"In computer science, an ontology is a data model that represents a domain and is used to reason about the objects in that domain and the relations between them." - Univ. of Georgia Complex Carbohydrate Research Center
This guest post comes to us courtesy of Oroboros (follow on Twitter @ Thanatologist). If you have reactions to, thoughts on, memories of, or grievances with BEING & TIME you'd like to post here, let me know @ tolstoysbeard @ gmail.com.
No self respecting student of Continental philosophy can speak with any credibility unless they've studied the juggernaut of the 20th century Being & Time! We may embark on a journey & not return quite the same, if at all.
I've already read bits as a lowly undergrad. And those bits proved that I was more than just wet behind the ears. This time... I've taken an alias to cover my true origins as a Nietzschean ironist. So I'll enter the world of Being & Time unnoticed in this alter ego.
I shall no longer be known as the Nietzschean Awet but as Dasein Awet. I'll leave behind Nietzsche in appearance but I shall hold on to the light of Götzendämmerung when the labyrinth gets too twisted.
Either I'll end up just another notch on the bedpost of Being & Time or I'll conquer the juggernaut of philosophy. Either my Nietzsche will persist through the suffocating labyrinth that is Being & Time or Dasein will overcome Götzendämmerung.
Warning. Heidegger is difficult.
The problem with reading difficult thinkers like Heidegger is that even if you agree a lot you probably don't understand. What sounds good isn't always good and if you don't grasp the ideas properly, there's no way to assess their validity. Your entire brainpower is spent on trying to understand what he says & you have nothing left over for assessment. Worse yet, you may also be reading too much into Heidegger. Even if you assume he makes sense and you do not understand, you try to find ways to explain his ideas, you end up inserting ideas that aren't there.
However, Heidegger is difficult for justified reasons. He attempted to avoid traditional philosophical terms due to the specious ontology built into them over the centuries, and worse yet, ordinary language has been inevitably misleading & contributed to and reciprocally corrupted by traditional philosophy.
On one hand, since Heidegger formulates philosophy in unfamiliar terms, he is not spelling out any dependence on the philosophical tradition and that leaves us without any guidance to its true meaning. Hence, my familarity with traditional philosophy and the novice's lack of familarity are both barriers to true understanding.
Moreover the novice is more a sympathetic reader because the book is about something of interest to everyone: death, conscience, guilt, and authentic existence. The novice reader won't be as objectionable to the book as the professional thinker because he isn't as prejudiced by the tradition. Yet a thorough understanding of the tradition preceding Heidegger is necessary to understand him.
Introduction: preliminary remarks
According to Heidegger, the meaning of Being has been neglected in philosophy. After proving that looking for its meaning does not include circular reasoning, he shows us that it must have a different kind of meaning than other concepts. That meaning cannot be a theoretical one, because that would always require premises, and that mean reducing Being to something other that is, but there is no way that these other beings could exhaust the meaning of the Being they themselves take part in.
Why should we bother about the question of Being?
Go back to Aristotle & Plato. Their philosophies have been trivialized, vulgarized regarding Being in 3 ways:
Being is the most universal concept. Philosophers assume that since it's universal, so general, it needs no definition. However this by no means Being is also the clearest concept. As the most universal, it's also the most obscure concept of all.
Being is indefinable. No higher concept can define Being. Neither can a lower concept represent Being. Therefore, Being, not something like "a" being, remains a problem.
Being is the most self-evident concept. We implicitly understand Being, in predicates & relations to beings, but not explicitly. The very object of analysis IS the self-evident. Thus, Being isn't explicitly self-evident, an "a priori enigma," and remains a problem.
Bottom line: Not only is there no answer to the question of being, even the question itself is obscure.
The meaning of Being is in the way it manifests itself; therefore, the method of phenomenology is used to unhide it. Moreover, the being that is able to ask questions, Dasein (there-being), is privileged in this book. Because only Dasein can question its own being & thus understand it, the study must be based on analyzing how Dasein purports to understand itself.
