Thursday, June 25, 2009

Meditation on Steven's Thirteen Blackbirds

Of the several explored so far, I love this poem. But my tastes are peculiar some might say. Let me start by explaining my starting methodology.

In phenomenology, we look at how experiences avail themselves without presupposing anything about the phenomena under reflection. In this way, aspects of the world come into view, but never the world as whole. Instead, experience is likened to a field (as in Merleau-Ponty), with each field availing itself in our reflective attention to the implicit structures that we commonly taken for granted. In acts of perception, objects of perception are never revealed with all sides showing. There is always some profile of the object kept from us. When approaching a table, I only see the top when looking directly down on it. If I walk around it, only two legs are showing while the other two are concealed from my vantage point.

In the same way, poetry can be an exercise to let phenomena avail themselves, and this is what, I feel, Stevens achieves. He is a phenomenologist about blackbirds, letting various experiences of the blackbird reveal themselves in our experience. Each stanza is fragmented, only unified by the fact that the poet is paying attention to the various experiences of blackbirds either perceptually or symbolically.

In I, we open to a still vista of snowy mountains. If you've skied, say Vermont, you will know that winter is silent, and cold. The stillness of snow lies in its blanket whiteness across the horizon of my vision at the top of the mountain. Stark contrasting colors stand out, brought into relief by the blanket whitenss of snow. If a blackbird gazed at me in this still whiteness, I would feel it, too, was “the only moving thing.”

In IV, I perplexed, and for good reason. How is that men and women are united by poets? Usually, love is the answer. In this case, a man and women are first united. Then, the blackbird is united with them. In this case, perhaps, men and women are one in aspects of love, but are further unified in the existential realization that human lives are finite, experiencing their own mortality in the symbolism of the unity with the blackbird.

In VI, moods are disclosed in moments where moods have cognitive content, at least in Heidegger. They have a primordial relationship to experience as they tend to fill out and “color” my experience in general. Jagged wild icicles carve up my field of vision in the window, and eery shadows move crossing my visual field “to and fro.”

In XII, we see a river moving, and the blackbird is said to be flying. Objects are given only in relation to a nexus of other objects, or so say the phenomenologists. My leaning on the bed with the computer is for blogging which presupposes the keyboard to share my thoughts. In this experience, I my blogging, the computer screen and the keyboard all give rise to sharing my thoughts. In the same way, when the river moves, it appears to move in relation to those that can see it, as a blackbird flying above it. Yet, viewing the river moving must be actively viewed from the top of it. As such, when the river moves, so too does the flier perceiving it.

Just some thoughts.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Wonderful Critical Thinking Video

I might use this someday in a critical thinking class.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Simon Critchley Introduces The Public to Being and Time

Yup, that's right. Simon Critchley is introducing the public to Being and Time. Check it out here.

Father's Day

As secular holidays go, one of my favorites is Father's Day. Although I am almost 30 (in six days), I do not have any children yet. My Father and I took a ride up into Tionesta, PA, and sat reading. There were sharp divisions between us. I pulled out a book on Husserlian phenomenology, and my father had a book by Conservative media pundit, Mark Levin. As we hiked down to the lake, he said as I politely put his book into my messenger bag, "Won't that contaminate your books?" I laughed, and said "You'd better carry this chair. Your book is weighing down my intelligence." We jibed at our respective differences not forgetting the bond we've always had.

When I think about it, I get a lot from my father. He's incredibly political, as I am. He always taught me the value of voting, and being part of one's community. I chose to study political science in addition to philosophy because of the instilled love of the political. When I found my own voice, as people often do in philosophy, I soon realized I disagreed sharply with him on many issues. For one, I do not ground religion and morality together as Baptists do, nor do I revere tradition in the same way. However, I like older stuff. I like Aristotle, and jibe back that I am even more conservative than him!

In the end, Father's Day is a lovely gesture. Without my father, I could never be where I am going. My father has always been an inspiration. When he said goodbye to me after we had moved in all my dorm stuff my freshman year, he hugged me, and said, "Make good choices." That's all he said. I have always loved how fathers and sons keep it simple.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Answering Khadimir

“First, all four irreducible factors of disclosure are always present; something is not disclosed in just one of them. Speaking of them separately is done for articulation via phenomenological reduction, and because each has its own structures and modalities as disclosed in disclosure.”

