Friday, September 17, 2010

Julian Young on Nietzsche and a touch of Nietzsche's Music

There is a very interesting interview with Julian Young concerning Nietzsche and Young's new intellectual biography of the man. Check it out. Also, on the website for Young's book, can be found recordings of performances of Nietzsche's own musical compositions. I found this VERY interesting, I had not previously had the chance to hear them. They can be found here.

P.S. The discussion concerning how we should think about Heidegger's History of Being continues in the comments section to my previous post. I have found it very thought provoking. Check it out if you haven't already and feel free to join in.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How should we think the History of Being?

I have been having a wonderful conversation in the comments section of my most recent post with the author of the blog Seynsgeschichte. Our conversation there had finally wandered into territory a little remote from the original blog post so I figured I would move it into a new blog post and come up with an excuse to continue the conversation and invite/encourage any other readers of this blog to join in. In his last comment Pseudonoma stated:

"As far as Seynsgeschichte itself, however, I am against all amorphous "loose" descriptions, and am equally dissatified by "narrative" accounts --which is why what you are saying, being neither one of these --is of great interest to me. For my own part I have a very particular reading of Seynsgeschichte, one which claims SG to elude all Niezschean or Foucalutian genealogy, while not simply refering to transhistorical universals, or any other for of seiendenheit."

I agree that Heidegger's conception of the history of Being is different from the histories of both Nietzsche and Foucault and also not concerned with the trans-historical. Let me say a little about the issue of Nietzsche and Foucault. I think that in Nietzsche's case, the concept of truth and a true history has been so problematized that his genealogies are to be thought primarily in strategic or (non-Heideggerian) poetic terms. They are re-descriptions which seek to shift the dominant metaphors through which we think key concepts. This isn't exhaustive of Nietzsche's history but it does make clear the sense in which history is always a history of the present, i.e. it is always a working over and working upon of current issues with the goal of bringing about future changes. In this sense history is strategic and not representational of "what actually happened" (an ontological entity whose very existence Nietzsche would call into question). I believe that Foucault's histories are similarly strategic histories of the present which refuse any belief in an "accurate" account but which general, nonetheless, follow the strategy of deriving historical change from within the micro power-structures which pre-exist the change in question. Some thinkers have claimed Heidegger must also hold such a view, i.e. that changes in the nature of the totality of practices for a life-world must derive from the practices which were in existence before the change occurred. I have called this, from time to time, the causal conception of history which understands historical events as caused by things which came before them. This seems an entirely inadequate way to conceptualize Heidegger's understanding of "ereignis", which I will generally translate as an "originary event". Heidegger's conception of history is not purely strategic, as he has not given up on the idea of truth but has rather altered the conception of it, and it is not causal insofar as originary events need not be understood as derived from what came temporally before them. I could say a lot more here but I will stop at these very brief suggestions for now.

I would like to hear more about how precisely Pseudonoma understands a "loose" description and a "narrative" account of the History of Being. I suspect I know what he means but I don't want to assume too much.

The introductory gesture having been made, then, I would like to offer two Heidegger quotations to get us on our way. Both are drawn from Heidegger's "Letter on Humanism" as it appears in Krell's Martin Heidegger Basic Writings. The first quotation is a bit of a side issue, as it glances back towards the relation of Sartre to history as well as Sartre's ability to relate to Marx, but I feel it suggests that some of what I had previously suggested about Sartre's a-historicality was also on Heidegger's mind:

"But since neither Husserl nor - so far as I have seen till now - Sartre recognizes the essential importance of the historical in Being, neither phenomenology nor existentialism enters that dimension within which a productive dialogue with Marxism first becomes possible." (p. 243)

The next quotation will be lengthy but I think it provides us with some starting material for a consideration of the History of Being:

