“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves from other people that in the end we disguise ourselves from ourselves.” La Rochefoucauld
“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves from other people that in the end we disguise ourselves from ourselves.” La Rochefoucauld
(for part I go here)
Knee-deep into ontological shit
I feel there’s plenty to mine from the first part of the introduction. On p. 16, Heidegger says that Dasein has a number of positions:
Yeah, so? This piece is actually quite thought-provoking. That is, if you can handle the number of beings and ontologies and onticalities and existences… ↓ Read the rest of this entry…
After 7 years, I was burned out by philosophy, yet I continued to haunt the philosophy section in search for anything radical and profound. Amidst the expected titles commonly found at any bookstore, sat A Short History of Decay. I pulled it off the shelf in the faint hopes of killing time until the cigar shop opened in 20 minutes. After a couple of hours disappeared savoring the salacious prose, I begrudgingly closed the book and hurried to the checkout counter, cackling in glee in the wonderful fortune of uncovering a new thinker that spoke blasphemous music to my eyes.
I am a contingent being; that which is not logically necessary, ie, something doesn’t have to be that way. This contingency is the fundamental ontological feature of existence.
Although the universe is uncreated and is not dependent on anything else for its being, its being is not necessary. That which exists without reason for being, cannot be derived from a necessary law. That which has no determinants or characteristics, this being cannot have the characteristic of being that which cannot not be. This being is, but it is unnecessary, and in being unnecessary, it is contingent. All existence exists for no reason and for no purpose.
Such intense awareness of existence is the terrifying apprehension of the utter contingency, absurdity, pointlessness, meaninglessness and futility of existence. This awareness belongs to a consciousness that has no being of its own and exists only as a relation to this contingency – a relation by negation. To experience this awareness is to experience a state of naked and superfluous existence that surrounds oneself and also with which one is continuous by virtue of one’s body. Society and all human activities attempt to overcome this fundamental contingency by imposing meanings and purposes on the world. This effort is brought about by naming and categorizing things. In doing so, people think they’ve made sense of it and ascribed meaning to it, grasping its essential essence and removed the contingency of this raw and nameless existence. But the cold and bitter truth is, things only have meaning and purpose relative to other things – words readily link a thing to other things through language – and the whole only has the relative meaning and purpose that our ultimately pointless activities give it. Independent of the system of instrumentality that defines them, or the framework of meaning that explains and justifies them, objects are, seen for what they are in themselves, incomprehensible, peculiar, strange, and even disturbing in their contingency. To be aware of contingency is to be aware of the unfathomable mystery of existence.
The objectification of women is generally a problem of the Other in philosophy. Many philosophers, idealists and realists both, attempt to generate the Other from the self or began their analysis by assuming the existence of the alter ego. The former tries to erect an epistemological bridge from consciousness to consciousness, and the latter tries to assert that one consciousness is already “in touch” with another within the social reality of human existence.
But either way leads to an impasse because they are limited by the assumption that knowledge is the sole means to the discovery of the other. Rather, there is a third alternative: instead of knowledge, being is the ground of our relationships to others. Ontology, not epistemology is the appropriate level of discourse regarding the Other. ↓ Read the rest of this entry…
Typically, a person does not believe that her belief is a belief. If she does come to believe that a belief is a belief, she will recognize it for what it is, a mere belief, and no longer wholeheartedly believe in it. “To believe is to know that one believes, and to know that one believes is no longer to believe… every belief is a belief that falls short, one never wholly believes what one believes.” (Being and Nothingness, p. 69) A person is able to suspend disbelief in a belief because she fails to spell out to herself the fact that a belief is merely a belief. Spelling out the policy of not spelling out undermines the policy. Coming to believe that a belief is merely a belief undermines the belief. If a person comes to believe that a belief is a belief, then she ceases to be convinced by it and loses faith in it, because by its very nature, belief implies doubt.
