On the Relation Between Purposivity and Aesthetic Judgments of Liking in Kant’s Third Critique

Kant’s goal in the third critique is not to give an account of the principles by which we might say something is beautiful or not beautiful correctly. This is a misconception that is easy to fall into, as it seems we are reading the text anticipating Kant to betray his own taste.

Kant makes it clear, however, that what he is interested in is something transcendental. His analytic of the beautiful looks to describe what judgment takes with it in an aesthetic judgment. It does not look for a means by which we might determine a proper judgment of the beautiful or cultivate ones aesthetic taste.

Kant acknowledges this in the preface. He writes:

Since this inquiry into our power of taste, which is the aesthetic power of judgment, has a transcendental aim, rather than the aim to help form and cultivate taste (since this will continue to proceed, as it has in the past, even if no such investigations are made), I would like to think that it will be judged leniently as regards to its deficiency for the latter purpose.[1]

It seems quite silly for Kant to phrase it this way, because if the critique were a guide for forming and cultivating taste, it would be subject to the historical contingency that the analytic of the beautiful, if it is to be universal (that is, of any lasting philosophical value) must avoid.

This passage implies that the aspects of an aesthetic judgment this book points to are transcendental and do not concern the cultivation of taste (and, being universal and necessary, are not subject to historical contingency). This work is deductive and analytic: that is, it begins with an idea of an aesthetic judgment and works out the different transcendental aspects of it. The “aim to help for and cultivate taste” involves various syntheses and inductions and is affected by outliners and modal arguments. This too, would be subject to historical contingency. Kant’s project, however, should have no problem dealing with outliners, modal arguments, or its historical contingency.

Initially, I had thought it to be evident that, when we make a judgment of liking, we take with us some concept of purposivity. This is because it seems that, in order to like something, we have to know kind of thing it is. If one did not understand the being of the thing in question in some way, one would have a kind of “aspect blindness” to the thing. This then would serve to explain why the universal assent we require of others within a judgment of the beautiful is not always realized.

For instance, in order to encounter a rock and roll song as something beautiful, it seems one must have an acquaintance with the form of artistic expression; otherwise, the experience would be too foreign for one to make sense of and one might miss out on the experience of finding it beautiful. This attempts to solve the problem of the historical contingency of taste by saying that, although the judgment of taste is not directly a judgment of purposivity, we must first have some form of access to the being of the object contained in its purpose (so that we may recognize it for what it is).

Despite the fact that the being of the object of our judgment may be historically contingent, the aesthetic judgment made by someone with an understanding of what the thing is might still imply something transcendental. If this is the case, we might still be able to identify necessary, definitive content within an aesthetic judgment- content which would not be subject to historical contingency or modal critique.

This simply means that aesthetic judgments are definitively distinguished from the historically contingent purposive baggage constitutive of the judging subject’s world.

The problem is, Kant explicitly says, to the contrary:

In order to consider something good, I must always know what sort of thing the object is meant to be, i.e., I must have a determinate concept of it. But I do not need this in order to find beauty in something. Flowers, free designs, lines aimlessly intertwined and called foliage: these have no significance, depend on no determinate concept, and yet we like them.[2]

Yet it seems that there are, in fact, judgments of taste that are only possible after an understanding of “the thing the object is meant to be.” Take Michelangelo’s David, for instance. It seems that there is a possible aesthetic liking for this work of art that takes into account “the thing the object is meant to be” and finds the portrayal of this object beautiful (in a sense that involves a judgment of taste, not a judgment of how the portrayal ‘does justice” to David, the city of Florence, or what not.

If we exclude such judgments from the range of aesthetic judgments proper, we limit judgments of taste to the kinds of judgments depicted in the film “American Beauty,” in which the protagonist is (e.g.) filming plastic bags blowing in the wind (ignoring their being-trash and focusing instead on the free play of form). But this account of judgments of taste seems to airy and whimsical to be adequate for a complete description of the scope of aesthetic judgments of beauty.

Kant makes a provision for these kinds of judgments, however. Towards the end of the analytic of the beautiful, Kant gives an account of the judgments of taste we make in comparison to an ideal model- something like a Platonic form. He writes:

…it follows that the highest model, the archetype of taste, is a mere idea, an idea which everyone must generate within himself and by which he must judge any object of taste, any example of someone’s judging by taste, and even the taste of everyone else… Hence that archetype of taste, which does indeed rest on reason’s indeterminate idea of the maximum, but which still can be presented not through concepts but only in an individual exhibition, may more appropriately be called the ideal of the beautiful.[3]

What separates the ideal of the beautiful from other concepts is the fact that we cannot express it though concepts. We can, however, use particular instances to refer to the ideal of the beautiful.

Kant writes: “Though we do not have such an ideal in our possession, we do strive to produce it within us. This is to say that we try, through the power of exhibition in the imagination, to exhibit this notion of the beautiful. This is to say that, in the judgment of taste, one carries with oneself the notion that idea beauty exists and that particular instances within experience are relatable to this ideal. The ideal itself, however, is inaccessible, except through a kind of “exhibition” of this ideal through a particular we have a liking of.

The ideal of beauty is most readily accessible, Kant says, in human beings. This is because human beings can determine the purpose of their existence within themselves.[4] Kant writes:

Man can himself determine his purposes by reason; or, where he has to take them from outer perception, he can still compare them with essential and universal purposes and then judge the former purposes’ harmony with the latter ones aesthetically as well. It is man, alone among all the objects in the world, who admits of an ideal of beauty, just as the humanity in his person, [i.e., in man considered] as an intelligence, is the only thing in the world that admits of the ideal of perfection.[5]

Beauty is, for Kant, anthropocentric in that human beings are the only kind of animals which are capable of, not only grasping their purpose, but determining a purpose for themselves. When we judge the beauty of animals, we do so on the basis of an empirical claim, which judges an animal based on the standard shape of its appearance.

