defining the ceiling so to speak. Has any theory, old or new, really begun to explain things like dreams, episodic memory, the frame problem, and “epistemic skills” like analogical reasoning, metaphorical thinking, logica and language, etc? Furthermore, we have only barely broken the surface in terms of explaining the phenomenological complexity of altered states of consciousness, personality, and agency; the real meat and potatoes of what it means to live the human experience.

        Needless to say, I am fairly confident, based on historical extrapolation, that any theory as it stands today will be laughably obsolete in 30 years anyway, so debating the extent to which DST, connectionism, or classical theories are closer to the actual phenomena to be modeled seems over-confident and naive in light of the history of psychological science. As far as I am concerned, William James was just as close to explaining the “mind” has anyone alive today. Psychology is now simply a behavioral science. “Cognitive science”, literally speaking, has not really developed itself into an actual science and frankly, I am skeptical about the total project given Heideggerian concerns about intentionality and cognition not being another object to be discovered among other objects.

        A great story came out in Wired recently about how current neuroscience is mistakenly working with a “redundant” computer architecture model which is looking really outdated in light of the Allen institute brain mapping program. This research is now showing that, for example, the hypothalamus, traditionally broken up into four neat functional areas, has at least 9 different variations of genetic expression in each of the four areas. And that is just the hypothalamus. The massively redundant “processing column” metaphor seems, predictably, to be naively optimistic.

      • Excellent. Excellent. Excellent.

        I think you’ve got one of the key points, which is dispensibility. Can you dispense with the framework in question and still make all the same claims with no weaker argumentative status? If you can, then the framework is metaphor for what’s really going on.

        In the case of Davidson, I think you can make all the substantive arguments without making reference to a “Tarski style definition of truth.” While that bit of formalism was certainly important to the context of discovery (for him) it is not important to the context of justification (assessing the substantive philosophical conclusions). If that’s right, then following the way you are putting it, we could say that the truth definition is a metaphor for Davidson.

        This is also the key to the Deleuzian response, to argue that the vocabulary of phase space et. al. is not dispensable.

        I don’t know how looking at it this way would impact Gary’s concern about SR. I guess you have to look at the philosophical problems in question. Does the Harmanian method of avoiding a “Kantian problem of the external world” (bracketing for a second Gary’s own reading of how Heidegger gets out of this) and the Kripke-Wittgenstein paradox rise and fall with the use of concepts that some would regard as anthropomorphic to describe objects in a possible universe without Dasein? I think it probably does, which would make it non-metaphorical in Harman’s case (I’m just writing about the Harman of Tool Being, not of the later book or blog).

        Gary was responding to Levi’s blog though, so things are probably different over there.

        Off subject- Alexei I hope you guest blog over here more. I’d just discovered your great blog when it got yanked.

      • I got carried away in my own personal reverie, and forgot to respond to this:

        Does the Harmanian method of avoiding a “Kantian problem of the external world” (bracketing for a second Gary’s own reading of how Heidegger gets out of this) and the Kripke-Wittgenstein paradox rise and fall with the use of concepts that some would regard as anthropomorphic to describe objects in a possible universe without Dasein?

        For what it’s worth, I think Harman’s whole account of infinitely withdrawn arguments rests on a dialectical fallacy (of the order identified by Stroud in his ’68 paper ‘Transcendental Arguments’). Simply put, Harman’s argument moves from a phenomenological feature (Stroud talks about pyschological) of human existence (the as-structure), to its conditions of possibility that are supposed to metaphysically necessary and independent of its inferential ground (withdrawn objects). But there’s no real way to get form the phenomenological feature to the ontological claim other than simply asserting it — and then justifying the assertion by appeal to the inherently Dasein-centric claim concerning the as-structure, which undercuts the ontological claims one wants to draw from it in the first place. What’s worse, it’s not even clear to me that one ought to accept Heidegger’s analysis of apophansis in the first place, since meaning-holism is far from uncontentious, and Heidegger’s articulation of it, which relies on a really weird sense of temporality that no one ever talks about, may not be totally coherent.