When a circle is not a circle
The gist of the claim:
There's no circular reasoning in asking the meaning of Being because meaning is NOT derived from premises through logic, which is a necessary condition for something to even be a possible species of circular reasoning. But the question purports to show the foundation or unhide it. Important: for Heidegger, truth is unhiddeness. The meaning of Being cannot be deduced. Only shown.
There's your Wittgenstein gloss. In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein said the form of the picture can only be shown, not pictured. Language is the picture of reality, and the form of the picture is something that accompanies all pictures, but that itself cannot be pictured -- only shown. Basically, logic cannot be explained or proven, but it just simply is and shows itself only through usage. Moreover, Heidegger says Being only shows its truth.
All ontology is circular. Heidegger's approach has to be non-deductive because there's NO prior validation of the inferential rules for producing conclusions - other than assuming the conclusions to be true or some true & others inferred from them.
Reading Heidegger has led me to the speculation that his use of the word Being has a lot in common with Oroboros. The Oroboros is not just a serpent or a circle but a symbol of a meaning that turns back on itself.
Its entire essence is an endless circle where you can travel forever. The truth of Being cannot be seen within the circle because you will only see an endless repetition of questions that turn back on themselves in a never-ending cycle. The truth of Being or the essence of it is understood as the circle itself.
knee deep into ontological shit
I feel there's plenty to mine from the first part of the introduction.
Where Heidegger says that Dasein has a number of positions - the special position is ontic, in which existence determines this being in its being. another is ontological: Dasein is itself ontological, based on its existence. The third special position of Dasein is the ontic-ontological condition of all ontology.
Dasein is ontologically primary being that precedes all Being that is the object of inquiry (or questioning).
This piece is actually quite thought provoking. That is, if you can handle the number of beings and ontologies and onticalities and existences...
The ontic considers the things that are, so Dasein's ontic position has to do with where things are & in this that which makes it special is its existence. In other words, its ability to reflect upon its own possibilities and come up with a purpose for itself. That makes it quite different from things like the wood fence outside my window.
The ontological level is about the structure of being, and Dasein in this regards is different, since like I said, its being is itself ontological, since its mode of being is to question its own being. Dasein is obsessed with its own being, and ultimately differs in its structure of being precisely in which its structure includes its way of reflecting upon this very structure.
Basically it seems that we have a self-consciousness that reflects upon itself, and more importantly that it is a necessary condition for us: we are self-conscious & reflect upon ourselves and can do nothing else.
Not only is Dasein trying to understand itself, it also tries to understand that which is not Dasein (nature or objective world). Since ontology is the reflection upon the structure of being & Dasein isn't just the only one doing that, its the only being that can do that. Dasein's determining attribute is the ability to ask questions. Thus the necessary condition of all ontology in general is Dasein - the only being that can have an ontology, the inquiry to the structure of being.
In a nutshell: only self-conscious beings are able to ask & only asking beings are able to even try to understand being, no matter if those other kinds of things are themselves part of being.
Nothingness remains a plank in my eye
After consulting Dreyfus' excellent Being-In-The-World (I've stayed away from it in this reading group just to keep my impressions authentic), I've come to the conclusion that I've been reading Heidegger with Sartrean goggles and I have yet to wean myself off them when it comes to phenomenology. First love dies hard. :p
Dreyfus insists that Dasein isn't a conscious subject for the term "Dasein" means everyday human existence, and Heidegger uses it to refer to human being. That doesn't necessarily mean Dasein is only a self-conscious subject. Early interpreters have fallen in the same rut as Sartre, likely because they approached Heidegger through Sartre, and ended up reading Heidegger as an existential phenomenologist.
However, I do not have the benefit of reading ahead, where Heidegger says "...if we posit an 'I' or subject as that which is primarily given, we shall completely miss the phenomenal content of Dasein" (p. 72) and neither do I remember much from the class I took on Heidegger in several years back.
Thus Dasein is understood to be more basic than mental states & intentionality. Some interpreters go the other way and claim Dasein is the masses. But Heidegger uses the term to signify an individual throughout the book, particularly in Division II, so the golden means between a self-conscious individual and the masses is human being, for it can refer to both all people & a person, without being either one exclusively.
