Monday, December 28, 2009

Heideggerian Hyperbole PART 2: The Nature of Dasein's Body

Spurred on by Enowning's observation of the glacial pace at which Seynsgeschichte postings occur, I have decided to publish this present post an entire year early. Such is the high regard in which I hold all the fine, frequently-posted things going on in that forum, which was the original other Heidegger website.

If the remarks of the previous post (Part 1 of the full consideration at hand) have gone any stretch of the way in clarifying the manner in which nature can be present-at-hand, thereby gaining some measure of liberation from the presupposition that nature is obviously present-at-hand, they were not intended to mislead the reader into supposing that there is no reason why nature should be mistaken for the present-at-hand, as if this were just some random and arbitrary error. Not only is there such a reason for this possibility; explicitly articulating this underlying reason provides the clue in terms of which Heidegger's statement that Das Dasein ist nie vorhanden can be appropriately interpretted. For the presupposition that nature is ---by its very nature, as it were --present at hand (vorhanden), and that there are things-in-themselves 'objectively' existing irregardless of Dasein is a mis-articulation of an ontic experience which is both true and indisputable (because not yet articulated):

“[T]he ontical obviousness of the Being-in-itself of beings within-the-world misleads us into the conviction that the meaning of this Being is obvious ontologically, and makes us overlook the phenomenon of the world...” (BT152, SZ116)
In acknowledging "the ontical obviousness of the Being-in-itself of beings within-the-world" Heidegger is simply pointing out that he is not in anyway neglecting that evidence that Dr. Samuel Johnson so famously appealed to in his attempt to refute Bishop Berkley's esse est percipi, for in this legendary attempt he did not utter a word --except to point out that his refutation was accomplished without the utterance of a single word:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."
Boswell: Life

What Johnson had so desperately tried to say without actually saying is precisely what Heidegger is here calling "the ontical obviousness of the Being-in-itself of beings." It is beyond the scope of our present discussion to discuss the necessary shortcomings of Johnson's refutation or to consider how, because this refutation could only pretend to be an ontological response while at the same time not quite remaining in the realm of ontic experience whose evidence it sought to uphold, Berkley, and not Johnson, inevitably 'won the day'. Suffice it to say that Heidegger's point is formally indicative: Heidegger is beset with the task of bringing to light just what it was that Johnson only kicked, and for that very reason he must first of all acknowledge (i.e. formally indicate) that something is there to be kicked. The formale anzeige or formal indication serves the purposes of drawing explicit attention to and countering the necessary fact that this 'something' which has been kicked is straightaway articulated and thought of as a some thing, a vorhanden, individual object (or collection of objects). It is in this way that Heidegger's formale anzeige is, as an indication, merely formal, a mere place-marker for what has yet to be 'placed', i.e. what has yet to be fully articulated and appropriately interpretted; in short, it indicates 'something' but not as such, and is therefore an ontological means of referring to the ontic --and inarticulate realm --necessarily preliminary to all ontological articulation (of that ontic realm). In its most condensed (and, no doubt, ridiculous) description: the formal indication refers to something as not as such.

There is no need to focus any further at this juncture on Heidegger's employment of formal indication (although, as we shall see later, this is important for the overall consideration of Dasein's body). What is crucial here is rather that Heidegger is by no means content to acknowledge the "ontical obviousness of the Being-in-itself of beings within-the-world", nor even that this "ontical obviousness" is mistaken for vorhandensein when it is first articulated. More important than this is the peculiarity that the former truth tends to mislead us into the latter error, in the perilous passage from the ontic to the ontological. For Heidegger (and not merely in Sein und Zeit) the danger is always the same: it is hidden in what is obvious, and it is precisely this hiding (cf. the previous post's remarks on die gefahr). In the case we are now discussing, the danger regards misunderstanding the beings around us. This danger of misunderstanding lies hidden in "ontical obviousness", since in the ontic realm we (already, in advance) discover beings without having to utter a word (at least, that is, a word regarding them as such); we effortlessly consort with everything around us as though we know it in advance, which in someway we do: it is obvious. On the other hand, however, in passing through the gates of articulation and escaping, as Homer likes to put it, "the barrier of our teeth," the danger now hides on the other side, in the ontological realm, and this is far more dangerous; for the truth of the obviousness of the ontical realm consists in the fact that beings are there already without further ado --we neither asked for them or have yet said 'thank you', as it were. Despite our having never been formally aquainted with beings within-in-the-world (or with ourselves for that matter, a point toward which we will return shortly), we already are familiar with them. To 'tone down' an oft-used, more vulgar expression: "we're already working with them before even the hand shake". But what about when it finally comes time to learn their name, to meet them as such and greet them? At this point we are completely unprepared and unsuspecting of the exertion that is now required, since it has up to this point been effortless: the fact that we are already in the midst of beings has been one of those things that "goes without saying". We are therefore led to presume by the effortless truth of the obviousness of our ontical dealings that the truth of our ontological articulation will be no differently won --but nothing could be farther from the truth, as the most famous 'line', chanted in slight variations throughout Sein und Zeit, reminds us: the closer something is ontically, the farther away it is ontologically, or in other words, to the extent that something is discovered in advance and is obvious, to that precise extent does it remain implicit, or as the later Heidegger will emphasize, withheld.

