Wednesday, April 27, 2005

the struggle for the unconscious

Neighbours: Freud and Hitler in Vienna
Canada 2003.
Director: Manfred Becker

This riveting documentary is a portrait of two men who shaped the 20th century. Each saw himself as a liberator. Sigmund Freud, a Jew, gave humanity the "unconscious," hoping to free man from his irrational instincts. Adolf Hitler unleashed those instincts to liberate the German people from their perceived enemy, the Jews. And yet, once these two men had been neighbours. For seven years at the turn of the century, both shared Vienna as their home. The two men also shared the ambition to convince others of the incontestable truth of their beliefs – with long-lasting and, in Hitler's case, horrific consequences. In the film, several witnesses of Freud's life and times, including granddaughter Sophie Freud, make a convincing argument that the struggle for the unconscious was the central conflict of the last century. Today, scant decades since the golden age of psychoanalysis from 1920 to 1970, Freud's theories are in danger of being marginalized to the fringes of psychiatric practice. Neighbours intriguingly examines the philosophies and strangely parallel existences of two critical historical figures of the 20th century. Colour and B&W, DigiBeta video. 60 mins.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Martin Heidegger, "What is Metaphysics?" Part 3b

III. Responding to the Question

Holding itself out into the nothing, Da-sein is in each case already beyond beings as a whole (in a state of transcendence, where to transcend is to be held out into the nothing.) If Da-sein were not doing this, it could never be related to beings nor even to itself. Without the original revelation of the nothing, there is no selfhood and no freedom.

So, the nothing makes possible the openedness of beings in respect to human existence. It isn't some opposing concept overagainst that of beings, but, rather, it originally belongs to their essential unfolding. In the Being of beings the nihilation of the nothing occurs.

Stated again, the nothing is the origin of negation, not vice versa. This shatters the bow of classical metaphysics and frees truth from the cage made from its materials in the course of the Enlightenment's lust for certainty. The destiny of its reign in philosophy is thereby decided. Its categorical logic disintegrates in the turbulence of a more original questioning. Metaphysics is dead, long live metaphysics!

"What is Metaphysics" - comment April 26

Dense, obtuse, crazy. I am left with more questions than answers. Science, with its infinite ability to categorize: "not this but that," or "this is not that," or "this, because it is not something else, is what it is." Science is the one who is being brought into question by Heidegger. And by this?

Yes, what sort of an address is this? Who of his original Freiburg hearers would have come close to understanding it? When I read it to myself or to others, it sounds like the babblings of an idiot. Yet, its edge is placed at the deepest root of a great and monumental tree. This is a funeral oration. "Metaphysics is dead, long live metaphysics!"

As far as I understand it now, the principle problem with classical metaphysics is that it has treated its "not" as something over and against its "is" - antimatter vs matter, yet both are substantives. This is incorrect, says Heidegger. "The nothing is the origin of negation, not vice versa." The nothing is an abyss that does not exist as something among something, but as a nothing in which everything is "held out" (suspended?) Therefore, classical metaphysics has got it all wrong, and so, for that matter, has science which is itself build on Aristotelian foundations. Both of these disciplines need to take a humble pill and return to their original source, which is the exploration of truth.

The way that Heidegger achieves this stripping of the altars in this address is almost comic. His language sounds more like comic impersonation than real philosophy, tempting one to simply make fun of its incomprehensibilities and ignore the real argument. But don't think for a second that there isn't a real argument going on. Look, for example, at the following:

"The more we turn toward beings in our preoccupations the less we let beings as a whole slip away as such and the more we turn away from the nothing. Just as surely do we hasten into the public superficies of existence. And yet this constant if ambiguous turning away from the nothing accords, within certain limits, with the most proper significance of the nothing. In its nihilation the nothing directs us precisely toward beings. The nothing nihilates incessantly without our really knowing of this occurrence in the manner of our everyday knowledge."

Heidegger the iconoclast soothes the ego of his scientist even as he defrocks him!

Incidentally, the text I have used here (Peter Krell, 1977) is not as good as several other translations available on the web, most notably that made by Thomas Sheehan of Stanford (2001). I am tempted to delete everything and start over...

Monday, April 25, 2005

Martin Heidegger, "What is Metaphysics?" Part 3e

III. The Response to the Question

Because the nothing becomes manifest in the ground of Da-sein, we are led to ask "Why?" Wonder, is, indeed, the revelation of the nothing. That is why asking about the nothing (wondering) is the metaphysical question.

