Distancing Masking Sheltering by Martin Heidegger

In what follows we shall try to think about quarantine and Covid-19. This thinking does not presume to offer medical advice, still less to pronounce on the strife between freedom and social distancing. This venture in thought does not view the quarantine as a mere means to slow the spread of the virus; rather it seeks to understand the unconcealing of quarantining from out of the virusing of the Virus. We ask:

What is it to quarantine?

How does Covid-19 belong to quarantining? Continue reading

Time Travel and Temporalizing in Chris Marker’s “La Jetée”

Knowingly or not, Chris Marker’s metaphorical use of time travel in Ja Jetée (1963) elegantly exhibits Heidegger’s view that the human way of being is temporalizing. And it directs our attention to a phenomenon that is central to Heidegger’s argument in Being and Time, namely that temporality is the fundamental condition of intelligibility as such.

For Heidegger, the distinctively human way of being (“Dasein”) consists in making sense of things. We do this, he says, because things matter to us, and they matter to us because they make sense. To make sense of something is to take it as a certain thing – for example, as a tool, say a hammer, with a certain use (hammering), connections with other tools (nails, planks of wood), and connections with various ways of being (being a carpenter, being a handyman).

Intelligibility – that something is “disclosed” as something – depends on what Heidegger calls “finitude,” which is a characteristic of human temporality. Things show up to us as X rather than Y or Z; to take a hammer as a tool for hammering is to not take it as a paperweight (as we might do under certain circumstances). To exercise any given possibility of being is to refrain from exercising many others. If we were not finite, all of our possibilities would be accessible to us at all times, nothing would matter more or less than anything else, and there would be nothing to disclose because everything would be disclosed. Temporality and finitude thus go together as the possibility conditions of intelligibility, and because finitude is exhibited in mortality, it may be said that death gives life meaning. Continue reading

Heidegger: Some Basics

Heidegger’s philosophical interests were originally stimulated by reading canonical figures such as Aristotle and Kant, but he was also inspired by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, who at the time were not really regarded as philosophers. They were deeply critical of the philosophical tradition, especially in the form of what Nietzsche called “Platonism.” Heidegger too adopted a critical perspective on what he saw as insufficiently examined presuppositions of Western philosophy.

The reflections stimulated by these thinkers (along with Dilthey and Husserl, to whom Heidegger was an assistant) culminated, by some extraordinarily original process of philosophical imagination, in Being and Time (1927). Continue reading

The Question of Being

In Being and Time (1927) Heidegger says that he wrote the book in order to “reawaken the question of the meaning of Being.” It’s important to pay attention to all the words in this phrase.

Heidegger’s question is not the one that Leibniz asked, namely “Why is there something rather than nothing?” That question asks for an explanation – a cause, a sufficient reason – of the fact that anything exists at all. Heidegger, on the other hand, wants to know what it means to say that something exists. Or rather, he wants to ask what it means. That implies that the meaning of Being is not well-understood, which, Heidegger thinks, is significant in ways we don’t sufficiently appreciate.

Asking “What is the meaning of Being?” is paradoxical in that the use of the word “is” in the sentence implies that the meaning of Being is already known. The meaning of a sentence such as “The scarf is blue,” for example, seems clear enough.

That isn’t to say that “is” is completely unambiguous. According to logicians, “is” as used in the sentence above is just one of four ordinary uses of the verb “to be”: predication (as in the sentence), identity, subsumption, and existence. Logicians use different symbols for each sense of “is” to remove the ambiguity, but in ordinary communication it is usually clear which sense is intended – if not from the sentence, then from the context.

Heidegger argues that each of the four senses derives from a more fundamental sense, although that sense has receded so deeply into the background that we’re not fully aware of it. Being, Heidegger says, means that something is present to to us in a way that makes sense. In Heidegger’s various formulations, it has been “uncovered,” “unconcealed,” “disclosed,” “granted,” or “bestowed.” To put it differently, Being is that which reveals. In Being and Time, that which reveals is our comportment – the “understanding of (the meaning of) Being” that’s embodied in our ability to differentially respond to the various entities in the world. For the later Heidegger, that which reveals is language, and changes in philosophical language over time track the variations on the Platonic understanding of Being that constitutes much of our spiritual history.

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