With the ideal of beauty in human beings, there are two components. The first is the empirical component[6] that judges human beings insofar as they belong to a “particular animal species.” I call this judgment the empirical component because it seems to, like the later discussed judgments of the beauty of animals, involve some kind of notion of “how the species is supposed to look.” This notion could be inductive, contrived, socially engineered by corporate advertising, or even a fetish.

The second component is a bit more solid. In Kant’s words, it

“…is the rational idea, which makes the purposes of humanity, insofar as they cannot be presented in sensibility, the principle for judging its figure, which reveals these purposes, as their effect in appearance.”[7]

But what this is, in essence, is the standard idea of a beautiful human being. This idea is something that is psychologically constituted- formed out of the mind’s ability to generalize out of many experiences of different human beings. Kant writes:

Now if… we try to find for this average man the average head, for it the average nose, etc., then it is the shape which underlines the standard idea of a beautiful man in the country where this comparison is made. This is why, given these empirical conditions, a Negro’s standard idea of the beauty of the human figure necessarily differs from that of a white man, that of a Chinese from that of a European. The same would apply to the model of a beautiful horse and dog (of a certain breed).[8]

The validity of Kant’s psychological example is not necessary for this point, as I think we can see the phenomenon at work, regardless of the psychological explanation we give it. Even if we are explaining the liking of human beings by means of unconscious desires or social engineering, there is still a standard ideal that is formed. When I personally reflect on my own experiences and examine the situations in which I find particular human beings beautiful, I usually find that they resemble an individual in my past (often a particular person).

Of course, there are also things that bother us, on the basis of which one would not say someone is beautiful. Kant argues that it is precisely on the basis of these, for lack of better word, “flaws” that we say that someone does not fall within the standard idea of the beautiful. He writes:

“Nor is it because of its beauty that we like its exhibition, but merely because it does not contradict any of the conditions under which alone a think of this kind may be beautiful.”[9]

This entire psychological point about the standard idea of the beautiful; however, is a tangent, as Kant wants to distinguish this from the ideal of the beautiful.

The ideal of the beautiful is not a mere inductive assessment of a general “standard” notion of beauty. It is rather the association of our ideas of beauty with ideas of morality. An example of this that immediately comes to mind is someone who “has an honest face.” Here, an association is made between the physical appearance of someone’s face and a certain moral quality. Of course, these ideals must be found a posteriori through something contingent like, say, an abstraction of the particular faces of human beings who exhibited honesty or a frequent depiction of honest people in such and such a way. In Kant’s own words:

Yet these moral ideas must be connected, in the idea of the highest purposiveness, with everything that our reason links with the morally good: goodness of soul, or purity, or fortitude, or serenity, etc.; and in order for this connection to be made visible, as it were, it must be united with a very strong imagination in someone who seeks so much as to judge, let alone, exhibit it.[10]

Since both of these are grounded in both empirically collected psychological biases and judgments of purposivity, Kant says

“This in turn proves that a judging by such a standard can never be purely aesthetic, and that a judging by an ideal of beauty is not a mere judgment of taste.”[11]

At this point, I think that the text agrees with my initial position: that a number of our judgments of taste contain judgments of purposivity. While Kant acts as if this is a negative thing (since he is once again looking for something transcendental), those of us who feel more comfortable with historically contingent teleological grounds than transcendental principles can rest assured that when the universal assent we require of others in giving a judgment is declined, we are not just being elitists, dogmatists, or asses. Those who do not assent to the universality we require assent to are just aspect blind.

Another point I would like to make is on the topic of universal assent. Let me take a moment to explain what Kant means when he says that we require universal assent when we make a judgment of taste. First, let us look at what Kant says:

Now, experience teaches us that the taste of reflection, with its claim that its judgment (about the beautiful) is universally valid for everyone, is also rejected often enough. What is strange is that the taste of reflection should nonetheless find itself able (as it actually does) to conceive of judgments that can demand such agreement, and that it does in fact require this agreement from everyone for each of its judgment. What the people who make those judgments dispute about is not whether such a claim is possible; they are merely unable to agree, in particular cases, on the correct way to apply this ability.[12]

When we make a judgment of something as beautiful, we are not just speaking of its particular affect upon us, but the affect that it should have upon any subject who views it. This is what Kant calls “subjective universality;” that we try (although we, for the most part, fail) to make everyone agree with our judgment of taste and treat the judgment as if it is universal.

It seems that this notion of “universal assent,” if we think about the way in which we make it in everyday language, is a judgment made about the object; and in a way, it is. Kant wishes to turn this around, however, and say a judgment about the beauty of an object is not, in fact, about the object, but is instead about our liking for the object. However, this universal assent still belongs to the experience of an aesthetic judgment, and seems curious.

Yet, if we think about it, it seems that what we mean is a quality of the object itself, which is why we think that anyone can see it there (and is why we demand universal assent). The problem is that we cannot find these qualities within the visible properties of the object qua object, so we think that it must be something that the subject is adding to the world. In other words, we are taking a notion that is supposed to be grounded in the object (in the fact that anyone can see it) and then “discovering it” as something in the subject’s judgment about his or her taste for a particular object. This move is troubling me, as it seems that both ordinary language and phenomenology places beauty within the object while our tendency to argue with one another whether or not the thing is beautiful causes us to retreat to a subjectivity that demands a universal assent (which could amount to saying “a subjectivity with a tendency to insist their position is right).

It seems that this position of subjectivity is inescapable, for even if we managed to inductively acquire universal assent about the beauty of something, we would have only convinced every subject that we are correct or have cultivated the taste of every subject in a particular way.

[1] 7 (170)

[2] 49 (207)

[3] 79-80 (232)

[4] 81 (233)

[5] Ibid.

[6] My term, not Kant’s.

[7] Ibid.

[8] 82 (234)

[9] 83 (235)

[10] 84 (236)

[11] Ibid.