Then again, Dasein, essentially self-interpreting, has no nature. And at the same time Dasein understands itself as having a specific essential nature, and bases its action in this understanding of a "human nature" and is comfortable in being a member of a country or an ethnic group.
Regarding Dasein, Heidegger avoids from making dogmatic statement what constitutes the meaning of Dasein, because the existential analysis must begin with account of Dasein in its everydayness. I.e. The most uncritical mode of daily life that where even the most profound live.
Talking about the everyday self allows experience to speak for itself. This avoids limiting Dasein to a criteria that reduces analysis to an aspect of Dasein's being. The entire point is to study what it means to be.
The fact of everydayness is a vague awareness. Awareness of being is not some mysterious mystical knowledge or insight. But everyday perspective must be transcended to a perspective of ontological insight, after entire range of everyday perspective is examined thoroughly.
In all the ways in which a person can be said to be, the understanding of such ways is limited by finitude. Non-temporal truths of logic and faith are temporal since they're understood by a person determined by temporal dimensions. To grasp what it means to be in time is to grasp what it means for Dasein to be at all
Heidegger claims the temporality of Dasein has been long ignored since questions are always temporal and partially determined by the context of the culture they emerge from. It seems reasonable because the questions we are likely to bring up in our culture are based on culture itself. We ask questions about the environment when the relationship between the environment and our culture become a problem.
The question about Being has to be temporal as well, and Heidegger says this has been forgotten. The tradition has hidden its foundations too well from itself. This is where Heidegger unleashes his most creative idea: the entire history of Western philosophy has been a progressive cumulation of forgetting, and we must return to the very core to reinterpret the thinkers of antiquity.
They were the original context in which the question of Being emerged first, and that context has been buried by the tradition that dropped the problem and ran away with the answers.
Here, Heidegger brings up the idea of "Destruction" in which tradition has to be shattered into pieces in order to reveal what was buried within. Then we shall navigate back through 2300 years of philosophy to its core to rehabilitate the meaning of Being.
It's important to note that Heidegger chose the Latinate Destruktion instead of the German word for destruction (Zerstorung). Destruktion should be understood as de-struere, 'de-construct' or 'ab-bauen' rather than devastation. That which covers up the sense of being or structures that pile on top of each other, making the sense unrecognizable is deconstructed.
Thus, destruction doesn't mean Heidegger is about to destroy or overthrow the entire history of philosophy. However, one must do violence to the history of thought. Destruction is hermeneutic violence, for it resists the traditional understanding and goes against it. Take your own approach and problem and under the guiding rules of this problem prod the thinker with your questions and reinterpret what they actually said and test the spirit or power of their thought. Heidegger engages the past thinkers in a dialogue about his topic, the meaning of being.
Due to the impediment of the traditional meaning of Being the past thinkers ended up speaking of existents instead. Despite their failure, given that they're the greatest thinkers they did implicitly say much to add to the meaning of being.
Heidegger has a strategy when confronting the past thinkers:
I. First, point out the major error they made in failing to recognize difference between Sein and Seienden (things that exist).
II. Then show how much what they said is relevant to the question of being.
Heidegger breaks the ice to loosen the tradition that froze around the ideas of the past thinkers. Traditions i.e. the work of lesser minds freezes and destroy the creativity of the Great thinkers. School of philosophies do more damage and dishonor to a thinker than a violent antagonist.
If Heidegger distills insights from Kant, Aristotle, or Descartes about question of being that no tradition has heard of, then what the thinkers actually meant becomes trivial. Heidegger doesn't change what they said but instead force them to give-up a secret that wasn't obvious before. If Heidegger does succeed then the complaint the older thinkers didn't mean what Heidegger says, because it's not traditional, merely begs the question. How they implicitly dealt w the question of Being affect our understanding of it & a legitimate part of the inquiry as to how Dasein understands it's own being.
Dasein understands itself in time & through time. Therefore, a historical approach of Dasein is necessary and to uncover the foundations of this understanding all that is piled on it and obstructs it must be removed through the method of Heideggerian destruction.
So the study begins from time and the way Dasein understands itself in time, and through the foundations that are unhidden, we can attempt to understand the more general Being.