Transcendence--1st Reply to Faulconer


After several days of wanting to begin a reply to Jim Faulconer's six
part response on transcendence from 18 March, I finally find myself with
the time. However, since his response was detailed, I find it necessary
to break it up into six sections. Tonight, I will reply only to the first
section, section A in his text. (Even so please note that this file is
exceptionally long; I hope it is worth reading, but I make no promises.)

Rather than formulating an interactive reply, I prefer to answer in a
more discursive form. To situate my comments in context, I will begin
with a copy of section A of Jim's response, before getting to my commentary.

> A. Tony says: "Levinas accepts them [Husserl and Heidegger] both,
> though both 'represent' a partial experience phenomenologically."
> Later he says: "He [Levinas] noted where it [_SuZ_] went wrong, fixed
> the error and then followed his own agenda."
>
> In spite of the scare quotes in the first, I find these claims
> problematic in that they seems to me to propose a more or less
> "progressive" view of philosophy: philosopher A proposes a way of
> understanding the world; philosopher B accepts parts of A's proposal,
> rejects parts, and refines that way to offer his or her own way;
> philosophy C comes along and does the same thing, each one moving us
> ahead, each one "representing" truth partially.
>
> Alternatively, we could read Tony's remarks perspectively: A gives us
> a view of the _Sache_, B gives another, C gives a third. Each view
> overlaps with the other(s), but no one view is or can be the theo-
> logical/theoretic (with a pun intended on _theos_) account.
>
> First problem: how is such a way of thinking philosophy a
> _phenomenology_? Whether one thinks that Heidegger and Levinas have
> betrayed phenomenology's first principle, "to the things themselves,"
> it remains true that they thought they were phenomenologists (though
> Heidegger seems to have changaed his mind) and, therefore, that they
> were giving accounts of "the things themselves." But this way of
> thinking seems not to turn to the things themselves.
>
> Second problem: On either reading of what I take to be Tony's
> implicit characterization of philosophy, _where_ does the person who
> thinks of philosophy this way stand? Another way to put the same
> question: What is the origin of philosophy? Or, what is philosophy? I
> am not ready to say anything at all in response to such a question
> except that I think it has everything to do with the question of
> transcendence: to think the problem of transcendence satisfactorily
> would be also to think the problem of philosophy (but satisfactorily--
> what counts here?).

Several issues are brought to the fore in this reply, most notably what is
philosophy? What is phenomenology? How do these questions come to bear on
transcendence? etc. In addition, Jim has raised a question concerning my
particular view of philosophy which seems to him to be progressive. Here,
I will attempt to articulate answers to these, most pressing questions.
Since I come from the phenomenological tradition myself, the reader will
no doubt hear the influence of Husserl, Heidegger, and Levinas in my
reply.

Let me start with phenomenology's mission, "to the things themselves." I
admit up front that after Husserl I have never been able to understand
how this motto, as it were, accurately describes the phenomenological
enterprise. If Husserl could analyze objects of consciousness (things)
under the jurisdiction of the epoche, then implicitly he has shown that
things themselves are always things for me. This is to say, that if
intentionality is our founding doctrine, then one conclusion that follows
from Husserl's phenomenology is that there is no "thing itself" in any
transcendent sense. [Thus, seems to me to be Levinas' correct
characterization of Husserl in _The Theory of Intuition in Husserl's
Phenomenology.] Heidegger reacts to Husserl's model of intentionality and
subjectivity, not primarily in an effort to get to a "thing" itself, for
in Heidegger, the phenomenon that is being analyzed is Being, and Being
though always the Being of an entity is never an entity (thing). So, I
find that the motto "to the things themselves" does not describe the
essential features of phenomenology.

What then does? I would define phenomenology as philosophy that proceeds
by way of descriptions of experience as opposed to an "objective" view of
rational argumentation. Phenomenology begins in introspection. As such,
it is limited to an articulation of various strata of consciousness.
Thus, when I said that Levinas accepts elements from Husserl and
Heidegger, what I was suggesting is that Levinas recognizes the
phenomenological "reality" of rational subjectivity and the
characterization of this stratum of consciousness that Husserl assigns to
it. Husserl's flaw is not in his characterization of rational
consciousness, but in his notion that all consciousness is consciousness
of objects, that all consciousness is rational consciousness. Almost as
if pushing the horizons of Husserl's consciousness to another level,
Heidegger attempts to show (does show, I think) that the emergence of
objects cannot be expressed in terms of rational consciousness alone.
Thus, he reawakens the metaphysical question, from where do entities
arise? They are not reducible to acts of representation, since by a
careful study of these acts we can find that which is manifested by
things, that from which entities arise, namely, Being. Once represented
things become objects within Husserl's rational subjectivity, that is,
within the domain of subjects and objects. Prior to representation is
Dasein's primordial relation to the world. "Knowing is a mode of Dasein
founded upon Being-in-the-world. Thus Being-in-the-world , as a basic
state, must be interpreted *beforehand*" (BT 90). Having moved down to
the level of Being-in-the-world, Heidegger has in fact transcended
Husserl's representational consciousness. That is, he has transcended the
"world" understood as a collection of objects. But in doing so, he does
not replace Husserl's phenomenology, he shows its metaphysical
possibility. He opens on to another stratum of consciousness.
Furthermore, he does not go to the things themselves, he goes around them
to show their metaphysical condition.