[12] 58 (214)

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A Thought Experiment Method I’ve Found Helpful

Whenever I want to test my knowledge of a subject, I’ve started using the following thought experiment:

I imagine myself to be designing the syllabus for a course on the topic. I imagine my audience to be high school students with a similar background to my own. I run through, in my head, the way the course would go, what questions they would ask, how I would introduce the topic, how I would make it interesting for them, what homework I would assign, etc.

I first started using this thought experiment with History and Philosophy. Now that I’m learning German, I imagine how I would go about teaching a German course. It’s a really good way to get an assessment of your knowledge of a topic, and it can help you see things about a topic that you’ve never seen before.

I believe that if you can’t explain something from the ground up you don’t know it. I try to hold myself to that standard for every subject.

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G.E.M. Anscombe’s Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus

Highly recommended secondary source for understanding Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. Elizabeth Anscombe was Wittgenstein’s favourite student and has translated a great deal of his works from German into English (although Wittgenstein lectured at Cambridge in English, his writings were all in German, his mother-tongue). Anscombe is also a brilliant philosopher in her own right.

Wittgenstein found it impossible to lecture to the large crowd of students his lectures initially attracted, so he would handpick a small number (five or so, I believe) of students who would sit in his office, listen to him lecture off the top of his head, and handwrite notes. The notebooks containing the lectures would then be distributed to the other students, and since the notebooks were blue and brown in colour, they have been published under the title “the blue and brown books.” Anscombe was one of these students handpicked by Wittgenstein for him to lecture to.

Her commentary addresses common misconceptions about the Tractatus stemming from the work’s close association with the Vienna Circle of logical positivists. One of my current philosophical interest is working out the epistemological problem associated with Wittgenstein’s theory of objects in the Tractatus, and Anscombe’s Introduction is proving to be a valuable resource for studying this problem.

I think the Tractatus is too often dismissed as an “early” work of positivism. The work, in fact, contains beautiful insights into logic, metaphysics, mysticism, and even thoughts that border on phenomenology.

I personally think that the divide between the “early” and “later” Wittgenstein is overemphasized and that there is more coherency between the PI and Tractatus than is typically taught.

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Movies and Shows that Explore the Problem of Personal Identity

I almost ended up doing a paper on the problem of personal identity, but ended up getting distracted by the controversy surrounding Wittgenstein’s theory of objects instead.

Until I’ve worked out my thoughts on the problem of personal identity, I thought I’d share a number of places in which this topic is intelligently dealt with in science fiction.


This show is the prequel to Battlestar Galactica. In it, the main character, Zoe, creates a sentient computer program that exists in a virtual reality internet world and is an identical copy of herself with her physical appearance, memories, experiences, and behavior patterns.


After the real Zoe dies, all that is left is the copy which is placed into a robot by the father. It’s pretty clear in Caprica that Zoe and the copy are not the same person, but the question (philosophically) of what distinguishes the two is a fruitful line of inquiry, as this example eliminates both memory and experience as what grounds personal identity.

Blade Runner

In this film, at least one of the major characters has definitely been cloned and given the experiences of a deceased person and told that they are that person. Similar to Caprica, the difference being that the artificial Zoe in Caprica knows she is not the real Zoe. I don’t think this is the main philosophical issue in this film, but the personal identity problem is certainly a major theme.

Star Trek: The Next Generation-“Second Chances”

In this episode, it is discovered that—in a transporter accident—a copy of Will Riker was created and left stranded on a planet for several years. Because the process of teleportation involves dematerialization and re-materialization, the whole idea poses a problem for the body theory of personal identity (and the possibility of an empirical solution to this problem).

 Big Bang Theory

The problem is comically described by Sheldon in an episode of Big Bang Theory:

Big Bang Theory: The Problem with Teleportation (youtube)

Ghost in the Shell (Film and T.V. Show)

Another problem for the body theory of personal identity is presented in the anime film (and subsequent television series) Ghost in the Shell. Here, Aristotle’s classic ship example is applied to the theory of personal identity. Aristotle asks: if a ship that has been refitted so many times that none of the ship’s parts are original, is it the same ship?

The main character, Major Motoko Kusanagi, was born a human but her organic body parts have been replaced entirely by cybernetic components—even to the point that her brain is entirely cybernetic. This raises the question: if you replace the right side of the brain with a cybernetic component compatible with the left side of the brain and this cybernetic brain takes over the functions formerly handled by the right side of the brain—and then you also replace the left side of the brain and it takes over the functions of the left brain, is the original person still alive?

What’s interesting here is that even after undergoing all of these transformations, it is implied that there is still possibly a continuity of experience (although this is left as something for the viewer to decide for themselves).

Another Question Ghost in the Shell makes me ask myself:

Is it possible for me to have been a different person? Could I have been born as an animal in another possible world?

This question does not necessitate that we assume the existence of an immortal soul for it to make logical sense, I don’t think.

The continuity of experience can be successfully isolated in a way that would be satisfying to most strict empiricists and positivists. This is done through the transcendental argument Kant makes in the B Deduction of the Critique of Pure Reason.

To make an argument that is similar, but more elementary and rough in form, we could say:

For everything I think, it makes sense to say that “I think” it. For every experience I have, it makes sense to say that “I am having this experience.” Also, I perceive this as an experience “I” am having. Also—insofar as this is possible in each case—my experiences seem to flow in a unity. For experience to be like it is, all of experience must be unified and mine. Therefore, there must be a Transcendental Unity of Apperception that is the condition for the possibility of subjective unified experience.

Following a version of Kripke’s rules for making a modal argument, let’s isolate the subject and the transcendental unity of all of his experiences as a constant. In our possible world, however, we will change his body, his identity, and all of his experiences to that of a squirrel.

So far, I see no problems with the logical consistency of this. The problem is, all I think it shows is that it is possible to imagine reincarnation and possible to entertain questions like “what would it be like to be born as a different person?” It doesn’t isolate, however, a rigid designator of personal identity because what has been isolated (the transcendental subject) is subject to a number of critiques on phenomenological, existential, and neuroscientific grounds.

Regardless, I think the answer to the problem of personal identity includes something like the flow of experience, in addition to some other things I will not mention here for sake of brevity.

