Braver Reading Group: Chapter 5 – A Rejoinder.


Since Jon has already done a great job addressing this chapter, my task here is only to provide a short list of issues that I think are worth our attention.  I think I have just a couple of observations that I would like to make concerning the discussion so far:

1) Putting Issues in Context: Away from Kant.

I wonder if the issue of noumena that has been a “stumbling block” since Kant can be brought back here in order to show how Heidegger’s solution to this problem is really moving the agenda of anti-realism along.  I found this particular part of Chapter 5 to be illuminating, especially since my knowledge of Heidegger is rather general.  The passage in question is on page 193 – after citing Heidegger’s discussion of the matter, Braver concludes:

In other words, part of the way objects appear to us is as not dependent on appearing to us. That does not mean that they really are independent of their manifestation, just that they manifest themselves that way; paradoxically, they depend on Dasein to manifest themselves as independent of all manifestation.

Margins of my book contain a thick and excited inscription at the point of the chapter/book that reads “awe-some-ness” – therefore, I declare this passage to be of utter importance.  If it is in fact a phenomenological insight of Heidegger that the issue is not whether we can perceive things as they are in themselves but whether the way that things appear to us/manifest themselves is what creates the illusion of realism, if we may call it that, then I wonder how that changes the game?  I ask then if this is an issue Kant addresses in his Transcendental Dialectic that has not received much attention in our discussion of the Kantian Paradigm.  Namely, isn’t the purpose of the Dialectic precisely to show that despite its own limitations, reason is “tempted” and often “sins” in extending its use beyond its own limitations thus producing nonsense? In other words, if the question of critical philosophy is the question of the rightful use of reason (quid juris), and the goal is to limit reason’s activity, then Hegel, in a sense, does not violate this principle, but reformulates the issues completely and so does Heidegger, i.e. does it make sense to talk of “Kantian paradigm,” if fairly quickly those who consider themselves to be followers of Kant completely refashion the philosophical issues at hand?  What is left of so-called “Kantian paradigm” in Heidegger?  If “Kantian paradigm” is the A5 Active Knower paradigm, then certainly it persists throughout Hegel and Heidegger, yet if both completely redefine both what it means to know and what it means to be active, how is it still “Kantian”?

It is in this sense, of course, that Braver argues that Heidegger moves away from Kant not only in terms of specific disagreements, but in terms of creating a new “first genuinely non-Kantian position” [253] – this new paradigm is mainly discussed in Chapter 6 on “late Heidegger” and it is essentially a large question of the book as such: are we still reading and commenting upon Kant’s insights or have we moved in a different direction (Heideggerian Paradigm)? Although Braver’s argument seems to be that we have since moved away, there’s plenty of evidence in the book that we still have not.  In a sense that even “moving away from Kant” is still a reactive position, i.e. it is defined by Kant and his philosophical agenda, we are still “dealing with” Kant.  On the other hand, calls for dismissing Kant and his problems, calls I initially took to be rather idiotic (“You don’t have to like Kant, but you can’t just throw him out”) are making more sense in that overcoming Kant might prove to be a long and laborious task so “why not just ignore him altogether and see what happens?” might be at least an interesting, even if historically irresponsible, approach.

2) The Thin Layer of Nothingness.

Heidegger’s discussion of self, as Braver presents it, is absolutely fascinating and I think most philosophical readers of Heidegger found it almost irresistible to read him existentially (as in “existentialism”) and Sartre misreading is by now a classic one and should probably qualify as a legitimate reading.  In any case, I found the following passage to be quite thought-provoking:

In anxiety, my usual pressing forward into roles and goals loses its momentum; instrumental chains in turn fall slack, since the roles they depend on now lack meaning.  Anticipating death can also rob my projects of meaning; why should I show up for work if I and all of my students will be dead and forgotten one day and no one will ever care if I showed up or not?  Why should I do anything in the shadow of this thought?  As in anxiety, I disengage from the world that partially defines me.  And this is exactly that I learn: that the world only partially defines me; that a thin but decisive layer of “nothingness” seeps in between the world and myself, whereas before there had been only seamless unity. [218, my bold]