The possibility of transcendence is a necessary condition for
understanding both metaphysics and the history of metaphysics. Thus,
Heidegger does show the roots of Being in beings, but in doing so, he
opens up the possibility of a coherent understanding of the history of
metaphysics that will allow us to explain how it is possible for one
thinker to follow upon the thought of another thinker in a progression,
though this possibility will be limited to the history of metaphysics only.

What follows here is going to look like a big digression, but please be
patient.

In my classes, I like to perplex students by holding up my coffee cup and
proclaiming, "This is not a cup, this is what we call a cup." Most
students react by noting that we call it a "cup" because it is a "cup". I
then point out that they have actually managed to materialize the
signifier "cup", it no longer is a word that stands for the cup, it has
become the cup itself. My students generally have what I call a
two-tiered semiological system. It consists of the signifier and that
which is signified by the signifier. I continue in this lecture by
playing with Saussure's injunction that the signifier/signified
relationship is arbitrary. My point in the end is that the relationship
is not arbitrary at all; in fact, signifier and signified are so tightly
married that they cannot come apart. Saussure's position suggests that
there actually are cups in the world, though we do not yet call them
that, and signifiers, and that the process of language is attaching the
signifier to the signified. Now, I believe that Husserl showed that this
is incorrect; just as consciousness-thinking-an-object is an intentional
unity, so too, is signifier-signifying-a-signified. There's no such thing
as an unsignified cup pre-existing its moment of signification. (This
follows once again from what Levinas calls Husserl's "phenomenological
theory of being.")

To stay with the class for a moment, I then try to get the students to
explain the difference between the claim "This is a cup" and "This is not
a cup, it is what we call a cup." And generally, they are pretty good at
noting that in the former case (the two-tiered semiology), there is
nothing outside of language. Here, language does not only represent
experience, it replaces it. In the latter case, "this is what we call a
cup," language points to, but does not replace, an underlying substratum
of experience. The latter case allows for there to be more to experience
that what can be said. In addition, it opens on to a three-tiered
semiology; together the signifier-signified structure points to an
existential level in which the "cup" is encountered in its concreteness.
Finally, to end the lecture, I hold up my coffee cup and ask "what then
is !this! that I hold in my hand." Usually, I can get someone to answer
it is that which is left unsignified by the signifier in relation to the
signified. (I then tease them at the end by pointing out that we have
entered into a three-tiered semiology where Plato had a five-tiered
semiology; the divided line and the good beyond being.)

The point that I would like to make by this example is that the two
tiered semiology means that translation is impossible, not only from
language to language, but from system to system. I would like to call
operating within this two-tiered semiology, "the postmodern problem." In
a word, the problem is that the representation actually materializes in
the world to replace presentation. The way that it forbids translation is
that in order to say that A in language B is X in language Y is to make
recourse to some M which is neither A nor X, but which both A and X
represent, and within a two-tiered semiology M cannot be located.

A belief in truth as correspondence between representation and
represented only affirms the dogmatism of the postmodern condition. Thus,
truth as correspondence kills transcendence (or at least, forgets or
ignores it.)

One consequence of the postmodern problem for those of us who read
philosophy is that we are prone to see philosophy as theory construction.
Plato presents a theory of reality. Aristotle another. Perhaps Descartes
a third, but because they are constructed theories not married to the
phenomenality of consciousness, they are incomparable.

What Heidegger does to Husserl is to show that a two-tiered semiological
system (like the one that Husserl implicitly holds) is metaphysically
impossible. It can be reached only by reducing it from a broader
semiological perspective. That is, Heidegger returns to Husserl
everything that is left unsignified by representational consciousness. In
short, he opens up a type of conscious awareness that is
non-representational, hence, not a consciousness of objects. In _Being
and Time_ this is articulated no longer in the language of consciousness
but as Being-in-the-world. In so doing, Heidegger allows representational
consciousness to point to something beyond itself and therefore to name
that something without including it within subjectivity. This is a
brilliant move.