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Animal Teleology

I was thinking about this the other day:

It seems that we see a teleology in nature. So, like, birds migrate for the sake of surviving seasonal change. What I mean here is that their natural behaviour (migration) ensures their survival, even if it is something accidental.

Am I right in assuming that all animal behaviour can be traced teleologically to something like “protecting their young” and “ensuring their own survival? (human beings and domesticated animals excluded).

What are some exceptions to the rule people can think of? (Please don’t say that dolphins shag for pleasure).

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Aristotle on Time

The following explains the concept of time in Aristotle. It is a section from a larger work in progress on the subject of time.



Aristotle begins his inquiry into time by saying:

To attack the subject of time is connected with the things that have been said. And first, it is a good idea to come to an impasse about it by way of popular arguments about whether it is something that is or something that is not, and then about what its nature is.[1]

This section proceeds according to the method Aristotle lays out in Book I. This method begins with “what is more familiar and clearer to us” and then moves from here to “what is clearer and better known by nature.”[2]  To know something by nature, for Aristotle, is to know its sources or causes.

The reason we are starting with the familiar things said about time seems to be that, before we can discuss time at all, we need to have some initial idea of what it is we are talking about.[3] This initial idea, however, is a jumbled mess- a nest of contemporary opinions on the subject. The movement from this jumbled mess to what is simple, clear by nature, and defined involves separating those things which are indeed related to time (but are mistakenly equivocated with time) from time itself and its parts. Aristotle uses the following example to illustrate this point: “Children too at first address all men and women as mother, but later distinguish each of them.”[4] In this example, the children are confusing relation and equivocation.

Aristotle gives us an argument (which I assume is a contemporary argument) that states that time cannot exist because it is composed of past and future. The past no longer exists and the future does not yet exist. If time is a composite of past and future, none of its parts exist; therefore, time does not exist. What this argument shows is that we cannot give an account of what time is by giving an account of what time is composed of. Rather, we must give an account of the source or cause of time.

The next point Aristotle makes is that the now is not a part of time, although it is related to time. By “the now” Aristotle means the thing which divides past from future, or more generally, into before and after. In the same way that a point on a line is not part of the line (rather, the two segments created in the division are the parts of the line), the now is not a part of time. Admitting the now exists, if we assume it to be a part of time, it would seem to be the only part of time that exists. It is also infinitely small. The now, by itself, does not do justice to what we include when we speak of time. Also the now is infinitely small and we cannot put our finger on it. The now is confusing, and the past and future seem to not exist. People contemporary to Aristotle say that time is the motion of the whole in a circular pattern, but Aristotle rejects this. This is because we can take from this “circular whole” a certain portion of time. The section under our consideration is not in itself circular (that is, it does not work its way back to the beginning of the segment). Even though it might ultimately be part of a circuit, it seems that we are able to consider this segment of time as time without reference to the whole. We have no way of accessing time as a circular whole. Rather, we only have access to time in segments.

People also say that time is the orbit of the celestial sphere. Aristotle rejects this because, if there were more than one heavenly sphere, the motion of eachwould be time. This would mean that there would be two separate times, each relative to a specific heavenly sphere. But we would not conceive these as being separate time, as it seems that we can correctly say that the motions of each heavenly sphere can coincide (that is, we can abstract a time in which both motions exist).  Each sphere cannot be a separate time because this would mean there would be many times at the same time, which would be absurd.

It is as if we said that time is the setting and rising of the sun. But why is it not the orbit of the moon? If time is defined in such a way, we could take both to be time. But, of course, they cannot both be separate times; rather, they share a certain temporal relationship.

While we can measure time by either days or months, these celestial orbits are not what time is. Rather, they are what we measure time by. Time is something separate from what measures it.


Aristotle also says that time is not change. If time were to be change, change is only in the changing thing itself, or in the place where it happens to be changing. Since we can say that two different changes happen at the same time, it is clear that time is universal among objects and that time is not change.

Also, change can be faster or slower, but time cannot be faster or slower. In fact, slow and fast are defined according to time- and time cannot be defined by means of itself.

We might get time and change confused, however, because it seems that there is never time without change. For example, if I fell slept for a long time and did not realize how long I had been unconscious, I would join together the earlier and later now. This is because I was not aware of the changes occurring while I was sleeping.

Time seems to be relative to our perceiving motion. Whenever time seems to happen, there is a perception of motion. Even if it were dark and I experienced nothing through our sense, I am still having a kind of internal experience of time passing (which Aristotle says is the motion of the soul).

When we observe a motion, we notice a before and after; or rather, all perception of motion necessarily has a before and an after. This before and after observed in motion belongs to time. From this, Aristotle derives what I am calling the ‘phenomenological account of time.’

And that is when we say that time has happened, whenever we take cognizance of the before and after in a motion.[5]

From here, Aristotle defines time as “a number of motion fitting along the before and after.”[6] What Aristotle means by “a number” is that time is an aspect of motion that is measured.[7]

            Although “the now” is not a part of time, it is a condition for the possibility of us having an experience of time. This is because it is the now which divides a motion into a before and after (thus making our experience of the motion a temporal experience). If there were no now, there would be no time. This is because the now is necessary for having a before and after in a motion. The now is not part of time (in the way that we speak of a line having parts), but an attribute of time.  As soon as we talk about before and after, we evoke a “now.” The before and after we talk about, however, are in the motion.

“Universal time” is derived from the “universal now” among object. The “now”, abstracted in a universal sense, is the same among objects. So if the kettle boils at the same time I wake up, we speak of these motions as being coincident.

Our way of access to motion- and therefore to time- is the thing in motion. The clock, for example, is a thing in motion. Putting the motion of the clock into terms of before and after gives us access to time. When we say something happened at a certain time, we are speaking of that motion as being coincidental to the motion of the clock.

