Braver Reading Group: Chapter 6 – Later Heidegger


Since this chapter is about the size of a small book, my intention here is not to rehearse its main arguments (although it’s almost never my intention to begin with), but to attempt to highlight some of its most provocative (on my view) ideas in light of the already raised issues of realism/anti-realism in general and the discussion of so-called Kantian Paradigm in particular.  I will confess immediately that having read my share of later Heidegger and having heard my share of philosophical smirks about it (“Can you hear the call of Being right now?”) I still don’t get much of what Heidegger is talking about, or, I should qualify this statement, I don’t think I get much of what Heidegger is talking about, regardless of many moments of profound philosophical excitement that accompanied my readings of later Heidegger.  Having said that, I must then confess that my discussion of Braver’s chapter will not be (since it simply cannot be) a probing investigation along the lines of “Did Braver get Heidegger right?” for two reasons: 1) I don’t know enough about later Heidegger interpretation field to claim any sort of expertise and, most importantly, 2) probing is ultimately a rather boring exercise…

As tempting as it is to begin at the beginning of the chapter, I think a better way to appreciate the real shift from previous discussion is to cite a small section closer to the end of the chapter:

We have to remember that meaning doesn’t come from us and that we cannot control it, since even those decisions to control are themselves determined by how things present themselves, and that the sustaining traditions represent a groundless ground, that is, they cannot be given ultimate rational justifications. Once we understand these features, we realize that we are immersed in rhythms that guide and support us, supplying us with “those paths and relations in which birth and death, disaster and blessing, victory and disgrace, endurance and decline acquire the shape of destiny for human being.  The all-governing expanse of this open relational context is the world of this historical people.” […]  This is the ethical side of epochal destiny: just as it gives us our way of thinking, so it gives us a way of dwelling, of being at home on this earth we were thrown into, of living with each other in families and communities, of celebrating festivals, worshipping gods, and facing death. [338-39]

I think it takes a bit of time to get to this point in the chapter (both physically and philosophically, if you will), but unless one has a slight idea of what exactly all of this means, one cannot really pretend to have understood Braver’s point about later Heidegger. 

What is precisely the point of later Heidegger vis-a-vis the discussion of realism/anti-realism?  I think the shortest version would be something like this: while early Heidegger (by his very own admission, although it’s not always wise to trust the authors themselves in such matters) still dealt with philosophical problems in terms of the Kantian Paradigm with its emphasis on the subject’s activity (whatever Heidegger’s own interpretation was), later Heidegger moves away from specifically Kantian version of active subjectivity and creates what Braver labels (appropriately) the Heideggerian Paradigm.  Braver argues that Heidegger’s new conceptions of truth and Being inaugurate the next major phase in continental philosophy. [259] 

Perhaps the single most important difference between Heidegger’s two phases is the way history permeates everything in the later work.  [261]

This new position – “historical phenomenological ontology” – depends for the most part on Heidegger’s innovative understanding of truth as unconcealment (which my spellcheck refuses to accept as a real word).  I am italicizing unconcealment possibly to the annoyance of some self-respecting Heideggerians since I am eager to emphasize what seems to be on the lips of anyone familiar with later Heidegger – it’s unconcealment this and unconcealment that, and Braver spends a lot of time and paper explaining exactly why unconcealment is essential (in the process, indeed, persistently unconcealing some of the later Heidegger’s most mysterious passages, sorry couldn’t resist). 

What truth as unconcealment teaches us, seems to be the point, is that ultimately the traditional model of truth as correspondence (and therefore as correctness) is missing the mark and, some pages later, we find out that this missing of the mark does not come without a price in Heidegger’s discussion of technology and nihilism.  However, the essential point of this new vision of truth is Heidegger’s transition from Kantian A5 Active Knower to a version of R5 Passive Knower (with a twist, of course).  If the essential point of the Kantian Paradigm is that “the examination of anything else, including history, must start from the analysis of the structures of the self because it is these structures that constitute the rest,” [273] then the new Heideggerian Paradigm is all about “mutual interdependence” between Being and man. [278]  Of many great formulation of this “mutual interdependence” my favorite is this: “We are the necessary site [of being/of thinking], but we do not control, constitute, or create this site; we depend entirely on the fact and character of Being’s approach.” [279]

What happens to the Kantian Paradigm then?  On one hand, Braver writes quite explicitly, Heidegger continues the work he started in his early period, regardless of the Kehre, yet on the other hand, it seems that Heidegger must begin from scratch and free his thought from any remnants of Kant’s discussion of subjectivity and its constituting work: “the Heideggerian Paradigm is simulatenously close to and far from Kant, as appropriating his thought but also profoundly modifying it…” [284] Or, again, “rather than the subject opening and structuring a field of experience, Being maintains us in unconcealment, so we must examine this structure in order to stude Being and man, a new form of fundamental ontology.” [285]

