Archives For phenomenology

The Worldhood of the World

Being-in-the-World has structure. The world is made up of ‘entities’ within the world. We want to see what shows itself in these entities. The first port-of-call is to catalogue things that ‘are’ in the world: houses, trees, people, mountains, stars. This is pre-phenomenological (as everydayness is pre-ontological for Heidegger: ontological is to think about being). So how do we move from a pre-phenomenological state to a phenomenological investigation? We are seeking the Being of those entities which are present at hand within the world. Entities within the world are things. Things can be things of nature and can be things invested with value (the hammer). Being which belongs to Things is substantiality. Asking ontologically about substantiality cannot lead to the phenomenon that is the world:

“Nature is itself an entity which is encountered within the world and which can be discovered in various ways and at various stages.” (p92)

The second port-of-call is to attach ourselves to those entities with which Dasein for the most part dwells. Objects which are invested with value. Thus far we have: ontical depiction of entities within the world and ontological interpretation of their Being. Neither activity propels us further toward the phenomenon of the world. In both these the world has been presupposed.

Worldhood (a structure of one of the constitutive items of Being-in-the-world) is a characteristic of Dasein itself. Dasein is not separate from Worldhood. Failing to see Being-in-the-world as a state of Dasein means that the phenomenon of worldhood gets passed over. Heidegger proposes then that we interpret the world in terms of the Being of those entities which are present at hand within the world but which are not discovered in terms of nature.

Why this rejection of present-at-hand objects proximal to nature?

Three stages of analysis:

1) the analysis of environmentality and worldhood in general
2) an illustrative contrast between our analysis of worldhood and Descartes ontology of the world
3) the aroundness of the environment, and the spatiality of Dasein.

1) the analysis of environmentality and worldhood in general

We have dealings in the world with entities within the world. Rather than a bare perceptual cognition these dealings are the kind of concern which manipulates things and puts them to use.

Conclusion points:

The present at hand view can’t allow the world to show itself.

There is a network of practical relations.

The background of the world is unobtrusive/non-obstinate which is practical and important as we try to do things in the world.

How does the world show itself as phenomenon?

When things go wrong (breakdown cases) the context of equipment (things) is lit up and the world reveals itself.

The overall structure of Being and Nothingness:

Introduction [discussion of Being in-itself (brute matter) and Being for-itself (consciousness)]

1. The Problem of Nothingness
2. Being-for-itself
3. Being-for-others (infamous discussion of ‘the look’ – how different consciousness’ relate to each other)
4. Having, Doing and Being

Conclusion [recognises an ethical dimension of his discussion – the discussion of ‘freedom’. Sartre promises a sequel that will deal with ethics]

First off, the title: Being and Nothingness. These are apparently a duality, or a binary. Sartre uses the term “being” predominantly in the distinctive sense of “what grounds” something (for instance, “the being of consciousness”). So Being means more than ‘what is’ or existence. It is related to the ontology of Heidegger: that is, ontology as the world as we understand it only once we start observing it. He sets this up in his own terms as: Being in-itself (brute matter) and Being for-itself (consciousness).

The spectrum Sartre is steering himself through (the two extremes):

Realism: we can look at objects and determine what’s going on in the phenomena – objective viewing
Idealism: to assimilate all experiences to the consciousness – to ask what is it for something to appear, what is the phenomena of appearing – when something appears it appears to an agent.

We are avoiding the Cartesian duality of subject and object; a continuation of the phenomenological project. Key influences and context:


Bad Faith (Chpt 2 Being and Nothingness) – The Problem of Nothingness

A formula for consciousness: “Consciousness is a being, the nature of which is to be conscious of the nothingness of its being.” At first this is a tongue and mind twister but the implication emerges that we are aware of the things that we are not. We imagine possibilities and through choices veto future transcendences. We view other subjects (or things) as negations, as a prisoner views a jailor, or a slave the master. Other subjects are in the way of future transcendences.

Sartre is contradicting/disagreeing with Husserl here who asserted that to study consciousness and phenomena one has to bracket the presumed existence of the world. Sartre is arguing that consciousness itself implies the existence of the world. To be conscious is to be conscious of something… The task is to make explicit the phenomena of this being-for-itself.