This is a consideration worth savoring, to wildly understate the issue. Heidegger himself pursued 'nothing else' throughout the course of his entire denkweg; so let us take a moment to at least "blink" over it, before "moving on". No one wakes up in the morning vexed by the fact that there are beings surrounding him on all all sides, and that along with this fact, he himself is (a being). Nor is it the case that the reason why we are not throttled into astonishment by this 'fact' is because we have gotten used to it, like riding a bike; rather is it the reverse: in order to 'get used' to something, it must already be there. The easy example of getting used to some thing, e.g. riding a bike, is nevertheless still instructive, since it makes one thing clear: obviousness is a function of time. Usually, something happens in time --we learn to ride a bike --and after a certain time, what one does with a bike is 'obvious'. Likewise, even though no one "wakes up in the morning vexed by the fact that there are beings surrounding him" there is still a fading afterglow of wonder for those for whom 'the world is still new', those ones whom we simply call children. But one's youth is always also a "growing up" and one's wonder always a relunctantly departing companion --it hesitates for a while, and we call that while childhood. But no one, not even as a child, was ever young enough to, for the for the first time, encounter any being whatsoever. When it comes to beings, we are right from the very beginning already in some measure or other familiar. This, our being in media res, is the "ontical obviousness" of which Heidegger speaks in the quote above. Before the first occurrence of something or another, indeed of anything whatsoever, we have already discovered and understand that there are things to begin with ---this much is obvious. Obviousness of any sort, however, is, as we have just said, a function of time. But the time which has already transpired before anything in time comes to pass is by no means obvious; everything obvious comes after this time. It is regarding this "time that has already transpired," a time which we in some way must have endured in order to find beings familiar (including ourselves), that Heidegger says "Dasein is always already ahead of itself". This already-transpired-time is no actual occurrence in time, it does not take place like something occurring in front of us, as it were; it is rather precisely what, having already transpired, is missed in any actual occurrence ---missed not only in the sense of "missing a target" but also in the sense of "missing your mother". A secret nostalgia, then ---but a nostalgia for no thing, a nostalgia only for that which allowed us to be already familiar with any being whatsoever, a nostalgia for what Sein und Zeit initially calls the "worldhood of the world." This condition for the possibility of ontical obviousness, this missed time in which the world has been passed over, is precisely what makes our consorting with beings effortless, and it is therefore also what misleads us, once the time finally comes to say just what these beings are which we have always been around and have even ourselves always been, into thinking we effortlessly accomplish our goal. With this in mind we now return to the quote above, this time in its fuller context

“Just as the ontical obviousness of the Being-in-itself of beings within-the-world misleads us into the conviction that the meaning of this Being is obvious ontologically, and makes us overlook the phenomenon of the world, the ontical obviousness of the fact that Dasein is in each case mine, also hides the possibility that the ontological problematic which belongs to it has been led astray.”(BT152, SZ116)
The mistake that occurs when we first begin to speak of beings as such, i.e when we engage in ontology, is that we suppose we are "synched up" with what we are now bringing to explicit understanding: we take for granted the manner in which we have already understood and thus even previously discovered beings within-the-world ---in short, we completely forget about this "previously" itself, this missed time. Accordingly, the articulation of nature as present-at-hand is inevitable initially; it is only after that first articulation is offered that the opportunity arises to detect the possibility that this ontological articulation has missed its mark and "been led astray".

