Husserl, Heidegger & Existentialism – Hubert Dreyfus

Husserl, Heidegger & Existentialism – Hubert Dreyfus


One philosopher active earlier in this
century who was much more important than his reputation outside the subject might
suggest was the German Husserl, Edmund Husserl, who was born in 1859 and
died in 1938. His acknowledged masterpiece is a book called “Logical Investigations”,
published in two volumes in 1900 and 1901. And perhaps I might also mention
a book called “Ideas”, published in 1913. Husserl’s basic approach went
something like this: For each one of us there is one thing that is indubitably certain
and that is our own conscious awareness. Therefore, if we want to build our
knowledge of reality on rock-solid foundations, that is the place from which
to start. But as soon as we analyze it, we find that awareness has to be awareness
of something. Consciousness must be consciousness of something. And we are
never able to distinguish in experience between states of consciousness and
objects of consciousness. In actual experience, however careful the analysis,
they seem to be the same thing. Now, skeptics down the ages have argued that
we can never know whether the objects of our consciousness have a separate
existence from us independent of our experience of them. Husserl conceded that,
but insisted that they do indubitably exist as objects of consciousness for us,
whatever other status they may have or lack. And therefore that we have direct
access to them as objects of consciousness and can investigate them
as such, without making any assumptions about their independent existence.
Thus he launched a school of philosophy devoted to the systematic analysis
of consciousness and its objects. This school is known as Phenomenology.
And one use of that word ‘phenomenology’ continues to this day to refer to
whatever is given in direct experience regardless of any question of
independent existence. And our direct experience, of course, encompasses
not only material objects, but all sorts of abstract things such as music,
mathematics, not to mention our own thoughts, pains, emotions, memories & so on.
One of Husserl’s followers, Heidegger, struck out on his own with a book called “Being & Time”,
published in 1927 and dedicated to Husserl. This book became the fountainhead
of modern existentialism, though Heidegger never actually liked having
the label “existentialist” attached to him. He went on to produce a great
deal more philosophical work in the course of a long life. He died in 1976 at
the age of 86. And much of that work was influential, but “Being and Time” remains
his masterpiece. Later existentialist thinkers, especially Jean-Paul Sartre, became
better known to the general public and did more to propagate
existentialist ideas outside the confines of academic philosophy. But
Heidegger remained very much their master. The very title of Sartre’s main
philosophical work “Being & Nothingness”, published in 1943, is a direct allusion
to Heidegger’s “Being and Time”. So here we have a clear-cut line of philosophical
development, which we are going to discuss in this program; from Husserl to Heidegger
and Heidegger to Sartre. And perhaps we might mention one other figure,
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who published an important book in 1945
called “The Phenomenology of Perception”. He and Sartre were great friends at one
time. Together they founded and edited the journal Les Temps modernes. But Merleau-
Ponty died early at the age of only 53 in 1961. Here to discuss this major tradition
within modern philosophy is Professor Hubert Dreyfus of the University of
California at Berkeley. Professor Dreyfus, I said at the beginning of that
introduction to our discussion that Husserl is probably not well known
outside academic philosophy. How does it come about–can you explain this
for us–how somebody so little known generally is of such enormous importance
inside philosophy? Well, it was Husserl’s own idea that he was important that
helped. And he was important in a reactionary kind of way. That is,
he culminated a whole philosophical tradition, the Cartesian tradition,
that thinks of man’s relationship to the world in terms of subjects knowing
objects. In fact, Husserl thought he culminated the whole philosophical
tradition from Plato on because he had discovered the indubitable basis on
which one could ground an understanding of everything. Setting himself up like that, he’s similar to the way Hegel set
himself up as the culmination of idealism so that Kierkegaard could rebel
against Hegel in the name of the beginning of existentialism and Marx
in the name of materialism. So Husserl sets himself up as the culmination of
Cartesianism–his last book is called “Cartesian Meditations”–and then
other thinkers like Heidegger, like Merleau-Ponty can understand what the
tradition really comes to, and then they can rebel against it. Now, I tried to give a
sort of lightning sketch in my opening words of Husserl’s basic approach, but I think
we need something a bit more substantial than that to get our teeth into.
Can you fill that out a bit? Yes, Husserl’s basic idea was that the mind is always
directed toward objects under some aspect. So, I am perceiving that table,
roughly I’m perceiving that as a table, and from the top I can remember it,
I have beliefs about it, I could have desires about it. All my mental content
is directed. And Husserl thought that was in fact, the essence of the mind.
The mind and nothing else in the universe has this kind of directedness toward
something outside of it, other than it. There is a mystery here, isn’t there,
how, for example, if I think about astronomical questions, how events inside
my head can relate to distant galaxies? Right. Husserl thought that was a Wunderbar
phenomenon and he was ready to devote his life to trying to understand it.
And his way of understanding it was to say, there must be some kind of
content in the mind that accounted for this aboutness or directedness.
The aboutness or directness is called technically “intentionality” in the
tradition, not because it has to do with our intentions, but because it has to
do with this directedness. And he said there was something which he called
“intentional content” in the mind which was sort of like a description
of reality. And it was by virtue of that description that I could perceive or
remember this table under some aspect. Now, you said earlier that thinkers
like Heidegger reacted against this. How did they react? Well, at first we should
say what Husserl thought he got out of this. He got out of it an amazing finished edifice
that was so impressive that one would naturally want to react against it. He
thought, and quite rightly, that it didn’t matter whether there was a table there or not.
That is, it didn’t matter to his philosophy. He could just bracket the table.
In fact, he could bracket the whole world. All he needed to study was the
fact that he took it that there was a table there. He performed what he
called the “phenomenological reduction”. He reflected on his own intentional content.
And what was special about that according to him was he had an