        Assuming that I’ve understood Harman’s argument correctly, and that it does in fact have the basic form that Stroud attributes to ‘transcendental arguments’ (the kind that Quassim Cassam calls World-directed, and Robert Stern calls ‘truth-directed’), then I think it’s been conclusively demonstrated that Harman’s argument is specious. He can’t get there from here.

      • That’s a really important criticism. I’ve got to go get the Stroud.

        I was going to link to all three of your posts on transcendental arguments prior to your blog coming down. It’s cool to see the cash value applied here.

        Do you think the same criticism might be made against John McDowell? I think it could against some versions of McDowell when people present him as having a certain take on the Kripke-Wittgenstein paradox (sort of re-enchanting nature).

        Great point about the holism of Zuhandenheit. You only get rid of Hume type problems if you really can treat each of the properties (relationality, modality, value) of Zuhandenheit as more fundamental. Maybe you can relativize this to a context in something like the way epistemic contextualists do, so that you don’t end up with Whitehead/Leibniz/British Idealists/Derrida type metaphysics on the one hand or a substance ontology on the other. I’m just thinking out loud here though. I do know that the claim that objective presence is abstracted from a more relational, modal, and valuative realm is consistent with there not being an absolute Zuhandenheit/Vorhandenheit distinction, but rather a continuum of more or less modal/relational/valuative ways to look at things in different contexts.

      • Not to overplay my hand, but I’m pretty sure that the line of criticism I’ve outlined above comes pretty close to being a knock-down argument against Harman, just as Tom’s criticisms of Meillassoux are. If one were to pursue the matter a little further, I think that would pretty much sound the death knell of SR. As things stand, though, that’s more intuition and conviction than rigorous argumentation, so I’ll let SR be.

        About McDowell: I’m not hugely knowledgeable, and I think I might be missing the crux of your question. I always thought McDowell’s response to this issue was simply to say that Kripke misreads Wittgenstein on the matter, and that the solution to the paradox is really a matter of the form of life in which the ‘rule’ is found (Brandom has a similar response to Kripke’s regulism). More simply put, there’s no paradox at all. But that’s just to say that the solution to the problem is anthropological, and hence bound to the specifics of enculturation, of the acquisition of second nature, which has a specifically human and historical set of conditions. So, assuming I’ve understood things properly, I actually think McDowell is immune to Stroudian criticism, since his ‘solution’ to both the kripke-wittgenstein paradox and to disenchantment is anthropological (i.e. it has everything to do with how we gain a ‘second nature’ — Bildung, really), rather than metaphysical. And he simply applies a kind of wittgensteinean ‘therapy’ to metaphysical dichotomies that obfuscate the anthropological dimensions of categories like ‘nature’ and ‘reason’.

      • If you write the criticism of SR up into a paper, please e-mail it to me! I think the idea is pretty fundamental and should be published somewhere, especially making the Stroud connection.

        The problem with that reading as a solution to Kripkenstein is that you can run the paradox again at the level of the “form of life.”

        One way to deal with this is to get really serious about the quietist strand in McDowell’s thought, to insist that it trying to run the paradox in that manner (against whatever rule the community or form of life or whatever is supposedly following) is akin to getting outside of one’s own skin. This is actually a semantic version of the Kantian noumenal maneuver (as Putnam explicitly states about his related brain in vat argument). The other way to deal with it is to get really serious about the “Hegelian” strands in McDowell’s thought, taking “world” to already be intentional in some manner. Alexander Miller suggests this. I’ve got a couple of essays I’m about to read that try to make this clearer (one by Pippin).

        The first strategy runs afoul of reformulated affection arguments via Graham Priest, the second possibly runs afoul of your critique of SR.

        I realize the above may be bonkers. I’m trying to get a McDowell that steers between Scylla and Charibdis here. What blew me away about your anti-SR argument is that I had hoped that SR was superior in this very manner- McDowell’s pretense of getting beyond scheme/content (but reducing either to Wittgensteinian quietism refuted by Priest on the one hand, or a kind of animism on the other) versus Harman’s radical externalization of scheme/content. Your thought calls all of this into question.