In your view of Heidegger, all factors are irreducible and are necessary for disclosure. Phenomena are not disclosed if they do not share in the four characteristics of disclosure: language, mood, fallenness and understanding. I want to take apart disclosure, and see if these are always necessary. Certainly, anything that occurs to the understanding will need to have content, and content is always linguistically framed for Heidegger, yet I doubt that is true that all content can be put into language (I’m reminded of Gadamer’s often cited, ‘That being which is understood is language’).

First, let’s draw a distinction between existential propositions which are propositions about the conditions of human existence as revealed in phenomenological descriptions, and secondly, the normal sense of propositions as declarative statements made about the state of affairs. To think about existential propositions resultant from existential phenomenological analysis requires additional doctrines that Heidegger does not spell out. Let’s see this in the case of moods.

When Heidegger asks about the nothing, he had the serious purpose of examining nothing as it related to the anxiety. Anxiety is a mood that targets existence as a whole. In that anxiety, the world falls away, and one is left with meaninglessness. Moreover, this anxiety is whole, and precludes the possibility of separating any part out of this meaninglessness. We cannot look to a part and see what this meaninglessness is about since it is about the whole so to speak (Richard Polt, 1999, p. 124). Moods are revelatory for Heidegger, that is, they can be put into language and be described phenomenologically. These moods form the backdrop, forming a condition of what it is to have judgments about the world or even think about it at all.

These moods are nonpropositional. They are more conditions of existence for Heidegger than to put it mildly, the locus of attention which grounds our meditations on intentionality in previous blogposts (that seems to be how we are using the term). My only point, now, is that nonpropositional content could never be revelatory, as Heidegger assumes it to be, since its content would take a different form than would be translateable if understanding was not intentionality. In such a case, intentionality must be present, even more so than you acknowledge. The very fact that we can describe moods as revelatory commits us to a cognitivism about the subjective judgments we make phenomenologically. Such a view can only be made consistent by the cognitivism resultant from intentionality. As such, the only candidate I find in the four categories that can account for the fact that moods are revelatory of the conditions of existence stem from the importance of understanding them. Disclosure qua mood occurs only from the fact that I am capable of understanding what at first is nonpropositional, but then I put it into a propositional, that is, linguistic form.

To put it formally, cognitivism is necessary to maintain 1) Moods are nonpropositional and 2) Moods can be described in language (as they can be made into existential propositions). Denying 2) would mean that one could not be a phenomenologist, and 1) is warranted by the fact that it is a condition of the whole of existence, not any part we can talk about. However, cognitivism is not sufficient on its own for both 1), 2) and cognitivism to be true. Instead, only intentionality is both necessary and sufficient to maintain the truth of cognitivism and 1) and 2). In Husserl’s analysis, we identify the implicit constitutive intentionality that we are not aware of (here would be the example of moods). At the implicit level, we would encounter phenomena as nonpropositional, and that’s all Heidegger has done, it seems. He has mistaken a phenomena as manifesting only partially. The fact that we can describe in content the fact that there is an implicit intentional structure explains how we can describe nonpropositional content into cognitivist phenomenological descriptions. Now, let’s move on to the next point I want to make. I your passage from BT as:

‘Dasein always understands itself in terms of its existence—in terms of a possibility of itself: to be itself or not itself. Dasein has either chosen these possibilities itself, or got itself into them, or grown up in them already. Only the particular Dasein decides its existence, whether it does so by taking hold or by neglecting. The question of existence never gets straightened out except through existing itself. The understanding of oneself which leads along this way we call ‘existentiell’’. (33; 12-13)”

There is still room to equate understanding with intentionality when we keep in mind that Husserl largely meant the term ‘intentionality’ as anything that appears to consciousness, even our implicit awareness or non-awareness of our body must appear to us in some way. Gaining access to that modality of appearing before consciousness is, as far as I know, the only way we can make sense of existential propositions. By necessity, we must be conscious-of the world in some small degree, and this appearance-enabling condition is what is meant by intentionality. Let’s move on to the next point I wanted to make.

Finally, I like your re-use of my tendency to symbolize. You say,

”So, if I must use As and Bs, A) disclosure is dependent upon the existential context, yet what is understood depends on the history of one's prior understandings B). Yet the history B) depends on the available existential contexts A). In neither case need intentionality be invoked, for it is not relevant to he discussion until we specify a specific context, understanding, history, etc. So, neither A nor B is primary.”