Time is not fast or slow, but rather long or short. Motions can be fast or slow, in respect to time. In the same way as the number by which we measure speed is neither fast nor slow (as it is the speed itself that is fast or slow, not the numbers used to represent it), time- as measurement- is neither fast nor slow. So when we speak of time as passing slowly, we are speaking of a motion’s speed, not of its time.

Rest is also measured by time because rest is a deprivation or absence of motion. The same unit of measurement is applied to both rest and motion. So let us say that the book has been at rest on my desk for an hour. By this, we mean that the book has been without motion for the duration of an hour’s worth of motion of the clock.

When we consider that time is a kind of “number” applied to motion, we conclude that for there to be time there must be someone to measure the change in motion. Time, for Aristotle, is the act of a human being measuring something. It is dependent on the existence of a soul who- by means of intelligence- is able to apply measurement to motion. “The before and after are in motion, and insofar as they are counted, they are time.”[8]

[1] 217b29

[2] 184a

[3] One of Aristotle’s teachers said something quite similar, didn’t he?  Cf.Meno.

[4] 184b

[5] 219a20

[6] 219b

[7] “But since the meaning of number is twofold (for we call that which is counted or countable a number, but also that by which we count), time is the counted and not the number by which we count. The two senses of number are different.” 219b

[8] 223a20

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Some thoughts on Heidegger- Revised

In Being and Time, Heidegger inquires into the meaning of human existence. What is unique about his approach to the question is his method: phenomenology. Like Husserl, Heidegger is interested in finding the basic structures of human experience.

Unlike Husserl, however, the structures of human experience for Heidegger are not logical structures; rather, they are ontological structures. Husserl’s phenomenological reduction, according to Heidegger:

…leads phenomenological vision from the natural attitude of the human being whose life is involved in the world of things and persons back to the transcendental life of consciousness in which objects are constituted as correlates of consciousness (BP, 21).

Heidegger’s phenomenological reduction does not reduce to a particular being but rather to Being itself.

For us, phenomenological reduction means leading phenomenological vision back from the apprehension of a being, whatever may be the character of that apprehension, to the understanding of the Being of this being (projecting upon the way it is unconcealed) (BP, 21).

In using the world “unconcealment,” Heidegger hints at the Greek word for truth, aletheia, which he defines in a unique way as “unconcealment” or “unhiddenness.” Aletheia, for Heidegger, brings something that was there but unnoticed to logos (articulation).

The ‘Being-true’ of the logos as alethenein means that in legein asapophainesthai the entities of which one is talking must be taken out of ther hiddenness; one must let them be seen as something unhidden (alethes); that is, they must be discovered (S&Z, 33/56-57).

By Being Heidegger means the basis upon which we encounter and understand beings already [Cf. S&Z, 6 (25) Here, Heidegger defines Being as “that which determines entities as entities, that on the basis of which [woraufhin] entities are understood, however we may discuss them in detail.”].The difference between Being and beings is called the ontological difference. Heidegger thinks the philosophical tradition, since Plato and Aristotle, have missed the difference between beings and Being by attempting to ground the meaning of beings in some other being. Terminologically, Heidegger contrasts the terms “ontical” and “ontological” to characterize the ontological difference. “Ontical” refers to entities while “ontological” refers to their Being, the former deals with entities qua entities, while the latter deals with the intelligibility of entities. “Ontological inquiry is indeed more primordial, as over and against the ontical inquiry of the positive sciences”(S&Z, 11/31).

Husserl, in his Cartesian Meditations (e.g.), attempts to ground our recognition of the Other as ‘another me’ through working out a logical structure from the transcendental ego. Heidegger takes the opposite approach in method. He begins with the givenness of the Other and unpacks the way in which we already understand the Other, unpacking the meanings, already there in the understanding, of what it means for the Other to be. He does not try to logically explain the way in which we ‘infer’ the existence of other minds; rather, he takes a descriptive approach to what it means to “be-with” someone. Through this description, certain structures of existence are uncovered.

Heidegger distances himself from traditional interpretations of what it means to be a human being. Kant and Husserl both assume the existence of the subject and logically work out a transcendental argument. For both, the ego and its experiences are what is first “given.” The goal of phenomenology and transcendental philosophy is to explain, logically, how the gap between the two is bridged. Heidegger, however, does not want to assume the subject as his starting point.

One of our first tasks will be to prove that if we posit an “I” or subject as that which is proximately given, we shall completely miss the phenomenal content of Dasein (46/72).

The reason is because such notions as man, soul, consciousness, and subject already posit something ontically about Dasein, and “are never used without a notable failure to see the need for inquiring about the Being of entities thus designated” (ibid.)

Using the word “Dasein” serves to move us away from familiar notions of what it is to be a human being. Accounts of human nature such as “zoon logon echon,” “rational animal,” “the image of god,” “featherless biped,” or even “zoon politikon” all interpret the Being of Dasein as a certain kind entity within the world or an entity with a certain ontical quality. But for the question of the Being of Dasein to be answered, Dasein’s Being cannot merely be pinned upon some other entity. When we say that Dasein is distinguished by the fact that it has language, reason, was created in the image of God, is a certain biological facticity, or exists in communities, we skip over the meaning of this entity. Consequently, in missing the meaning of this entity, the Being of Dasein remains “covered up.”

Heidegger is obviously not saying that we do not have language, reason, or consciousness; nor is he saying that we are not created in the image of God, have a certain biological facticity, or living in communities. Heidegger sees, however, all of these features as things which reveal the Being of Dasein, but in a way which (when they are taken as primordial attributes) covers up this Being in the revealing.

Dasein must be interpreted and understood in terms of its Being. Being is the way in which Dasein’s understanding of itself and its world operates. “So we are not being terminologically arbitrary when we avoid these terms- or such expressions as ‘life’ or ‘man’- in designating these entities which we are ourselves” (ibid.)

Dasein is not a “way of being” of human beings. Dasein, itself, is the entity which we are. Dasein is not what Being is, but Dasein does have anunderstanding of what Being is.