Wittgenstein realized that the expression ‘I believed’ always means ‘I no longer believe.’ Therefore, ‘I believe’ cannot truly be the present tense of ‘i believed.’ The actual present tense of ‘I believed’ must express the lack of belief. ‘I believe’ doesn’t express lack of belief, although it does express a measure of doubt. If a person said ‘I believe in the existence of God,’ then it is because she is not certain of the existence of God. If God’s existence was certain, it would be as strange to say ‘I believe in the existence of chairs,’ extreme skeptics notwithstanding, the existence of which is certain.
Belief is an attitude that is only relevant when a person is uncertain. She can believe what she doesn’t know for certain. However, she doesn’t also believe what she knows, for certain, even if it’s impossible to disbelieve what she knows for certain. That one cannot disbelieve what one knows does not mean one believes what one knows. One doesn’t believe what one knows, she knows it. ‘I believe’ is redundant when a person is talking of matters about which she is certain.
Not to say that to refrain from any talk of belief is to be certain, but rather, that to talk meaningfully of belief is to reveal uncertainty, even if the use of ‘I believe’ is used to indicate the “unwavering firmness of belief.” (BN, p. 69) Beliefs can be firm, strongly and widely held, frequently expressed, but because they are beliefs they are always uncertain.
For instance, increasing the number of believers in a particular religious doctrine in no way makes the doctrine any more certain. Evangelism, the drive to recruit believers to a doctrine, is a reaction to the uncertainty inherent in religious faith. The evangelist is concerned with the belief of others in order to distract himself from the fact that his own belief is just a belief. If he honestly examined his own belief he would expose it as ‘necessarily uncertain” so he busies himself with the beliefs of others. For him, the beliefs of others is a thing, an objectified belief that is firmly based upon itself, rather than a mere disposition based upon a fragile suspension of disbelief. Consequently, the evangelist is in bad faith towards others because he denies them their freedom by regarding them as believer things incapable of going beyond their “state of convictions.” If someone stopped believing, the evangelist would regard them as corrupted or deluded, for they did not reach a decision on their own free will.
The evangelist champions sincerity regarding beliefs with the aim of reducing others to receptacles of objectified beliefs. Belief is thereby transformed into a public object that the evangelist can then take possession of. Incapable of believing without doubt in his own belief, he gets involved with the apparently certain and objectified beliefs of others by regarding himself as simply another object. The original project of bad faith allows a person to see himself exclusively from the point of view of others. Therefore, religious faith involves a person objectifying her own faith through the objectification of the faith of others. All faith is bad faith in the sense that all faith involves a state of false consciousness in which a person does not believe that her belief is a belief.
Do you think there must be a human nature? If such a thing exists, at least a relatively fixed one, then true scientific understanding is possible. Because people, with a very limited amount or set of experiences, are capable of learning their own language, as well as use it creatively, then there must be some sort of “bio-physical structure” within the mind that enables individuals to deduce a unified language from the multiplicity of individual experiences. If you agree with this conclusion then you are a typical cartesian rationalist. You will answer questions with appeals to universal human nature and reason, the standard for intellectuals to judge and rationalize a precise conceptualization for a better society and the future. Violence, injustice, falsehood, etc., must be fought for the sake of justice, because there must be a guiding principle, a fixed and rational standard for knowledge, society… Otherwise we cannot judge which actions or claims are true or correct or just or determine which actions to take.
On the other hand, if you think human nature does not exist, because “existence precedes essence,” then there are no rational principles or a priori values. No transcendent values exist prior to choice, ready-made and perfect, waiting for your consent in your choice how to live, for you are nothing else but what you choose to make of yourself. Consequently you are responsible of yourself and for everyone else. You create a certain image of a person of your choices, through your actions. In choosing yourself you choose humanity. What you do contributes to humanity in general, hence, you are responsible of all mankind. Once you become aware that your choices actually chooses for everyone else, you will experience a deep-seated anxiety. Once you realize that there is no God, nobody with infinitely perfect wisdom who knows the “Right choice,” then your choice is completely your responsibility, your creation. Your choice cannot depend on anyone else. If there is no pre-existing human configuration, no perfect society, no standard of precise justice, then you are condemned to always choose freely.