This thin but decisive layer of nothingness is not a simple distinction/difference between me and the world of objects, but something more fundamental and damning, after all, there are no distinctions/differences in nothingness, is there? (One of Berdyaev’s works, I forget how the title is translated into English, is called I and the World of Objects and it’s all about alienation, if I recall correctly – back then “world of objects” had a negative cold connotation of that which does not care for me and such.)  The issue here seems to be not just of the gap between objectivity and subjectivity, but of a know of gap that, once having shown itself to us, is giving us nightmares.  Is it fair to ask then if Kant’s initial proposition that there are noumena, there is a certain excess, a certain supplement to our perception of reality that is never given in perception, gave every subsequent reader not just a philosophical discomfort, but also a kind of existential anxiety?  If there is some sort of thing-in-itself out there and I can know nothing of what it is like and what it does, then is it not quite natural to expect that I would be terrified of it? Does this layer of nothingness have anything to do with Heidegger’s “ontological difference”?  Is this what Derrida on about with his “dangerous supplement”?  We’ll have to wait and see until Chapter 8.

Another aspect of Braver’s discussion of Heidegger might become clearer if we think about the above-mentioned layer of nothingness, namely the distinction between theorerical and practical perspectives.  If “theoretical perspective acts as a blinder, sheering off the richness of our normal experience and relegating these features to the dustbin of subjectivity,” then practical perspective is what allows us, in a sense, to forget that there’s a layer of nothingness and act as if we are indeed in seamless unity with whatever comes our way.  Perhaps I am making too much out of a throwaway phrase, a poetic metaphor, but I thought it was a great detailed chapter full of enough suggestions to constitute in itself a whole another reading discussion.

8 thoughts on “Braver Reading Group: Chapter 5 – A Rejoinder.

  1. Isn’t the purpose of the Dialectic precisely to show that despite its own limitations, reason is “tempted” and often “sins” in extending its use beyond its own limitations thus producing nonsense? In other words, if the question of critical philosophy is the question of the rightful use of reason (quid juris), and the goal is to limit reason’s activity, then Hegel, in a sense, does not violate this principle, but reformulates the issues completely and so does Heidegger, i.e. does it make sense to talk of “Kantian paradigm,” if fairly quickly those who consider themselves to be followers of Kant completely refashion the philosophical issues at hand? What is left of so-called “Kantian paradigm” in Heidegger?

    I see your point. Yet, one of our mutual friends implored me to put the TOC for the KdrV and SZ side by side to show how Kantian Heidegger’s project is. While it’s certainly not a perfect correspondence, it is somewhat revealing with regards to Heidegger’s critical project (I’m thinking for one of the parallels between the trans. aestehtic and the existential analytic as well as each thinker’s “destruction” of ontology). For Kant, we are weighed down with all this stuff that reason cannot access/prove/answer to etc. In Heidegger, Dasein is always falling into the they, that is, away from authenticity (e.g. an authentic conception of itself). Obviously (or maybe not so obviously), there is a transcendental impetus in both, whether an interrogation of the conditions of knowing (Kant) or the very conditions of interpretation (Heidegger).

  2. I think Braver writes as much as well, but without comparing the TOCs, that is, Heidegger’s early stuff is still within the Kantian paradigm and it’s only in the later writing that he is moving away and creating something different. I am still sort of unsure about the use of phrases like “Kantian paradigm” – I mean, I get it, I think, but what exactly is this “Kantian paradigm” I am not sure…

    • Well, I think you pretty accurately described the Kantian paradigm in your post! I guess it depends on what you mean by “within”. Is it a literal “taking up/continuation of Kant’s project” or something more akin to I don’t know, genetic influence? Blattner –in Heidegger’s Temporal Idealism–is pretty good on the notion of the transcendental in K and H. To me, this angle might tell us quite a bit.

      For one, the idea of a transcendental standpoint can refer to the position I have when looking into the a priori conditions for the possibility of knowledge; in Heidegger’s terms it would be something like the (non-ontic) conditions for ontological determination. In addition, we can refer to it as a stance that is the result of bracketing of these conditions. That is to say, I interrogate the nature of “stuff” without being tied to the conditions under which they are disclosed to me.