        That’s just explaining how I was thinking about it. My McDowell isn’t that great right now, and I realize there may be some different view than the one I’m getting from some secondary stuff.

      • I should also clarify. The bit of McDowell in question that leads to the more Hegelian (and less Wittgensteinian) reading of his own view is the stuff about “bald naturalism” and need for a re-enchanted view of nature in Mind and World. He suggests (and commentators pick up on) that reality itself is intensional and propositional in such a way that experience is always already “conceptual” yet nonetheless experience of the world as it is. This is to avoid the Scylla of coherentism on one hand and the Charibdis of the Myth of the Given on the other.

        For what it’s worth, I agree with you that Kripke’s analysis of Wittgenstein’s own solution to a Kripkensteinian paradox is much closer to the real Wittgenstein than Kripke or Ayer’s accounts. This of course involves seeing the problem itself in a broader setting than just Hume’s puzzle of induction applied to intensional categories (Goodman on grue and Kripke both do this brilliantly). But I think this all needs to be read in terms of the Mind and World seesaw between coherentism and the Myth of the Given, and the way he wants to refashion the important Kantian dualities (intuition/understanding, receptivity/spontenaity, etc.). It’s here that you get the possible dilemma of a new affection argument on the one hand (against the quietist McDowell) and the charges of anthropomorphism on the other.

        Again, that may be wacky. I’m just now getting into the voluminous commentary on Mind and World.

      • Oops, I meant to say I agree with you that *McDowell’s* interpretation of the solution to the paradox is much more in line with Wittgenstein than the one Kripke attributes to Wittgenstein.

      • I have to admit, Jon, I’m not much of a fan of McDowell’s work, precisely because of his quietism: he seems to stop short of what’s truly problematic, i.e. the issues of the thoroughgoingly conceptual character of experience, reenchantment (I think this is a terrible word choice, and not really a substantive commitment), etc (although I think the idea is that Hegel and Wittgenstein are supposed to merge in McDowell’s ‘second nature’ that remains ‘natural.’). I’ll have to look into Priest’s affection argument in order to say something coherent about it, but for the moment let me say simply that the basic criticisms you’re citing seem to treat McDowell’s position synchronically. They don’t allow for any kind of historical development of the kind crucial to McDowell’s account. Simply put, the reason experience is always already conceptually loaded, and the world is intentional through-and-through is because we’ve made it that way (we’ve moved rivers, created lakes, bred specific kinds of animals, etc.), so that there’s no way to distinguish any more between ‘mind-independent world’ and ‘minds.’ This is not to say, of course, that the W-K paradox isn’t something we needn’t explicitly deal with (for what it’s worth, I think it more or less identifies the problem of normativity tout court), but it strikes me that something like second nature (or Brandom’s discussion of the relationship between attitudes and statuses) does the job quite nicely.

        I guess what I’m saying is that once you affirm a postmetaphysical Hegelianianism (i.e. a historicized, cultured space of reasons, whose institutions are externalizations of these normatives statuses), there’s really not much of a problem. I certainly don’t think one can charge McDowell with a form of animism — but I’m not up to date on the secondary lit, and I’m sure that i’m missing something. I think the point to apply pressure on is the idea of conceptual exprerience and on second nature, since these are the least worked out notions in McDowell’s writings, so far as I’m aware. But none of that will change McDowell’s basic orientation, which I find truly problematic: philosophy is really an effort to stop doing philosophy; philosophical problems are still pseudo-problems. It strikes me that if one disagrees with this Ansatz, you can’t really follow anythign else that McDowell says.

        Anyway, If ever I get around to writing up that critique of SR, I’ll definitely send it your way. I would love to get your feedback on stuff.


    • Good to know I’m not totally lost in this discussion, and manage to bump into something valuable from time to time.

