Open Letter to Stephen Hicks

seddon's picture
Submitted by seddon on Sat, 2012-03-24 14:00

Dear Stephen
You know I’ve recommended your book, Explaining Postmodernism, on my blog, Lately I’ve been re-reading your section devoted to Heidegger (it is always so nice to spend time with your mind) and I thought I would let you know how I read Heidegger and why my reading differs from yours. Hopefully, we’ll get to talk more about this at the summer seminar.
You write on p. 57 that Heidegger accomplished two things in his philosophy. He joined together “speculative metaphysics and the irrational epistemological.” I would put it this way. Heidegger heralded the end of metaphysics (he frequently calls Nietzsche the last metaphysician) and thought the whole epistemological move inaugurated by Descartes was a mistake and he refused to play the epistemological game. Instead he was interested in and devoted his whole life (that’s a little hyperbolic) to investigating what Aristotle called, “being qua being.”
Your interpretation of Heidegger may suffer from the fact that in the 10 pages you devote to him (58-67) you never mention his magnum opus, Being and Time.
This is akin to giving a ten page précis of the philosophy of Ayn Rand without mentioning Atlas Shrugged or Galt’s speech. Let me give some examples of the hazards of neglecting Being and Time.
On p. 60 you write that Heidegger defines “Da-sein as “being projected into Nothing.” You then go on to examine the “being projected” of Da-sein. But that is not the whole truth about Da-sein. In Being and Time we are told that Da-sein IS time and therefore in order to understand him we have to understand how he is a past-present-future being, i.e., Da-sein is thrown, fallen, projected being. Or to put it another way, Da-sein is “existence . . . [future], facticity . . . [past], falling prey. . . [present].” (German 250) Your “definition” seems short by two thirds.
You then go on to claim that Heidegger wants us to think of Da-sein as an activity rather than as “a subject and an object. . .“ But it is not the case that Heidegger thinks the “subject/object” distinction is false and Da-sein as time is true. Rather the question in Being and Time is one of the primordial vs. the derivative. For example, physics is not false; chemistry is not false; biology is not false. These disciplines are simply not as primordial or basic as what is revealed by Heidegger’s Da-sein analytic.
This notion of the primordial also provides an answer to your section entitled “Setting aside reason and logic.” Let me do logic first. Heidegger distinguishes between two meanings of the word logic, but he is not always careful to tell us that he is doing so. The one he “bashes” is what he occasionally calls “scholastic logic,” and he means the textbook logic taught by professors like you and me to semi-literate freshman. But the other notion of logic has his enthusiastic support. By this other meaning of logic he has in mind such works as the Analytics of Aristotle, the Science of Logic by Hegel, the Logical Investigations of Husserl among others. Today we would call this “the philosophy of logic.” So it is at least misleading to say that Heidegger wants to set aside logic.
But here, Stephen, some of the blame belongs to Heidegger for not always or usually using a qualifying adjective that lets the reader know exactly what kind of logic he is referring to. So when Heidegger writes that logic can’t handle the Nothing, he means Logic 101, and not the kind of logic mentioned above. For more on this distinction, you might want to consult his book Logic: The Question of Truth especially § 3 “A philosophizing logic and traditional scholastic logic.” Here I cannot resist provides some clear and rather vitriolic comments from Heidegger on ‘scholastic logic.’
“’scholastic logic’ . . . is a form of sloth, kept alive by custom and by off-the-record academic arrangements and desire. It is also a fraud. Scholastic logic is a form of sloth tailor-made for instructors. . . .It is a fraud perpetrated on the students. They are trapped for a whole semester studying stuff of utterly dubious value. . . .It is beneath the dignity of the university as a place of questioning and searching.” (10) Reminds me of Nietzsche!
As for reason. On this topic, you like to contrast reason in the sense used by the Enlightenment with the irrationalism you see in the postmodern thinkers. Heidegger comes off an as enemy of reason and science. But you might want to check out “Modern Science, Metaphysics, and Mathematics,” in his book What is a Thing in which one can find, in surprisingly clear prose, a snapshot of Heidegger on science. This short essay is included in Basic Writings, pp. 247-286 (pp. 66-108 in What is a Thing.) And what does he do on these pages? Does he bash science vis-à-vis some type of irrationalism? Not hardly. What he does is offer a comparison of Aristotle vs. Newton. Of particular interest to Objectivists is his recognition that in Aristotle’s philosophy of nature, the nature of an object determines what it can do. “According to Aristotle the basis for natural motion lies in the nature of the body itself, in its essence, in its proper Being.” (262) But with Newton, “Nature is no longer the inner principle out of which the motion of body follows. . .” (264) In this “battle” between Aristotle and Newton, which thinker is the irrationalist? I say, “Neither.”