The result of Heidegger’s reworking of the Kantian Paradigm is described in much detail, but is probably best captured in the notion of “Impersonal Conceptual Schemes,” admittedly a rather strange combination of words/senses, but according to Braver it works best to describe what Heidegger is up to.  I am of couse skipping over some large chunks of text (and interesting discussions of, among many other things, epochs of Being, technology/enframing and more) here, but I think that as far as I am concerned, what is most interesting about this chapter is the way “ethics” makes it  into the discussion of realism/antirealism as a consequence of Heidegger’s rethinking of the relationship between Being and humans.  The passage I cited at the very beginning of this post present us with a rather intriguing ethical scenario of “attentive dwelling” and yet I wonder (possibly repeating myself) why only now we are talking about what is essentially a question that has to be prominently raised in every chapter, i.e. what sort of ethics does this or that version of realism/anti-realism scenario presents us with?

As I was writing and rewriting this admittedly short post on Chapter 6, I realized that I have basically reread the chapter again, thus all of my time went into trying to understand the subtleties of Heidegger’s (and Braver’s) discussion.  So caught up I became in reading and rereading it that I almost forgot that we have tickets to the baseball game tonight and I must go fulfill my patriotic beer-drinking and hot-dog-eating duty.  Thus I am going to leave this as it is and see if I can use comments as a way of continuing my engagement with this rich chapter.

11 thoughts on “Braver Reading Group: Chapter 6 – Later Heidegger

  1. Great stuff Mikhail.

    My friend and colleague Francois Raffoul has an interesting new philosophical genealogy of responsibility that makes Heidegger the linchpin or post-Kantian ethics ( http://www.amazon.com/Origins-Responsibility-Studies-Continental-Thought/dp/0253221730/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1248138371&sr=8-8 ). In the book the discussion of Heidegger actually comes *after* Levinas as a part of the story that leads to the late Derridean ethical paradigm. I think his book makes a pretty good ethics companion to Braver’s (Francois goes through Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, Sartre, Levinas, Heidegger, and Derrida).

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around what the phenomenological constitutive connection between thinking and being even means now that the thinker is no longer doing the Kantian constitutive work.

    Active Knower correlationism is a *completely* different beast from Passive Knower correlationism. I would like to thematize that in terms of Meillassoux et. al. but am kind of burned out right now (and with no tickets to the game!) and burdened with unrelated deadlines, so probably won’t have any interesting thoughts about it for a month or so.

    The self as no longer actively *constituting* according to necessary principles does lead very nicely into Foucault’s accounts of how the self is *constituted by* regimes of truth and practices though.

    Jon

    • No problem, I think the good part about an online discussion is that it is staying online even after we will be done with our reading schedule and we can always go back to it – I wonder if this immediately archived interaction mode would have any significant impact on the way conversations are carried out? I mean it’s already affecting poor politicians who are used to saying all sorts of things “off record” and now all of those things end up on the interwebz and they get in trouble…

  2. One quibble I have with Braver’s excellent discussion is that he seems to epistemologize Heidegger a bit too much. I think “Conceptual Scheme” is the wrong terminology because it seems to occlude the fact that we EXIST in such a way as to reveal being to be such as it is, and our conceptualizing of it is, in terms of Being and Time, often only making explicit a pre-ontological understanding. On the other hand, metaphysics/philosophy is that subspecies of thinking (now exhausted) that historically has opened up a free relation to being by capturing being in a concept, so in that case it does something more than conceptualize an already existing relation. However, in the epoch of Gestell we come to see that this manner of thinking belongs to being’s withdrawal, i.e. it hides being and covers over the real relation–but that doesn’t mean it was a mistake, it is just a mode of thinking that has become exhausted or, I should say, outmoded.

  3. Yes, “Conceptual Scheme” may have too much baggage, but I wanted to make the connection with the earlier thinkers clear, esp. since it’s such a massive change from the Kantian to the Heidegger Paradigm. What term would have worked better?

    • Lee,

      I’m not really sure what term I’d use. I think something like “regime of sense” although that may not be euphonious enough. I think that would be usable across the tradition. But I understand why you’d prefer “conceptual scheme” for the earlier thinkers and why you’d like to keep it homogenous, a strategy which is very effective in general in your book. So I’m not 100% sure about that. My real worry is that Heidegger may seem like he’s part of an epistemological tradition he’s largely broken with. I think you did a fantastic job overall, though.