indubitable basis to start from. It wasn’t just that he had some kind of
evidence that he took that to be a table, as he put it, he had indubitable evidence
that he had himself produced taking it to be a table was just taking it to be a
table. He couldn’t be wrong about that. Secondly, he had absolute grounding
because I couldn’t experience anything –music, other people, tables, galaxies
as you mentioned–I couldn’t experience anything at all except by virtue of my
directed mental content. So he thought he had discovered the indubitable
foundation which is the condition of the possibility of our being able to
encounter anything. And he found it in this relation of subjects directed
toward objects. Now that is, as you say, the culmination of a whole tradition
of philosophy stemming at least from Descartes if not from before of
seeing man’s situation as that of a subject confronted by objects. Now it’s
that that really Heidegger reacted against. That’s right. That Cartesian tradition
became so clear and in certain way so persuasive in Husserl that
Heidegger was driven to see whether that really was the true description of
the phenomena, because Husserl kept saying we must go to the things
themselves & let them show themselves as they are in themselves. And when
Heidegger actually looked at the way human beings are related to the world,
he found that it wasn’t as subjects related to objects at all, that awareness and
consciousness didn’t play any role. Now that seems very strange, how could it
be? Well, he took of his example–and he was good at going to simple examples–
hammering. When an expert carpenter is simply hammering, if the hammer is
working well and he’s a master at what he’s doing, the hammer becomes
transparent for him. It isn’t as if he’s a subject contemplating the hammer.
Maybe he’s paying attention to the nails, but if the nails are going in well and
he’s really good and he’s been doing it all day he doesn’t even have to pay
attention to that. He can think about lunch or he can talk to some fellow
carpenter and everything is going on with what I would call “transparent coping”,
Heidegger calls that “the ready-to-hand”. When you look at our ready-to-hand
relation to things, you just don’t find subjects contemplating objects. This
is such a contrast with the traditional approach to philosophy that I think
it’s worth going over it again, perhaps in slightly different terms. That from
Descartes onwards, philosophers had thought of the human being as a subject
relating to objects. And therefore, because of that, the central
philosophical problems were seen to be: how do we as subject have knowledge
of these objects? And that the central problems to which philosophers addressed
themselves were about perception, about whether we have any certain knowledge
at all, if so how we got it, how we knew we had it, and so on. Now,
Heidegger isn’t saying that these problems don’t exist, but what he’s
saying is that this is not what is central to the human situation. We aren’t, as it were,
separate subjects looking through some invisible plate glass window at an
objective reality which is out there and to which we try to relate or
of which we try to get knowledge. We are, from the beginning, in amongst it
all. We are in there in the world so to speak coping with it. So that, we are not
primarily observing or knowing beings at all in the way that traditional
philosophers have treated us as being. We’re coping beings or we’re even,
he might’ve been inclined to say, we’re being beings. And it’s from
there that we start. That’s right. It’s a relationship of, for instance, as
Gilbert Ryle put it when he reviewed Being in Time — he reviewed both Being
and Time and Husserl’s Logical Investigations. He thought they were both good, but
he thought Heidegger was really onto something interesting. Ryle distinguished
“knowing-that”, which is what the tradition always been interested in, from “knowing-how”
which is what he took Heidegger to be interested in. And that isn’t just to
claim the primacy of practical activity, though that’s radical enough — the pragmatists
have claimed that too — it was to have an analysis of practical activity that
didn’t need to bring in mental content like desiring, believing, following
a rule. You could try to explain hammering in more mental activity, but
Heidegger said if you really observe it — or to take another of his favorite
examples, he said to his students, when you come into the classroom you must
turn the doorknob, but you don’t observe the doorknob, believe that you have to
turn the doorknob to get in, try to turn the doorknob. All we know is,
here you are in a classroom and you couldn’t have got here without turning
the doorknob. You have no memory of it because the whole activity was so
transparent it didn’t even pass through consciousness. A driver has the same
experience shifting from first to second, they do a lot of fancy footwork with
the clutch, but they can be carrying on a deep philosophical conversation,
it doesn’t even have to be conscious. Although these examples are
mundane and trivial, what they actually illustrate is of enormous importance
because what they show is that our conscious activity–or even that is
begging the question–that our activity is not characteristically determined by
conscious choices and aware states of mind at all. And that is of
great significant. That’s right. Now Heidegger didn’t wanna deny that
there was a place for that. He said in his language, first and foremost, we are
coping beings, already involved in the world. But if something should go wrong,
for instance, in the hammer case, if the hammer is too heavy, then
I will notice this aspect “too heavy”, and I’ll become a problem-solver like
the tradition thought human beings were. I’ll become a rational animal and I
will say, for this task it’s too heavy, if I take another hammer then it might
work better; the kind of Aristotelian practical syllogism. All of that has its
place. The same if the doorknob sticks, then I have to try to turn the doorknob.
Heidegger calls that the “unready-to-hand”, and he thinks that’s the level, I presume
he thinks, that’s the level at which Husserl came into the story: one crucial
step too late. And there is another level while we’re at it which Heidegger calls
the “present-at-hand” which is important too. We can get in the stance of just
staring at the object. If the hammer– if the head flies off the hammer for instance
or if the nails are missing or if we’re just feeling in a relaxed attitude of wonder,
we can see the hammer as a wooden shank with a iron blob on the end. Then
we see it as a object with properties: it weighs, say, one pound. That’s the
level too that philosophers have always studied. There’s a whole logic of
subjects and predicates discussed in what’s called the predicate calculus.
That has its place Heidegger would say, but that’s a third level down the line
after you left out the everyday coping and even left out the practical situation
in which things can break down, because that hammer isn’t even a broken
down hammer it’s just a piece of wood with metal on the end. But that’s
important too Heidegger would say because it’s by relating those kinds of