For us, in contrast, the word “Dasein” does not designate, as it does for Kant, the way of being of natural things. It does not designate a way of being at all, but rather a specific being which we ourselves are, the human Dasein. We are at every moment a Dasein. This being, the Dasein, like every other being, has a specific way of being (BP, 21).

This understanding, however, is not articulated. It is a pre-ontologicalunderstanding of Being. Therefore, one must be careful with notions of Dasein as “self-interpreting.” Such notions make it seem as if there is first Dasein, who is in a continuous process of trying to figure out what kind of thing he is. Such interpretations place human beings as beings which are fundamentally concerned with knowing themselves, figuring themselves out, trying to find “their place in the world,” and so on. For Heidegger, however, Dasein is not as much “self-interpreting” but “self-interpreted.” While the way in which Dasein has already been interpreted can be “modified,” such existential modifications can only be made on the basis of an already existing interpretation. Also, for Heidegger, there is something more fundamental to the Being of Dasein than self-interpretation, which includes self-interpretation as one of its manifestations. What is fundamental to human beings is that we care about things.

The specific way of being Dasein has is care. For Heidegger, Dasein’s understanding of itself and its world is ontologically rooted in care. Things have meaning because they matter to us. Accordingly, the Being of Others is rooted in solicitude. The Being of equipment is rooted in concern. Concern and solicitude are both modes of caring, and care reveals the Being of the things of our care. Although the Being of Dasein is not revealed as care until the sixth chapter of the first division, we have chosen care as our starting point. We will show how Heidegger’s analysis of being-in-the-world and being-with show themselves under the aspect of care.

Everything: entities, world, and Dasein itself, are of equal importance to understanding Dasein and its understanding. Magda King points this out:

It is true that he may turn his attention specifically now to Dasein’s self, now to the world, and so on, but since these are in advance seen as articulations of a single understanding of being, the highlighting of one does not plunge the other two into darkness but brings them simultaneously to greater clarity” (26).

This single understanding of Being is generalized into “care.” Accordingly, when we use care as our way of unlocking Heidegger’s analysis, we do so because care is everywhere in the text. Everything and everyone we encounter present themselves under the aspect of care.

Works Cited

Heidegger, Martin. Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlang, 2006.

Being and Time. Trans. Macqurrie, John; Robinson, Edward. New York: Harper & Row P, 2008.

The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Trans. Hofstadter, Albert. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1988.

King, Magda. A Guide to Heidegger’s Being and Time. Albany: State U of New York P, 2001.

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Heidegger on Modern Technology

In dealing with the topic of technology, Heidegger is concerned with a certain danger we face in the modern age. This danger threatens to monopolize thebasis upon which we understand our world, ourselves, and thinking.

Heidegger’s argument is tied to what he calls the “ontological difference.” For Heidegger, there is an distinction between beings [seinde]- that is,“entities” or “things”- and the Being [Sein] of these beings, that is:

“…that which determines entities as entities, that on the basis of which entities are already understood, however we may discuss them in detail” (B&T, 25-26).

In Being and Time, Heidegger points out that we no longer ask about Being- that:

“This question today has been forgotten” (21).

The Greeks touched upon the question of Being, and Heidegger sees that the Presocratics especially understood what was meant by the question of Being. Even if the Presocratics missed the ontological difference, they still at least understood that which the question of Being was asked about. Thales, for instance, when he says that everything is water,

“…is here explaining beings my means of a being, something that is, although at bottom he is seeking to determine what that which is, is as a being. In the question he therefore understands something like Being, but in the answer he interprets Being as a being” (BP, 319).

In the modern world, we no longer ask the question of Being. However, Dasein (the being that we are) always lives in a certain understanding of what it means for something to be. The modern era, by means of technology and science, has a certain understanding of what it means for beings to be as beings. This modern understanding has become so pervasive that it threatens to make it impossible to encounter beings in any other way. The way in which modern technology reveals beings as beings threatens to close us off to other ways of encountering beings as beings. Additionally, it closes off our way of access to Being by no longer allowing us to see the need to ask the question of Being. Accordingly, it disallows us to thinking about the basis upon which we understand beings as beings, for Being is that basis. We are therefore chained to the technological interpretation of Beings.

In his lecture, The Question Concerning Technology, Heidegger points toquestioning as something which “builds a way” (QT, 3). Here, Heidegger is telling us how we are to follow his lecture, but this is not all he is saying. Heidegger is also pointing to the importance of questions as leading us to the basis upon which we understand beings as beings. His questions lead us to the way in which Being is understood by modern technology. Heidegger’s method is then similar to Aristotle’s in that Heidegger sees philosophy charged with the task of questioning the basis upon which we understand beings as beings. In chapter four of the Physics, for instance, Aristotle’s discussion of time questions time in regard to its Being. Aristotle is looking for the basis upon which we understand time as time. This basis shows itself to be motion. Likewise, Heidegger is questioning thebasis upon which we understand beings in general, which is Being.

Modern technology is a

“…challenging, which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy that can be extracted and stored as such” (QT, 14).

This attitude differs strikingly from premodern technology, take for example Heidegger’s example of the windmill:

“Its sails do indeed turn in the wind; they are left entirely to the wind’s blowing. But the windmill does not unlock energy from the air currents in order to store it” (ibid).

What is important is that the wind is not challenged upon by the windmill. The wind is there blowing as it blows, and accordingly man encounters nature in its own Being.

Take the premodern peasant sowing seeds. In so doing he encounters the forces of growth, which are part of nature. Today, the agricultural industry sets upon nature, challenging the forces of growth, manipulating them, setting them in order to maximize productivity. Nature is no longer encountered according to itself. The soil no longer reveals itself in terms of nature. Rather, it is encountered in order to turn it into something which can deliver forth what man demands of it. The natural processes are not good enough for us. We wish to break them down and instrumentalize them.

This sheds light on why Heidegger says that modern science has paved the way for modern technology (ibid). We can now, with modern chemistry and biology, break down the natural processes into chemical relations and relationships, which we can now manipulate (in those terms) in order to service us. We control the mode of revealing in view of that which we want.