      • Thanks. Coming up with terms can be pretty tough. And so many of mine need to do double duty–intelligible to both analytic and continental or, in this case, showing the continuity and difference between the Kantian and Heideggerian Paradigms. And lots of times, I just came up with a place-holder term until I thought of a good one, but then the writing grew over the temporary one like a tree incorporating a wire into it bark. (That’s how Danny Elfman got the singing part in “Nightmare Before Christmas” and how Phyllis got cast in “The Office,” BTW).

        But this is a microcosm of the problem facing this chapter–showing how later Heidegger maintains both a continuity with the Kantian Paradigm while also changing it in very significant ways. I’m interested in hearing how successfully the chapter achieves this goal and where it doesn’t, tho its length might have caused us to shed a number of participants.

  4. Mikhail: “why only now we are talking about what is essentially a question that has to be prominently raised in every chapter, i.e. what sort of ethics does this or that version of realism/anti-realism scenario presents us with?”

    I’m interested in this reaction. Do you think than ethics is intrinsically involved with anti-realism in a special way, so that focusing more on epistemological and metaphysical issues misses something essential about the topic (as implied by your phrasing, “a question that has to be prominently raised”), or is this more a matter of this issue being especially important to you? I’m not being defensive; if you think it really needed more attention I’m interested to hear why, besides the neutral claim that anti-realism would shed interesting new light on ethics, since this applies to basically every topic, doesn’t it?

    • Lee, I think that generally speaking I thought that chapter 6 was more comprehensive in terms of all sorts of consequences (ethical included) of Heidegger’s position and I’m sure it could have been done for all the chapters on the book did you have time or, as I understand your question, if you thought it was essential. To answer your question more directly, yes, it is an issue that is especially important for me (and I blame my early exposure to Marx, I think, and a sort of ideology critique that I have read too much in my day), but also, and that’s of course a way of explaining why it is important to me, I think that it might be helpful if ethical angles are considered not only as possible implications but as something that is implicitly postulated by this or that version of realism or antirealism. Let me illustrate my point. In your Nietzsche chapter you raise an intriguing possibility (through both interpretation of Nietzsche and his very inclusion in the narrative) that realism – to put it concisely – is a position adopted for certain psychological reasons, regardless of whether what realism claims is true or not. Although this might not necessarily qualify as an ethical reading or as pointing our ethical implications, it seems a fruitful approach as it 1) takes us away from specifics of this or that realism/antirealism and helps us place it into a larger philosophical context, and 2) potentially challenges views that, for example, one might do epistemology or metaphysics without worrying about their implicit ethical and political prejudices and consequences. My question then is not a reproach to your book by any means – I don’t think it’s legitimate to say something like “the book is great but it lacks x, y, and z and need more work” – I think that I raised it simply to suggest an extension of our conversation about the book.

      I suppose a different version of my question would be something like this: If affirming a form of radical antirealism leads to societal passivity and lack of ethical motivation (let’s imagine a crazy world in which philosophical schools actually influence general society), then is it a problem of philosophical position or of its societal appropriation? In a sense, if I claim that 1) truth is correctness/correspondence and 2) I know what the true picture of the world looks like, then whatever implications of my philosophical position, it’s not my problem. However, your discussion of Heidegger’s take on truth is extremely thought-provoking and in this sense if we are in the age of the Heideggerian Paradigm, then all sort of new questions must arise, including a question of ethics/politics vis-a-vis what was usually perceived as “neutral” metaphysics and so on.

  5. I think I see what you’re getting at. If I understand, you’re raising 2 separate, tho interrelated questions. Let me put the first one like this:

    If realism has so many problems, if anti-realism is so much more satisfactory (according to my accounts of the thinkers’ accounts), then why has realism been so popular, to the point of tacit ubiquity before Kant (and in plenty of circles afterwards)? In other words, the introduction of an alternative retroactively raises the question of motivation. Why did and why do people believe it?

    Each philosopher I discuss gives an answer to this question. Kant’s is in fact one of the reasons he chose the term, the Copernican Revolution. Both the sun rotating the earth or vice versa give the same appearance; no matter how much it looks like the sun is rising and setting, this is also how it would look were the universe heliocentric. Analogously, things look the same whether we’re looking at a pink object or through pink sunglasses. Hence, both realism and anti-realism present the same way, and realism is a much simpler hypothesis. Only the peculiar features of math & science push us past it.

    Hegel and later Heidegger tell a historical tale (what I call “legacy” in later Heidegger). Early Heidegger gives a phenomenological story: this is the way present-at-hand objects appear to our categorial intuition. There’s also a story of the needs of science and the anxiety instilled in us by flux and meaninglessness (I’m moving quickly here).