predicates with laws that we get science and theory. And Heidegger thought science
and theory was very important. He has what he called an existential account
of science in Being and Time. But what’s important to him is to realize that to get
to these predicates and laws of science, you have to leave out the whole
level of practical coping in the world. So you shouldn’t have the idea that
scientific theory that can explain causal things very well could
ever explain the everyday, meaningful world of significance
that Heidegger wants to talk about. So what he’s saying, in effect, is that we only
become conscious of things in most cases when something goes wrong, when there’s
a specific problem. But that for most of the time we are kind of moving in a medium,
we’re swimming in a medium that we take utterly for granted and are not conscious
of and don’t direct our attention to at all. And one consequence of that is
that unlike traditional philosophers, he sees the world as not as being
something that’s inferred. I mean, the traditional philosopher talks as if what
I have access to is my mind with its contents, and from these contents I infer the
existence of a world external to myself. And Heidegger is saying, no no that is
not actually what the situation is at all. The world is not something I infer.
I start with it and in it. That’s right. The way he put it was that
philosophers since Descartes had been trying to prove the existence of the
external world, and Kant said that it was a scandal that no one had successfully
proved the existence of the external world. Heidegger says in Being and Time,
it’s a scandal that people are trying to prove the existence of the external
world, as if we were stuck with this internal world & couldn’t get out. Whereas
we are, as he puts it, being-in-the-world. I think I should explain that a
little bit further because we’ve only talked so far about the directedness
being not the kind of mental directedness that Husserl was
interested in. But any particular directedness of my mind towards a hammer
I’m using — me, not my mind — toward the hammer–using this hammer–takes
place on a whole background which he calls “the world”. The hammer only makes
sense in terms of nails and wood and houses and other, a totality of equipment
which he calls “significance”. And my skill of hammering only makes sense in a whole
background of other skills of standing and moving and wearing my clothes
and talking and so forth. So it’s on the background of the world and my
capacities for being in that world, or really being of that world you might say,
that anything gets encountered at all. So, as you say, you can’t
call that into question. And this launches him into forming a view
of human beings which is radically different from the traditional
philosopher’s view of human beings. Can you begin to tell us what that is? Well, certainly he can’t talk about
subjects or persons or minds… He needs a completely new word to
even talk about this ongoing activity on a background, and he chooses brilliantly
to use as a word “Dasein”. In German, Dasein means simply existence, like you earn
your daily bread, you would earn your daily Dasein. But it also means, if
you take it apart, “being the there”, and so he thinks that this activity of human
being, which he sees as an activity, is an activity of being-the-there which
for him is being the situation in which this coping is going on. So, when I’m driving
there is, if we’re looking at that aspect of me which is coping — not at my body — it’s
just identical with the driving situation. So that, being-the-there is
actively being a situation in which directed activity is going on. And that’s
a completely new understanding of what it is to be a human being. And Dasein
also gives him the possibility as we have with the word “human being” of either
talking about that activity human being or to talk about a human being, an
instance of that activity, and he does both. And he actually offers us an analysis of this
particular kind of being or way of being that we are which relates it directly to time, and
hence the title of his most famous book. Can you explain what that relationship is?
Yes, we better spell that out. The relationship of–another word that’s
handy here, this relationship of opening a clearing, because another word for
the situation is a “clearing”, and there is this activity of clearing this clearing,
which we are. And he says this activity has a threefold structure. First, he says,
we, that is, Dasein has what he calls “disposition”, the best example of which
is moods. That is, thanks to a basic characteristic of us, things show up
for us as mattering, as threatening, or attractive or stubborn or useful and so
forth. Or just important in some way? Or important in some way. And the tradition
has generally overlooked that he thinks because it doesn’t easily fall into
these knowing interests. But he says of course, rightly, that it’s very important
that things show up for us as mattering and they do because we have this
basic characteristic called disposition. And we’re always already in a situation,
and it always already matters some way. We don’t ever get behind our moods and
start from no mood and then step into one. The second structure he calls
“discourse”, which is a little bit misleading but it grows out of a kind
of interesting pun. That is, he says the world is always articulated, that is,
right now everything is already laid out in this, what he calls “context of
significance”, all pieces of equipment fitting together so that we can use
any particular one. And I’m always articulating the world, that is, breaking it up
at its joints by using a piece of equipment. If I take out of this total —
which he calls a referential or totality of significance–a hammer, I can
articulate it by hammering with it as a hammer or I can articulate it as a nail
puller under different aspects. And then of course, I can talk about what I’m
doing. I can say this nail is hard to pull, then I will be articulating even
further what I had already articulated. And that’s constantly going on, that’s
called discourse. And the third aspect, which has been implicit in what we’ve
been saying, is that Dasein is always pressing into the future. If I’m
hammering with a nail, it’s in order to say, repair a house in order to do my
job as homemaker, say, or carpenter. Dasein, in Heidegger talk, is
using equipment in order to pursue some goal which he calls “towards
which”, for the sake of some ultimate let’s say life plan, which he calls a “for
the sake of”. Now, it’s important not to speak about goals and life plans. His
funny language is necessary because a goal is what you have in your mind or a
life plan. Whereas, he just says Dasein is always oriented toward the future,
doing something now in order to get to do something later, and that all of this
makes sense as oriented toward something which is what that person is up to. And
that threefold structure, which is being already in amidst things and always
ahead of itself, pressing into the future, is, as you let the cat out of the bag, the
structure of time. In the second half of Being in Time, lo and behold, the