The import of the move for us, however, is that it permits translation
across metaphysical systems. Having shown the roots of metaphysical
language (the ontic level) within Being (the ontological level),
Heidegger opens up the possibility that philosophers prior to him are not
at all engaged in idle metaphysical construction. They are naming
metaphysical structures of experience. To see this, however, it is
necessary to show what is left unsignified by their metaphysical systems.
This amounts to deconstructing the history of ontology to show its roots
in Being, or fundamental ontology. But the only way this can be done is
for the thinker of this fundamental ontology to become conscious of
transcendence himself; he must be able to read Plato, for instance, and
locate the unsignified M. The reason that this must be an internal act is
that I must find within myself M unsignified by a system; otherwise I
will be locked into a two-tiered semiology. The upshot is that Plato's
metaphysics is closed to everyone but the philosopher; to everyone but
the philosopher (that is, the one capable of transcendence) Plato's
theory is just that a theory, or a guess. (This explains why the Dasein
analytic must be prior to the destruction of the ontological tradition.)

At any rate, the philosopher who can find what is unsignified in Plato by
experiencing transcendence and then understanding how Plato's theory
"names" this, will be able then to turn to Aristotle and see how
Aristotle's theory names "the same thing," maybe we should call it the
same metaphysical coordinate. This makes it possible to say that A in
Plato is B in Aristotle unified by M (unnamed) in me. By reading this
history from the perspective of a philosopher who is capable of
transcendence it becomes possible to locate in the philosophical
tradition, a metaphysical history. I can locate A in Plato, B in
Aristotle, C in Descartes, D in Kant, show their metaphysical unity and
then proceed to show how the human being's relationship to Being has
changed. I can speculate over the possible causes. According to
Heidegger, the job of the philosopher is to say how it is with Being in
this historical epoch. (I hope I am remembering that correctly.)

What is philosophy (metaphysics)? Philosophy is the attempt to understand
the history of transcendence, to document this for our time, and then to
diagnose our culture and make prescriptions on the basis of our place in
history.

Does this make philosophy progressive? Yes and No. It is progressive on
the metaphysical level, in that any philosophical theory implicitly
indicates metaphysics as it is in the epoch in which it is written. Does
this mean that the ideas expressed within each system are improvements
over and above the previous system? Not at all. However, in a common
enterprise of articulating the strata of consciousness, that is, within
phenomenology as a philosophical movement of the 19th and 20th century,
it is possible for a thinker to accurately describe a level of
consciousness and misdiagnose a culture because he has left unexamined a
deeper metaphysical strata. Thus, it becomes possible for Husserl to
describe rational subjectivity and offer diagnoses and prescriptions for
science and technology, and for Heidegger to claim that Husserl has
correctly described rational subjectivity, even though he forgot its
roots in Being, then to go on and claim that because he missed the
ontological roots of the ontical that Husserl misdiagnosed science and
technology. To continue, it becomes possible for Levinas to claim that
Heidegger correctly describes the level of Being within various
metaphysical strata (though actually Levinas says he misdescribed it in
a few places) and to claim that Heidegger misdiagnoses his culture. It is
also possible for Levinas to show a deeper metaphysical strata and
prepare another diagnosis.

So, I think I can say that Heidegger was correct in his phenomenology, and
that he adequately opens a path to Being, and say at the same time that he
commits a category mistake when he tries to answer to ethical matters
within his ontology. This is the charge that (I think) Levinas makes to
him; and so, it is possible to say that "Levinas accepts them [Husserl
and Heidegger] both, though both 'represent' a partial experience
phenomenologically" without having to commit myself to a progressive view
of philosophy. (Though I might want to add that the history of
metaphysics progresses apart from the thinkers in the tradition, and
that, at bottom all metaphysics is really phenomenology (construed
broadly to mean that metaphysical analysis unfolds by way of description
and not argumentation.))

A few quick theses on philosophy:

Metaphysics is the study of the history of transcendence made accessible
only within the experience of transcendence, and philosophers are the
"priests" within this tradition that guard and protect its sacred essence.
In short, no longer can we say that Greece did not furnish the world with
a religion. Philosophy *is* this religion.

I hope all of this makes some sense.

Thanks,
Tony

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Anthony F. Beavers, Ph.D. / Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion
The University of Evansville / Evansville, Indiana 47722 / (812)479-2682
Metaethics, Metaphysics, Existentialism, and the Judeo-Christian Tradition
Visit the Academy of Human Arts and Sciences
http://cedar.evansville.edu/~ahasweb/links.html
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