Saturday, May 7, 2016

Heidegger Contra Transhumanism Part 1: Dasein, not Mensch



"Make no mistake, what we are speaking of here is a transformation in the essence of man."
There is a great irony in beginning the bald declaration of such a radical proposal as Heidegger does, in his now infamous Einführung die Metaphysik, with the assurance "make no mistake" ---a phrase seemingly guranteeing univocity to a proposal that is anything but univocal. As this post will hope to indicate, not without reason is this proposal vulnerable to the grossest and most dangerous of misunderstandings. Not without reason does it seem to join the chorus of a legion of modern thinkers proclaiming man's transformative enlightenment, as in Kant's second Kritik, where the transition from man to a rational being in general becomes the essential index of the truth of practical concepts, or as in Marx where the dialectic inherent in the economico-historical essence of man eventually yields his consummate transformation towards the achievement of a species-being --to say nothing of the Nieztschean "either-or" of a Letzte- or an Ueber-mensch, heralding the advent of a bio-technologically empowered master race. Not without reason, we say --for, the very reason, the very grund, that necessitates the semblance of an affinity between Heidegger and these modern thinkers of the metaphysically trans-human, has according to Heidegger himself,  not been negated but has become utterly concealed, obnubilating the fragile divide that must be maintained in order to hold apart things and their mighty opposites. Not without reason, then, unless the lack of reason, the abgrund, be equatable to the retraction of a reason, nay, of its very essence, into perfect concealment. Indeed, Heidegger's quote comes precisely at a time of what he would call, a year later in his Beiträge, abysmal distress, or as the Einführung has become quotable for formulating: the flight of the gods and the darkening of the world unto its night. Heidegger's seemingly dismal assessment of this catastrophic concatenation of events is well-known. The spirit of historical humanity whose very effluence is thinking itself,  has reached the final stage of its ex-piration; it has become disempowered, and this lost power has cascaded down into the volatile  deadlock of power-constellations that the techno-political realm, as a result, has exclusively become. Following fast upon this disempowerment, thinking undergoes an emergency and a struggle for its own life; it gasps to give new breath and meaning to the old words in terms of which alone it is allowed to receive a public, political hearing. Those words, now at such a desperate stage in the life of Western thought, are the philsophical dialect of Heidegger's Rektoratsrede, and they refer to self-assertion, the will-to-know, the spiritual mission of a people, over-powering power, and, yes, a transformation of man --and we must pay attention to the precise wording here: not only a transformation of man, but even more emphatically, of the essence of man. What could have been meant by such a transformation, if it is not meant to join the chorus of exhortations of the transformation of man that Heidegger understands as a mark of the last metaphysicians, from whose company he strives at every turn to sharply distinguish himself? In the series of posts that follow I wish to point out a path that leads toward  an answer to this question.


 The first thing necessary to catch the sense of direction that will lead us to this path is to cast a backward glance toward the inception of phenomenology; for there is a strong continuity that runs from the essential motivations of this beginning all the way to Heidegger's 1935 call for transformation. It is of seminal importance to understand how phenomenology, at first rather imperceptibly in the nascent form of Brentano's Deskriptive Psychologie, and then with increasing clarity in Husserl's lifelong critical engagement with psychologism,  becomes aware of its own necessity and vocation precisely by delimiting the field of an emerging, still amorphous, science of man, namely psychology. Heidegger's Habilitationshcrift faithfully pays homage to this critique and sustains this critical engagement when Sein und Zeit first brings what Heidegger considers to be the true phenomenological characterization of the essence of man as Dasein precisely in relief from the ontic sciences of man, chief among which is psychology. For the purposes of gaining an intial orientation to the question of man's transformation, it will be enough if we can appreciate the logic here operative in Heidegger's delimitation of the field of psychology, and, in general, of the ontic sciences, sharply from that field in which Dasein comes into view. This appreciation will also serve, secondarily, as a reference point by means of which the reader of Sein und Zeit may dismiss claims that the work is itself a psychological or philosophico-anthropological study masquerading as an ontological study --a claim which seems to perennially appear in myriad subtle forms and misguide  scholarship from time to time.

