Reading progress update: I've read 74 out of 440 pages. - Part Deux

At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails - Sarah Bakewell

I had some time yesterday to ponder more about Heidegger:


Bear with me.


Bakewell really does make a valiant effort in trying to explain his way of thinking, but, man, it is not the easiest of things to follow, which is why this will be a one-chapter-at-a-time book.


With respect to Heidegger's concepts of Being, Bakewell summarises:

For Heidegger, Dasein’s everyday Being is right here: it is Being-in-the-world, or In-der-Welt-sein.

   The main feature of Dasein’s everyday Being-in-the-world right here is that it is usually busy doing something. I don’t tend to contemplate things; I pick them up and act on them. If I hold a hammer, it is not normally to ‘stare at the hammer-Thing’, as Heidegger puts it. (He uses the lovely word das Hammerding.) It is to go to work hammering nails.   

   Moreover, I do my hammering in service of some purpose, such as building a bookcase for my philosophy tomes. The hammer in my hand summons up a whole network of purposes and contexts. It reveals Dasein’s involvement with things: its ‘concern’. He cites examples: producing something, using something, looking after something, and letting something go, as well as negative involvements such as neglecting something, or leaving it undone. These are what he calls ‘deficient’ forms, but they are still forms of concern. They show that Dasein’s Being in general is one of ‘care’. The distinction between ‘care’ and ‘concern’ (Besorgen and Sorge) is confusing, but both mean Dasein is in the world up to the elbows, and it is busy.




For Heidegger, the philosophers’ second-biggest mistake (after forgetfulness of Being) has been to talk about everything as though it was present-at-hand. But that is to separate things from the everyday ‘concernful’ way in which we encounter them most of the time. It turns them into objects for contemplation by an unconcerned subject who has nothing to do all day but gaze at stuff. And then we ask why philosophers seem cut off from everyday life!

   By making this error, philosophers allow the whole structure of worldly Being to fall apart, and then have immense difficulty in getting it back together to resemble anything like the daily existence we recognise. Instead, in Heidegger’s Being-in-the-world, everything comes already linked together. If the structure falls to pieces, that is a ‘deficient’ or secondary state. This is why a smoothly integrated world can be revealed by the simplest actions. A pen conjures up a network of ink, paper, desk and lamp, and ultimately also a network of other people for whom or to whom I am writing, each one with his or her own purposes in the world. As Heidegger wrote elsewhere, a table is not just a table: it is a family table, where ‘the boys like to busy themselves’, or perhaps the table where ‘that decision was made with a friend that time, where that work was written that time, where that holiday was celebrated that time’. We are socially as well as equipmentally involved. Thus, for Heidegger, all Being-in-the-world is also a ‘Being-with’ or Mitsein. We cohabit with others in a ‘with-world’, or Mitwelt.

   The old philosophical problem of how we prove the existence of other minds has now vanished. Dasein swims in the with-world long before it wonders about other minds. Others are those ‘from whom, for the most part, one does not distinguish oneself – those among whom one is too’. Mitsein remains characteristic even of a Dasein that is shipwrecked on a desert island or trying to get away from everyone by living on the top of a pillar, since those situations are defined mainly by reference to the missing fellow Daseins. The Dasein of a stylite is still a Being-with, but it is (Heidegger loves this word) a ‘deficient’ mode of Being-with.

   Heidegger gives an example that brings everything together. I am out for a walk, and I find a boat by the shore. What Being does the boat have for me? It is unlikely to be ‘just’ an object, a boat-thing which I contemplate from some abstract vantage point. Instead, I encounter the boat as (1) a potentially useful thing, in (2) a world which is a network of such things, and (3) in a situation where the boat is clearly useful for someone else, if not for me. The boat lights up equipment, world and Mitsein all at once. If I want to consider it a mere ‘object’, I can, but this does violence to everyday Being.

Did everything in Heidegger's thinking have to have a purpose? I mean, if he looked at a thing "being there" in the way of being at hand and also as being available for something, does that imply he was looking at things with a view to assigning a purpose to it? 
Or was the question of purpose just one way of looking at the thing?


I thought about that yesterday while waiting for an appointment with Glasgow City Council, sipping a coffee at the Royal Exchange and admiring the Duke of Wellington's current hat collection.



I'm not sure that Heidegger would have approved of a purpose that simultaneously included the revered misappropriation of a symbol of rule and order and the ironic contempt for anarchy displayed outside of a gallery of modern art. 


Btw, in all my trips to Glasgow over the years, I have never seen the Duke without a cone. It is a Glaswegian custom and source of pride - someone will adorn the Duke with a locally sourced traffic cone, and by next Monday morning the council will try and remove it. 


I have no idea how this fits in with Heidegger but part of me wonders if he thought everything has a purpose or usefulness and whether he contemplated art or "doing something just because" in his view of the world.