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THE EVALUATION OF HEIDEGGER’S ONTOLOGICAL DECONSTRUCTION..
1.1 Background of the Study:
The history of philosophy from the ancient times has been battling with what exactly the scope of metaphysics is. This very problem arose from against the understanding that metaphysics is one of the most important branches of philosophy. However, the divisions of metaphysics into two sub- branches, namely: cosmology and ontology goes a long way to show that the very scope of ‘metaphysics’ covers both physical and the non- physical grounds. But it appears that the very etymology of metaphysics as that which is ‘beyond the physics’ has engendered many reactions by philosophers of various epochs. During the ancient period, people held passionately to transcendental dictates and terms, an act which is believed rendered philosophy enigmatic and disinteresting in the later epochs. Philosophers like Anaximander saw a mysterious origin of the universe in the infinite boundless. For him, the world came as a result of a separating off from the vortex motion of the universe1. This infinite boundless actually represented a hardly comprehensible or, better still, a transcendental origin and sustenance of the universe. This super-expression of metaphysics found its way into the later philosophy of Plato and Aristotle who tried to create today what we call the classical metaphysics.
In the thought of Plato and Aristotle, metaphysics was seen as an adventure into the world beyond the sensory perception. Evidently, they believed that metaphysics asks the question of universals and other non-phenomenal realities. Somehow these philosophers made the philosophical world to believe that reality comprised sensory and non-physical natures. But how far these two natures co-operate in making the spatio-temporal world real is a puzzle and indeed a point of departure for the great friends of old- Plato and Aristotle. Worthy of note, however, is that their seeming polemics never suggested diversity of thought but a re-iteration of the same concepts in different parlance using different measures. This quasi split between the philosophies of these classical thinkers still continued down to the medieval period when a need arose for asking the question of the nature of reality again. At this time there arose a need to identify an absolute transcendence, a quest which was heralded by the two classical philosophers; Plato and Aristotle. This absolute transcendent was God.
The Godhead became for the medieval philosophers the metaphysics of metaphysics and since ontology is the heart of metaphysics, God became also Being of beings. The problem of being in the medieval period rendered metaphysics purely religious and abstract. Philosophers of the epoch saw the need to see God in everything, defend God at all cost and build everything around Him. Hence, metaphysics at that time entailed the discourse about the Trinitarian God. This theological philosophy which reared its head into medieval philosophizing extended to the time of the schoolmen. The schoolmen became more interested in the interpretation of the Christianized works of the ancient philosophers who still orchestrated metaphysics as the study of the abstract realities. The implication of this to the realist is that metaphysics studies nothing. With these earlier philosophers, man and his place in the universe was never a thing of interest in their metaphysical thought. Thus, Copland explained that metaphysics at the earlier stages in the philosophy history lacked the human face. This is because the nature of being was never an object of metaphysics as the earlier philosopher believed though enormously2.
Nevertheless, history may not be too compassionate to philosophy for neglecting the very fundamental question which should have been basic the question of being. The issue of being came up, surprisingly not at the modern period which is believed to have had a wind of humanitarianism from the Renaissance period where philosophers like Montaigne in his Essays spoke on the condition of man and the problem of war, but in the contemporary era when the issues of scientific inquiry almost defaced the real nature of things. However the modern period did not go without a great impact on the subsequent epoch. It was during this epoch, that many thinkers reacted against the abstractness of metaphysics even though some philosophers went to extremes into metaphysical nihilism. In a sense some philosophers of these epochs attempted to shot the door against metaphysics as to avoid the ambiguity that goes with it; an act which became evident in the philosophy of David Hume who said that all works of metaphysics should be committed to flames because they are nothing but illusion and sophistory3. But we cannot afford to heed the advice of Hume because that would be too radical for comfort. We may however see reasons with Immanuel Kant who in his Critique of Pure Reason, brought out the transcendental dialectic wherein he designated a new concept of metaphysics. For Kant,
the science which with all its preliminaries has for its special object the solution to these problems is named metaphysics- a science which is at the very outset dogmatical that is, it confidently takes upon itself the execution of this task without any previous investigation of the ability or inability of reason for such an undertaking4.