However, if you wished to avoid starting with the abstract question by starting in a different direction and pose this – how does the concept of human nature function within society – then you evade the requirement of making claims of universal truths, and instead choose to historicize grand abstractions. This method distinguishes the actual operational categories within a discipline from a broad conceptual marker, like “life,” in which themselves may have had of little import regarding the internal evolution of the scientific disciplines. Therefore, because there is no external position or universal understanding that is beyond history and society, the task is to historicize the universal categories each time they’re encountered. I.e., it was not through the study of human nature that discoveries were possible, such as linguists with “consonant mutation” or psychologists, the “principle of analysis of dreams,” or anthropologists, the “structure of myths.” This way, the “why” questions are transformed into “how.” In the attempt to answer “why,” you are restricted to models of justice, knowledge, truth, or search for general principles that evaluate the condition or situation. Perhaps you realize this attempt actually hides the concrete function of power. The notion of truth or justice or moraltiy has been concoted in order to function as an instrument of a political and economic power. For knowledge is already soaked within conflicts small and large, not external or above the disagreements, or discord.
I first encountered philosophical boredom in Nietzsche and Sartre during my early years, and didn’t really grasp the significance or magnitude until I read American Psycho. While vacationing in Italy, I read the majority of the Fritzean corpus and came across two important aphorisms regarding boredom: (paraphrased from memory) if the highest creatures are susceptible to boredom, then the infinitely perfect being is also susceptible to infinite boredom. Therefore when god “rested” on the 7th day he was bored with his creation so he sank to the grass and became a snake….
Great shades of manicheanism! Perhaps this inspired James Morrow to postulate a dual God, somewhat schizophrenic at the end of his fictional tale of theothanatology…..
in the second aphorism, finding such infinite boredom to be unbearable, the Gods invent man for entertainment. Yet man himself in turn, grow afflicted with boredom, meaning the Gods merely passed the buck…
While those aphorisms left a brand on my thoughts, it wasn’t until i took a class on existentialism and read Sartre and learned how boredom is the naked access to being. In the Nausea, the main character Roquentin is having one hell of a boring time. He is utterly bored with his task, the city he lives in, the people, and his life. This boredom isn’t transient, or temporary – it actually becomes a malady that transforms his entire perspective, or more accurately, intensifies his awareness of existence where individual objects lose their identities, and become unfamiliar – a rather nauseating experience. Once things no longer have identities or are familiar, this nauseating feeling exposes us as the ultimate arbitrator of meaning.
There is a metaphysics of boredom…. Where ordinary boredom is being bored by something, the metaphysical and more profound, boredom is when “it is boring for one.”
Heidegger says boredom is an illustration of mood a condition of being, which means when we are bored, we disclose the ontological status of the world… Boredom discloses the world in its “everydayness” and results in an understanding of it. Therefore there is no “cause” of boredom, nor is it “out there.”
Nonetheless… i feel Schopenhauer has the most persuasive take of boredom: if unhappiness or dissatisfaction is the default state, normal, and the desires of an individual is consistently met, then his or her mode of being actually dissolves, and he or she encounters emptiness – for the sole mode of existence (restless striving) has been abolished. Therefore, we all are “zigzagging” between two extremes: the Scylla of the will and the Charybdis of boredom. The 20/21stcentury version of Schopenhauer’s formula of bread and circuses is McDonald’s and television.
In literature, Kate Chopin’s Awakening captures this formula quite well where the protagonist grows disenchanted with her good life.
Life may be a “hundred times too short to bore ourselves,” that time is what we want most but yet, what we use worst. (William Penn)
Here is an interesting link to a paper on Voegelin and Boredom.
Some thoughts about Kierkegaard, from a philosophical angle.