Metaphysics belongs to the nature of humanity as a basic occurance of Da-sein. Metaphysics is Da-sein. It is not the exclusive province of some academic department. Nor is metaphysics accountable to scientific measurement, it exists primordially far deeper than measurement. Metaphysics is the air in which we breath. And what is philosophy but metaphysics getting under way, meaning our activity of inserting our own existence into the fundamental possibilities of Da-sein as a whole.

Here is the method of philosophy, then. First, that we allow space for beings as a whole; second, that we release ourselves into the nothing, which is to say, that we liberate ourselves from those idols everyone has and to which he is wont to go cringing; and finally, that we let the sweep of our suspense take its full course, so that it swings back into the basic question of metaphysics which the nothing itself compels: "Why are there beings at all, and why not rather nothing?"

this is an audio post - click to play

Martin Heidegger, "What is Metaphysics?" Part 3d

III. The Response to the Question

In classical metaphysics, the origins, legitimacy, and limits of Being are as little discussed as the nothing itself. Yet, Christian metaphysics (Heidegger was trained in and admired scholastic theology) confesses a nothing that is a complete absence of beings apart from God. Indeed, because this is so, the nothing designates the basic conception of beings; by the creative power of God, beings arrive ex nihilo. Unfortunately, Christian metaphysics do not go far enough (and there are questions about its absolute concept of God).

Therefore, we must go beyond classical metaphysics. The nothing is not the indeterminate opposite of beings, as classical metaphysics has claimed, but, rather, reveals itself as belonging to the Being of beings. As Hegel said, “pure Being and pure Nothing are the same.” Being and the nothing belong together because Being itself is essentially finite and reveals itself only in the transcendence of Da-sein which is held out into the nothing. Because the question of the nothing embraces the whole of metaphysics, it forces us to face the problem of the origin of negation - that is to question legitimacy of the rule of “logic” in metaphysics. The classic understanding of metaphysics, built upon the confession ex nihilo nihil fit (from nothing, nothing comes), must become ex nihilo omne ens qua ens fit (from the nothing all beings as beings come to be). Only in the nothing of Da-sein do beings as a whole, in accord with their most proper possibility — that is, in a finite way — come to themselves.

Returning then to our opening comments. Science dictates our modern understanding of existence. Yet, in raising the question of the nothing, we have put this definition of our existence (and with it Science itself) in question. It is plain now that scientific assertions about existence make sense only because being holds itself out into the nothing. The beings which are the object of scientific investigation are only accessible because the nothing is manifest; Science rests on a metaphysical foundation.

Therefore, Science needs to do a double-take. The nothing can no longer be dismissed. Instead, science needs to return to its essential task, which is not to amass and classify bits of knowledge but to disclose in ever-renewed fashion the entire region of truth in nature and history.

this is an audio post - click to play

Martin Heidegger, "What is Metaphysics?" Part 3c

III. The Response to the Question

Negation is not the penultimate witness of the nothing. Logical negation does not go down into Da-sein as far as moods do (ie. "unyielding antagonism" and "stinging rebuke".) These suggest a more fundamental that logic's "negation" cannot reach. Such moods (forces in which Da-sein bears its thrownness without mastering it) are a better explanation of negation than logic's "negation." Reason being that they are by-products of the existential anxiety that is the penultimate witness to the nothing -- although normally repressed by all but the daring (the artist).

In the artist, this fundamental, existential anxiety aligns itself with a "cheerfulness and gentleness of creative longing" which can burst out and exercise absolute control at any moment.

Da-sein, because it is held out into the nothing, is transcendent. meaning that it surpasses beings as a whole. Thus, the inquiry into the nothing is the metaphysical inquiry. This insight, then, goes "beyond" classical metaphysics.

Ancient metaphysics understood the nothing in the sense of nonbeing, that is, unformed matter which cannot take form (be in-formed) and thus cannot offer an outward appearance or aspect (eidos). A being, then, (or, more appropriately that which is in being) was understood to be a self-forming form that exhibits itself as such in an image (as a spectacle).

this is an audio post - click to play

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Martin Heidegger, "What is Metaphysics?" Part 3a

III. The Response to the Question

The nothing makes itself known intimately with and in beings expressly as a slipping away of the whole (which is the context of anxiety). The nothing itself does not attract; it is essentially repelling. This wholly repelling gesture toward beings that are in retreat as a whole is the essence of the nothing: nihilation.

Nihilation discloses [the whole of] beings in their full but heretofore concealed strangeness as what is radically other — with respect to the nothing. In the clear night of the nothing of anxiety the original openness of beings as such arises: that they are beings — and not nothing. There is a revelation of beings in general. [Indeed, Nihilation] brings Da-sein for the first time before beings as such.