Also, you quote Heidegger is a very misleading way. For example, you write that for Heidegger reason is the “most stiff-necked adversary of thought.” (60) When, say, an Objectivist reads this he thinks of “reason” in Rand’s sense of that term and is probably unaware that “thought” is a technical piece of Heideggerian terminology. He then is led to think badly of Heidegger. But restoring the context clears this up.
In the paragraph that immediately precedes the one from which you quoted, we find the enemy, i.e., those who think they can get to the supersensible using pure reason. Heidegger sees “pure reason” (in Kant’s sense) as an enemy of thought that goes back to Plato. If I were to re-write the sentence you quoted in a more perspicuous form, I would write, “Platonic pure reason is the most stiff-necked adversary of thought.” Objectivists surely would agree with Heidegger. And it fits in nicely with Heidegger’s constant complain against the tradition and its forgetfulness of his favorite question, the question of the meaning of Being-as-Being.
In sum, what one gets in Heidegger is a privileging of ontology over science, but hardly a dissing of reason and science.
You also make an accusation on p. 64 where you write that he combines “Judeo-Christian and Hegelian metaphysics.” So let me talk about Hegel. Again I think a reading of Being and Time would be helpful here, since Heidegger does address Hegel by name and in some detail. Hegel is one of the four philosophers most referred to in Being and Time, the others being Aristotle, Descartes and Kant. Hegel comes in for some hard knocks in Being and Time. To take one example. In section 82 Heidegger compares Hegel’s theory of time with his own and naturally he prefers his own theory. But a point in your favor; over the years Heidegger softened his position toward Hegel, allowing him into his inner sanctum of companions on the road to thought. But he was always against metaphysics (by which he meant two-world metaphysics).
But there appears no such evolution vis-à-vis Aristotle, who was always much admired by Heidegger. The decade of the 20s saw Heidegger devoting much study and many lectures to Ayn Rand’s favorite thinker. There are two books on the relationship between Heidegger and Aristotle: Water A. Brogan’s Heidegger and Aristotle: the Twofoldness of Being, and Wiliam McNeill’s The Glance of the Eye. (The former is a much clearer read.) And as to the importance of Being and Time and Heidegger’s closeness to Aristotle, you ought to check out Franco Volpi’s essay, BEING AND TIME: A Translation of the Nicomachean Ethics?, printed in Reading Heidegger from the Start. Even when Heidegger is reading a dialogue by Plato, e.g., Plato’s SOPHIST, he starts with 130! pages devoted Aristotle’s NE, Book VI. For he accepts “The basic principle of hermeneutics: from the clear to the obscure. From Aristotle to Plato.” (Plato’s SOPHIST 7) Let me conclude this section on Aristotle with an emendation of your statement that Heidegger’s philosophy is an integration of “the truth of Judeo-Christian and Hegelian metaphysics.” (64) Heidegger’s philosophy is a “thinking in the style of Aristotle.” Heidegger sometimes talks about Aristotle as a hermeneuticist! “Aristotle’s Rhetoric must be understood as the first systematic hermeneutic of the everydayness of being-with-one-another.” (Being and Time 138)
Another example of Heidegger’s connection to Aristotle provides a transition to the next topic I would like to discuss; “Emotions as revelatory.” (62) In this section you talk about the emotions as if they were topics in, if not epistemology, at least in psychology. But Heidegger warns us that he is not talking about emotions as they are dealt with in psychology (or epistemology). Psychology is one of the three sciences from which he distinguishes his problematic (Section 10). You go on to talk about the emotions of “boredom, fear, guilt and dread.” Heidegger speaks rather of attunement and, more specifically, moods. And why does Heidegger claim that this is not psychology? Heidegger is following the man himself, Aristotle. He writes, “It is not a matter of chance that the first traditional and systematically developed interpretations of the affects [emotions] is not treated in the scope of ‘psychology.’ Aristotle investigated the pathe in the second book of his Rhetoric.” (138) And Aristotle knew what he was doing.
I see that this letter is getting overlong, so let me conclude with one downside of my reading. If I am correct about Heidegger, it provides a rupture in your overall narrative. And I don’t know what is to be done about that. Maybe you could skip Heidegger, but alas, he is soooo big it would appear as a gash rather than as a nick. Or maybe, like Rand, he could be presented as the exception to the rule. But the problem with that move is he is definitely a major influence on so many post-modern thinkers, e.g., Derrida, Foucault and Rorty, as you point out on p. 58. And then again, maybe I’m just wrong.


