Groundless Grounds: A Study of Wittgenstein and Heidegger by Lee Braver

Braver, L. (2012). Groundless Grounds: A Study of Wittgenstein and Heidegger [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com


Introduction

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Ordinary language philosophy and what has been called “post- analytic” philosophy are deeply indebted to Wittgenstein’s later philosophy, while postmodernism and post- structuralism arose in the wake of Heidegger’s later thought.

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Heidegger and later Wittgenstein undermine the Cartesian conception of the self, reality, and the relationship between them.

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What is distinctive about Heidegger’s and Wittgenstein’s work is the way in which they construct thorough alternatives which do not so much refute Cartesian ideas as prevent them from arising in the first place.

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They both try to show that the underlying ideas, far from being self- evident and foundational, actually rest on and perpetuate a whole host of misguided presuppositions.

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But this is only part of the story, albeit the part that has dominated most interpretations of his early work until fairly recently. Wittgenstein mixed these logical concerns with the mysticism and ethics of Schopenhauer13 within a broadly Kantian framework.

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it draws the limits of thought by locating the limits of thought’s expression;

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Such thinkers survey the positions that are on the board at the time, determine the best ones, and think creatively and productively about them.

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Great thinkers, on the other hand, uncover the ideas presupposed by all parties to a dispute, premises so basic and self- evident that they have escaped notice until then and,

1 What Is Philosophy?

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the entire project has been misconstrued from the ground up, building certain errors and distortions into the structure of the discipline itself.

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a disease he sets out to eradicate by finding what gives rise to the philosophical impulse in general.

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Everyday language evolved in mundane situations to serve practical purposes, not to display its form with maximal clarity, with the unfortunate result that “language disguises thought”

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A thought is “a logical picture of facts”

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But ordinary statements act like loose apparel on a body, concealing the underlying structure. 10

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“symbols are not what they seem to be.” 11

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As with the meaning of life, once language is rightly understood “there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer.” 19

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Grammatical analysis promises to exorcise the ghosts of philosophy’s past, suggesting a vision of its future that partially inspired the logical positivists.

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Wittgenstein scolds works on logic for breaking their stream of proofs with discussions in everyday language.

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Hence Wittgenstein’s “fundamental idea”: operators do not represent logical relations; they live them.

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4.1212 What can be shown, cannot be said. 4.1213 Now, too, we understand our feeling that once we have a sign- language in which everything is all right, we already have a correct logical point of view.

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“propositions cannot represent logical form: it is mirrored in them. . . . Propositions show the logical form of reality.”

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Policing the border between sense and nonsense is no longer needed when illegal immigrants cannot disguise themselves and citizens are compliant by their very nature.

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this ideal language can certainly make false assertions, but all of its products will have sense.

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To sum up, while everyday language successfully describes the world, the fact that it conceals its structure causes a certain form of confusion, what most of us just call “philosophy.”

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language does but one thing: assert or deny the existence of states- of- affairs.

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Wittgenstein uncovers the three elements that comprise language’s genetic code— the general form of all propositions, the most basic elements that have this form, and the formula for producing all complex propositions out of them. When combined, these three elements— the Tractarian trinity— puff up to encompass all that language is and can ever be, like a Hoberman expanding sphere.

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Capturing all that can be said lets us limit language from the inside rather than from the outside, which would require us to say the inexpressible and to determine language’s conditions once and for all without the possibility of later revision.

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Having conclusively solved all philosophical problems both past and future, Wittgenstein retired from the profession to teach elementary school in a remote Austrian village, an interlude that went rather badly.

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Perhaps the single most consequential change is his abandonment of the idea that language has a single function: the singularity of this function had been essential to his ability to draw the limits of language in the Tractatus.

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If (1) what counts as an elementary proposition can vary, then the function’s domain or input loses its rigor, which in turn smudges the boundaries of (3) the range or output, that is, the “limited whole” 42 of all possible propositions, which in turn blurs the crucial distinction between sense and nonsense.

