Saturday, May 12, 2012

Heidegger Circle, First Post: Troubling the Ontological Difference

My first posts concerning the Heidegger Circle will deal with two papers, both by very talented Villanova graduate students, which were given on different days but share the theme of tracking changes in the status of the Ontological Difference throughout the course of Heidegger's work.

Raoni Padui's "From the Facticity of Dasein to the Facticity of Nature: Naturalism, Animality, and the Ontological Difference"

Raoni Padui presented a paper in which he highlighted Heidegger's difficulties in avoiding naturalism. Padui's paper involved carefully tracking instabilities in several of Heidegger's most basic distinctions and focused both on the changes which occur to those distinctions in the years immediately following Being and Time as well as the implications of these changes. My presentation here will, sadly, be woefully inadequate in capturing the detail, complexity and subtly of the transformations Padui maps. I confess to risking, then, dramatic oversimplification. The heart of the paper seemed to be that, in order to avoid a collapse into naturalism the likes of which Husserl had worked so hard to avoid, the distinctions between Being and beings, the Ontological and the Ontic, Dasein and animals, facticity and factuality and finally Being and beings must be maintained in the thought of Heidegger. These distinctions are seen to tie into the problem of naturalism when one recognizes Heidegger's own identification of traditional positivist discussions of "nature" as only working at the level of the Vorhandensein. If, then, the factuality of the Vorhandensein and the facticity of Dasein breaks down, for example in a failure to maintain an absolute distinction between the being of the animal and that of Dasein, then Heidegger risks slipping into a situation in which a complete explanation of Dasein can be executed at the level of biology for example through the analyses of neurophysiology which seem to collapse the Ontological Difference.

In making his argument Padui, amongst other things, draws on moments in Being and Time which I myself find suggestive for a different reason which I will discuss below. He also points out a rather striking moment in The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic which has been covered over in translation. In Being and Time Padui directs our attention to the end of the work which, as has been widely noted, seems to call into doubt the very structure of distinctions Heidegger has worked so hard throughout this text to make clear. Padui focuses on the claim that "The distinction between the being of existing Dasein and the being of beings unlike Dasein (for example, objective presence) may seem to be illuminating, but it is only the point of departure for the ontological problematic; it is nothing with which philosophy can rest and be satisfied." (GA 2: 576/SZ 436-437) This shows that even at the time of Being and Time Heidegger had certain doubts about the absoluteness of the distinction between Dasein and beings. Then, in the 1928 Metaphysical Foundations of Logic Heidegger applies the word faktische, which is generally translated "factical" as it is derived from the word usually translated as "facticity" and reserved for descriptions of Dasein, to both Dasein and nature. In translation, however, this has been covered over by translating the first use of the word as factical and the second as factual. The quotation runs as follows:

"In other words, the possibility that being is there in the understanding presupposes the factical existence of Dasein [die faktische Existenz sed Dasein], and this in turn presupposes the factual extantness of nature [das faktische Vorhandensein des Natur]. Right within the horizon of the problem of being, when posed radically, it appears that all this is visible and can become understood as being, only if a possible totality of beings is already there." (GA 26: 199/156-157).

To summarize the thrust of Padui's reading of these passages, then, already in Being and Time Heidegger worries that the distinction between Dasein and beings might not be absolute and then, immediately following Being and Time, it is suggested that both Dasein and beings have facticity and, further, this shared facticity is discussed in terms of nature in some sense grounding Dasein's understanding ("...the possibility that being is there in the understanding presupposes the factical existence of Dasein and this in turn presupposes the factical extantness of nature..."). When we combined this with Heidegger's consistent difficulty in expressing the difference between animals and Dasein, as well as the problem of seemingly world-poor humans, we face the possibility of a spectrum from Dasein to animal to natural objects which opens up the possibility of naturalistic explanation and investigation into Dasein's being. All of this, similarly, is related to the metontology which Heidegger proposes in The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic as a sister science to fundamental ontology which also consists of fundamental ontology's radical overturning through a shift to the problematic of the meaning of being in general, the meaning of being for the totality, rather than the development of dramatically different senses of being for Dasein and other beings.