threefold structure of being-in-the-world or being-in-a-situation turns out to be
mapable on past, present and future. And he ends up saying, almost, that Being
is time. That’s right. Well, Dasein anyway. We are embodied time. That’s right.
Dasein, in his language is “care”, and the structure of care is temporality.
Now, we’ve talked up to this point just about the individual human being,
what Heidegger calls “Dasein”, and its position in the world and all these
various aspects of it that you’ve been spelling out. But, of course,
Heidegger doesn’t suppose that he’s the only being that exists, and you and
I when we talk about this don’t suppose that you or I are the only beings that
exist. The world is full of people. How do all the other people or the
other Daseins come into this picture? Well, it’s very important that they come in
from the very start. In fact, it’s a big problem for Cartesians like Descartes and
Husserl–they have the same problem about other minds that they have about
the external world, because they start with an individual, autonomous isolated
subject. Heidegger starts in an entirely different way, closer to the phenomena
and saving him from this problem. He says we all already do what anyone does.
I hammer with a hammer because one hammers with hammers in our culture.
I eat the way one eats, I pronounce words the way one pronounces words in our
country–and you have to or you wouldn’t be understood. That’s right. And
in fact, people subtly, constantly… People can’t stand distance Heidegger
says, meaning: people subtly lead other people to correct their pronunciation
or whatever. And they don’t have to be coerced into it. People are eager not to
deviate from the norm. It’s just a basic fact about human beings. So we grow up
— Heidegger doesn’t talk genetically but we could say it helpfully — a baby gets
socialized into a bunch of shared, public practices and starts doing what one does
and saying what one says. And at that point this baby has Dasein in it, to talk like
Heidegger. And, of course, “this one” doesn’t mean just the masses. As
Heidegger says at one point, we flee from the crowd the way one flees from the
crowd. But even when we flee from the crowd we do it the way one does it.
So finally, Heidegger says about Dasein that normally Dasein is what it does and
or one is what one does or Dasein’s self is a oneself. If one takes together
various aspects of what you said up to this point, they could be
rather disquieting. I mean, you’ve just said that one does what one does and
lives the way one does, because that is how we are socially conditioned and we
have to do it for the most part. You were saying much earlier that Heidegger
rejected the idea that most of our activity is directed by conscious
choices and decisions and mentally aware reflection. If you take these things
together doesn’t that rather reduce the human agent to a sort of zombie, I mean,
somebody who is merely responding to pressures on him from outside in an
unreflecting way? That’s quite right. This anyone, this self, that just does
what one does in an unreflective way sounds pretty much like a very
zombie-like character. But Heidegger is trying to do things the other way around.
He now will show you how we can get free individuals to crystallize out of this
rather amorphous public “us”. And that’s the subject of division two of Being
Time, the subject of authenticity, the part of Heidegger which is really
existentialist. So far we haven’t said anything very existentialist, but in
Division two Heidegger talks about guilt and about death which I don’t have time to
go into here. But guilt and death all turn out to be versions of anxiety, which
we better talk about for a minute. A Dasein, according to Heidegger, any
Dasein anywhere, is always dimly aware that the way the world is, is
ungrounded — by that I mean: there’s no reason why one has to do things
this way. It isn’t because it’s rational to do things this way, it isn’t because
God ordered us to do things this way, it isn’t because human nature requires
we do them this way. Heidegger, as an existentialist, says at one point, that
the essence of Dasein is its existence, meaning there is no human nature.
We are what we take ourselves to be, how we interpret ourselves in our practices.
But that is rather unsettling, and that’s exactly his word for it. Anxiety is the
experience, is the disposition, that is our response to the fundamentally
unsettling character of being Dasein. And the question then is: what do you do
about it? Well what you have to do about it is you can either flee it, in which case
one goes back to the kind of conformity which is required just to be
intelligible–I have to do what one does and talk like one talks–but you become a
conformist. You try even more to shape up to the norms, to pronounce things the
right way and dress the right way and everything. That’s how you could flee
into inauthenticity. Literally, that would mean something like disowning what it is
to be Dasein. Or you can own up to what it is to be Dasein. “To own up” means for
Heidegger to hold on to anxiety and not flee it. And if you do that, you will be
catapulted into an entirely different way of being human. Now, what
you do needn’t change because you only can do what one does or
you’ll just be kooky and insane. So you go on doing probably the same thing you did,
but how you do it changes completely. You no longer expect to get any deep final
meaning out of anything. So you don’t embrace projects with the conviction
that now, at last, this is gonna make sense of your life. And you also don’t
then drop all your projects because they fail to make the ultimate meaning
you’re looking for. As one of my students once said, you are able to stick with
things without getting stuck with them. In this authentic activity,
Heidegger says, you no longer have to respond to what he calls the
general situation, you can respond to what he calls the unique situation. He doesn’t
give any examples, but I take it to be something like this. Take his carpenter that
he’s always talking about with his hammer. When he puts his hammer down for
lunch, he could just have his sausages and sauerkraut, but if there’s beautiful
flowers blooming outdoors and he’s authentic, he doesn’t have to do what a
respectable carpenter does, he can go out and wander in the flowers. But it’s
important that he can do only what one does. He can’t take off all his clothes and
roll in the flowers, one doesn’t do that. But there’s a little space for
authenticity, namely, doing the sort of thing that one does enables you
to respond to the unique situation without concern for respectability
in conformity. And that kind of life, not trying to get absolute meaning
and responding to the current situation makes you an individual, Heidegger says,
makes you flexible, alive, gay, “froh” in German. And that is his idea of how one
should live. Put that way, you make it sound like a sort of philosophy of
personal liberation. One hears this phrase “philosophy of liberation” used about
a lot of political philosophies, but this is, as it were, an individual liberation
philosophy, is it not? But it’s an existentialist liberation philosophy,