According to that logic of Sein und Zeit, the problem of the field of psychology and the attempt to achieve an adequate concept of man really becomes transparent in its requirements and achieves proper self-understanding when it is referred back to those mechanisms whereby a science achieves its foundation: namely foreconception and fundamental conception. The tendency to surrender such phenomena as "inner experiences" or "emotional states" to the field of psychology is here anticipated and countered. Everything, indeed, depends upon our fore-conception of the phenomenon in question; we can certainly greet stimmungen as instances of "psychological moods" or "inner experiences" but the question is: what fore-conception enables this greeting? Certainly not one that just fell from the sky but one that was established with the very foundations of the science of psychology. So the real question about "mental processes", because it is dependent upon that forum in which the identification of something *AS* mental process is made possible, is reducible to the question of how sciences get founded. More specifically, a science is only capable of being founded if a certain domain is granted to it in advance as that which it must subsequently discover. For example, in the broadest sense, biology, before it even begins, must be granted the possibility of treating anything whatsoever precisely with an eye toward whether it is living or non-living. At a certain point, it may even try to procure a certain"working" definition of life, but it has only come up with this definition by first recognizing and examining living and non-living things. It is clear, then, that biology is made possible by a fore-conception of life that is presupposed in its most basic concepts and that therefore unifies the foundation of that science.
If, in the fore-conception in terms of which a science establishes its basic concepts, the inherent unity of its task and the extent and limit of its objective domain is established, then accompanying this establishment a discernible rank and priority necessarily presents itself in the fore-conceptual interrelations that already obtain between the fundamental concepts of entirely distinct sciences: one science must inherently presuppose another if in the objective domain of that other science can be included the fore-conception which makes possible the fundamental concepts of the first. This rank and priority among the sciences, based solely on the manner of each field's fore-conceptual founding, necessarily leads to a truly unique possibility: the possibility of a science the fundamental concepts of which alone constitute that same science's pre-given objective domain of investigation. Heidegger in Sein und Zeit calls this necessity "Der Ontlogische Vorrang des Seinsfrage". Vor-rang is here given according to the inherent capacity of an inquiry to pursue its own Vor-griff, fore-conception. Such a science whose most proper object is also its origin, and whose proper conceptuality must not only be rooted in but must also thematize its fore-conceptual basis Heidegger calls Fundamental ontology. This science necessarily deals with the fundament of all science as an explicit theme in the course of accessing its proper object. At the same time, this science relates to its objective domain for one reason and one reason alone: to make explicit the fore-conception in terms of which that objective domain gets founded. Now, in fundamental ontology this aforementioned objective domain is constituted by that being (seiende) which serves as the condition for the possibility of the explicit establishment of any fundamental concepts whatsoever. Ontically speaking, such a being is called man (mensch). Both psychology and fundamental ontology look to man as to the being which occupies their respective objective domains, but they take this object in entirely different ways. In what, epistemically speaking, does this difference consist?
The object of psychology, man, is found within an objective domain constituted by an already established fundamental concepts of the psychic, experience, consciousness (and perhaps the unconscious, etc), but these are dependent upon a fore-conception of human existence which is determined based on an understanding of "an underlying", i.e.the subjectum of subjectivity in terms of which, e.g., the ego, id, and super-ego would be found (but this exmple should not be taken to restrict our sense of psychology to psychoanalysis). Such a fore-conception predetermines man as a "bearer of mental processes" which processes can in turn be investigated in their own right. And here we see the main difference: for while man as psychic is taken as an object according to fundamental concepts that have already been established in keeping with certain fore-conceptions, man as Dasein is taken as an object precisely to the extent that it is capable of being taken as a pre-conceptual condition for the possibility of all fundamental concepts, i.e. insofar as the man is that being in terms of which the fore-conception of Being itself may be made conceptual. Angst, eigentlichkeit, sein-zum-tode, langeweile, grundstimmungen, etc. are all inquired into strictly in terms of the way they illuminate the foreconception of that very inquiry ---a foreconception which is ultimately Sein itself.  It is for this reason that man is called, in Fundamental Ontology, Da-sein.