Thursday, March 5, 2009

Being and Time Ruminations

I keep coming back to the power of Being and Time. For the next upcoming year, I said I would read this book as part of my New Years resolution. I'm mostly through Part 1. In addition, I have glossed some secondary literature, and I am always surprised at the wide variety of Heideggers available (See commentary on the paradigm shifts of Heidegger research here).

One such interpretation sees philosophy as bringing to light the facticity of human life. Philosophy's purpose is to interpret the concrete particular singularity of human life, that is, to develop a phenomenological approach to the hermeneutics of the facticity of being. As an ethicist, this is an affront on a discipline (and those that practice it--like myself) that would want to make sense of the concrete particular experience as a case for an application of a moral reason (whatever the ground might be for the normativity of that reason-we'll leave that open). Value talk is common-place, but has its power in its abstract and general nature. The more general and ideal a normative reason is, the more range of application over like cases a normative reason possesses. Heideggerian philosophy, on the other hand, thinks of our traditional philosophical concepts as distorted by tradition. This can be seen by looking at the structure of human life.

Human life is characterized by its concernful dealings (what I heard Dreyfus refer to as 'practical coping'). We 'care' about things to the point of circumspection, that is, avoidance of life that has a tendency to simplify life into one massive inauthentic whole. Heidegger describes this as fallen. We allow tradition to overtake our ownmost possiblities in which we interpret our own possibilities in an inauthentic manner. I find this is basically an amoral stance, and comes at the expense of thinking philosophy is only to make the particular and concrete manifest in our experience. Ethics doesn't do that.

Yet, people who want to construct theories of our moral reasoning, and find out exactly what the source of normativity have to navigate a sea of moral intuitions. We inherent a moral code, and as reflective individuals, we weigh the content of our code to see if it stands up to our suggested normative theories. Thus, part -- if not all -- the conceptual resources of ethics goes against the existential emphasis of this reading of Being and Time..

Heidegger did not think highly of the atemporal idealism that found its way into Husserl's phenomenology. However, I am reminded of what John McDowell said of Bernard Williams Internal and External Reasons. He said that some form of transcendence is needed for the ethical, and a rigorous science examining evident acts of cognition cohering together might not be the transcendence we want, it is at least a better candidate than a philosophy that undercuts tradition (our moral code) as an initial inauthentic mode of human comportment. My point is to only shed light on what accepting this might mean. Let's consider it's possible that our moral code might not have all morally good reasons. In it, it might contain moral judgments like 'Abortion is acceptable when the mother's life is in danger' and 'Bullying one's way through life is virtuous way to. Since the moral code is accepted by us as letting tradition overtake our possibilities, the moral code is at odds with the proper aim of a historicized examination of the concrete matters of human life. The moral code just gets in the way of authentic living. In fact, there might not be anything like action-guidance in terms of moral theories, but just some contingent reasons why we think our moral code is as it is. It just so happens that the first proposition is better as traditionally understood rather than the second one. Does this seem acceptable?

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