    As you’ve picked up Nietzsche is the most interested in the question, largely because of his general analysis of thinking (philosophy & religion in particular) as symptoms of underlying conditions, largely but not entirely physical. With no credence given to disinterested argumentation, Nietzsche needs an alternate account of how we reach the positions we do, and realism results from (and reinforces) weakness.

    Now you’ve also posed a second question: given that realism is one option out of at least two, rather than the inescapable default position that all reasonable people must hold, what are the ethical ramifications of the view? What follows from the belief in realism?

    Kant has a clear answer: realism destroys freedom and hence ethics. Not only is anti-realism the sole hope for (deterministic) science, it also is the only way we can have an ethics. Hegel’s answer is far too complex to go into, and I’d be on shaky grounds here, but he does think that realism fatally compromises autonomy. Early Heidegger & Nietzsche have existentialist answers: realism is consoling by telling us that there is a meaning to life, a thing we’re supposed to do, thus creating a morality for the weak while making a strong, honest, bracing ethics (staring into the void and all that) impossible.

    However, I think you’ll find that Foucault engages with your question most directly and fully. He follows Nietzsche’s line in _Genealogy of Morals_ (but without the conspiracy theory stuff), that belief in a Unique Independent reality gives those who claim to know it (priests for Nietzsche, primarily psychologists & their progeny for Foucault) power. If I know what God wants, then you’d better listen to me in order to live right and get into heaven; if I know what the normal human is supposed to be like, then you’d better do what I tell you or be consigned to abnormalcy, and possibly incarceration.

    Does that address your concerns?

    • Isn’t the key important points here in relation to Nietzsche and Foucault’s position not so much their own particular position on ontic truth (though clearly they both are ontological pluralists) but that they point to the particular historical constitution and effects of the way truth functions in modern society and, moreover, that they both do this in order to disturb its reverential status and its specific purist form in modernity.

      Nietszsche complains about the reverential status given to truth in modern thought and society (esp via the status of science). He thinks that it ought not to have this status and that ethics/politics is the more authentic basis on which society ought to be (and is in fact) organised rather than deferring to the truth of things, esp since he argues that in fact it is not utility driving the ‘will to truth’ but an ethic of truth-seeking as a good in itself that is behind it. So its not so much that he is so concerned about taking an anti-realist position or criticising the ‘truth’ of these knowledges (though he provides plenty of historical – arguments to undermine the status of modern science practices), but that he criticises the reverential and prominent organising role that truth or ‘realism’ is given in modern society.
      Re: on this question of how it is that realism has been able to function so effectively in our society as it does

      I don’t think it would be accurate to say that for Foucault a ‘belief in a Unique Independent reality’ has been maintained so effectively because it gives certain professions power over others. This implies that he subscribes to either a sovereign notion of power over others (oppression) or one in which society is in perpetual war (Nietszchian-like repression). In his later work, esp after Discipline and Punish, Foucault was more than ever explicitly trying to avoid invoking these notions of power because he thought they put too much emphasis on domination and repression and thereby reproducing analytic tools that he wanted to question. This, I think, is why he branched into new domains of analysis and further refined his tools for examining relations of power.

      Without going into those refinements, the implication is that he would not be pleased to see his notion of power being reduced to an instrumental, reproductive and repressive notion of power over others – like a simple or reductive notion of ‘will to power’. Instead I think he would be (and I think has to a large extent) be looking for the constituting conditions for modern ‘realism’ and its reproduction and transformations. I think he has actually answered this question to some extent already by historically locating the way forms of truth have come to function in the unique and powerful way they do in modern thought-practices (eg from the constitution of ‘man’ as an object of knowledge and as the knowing subject).* But also more specifically in the way the rise of modern ‘governmentality’ has been linked to the demand and massive growth of knowledge institutions and disciplines – the human and social sciences in particular. He argues that knowledge, in its modern form, became integral to our notion of the good and rational art of government from around the late 18th century and these remain the constitutive conditions of modern social organisation.

      I think he remarked once that it is still very difficult (unthinkable..) to not refer to truths of any kind even when changing or challenging social practices with ‘alternative’ knowledges. So rather than some philosophical or primordial or founding political battle answer you get an historically specific one that points to a complex matrix of micro-relations of power. But in this case I think using his refined analytic tools he would suggest that ‘realism’ is constituted in a ‘state of domination’ which means that it is locked in complex grid of relations of power that make it very difficult to resist in ways that could conceivably overturn the state of domination itself – : which would be consistent with the widespread ridicule and demise of ‘postmodern’ anti-realist challenges and to those subscribing to any anti-modern or New Age knowledges.

      *Nietszche of course complains about the reverential status of truth in modern society in part because he thinks that ethics/war is, and ought to be, the basis of organising society.

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