"When philosophy attends to its essence it does not make forward strides at all. It remains where it is in order constantly to think the Same. Progression, that is, progression forward from this place, is a mistake that follows thinking as the shadow that thinking itself casts. Because Being is still unthought, Being and Time too says of it, "there is/it gives." Yet one cannot speculate about this il y a precipitately and without a foothold. This "there is/it gives" rules as the destiny of Being. Its history comes to language in the words of essential thinkers. Therefore the thinking that thinks into the truth of Being is, as thinking, historical. There is not a 'systematic' thinking and next to it an illustrative history of past opinions. Nor is there, as Hegel thought, only a systematics that can fashion the law of its thinking into the law of history and simultaneously subsume history into the system. Thought in a more primordial way, there is the history of Being to which thinking belongs as recollection of this history, propriated by it. Such recollective thought differs essentially from the subsequent presentation of history in the sense of an evanescent past. History does not take place primarily as a happening. And its happening is not evanescence. The happening of history occurs essentially as the destiny of the truth of Being and from it. Being comes to destiny in that It, Being, gives itself. But thought in terms of such destiny this says: its gives itself and refuses itself simultaneously. Nonetheless, Hegel's definition of history as the development of 'Spirit' is not untrue. Neither is it partly correct and partly false. It is as true as metaphysics, which through Hegel first brings to language its essence - thought in terms of the absolute - in the system. Absolute metaphysics, with its Marxian and Nietzschean inversions, belongs to the history of the truth of Being. Whatever stems from it cannot be countered or even cast aside by refutations. It can only be taken up in such a way that its truth is more primordially sheltered in Being itself and removed from the domain of mere human opinion. All refutation in the field of essential thinking is foolish. Strife among thinkers is the 'lovers' quarrel' concerning the matter itself. It assists them mutually toward a simple belonging to the Same, from which they find what is fitting for them in the destiny of Being." (p. 238-239)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Husserl and Sartre on Transcendental Structure

At last year's Central meeting of the American Philosophical Association (A.P.A.) in Chicago and last year's meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (S.P.E.P.) in Arlington Virginia I presented a paper entitled "Phenomenology and the Problem of Universals". I was up to a lot of different things in both the short (S.P.E.P.) and long symposium (A.P.A.) versions of that paper and several of those projects are beginning to more clearly differentiate themselves and develop in directions of their own. One such project concerned my conviction that Husserl can not justify his faith that the Transcendental Ego has structure or, indeed, any fixed characteristics or processes. I have since come to appreciate that this was the founding insight of Sartre's life work as found in both The Transcendence of the Ego and Being and Nothingness. In this post I would like to say a little about this subject.

I will very briefly present the basic shape of the argument I have made more extensively in my work concerning Husserl. It is pretty clear that Husserl intends transcendental phenomenology to be the study of the manner in which the Transcendental Ego constitutes experience. More specifically it is a study derived from the experience, arrived at through the epoche and eidetic reductions, of the Transcendental Ego constituting experience. Such a study, Husserl insists, yields universal laws and the direct experience of stable essences. These laws and essences are derived from, indeed must be derived from, stable processes and structures within the transcendental ego. To put it bluntly, stability in the transcendental ego explains the reality of universal laws. I have argued that, in the sense that the stable structure of the transcendental ego is what stands-below or underlies all objects, Husserl presents us with little more than a renovation of substance ontology. In other words, the central dogma of substance ontology is the necessity of a grounding structure or stability for any existent thing. Allow me to provide a bit of text from Husserl's Cartesian Meditations to support some of these rather blunt claims:

"Types of objects... were found to be clues for transcendental investigations, which belong together on account of their themes. The fact is that the constituting multiplicities of consciousness - those actually or possibly combined to make the unity of an identifying synthesis - are not accidental but, as regards the possibility of such a syntheses,
belong together for essential reasons. Accordingly they are governed by principles, thanks to which our phenomenological investigations do not get lost in disconnected descriptions but are essentially organized. Any 'Objective' object, any object whatever (even an immanent one), points to a structure, within the transcendental ego, that is governed by a rule." (Husserl, Cartesian Meditations Second Meditation section 22, emphasis is Husserl's own)