      I should mention, though, that my use of ‘metaphor’ has been equivocal in this discussion, and I should probably clarify, as best I can. There are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ uses of metaphor. Personally, I think that (good) metaphors do — and should — play a huge role in our thinking.

      ‘Good’ metaphorics are usually tied to providing an orientation for further thought, or for offering us a way to indirectly express what is, for all intents and purposes, inexpressible or beyond the limits of coherent conceptualization (at the moment). I originally linked the ‘good’ metaphor to the notion of speculation via Hegel and Aristotle (and Kant, and the whole of German philosophy post-Kant). The point here is that the metaphorical registers of language aren’t dispensable, although they may be supercedeable at a later point (I’m not sure I can explain the difference between dispensable and supercedable at the moment, save to say that these notion are tied to something like a paradigm or conceptual framework: transform the paradigm, supercede its metaphors, remain within a paradigm and certain metaphors may be dispensed with). They indicate a both the limits of a problem space, and allow us to grasp what we cannot conceptually access through that space. Metaphors are expressions of non-identity (but crucially not of something like a ‘non-conceptual difference,’ which I don’t even think is a coherent locution).

      The moment one kills the metaphor (kicks its bucket, translates it, ontologizes it, whatever), there’s a problem. That’s a ‘bad’ use of metaphor, and it basically amounts to mistaking a model (and metaphors are a kind of model) for what it models. This bad use (strictly speaking, this is probably a case of analogy and exemplification) is the one I attributed to folks like Badiou, who introduce an analogical relationship (ZFC’s operations on the null set) simply to literalize it without reconstruction, and by a sleight of hand (I posit it, by way of a decision etc). IN such cases, there isn’t any process of ‘carrying over,’ and once the literalization has been shown to be just that, it can be dispensed with entirely. At best, it’s a propadeutic (what you referred to as the context of discovery). At worst it’s a category error.

      Hopefully that clarifies more than it obscures.

  16. The chapter on the Heidegger of Being and Time, the early Heidegger, ends with a substantial discussion of Davidson in relation to Heidegger. This discussion comes out heavily in favor of Heidegger. I think this discussion misunderstands Davidson’s views on conceptual schemes. For Davidson, an “alternative conceptual scheme” would be a scheme on which there were no shared truths on which to base interpretation. Thus is would lack terms for medium-sized objects of daily life and their properties. Most importantly, it would lack the basic notions of the “intentional interpretive scheme” by which we understand events in ourselves and others as actions of agents. Thus, from a Davidsonian point of view, the Cro Magnon and the twentieth century Parisian have the same “conceptual scheme,” in the sense that there is no other that we could recognize as a pattern of thoughts by an agent. This is so even though the Cro Magnon thinks very differently about herself and about the world. The substantial changes in ways of thinking about subjects and objects that occurred between these cultures are, of course, important and consequential. Foucault, especially, gives persuasive arguments that institutions and history have profound effects on the possibilities for thought. But as long as we can understand that Cro Magnon hunters are using their spears with the intention of killing those animals, and that this activity is connected with eating, and that they appreciate the causal connections, we agree with them.
    The fundamental issue between Davidson and Heidegger (and Wittgenstein as well) is the role of idealization and theory in philosophical understanding. Braver’s objection to Davidson is that Davidson’s argument that there must be agreement in order to interpret rests on Davidson’s idea that interpretation is the application of a theory, the construction of a truth-definition. The phenomenological objection to this conception of understanding others is that we do not experience such calculations in normal cases, but rather directly understand one another. I would argue that a Davidsonian is not committed to anything phenomenological at all. The question for a Davidsonian is how to account for a mysterious ability. In the same way that a truth-definition explains our unlimited ability to understand new sentences, so a theory of interpretation explains how we can understand other people. The alternative “direct intuition of another’s meaning” seems to me to be an appeal to magic. In any case, as far as I can see, nothing that Foucault says conflicts with Davidson’s “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme.”

  17. Pingback: Braver Reading Group: Comments « Perverse Egalitarianism

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