It is with this, at last, that we are poised to revisit the problematic of Dasein's body raised by the maverick commentator cited in our last post (PART 1). In a sense, we have, at this point, already come to the answer: Heidegger can justifiably say that Dasein is never present-at-hand because, as was demonstrated in the PART 1, anything present-at-hand has already been discovered within-the world as ready-to-hand, and Dasein can never be discovered as something ready-to-hand within the world. This last claim is grounded by the fact that the ready-to-hand depends, in its very Being, on having already been assigned to Dasein in advance, since its inner-worldly Being is itself made possible or "freed" by Being-in-the-world (i.e. Dasein's way of Being). The argument is thus direct:

1.) Dasein cannot (ever) be ready-to-hand
2.) Readiness-to-hand is a necessary condition for presence-at-hand
3.)Dasein cannot (ever) be present-at-hand a fortiori.

This 'proof', however, can only be regarded as a negative demonstration of why Dasein is never present-at-hand. It does not yet achieve its results phenomenologically, since it does not show how the error of considering Dasein to be (at least in some respects) present-at-hand is possible. Admittedly, we have gone a certain stretch of the way in satisfying the rigors of phenomenology, insofar as we have given a formal sketch of the manner in which the ontical obviousness of beings within-the-world misleads us into possibly mis-articulating them ontologically. But with this we have still not yet achieved a positive result. The question before us is not only asking about beings within-the-world, but about that disclosure that makes their discovery possible: How is it even possible that Dasein can appear as something present-at-hand? The positive phenomenological demonstration must expose precisely this possibility, and it must expose it as a possiblity. In this way, phenomenological research's positive results amount not to the disclosure of some actual positum (as is the case with the positive results of any ontic science), but to the disclosure of a possibility that is itself the condition for the possibility of ontic scientific discovery, as Heidegger says at the end of Sein und Zeit: "Higher than actuality stands possibility."

Dasein ist nie vohanden. So we are told. But then we start thinking for ourselves: What about anthropology, biology, human-anatomical studies, and even psychology to name just a few instances. Isn't Dasein the object of these studies? In so far as these sciences make claims about the nature of humans ---and they certainly seem to make such claims --don't they owe the possibility of their claims to the fact that Dasein can be present-at-hand, or in other words, to the impossibility that Dasein is never present-at-hand? In a consideration such as this one, everything depends on our appreciation of the limits, that is to say the domain and reach (bereich), of such claims, and therefore at the same time on our ability to perceive what lies entirely beyond their reach:

[E]ven beings which are not worldless --Dasein itself, for example --are present-at-hand within the world, or, more exactly, can with some right and within certain limits be taken as merely present-at-hand. To do this, one must completely disregard or just not see the existential state of Being-in.(BT 82, SZ 55, italics Heidegger's)

With what "right" and within which "certain limits" can Dasein be taken as present-at-hand? Heidegger's answer is peculiar: only to the extent that one fails to see that Dasein is not present-at-hand, i.e. to the extent that they "disregard or just not see the existential state of Being-in. Despite the misgivings it provokes, this answer is no mere tautology. The point Heidegger is drawing the reader's attention to (even through his italics "can" and "taken") is crucial: the very possibility that one can take Dasein to be present at hand is granted by Dasein's existential state of Being-in: this possibility is Dasein's possibility of fore-saking itself, a possibility that cannot belong to anything present-at-hand. In other words, only if "Dasein is in each case mine", i.e. is that being which ontically is addressed as "I", must it always either be owned up to or fore-saken:

It may well be that ontically it is always correct to say of this being that 'I' am it. Yet the ontological analytic which makes use of such assertions must make certain reservations about them in principle. The word 'I' is to be understood only as a formal indicator, indicating something which may perhaps reveal itself as its 'opposite' in some particular phenomenal context of Being. In that case, the 'not-I' is by no means tantamount to a being which essentially lacks 'I-hood', but is rather a definite kind of Being which the 'I' itself possesses, such as having lost itself [Selbstvorlorenheit]. (BT 152, SZ 116)
The extent, then, to which Dasein can legitimately be taken as something present-at-hand is precisely the extent to which it cannot but initially fore-sake itself, that is to say, be ontologically misled by the fact that it is ontically obvious. Thus, because Dasein is already familiar with beings (by understanding their Being in advance), so too has it already understood itself as a being, thereby missing its unique way of Being --existenz --because of its unique way of Being, i.e. as a consequence of having understood beings in advance --including the being which it itself is. The assertion that "Dasein is never present-at-hand" can only be a false exaggeration, contradicting the admission that Dasein can be taken as present-at-hand, if this "never" is understood as a negation of the possibility of any present-at-hand instance. But this "never" refers instead to the very condition for the possibility of taking Dasein to be present-at-hand: Selbstvorlorenheit.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Heideggerian Hyperbole PART I: The Problem of Nature