The way in which things are revealed in light of modern technology Heidegger calls das Bestand, which Lovitt translates as “the standing reserve.” Heidegger illustrates this with the example of an airliner standing on the runway. The aeroplan

“…stands on the taxi strip only as standing-reserve [Bestand], inasmuch as it is ordered to ensure the possibility of transportation” (ibid, 17).

Now, if the same description were applied to the soil the modern architectural industry challenges upon, nature itself is organized in such a way that, like the aeroplane:

“…it must be in its whole structure and in every one of its constituent parts,”as soil ready for growing.

Modern science gives us access to the constituent parts of something like the soil,

“…because physics, indeed already as pure theory, sets nature up to exhibit itself as a coherence of forces calculable in advance”


“…therefore orders its experiments precisely for the purpose of asking whether and how much nature reports itself when set up in this way” (ibid, 21).

Our inquiry into soil is for the purpose of making them “stand-by” for the growing of plants, which in turn stand-by for the making of food for the restaurants which are arranged to satisfy our appetites.

Modern technology, then, is characterized by this

“…challenging claim which gathers man thither to order the self revealing[that is, the way in which nature had previously revealed itself in its own terms] as standing reserve “das Gestell” (19, my italics).

The Gestell, or “enframement” is dangerous. The danger presented by this mode of revealing is that man will be closed to all other modes in which things are revealed, which closes his way of access back to Being by covering the Being of beings up.

Heidegger wishes to free thinking from the confines of the technological understanding of Being to upon up other ways in which things may be revealed (such as the poetic and artistic understandings of Being).

The technological interpretation of Being privileges a certain kind of thinking called “calculative thinking.” Calculative thinking is a ‘thinking for the sake of something.’ Action or accomplishment is what validates this kind of thinking. But:

“…thinking, when taken for itself, is not ‘practical’” (BW, 218).

In the Letter on Humanism, Heidegger addresses the way in which practical oriented thinking has been privileged in the French intellectual community, particularly in Sartre’s “philosophy of action.” The roots of this tendency towards calculative thinking can be found in the heavy influence of Marx upon French thinkers.

In his “Thesen über Feuerbach,” Marx writes:

The question whether human thinking can reach objective truth- is not a question of theory but a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, that is, actuality and power, this-sideness of this thinking (99).

Marxism privileges thinking which results in action.

In a television interview, Heidegger critiques Marx’s famous saying

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it” (101).

Heidegger points out that for the the world to be changed at all, there must be a certain interpretation of the world which allows this change to take place. If Marx is to even make this statement, there is a certain interpretation of the world by which the statement is given. Changing the world, since it requires a change in interpretation, requires philosophy- and thus Marx’s famous statement proves itself to be without foundation.

In his “Memorial Address,” Heidegger wishes to call us back to a kind of thinking he calls “besinnliche Nachdenken.” Although we will keep Anderson’s translation of this: “meditative thinking,” we should take into account the “sinn”and the intransitive “be-”, which emphasize that this kind of thinking thinks about the depth of meaning contained within the things in themselves. This meaning is, of course, the Being of these entities. Meditative thinking is not thinking about these things in terms of quantity or calculus. It is not inherently practical. When translated “meditative thinking,” it should not be confused with “meditation” in a religious or mystical connotation. Rather, it should be taken as that kind of thinking we mentioned earlier: the kind of thinking which asks the question of being.

The kind of thinking which is called forth by Marx is calculative. It thinks in order to change. This thinking, since it is informed by a certain understanding of Being, reveals beings as beings in a certain aspect. Thus the understanding of Being is revealed in these entities. At the same time, however, our way of access back to Being is cut off. This is because, in the privileging of calculative thinking, meditative thinking (the way of access back to the basis upon which beings are determined as beings) is no longer permitted as a meaningful kind of thinking. Meditative thinking is seen as no longer “productive,” and is therefore dismissed. Thus, Being is revealed and covered up simultaneously.

In “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger wishes to remind us that the Gestell is not the only way in which beings may be encountered as beings. He wishes to bring us back to remembering the way in which nature reveals itself as itself. He wishes to remind us of the nature the poets praised.

Likewise, in his “Memorial Address,” Heidegger wishes to remind us of the importance of homeland, which modern technology has covered up. There is an “uncanny” [unheimlich] change which moves upon us (DT, 42), which threatens to take away man’s rootedness– his feeling of being connected to a place. Heidegger writes:

Week after week the movies carry them off into uncommon, but often merely common, realms of imagination, and give the illusion of a world that is no world. Picture magazines are everywhere available. All that with which modern techniques of communication stimulate, assail, and drive man- all that is already much closer than the sky over his fields around his farmstead, closer than the sky over the earth, closer than the change from night to day, closer than the conventions and customs of his village, than the tradition of his native [heimatlichen] world (DT, 48).

This was written more than half a century ago, but does it not ring even more true? Heidegger warned us of the danger that this posed, and indeed Heidegger’s prophesy has fulfilled itself.

When I read this passage, I immediately realized something about howdisconnected my generation is from that which was once close to us (and, indeed, a part of who we were). I thought of how I was not even familiar with the stars above my native land. Even if I were to teach myself their names, it would merely be facts “thrown on top of” them. It would never provide me with an essential connection to the stars- they would only be a trivial part of my “care.” In reflecting upon it, I find the part of my childhood which remembers hot Texas days, fishing on my grandfather’s farm. I remember pieces and images that should stick out: things worthy of verse, somewhere. But the meaning of these memories have long since been covered up. Their significance to me has been trivialized.

Heidegger speaks, warning us to cling to these things, lest they be forgotten. He recognizes the danger. The danger, when recognized as danger, shows itself to be the “saving power,” as Heidegger points out in Hölderlin’s “Patmos(QT, 28). It saves us because we recognize that, if our connection to nature, homeland, and meditative thinking is to be preserved, we must recognize that modern technology has the power to cover them up.