      I think it’s somewhat uncontroversial to say that many commentators don’t see Heidegger as a transcendental philosopher per se, but at the same time might agree that there is an identifiable transcendental element in fundamental ontology in the first of the senses above. Although Heidegger tends to insist that Dasein can’t be understood properly in a completely de-contextualised, “worldless” manner, the way in which he cooks up the structure of the existentials strikes me as a rather transcendental move. Only if because it requires a bit of a shift from beings to apriori Being, but really, any interrogation pertaining to our understanding of being as a set of conditions that are neither causal or compositional for the determination of entities–I don’t know, this sounds rather Kantian to me, what do you think Mikhail?

      As for the second sense, hmmm… I’m not so sure. I think that Heidegger tends to call into question the possibility (or productiveness) of such a tack. I think the interesting question is if it’s important in any way if we read Heidegger as lining up with the second transcendental position outlined above and really, if there are any real transcendental restrictions at work in H’s fundamental ontology.

      There is certainly a great deal more to say (isn’t there always) about this in terms of the issues revolving around realism/anti-realism, but I have to run.

  3. I think it’s somewhat uncontroversial to say that many commentators don’t see Heidegger as a transcendental philosopher per se, but at the same time might agree that there is an identifiable transcendental element in fundamental ontology in the first of the senses above.

    I think Taylor Carman does a good job of outlining the extent to which fundamental ontology is Kantian insofar as it outlines the hermeneutic presuppositions behind what it means for a human to “understand” or interpret the world as as world. However, it must be understood than when doing such a fundamental ontology, Heidegger is really only saying something like “Well, from our current historical situation, we are already within the hermeneutic circle due to our upbringing and in order to talk about interpretation and understanding, we need to realize the extent to which pre-reflective understanding and interpretation filters our basic mode of experience.”

    In other words, when Heidegger outlines the existential structures than must be transcendentally in place in order for Dasein-understanding to take place, he is only talking about the human beings who are capable of taking a Dasein-esque stance on themselves and the world through the subject-object discourse of the “I” and self-hood. For example, Heidegger’s transcendental analytic doesn’t really apply to Victor the wolf boy. Heidegger then, according to my understanding, isn’t really doing a transcendental analytic of all humans at all points of history, but rather, only those humans which understand the world in agentive, ontological terms of “self” and “I”.

  4. I would describe the Kantian Paradigm as primarily defined by A1 + A5 + R6. All the thinkers within it agree with Kant that A5 the mind plays a role in organizing experience which makes R1 mind-independent reality (how the world really is apart from our interactions) inaccessible. One of the 2 main problems to be worked out is Kant’s fidelity to an R1 independent reality. The idea is very hard to dispense with (where do these experiences come from? The very notion of organizing, as Davidson points out, seems to imply a something there to be organized which precedes and exceeds our structuring).

    All of these thinkers also wrestle with the other problematic inheritance from Kant: R6. In order to stave off complete chaos and relativism which would eradicate knowledge, Kant made our transcendental structuring faculties universally shared by all humans. Thus, while we shape experience, we all do it the same way, allowing for intersubjective agreement. The thinkers of the Kantian Paradigm all attenuate this notion, but still retain it in some sense. Hegel identifies the entire set of the moments of consciousness and shows how they all fit together to make a collectively necessary structure, thus ensuring knowledge; Nietzsche lets selves & drives proliferate, but they all emanate from a basic definition of active will-to-power, thus ensuring “ethical” criteria; Heidegger plunges the self into the world, but insists on a specific set of (quasi-transcendental) existentialia, thus enabling the goal of authenticity as living in accord with our essential nature.

    The remnants of R1 & R6 haunt these thinkers, who struggle to get out of the basic framework Kant set up but, while developing and adapting it, none escape. It is Heidegger’s Kehre that finally escapes the gravitational pull of Kant’s set-up.