which makes it a sort of last and strangest liberation philosophy. We don’t liberate, say,
our sexual drives or our repressed classes. The liberation comes from realizing
that there’s no deep truth to liberate, no deep meaning in Dasein.
Accepting the ungrounded and unsettledness is itself liberating.
Now, in the whole of this discussion, you’ve been forced to use some
very strange terms like “Dasein”, and to use ordinary words in some unusual
ways. And when one reads Being and Time, because everything we’ve talked
about so far is what’s contained in Being and Time, the early Heidegger.
When one reads this book, this vocabulary really does become very difficult to
cope with. In fact, I think it’s one of the most difficult books to read and
understand that I ever have read. But you’ve actually, in spite of that
difficulty, succeeded in making a lot of these ideas clear. Why didn’t Heidegger
do that? Why did he have to be so obscure? Well it’s implied in what I did. If he
could’ve done what I was just doing namely, using the wrong word and then
backing off and using the right word, that probably would’ve been the best
thing to do. For instance, I talked about goals, and then said, but of course,
they’re not really goals because that’s too mental; and life plans, but they’re not
really plans. And then I introduced his funny language the “towards which” and
the “for the sake of”. And I said we had to use “Dasein” because we’re a way of being
but not a mind directed toward things. In general, he would say, the whole
philosophical tradition has passed over the world and our usual kind of involved
coping with the world, not only because it’s something you don’t notice if
everything is going well, but also because we have no language for it
since we don’t need any language for it. We need language for how to repair
the doorknob and how to get a light or hammer if the hammer is too heavy.
But we don’t need language to describe the way everything is when it’s going
transparently well, and the kind of being we are when everything’s going
transparently well. So Heidegger would say he has to make up a whole new
vocabulary for this. And once you get in it, it does seem to be the right,
economical vocabulary and he uses it rigorously. So that when he’s taken up a new
word like “ready-to-hand”, “unready-to-hand”, or “present at hand”, he sticks to it.
So, once you get in this language, it’s really a very elegant and simple
language. Being and Time was published –it was presented when it was published
as being the first volume of what was to be of a two volume work. But
volume two never came out, because Heidegger in fact changed his views
and that made him unable to finish the project. And this change is itself
very frequently referred to in the literature about Heidegger, it’s called “the turn”,
“die Kehre”, the German word. Now, in what way does the later Heidegger differ
from the earlier Heidegger? What are the real grounds of the difference? There are
a lot of different views of this and it’s not a settled question in Heidegger
scholarship. People say that he went from a resolute sort of grasping of things
to a kind of openness and so forth. That’s probably true, but I don’t think
that’s the essence of it. At one point, I think he says it clearly where he says
that he has changed to thinking Being historically and that that’s what he
wasn’t doing before. You can see that he wasn’t doing it before because
everything I’ve explained so far was supposed to be about the structure of
all human beings anywhere anytime. Even anxiety was supposed to be this, what
any human being experienced and fled from or faced up to. But now Heidegger gets the
idea that there is something special about each epoch of our understanding of Being
and that he had been talking only about the modern epoch without realizing it.
And he begins to try to describe these various epochs. For the Greeks, they felt
rooted, they weren’t unsettled, and things showed up for them as natural and they
appreciated them. And for the Christians, they felt that they were created
and that the all the things they dealt with were creatures, and that they
could read God’s plan out of the world. And for us, we have another understanding
of Being, an understanding of Being where everything is objects for us to control
and use, and we’re subjects with desires to satisfy. So that these are all
different understandings of what it is to be a thing, what it is to be a person,
what it is to be an institution. Heidegger would say different
understandings of what it is to be. And if you have a different understanding
of what it is to be, then different sort of things show up. For the Greeks,
heroes showed up and and beautiful things in Homer. For the
Christians, saints and sinners showed up. You can’t have any saints and sinners in
Greece, they would just be poor people everybody walked all over. You can’t have
any heroes in the Middle Ages, they would be proud people who were damned.
So different sorts of people and things show up. And Heidegger now thinks he
should talk about the kind of peoples and things that show up in our
understanding of Being. Now, one of the ways you can point out this change
for an example is he thinks anxiety isn’t a universal structure, when he
gets to later Heidegger thinks this. Anxiety — the Greeks didn’t have it,
Christians didn’t have it. He thinks we have it because we have what he calls
a technological and nihilistic understanding of Being, and that that is
a distressing, rootless, anxious-making understanding of Being. If he’s moving from
something which is perennial or at least which he regards as being a perennial,
universal in human experience to considering something which he regards
as being, as it were, topical to our age and for that reason ephemeral–so that
in 200 years time when we’re all dead, this will all be past history and
something else will be the case– isn’t his philosophy ceasing to concern
itself with the permanent and just concerning itself with the superficial?
Well, if this were any old culture or even any old stage of our culture,
he would say yes and what he was doing would then be soon passe as you’re
saying. But he thinks that this is a very special culture and that we’re in a very
special stage of this very special culture. It’s a special culture for him because
we’re the only culture that has history. In any culture, events follow one
after another, but only in ours does the understanding of Being change from
the Greek to the Christian to the modern, and that’s “historicity” in Heidegger
language. And we happen to stand in a special place in our culture. An
understanding of Being that started with Plato 2,000 years ago has gone through
all sorts of philosophical and practical transformations until it is now finished
in Heidegger terms. That means all the philosophical moves have been
tried and played out, completed, and now it’s done for, it’s a sort of
pun on finished. He gets this idea from Nietzsche who influenced him
a lot. We have reached the stage of planetary technology, where we are
now taking over the whole planet. Our understanding of Being is dominating