Somewhere in Sein und Zeit, in a gesture of such consummate “grand style” that it rouses in the reader a suspicion of hyperbole –and there is, of course, no dearth of such gestures in Sein und Zeit –Heidegger once again tries to say the whole all at once at the risk of sounding radically reductive:
“[T]he ultimate business of philosophy is to preserve the force of the
fundamental words in which Dasein expresses itself, and to keep the common
understanding from leveling them off to that unintelligibility which
in turn as a source of pseudo-problems.”
If such a pointed, not to say confined, characterization of philosophy’s “ultimate business” and essential task can be conceded for the nonce, then a surprising conclusion necessarily follows from this concession, forcing the reader to confront a unique and unexpected danger. How so? The primal power of language –the manner in which it entrances and enthralls, but also the manner in which it indicates and discovers, bringing to its first luminous appearance what had all the while been in front of one’s eyes, yet overlooked –this primal power of language obeys a certain rhythm; it recedes and falls dormant precisely to the extent that something first uttered in the trepidation of discovery becomes, in a sequence that is inevitable, irresponsibly inherited, repeated without being rediscovered, and eventually taken for granted as a commonplace. It would be unnecessary for us to labor further over the details of this narrative of forgetfulness, the analysis of which is not uncommonly lauded as one of the indisputable virtues of Sein und Zeit, and which is not infrequently rehearsed with varying degrees of accuracy. And yet, that which it is necessary –even urgent –for us to confront, the “unexpected danger” of which we have just above made mention, resides so close to the recitation of this well-known narrative that it hides in its shadow: if, in the throes of philosophic discovery, Heidegger claims philosophy must assume a unique responsibility for the original meaning of words, and if indeed, he claims that philosophy is essentially beset with this task of stirring and restoring such meaning, what happens, in the course of its public reception, to the meaning of Heidegger’s own claim? In ‘diagnosing’ the danger of the atrophy of language, and in extolling the primal power of its original meaning as the proper object over which philosophy must labor to restore, Heidegger presents a possibility far more perilous; with the pronouncement of Heidegger’s claim, the danger arises that not only this original meaning of language remain taken for granted and forgotten, but that, the meaning of the appointed task to recover it sink into an oblivion, thereby making both become altogether irrecoverable. This danger is the danger par excellence, since it is simultaneously the danger that the possibility of being freed from this danger be forgotten. This danger is, of course, die gefahr, the danger that will be more decisively and perilously engaged much later as the turning point on which the age and essence of technology hinges. It is not, however, upon that essential turning point that I wish now to concentrate. Here let it be sufficient to reflect on the fact that this danger which regards the appointed task of thinking is also alluded to in the later Heidegger’s fore-warning issued in Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens: “We are still too inexperienced in the difference between an object of scholarship and a matter thought.” Much could certainly be offered in elucidation of this quote, but for present purposes, let it simply serve as a reminder that the aforementioned task of philosophy to restore what is original nevermore easily threatens to become a platitude and a commonplace than at that time when it is received by scholarship, whether it be sophisticated and prestigious or the mere banter of a “blog”. It is with this forewarning firmly in mind – a forewarning which began in what might be called an instance of “Heideggerian hyperbole” –that it seems appropriate to consider a recent maverick complaint leveled against just such hyperbole:

[C]onsider Martin Heidegger. Somewhere in Sein und Zeit he writes that Das Dasein ist nie vorhanden. The human being is never present-at-hand. This is obviously false in that the human being has a body which is present-at-hand in nature as surely as any animal or stone. What he is driving at is the truth -- or at least the plausibility -- that the human being enjoys a special mode of Being, Existenz, that is radically unlike the Vorhandenheit of the mere thing in nature and the Zuhandenheit of the tool. So why doesn’t he speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, without exaggerating?