    Jon registers his discomfort with my flippant flipping of Tugendhat’s critique of aletheia as short-circuiting falsity. Perhaps my discussion needed a bit more elaboration, since this is quite revolutionary (it’s the key to the Kehre in my view)–recall Nietzsche’s comment that his revaluation of falsity may be what readers find most shocking. The point is the Dummettian argument that we can’t do anything with correspondence by itself. It’s the insistence that the criterion for truth (how we discover truth) cannot be fully divorced from its definition (what truth is). This is especially true for a phenomenologist. Thus when Heidegger wants to study truth, he looks for an experience of it, turning around to see that the picture is indeed askew, as had been stated. Truth enters into human thought as supporting or disproving claims, which occurs by uncovering parts of the world (I’m moving rather quickly here). This is why, like Kant’s discussion, we’re closer to a coherence theory of truth than correspondence. We only discover the truth or falsity of beliefs (badly said) by revealing things, and the only way we have of checking the validity of the validating experience is by getting more experience. We never break out of our experiences to compare with the world as it really is independently of how we experience it.

    Shahar asks about the relation of correspondence and uncovering. I think Heidegger is quite clear that the former is one legitimate conception of truth, but a derivative, late, theoretical one which necessarily depends on the latter in order to function. I go into this in some depth in this chapter.

  5. In order to stave off complete chaos and relativism which would eradicate knowledge, Kant made our transcendental structuring faculties universally shared by all humans.

    I think your Nietzsche chapter did a great job pointing out a problem of psychological need to fight chaos and relativism, yet we haven’t really explored that topic in full and the book also sort of raises it and then goes on to Heidegger without milking it much, I’m sure there are reasons for that, but do you think that Nietzsche’s general observations about our need to be realist play a significant role in our discussion or are we to simply distance ourselves from all things psychological (and physiological) and try to deal with it like philosophers should?

    I mean, of course, to say that we need to be realist to cope with chaos and nothingness does not in itself disprove realism as such – I need to eat and therefore I will go to work every day, even if I hate it, so that I can make money to buy food, to criticize me for doing so would be absurd (“Sir, you cannot make us believe you have work ethics, since we all know you are only doing this for the money/food”). Yet there’s something to it, isn’t there? I think Nietzsche chapter sort of pokes fun at all that seriousness with which philosophers discuss realism/antirealism – think about “speculative realism” (an absurd combination of terms, but it seems to draw attention precisely because it is nonsensical) and all that seriousness that surrounds it (with “friends” and “enemies” and “battles” and “treason” and “if you are not with us, you are against us” sort of adolescent posturing) – wouldn’t Nietzsche-type ultimately just smile and ask about what is it that drives the “movement” and the answer is easy to identify: ressentment. Think of constant need to bash Kant for apparently screwing up all philosophy with his “Kantian paradigm” and so on…

  6. I make a brief (possibly to the point of cryptic) comment about how, while Heidegger delineates the idea of anxiety in terms of fleeing from our true self (as death-bound, profoundly contingent, thrown, and so forth), we can also view Heidegger’s embrace of the notion of a true self as itself anxiety driven. This is Derrida’s line (which I briefly discuss at the end of Chapter Five, just before the Davidson section), and Crichtley’s. No matter how unsettling it is to realize that we have no God-given task appointed to us, at least we can KNOW this, we can build on this certainty, even if it is the certainty of a desert. The bracing courage to stare the abyss in the face is, perversely, comforting since we know that this is in fact the state of things.

    I think it makes sense to say that one of the reasons the Kantian Paradigm hung on so long is due to the horror and perplexity facing any attempt to give an account of reality and truth without any kind of anchor. Someone a while ago said how abandoning R1 & R6 entirely could only be crazy, which is how it looks at first glance. Later Heidegger’s ability to do so (almost) is what makes his work so revolutionary and so important, in my view. Hopefully, that somewhat justifies the outrageously long Chapter Six.

    • Fantastically interesting.

      When I read Mikhail’s comments and yours here I couldn’t help but to think of the great part of Sartre’s Nausea where the narrator fantasizes about the onset of true chaos (people’s tongues turning into centipedes and whatnot) as well as Lovecraft’s excellent fiction which really manifests how terrifying the radically unknowable is.

      Stephen King’s “From a Buick Eight” is interesting in this regard too. The police officers can never really figure out what the “Buick Eight” is. They know it’s not what they are seeing, but they can’t see what it really is. When something comes out of the trunk it they can’t help but to beat it to death. King really conveys their sickness and horror at not being able to quite categorize or correctly perceive whatever it is. [It and Tom Gordon are his only really great late period books, I think.]

      Nietzsche and Heidegger really are the prophets of all of this, and the best horror writers their best students.

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