Sunday, January 29, 2012

Nothing to See Here Except the Everything

My writing for last week talked a little bit about the piece and focused on the word nothing and how Heidegger isn't referring to a lack of everything, but more to the absence of intelligent life.  I ended my paper by mentioning that the idea of 'intelligence' is very vague.
A few pages later, Heidegger states that we need to think about what we can do for philosophy rather than what it does for us.  I'm not sure if I just densely overlook the finer points of philosophy like a low resolution photo blown up too large or if all philosophers actually do think too highly of themselves, but it certainly feels like it.  I'm sure they had the right back then, when only the well-off who didn't have to work had time for philosophical musings, placing them over the common rabble.
"Whenever we set out in the direction of this question , thinking and gazing ahead, then right away we forgo any sojourn in any of the usual regions of beings.  We pass over and surpass what belongs to the order of the day." (108)
When I first read the above sentences, I was thinking about it in a 'is he referring to humans or all animals?' mindset.  However,  after considering the smugness of philosophers and the low percent who were able to pursue it, my question is now changed to are they talking about why do all animals exist, why do humans exist, or why do philosophers exist.  I'm going to go with the idea that he's saying why do philosophers exist, especially after he quotes Nietzsche "Philosophy... means living voluntarily amid ice and mountain ranges" (108).  I have a million things I think about that, ranging from pleasure that they aren't trying to conform it, to annoyance for the same reason and then amusement that they feel the un-educated are nothing more then blocks of ice to be suffered.
In my reading of Inwood’s introduction to Heidegger’s theory on Being and Time, I was particularly struck by this quotation regarding Being and Others: “Dasein alone is incomplete, it has no nature of its own in which to bask, but has to decide how to be. But then virtually everything Dasein does or is cries out for others.” Unlike the Newtonian method of understanding, (i.e. The whole is merely the sum of all its parts), Being cannot be understood by simply examining one thing that is, or even several for that matter. You cannot understand me or my decisions by simply studding my organs, or even my history. All things that are, are distinctly and inseparably caught up in the existence of others physical, theoretical or otherwise.  Therefore, to even scratch the surface of this seemingly bottomless question one must take into account all possibilities and ways of Being. However, while Heidegger attempts to take an ‘objective’ look into Being, I believe it is impossible to separate the human experience from this question because the question itself depends upon human nature to define and bring meaning to it. Simply by being a human and posing this question we are subjecting the answer our own inescapable methods of human reasoning.  People want to find meaning, to understand, to "carve up the world" as Inwood puts it. This is all I have so far.

So, what exactly is "nothing?"

Heidegger begins with the question, "Why is there anything at all, rather than nothing?" (102), and this essential question prevails throughout the text. Upon first glance, this question seems odd, for the answer seems obvious: if the world was full of nothing, we would not be here, and the world as we know it would not exist, of course. However, this answer is na├»ve in its attempt to answer such a profound, thought-provoking question. Isn’t “nothing” something? When I picture nothing in my mind, I simply think of the color black, but isn’t the color black something? The color black is considered something because human beings decide it is, in fact, something.

Human beings have the ability to question. It is from this ability that Heidegger’s overarching why-question originates. If humans did not have the ability or the intelligence to ask such questions, we would certainly live differently. In fact, Heidegger states that, “Philosophizing means asking: ‘Why are there beings at all, instead of nothing?’ Actually asking this means venturing to exhaust, to question thoroughly, the inexhaustible wealth of this question, by unveiling what it demands that we question” (106). So, if humans did not have the unique ability to ask questions, there would be no such thing as philosophy; things would simply exist as they are, and there would be no reason to discover why and how they exist the way they do. Without our innate ability to question, would there simply be no truths, no answers, and no reason to seek such in life? Perhaps human beings’ unique ability to question complicates life. Then again, some may argue it simplifies life since we can potentially discover the answer to all “why-questions,” as we have done by deciding that there is “anything at all, rather than nothing” in life. Overall, it seems that philosophical theories and speculations such as Heidegger’s about “Beings” and “Nothingness” derive from a dire need, simply unique to humans, to answer questions.