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As I will discuss in chapter 5, Wittgenstein became deeply suspicious of the idea of a rigid calculus that univocally determines its own application and so predetermines its results in a special sense. The confusion lies in moving from the mastery

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Turning the indefinite expandability of a mathematical formula into its infinite expansion tempts us to misleading metaphysical pictures. 46

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The right extension does not timelessly exist in a transcendent Platonic heaven, but only within our practices of recognizing the right answer. 47 Thus falls the second piece of the Tractarian trinity, the idea that perspicuously symbolized rules unambiguously apply themselves.

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Identifying language’s one function had sifted sense from nonsense, but if no essence defines language then there can be no paternity test for the purity of linguistic DNA.

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Where we say ‘This makes no sense’ we always mean ‘This makes nonsense in this particular game’” (PO 66).

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Instead of an absolute division between games and non- games, there are only different games.

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Without the one thing that language essentially does, we have no way to legislate what particular instantiations of language ought to do.

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The roots of belief reach far beneath the claims being attacked or defended, so persuasion requires more than mere refutation.

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mountain. This model transfixes our thinking, filtering out forms that resist expression such as the indescribable but perfectly recognizable way “a clarinet sounds.”

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The height of a mountain and the sound of a musical instrument mark opposite ends on the spectrum of articulation, between which Wittgenstein places grammatical know- how. His portrayal of understanding as mastery of a technique complements his connection of meaning with use61 and his comparison of words to tools62 since, as Heidegger demonstrates, the use of tools is an excellent example of mindlessly competent activity. We “forget” this kind of inarticulate understanding when reflecting on knowledge precisely because it eludes reflection and expression.

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project. Far from being an unwelcome burden we must be forced to take up, the way Plato’s philosopher must pull prisoners from his mythic Cave kicking and screaming, there is something in us that is intrinsically drawn to this quest for perfect clarity, that yearns for the ideal and scoffs at mere shadows— and it is this infatuation that Wittgenstein now fights.

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the philosopher’s dazed scorn for the shadows of everyday life is the sign of a peculiar kind of malady, not a superior wisdom.

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Prejudices lead us to think we experience what we think we should be experiencing, but phenomenology’s careful and open- minded attention can reveal “the things themselves” as we actually do experience them. Heidegger

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I generally use tools more or less automatically. I do not decide to sit at my desk with my morning coffee, but unthinkingly glide along the grooves my daily activities have worn into my usual surroundings. Explicit thought springs up when we pause, often due to some sort of obstacle or problem halting the flow of our activity, at which point “the context of equipment is lit up. . . . The world announces itself.”

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Ontologies define reality as present- at- hand things because these are what show up to the cerebral stare.

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presses itself on us as the one and only form of reality.

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In this case, the reconstruction slips present- at- hand objects underneath tools and explicit knowledge beneath circumspective know- how.

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Upon halting an activity to stare, the richly meaningful, interconnected world we live and act in recedes, leaving behind beached inert, present- at- hand objects.

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Understanding lives in use, much the way understanding how to ride a bicycle occurs in riding it and vanishes if we attempt to do so intentionally or to articulate this ability.

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Stripping off a tool’s “subjective qualities” and meaningful relations with other entities does not give us reality distilled, but diluted.

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very attempt to achieve a clear view of matters by suspending usage renders them opaque, like shining light on a developing picture. This is what Wittgenstein means by his famous claim that “the confusions which occupy us arise when language is like an engine idling, not when it is doing work.” 110 As

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While performing the action, everything flows smoothly with nothing particularly noteworthy occurring.

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competent reckoning with time— knowing how to read a clock, successfully meeting a friend for coffee at three o’clock— to be the real understanding of time.

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Instead of plugging the hole with a theory of time, the proper solution is to return to the expertise embodied in our ability to deal with time in mundane circumstances.

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As we have seen, Wittgenstein’s diagnosis of and cure for philosophy arise from the contrast between the taken- for- granted understanding embodied in our mundane use of language and the queer ideas fostered by disengaged contemplation— the same division that underlies Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein.

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“we learn to use the word ‘think’ under particular circumstances. If the circumstances are different we don’t know how to use

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Once we have left our ordinary understanding behind, we rely upon pictures far beyond their capacity, unwittingly jumping the track from the way we actually use the word to usage appropriate to the picture.

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The wakefulness of reason produces metaphysical monsters.