I have argued that the reasons Husserl gives us for believing in universal laws, among them the supposed direct and indubitable experience of universal essences he claims we can arrive at through eidetic variation, fail to provide any experience of the obviously or necessarily universal. In the case of eidetic variation we find that the power of variation itself depends upon idiosyncratic, not universal, capabilities. The power of variation, call it imaginative power, is directly comparable to sight and it is precisely the universal which sight does not provide experience of. Beyond this, however, the very existence of stable structures in the transcendental ego would be an unexplained and unexplainable mystery for transcendental phenomenology. To paraphrase a line from my paper, what reason could there be that the transcendental ego must behave in a certain way? From whence would it derive its necessary structures? If these structures and limitations are self-imposed what reassurance could we ever have that they will be consistently maintained over time? A Humean point seems appropriate here, based on observation of the constituting activity of the transcendental ego we would have the ability to generalize about past experience but we would never be justified to presume the future must conform to the past. Talk of universal laws and essences in phenomenology is, then, based purely on the dogma that there must surely be something constant that grounds the seeming stability of reality. I find this dogma utterly unconvincing.

Apparently I am not alone in this. Enter Sartre who, as early as 1936, had this to say about Husserl's dogma:

"Husserl, too, discovers the transcendental consciousness of Kant, and grasps it by the epoche. But this consciousness is no longer a set of logical conditions. It is a fact which is absolute. Nor is this transcendental consciousness a hypostatization of validity, an unconscious which floats between the real and the ideal. It is a real consciousness accessible to each of us as soon as the 'reduction' is performed. And it is indeed this transcendental consciousness which constitutes our empirical consciousness, our consciousness 'in the world', our consciousness with its psychic and psycho-physical me.

For our part, we readily acknowledge the existence of a constituting consciousness. We find admirable all of Husserl's descriptions in which he shows transcendental consciousness constituting the world by imprisoning itself in empirical consciousness. Like Husserl, we are persuaded that our psychic and psycho-physical me is a transcendent object which must fall before the epoche. But we raise the following question: is not this psychic and psycho-physical me enough? Need one double it with a transcendental I, a structure of absolute consciousness?

The consequences of a reply are obvious. If the reply is negative, the consequences are:

First, the transcendental field becomes impersonal; or, if you like, 'pre-personal', without an I.

Second, the I appears only at the level of humanity and is only one aspect of the me, the active aspect.

Third, the I Think can accompany our representations because it appears on a foundation of unity which it did not help to create; rather, this prior unity makes the I Think possible.

Fourth, one may well ask if personality (ever the abstract personality of an I) is a necessary accompaniment of a consciousness, and if one cannot conceive of absolutely impersonal consciousnesses.

To this question, Husserl has given his reply. After having determined (in Logische Untersuchungen) that the me is a synthetic and transcendent production of consciousness, he reverted in Ideen Zu Einer Reinen Phanomenologie Und Phanomenologischen Philosophie to the classic position of a transcendental I. This I would be, so to speak, behind each consciousness, a necessary structure of consciousnesses whose rays would light upon each phenomenon presenting itself in the field of attention. Thus transcendental consciousness becomes thoroughly personal. Was this notion necessary? Is it compatible with the definition of consciousness given be Husserl?"
(Sartre The Transcendence of the Ego p. 35-37)

As an aside, it is very interesting to note that Sartre, like Heidegger before him, thought that Husserl was really on to something in the Logical Investigations which he gave up on with his later turn to the Transcendental Ego. Heidegger saw in the Logical Investigations, especially in its concept of categorial intuition, an exciting new path to a new form of realism which, sadly, was not at all what Husserl likely intended.