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seymourblogger's picture

Thanks for this post.

For your information it was studying Heidegger that led Foucault to Nietzsche and on to the genealogy method. Foucault's toolbox. You are on the right track here.

As for "emotion" may I suggest you peruse the Schacter - Singer experimental work in psychology. That it is the labeling of the neurological response that determines whether it be exciting or an anxious feeling. Of great help when working with children, or caretaking and parenting them.

Of course this is all Polish to our dear administrator. Nice that you didn't even have to encrypt it. His label of Nazi determined his reading of your reading.


seddon's picture

Stephen sent me an email encouraging me to narrow my focus just a bit. Here is what he said, “So I would ask whether you think my presentation of his views as presented in ‘What Is Metaphysics?’ is true to Heidegger.” And that is what I will do in this post. And since I like the “open letter” format I will continue in that style.

Well, Stephen, unless I miscounted, something I do regularly on my income tax return, you quoted “What is Metaphysics,” 11 times and the page numbers are referenced in footnotes 3, 8, 10, 12-18, and 21. I will cite the footnotes for convenience instead of page numbers.

Footnote #3

You write, “Heidegger explained his choice of ‘Da-Sein’ by defining it as follows: ‘Da-Sein’ means being projected into Nothing.’ . . . it is the being projected which is Da-Sein—not that, if anything, which is projected or does the projecting. The emphasis is on activity, thus avoiding assumption that there are two things, a subject and an object, that enter into a relationship.”
Now while it is true that Heidegger finds the ‘subject-object’ dichotomy to be less primordial than anything revealed by his Da-Sein analytic, I never got the impression he is trying to substitute Da-Sein as activity for Da-Sein as being or thing. In fact on p 46 of Being and Time he writes, “. . .we are not being terminologically idiosyncratic when we avoid these terms [subject, the soul, consciousness, the spirit, the person.] . . . in designating the beings that we ourselves are.” (Emphasis added)
Footnote # 8 (and 10)
In the text you talk about “contradiction is the sign that we’re on to something important” and in the note “see for example pp. 245-6. This all occurs in a section entitled ‘Setting aside reason and logic.’ Since I dealt with that at length in my original open letter, I think I let that stand and move on. We can always return to this in a future exchange.

Footnote # 12-18

The next 7 footnotes all occur in the ‘Emotions as revelatory’ section, and my first concern is with the word “emotion.” I addressed this in my first post and will simply reiterate here that “emotion” is misleading since it covers over the fact that Heidegger is doing fundamental ontology and not psychology. In fact, he addresses this in the Introduction to WM written in 1949. He asked about anxiety in particular a rather sarcastic (I hear it that way) and rhetorical question. “What does such dread, . . . have to do with psychology or psychoanalysis?” (269) Of course, you could always raise the question, “Should we believe Heidegger?”
Footnotes #12-16 deal in the main with quotations from Heidegger about various moods and lead you to the conclusion, “That the ultimate revelation is of the truth of the Judeo-Christian and Hegelian metaphysics.” For the first, see the text to footnote #18 below. As for the latter, Heidegger does cite as “correct” the famous line from Hegel’s The Science of Logic, “Pure Being and Pure Nothing are thus one and the same.” But you stop short and do not mention that Heidegger go on to qualify his statement with the following, “Being and Nothing hang together, . . . but not because the two things . . . are one in their indefiniteness and immediateness, but because Being itself is finite in essence and is only revealed in the Transcendence of Da-Sein as projected into Nothing.” This hardly seem to make Hegel into (part of) an “ultimate revelation.”

Footnote #18

You write, “As Heidegger put it in re-affirming that Judeo-Christian claim, “every being, so far as it is a being, is made out of nothing.” But this sentence occurs at the bottom of 255 after being set up in a two paragraph context (254-255)I in which he is claiming that how “Classical metaphysics” and “Christian dogma” deal with the Nothing and he finds them both wanting. He writes, “In both cases, the questions concerning Being (Sein sic) and Nothing as such remain unasked.” (255) So I read him as not “re-affirming that Judeo-Christian claim,” but rather rejecting it. In general, and in a hardly modest way, he asserts that no one gets the Nothing right but him! Not the Greeks, not the Christians, not Kant nor Hegel.

Let me close with a quotation from Heidegger’s 1943 Postscript to WM that anticipates your claim that he wants us to set aside logic. On p. 255 he writes that the “chief misgivings and misconceptions to which the lecture [WM] gives rise may be grouped under three headings.” The third heading is as follows: “The lecture declares itself against ‘logic.’ But since reason contains the criteria for all calculation and classification, this kind of thinking delivers all judgements regarding the truth up to a chance mood. A ‘Philosophy of Dread’ paralyses the will to act.”



seddon's picture

Heidegger is an Aristotle freak.



Lindsay Perigo's picture

I'm on my third reading of Hicks's updated book. I find it invaluable. I'm only at P 42, so haven't got to the Heidegger section. But if you could encapsulate the point of your open letter in a sentence, what would it be? That one should treat this gibberish-touting Nazi leniently?

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