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We start with a model that seems able to guide any application, but when removed from its natural context, it dissipates, leaving us confused about what to say in these new situations.

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philosopher theorizing is a bit like a dog trying to fetch a snowball thrown into a snow- bank, looking up quizzically when no amount of digging unearths it.

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134 In Wittgenstein’s later works, this snarled skein of words is all there is to language, with no core of clean crystalline clarity beneath the labyrinthine surface.

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The source of confusion has changed from linguistic disguise to complexity.

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Removed from the firm ground of normal usage, they surreptitiously lure us away from how we talk about thinking to how we talk about one physical object located inside another.

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We end up talking about thinking in terms and concepts borrowed from spatial location without realizing that a substitution has occurred.

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We appear to be a present- at- hand object (res cogitans) with the capacity to think because this is what replaces the selfless flow of engaged activity when thematized. 142 This conception then gives rise to problems as unsolvable as they are artificial.

3 The Whole Hurly-Burly of Human Actions

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This metaphysical structure can then secure semantic determinacy: synching words with referents that retain their nature regardless of circumstances makes words’ meanings independent of their context.

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Heidegger and later Wittgenstein embrace holism,

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This framework eliminates atomistic determinacy: if an item’s meaning is established by its context, then altering this context changes its meaning— and the greater the change, the sketchier and thinner becomes the item’s connection with its earlier sense.

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As Parmenides and Spinoza argue, apparently simple positive claims are often disguised aggregates of negations.

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Recall Wittgenstein’s dictum, learned from Russell and Frege’s logical analyses that grammatical appearances are not to be trusted.

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Language evolves into language- games which include not just other propositions, but “the actions into which [language] is woven” (PI §7).

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“what determines our judgment, our concepts and reactions, is not what one man is doing now, an individual action, but the whole hurly- burly of human actions, the background against which we see any action.” 18

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we cannot give a word a meaning merely by giving it a one- off attachment to a thing.

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Wittgenstein’s considered position is not that use is meaning, as some statements appear to claim, but rather that words have their usual meaning in their “average everyday” habitat— that is, when used in ordinary circumstances.

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A meaning of a word is a kind of employment of it.

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They neatly sidestep Frege’s dichotomy: the “meaning” of a queen in chess is neither contained within the piece of carved wood (we can use practically anything as a chess piece), nor does it stand for a metaphysically queer queenly quintessence. Rather, each part of a game derives its sense from its context, its relations to all the other parts, each of which in turn gets fixed by its relationships.

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Isolating a single game- piece for study cannot improve our understanding of the game or the piece, but actually prevents it.

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The physical action of pushing a piece of wood across a checkered board cannot by itself constitute a move in chess, regardless of what mental contents you throw into the mix.

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in the circumstances that we call ‘playing a game of chess.’”

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As Wittgenstein emphasizes throughout his later thought, nothing carries its significance within itself.

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Without self- sufficient meanings, circumstances play an ineliminable role in linguistic sense: “every significant word or symbol must essentially belong to a ‘system,’ and . . . the meaning of a word is its ‘place’ in a ‘grammatical system.’”

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Since each part of a language- game is holistically interdependent with the other aspects, they cannot retain their meaning outside their normal context.

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“Understanding p means understanding its system. If p appears to go over from one system into another, then p

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Holistic semantics explains why removing words from their customary language- games creates insoluble pseudo- problems, what most of us call philosophy.

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Besides transferring them to outlandish scenarios of demons and caves, philosophy tries to isolate words and ideas from all context.

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The sentence, I want to say, has no sense outside of the language-

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It is this “no- matter- what” demand for the unconditional that requires independence from all local conditions.

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Once the philosophical ascent leaves behind the atmosphere in which our everyday words breathe, their use dissipates, leaving us grasping for wildly inappropriate pictures or analogies that fizzle out even as they seem to yield profound insights.

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New meanings are born all the time and neither philosophers nor lexicographers have the authority to rule them in or out, the way a grasp of logic and proper propositional forms seemed to offer a privileged perspective in Wittgenstein’s early work.

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The problem is that philosophy is inherently drawn to situations that muddy meaning, like trying to figure out who won a game of tennis played with an imaginary ball.