The negatites: approx translation would be negative entities. Whenever anything has a particular determination, lots of other determinations are being denied.

Sartre talks about irony:

“In irony a man annihilates what he posits within one and the same act; he leads us to believe in order not to be believed…” (p47)

So what of negation towards the self? Is it possible to deny oneself? Bad Faith is the attitude in which we find an example of this self-negation and which is essential to human reality. Bad Faith here means to lie to oneself, as distinguished from lying in general.

“But consciousness affects itself with bad faith. There must be an original intention and a project of bad faith; this project implies a comprehension of bad faith as such and a pre-reflective apprehension of consciousness as affecting itself with bad faith. It follows first that the one to whom the lie is told and the one who lies are one and the same person, which means that I must know in my capacity as deceiver the truth which is hidden from me in my capacity as the one deceived. Better yet I must know the truth very exactly in order to conceal it more carefully.” (p49)

The tendency might be to reestablish dualism; to use psychoanalysis and suggest part of our conscious conceals truth from the other part, that there is a line of demarcation. There is a deceiver and deceived. Sartre wants to avoid this. In psychoanalysis Freud marks out the id and the ego. Sartre provides a complex deconstruction of this account of ones relation to oneself. Ultimately Sartre is pressing the implication of the unity of one and the same psychic mechanism and the double activity at its core. Each side of the double activity is complementary; it implies the other in its being.

Patterns of Bad Faith

Bad faith is best described by Sartre as a ‘game of mirrors’. Essentially the subject ( I ) is constituted by what it is not and Bad Faith is the mechanism by which this relationship to what is not is in a constantly active state.

“To cause me to be what I am, in the mode of “not being what one is,” or not to be what I am in the mode of “being what one is.” ” (p66)

This is related to the idea that a subject can transcend what they are Being at any given time i.e. you are never fully yourself, and there are potential/possible other ‘you’s’ which are similarly constituted by what they are not. If you were yourself in the way an ink-well is an ink-well (to use Sartre’s example) you could only ever be ‘yourself’ as inanimate and unchanging. Sartre is inferring that we are always rising to an ideal and always in a state of change. Sartre uses two key examples to extrapolate this: the woman who consents to go on a date with a man, and the waiter in a cafe.

The woman who consents to go on a date with a man for the first time is fully aware of his sexual intensions. She also knows that sooner or later she will confirm or deny his intensions. However, social relations deem that she does not need to nor want to realise an urgency to this situation; she need only concern herself with what is respectful and discreet and un-pressured. She disarms the man’s subtext or comments by taking him as restricted to what his behaviour reflects at the present moment. The temporal development of his conduct is kept out of focus. Being aware of the desire which she inspires and at the same time being embroiled in ‘Bad Faith’ creates a dualism:

“In order to satisfy her, there must be a feeling which is addressed wholly to her personality – i.e., to her full freedom – and which would be a recognition of her freedom. But at the same time this feeling must be wholly desire; that is, it must address itself to her body as object.” (p55)

Though it is being argued that she is in bad faith, the point is that she is employing certain procedures to maintain that bad faith. Bad Faith is in constant play and not a singularity to be presently reflected upon by the subject. In the case of the waiter, the waiter performs his duties as if acting out a rehearsed play. He is investigating what it is to move around the cafe and wait on tables. His condition is wholly one of ceremony. The waiter limits himself to the performative actions of waiting tables in the cafe and so denies all other possible states of consciousness at that particular moment; thereby acting out bad faith. The idea here is not that he cannot reflect on this particular act of bad faith but that he allows his condition oand knows the rights which it allows him. Being the waiter is a representation for others and for the waiter himself.

“I am a waiter in the mode of being what I am not.” (p60)

These writings are from a lecture series given by Husserl in Paris in 1931. At this point Husserl is a well developed philosopher and intellectual on the European scene. Phenomenology has already spawned many students and variations including Husserl’s own student Martin Heidegger.