every understanding of Being. And our understanding of Being has come to a
dead end, which Heidegger calls Nihilism. One aspect of the late Heidegger which
we hadn’t touched on, and we must I think before we move on to thinkers after
Heidegger, is his concern with language. The later Heidegger is not just
concerned with language he’s almost obsessed by language, isn’t he? Why is
that? Well, we’re in a way set to see that because since there’s no way the world
is in itself, language isn’t there to correspond to reality. Nor is language
there just to be made up arbitrarily. For Heidegger, a vocabulary or the kind of
metaphors one uses name things into being. When, in California, somebody said
that everybody was “laid back”, there were already people with hot tubs taking
it easy and taking drugs, but now they discover that that all fitted together
and they were laid back. So there was more of it. So language is a marvelously
powerful way to change the practices, focus them and add new practices to
Dasein’s way of life. So it’s the poets not the philosophers or the priests or
the scientists who are the vanguard of humanity and the hope of some new
understanding of Being. Now, I think we’ve been quite right to devote almost the
whole of this discussion to Heidegger because he is far and away the most
important 20th century existentialist philosopher. But I did say in the
introduction to this discussion that we would touch on others and I think
we must do so now before we bring the discussion to a close. I mentioned
specifically Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, let’s take them in that order, the
chronological order. How would you characterize Sartre’s relationship
as a philosopher to Heidegger? Well, Sartre starts out as
a Husserlian and becomes a phenomenologist, writes a good novel
called Nausea, which is a phenomenological description of a world
breaking down, but then he read Heidegger and he was converted to what he thought
was Heidegger. But he felt he had a fix up Heidegger as a Frenchman and make it
Cartesian. So he starts with the individual subject and tries to get and
to talk about death and guilt and all the things that Heidegger talks about.
But that’s a disaster because if this story we’ve been telling is right,
that’s what Heidegger was trying to free us from. In fact, when I went to visit
Heidegger he had Being and Nothingness on his desk in German translation and
I said oh you’re reading Sartre and he said “how can I even begin to read
the muck?”, his word was “dreck”. And that’s pretty strong and I think
that’s accurate because what happens if you treat a Heidegger as if he were
talking about subjects is you really push him back to Husserl. It’s
difficult to believe actually that Sartre will survivor as a philosopher at all,
though he might survive as a novelist and a playwright. What’s your
view of Merleau-Ponty? I’m very much more impressed with
Merleau-Ponty. I think he’s a great philosopher and will survive. His great
contribution was to bring in the body as our way of being in the world. There are
two big gaps in Being and Time. One of them is that Heidegger never talks about the
body or even about skills or practices. I put all that in to explain the ready-to-hand
in the understanding of Being. Now, Merleau-Ponty, because he does
talk about the body–and it’s the body that acquires skills–he answers Sartre for
one thing. He says we’re not free, we’re restricted by having the same sort of
bodies everyone has and by the fact that what we do becoming habits in our bodies
and skills in our bodies, which we’re not arbitrarily free to change. And this both
answers Sartre and in a way, oddly enough, Merleau-Ponty answering Sartre, who
was like Husserl, reinvents Heidegger, but filling in the gaps. The other gap
is perception. Heidegger talks about perception as if it was just staring at
things. And that is unfortunate because it does seem as if we spend a lot of
time not only using things but seeing things. But Merleau-Ponty has an analysis of perception as an embodied activity in which we
move to get an optimal grip on things, which makes it more of the ready-to-hand,
thereby completing the Heidegger picture. Now, all the four named philosophers
that we’ve been discussing: Husserl, Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and
Merleau-Ponty, they’re all dead, Sartre only recently dead. Do you
regard this whole tradition of philosophy that we’ve been talking about
as something that’s now closed or do you regard it as very much am alive
and ongoing enterprise? I think it’s very much alive. Even the
phenomenology, the Husserl side which Heidegger was trying to kill off, is very
much alive. The Husserl is alive in two ways. One is, that if you want to describe
the phenomena, what it’s like to listen to music, what it’s like to have
sexual desire, any phenomenon, Husserl gives you a license to do it and
a method for doing it. And we have young philosophers in Britain who are doing
precisely that sort of thing now. And in the United States too. The other side
of Husserl is, if anything, even more alive and active, namely, he was interested in
the structure of the intentional content of that in the mind that enables us to
refer to things. Now there’s something called cognitive science actually trying
to investigate empirically the structure of our mental representations as they
would say. And Husserl has laid down the general guidelines that anybody doing
that investigation will follow. Or if you’re trying to build a mind, as people
using computers and artificial intelligence are doing, Husserl is also
the father of artificial intelligence. Many of his ideas that the mind follows
hierarchies of strict rules are now being cashed out into computer programs.
So, Husserl is doing fine, Heidegger is doing fine too. Early Heidegger, Being and Time,
is not perhaps as much followed now as it should be. I’m using it. The way I use it is
as I’ve been using it here. If you actually get back to the phenomena
of our engaged everyday activity, you can criticize the linguistic analysts
who either trust their intuitions or trust our linguistic categories. Heidegger would say, and I think a
description of skills shows it, that if you trust our intuitions you talk always
about beliefs, desires, and so forth, and that that’s not an adequate description
of what’s normally going on. It’s only a breakdown description. And likewise,
we talked about how our language mirrors not the everyday coping, but the breakdown. So there, Heidegger phenomenology
gives us a good point for criticizing some unquestioned assumptions of contemporary
Anglo-American philosophy. And finally, in Europe now, particularly in France,
later Heidegger is the great father of those who want to, as he already put it,
“deconstruct” the tradition. For instance, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida
are trying to follow out the Heidegger project of defining exactly what our
understanding of being is in order to help us get over it. So I would say that
there is hardly any area of intellectual activity these days in which the
concerns of these thinkers don’t play a large role. Well, thank you very
much for that, professor Dreyfus.