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He never objects to words or ideas because they’re wrong, but because they fall apart in our hands.

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Whereas we think we know how to gauge knowledge under the demon’s baleful watch, the necessary conceptual traction has sublimed into clouds of imagination.

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Analogous language- games may lend our ruminations the veneer of respectability, running a meaning- laundering service for counterfeit notions, but Wittgenstein believes that we will willingly drop these topics once we realize that we haven’t the slightest idea how to handle them.

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We don’t know how to use them not because they’re deep but because they’re meaningless.

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Doubting has a meaning; it cannot be used any which way and remain doubt.

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Meaningful uses are unable to construct the skeptical scenarios.

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The never- ending disagreements among philosophers about what can really be known, what really exists, and so on, are due to the fact that we’re making up our usage as we go along, led on by the ghostly tendrils of pictures and the fading wisps of analogies.

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The fact that phrases or ideas must take place within shared language- games undermines both skepticism and its attempted refutations, since both employ ideas (doubt and knowledge respectively) outside the language- games within which they make sense.

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what kinds of moves are appropriate in which circumstances, what sorts of reactions get encouraged or dismissed, and so on.

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Wittgenstein considers this phenomenon to be an insignificant idiosyncrasy whose only significance seems to be the parlor games we can play with it. 46 These feelings are not deep insights, but just the odd epiphenomena of speech— a word’s phantom limbs, as it were.

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Still, until disproved, we should operate on the assumption that the context of a passage is relevant, which argues against isolating any idea too much from the rest of the text in which it appears.

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Privately seen objects like a carefully covered poker hand form the model, guiding our thoughts about sensations inside of us to which only we have access.

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This isn’t just placing a label on a fully fleshed- out object, but the establishment of what kind of object it is, which then sets up the appropriate ways to think and talk about it.

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Public language- games are not accidental verbal appendages that simply direct our attention to intrinsically meaningful terms; according to Wittgenstein’s holism, language- games constitute meaning in the sense of creating and sustaining it, albeit inconspicuously.

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The attack on private languages primarily focuses on the emptiness of private ostensive definitions: no matter what it feels like, no matter the vivid pictures it conjures, it actually accomplishes nothing.

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Idiolectically naming an inner sensation is an empty ceremony, like the puerile commercial transaction between one’s hands, which has been purified of the features and context that give it sense.

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“The game, one would like to say, has not only rules but also a point.”

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Once again, the model of games frames the issue helpfully since removing the goal of checkmate from the game of chess leaves a meaningless series of pieces being pushed around a board.

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isn’t that a word’s use is its meaning, but that a word actively plays its role in its language- game while being used, and this is its meaning: “the meaning of a word is its place in the symbolism, and its place will be shown by the way in which it is used.”

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Like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Heidegger’s early work accepts the existentialist depiction of Dasein as a herd animal, naturally tending toward conformity.

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This understanding of being, of which substance ontology is a prominent example, leads to an atomistic conception of entities where individual beings are first and foremost, while properties and relationships take place on the basis of a static substantial core.

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Relationships are essentially secondary, accidental to the related things’ true natures.

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“All equipment is what it is and the way it is only within a particular context. This context is determined by a totality of involvements.”

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A tool’s interconnections are built into it from the beginning rather than accruing to it upon being placed in relation to other tools, so much so that even talking about an individual piece of equipment is misleading; they are “not substances but functions” (HCT 200).

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Since tools get their meaning from their place within an equipmental totality, pulling them out for isolated study freezes and thus kills their dynamic significance.

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The disengaged perspective isn’t exactly wrong, but it covers over our normal rich understanding with a diluted, derivative knowledge of inert objects.

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To sum up this first point, tools are intrinsically holistic and our understanding of them must take their equipmental context into account, which is precisely what the study of isolated objects filters out in the name of achieving a better understanding of the world.

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We can only understand a particular tool in light of its context which is structured by its purpose.

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He conducts a thought experiment which isolates a thin slice of an activity from its temporal context of what happens before and after: “could someone have a feeling of ardent love or hope for the space of one second— no matter what preceded or followed this second?— What is happening now has significance— in these surroundings.