Heidegger is careful about the way he uses the word "human" throughout this section of the reading. He begins talking about beings in general and doesn't introduce the concept of human beings until the third page. He emphasizes the fact that his question is about all beings and should not be misconstrued to focus on humans. He shows that humans are ultimately insignificant when he says, "And what is a human lifespan amid millions of years?" (104). And so Heidegger tries very hard to be objective and not focus on his question in regard to humans. However, he continues to use the term "human-historical" and does make observations about humans. I think as a human it is impossible for him to be completely objective and put the role of humans behind in his answering of the question. It is human tendency to be self-centered, that is to be centered around humans, not necessarily individuals. The fact that he reiterates multiple times the importance of not focusing on humans shows his focus on humans. Not even Heidegger, who sees himself as an objective philosopher can fully remove himself from the obsession with humans.

The Misconception of "Knowing"

"Knowing is only one relation among many that we may take up to the things of the world." I really like this. I think there is a misconception in many humans that to experience something or to become accustomed to it is to know it. Or perhaps we think that knowing is the best relation we can have to something, or the final product of the relationship between two things. This is certainly the way I feel about literature, as if reading a book were akin to solving a puzzle with an ultimate solution. Not only is this misconception limiting, but it is also a very anthropocentric stance to take. By that I mean to understand that "knowing" is a uniquely human activity and to think that "knowing" is the ultimate relationship one can have with an object places humans at the forefront of all harmony between things, and I think that's pretty misguided and also gross. Instead, Heidegger tells us (or rather Heidegger's summarizers tell us) "if we decline this course, then we realize that the right way of getting to know about a range of entities depends in part on the nature or being of those entities."

Heidegger says, "May not philosophy in the end do something with us, provided that we engage ourselves with it?" In thinking about the nature of entities and the relationship Dasein has with them, I think we are engaging ourselves with philosophy, with questions of the "extraordinary."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Beings vs. Being

I particularly liked Heidegger's concept of focusing on the greater being instead of an individual being. "And yet the question should not be about some particular, individual being Given the unrestricted range of the question, every being counts as much as any other... we must avoid emphasizing any particular, individual being, not even focusing on the human being For what is this being, after all!" (p. 104). First, I think that too many philosophers put an undue importance on the individual. There are so many amazing similarities and things common to humans as a race that I find it foolish to focus on a microcosm of our species (a single human) instead of looking at us on a bigger scale. I don't believe that you'll ever be able to find any overarching truth in looking at a singular being. That being said, I don't think that the individual should be discounted entirely so here I disagree a bit with Heidegger. Finding patterns or themes in beings should be looked at on an individual scale to see how they compare, that only makes sense to me.

Secondly, I like that Heidegger doesn't limit "being" to existing in only humans. The idea of "being" or maybe even "spirit" or "will" existing in more than humans is an old idea and one that I think deserves merit. Humans are conceited if they truly believe that they are the only thing in the world or universe with a unique spirit or "life" running through them so I am glad that Heidegger doesn't limit himself to this idea. To me, it seems as though he sees the question of "being" being so big that there is no way to limit it all.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Heidegger A Very Short Introduction

When reading Michael Inwood’s Heidegger A Very Short Introduction, I read many things that reminded me of our class discussion about ordinary and what we believe ordinary is.  I enjoyed reading about Heidegger’s Being as well as Inwood’s depiction of it.  
This first thing that reminded me of our class discussion was the section about “Inauthenticity and the ‘They’”.  In it, Heidegger quotes “The fact that baldness is a significant, and disagreeable, feature of a person requiring some special response depends on social conventions that I did not initiate, and so too does the range of appropriate responses to it” (pg. 26).  What initially stood out to me where the words social conventions, reminding me of our idea as a class that what is considered ordinary is often what is also considered socially acceptable.  When rereading the paragraph again, I questioned if Heidegger was stating that Dasein followed social norms.  His quote made it seem that Dasein would react to what others thought.  This idea struck me because it went against everything, to my interpretation, that Dasein stood for.  
This question of Dasein and doing what is socially acceptable stayed in my mind as I continued to read.  Later in the same section, Heidegger brings up the example of being bald again stating “...if I have ceded my decisions to the ‘they’, I have, implicitly, decided to do so.  At any rate it is always possible for me to reclaim my choice...” (pg. 28).  This quote answered my question that just because Dasein might have done what was socially conventional does not, by any means, take away from the identity of Being because Dasein always has the choice to change his/her mind or actions.  This got me thinking, again, about today’s society and what is ordinary.  We stated that, often what is viewed as ordinary comes down to what is culturally acceptable.  But within our culture we need to remember, like Dasein, that we also have the choice go against the ordinary.  Not everyone choses to do so, but I think the fact that the choice is available is the important part.