In my own time period, we are faced with a different problem. Heidegger’s warning has not been heeded. Our way of access to homeland, nature, and meditative thinking has been covered up. A new path must be cleared back to thinking, but we cannot be reminded of where it leads because we are too young to remember its destination. Our task is then to engage with Heidegger and the Greeks, asking of them how to question, and then begin questioning afresh- bringing these things back into unconcealment.

When poets once again uncover nature in its essence, when we once again feel drawn to the familiar as something that is not dull but essential to who we are, when habituation never loses its excitement, when we find ourselvesattached to a place as the point from which the world spreads out- only then will we have uncovered that which modern technology has succeeded to covered up.

Works Cited

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. Macquarrie, John; Robinson, Edward. New York: Harper & Row P Inc, 1962

Discourse on Thinking. Trans. Anderson, John; Freund, Hans. New York: Harper & Row P Inc, 1969.

The Question Concerning Technology and Other Writings. Trans. Lovitt, William. New York: Harper & Row P Inc, 1977.

“Letter on Humanism.” Basic Writings. Ed. Krell, David Ferrell. New York: Harper & Row P Inc, 2008.

The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Trans. Hofstadter, Albert. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1988.

Marx, Karl. “Theses on Feuerbach.” Selected Writings. Ed. Simon, Lawrence. Indianapolis: Hackett P Co, 1994.

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Aristotle’s Catharsis: Our Present Confusion about what Time is.

In the following, we are reading alongside Aristotle in his Physics: Book IV, Chapter 10.

Aristotle begins his approach to time by reviewing the things currently said on the subject. He then shows, through argument, why each of the things said prove to be unclear.

The contemporary opinions on what time is leave us in a state of confusion. This is precisely where Aristotle wants us to be. His approach is a process of catharsis. In order to proceed to a clear account of what time is, it is necessary that the confusions we have about it are first brought to a place of aporia.



To take us to this place of confusion, Aristotle begins with the following argument:

That time either has no being at all, or is only scarcely and faintly, one might suspect from this: part of it has happened and is not, while the other part is going to be but is not yet, and it is out of these that the infinite, or any given, time is composed. But it would seem impossible for a thing composed of non-beings to have any share in being.1

Aristotle is pointing to the fact that the past was but no longer exists and the future will be but does not yet exist. Then, since time seems to be a compositeof past and future, neither of its parts seem to exist.

At this point, however, we want to insist that time is composed of the present in addition to past and future. Aristotle sees this assertion as problematic.

“For the part measures the whole, and the whole must be composed of the parts, but time does not seem to be composed of nows.”2

Admitting the the now exists, if we assume it to be a part of time, it would seem to be the only part of time that exists. It is also infinitely small. The now, by itself, does not do justice to what we include when we speak of time. Also thenow is infinitely small and we cannot put our finger on it. The now is confusing, and the past and future seem to not exist.

People contemporary to Aristotle say that time is the motion of the whole in a circular pattern, but Aristotle rejects this. This is because we can take from this “circular whole” a certain portion of time. The section under our consideration is not in itself circular (that is, it does not work its way back to the beginning of the segment). Even though it might ultimately be part of a circuit, it seems that we are able to consider this segment of time as time without reference to the whole. This puts us in a state of epistemic aporia, because we have no way of accessing time as a circular whole. Rather, we only have access to time in segments.

People also say that time is the orbit of the celestial sphere. Aristotle rejects this because, if there were more than one heavenly sphere, the motion of eachwould be time. This would mean that there would be two separate times, each relative to a specific heavenly sphere. But we would not conceive these as being separate time, as it seems that we can correctly say that the motions of each heavenly sphere can coincide (that is, we can abstract a time in which both motions exist).  Each sphere cannot be a separate time because this would mean there would be many times at the same time, which would be absurd.

It is as if we said that time is the setting and rising of the sun. But why is it not the orbit of the moon? If time is defined in such a way, we could take both to be time. But, of course, they cannot both be separate times; rather, they share a certain temporal relationship.

While we can measure time by either days or months, these celestial orbits are not what time is. Rather, they are what we measure time by. Time is something separate from what measures it.

Some people claim that time is change or motion. Aristotle rejects this on the grounds that, if time is change, change is only in the changing thing itself, or in the place where the thing changing occurs. This does not explain how time seems to be universal among changing things. That is, my kettle can boil at the same time as I finish making breakfast. These changes do occur at the same time, but are separate changes. Then, time cannot be change, although it is certainly related to it.

Also, change can be faster or slower. Time, however, can be neither faster or slower. Slow and fast, in fact, are defined in terms of time, which means that if change were time, time would be defined by means of itself (which is absurd).

While we can speak of changes as occurring at a certain time, these changes are not what time is. Rather, they are what is measured in terms of time.

This concludes Aristotle’s treatment of the opinions of his contemporaries on the subject of time.

1Physics, 217b-218a (trans. Joe Sachs)


3 I apologize for the shortage of footnotes; I will add more footnotes citing the relevant passages and line numbers (for each of the arguments) to my formulations in a later revision.


Chapters 11-14 of Book V of the Physics are on their way; as well as a review of the writings of Leibniz, Newton, Kant, Hegel, Einstein, Heidegger, (and others) on time. I also imagine that I will look at the mythology and poetry on the subject of time in Homer, Hesiod, Gilgamesh, (and the likes) at some point.

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Opening Remarks to a Work in Progress on Subject of Time

In the “modern” age, people seem to be saying a lot of things about time, and for the most part these are scientists who come across rather eristically and dogmatically. Although the assertions made today about time may very well be necessary for modern physics to work, it would seem prudent for the philosopher to ask whether or not these contemporary concepts of time cover up the very thing in question. Like Aristotle in the Physics, we must begin anew in trying to give an account of what time is before we begin putting the concept to work. And if, in asking ourselves what time is, modern physics falls apart like a house of cards, I think that the demise of modern physics would call for a glass of champagne- and I do live in hope of drinking such a toast.

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