What I think is most worthy of response in the above objection is the presupposition upon which it stands, a presupposition which has, shall we say, “in advance,” ossified into an obviousness almost entirely recalcitrant to the blows of further questioning. (It should be noted that this presupposition is not unique to the objection quoted above; it persists more or less surreptitiously in more than one camp of current (and especially past) Sein und Zeit scholarship). Indeed it is on the basis of the unquestioned obviousness of this presupposition that the above objection can unflinchingly identify Heidegger’s own maxim regarding Dasein as “obviously false.” In fact the commentator even supplies a rough and ready formulation of the proximate reason for such an objection: “the human being has a body which is present-at-hand in nature as surely as any animal or stone.” This must be considered a proximate reason because it rests on the deeper presupposition –again, shared by some scholarship –that nature is itself a domain of vorhandenheit, and that it is accordingly comprised of things that are present-at -hand. It is on the strength of this presupposition that the commentator feels his point sufficiently made by the mere gesture toward the example of other natural objects, “any animal or stone”, for these are indubitably –“surely” –present-at-hand in nature. Amazingly, when one reduces the argument to this presupposition, the possibility emerges that the cumbersome ‘terminology’ of “vorhandenheit” or, even more awkward, “presence-at-hand”, may be thrown out altogether, and a more vernacular paraphrase of the argument can be made: Nature is comprised of objects, the human body is natural, therefore the human being cannot be said to be in no wise an object –unless such a claim be understood to be a false exaggeration. With this paraphrase in place, the remainder of the objection follows as a sort of safe-guard set in place to preclude the possible rejoinder that it has succumbed to its own critique of exaggeration: after all, Heidegger was on to something, its just that he got too worked up when he tried to talk about it and he ended up exaggerating. What he really meant, however, was that the human being is different from tools as well as other things in nature, and this difference, this added feature, Heidegger calls “Existenz”. It takes no great measure of familiarity with the history of philosophy to recognize that this apparent claim of Sein und Zeit, the supposed revolutionary seminal work of twentieth century philosophy, is nothing more than an oversimplified version of a refrain repeated ad nauseum in various ‘re-touchings’ and guises since philosophy first began: man is composed of body and soul, or, more broadly, nature and spirit.

Is this what Heidegger is saying? Surely others have pointed out this fact with greater clarity and profundity ---not to mention less awkward neologism. If we were ‘prepared’ to unquestioningly accept an appeal to the alleged obviousness of the vorhandenheit of nature, then something like this sort of reductive obfuscation of Sein und Zeit is inevitable. But we are not so ‘prepared’ –we, who perhaps once were ‘sure’ of such things, “have now become perplexed,” to quote the Platonic epigram of Sein und Zeit itself. Let us more closely examine the implications of this presupposed character of nature as vorhandenheit. According to this presupposition, nature means as much as anything that has not been tampered with or constructed by man, i.e. the natural as opposed to the artificial. Nature thus has an independence from any sort of involvement with man; the tree that falls in the woods ‘is there’ whether heard or unheard: it is not contingent upon an encounter with the human subject, it is ‘objective’. What could be more natural than that we speak of beings in nature in terms of natural objects, that is, present-at-hand things? Conversely, artificial things are contingent upon human involvement; the hammer is only a combination of natural present-at-hand things, namely, metal and wood, until it is brought under the aims of the person using it, aims which Heidegger calls “a referential totality of assignments constitutive of readiness-to-hand” or, ultimately, in fewer words, the “world”. Thus, it is as if, in a dark forest of objects called nature, there is a luminous sphere of light, which Heidegger calls “Dasein”, which projects ‘meaning’ on the things that immediately surround it. While this remains a crude formulation, nevertheless the underlying prejudice we are seeking to clarify by its means remains to this day one of the most pernicious obstacles to readers of Sein und Zeit’s first division, and, consequently, of the entirety of Heidegger’s works that follow. Thankfully, somewhere else in Sein und Zeit, Heidegger expressly repudiates such a claim:

Readiness-to-hand is not to be understood as merely a way of taking [these
beings that are nearest to us], as if we were talking such ‘aspects’ into the
‘beings’ which we proximally encounter, or as if some world-stuff which is
proximally present-at-hand in itself were ‘given subjective coloring’ (BT 101,
SZ 71).

