August 08, 2006

Neither a realist nor an idealist

Mormon Philosophy & Theology on Heidegger's Realism August 7, 2005 enowning
I've been meaning to get back to the discussion of Heidegger's Analytic that I discussed a bit last month. The basic points that Carman makes are very much in tune with how I've long read Heidegger. Since they lead to a view of Heidegger so much more understandable and less mysterious, especially relative to reality, I thought I'd summarize a few of the points of his thesis.
First, for non-philosophers, we ought clarify what we mean by realism. The basic idea of realism is simply that the world is composed of mind-independent entities. That is, the truth of our reference doesn't depend upon what you, I or any group think about it. An other way of putting it is that how we represent entities does not determine the nature of entities. The two main views in the realism debate are realism and idealism. Realism suggests that our talk of entities makes sense independent of representation. Idealism suggest that our talk of entities is wrapped up in how we linguistically represent them and how we or our community think about them.
Now the traditional view of Heidegger is that he is an idealist. There are good reasons for this. For one, in Being and Time he appears to take practice as more fundamental than occurrent entities. That is Heidegger speaks of things ready-at-hand that allow us to understand things as present-at-hand. Thus a hammer is only such because we have a prior relationship of hammering.
All of this famously ends up into a discussion of Being, which Heidegger feels philosophy has neglected. That is, what does it mean to be? Now the way most read Heidegger is in seeing Being as a mysterious "entity" or quasi-entity that mystically sends entities to us. An other way of looking at Heidegger though is talking about the essences of human understanding that allow entities to be presented to us as the kind of entities they are. That is, a hammer as an entity is an entity. However we can only understand the hammer hermeneutically which means in terms of the pre-existing linguistic and practical frameworks we already find ourselves in. That is, to be, is really to ask the question of how things can be thought. That says nothing about entities independent of thought.
So the idealism attributed to Heidegger, while understandable, comes about due to this error...
1: Posted By: Josh July 30, 2006 09:51 PM
Great post, but I always end up feeling like these (legitimate) interpretations of Heidegger make him sound too much like a social constructionist (i.e., of Berger and Luckman fame). So, while giving allowance for our hermeneutic starting point, there's really real stuff "out there", with an ontic structure we can appreciate, albeit in the manner which befits occurrent entities, but the significance of most other beings is rooted in our social practices. Is this completely misinterpreting your/Carman's position?
2: Posted By: Clark July 30, 2006 11:00 PM
Well, I've backed off a bit from Carman's position the last year or so. (This post is a year or so old)
I think that Being or its latter formulations end up being about the issue of how entities are understandable. That is how they have meaning. How it is for them to be able to be. So in that regard I think Carman's quite right. The fundamental issue though in this somewhat narrow topic is the nature of everydayness or averageness. I think things are intelligible only because of our social practices but not purely because of them. That is I read Heidegger (and many Heideggarians) as saying that there is an "eruption" into the social of the real. This, to me anyway, is the point of the authentic and inauthentic distinction. (Although clearly it is a tad more complex)
Where I've moved a way from Carman somewhat is that while one can argue that there is a kind of common social basis for our ability for things to be intelligible I'm not sure about the relationship between this averageness or everydayness and all linguistic unveilings of beings. In what sense are more particular, narrow or neologistic linguistic unveilings still parasitic on this averageness? Carman says they are very much parasitic. I'm just not sure they are.
But all of this is wrapped up in the nature of both Being and differance. (I tend to see them as different - even though I don't think Levinas and Derrida are actually that different from Heidegger overall) For something to be it must have that linguistic component. When I see an apple I don't simply see a blur of shapes and colors I then interpret as an apple. Rather I see it as an apple. But when I have a unique experience shared with others I think I can refer to it without using this average speech. I can develop a language out of the experience due to indexical relationships.
Put an other way, in more Peircean terms, in language we have both the iconic and the indexical. What I fear is that the focus on social externalism elevates iconic signs while perhaps repressing indexical signs.
3: Posted By: Clark July 30, 2006 11:05 PM
I should add that when I reread the above post so as to post it as a kind of reprint I did note one perhaps controversial statement in it. I said, "the traditional view of Heidegger is that he is an idealist." That's certainly not true in the sense of contemporary Heidegger scholars. I think it is true of how philosophers in general over the years have seen him though. If we take the idealist vs. realist debate to be basically a debate between what is fundamental: representation or reference then I don't think Heidegger is either a realist or an idealist. Like the pragmatists he is something else. However I think his externalism is the way to avoid the realist/idealist divide since that dichotomy only makes sense in an internalist scheme. Externalism makes things simultaneously referential and representation (or perhaps neither). I think this comes out very well in Heidegger's later works like On the Essence of Truth.
The popular way to read Heidegger of late is through the lens of the late Wittgenstein. (Especially after Dreyfus' very influential classes and writings) I'll fully admit that I read both he and Derrida through a Peircean lens, for better or worse.

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