Cartesian Meditations

Transcendental phenomenology stems from the Cartesian impulse and attitude; that is, to revise all presumptive methodologies of science and philosophy. This means that it also rejects Cartesian thought itself. Descartes aimed to reform philosophy into a science grounded on an absolute foundation (epistemology – cogito and/or God). Descartes was searching for absolute insights, insights behind which one cannot go back any further. This causes the turn towards the subject himself (cogito ergo sum); a turn which is made at two significant levels. First is for the subject to strip himself of all previous assumptive knowledges and to build anew the sciences from the ground up. The philosopher must have his own absolute insights. A view that he can answer from at any step. So for the subject to strip himself of knowledge and start from a point of poverty is in effect the cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am). This is a clear methodology, it is a normative approach. The second sense of the turn to the self is the way in which the philosopher executes this regress via doubt. When something cannot be doubted it can be posited as an absolute; a foundation.

Where does Husserl go from this Cartesian starting point?

He starts by questioning or rejecting that science can be idealized; grounded in an absolute. He does not renounce the general aim of grounding science absolutely, but rather states that one can not assume that this is necessary or achievable.

“According to intention, therefore, the idea of science and philosophy involves an order of cognition, proceeding from intrinsically earlier to intrinsically later cognitions; ultimately, then, a beginning and a line of advance that are not to be chosen arbitrarily but have their basis ‘in the nature of things themselves’.” (Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, p12)

Husserl becomes focused on the order of cognition. Where does the scientific investigation start? Science is governed by the idea of a definitive system of knowledge. There is epistemology which looks at the structure of this system and its characteristics, but then there is also the ‘boundless infinity’ of prescientific experiences.

Husserl can be complex in his exposition and so I’m going to strive to unravel this thought process. The extract is long and suggests itself to be an important set-up for all phenomenology study ahead:

“Any evidence is a grasping of something itself that is, or is thus, a grasping in the mode ‘it itself”, with full certainty of its being, a certainty that accordingly excludes every doubt. But it does not follow that full certainty excludes the conceivability that what is evident could subsequently become doubtful, or the conceivability that being could prove to be illusion – indeed, sensuous experience furnishes us with cases where that happens. Moreover, this open possibility of becoming doubtful, or of non-being, in spite of evidence, can always be recognized in advance by critical reflection on what the evidence in question does. An apodictic evidence, however, is not merely certainty of the affairs or affair complexes (states of affairs) evident in it: rather it discloses itself, to a critical reflection, as having the signal peculiarity of being at the same time the absolute unimaginableness (inconceivability) of their non-being, and thus excluding in advance every doubt as “objectless”, empty. Furthermore the evidence of that critical reflection likewise has the dignity of being apodictic, as does therefore the evidence of the unimaginableness of what is presented with evident certainty. And the same is true of every critical reflection at a higher level.” (Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, p16)

The ego cogito as transcendental subjectivity (p18 Cartesian Meditations)

This chapter begins the exposition proper on the subject (ego cogito) as the ultimate basis for judgments. The regress has brought us to a point where we have neither a science that we accept nor a world that exists for us. The world only claims being:

“Moreover, that affects the intramundane existence of all other Egos, so that rightly we should no longer speak communicatively, in the plural.” (p19) -extramundane-

Communication with the world takes place only by virtue of the subjects (my) esnsory experience. So no structure inthe sense of language etc. The whole surrounding life-world is only a phenomenon of being, stripped of all supplementary meanings and interpretations and structure.

Question: Husserl posits the phenomenon of being as different to something that is. How are these two phrases or states in opposition or different? Possibly the phenomenon of being claims existence, as opposed to something that is, simply just is?? Phenomenon of being appears to have a normative quality, whereas something that is has a descriptive quality.

Husserl is taking Descartes starting point and rolling it back to the point of no longer accepting the natural belief in existence which accompanies experiencing the world. The similarity to which I cannot yet fully reconcile as different to Descartes is the focus on ‘my noticing regard’; i.e. the fact that the subject is consciously functioning in the first place. Husserl summarizes with a distinction between ‘concrete subjective processes’ and the philosophizing Ego which practices abstention with respect to what he intuits. (p20) To abstain from intuition implies that intuition itself has undesirable structure which clouds analysis of the phenomenon of Being.