Truth is strange – for in the majority of all those philosophical tomes of thought, there seems to be some sort of self-disgust, an aversion to itself. We can see the truth always “just about to be,” but it never actually coincides with itself. Within reflection, I arrive at an unhappy position, entirely of my own choosing, and find the “state of philosophy” in tattered decrepitude. The agony of thought drains the world of color, and leaves behind splotches of gray, and the bland walls of tedium threaten to envelope me. This seems the revenge of life against my efforts of looking too deeply, into the abyss…
Kierkegaard interjects that with every step take in reflection, you are taking a step backwards from immediacy. This pronouncement seems to carry the implication that reflection can never spur anyone to scale the mountain and find enlightenment at the very peak of truth. Kierkegaard was forever the ironist, and within his writings the anticipation of Dostoevsky’s Underground Man is right under the surface. Interestingly, Kierkegaard chose to sign all his books with a multitude of pen names: Constantine Constantinus, Johannes de Silentio, Victor Eremita, and so on. All these pseudo-authors issue forth cryptic and penetrating insights on a wide spectrum of issues: aesthetics, ethics, and metaphysics. To Kierkegaard’s credit, his original genius was the transformation of pedantic philosophy into a problem of writing – and he also bequeathed a host of rich categories to existentialism (anxiety, dread, absurdity).
There was an incident in Constantinus’ Repetition that changed the author’s life, for even a speck of dust in the eye is enough to collapse an entire world view. Once the speck irritated Constantinus’ eye, he went to pieces and fell into the “abyss of despair.” Careful readers will immediately notice the allusion to the Gospel of Matthew, and realize that, for Kierkegaard, the world view is Hegel’s systematic metaphysics.
In the early 19th century, philosophy sort of out-smarted itself in the excessive rhetoric of the works of Fichte, Schelling, and most importantly, the tortured language of Hegel, yet Hegel was crowned as the king of all philosophy regardless. Kierkegaard was intimately familiar with Hegel’s works, and he also knew that the keystone of Hegel’s entire historical system of logic, the Aufhebung was the great dragon he must overcome. Aufhebung is translated into English as “sublation,” meaning that the contradictions in history are always overcome at once, but at the same time, also preserved by the elevation to a higher plane of thought.
You may say that this Aufhebung doesn’t seem so dangerous and nasty, and fail to see why Kierkegaard found it utterly dangerous. The French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, in his book Search for a Method, laid out his path to existentialism, as well as the back door that allowed him to leave. Most scholars will insist that Kierkegaard was the founding father of existentialism, but Sartre actually demolishes this notion.
Kierkegaard argued that, despite its omnivorous power, Hegel’s philosophy overlooks the “unsurpassable opaqueness” of the lived experience. To this, Sartre didn’t object, and noted that Hegel was very absolute in his optimism, and probably too much so. Hegel would insist that the tragic experience of a single person – the suffering that lasted until death – is easily absorbed and sublated by the system in its passage towards the genuine historical absolute.
However, despite such unflagging optimism, Kierkegaard thought that the specifically real was primal, above and beyond thought. the real cannot be exhausted by thought, cannot be reduced and compartmentalized into spic and span system of philosophy. The supra-individual system glosses over the speck in one’s eye, for it is an existential coloration of mood. In other words, one’s subjective life can never be turned into the object of formally abstract knowledge.
There are contradictions in the individual, Kierkegaard thought, the agonizing choices that everyone has, but they are never “surpassed.” With a smile, Hegel dismisses this private agony as the “romantic unhappy conscience”, for it is a moment already known in essence and thereby surpassed in the process. However, Kierkegaard’s irreducible subjectivity has a “magical transcendence” up his sleeve, a mystical going beyond to God. This is not to be confused with the traditional religious sense of leap “up” to God, but a free fall into subjective inwardness of infinite depth. Kierkegaard places the individual on the very brink of the absurd, and his problematic is that the falling is inevitable.
In order to win God, in order to believe, one must lose one’s understanding.
Sartre called this a sacrificial transcendence, a last suicidally absurd insurrection against Hegel’s “science” of philosophy, and Hegel would have objected to the narrow paradox, and say that his Aufhebung is the better alternative, for it promises the enrichment of the objectivity of all people.
