On the Nature of the Clearing (1/5)

On the Nature of the Clearing (1/5)

The goal of this series of posts is to establish a foothold for a future Auseinandersetzung with Martin Heidegger. I think Heidegger may have overlooked the tradition’s way of articulating the being of the clearing. Aristotle’s notion of the mind’s immateriality may be a more satisfying ‘formal indication’ than Zeitlichkeit for thinking the peculiar ‘presence by means of absence’ unique to Dasein, man’s strange openness to the intelligibility of the world.

I divide this series into five sections. First, I lay out the threefold problematic (Befragte, Gefragte, Erfragte) of my inquiry as well as its hermeneutical situation (Vorhabe, Vorsicht, Vorgriff). Second, I establish common ground with Heidegger by arguing that Aristotle’s account of meaning anticipates the insight of being-in-the-world. Third, I argue that the ‘possible mind’ (νοῦς δυνατός) anticipates Heidegger’s notion of the Lichtung. Fourth, having established these similarities, I ask whether immateriality or temporality best accounts for the phenomenon of intelligibility. I conclude with a Kierkegaardian alternative to Destruktion, an edifying way of interpreting the past that builds up rather than undermines its foundations.

I. The Hermeneutical Situation

In §2 of Being and Time, Heidegger begins his investigation into the meaning of Being with an analysis of the act of inquiry. Any inquiry, he writes, has its Befragte, Gefragte, and Erfragte. Following Thomas Sheehan, I translate these terms respectively as object, optic, and heuristic outcome. The object of inquiry is the concrete thing under interrogation. The optic is the “formal focus” under which that object is considered, its ‘qua x’ (i.e. man ‘qua animal’). The heuristic outcome is a “formal indication,” a sign that helps others encounter the phenomenon in a pre-theoretical way.

Unlike most philosophical concepts, formal indications do not outline intelligible shapes (εἴδη) in advance. They are not definitions. Rather, these signs gesture in a certain direction, as if saying ‘come and see for yourself.’ They challenge the interlocutor to see a phenomenon prior to its constitution as a thing (res). In a word, formal indications point to the pre-theoretical manner of a phenomenon’s disclosure as well as the form of life required to see it.

Interpreting De Anima as a response to Heidegger requires that one lay out these three questions in advance. Only if Heidegger and Aristotle share the same object and optic can there be a decision as to whose heuristic outcome (i.e. formal indication) allows the phenomenon of intelligibility to present itself in its entirety.

What, then, are the three parts of Heidegger’s Grundfrage? In Being and Time, he claims that the object of fundamental ontology is entities (Seiendes), its optic is the Being of entities (Sein), and its outcome is whatever answers the meaning of Being (der Sinn von Sein). First, Heidegger restricts his object to Dasein or human being-in-the-world. He does so because Dasein always has an unarticulated understanding of Being. Second, the optic (Sein) is whatever “determines entities as entities or that on the basis of which they are already understood (as entities).” Sein is the a priori condition already operative making entities intelligible as entities. Third, Heidegger does not give a formal indication for the meaning of Being. Rather, he points to the “ground” (Boden) from which the question might one day be raised properly—Dasein’s Temporality (Zeitlichkeit).

Aristotle’s inquiry in De Anima has a similar object and optic. The inquiry’s object is, of course, the soul (ἡ ψυχή). However, its optic is not just the soul qua principle of life. Aristotle suggests a loftier scope when he says that knowledge of the soul helps one understand truth in general (ἀλήθεια ἅπασα). The most important optic in De Anima, then, is the human soul qua locus of truth. The human soul grasps and somehow becomes all things, whether sensible or intelligible (ἡ ψυχὴ τὰ ὄντα πώς ἐστιν πάντα). Aristotle’s heuristic outcome, then, is that which makes future research into the meaning of Being possible—the immateriality of mind.

Commenting on this passage from De Anima, Heidegger establishes continuity and discontinuity with the tradition. On the one hand, he says Aristotle’s remark that soul becomes all beings shows that the tradition had an insight into “the ontico-ontological priority of Dasein.” The Greeks understood that man is unique among entities because in him the intelligibility and truth of every being comes to be. Being in Time is thus in continuity with the tradition as regards its object and optic. However, Heidegger claims prior ontology failed to arrive at an Erfragte for the meaning of being because it overlooked Dasein’s temporality. Since it did not grasp Dasein’s temporal ex-istence, the tradition necessarily overlooked the meaning of being. “Dasein was not grasped in its genuine ontological structure nor did it even become a problem.”

This paper claims that Heidegger is wrong on both counts. Dasein became a problem in Greek ontology, and Aristotle successfully grasped its genuine ontological structure. Aristotle argued that man is radically unlike intraworldly entities because his soul has an immaterial power. Man’s immateriality accounts for the openness of the ‘clearing’ (Lichtung), the “place of the forms” (τόπος εἴδων). Immateriality, rather than Zeitlichkeit, is the most fundamental ground from which one can successfully interrogate the meaning of Being.

With its object, optic, and outcome in view, it is possible to lay out this inquiry’s “hermeneutical situation.” In §32, Heidegger convincingly argues that every interpretation rests on three conditions: a Vorhabe, Vorsicht, and Vorgriff. The Vorhabe is some prior, tacit understanding of the being in question. This prior understanding is grasped, for the most part, by means of circumspection (e.g. when I open a door to go outside, I have already understood the latch as turnable). The intentionality of circumspection does not reveal a res, an ‘object’ with properties, but rather a piece of equipment whose intelligibility refers to and depends on a larger totality of equipment (e.g. the latch refers to the door, the room, the house, the yard outside, etc.). The Vorsicht is the tacit understanding of how to interact with the equipment disclosed in circumspection (e.g. I turn rather than kick the latch). Third, the Vorgriff is the tacit understanding of what the equipment ought to do (e.g. a latch ought to open rather than shatter the door). These conditions make up a hermeneutical situation, the context in which interpretation, whether circumspective or theoretical, necessarily occurs.

For there to be a productive dialogue with Heidegger, then, the hermeneutical situation of this inquiry must be given in advance. To this point, my Vorhabe is that Aristotle and Heidegger both grasped a peculiar phenomenon of intelligibility, that man is the ‘place’ where the meaning of Being comes to be. My Vorsicht is that transcendental phenomenology can uncover the necessary conditions that make such intelligibility possible. My Vorgriff is that the most fundamental conditions disclosed in an inquiry ought to explain the phenomenon faithfully and in its entirety. One can assess each Erfragte (Zeitlichkeit and immateriality) by means of the phenomena without thereby distorting or omitting anything relevant to the origin of intelligibility.

Conor Stark
Conor Stark

Conor is a PhD student at the Catholic University of America (Washington, DC, US).


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