The above comments by Kant seem at a glance like an outright critique of metaphysics but a deeper look into his thesis would bring us to the fact that he is trying to prescribe a new pattern for metaphysics which would include an inquiry into reality as it is. Fredrick Copleston seems to understand Kant well in his pursuit as he explained the Kantian position as “explaining the real coverage of metaphysics”. Copleston stated that, according to Kant, “we must acknowledge that metaphysics represents levels of human life which are not catered for by sheer empiricism”5.
Philosophers were set to answer the Kantian call by rescuing metaphysics from the forgetfulness of being which suffuses it. This search for the value of Being brought into the works of contemporary philosophers a solution to the problem of the abstractness of metaphysics. This result was felt most in the philosophy of Martin Heidegger who, through the influence of Husserl’s phenomenology developed a system of ontology which has given a new appreciation to metaphysics.
Martin Heidegger saw in his predecessors’ thought a metaphysics that was foundationless. He accused them of the same traditional abstract problem of their metaphysical thought which balled down to the forgetfulness of being. Having done this, he made some very vital effort restate the foot of metaphysics back to the ground by giving it a foundation which formed basis for any inquiry into existence. This re- instatement was carried on by Heidegger through a destruction of metaphysics (this term spanned through the philosophy of Husserl to Heidegger. Despite his conspicuous silence about the origin of the term in his work, it is evident that he borrowed it from Husserl). This destruction as we shall see later in detail does not have a negative connotation. It is an attempt by Heidegger to reintroduce a foundation for metaphysics and philosophy generally. The above informed his centralization of being in his treatise Being and Time. This centralization has a second motive which was aimed at solving the problem of predication of being which was predominant among his predecessors dating back to Aristotle (see Heidegger‘s explanation of philosophy Being and Time).
Heidegger’s journey into the world of metaphysics started with the ontological deconstruction- a phenomenological analysis of being. To begin this deconstruction, Heidegger designated Dasein. This postulation of Dasein represented his effort to challenge the hierarchical nature of being which seems to have been created in the ontological system from the time of Plato and Aristotle down to the medieval philosophers. Dasein, following the prime understanding, of Heidegger cannot be immediately concluded to be man as many would want to believe but a term used to represent his general concept of being primarily(this idea will be explained in better details in the course of this work). The issue of man as Dasein came up as an attempt to answer the question of being. In order to answer the question of being, there is need for a being that is endowed with consciousness. Dasein of stone, grass etc cannot answer this question since they lack consciousness and thereby the capability to understand beingnss and thus answer the question of being. As a result of this, man as Dasein steps in to fulfill this task of answering the question of being. This discovery led him to the conclusion that.
The Dasein in man characterizes him as that essent who placed in the midst of essents, comports himself to them as such. This comportment determines man in his Being and makes him essentially different from all other essents which are manifest to him.6
By the above statement, Heidegger projected more understandingly the phenomenological method. This method as invoked by Heidegger is such that the things show themselves as they are to Dasein, which has some sort of presuppositional understanding of them. Heidegger was more interested in how to reach the wholeness of being, having raised the very question of being. This informs his fundamental ontology which is established on this same phenomenological method and thus serves as grounding to other ontologies.
Heidegger’s effort was geared towards making good the seeming in the thoughts of the classical metaphysicians which was a view that the humanity could be thought of in the same way as other things. He did this by transforming the very concept of being from a highly abstract and remote concept into a subject matter of great interest. He, in this way, gave a new and clearer explanation of being as being and other beings akin to it. He saw the place of man in the universe as privileged. We must recall here that one of the problems which Heidegger pointed out was that the earlier philosophers lost the mark by not realizing this very place of man in the universe.
In his explication of this, Heidegger presented ‘Dasein’. Dasein is at the centre of the universe. Being is understood, as a result, by the destructuring of Dasein. Having represented the qualities of Dasein-‘being there’, he went further to find the place of Dasein in the universe. Explaining the nature of man and his place in the universe entailed for Heidegger an acknowledgement of the very great aspect of the human life the aspect of his temporality. The trace of this temporality of Dasein begins with the understanding of man’s nature in the world as ‘thrownness’. Man is thrown into the world.