These selected moments from the paper should allow us to discuss briefly some thoughts and responses to Padui's argument. In his comments, Pol Vandevelde suggested that Padui might be conflating several different distinctions which have different methodological and ontological standings. The distinction between the ontological and the ontic, or between Dasein and the Vorhandensein, are not the same as the Ontological Difference between Being and beings proper. Padui responded to this, in part, by admitting that these are not to be identified and he never intended to identify them. However, they are to be seen as interdependent and interrelated. The status of this debate seems particularly important, unfortunately I remember too little of Vandevelde and Padui's exchange to safely expand upon their engagement with the subject.

I found Padui's paper very interesting and suggestive. It played on tensions in Heidegger's work which I myself find very important and, at times, either promising or troubling though for reasons rather different from those suggested by Padui. I would like to take a little bit of time to offer other avenues for interpretation potentially opened up by some of the texts Padui focuses on. The quotation Padui draws from the end of Being and Time is immediately preceded by one I often dwell upon: "...can one provide ontological grounds for ontology, or does it also require an ontical foundation? and which entity must take over the function of providing this foundation?" (SZ 436) I must confess that reading these passages in the past it never occurred to me to be concerned that Heidegger might be risking a fall into naturalism here because I don't find that the ontic is haunted by the characteristics of the natural. Similarly, the ontic is also not to be identified exclusively with the Vorhanden. The Zuhanden, as well as any specific for-the-sake-of-which of Dasein, all are ontic (at least in a sense, I myself tend to take the distinction to be rather more fluid than I feel is commonly accepted). It seems to me that only a nature reduced to the Vorhanden, a move Heidegger insists in Being in Time is derivative and deceptive, could raise the problem of a naturalistic explanation of Dasein. Rather, when concerned that ontology might have an ontic ground or that the being of Dasein might not be absolutely distinct from the being of beings I hear Heidegger problematizing the seemingly transcendental terms he has used throughout Being and Time in favor of the historical perspective which will follow later and (arguably) also preceded Being and Time. What if certain seemingly ontic events must open up the being of beings for Dasein in order for ontology to be possible? (Doesn't anxiety, for example, play this role and might there not be world-historical examples that play the role of anxiety for a collective tradition or community?) What if the being of Dasein and beings share a ground, not in objectified nature but in historical worlding? This is not necessarily to argue against Padui's own interpretation of Heidegger's concerns at the end of Being and Time, Heidegger himself gives us precious little to work with there.

We can also problematize a bit Heidegger's discussion of metontology in The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic on which Padui focuses. How are we to understanding this overturning of fundamental ontology, which shifts from a focus on Dasein as the representative entity to be investigated in order to explicate an understanding of Being, into a metonology focused on beings as a totality upon which Dasein in some sense depends? Do we have here the danger of an explanation of Dasein in terms of mere Vorhanden nature? Heidegger tells us a bit more about the turn, or overturning, he has in mind here:

"Fundamental ontology is this whole of founding and developing ontology; the former is 1) the analysis of Dasein, and 2) the analysis of the temporality of being. But the temporal analysis is at the same time the turning-around [Kehre], where ontology itself expressly runs back into the metaphysical ontic in which it implicitly always remains. Through the movement of radicalizing and universalizing, the aim is to bring ontology to its latent overturning. Here the turn-around is carried out, and it is turned over into the metontology." (GA 26: 201/158)

This quotation seems to provide support to neither my history focuses anti-transcendental reading of changes in Heidegger's views nor Padui's concern with a collapse into naturalism. Metontology deals with the being of beings generally, the being of the totality of beings amongst which is indeed included Dasein, and it does so by taking the temporality uncovered as the being of Dasein as its clue to the being of all beings. This seems to line up very nicely with the general project of Being and Time, indeed taken in this sense it is little more than a restatement of the general outline of what the completed project was intended to look like. When we consider the rejection of standard conceptions of time by Heidegger we do face some rather difficult questions, for example how can the being of beings in general be thought in terms of thrown-projection without simply offering a transcendental ground for beings on Dasein's temporality? This seem one way to consider the fundamental problematic Heidegger's thought found itself having to address in order to arrive at a concept of the History of Being not founded on Dasein but rather upon Being itself. But whether temporality as the being of the totality of beings is understood in a transcendental Dasein-centric way or in a non-transcendental historical or (horror) metaphysical way it seems nowhere susceptible to a collapse into naturalism.   