Sartre himself will go on to insist on the reality, and foundational constitutive activity, of a pre-reflective non-personal consciousness. His rejection of the Transcendental Ego is a rejection of at least two ideas. First, that transcendental consciousness has any necessary structures and, second, that transcendental consciousness can be objectified such as to be experienced as "ego" or as "mine". There is, then, a fundamental difference between the ego reflected upon and the consciousness doing the reflection. For these reasons any supposed structures of the self, of the me or I, are neither known with certainty (the "I" is an object which transcends consciousness much as material objects do, such that we only ever have fallible hypotheses about their characteristics) nor structures of the pre-reflective consciousness by which they are objectified (consciousness always escapes the ultimate grasp of its own gaze and knowledge). For this reason Sartre asserts the same conclusion I drew in my paper. Husserl, if he were consistent and honest, should have asserted that we do not know for certain that any of the transcendental ego's processes are, or will remain, stable over time. For this reason at best we have only hypothetical, and arguably unconvincing hypothetical, knowledge of supposedly universal laws. At worst we have good reason to think that the idea of the very existence of the universal is incoherent. Sartre puts this very nicely in Being and Nothingness:

"It is futile to try to invoke pretended laws of consciousness of which the articulated whole would constitute the essence. A law is a transcendent object of knowledge; there can be consciousness of a law, not a law of consciousness. For the same reasons it is impossible to assign to a consciousness a motivation other than itself... We should fall into that too common illusion which makes consciousness semi-conscious or a passivity. But consciousness is consciousness through and through. It can be limited only by itself. This self-determination of consciousness must not be conceived as a genesis, as a becoming, for that would force us to suppose that consciousness is prior to its own existence. Neither is it necessary to conceive of this self-creation as an act, for in that case consciousness would be conscious (of) itself as an act, which it is not... One will perhaps have some difficulty in accepting these conclusions. But considered more carefully, they will appear perfectly clear. The paradox is not that there are 'self-activated' existences but that there is no other kind. What is truly unthinkable is passive existence; that is, existence which perpetuates itself without having the force either to produce itself or to preserve itself... Consciousness has nothing substantial, it is pure 'appearance' in the sense that it exists only to the degree to which it appears. But it is precisely because consciousness is pure appearance, because it is total emptiness (since the entire world is outside it) - it is because of this identity of appearance and existence within it that it can be considered as the absolute." (Sartre Being and Nothingness p. 15-17)

Sartre's own conception of radical freedom will follow directly from this unbridled unlaw-bound nature of consciousness. Freedom is always possible, and all determinations fail to be necessary determinations, because no worldly influence or motivation ever touches upon the free purely active nature of primordial pre-reflective consciousness. But this gives us precisely the world I insist Husserl leads us to but is afraid to enter, a world in which transcendentally constituting consciousness is without structure, limitation or law and, therefore, a world which is similarly without structure, limitation or law.

If, however, we begin to move away from consciousness and look instead to the sense in which the supposed experience of consciousness is derived from more basic worldly practice we begin to see where Heidegger will lead us. It is a world of non-stable historical essences found in shifting social practices and traditions.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Quotation for the Day

Hegel on philosophizing in natural language:

"But that which is in itself must just not have this foreignness for us, and we must not give it this foreign look by using a foreign terminology, but must count ourselves really convinced that the spirit itself is alive everywhere and that it expresses its forms in our own spontaneous natural language."

From Rosenkranz's Das Leben Hegels

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Quotation for the Day

I have been brushing up on some Dilthey in preparation for my paper presentation at this years meeting of S.P.E.P., so I figured I would throw out a Dilthey quotation in honor of this lovely Thursday afternoon:

"The individual always experiences, thinks, and acts in a sphere of commonality, and only in such a sphere does he understand. Everything that has been understood carries, as it were, the mark of familiarity derived from such common features. We live in this atmosphere; it surrounds us constantly; we are immersed in it."

The Formation of the Historical World in the Human Sciences p. 168