Thus, only on the ground of the original revelation of the nothing can human existence approach and penetrate beings. Dasein means: being held out into the nothing.

this is an audio post - click to play

Martin Heidegger, "What is Metaphysics?" Part 2d

II. The Elaboration of the Question

We “hover” in anxiety. [We] away from ourselves. [W]here there is nothing to hold onto, pure Dasein is all that is still there. [So that w]ith the fundamental mood of anxiety we have arrived at that occurrence in human existence in which the nothing is revealed and from which it must be interrogated.

this is an audio post - click to play

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Martin Heidegger, "What is Metaphysics?" Part 2c

II. The Elaboration of the Question

[Where else can we look in our common experiences that may provide access to the whole unity of beings?] “[B]eing attuned, in which we “are” one way or another and which determines us through and through, lets us find ourselves among beings as a whole. [Unfortunately, such moods or feelings ultimately] conceal from us what we are seeking. [What we need is an] original mood which in the most proper sense of unveiling reveals the nothing. Does such an attunement, in which man is brought before the nothing itself, occur in human existence? This can and does occur, although rarely enough and only for a moment, in the fundamental mood of anxiety.

By this anxiety we do not mean the quite common anxiousness, ultimately reducible to fearfulness, which all too readily comes over us. Anxiety is basically different from fear. Much to the contrary, a peculiar calm pervades it. [Anxiety arises as] indeterminateness comes to the fore [and] in this very receding things turn toward us. The receding of beings as a whole that closes in on us in anxiety oppresses us. We can get no hold on things. In the slipping away of beings only this “no hold on things” comes over us and remains. Anxiety reveals the nothing.

this is an audio post - click to play

Martin Heidegger, "What is Metaphysics?" Part 2b

II. The Elaboration of the Question

If the nothing itself is to be questioned as we have been questioning it, then it must be given beforehand. We must be able to encounter it. Where shall we seek the nothing? Where will we find the nothing? In order to find something must we not already know in general that it is there? Indeed! At first and for the most part man can seek only when he has anticipated the being at hand of what he is looking for. [We cannot seek through an investigation of the totality of beings – we are too finite. But we can seek through that experience of that totality in which we live, our common, everyday experience.] No matter how fragmented our everyday existence may appear to be, however, it always deals with beings in a unity of the “whole,” if only in a shadowy way. Even and precisely then when we are not actually busy with things or ourselves this “as a whole” overcomes us — for example in genuine boredom. [Profound] boredom reveals beings as a whole.

this is an audio post - click to play

Monday, April 11, 2005

Martin Heidegger, "What is Metaphysics?" Part 2a

II. The Elaboration of the Question

What is the nothing? Our very first approach to this question has something unusual about it. In our asking we posit the nothing in advance as something that is such and such; we posit it as a being. But that is exactly what it is distinguished from.

the nothing is the negation of the totality of beings; it is nonbeing pure and simple...more original than the “not” and negation.

this is an audio post - click to play

Martin Heidegger, "What is Metaphysics" Part 1a

I. The Unfolding of a Metaphysical Inquiry

“What is metaphysics?” The question awakens expectations of a discussion about metaphysics. This we will forgo. Instead we will take up a particular metaphysical question. In this way it seems we will let ourselves be transposed directly into metaphysics. Only in this way will we provide metaphysics the proper occasion to introduce itself.

Our plan begins with the (a) unfolding of a metaphysical inquiry, then tries to (b) elaborate the question, and concludes by (c) answering it.

this is an audio post - click to play

(Sorry this is read so quickly, I nearly ran out of time!)

Friday, April 08, 2005

Random notes assembled into some order

The following are random "bits" of jottings I've collected over the past six months or more. It occurred to me today that I'm starting to see an overall pattern. I can see it, anyway, though it may not make any sense to someone reading over these without commentary. Anyway, here they are:

The hallmark of Scholastic Philosophy was its subservience to ontotheological religion and religious questions.

The idea that our minds shape our world rather than vice versa was a significant reversal of what had previously been assumed--a ‘Copernican revolution’ in which the active and the passive poles in the construct "What is real" switched places.

There is a change from "What it is," to "How does it go?"; from ontology to technology.

Kant was a psychologist, saying that our understanding of the world derives from the underlying cognitive structure of the human mind. He said the form of outer sensibility is space and the form of inner sensibility is time. Space & time, then, aren't out there but are constructs of our mind that allow us to think.

Metaphysics should be an escape into the blood, not into the void.

Knowledge is only knowledge if it changes the world.

Growth in language increases the stock of available reality.