The question then seems to be, not whether there is a potential indistinction between Dasein and animals, the being of Dasein and the being of beings or the ontological and the ontic (I suspect there are potentially such indistinctions) but rather whether there is an indistinction between the Vorhanden and the Zuhanden. It seems to me that the focus on temporality as the being of beings conclusively foreclose their consideration as objective Vorhanden even if the extantness of nature is the presupposition of the existence of Dasein. The extantness of nature is precisely factical, and not merely factual, precisely in the sense that it is temporal and thus better understood on something like the model of the Zuhanden than the Vorhanden despite the exceptionally difficult questions this raises for an ambition to think Being without a transcendental reliance upon Dasein. What we may see here, then, is Heidegger's early attempt to think nature as Phusis rather than the objective Vorhanden "nature" of the natural sciences.  

I will turn to the question of the status of the Ontological Difference in Heidegger's later work in my next post which will focus upon Christopher Ruth's "Dwelling and the Ontological Difference".   



  1. Hi William,
    it was great meeting you at the Heidegger Circle this year, and thanks for the extremely generous and detailed post about my paper. I just wrote a lengthy set of comments to it but the interweb ate it, but once I have the patience to rewrite it I will post it or send it to you.

  2. Raoni,

    Good to hear from you, it was also wonderful to meet you. Feel free to call me Bill. I received an emailed copy of your comments but was wondering why they weren't posting. Odd. I could email you a copy of them if you don't want to rewrite them, or I could post them for you here exactly as you wrote them if you would like. Let me know. I was hoping you might take the time to expand upon your argument in a comment or two here so I was very happy to see your comment. I found your suggestions both interesting and helpful.

    1. Bill, I'm glad the comments were not lost, but just misdirected. Yes, if you could just post them, that would be easiest. My main goal was to show that there might be a naturalism in between the two extremes offered by Heidegger: (to put it as a bit of a caricature) either we have the technological manipulation of natural science, or we have a poetizing of phusis. I do not see Spinoza, Schelling, or Nietzsche (all of whom I would consider naturalists of some sort or other) to fall within this dichotomy.


  3. Here are your comments as they were sent to me, I will offer a thought or two of my own tomorrow in response and thanks again:

    Hi William (if I may),

    Chris Ruth alerted me to your blog and to this post, and I figure I’d respond with some thoughts. First of all, thank you for an extremely generous reconstruction of my paper—I think you found more nuances there than I actually introduced. Overall, I agree with much of what you say, both I in describing my argument and in suggesting alternative avenues that could (and perhaps should) be taken in reading these passages. I agree that the issue of the ontic foundation of ontology is really what is at stake here, but I think we differ on how close this “ontic-foundation problem” is to naturalism. The following are a few questions/reflections I had while reading your post:

    (1) I agree that what is being problematized in these passages is the “seemingly transcendental” aspect of Heidegger’s phenomenology, insofar as there is an interplay between the ontic and the ontological rather than a simple grounding relation going in one direction. But I think this is linked to naturalism, insofar as Husserl maintained the priority of the transcendental in order to criticize naturalism and psychologism. What I see Heidegger doing here is criticizing Husserl’s transcendental but maintaining the critique of positivism and naturalism which depends on that very notion. My hunch is that “strong” transcendentalism and the critique of naturalism are too closely dependent for one to keep one without the other.

    (2) I absolutely agree with you that nature as Vorhanden is always understood as derivative for Heidegger, and that he reads the natural sciences as objectifying nature in just this way and reducing everything to the substantiality and constant presence of an object. I also agree with your conclusion that these problems are leading Heidegger towards thinking nature as phusis (and to the notion of the earth) rather than nature as Vorhandensein. But Heidegger turns away from the natural sciences here and toward poetry and art, and this is where I see a real problem: why must the natural sciences think of nature as presence-at-hand? Why must it reduce the ontological dimension to a “mere” ontic one, why must it “skip-over” the phenomenon of world and un-world the world? Heidegger maintains that this is the case, but what he has in mind (and what his examples show) is that what he means by natural science in general is nothing by the mechanical philosophy of the 17th century with its reductionism, physicalism, and mechanical causality. So while Heidegger severs the link between nature-Vorhandensein-natural science by attempting to rethink nature as phusis, he still maintains the link between nature as Vorhanden and natural science, which I want to sever.