Here, I wonder how we are using primary. I believe I was the first to use that term, and by primary I meant that X is a precondition that enables disclosure.

3) Disclosure is dependent upon the existential context (such that by existential context we mean the history of one’s prior understanding.

4) History of one’s prior understanding depends on the available existential contexts.

I think you are saying that Dasein moves between 3 and 4 quite easily without any mention of intentionality. We can simply describe what is disclosed, and the historical involvement as mitigated by existential contexts. Yet, given that the enabling-appearance condition of intentionality must be met to have access to the world, then disclosure cannot happen if we do not have access to its appearance before consciousness, and while context might constrain some aspects of what comes before consciousness, it does nothing to the truth that intentionality enables access to the historical involvement in the world.

In summary, I have equated understanding to be but one mode of intentionality. The thought is that the Seinsfrage of Heidegger privileges just one overall aspect of our complex intentional life, and the question that I began asking about privileging this intentional modality as the only way of answering the question of Being still strikes me as odd. Other avenues in answering the question of Being might be available, I just don’t know. I speculate a more fully grounded description from Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology of the various intentional structures might be a better avenue into the question of Being.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Distinctions of Value

I like Adrienne Martin's overall distinctions about what is meant by value. Here's the blog post over at PEA Soup.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Privileging the Heideggerian Mode of Intentionality?

One limiting feature of existential phenomenology is its insistence that the fore-structure of our encounter with the world is only understanding. Now, it may be my naivete, but that claims sounds pretty much like Husserlian intentionality. It is, for me, one modality of intentionality we can take up. The sphere of our conscious life is more variegated than just that type of modality. All Heidegger does is privilege one modality of how we are aware of the world, and with Husserl one can get to the content of our experiences rather than just seeing the shape of consciousness rather than content.

For me, this exploration of the givenness of content cuts all the way down, and elucidates more of our experience than Heideggerians can hope to achieve. Of course, I think they have larger concerns than I know here about the transcendental motif. I would like to hear what others have to say on this point. Wink, wink, hint, hint:

In my reading of Heidegger, I interpreted being-in-the-world as the basic comportment of understanding, thinking this is a transcendental analysis--thus drawing more links to the indebtedness to Husserl than many Heideggerians acknowledge. Of course, this is a contentious area of exegesis and criticism. Heidegger's exploration of being-in-the-world is, as I know, not very content-oriented from the standpoint of the transcendental ego meditating on its own intentional awareness but Dasein looking back on its action-orientation in the world. However, I question this motif. Why deny the transcendental motif of the egological activity we're aware of for one type of intentional modality? What is so special about this type of intentionality that gives us a way to access the question of Being?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Critchley on Happiness

Simon Critchley defends an Aristotelian old picture of the Good Life as the contemplative life in a NY Times article.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dual-Experience Physicians from US and Canada

Here's an interesting study comparing physicians' perspective about health care with dual-experience in Canada and the United States.

The Limit of the Public Good

It seems unethical to let people suffer, and easing people's economic hardship is one avenue to positively fulfill one's duty of not letting people suffer. However, it is easier said than done, and how do we determine the limits of our charitable efforts?

I have a set of worries though. Most of these worries revolve around how we keep funding the status-quo previously failing institutions and inheriting a massive public debt that tests the resilence of our economy to the point that even China is getting nervous.

Now, I'll say it up front and center, I have immediate family that benefit from a surviving GM. That said, I still wonder how the government will oversee a company in circumstances that may collide. Will GM collide with the government environmental incentive to better gas mileage and profitablity if the R&D costs more than selling cars that meet better gas mileage? What happens then?

Will the management culture change, and if so, what direction will they take MY company. Let's face's now my company!

If the government maintains an active interest in the success of its investment, will that cause Chrysler and GM to unfairly pull its resources that undermine free-market competition? Ford might not be OK, but will it thrive if its competitors are given strings of support.

So, the philosophical question boils down to finding the moral limit of economic intervention of the state to its domestic economic actors...That's a question in the case of GM I'm to close to have a solid answer. Yet, it should be thrown on the table for discussion if anyone has any solid proposals of how to determine that limit.