ethics, learning, levinas, other

Ipseity and Illeity, or Thinking Ethics without the Other of the Other

Faceless Care

In conversation three of Ethics and Infinity, Levinas recounts the philosophical and existential implications of the il y a, the ‘there is’ or what he calls the “phenomenon of impersonal being” (48). The “there is” is many things at the same time: it is a belief, a feeling, an experience and even an affect (the source of the Judaic affect proper to one of philosophy’s “turns” in the 20th century) on one side and an ontological claim, an objective state of affairs, and even the (proto-)origin of Being and Nothingness on the other.

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being, heidegger, ontology, science

Ontology and Science

We could say that Heidegger’s introduction to Being and Time is rigorous and formalized to the extreme, like any other great (self-satisfied) German philosopher. Yet Heidegger also denounces any smack of self-satisfaction that would creep up in a philosophico-ontological investigation. What I want to do here in this short essay is to illuminate how Heidegger formulates the question of Being through Dasein, what this has to do with the ontological tradition and its destruction, and also what Heidegger thinks this has to do with the foundations of any science whatsoever. Due to the shortness of this essay, I will attempt to articulate these concerns simultaneously (bear with me).

Heidegger mentions that the structure of an explicit questioning does not become explicit until all the constitutive factors have become transparent (5). It is in this sense that Heidegger analyzes the Being of Dasein insofar as the latter is equivalent with the inquirer par excellence. Thus the elucidation of Being requires that the entity with a pre-ontological understanding of Being (Dasein) be analyzed explicitly. Heidegger will also talk about this as the existential analytic of Dasein or as the hermeneutic of Dasein, since this hermeneutic is the possibility for any ontology or any analytic of the existentiality of existence (38).

However, this question cannot become explicit until a few fundamental concerns are addressed. For example, Dasein’s pre-ontological understanding of Being is only possible because of the former’s being-in-the-world. In other words, for the existential analytic of existence to become fully transparent, Dasein’s ontical constitution (i.e. it’s being in a world) must be taken as the standpoint from which any ontological relevance is to be fathomed. This is why he claims that the roots of the existential analytic of Dasein are existentiell/ontical. Only through existence itself (our existentiell belonging to a world) can existentiality be analyzed into existential data (suitable for the foundation of a real ontology).

Some of Heidegger’s claims become more understandable when we present them in this way. For example, he argues that this analytic of Dasein is only possible through a “radicalization…of the pre-ontological understanding of Being” (15). In other words, since the world is reflected ontologically in Dasein, the latter’s everyday experiences in the former (its ontical constitution) must be taken as data from which to set out upon our quest to rigorously found an ontology. Another way of saying this is to claim that the question of Being must become historiological (42).

What does historicity/historiology imply though? In a sense, if historicality is the basis of any history whatsoever, historiology is involved with the way in which history is passed down through tradition along with the way in which this passing becomes concealed or self-evident in its movement from generation to generation. This is precisely where the question of the destruction of the ontological tradition comes to bear its philosophical fruits. For example, when Heidegger claims that ontology must be self-critical, he is not saying this in an arbitrary way, but he means that for any science whatsoever to evolve in its field, it must takes its problematic historiologically, i.e. it must become suspicious about the traditions that promote it so as not to lose sight of the fundamental question of Being that gets so easily concealed (36). Another example—which is really not an example but a way of reading Heidegger’s project through his reading of others, here Kant—becomes more clear when we read that Heidegger faults Kant for merely presupposing the relations between time and the “I think,” which he has inherited from Descartes. Kant’s procedure is not historiological since it doesn’t question the sources from which he obtains his arguments about the subject, nor does he make Being into a question (this is obvious). Where we see Heidegger actually formulating his own project is when he argues: “[Kant] failed to provide an ontology with Dasein as its theme or (to put this in Kantian language) to give a preliminary ontological analytic of the subjectivity of the subject” (24). If we look at the Kantian exposition of Heidegger’s task, we will see that he relates the problem at hand as one of the analytic of the subjectivity of the subject. This may be another reason why Heidegger begins with being-in-the-world.

What does this tell us about Heidegger’s stance on science? When we quoted the passage where he claims ontology must be self-critical, we were not arbitrarily providing an assertion out of context. Heidegger argues that the basic concepts undergirding any science whatsoever have to be taken as clues from which these sciences can be founded. He argues that the “real ‘movement’” of the sciences is determined by “how far it is capable of a crisis in its basic concepts” (9). It is in this strict sense that Heidegger envisions the destruction of the ontological tradition to be productive and positive, not simply negative. For as a science, ontology must be able to treat its own fundamental concepts—res cogitans, cogito ergo sum, etc.—as material to be reworked in order to make the real problem of Being transparent. It is also in this vein that Heidegger asserts that “ontological science is primary to ontical science” (11). This is why he claims that ontology is fundamental, whereas physics or biology deal with regional, ontical questions, i.e. questions concerning particular entities. However, since the Being of these entities has not become transparent until the advent of universal phenomenological ontology, science has to be subordinated to philosophy (in Heidegger’s view of things). My question is: does this not perpetuate the perennial struggle between science and philosophy? How is it that philosophy can have the pretentiousness to claim to ground real science, when, from the scientists’ point of view, philosophy is the mere recycling of concepts that do not have any factual basis in scientific inquiry? In other words, Heidegger continues the war between science and philosophy, even if he claims the latter is the most universal of sciences. How can we introduce democracy into thought and put science and philosophy on the same footing without claiming to give one or the other any sort of precedence? How can we break down the hierarchy that establishes itself in thought, i.e. how do we establish a peace treaty between philosophy and science, especially from the former to the latter?