    (3) If one no longer identifies natural science with the Vorhanden, but rather with a view of entities that treat them all as existing in the same mode but does not reduce them to one type of entity (physicalism) or attempt to explain all higher-level happenings by component parts (reductionism) then naturalism is an option, albeit one Heidegger did not accept.

    These are just some thoughts—mostly in the hopes that my position be compatible with what you are saying, since I agree with almost all of it.



  4. Raoni,

    Like you, I suspect that we agree more than we disagree. I certainly think a non-enframing Vorhanden-focused science is possible. Whether we currently have such a thing is obviously a much more difficult question and likely outside the scope of what I can say in a comment. The question is whether such a science would still be naturalistic. Here we would have to involve ourselves in a rather extensive discussion of how we should understand the term. I will say a word or two about this which I am sure will be woefully inadequate to the task. Please consider saying a bit more about how you understand the term "naturalism", it would likely be very helpful for me as I don't spend nearly as much time thinking about the subject as you obviously have.

    It seems to me that naturalism in the forms with which I am familiar takes as a central element a type of reductionism and claims a privileged access to the truth (or at the very least privileged access to "adequate explanation"). Heidegger never claimed science wasn't disclosive, rather it is very powerfully so, but it fails in supposing it is the primary disclosive frame to which all other ways of relating to things must be referred. It seems to me that naturalism, as fundamental assumptions about "nature" have been problematized over time, has become in its most general form nothing other than the privileging of science, something like a commitment to the idea that "any meaningful human questions can potentially be answered by science". Anything more robust, say a commitment to causal explanation or generalizable laws expressing scientifically observed patterns, seems to rule out some contemporary areas of science as non-naturalistic. But, even if this is not the case, these more robust naturalisms remain exclusivist and, in this sense, likely reductive. On my reading of both Heidegger and Nietzsche such a naturalism just wont be acceptable.

    I want to say something about the relation of Husserl and Heidegger as well. Husserl certainly took as an enemy naturalism and understood a transcendental method as the primary way to escape from it. But, the reason transcendental method was prioritized was because an alternative way out of naturalism was Husserl's other enemy which you didn't mention (of course assuming we have dismissed things like supernaturalistic metaphysics and so on). Specifically historicism. Within the framework of Husserl's thought, it seems as if one can avoid naturalism through transcendental method OR historicism but, since he also wants to oppose historicism he is left with transcendental method alone. This complicates what you say in 1. "My hunch is that “strong” transcendentalism and the critique of naturalism are too closely dependent for one to keep one without the other." This might be true were these the only options, but historicism is a third option and the one towards which Heidegger seems most frequently drawn. I suspect this is why, when wondering about a breakdown in the distinction between the ontological and the ontic, I think of it more in terms of the increasing importance of history while you think of it more in terms of the increasing importance of naturalistic explanation. I certainly agree that as Heidegger becomes more and more disenchanted with the elements of transcendentalism in his thought a space is opened up for naturalism. I don't, however, think he was ever really looking in that direction but rather drifting towards the other prong of Husserl's dilemma, namely historicism.

    1. Bill,

      I think this is an extremely complex problem, and as you point out, a blog post will be inadequate to dealing with such issues in a careful enough way. That being said, I will at least try to give some pointers on the two important issues you raise: the one about naturalism and the historicism issue in relation to Husserl.