Here, as in many other places in the first division of Sein und Zeit, Heidegger is emphatic that no being, nevermind Dasein, is ever present-at-hand or ‘objectively standing there’ before Dasein encounters it. There can never be a group of things present-at-hand that have not yet been discovered within-the-world by Dasein. This is a point which even Heidegger takes the time to note he has been repeatedly emphatic in regarding:

Within our present investigation the following structures and dimensions of
ontological problematic, as we have repeatedly emphasized, must in principle be kept distinct:

1.) the Being of those beings within-in-the-world which we proximately encounter –this is what we have called readiness-to-hand

2.) the Being of those beings which we can come across and whose nature we can determine if we discover them in their own right by going through the beings proximally encountered (i.e. the ready-to-hand) –this is what we have called presence-at-hand (vorhandenheit)

3.) the Being of that ontical condition which makes it possible for beings-within-the-world to be discovered at all –this is what we have called the worldhood of the world (BT 121, SZ 88, emphases mine).

This enumeration emphasizes once again that any being that is discovered as an ‘individual object’ or thing simply standing there must already have been discovered within-the-world as ready-to-hand; only by ‘going through’ these already discovered beings that are closest to us can we come to find ‘things’ just standing there which seem to be simply individual objects, since the world has become and remains concealed and unnoticed in order for them to appear in this way. The world is no “net” or “coloring” cast over a group of present-at-hand, natural objects; rather it is the reverse, beings can only appear as present-at-hand when the place where they have already been discovered has sufficiently been disengaged and overlooked. This means that the distinction between readiness-to-hand and presence-at-hand can in no wise be equated with the distinction between artificial and natural objects; the former distinction is ontological, the latter ontic. The hammer is that which only comes to me as it is not when it is blankly stared at but on the half-shingled roof of my uncle’s house throughout the course of a blazing-hot August workday. Only after this manner of having discovered the hammer has taken place can the hammer ever be a conglomerate of two things that are for some reason stuck together, namely steel and wood, as two natural ‘objects’ lying in front of me. By the same token, the rock is only found at all if it is first found next to the picnic table in the backyard, or 'in the way' of my lawn-mowing, or as what I must have just tripped over in my hurry to chase the dog that is unleashed and getting away. It is rare and only after all this that the rock is a thing to be inspected. Looking again at the evidence: the path in the forest is the one along which my grandfather used to walk, or it is the one that I had never noticed before when I went to get firewood. It is never in the first place an object ---even when the cartographer surveys its shape he already stands within a possible escape from the interruption of sudden danger in the woods. In fact, even the photograph of the birch tree in the middle-school text book is already part of, e.g., passing an environmental science course --or passing the time after 'lunch period' in the midst of day dreams.
Of course, I could go on, but, for love of the reader, I won’t. The point to be gleaned is not only that nature is never at first present-at-hand, but also that, even when it becomes present-at-hand, that natural 'thing' is never exclusively present at hand; there persists a concealed relation to it as ready-to-hand already discovered in the world. It is only when this relation is disregarded even as it persists that the misconception of nature befalls us that beings encountered in nature, as maverick would have it, “rocks and animals," are “surely present-at-hand,” as Heidegger famously says:
If its kind of Being as ready-to-hand be disregarded, this ‘Nature’ itself can be discovered and defined simply in its pure presence-at-hand. But when this happens, the Nature which ‘stirs and strives’, which assails us and enthralls us as landscape, remains hidden. The botanists plants are not the flowers of the hedgerow; the ‘source’ which the geographer establishes for a river is not the ‘springhead in the dale’. (BT 100, SZ 71).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Topological Thomism PART ONE: The Error of Place

With a brevity and precision that I have grown accustomed to expect from this commentator, the terrain of the so-called 'problem of universals' has recently been mapped out ---this time however, for the purpose of an introduction to a precautionary note regarding what might be called the 'non-phantasmic' character of intellection:

"The problem of universals is usually explained as a problem of where a universal is. We are told there are three options: the universal is in the thing, or not; and if not, it is either only in the mind, or it is outside of it."

Reiterations of this sort have the advantage not only of succinctly circumscribing a presupposition that has long since donned the mantle of self-evidence. Much more than this, such reiterations circumscribe it for the first time as something self-evident, as something which has in advance been granted, as something presupposed. For those engrossed in philosophy as a problemgeschichte, this presupposed terrain of the 'problem of universals' is as unworthy of our attention as the ground beneath our feet. To offer such a 'problem-historian' a map of this terrain would be for the first time to awaken in him an explicit appreciation of bedrock assumptions on which he stands, thereby simultaneously offering him the opportunity to consider how it is that things are not otherwise. But this turning, which does not so much turn one away from as it does turn one toward the place in which they seem to be quite at home is of an even more unique sort when it turns one's thoughts toward the possibility that the very concept of place itself may be wholly unsuited for the kind of thinking which is called "universal". As the commentator goes on to say:
"The debate is caused by a trick of the imagination. When talking about the universal, we clandestinely create a ghost that we imagine in three vague places. We imagine a vague man, a vague object and a space in between, and then imagine this ghost as either being in the man, in the thing, or somewhere outside of both. We can dress up this ghost story with all the philosophical jargon we want, but it will only take us farther and farther away from experience. We are imagining the intelligible as some third, ghostly thing that must link the knower and the known. Where does this thing come from? It is nowhere in experience. It exists only in the imaginary world we construct for ourselves to discuss the problem of universals."