59 Replies to “Husserl, Heidegger & Existentialism – Hubert Dreyfus”

  1. I will miss Professor Dreyfus. I've been reading Being and Time daily for the last 5 years and listening to his Berkeley lectures on Heidegger on my iPod, filling the page margins with notes.

  2. I love this channel. One of the best philosophical youtube channels. Incredible material! Thank you very much for being in my time! 👏👏

  3. The unconscious thought of which you speak is actually "programming" resulting from earlier more "awake" experiences from our formative years. Deep meditation or various forms of psychotherapy can literally put us back into the state in which we made the original choice, giving us a chance to see it anew (and presumably not be traumatized this time around).

  4. "Sein und Zeit" could be the only german book in which it appears to be an advantage for the reader not to be german.

  5. The major problem I see with this lecture is that it mixes up "our experience" with metaphysics/ontology. Certainly Heidegger is right that we don't experience the world contemplating individual objects as a rational animal… But this does not solve the issue of the outside world… I experience the dream world in the same way I experience the waking world, so the issue remains. The subject/object ontology/metaphysics does not go away just because our experience is not of subjects and objects. I don't think Descartes would deny anything that Dreyfus says here, because this is just psychology.

  6. Dreams, mirrors, a labyrinth all transgressing a seemingly expanding consciousness. Perhaps the poets can explain?

  7. Men like Hesserl and Heidegger are always limited in their description of the world because they depend on a human finite point of view. Man only beginning with himself doesn’t get very far and often times finds himself coming up with some wacky philosophy. Humanism leads man to disappointment.

  8. Bryan Magee really is the one to credit here for the great quality of this tv broadcast conversation. Doesn't matter the guest expert you bring on if you have him or her converse with some idiot white teeth tv presenter who has no grasp on the subject and is more concerned with entertaining then trying to mediate a complicated subject to a wider audience, which is the rule these days.
    When tv was like this, those where special times. Compared to this we seem so poor, though I suppose the internet makes up for it in some way. Though thats different isn't it? I mean something like this on tv you can accidentally flip across the channels and come and be engaged by something new to you. On the internet you more or less see what you look for. On-demand living I guess.

  9. Analytical philosophers often have it wrong: Husserl main thought is not intentionality or epokhé but the claim that laws of reason do not reduce either to physical or to psychological laws.

  10. How is it possible that Western civilization ever developed, and persons ever functioned brilliantly at all without Being And Time? Heidegger and Husserl said the most elementary things in describing being in the world without seriously engaging the history of Philosophy. See The Apocalypse of Being: The Esoteric Gnosis of Martin Heidegger by Mario Enrique Sacchi, editor of the prestigious and international Argentine review 'Sapientia'.

    His philosophy obfucates common sense and philosophy itself.

    Heidegger got practically everything (but his presuppositional twists based on Darwinian myth, the Schopenhauer and Nietzschean myths, etc.) from Aquinas who formulated works of genius regarding Being / beings centuries before.

    Plato and Aristotle also, despite their cruder formulations.

    Heidegger quoted the latters more often only to distance himself from the Catholicism that formed him.

    It's all consistent with his "inauthentic" betrayals of his family (he liked the girls and his female students, and Arendt was one of them) —and his antisemitism and Nazism. He was a master of "inauthenticity".

    He WAS most certainly antisemitic, he fired all sorts of Jews upon being made head of the University of Friebourg. Never left the Nazi Party. Never shed a public tear over the millions of Poles and Jews shot dead and those who died in the Camps. Instead he continued posing as a guru. Worried only about his reputation after the war. His neo-pagan world view came almost straight out of Mein Kampf and Hitler's Second Book (read it if you don't believe. You'll see how much he and Hitler shared in terms of neo-pagan presuppositions). No wonder Nazism appealed to him.

  11. I wish someone would conduct a video interview with Bryan Magee. It would be fascinating to hear his thoughts about the state of the world today.

  12. I'm so glad empiricism took over so that the only people who seriously believe shit doesn't exist outside of their own consciousness are edgy teenagers who watched The Matrix too many times.