Finding himself in the world in that manner, man tries to get meaning out this world where he has been thrown. He achieves this by constantly transcending himself. It is in this transcendence that man is meant to come face to face with man’s own-most- possibility- death. This aspect of Heidegger’s work cements his very concept of Dasein’s authentic or inauthentic existence. Man’s authenticity lies in his acceptance of his own-most-possibility- death. This authenticity of life of man is what sums up the ontological deconstruction of Heidegger. Therefore when man attempts to constantly run away from this reality by living the life of the crowd, he lives an inauthentic life.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The interest of Martin Heidegger was to explain being as such, through the explanation of the place of Dasein as the being in the world which has the task of understanding the beings present- at- hand. In doing this, he became prepared to fight back the foot of metaphysics to the ground from the suspension given to it during the earlier periods of philosophy especially during the scholastic period. With the rise of Martin Heidegger in the contemporary epoch of philosophy, the study of ‘Being’ became a centre point in the study of metaphysics. Dasein (which is understood to be to man) becomes the gate way to the understanding of other beings and ‘Being’ as such. Dasein therefore is aware of his being and the possibilities that face him and equally is aware of the other beings.
The knowledge which this Dasein possesses of other beings is through phenomenology which leads Dasein to ‘Aletheia’- truth (this truth is deeper than the normal epistemological truth. We could call his revelation). With this truth Dasein finds himself in the world with his limitedness and temporality. From here one strives to achieve an authenticity which one gains by living an individual life towards death or an inauthentic life of the crowd. The consequences of Heidegger’s thought are enormous. Many psychologists may look at his thought with dismay since he may have failed to recognize the psychological interplay between the body and mind towards death. Some analytic philosophers may be so disappointed at Heidegger’s reductionism. Any way each group of people may have different reactions towards this work of Heidegger on the ontological deconstruction. This work therefore, attempts a study of this ontological deconstruction with a view to answering the following questions:
- How far did Heidegger achieve the ontological deconstruction for which he set out in the Being and Time?
- How realistic is this ontological deconstruction especially in Heidegger’s attempt to analyze Dasein as a being toward death?
- What are the implications of this ontological deconstruction to philosophy in general?
- To what extent did Heidegger’s phenomenological method aid his inquiries to the problem of being?
1.3 Purpose of the Study
The above exposé of Heidegger’s understanding of Ontology and his further inquiry which culminated in his discourse on Dasein as the centre of being brings up very salient issues for philosophy. Many thinkers tend to reason deeper into this work of Heidegger to sift out the existential problem which metaphysics seem to have. This thesis aims at showing, through of critical evaluation, the relevance of Heidegger’s ontology to contemporary society and philosophy. This work further has its purpose centered on the analysis of Heidegger’s work in order to rediscover the place of man in the universe.
1.4 Scope of the Study
This work focuses on the on the deconstruction of ontology as an aspect of Heidegger’s metaphysics as presented in the Being and Time.
Within this framework, we shall be dealing with the deconstruction of being within which we shall examine the nature of man, Being and the world, as Heidegger understands it. This will include analysis of Heidegger’s methodology, his concept of being, the nature of man as Dasein, the metaphysics of death and as well, the various arguments that led him to his conclusion.
1.5 Significance of the Study.
The significance of Heidegger’s ontology lies in the need to ascertain the place of man in the universe and tackle the contemporary problem of humanness in this scientific universe. This work, therefore, will be useful not only to professional philosophers but equally to scientists and humanitarian agencies for, they would be helped to give man a befitting place-in the universe. This work would equally aid the general people to attain authenticity of existence.
Data for this research is sourced from books, articles periodicals and internet materials. This research would be expository in its approach. It would go into an exposition of the problem, which has been mentioned above. The method of critical analysis will also be employed in the course of the evaluation of Heidegger’s work. We shall finally make use of the analytic method. Here the various tenets there in Heidegger’s thesis would be examined.
- The thesis of this work on Heidegger’s ontological deconstruction is that Heidegger’s aim in the Being and Time to inquire into beingness was not achieved.
- Secondly, his understanding of Dasein and its history is problematic.
- Finally the ideas projected by Heidegger were original to some extent though obscure but informative and relevant to human existence.