Kierkegaard’s “fallenness” into absurd faith is a quasi-suicidal transcendence, and a clever weapon, some would say desperate, against the systematizing Hegelian history. Hegel’s blatant optimism in the priority of philosophy over experience gnawed at Kierkegaard. Hegel saw philosophy, as a science, lacked the use for the relative question of the individual experience in the real movement of history. Outrageous, thought Kierkegaard, for there’s nothing to such “science” but to make a scandal of faith and turn Christianity into a faithlessly rationalist regime.
Christendom, for Kierkegaard is the society that is Christian in name only, but virtually atheist, for the society has institutionalized its own reason for being Christian. Hegel is correct, in this sense – the genuine experience of faith has already been bypassed for historical reasons of state. That means faith has no room to go, except Kierkegaard’s self-elected absurdity. Sartre himself is probably incorrect when he dismisses Kierkegaard for not being a philosopher, and that Hegel is the superior thinker. In a nutshell, Kierkegaard has lured the reader into the depths of subjectivity, only to pull the rug out under us and reveal that without God, unhappiness is ubiquitous. Kierkegaard was the first post-Christian who realized that Christianity has become a mockery of the Evangelical ideal, and that it is no longer a given belief, but nonexistent unless testified by faith in it.
Some comments on Sartre’s stance on God (or lack of). Sartre never meets the problem of God’s existence. Nowhere does he discuss the traditional arguments from religious epistemology. Interestingly, Sartre does not arrive at atheism after undergoing a philosophical expedition, in the rationalist fashion of the thinker who presumes every position he holds must be the solution to a philosophical problem. Fr. Magin Borrajo says “it is rather a postulate or in the words of Merleau Ponty, an ‘état d’âme’ or as Sartre himself says, an ‘accident,’ the result of the circumstances of his education and the spiritual indigence of the environment in which he lived.”
The fundamental reason why Sartre claims that God does not exist is the very concept of God is a self-contradiction. In his phenomenological description of ontology, there are two modes of being: pour-soi (being-for-itself) and en-soi (being-in-itself). God, in the philosophy of Being and Nothingness, entails both modes of being: pour-soi and en-soi, a ‘being-in-itself-for-itself.’ Yes, quite a mouthful! As an ‘in-itself’ God is the concept of the perfect being, a complete existing entity that is whole in himself and independent. God is also a ‘for-itself’ that He must be absolutely free and not subservient to anything, not reason or ethics. This synthesis is logically contradictory and Sartre ingeniously concludes that such a being must be impossible, having ruled it out of court even before either party can plead their case.
The extreme philosophy of Sartrean existentialism also contributes to his atheism; were God to exist, then that would entail an automatic limitation of man’s freedom, or transform it to a fiction, reduced to a self-delusion. Since the belief of God has been prevalent all over the world and in the past, Sartre cannot simply wave his hand and wish God away. He asserts further that that mankind invents God in order to posit a meaning in the world. Man is forever defining himself, his place in the world, in order to account for a pervasive cosmic meaninglessness. Thus, Man invents a big-brother figure concept that takes care of the unknown mysteries- that includes the origin of the universe and the assurance that everything is under control, that there’s somebody taking care of the major problems and issues.
In the end of his book Being and Nothingness Sartre concludes on a pessimistic note that man is a “useless passion” since he desires to achieve for himself the impossible “being-for-itself-in-itself” synthesis. Man is essentially a desire to be God. In addition, the beauty of it is he fails gloriously, each and every time, at a one hundred percent failure rate.
What follows are relevant excerpts from my exhaustive exposition on Sartre’s phenomenological method: Being-in-itself has a character of an “incomplete inactivity,” lacking all and any relationship to itself. In Sartre’s evocative language, being-in-itself is “opaque” and “coincides exactly with itself.” It is self-contained, on the account that being is in itself. If reality is characterized as such, then atheism follows, since nothing causes being-in-itself, a brute fact of existence. A brute fact is simply IS, without a sufficient reason for its existence or a cause, or any other distorting anthropomorphic terms we project ourselves in order to interpret experience.
‘… matter can provide the foundation of existence of pour-soi through consciousness since reasons and justifications themselves are acts of consciousness.’
The attempt to move from the notion of necessity to the existence of necessity is mistaken for the source of being.