  13. It seems to me that Heidegger is begging the question here, or at least, Dreyfus' representation of Heidegger begs the question (so qualified as I've not studied Heidegger directly). It doesn't seem to me helpful or important at all to speak to these "at hand" moments, things like a master carpenter being able to drive nails without paying strict attention or my being able to shift gears without thinking about it or turning a door knob, etc. I think Husserl and his followers could easily reply that such matters are exactly the sorts of things that ought to be bracketed out, and the reason is that they are exactly the type of thing that only come up, and come up precisely when, we direct our consciousness towards them. Suppose never once in my entire life do I stop to consider some "at hand" moment and yet unconsciously continuously engage in it. For Husserl, that's just one more part of the vast reality in which we live that is taken as given. We need not posit (in his sense of the word "posit") any claims as to its objective existence. We engage in the phenomenological reduction and either never consider it at all or, having it brought to mind by Heidegger, now direct our consciousness towards it and ask, as usual, what must be the case to allow Heidegger's question to even be meaningful.

    Now, perhaps Husserl is just wrong and Heidegger is right, but if so, it isn't for the reasons Heidegger raise (or his argument against Husserl as presented here). He's not poking a whole in Husserl's methodology. He's just shrugging his shoulders and accepting as given things that Husserl doesn't. In this way, Husserl is just the more severe and rigorous philosopher. Now if Heidegger wants to posit as givens that for which he has no direct access, that's his prerogative as a philosopher. But let's not pretend that such counts as any kind of critique of Husserl, for granting Husserl's basic argument, Heidegger is just making unfounded, non-rigorous claims.

  14. His INTERPRETATION only…not necessarily what Heidegger meant at all. So learn German or read Heidegger with a gernan-english dictionary .

  15. They predicted Merleau-Ponty would survive and Sartre wouldn't . . . maybe 30 years on isn't long enough to tell, but that's not how things are looking . . .

  16. Absolutely terrific in every way…….the most important thing about thought appears to be……doing it until…….just ……Being absolutely intrigued about nothing and then with as many 'tools' as possible to define "what nothing is" whilst the time allotted remains.
    What great inspiration. Thank you both so much.

  17. There was a time you could turn on the TV and this time of conversation was taking place. Now you've got Honey Boo boo on the Learning Channel and Pawn Stars on the History Network.

  18. nug-> the most adaptive way to think is think "how are you going to think!!!" not just think how to do anything itself. and is there a step b4 that even!?!?!?!?!?

  19. The ready to hand example of carpentry is an example of whats call muscle memory. Physiologically it involves long and short term memory pathways and heavily involves cerebellum and basal ganglia. You don't have to use much attention or focus once it's learned.

    These guys Husserl and Heidegger are talking about two different parts of the brain.

  20. Terrific discussion. I haven't even reached the middle of it, but I'm already astounded at the clearness of speech, articulate nature and thematic understanding by both people. Thanks for this illuminating upload.

  21. I've never listened a guy talking so much about of what a hammer is and does, what is made from or if it even exists at all. Philosophy is scary

  22. Why don't they make such cool, clear, nonranty shows like this anymore? So sophisticated and nuanced and exploratory. Because we are all watching yabbering bullshit on YouTube.

  23. Dreyfus sounds like Terrance McKenna. I wonder if they did DMT together. That might have given Herb — some actual original ideas.

  24. if this video has thumbnail of boobs ,million views in few days but very few are interested in philosophy .

  25. Really enjoyed this conversation. And it struck me that this discussion couldn't take place or be broadcast on modern TV in the UK now – this type of program really is from a bygone age – two white men talking exclusively about white male philosophers within a western philosophical tradition is now most definitely verboten, especially within the BBC. Far too problematic !

  26. "when I went to visit Heidegger he had Being and Nothingness on his desk in German translation. And I said oh you are reading Sartre, and he said how can I even begin to read this Muck!"

  27. This really opened doors in understanding theses philosophers and philosophies. I really appreciate their simple, clear explainations, without distracting or entertaining graphics. They let the words themselves do the talking. Thank goodness for YouTube as a way of preserving high-quality, sincere discussions like this.

  28. 32:37 yes we do…it's called abundance…and we notice it by expressing gratitude for it…i guess we don't need language for it if we just take it for granted but what good does that do anyone? 😊

  29. Bryan Magee made an extraordinary achievement in getting together these Tier 1 late 20th-century philosophers to discuss like this in such a clear and insightful way. It's a privilege to watch these. Thank you to Bryan and those like Huber Dreyfus for creating these masterwork discussions.

  30. Modern philosophy sounds like we saw reality for what it is and now we have it as self help sessions with extra steps

  31. Well done and many Thanks to all of you. Very useful to open up my eyes, without exchanging any words.
    I see as my Anxiety fades away, my gratitude increases rapidly for Genius one.

  32. Dreyfus was a brilliant person snd eminent philosopher. On the other hand, he was, indeed, a wonderful speaker. I really enjoyes this two amazing philosophers: Dreyfus and Maggie as well.

  33. Without sign, language [& hence perceptions of objects & the objects themselves as "interpreted" by the human being without understanding of significance] is merely glyphic mystery & magic. Without cause [or "case", as it were], no language can be interpreted, but objects can be interpreted, hence, we must be inferring something without language qua grammatical syntax, and this leads me to believe we must be interpreting the symbol of objects in relation to one another. This is the "beginning".

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