Can theology express love, tenderness, sex, fear? Can theology be lonely? It can through the Da-sein of the Nazarene. The release of the subjective-I into the freedom of new vowels: Da-sein. New words stretch us out into new places within the Crucified.
Christianity is a way of reading (a trinitarian way)

"The Christian life is one of intense interpretation." Jens Zimmerman

The Bible does not protect us from interpretation. If it did, then it could not go with us into the real living of human life, for human experience is interpreted experience.

"Church theology," is another way of saying human theology, bc human beings are the aim and means of the church.

Liturgy means "the work of the people."

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Martin Heidegger, "What is Metaphysics?" Part 1b

I. The Unfolding of a Metaphysical Inquiry

Science wants to know nothing about the nothing. Yet it
is equally certain that when science tries to express its own
essence, it appeals to the nothing for help. It makes a claim
on what it rejects. What kind of double valence is showing up

By reflecting on our factical existence -- an existence
determined by science -- we find ourselves caught up in a
controversy in which a question has already unfolded. That
question merely needs to be directly asked: What about the

Heidegger's What is Metaphysics Part 1b - click to play

the hermeneutic weakness of Kantian "free will"

Dear Jeff,

Thanks for the helpful breakdown of terminology, for clarity about the will depends on a razor-attention to detail, always realizing the larger effect of each each step taken along the way.

That's why I don't like attempts to apply specifically God's general providence. Luther's blasts against theologies of glory bellow louder and louder with every discussion about "my life and God's providence." I think that Luther's proscription to shut providence up into the barn of soteriology is altogether wise.

Nevertheless, since we are taking time to investigate terminology, isn't it true that we are not only talking about anthropology but also epistemology? Isn't it true that discussions about the will, about whether there is a point of absolute, unhindered willing, a point which is required by Arminianism (unless I am mistaken), are impacted in large degree by our opinion on hermeneutics?

Further, isn't the possibility of free will in a Kantian sense largely dependent upon the ability to know one's possibilities? After all, if my perception of reality is limited in any way, then how can I be said to sit at a neutral point of decision making? Indeed, the more interpretive knowledge becomes, the less I can say that any choice I make is an expression of true, Kantian freedom. For, as Kant writes: "Have courage to use your own understanding!" (emphasis mine).

If you follow out Kant's argument, (Enlightenment) reason becomes the basis of freedom, where reason is the public use of one's own discretion which must (if it is to be free) operate without coercion; "Nothing [no outside, private duty] can weigh on his conscience." Freedom can't abide the smallest coercive pressure or influence.

Since the Enlightenment, this epistemologically neutral point, this reason, is crumbling into a highly nuanced understanding of human epistemology as a completely finite (re: intepretive) function. Epistemology is hermeneutics. And with it, in my opinion, goes any notion of absolute, autonomous, uncoerced, and uhindered willing.


What is Phenomenology?

For many people, the word "phenomenology" is difficult to pronounce and those who hear the word for the first time often ask what it means. The present attempt at an answer is in part methodological but is chiefly historical. It reflects lessons learned in editing the Encyclopedia of Phenomenology, and derives immediately from the Introduction of that work, which contains references to fairly detailed entries on disciplines, individuals, tendencies, etc. The following sections sketch aspects of phenomenology:

Seven Widely Accepted Features of the
Phenomenological Approach

Phenomenologists conduct research in ways that share most of the following positive and negative features.

1. Phenomenologists tend to oppose the acceptance of unobservable matters and grand systems erected in speculative thinking;

2. Phenomenologists tend to oppose naturalism (also called objectivism and positivism), which is the worldview growing from modern natural science and technology that has been spreading from Northern Europe since the Renaissance;

3. Positively speaking, phenomenologists tend to justify cognition (and some also evaluation and action) with reference to what Edmund Husserl called evidenz, which is awareness of a matter itself as disclosed in the most clear, distinct, and adequate way for something of its kind;

4. Phenomenologists tend to believe that not only objects in the natural and cultural worlds, but also ideal objects, such as numbers, and even conscious life itself can be made evident and thus known;

5. Phenomenologists tend to hold that inquiry ought to focus upon what might be called "encountering" as it is directed at objects and, correlatively, upon "objects as they are encountered" (this terminology is not widely shared, but the emphasis on a dual problematics and the reflective approach it requires is);

6. Phenomenologists tend to recognize the role of description in universal, a priori, or "eidetic" terms as prior to explanation by means of causes, purposes, or grounds; and

7. Phenomenologists tend to debate whether or not what Husserl calls the transcendental phenomenological epochê and reduction is useful or even possible.

From the Center for Advance Research in Phenomenology.