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This argument against instantaneous significance helps disenchant understanding as a purely mental state, as in a person who has memorized the rules of chess and mentally consults them at each point, but constantly makes illegal moves. Heidegger’s holism is teleological, and his teleology is holistic. A tool’s immediate uses lead to more distant and overarching projects that culminate in Dasein’s for- the- sake- of- which, the way all lines of longitude meet at the poles, and it is this that pulls

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This capstone is a broad role or self- conception (or a small set of them) that we use to define ourselves in an (ultimately vain) attempt to settle the unsettling issue of our being

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In other words, it isn’t that you must spend quality time with your children in order to be a good parent, but that spending quality time with your children is part of what being a good parent is.

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In line with the Primacy of the Whole, the integrated totality precedes the parts; this totality could never be constructed from the separated parts, whereas we can make sense of the pieces as precipitates.

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Humpty- Dumpty Thesis: if we break a primordial unity into discrete items, we cannot build the initial unified phenomenon by putting them back together.

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The right strategy is thus to preserve the phenomenon in its initial totality.

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As we have seen, both Heidegger and Wittgenstein see traditional pseudo- problems as the result of distortive preconceptions.

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where a number of profound assumptions sneak in since it is only on the basis of these assumptions that such methods appear as desirable and achievable.

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(The decisive movement in the conjuring trick has been made, and it was the very one that we thought quite innocent)” (PI §308). The question of being must precede all other questions because the mode of being we take as our paradigm will organize the ways we think about and investigate everything else.

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The Humpty- Dumpty Thesis strikes here: “after the primordial phenomenon of Being- in- the- world has been shattered, the isolated subject is all that remains, and this becomes the basis on which it gets joined together with a ‘world’”

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appreciating the modes of being of existence and readiness- to- hand, on the other hand, renders the problem of the external world neither external nor problematic.

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Conceiving of all being as presence- at- hand simultaneously creates the problem and hides the solution.

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Each of us is what he pursues and cares for. In everyday terms, we understand ourselves and our existence by way of the activities we pursue and the things we take care of.

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We are always already melded with the world because we are constantly meddling with it. Just as Wittgenstein’s language- games are integrated into practices and social behavior, so Dasein can only be what it is by incorporating and being incorporated into the world.

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We cannot be in the world the way a fly is in a bottle, that is, as one present- at- hand object located within another in a contingent spatial relationship— precisely the picture that “becomes the ‘evident’ point of departure for problems of epistemology”

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we are involved with the world by being a certain kind of person (a father, a professor) through engaging in the relevant activities (tucking into bed, teaching) with the pertinent equipment (stuffed animals, chalkboards).

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We don’t become a certain kind of person simply by thinking that we are or from an internal state of mind, no more than these alone could confer the status of chess move on the mere act of pushing a piece of wood.

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Thus, we are “in” the world by pursuing goals and projecting roles within relevant equipmental circuits, all of which ultimately rests on the fact that we care what happens to us.

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Whatever we actually are is a function of our possibilities, an anticipatory echo of the self we are trying to be.

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Of paramount importance is to avoid the “ontological perversion of making Dasein something present- at- hand” (BT 293/ 250), a view that begins with the self- identical, self- sufficient subject and then moves on to its relationship to others.

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Our porous nature means that the Primacy of the Whole plays the same role for society as it does for equipment:

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Demonstrating that Dasein is not a substance or a subject141 clears the way for an analysis of Dasein that will show that “the problem of empathy is just as absurd as the question of the reality of the external world.”

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Like equipment’s referentiality, being- with others is an intrinsic, defining feature of Dasein rather than an external relationship acquired upon encountering others. “Dasein in itself is essentially Being- with.” 143 And the Humpty- Dumpty Thesis applies here too: we cannot account for our sociality “by somehow ‘explaining’ it as what results from taking the Being- present- at- hand- together of several subjects and then fitting them together.”

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“Because Dasein’s Being is Being- with, its understanding of Being already implies the understanding of Others. . . . Knowing oneself is grounded in Being- with.”

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As we all must die our own deaths, so should we live our own lives, not apart from social relations but still, in some important sense, distinct from them.

