Heidegger rejects Cartesian dualism... but this video with Hubert Dreyfus confuses me:


At 9:00, he implies that according to Heidegger, physics can't explain Dasein. Doesn't that make Heidegger a dualist? Or is he saying that the physical world can be explained in terms of Dasein?

By dualist, I mean either a substance dualist or a property dualist.

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    Can you define dualist for the purposes of the question? There's actually several different things that go by the same name... – virmaior Aug 4 '17 at 7:57
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    See Heidegger: Dasein: "the term ‘Dasein’ is that it is Heidegger's label for the distinctive mode of Being realized by human beings. For Dasein is not to be understood as ‘the biological human being’. Nor is it to be understood as ‘the person’. Haugeland argues that Dasein is “a way of life shared by the members of some community”." – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Aug 4 '17 at 8:21
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    See also H.Dreyfus' Being-in-the-world: A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time, page 14. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Aug 4 '17 at 8:23
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    At the end of his life Heidegger endorsed the views of the Buddhist scholar Dr. Suzuki, having just read one of his books. This would make him a nondualist - the opposite of a dualist. This is how I read him, as someone groping (quite successfully) towards the Perennial philosophy. – PeterJ Aug 4 '17 at 11:58
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    If the above reading is correct, this means that Dasein is "human way of life" irerspective of the dualist distinction mind-body. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Aug 4 '17 at 12:17

Thanks for the referred video. I cannot agree more with l_ruth on the interpretation of what Dreyfus was saying. I post this answer since I do not think l_ruth's response is sufficient to answer the question by Ameet Sharma. The question that needs an answer is this:

According to Heidegger, physics can't explain Dasein. Doesn't that make Heidegger a dualist? Or is he saying that the physical world can be explained in terms of Dasein?

To answer the question, some preliminary is necessary.

  1. Dasein means (the mode of) human existence, a la Heidegger. Heidegger postulates that we humans are the only entities that can ask the question of our own existence as well as existence itself. Neither dogs nor ants can ask that kind of question. For this reason, Heidegger thinks that knowing about human existence is the only window to know about the existence itself.
  2. A (Cartesian) dualist holds the view that the world is composed of things that extend and things that think.
  3. Heidegger famously rejected the Cartesian dualism. To Heidegger, we humans as beings are necessarily situated in the spatio-temporal coordinate (or beings-in-the-world, a la Heidegger). Separating oneself from the world, i.e., the stage for the Cartesian skepticism, is impossible.
  4. Dreyfus is well known for his anti-AI view, that is, it is impossible for machine intelligence to be equivalent to human intelligence.

Given these, let's answer the question. Dreyfus’ Heidegger argues that science cannot explain the mode of human existence. Indeed Heidegger argued that the human condition is known analytically, by “existential analytic of Dasein” (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heidegger/) So Dreyfus' Heidegger rejects physicalism and materialism (views that try to explain mental phenomena by means of science or by res extensa). Rejecting physicalism does not make Heidegger a dualist. Why? Ameet Sharma is in the right direction since Dreyfus' Heidegger thinks that the physical world can be explained only in terms of Dasein. (see 1)

In the video, Dreyfus is forced to answer how scientific realism is possible under the Heideggerian view, or more specifically, under the Husserlian phenomenological method (an alternative way to understand the physical phenomena) which Heidegger adopted. The potential problem raised for Dreyfus is that if scientific realism is true, then the above 3 (beings-in-the-world) cannot be true. I think Dreyfus's answer is brilliant, which we can only observe from a philosopher master (Professor Hubert Dreyfus passed away this year (2017). Ah Time, that completes us all!). Dreyfus says that it is indeed scientists’ job to explain the natural phenomena, but it is thanks to the phenomenology that warrants the doings of scientists.

  • Very helpful Nanhee. And you actually answered Ameet's question! I have learned from this entire thread. – Gordon Aug 4 '17 at 20:44

I do not think Dreyfus says that physics itself cannot explain Dasein - I think he says that we need to be careful not to conflate our method of discovering natural kinds in the world with having discovered an explanation for Dasein itself, and that that is irreducible to our method, whereas in the history of Western ontology philosophers have tended to conflate their discovery of a method with a full and sufficient explanation for the existence of Dasein itself.

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    @AmeetSharma What he's really talking about is the difference between the attitude of present-to-hand (think here subject-object, traditional being as things, Cartesian world, Husserl), and ready-to-hand (being as being, coping, sort of on the automatic mode). Present-to-hand thinking we still perform when we plan, analyze and so on, rational planning is still needed, however if this type of thinking is carried too far it can actually destroy the world. Whereas ready-to-hand type being (being as being) Western philosophy has neglected. Heidegger aims to correct this. – Gordon Aug 4 '17 at 12:59
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    @AmeetSharma This is probably the interview with Brian Magee he did. I didn't click on it. Don't get hung up on Dasein here. – Gordon Aug 4 '17 at 13:03
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    Btw i-Ruth's answer is very good regarding Dasein. The method of our traditional ontology, substance and attributes, subject-object, all of that, let us say the breaking into pieces, analyzing type thinking, present to hand, etc. does not completely capture being. This view of being if carried too far can be dangerous. – Gordon Aug 4 '17 at 13:31
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    As Heidegger's follower Gadamer said truth exceeds method. I would say it certainly exceeds our traditional method. The problem with Heidegger and Gadamer is that it is possible with them to go too far the other way and get too mystical, too tradition bound, anti-reason. Nevertheless this was a good dose of corrective to Western ontology. – Gordon Aug 4 '17 at 13:41
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    The present-to-hand attitude (note attitude) we might say is our scientific attitude. However, if we take physics for example, we have come a ways since Newton. When you get on the edges of physics, quantum and so on, here place is less sure, Einstein, time you might say is less sure. Not so precise and loosely speaking "Cartesian". – Gordon Aug 4 '17 at 14:11

@AmeetSharma I do not think Dasein is reducible to natural kinds, so I do not think Dasein is explainable by physics ... Though natural kinds may be discoverable by science, and physics may involve a valid method of discovering facts about existence, Dasein will never be reducible to what we can discover by any method, because it exists independently of physics and every other science for that matter.

I think Heidegger's positive argument may be operating at a "level above" the debate between dualism and materialism about existence. This debate, perhaps, could be seen as a symptom of Western ontology's attitude of presumption towards existence, that once we have found a way of discovering something about it through science, then the importance of existence itself is reducible to the importance of science for us - whereas, for Heidegger, perhaps this is like looking at existence backwards, through the arbitrary lens of our valuing it according to its "instrumentalisation" value.

One useful thing to remember could be that Dasein is a concept Heidegger apparently uses to critique Western ontology, and though there may be a positive project inherent within it, he is deliberately not buying into already-established debates about the reduction of existence into one thing or another - the-way-things-are-in-the-world is, completely independently of applying our minds to understanding facts about it.

I hope this helps in answer to your response to my first comment!

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