The problem, then, lies latent in the supposedly self-evident question as to where a universal is to be properly situated, since to consider a universal with respect to place is to consider a universal precisely not qua universal, but rather qua individual; and while it is true that universals can be considered as individuals in so far as they differ from other universals, it is nevertheless true that the individuation required of something to which place properly belongs is an individuation whose principle is (ultimately prime, not secondary) matter. (The reason for this is itself based upon Aristotle's definition of τόπος as given in his Physics which we will not consider at the moment.) Now, if a universal is known precisely by way of abstraction from matter, then to consider it with respect to something by definition contingent upon matter, namely, "place", is to fail to consider it as such at all. It is for this reason that, as the above commentator emphasizes, we are led to consider the universal as something like a ghost, for a "ghost" in this sense fails to attain to that of which it is a ghost. The ghost of a man gives us something which we can designate as that very man, and yet it is precisely not him. In the ghost of a man, the man himself has eluded us. The ghost is not no one, but neither is it someone; it is only a trace of someone. Furthermore, when we ask the question of universals in terms of their "whereabouts" the "ghost" is a strange compensation for the unsuitability of the terms of our question: the ghost does not inhabit any place, but only haunts it, hovering over the place, as it were. It is there, but only as the suggestion that it is not there.
But what is responsible for this misunderstanding which, instead of understanding the universal as a grasp of what makes something real, quidditas, imagines it to be a mere "fleeting vapor of reality", a mere phantom? The commentator tells us: "The debate is caused by a trick of the imagination"; the phantom is a phantasm, a production of the faculy of imagination. But why do we merely imagine when we are attempting to engage in intellection? Why do we fall into the habit of asking the question "where" ? Presumably, the answer relies on the old Aristotelian adage turned scholastic maxim that "those things which are most knowable to us are least knowable in themselves, and those things which are least knowable to us are most knowable in themselves." In other words, we first know material individuals, and for us they are most knowable, but only because there is not much to know in them, since qua material individual they are not intelligible at all.
Even before Aristotle, didn't Plato, the first to witness 'the universal' as such ---at least the first to do so and "live to tell the tale", didn't he already have something like this in mind when he had inscribed over the very entrance to his acedemy the imperative: ᾿Αγεωμέτρητος μειδεὶς εἰσίτω!, i.e., that no one un-geometrical be admitted, or in other words, that one must know geometry before passing through these gates. Plato wasn't here talking about the mere capacity to practice geometry correctly, he was talking about the knowledge of geometrical things, of the "geometricals". I can draw a dot and call it a point, but I don't speak with geometrical knowledge regarding this point unless I also know that the dot is precisely not the point. The point, unlike the dot, has no shape, has no borders, and has no place, even though it is known as the end of a line. To offer an image of the point is to miss the point. But the genuine geometer knows precisely what he is missing. The dot, like the ghost, is a place marker for something which has no place. For our purposes here we need not consider the problematic fact that the point is in some way both individual (for not only can there be many points but there is also the universal "point" which is recognized in each of them) as well as possessed of a place (for this is precisely what differentiates one point from another). Indeed, geometry stood only as a prerequisite to a proper vision of the εἶδος, and ipso facto its peculiar vestigial dependence on place and individuation are to be expected --otherwise how could it be a threshold, that is, a place only in passing, for that which is properly without a place?
Granted then, that if the 'universal' is to be properly understood, then it cannot be imagined, why is it that the imagination's trick, its "clandestine creation of a ghost", happens to aim at placing the universal? Why are we not rather inclined to imagine the quality (e.g. the color), or the quantity (e.g. the size) of this 'ghost'? Again, we do not ask "When is the universal?" but only "Where is the universal"? What priviledges our prejudice of place? Is there something essential in this mistake? At the risk of falling into the same error, we must ask: whence does such a question as "Where?" spring?