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Heidegger calls our teleological striving “ec- static,” that is, “standing- outside” ourselves interacting with tools and others rather than closed up within the shell of a substance. This is his more practice- oriented version of intentionality.

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Our inside is always already punctured and permeated by the outside. In order to retreat from the world and others to an inner sanctum, a “primordial” sphere of ownness, I need ideas acquired in learning the basic understandings I soak up in becoming socialized as a full- fledged Dasein.

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The fact that care defines us fits the idea I am calling original finitude. Perhaps a god can be truly self- sufficient, in need of nothing else to be, a divine narcissist like Aristotle’s god; but we begin from a lack. It is because we forget that we pull pens and paper into our worldly activities, because we hunger that pies call out to us, because we are lonely and lusty that we couple and it is because we will die that we strive to create something that will last.

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It is not our overflowing Being that, like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, radiates brilliance from sheer joy at our abundance of power and self; rather it is need, hunger, want, and death that drive us “out.”

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two are so entwined that neither can be or be understood except in relation to the other; each is defined relative to each other.

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keeping with the Primacy of the Whole, it is the relationship that is primary and the relata must be understood from it.

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Epistemologically, an interlocking system of beliefs and attitudes sets the general range of ideas that we can entertain and possibly believe, our “live options” in James’s term. This idea is very important to On Certainty, where Wittgenstein argues at length that “my convictions do form a system, a structure.”

4 What Is Called Thinking?

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“in order to recognize a symbol by its sign we must observe how it is used with a sense. A sign does not determine a logical form unless it is taken together with its logico- syntactical employment.”

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Conclusion: Original Finitude

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them. Language limns the contours of cognition, entailing the entirety of logic and mirroring the structure of reality. By setting the limits to all possible language, logic implicitly contains a mystical sketch of the world as a limited whole, allowing Wittgenstein to have his ineffable cake and eff it too.

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Philosophers have been mesmerized by the ideal, and under its spell have propped up retrospective reconstructions of the real that filter out all countermanding evidence as illusory or accidental.

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What we actually find when we “look” are overlapping similarities rather than singular essences, rough approximations which cannot be cashed out in precise certitudes, hazy clouds of ceteris paribus conditions swirling round rules and definitions.

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picture is conjured up which seems to fix the sense unambiguously. The actual use, compared with that suggested by the picture, seems like something muddied. . . . The form of expression we use seems to have been designed for a god, who knows what we cannot know; he sees the whole of each of those infinite series. In the actual use of expressions we make detours, we go by side roads. We see the straight highway before us, but of course we cannot use it, because it is permanently closed.

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Without an invidious contrast with the ideal, the ordinary ceases to be a second- best we must settle for; cut free from a spurious transcendence, human affairs can quit losing a rigged game. Traditional philosophy has been “designed

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A careful examination of actual practice— just the kind of Realphilosophie that philosophical habits discourage— is necessary to grasp Wittgenstein’s point.

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application of a given rule. But absent meaning- objects, reality cannot be called on to substantiate our claims independently of our practices of gathering and evaluating evidence.

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“Correspondence to reality” is merely a way of saying that something is true, a compliment we pay to our best beliefs, as Rorty liked to say, but one that never gets outside our practices.

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We can appeal to nothing beyond these practices because any such appeal thereby incorporates the evidence into our language- games, thus compromising its desired independence from our practices.

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Phenomenology gives up the dream of Reality Itself, and it does so without “settling” for a metaphysical second- best. Without a contrast, the world we live in stops being “merely” our experience to become the only reality that merits the name. 23

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However, then there is really no absolute truth! Of course not. It is time that we cure ourselves of the consternation over this and finally take seriously that we are for the time being still human beings and no gods. . . . From the fact that there is no absolute truth for us, however, we may not infer that there is in general no truth for us. . . . What for us is true in this sense of truth is quite enough for a human life.

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Authenticity represents a groundless ground in ethics. To adapt Yeats’s famous words, “the best” for Heidegger lack one specific conviction— the conviction that there is a center, that it holds, and that somewhere the divine falconer is calling us back, even if we have strayed too far to hear his call.