      (1) If naturalism is to be rehabilitated, I agree that it cannot be in the form you describe it. However, I think the form of naturalism you describe (reductionistic scientism) is more of an invention on the part of philosophers and philosophers of science rather than what actually goes on in the natural sciences. So naturalism is not (or should not be): (a) the methodological surrendering of all ontological questions to the present state of natural sciences (which in its more radical forms would lead to presentism and scientism) nor (b) a view that presupposes that there is something like a unified “scientific method” and an a priori demarcation between sciences and non-sciences. Certainly people like Hempel and Popper have defended some version or other of these views, but I think Kuhn and Feyerabend have sufficiently problematized these dogmas. The forms of naturalism I have in mind treat the natural sciences as non-unified (John Dupre, “The disorder of things: the metaphysics foundations of the disunity of science”), nature as multiple and not capable of being described adequately through mechanical causality (Nancy Cartwright, “The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science”) and focus more on experimentation and entities rather than with mathematical projection and unified theories and problems of representation (Ian Hacking, “Representing and Intervening”). All of these claims are still controversial, but I see in them an important correction on what naturalism may be. So I would perhaps agree with your characterization of naturalism as the view that “any meaningful human questions can be potentially answered by science,” with the important caveat that what science is cannot be answered in advance. If one has a restrictive notion of science then naturalism is a reduction of sorts, but we have good historical and empirical reasons to give up on this restrictive notion of science. In that case, the claim that something is “potentially answered by science” is fairly harmless, since it does not mean anything like “reduced to the causal relationship of atoms.” A science of consciousness may require a necessary phenomenological component that cannot be reduced, and if this is so, the science in question would have to radically transform itself. In other words, one has to distinguish naturalism from scientism.

  5. (continued)

    (2) On the question of historicism (I think this issue is a much more interesting and important one). You are correct that Husserl saw two enemies that collapse the transcendental and the empirical, naturalists and historicists, and that Heidegger would be much closer to the latter. I attempted to stay away from that issue in my paper because it is such a large and complex one, and I will actually treat it in two upcoming papers. However, I think that the shift to historicism does very little to neutralize the problems and threats inherent in naturalism, for two reasons which need to be dealt with very carefully: (a) first, the putative distinction between Dasein and nature is largely maintained even when Dasein is historicized, but is simply rearticulated as the distinction between history and nature. One finds both in the 20s and the 30s Heidegger’s insistence that “nature has no history” and that there is no such thing as “natural history.” Are animals “poor-in-history,” or ahistorical in the sense of a stone? The problems simply shift to how to distinguish properly between what is historical and what is not. And once again, the view of nature as ahistorical is itself a remnant of 17th Century mechanical philosophy. (b) A similar problem, which is a very difficult one, is the extent to which Heidegger’s notion of history reproduces quasi-transcendental distinctions in order to remove the threat of empirical/ontic historicism. In his turn to history, he mobilizes (as I’m sure you know well) several levels of articulated differences, such as the one between ‘Geschichte’ and ‘Historie,’ between what is ‘essential’ to history and what is only accidental, in order to avoid a collapse into pure ontic and empirical historicism. Once again, the problem of maintaining the ontological difference resurfaces, although this point needs to be argued for carefully. I’ll end with some shameless self-promotion: my paper at this year’s SPEP will be about this point exactly, entitled “Historical Conditions of Possibility: Transcendental Problems in the Later Heidegger.” So I agree with you that history is an important locus for these sets of issues (and the locus Heidegger himself was drawn towards), but I think the problems are reproduced in history and in naturalism.

    I apologize for the length of the response—but these are such important issues, and I think we’ve only scratched the surface. Hopefully we can sit down over a beer and have this conversation in person in the future.


  6. Raoni,

    Thanks for your responses, and don't worry about their length.

    I agree with the image of science and the philosophy of science you present here. I have spent a fair amount of time teaching philosophy of science and some time writing on it and am a huge fan of both Kuhn and, especially, Feyerabend. It seems to me, however, that if things stand with the sciences as you state, which I think is the case, then there really isn't any work for the term "naturalism" to do anymore. If we can't 1. reduce nature to some fundamental characteristic (physicalism, causal relations, etc.) or 2. reduce science to some unified method then I am not sure what it can possibly mean to be a naturalist.

    I certainly look forward to your paper at SPEP and will do my best to be there. Hopefully we can get together then. Thanks for your patience in carrying on a discussion in this admittedly inadequate medium.


  7. Bill, I think we will have to continue this conversation in person someday, since I do not want to take over your blog with long responses. I still think naturalism can be useful as a term to mark a resistance to 1. supernaturalism and mysticism (which is in no way the case with Heidegger), and 2. a transcendental view that separates the "object" of philosophy from the objects of the sciences and thus believes that philosophy has its own "content" (which I think Heidegger does fall into, albeit reluctantly). But hopefully I'll see you at SPEP, or perhaps at the next Heidegger circle, and we can continue discussing some of these issues.