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only revelation at hand is the Kafkaesque one that there is no assurance of a revelation; that if a revelation comes we may not understand it aright or even recognize its coming; and that we will never know— even after its appearance— whether what is coming toward us is a healing god or a rough beast.

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What Yeats mourns as the dying embers of belief Heidegger accepts as our essential situation: we are too late, to bring in his later phrasing, for the gods and too early for another beginning.

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According to their anti- realism, nothing beyond our ways of talking and acting can determine or justify these ways, at least not non- circularly. A

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Thinking “subjectivism” all the way out rules out appeals to that which is cut off from us in principle, making the reality we experience reality full stop.

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This reintroduces “subjective” qualities like “beautiful” or “useful” into the world as full- fledged features of reality.

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The essential fact about our existence is that it cannot be rationally accounted for without remainder; our being thrown into existence is essentially groundless.

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We seek God’s benediction for and approval of our righteous smiting of the wicked and the irrational; we want our beliefs to mirror the structure of the universe, making our beliefs absolutely right and others’ frivolously or maliciously wrong. We want to know that our way of acting and thinking comes from our truest self, from what is highest and most divine in us, so as to make every alternative not just wrong but a form of self- betrayal, a scorning of God or the world or humanity.

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Giving up metaphysical solace is difficult.

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We do not subscribe to our most basic orienting “beliefs” because we have judged them to be reasonable, but because nonrational contingent processes like training and socialization have formed us so. They’re not worryingly ungrounded knowledge because they’re not knowledge at all.

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They connect these cultural concerns with scientism, the idea that science gives us the one true description of reality.

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As the Stoics emphasized, apatheia toward my worldly fate gives me a strange kind of mastery over that fate: if I fear nothing, no one can force me to do anything; if I want nothing, nothing can make me unhappy.

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The moral of this story is that the man living in a barrel is more free, even more powerful, than the ruler of the world at the head of his army since the latter’s happiness depends on the vagaries of fate.

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One of the reasons we cling to the traditional conception of being as constant presence is to quell anxiety over the ephemeral, to quiet our horror at the fact that everything we are and achieve and love will decay and be forgotten. We seek refuge not only from this world’s injustices and imperfections, but from the flow of time itself by reposing in the eternal.

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Yet the suspension of the ongoing flow of our lives during anxiety and the anticipation of death gives us the chance to choose ourselves. There is no escape from the world,

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We are thrown into a certain range of possibilities, but we can actively decide which projects shall define us. We may bristle at the fact that we have undergone our past passively, yet we can— as with Nietzsche’s amor fati— retroactively choose them, offering an ersatz divine self- creation.

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Discerning the exact borders of my kingdom— what I can control and what I can know— allows me to stay within it, where I reign absolutely.

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This is why the study of Dasein forms the foundation for the study of being, that is, fundamental ontology: the various modes of being emerge from our activities the way a rainbow flows from a prism; a complete understanding of the latter secures an understanding of the full array of possible colors. Although Heidegger does not explicitly

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The attempt to achieve exhaustive knowledge by only admitting what fits our categories is like pasting a target to the end of your rifle, ensuring a perfect score in such a way that it compromises the game.

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The unique unleashing of the demand to render reasons threatens everything of humans’ being- at- home and robs them of the roots of their subsistence, the roots from out of which every great human age, every world- opening spirit, every molding of the human form has thus far grown. . . . The claim of the mighty Principle [of Reason, that everything has a reason and thus must be rationally judged] of rendering reasons withdraws the subsistence from contemporary humanity. We could also say that the more decisively humans try to harness the “mega- energies” that would, once and for all, satisfy all human energy needs, the more impoverished becomes the human faculty for building and dwelling in the realm of what is essential. There is an enigmatic interconnection between the demand to render reasons and the withdrawal of roots. 58 Modern autonomy requires that everything answer to us and serve our comprehension and control. But

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Technology creates an “unbearable lightness of Being,” cheapening being itself to the point that it can no longer sustain meaningful lives. 60

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We must accept that there are fundamental limits to our understanding— not limits that can be definitively surveyed and used to master a limited whole, but brute facts that do not yield to comprehension.

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The very fact that we are alive, and that we live as humans, “stares [us] in the face with the inexorability of an enigma.”