Dreyfus on Heidegger No. 4 and 5; also, The Conclusion to This Series for The Moment.

Some Bloke Taking a Stand on a Rock. Image: Caspar David Friedrich,
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

This is going to be my last set of notes on Dreyfus’ lectures for two reasons. The first is that as I go, I’m becoming really vividly aware of how little of this I get, and the second is that I’m not convinced these pieces are going to be accessible enough to be worth putting up. If I’m wrong, and if anyone is really keen for me to keep going, I’d be happy to– but as it stands without any indication that it’s worth it I’ll probably leave it here.

That all being said, I think the content in these lectures wraps up what we’ve seen so far really nicely, and I think if you listened to lectures one to five and read my notes alongside them you would have an interesting experience.

In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, the golden rule of writing is to “use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.” As long as I can’t guarantee that, I won’t carry on.

My initial goal of understanding Vervaeke and Peterson better has definitely been achieved after getting to better grips with Heidegger on Being, Equipment, and Worldhood, which I would say are the three topics that get the most coverage in these lectures.

Here are the links to my last two notes; and here are the links to the lectures [4, 5].

Now, without further a-do, let’s get into the topics. Just to let you know, I’m going to mix content from the lectures pretty promiscuously. As I’ve said before, the structure of the lectures tends to get de-railed by Dreyfus taking questions from the audience, and that ends up creating this quite winding path. Not to say this path won’t wind– just that it won’t get derailed.

I. How Suitability and Appropriateness Lay a Foundation for Worldhood.

Suitability and Appropriateness are aspects of equipment (Zuhanden.) As always, examples will be relevant here: suitable equipment is equipment that can be used for coping. There are plenty of things that can be suitable for hammering, not just hammers. But, hammers are suitable for hammering. The same cannot be said for appropriateness. Only hammers are appropriate for hammering, as well as being suitable, whereas rocks may be suitable but are certainly not appropriate. 

Note that things can also be appropriate without being suitable, possibly. Consider a newspaper in Chinese, if you happen to be English and not speak Chinese. It would appear to you as to-read, so it would appear to be appropriate to the process of reading, but it would not really seem suitable as a source of information. Just because you wouldn’t be able to use it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make sense in the context of use in someone else’s hands, for example.

Now, for Heidegger via Dreyfus, suitability and appropriateness are both important aspects of equipment because they relate the being of equipment to what he calls ‘the referential whole.

That term really needs some unpacking, so let’s start with a rough sketch and try and get some more detail. The referential whole, really broadly, is the structure of things that makes a thing what it is. It is what makes the thing both suitable and appropriate for a given task.

The example he gives is of bridges: a log can be used to ford a stream, but it only becomes appropriate as a bridge when it is linked into a system of roads. It was somewhat ambiguous whether or not Dreyfus intended this point to be metaphorical or not– but regardless of whether he’s making a literal or metaphorical indication, I think the point stands– if somethings can be noticeably unsuitable for a task, then there is a feature of them that makes their being depend on a referential whole, or the wider world. If some things can be noticeably inappropriate for a task, then the same thing is true.

Either way, they depend on the world to make sense. Before we go any further, it’s worth making a distinction between ‘the world’ as we usually understand it, and the world according to Heidegger.

Consider the distinction between “the world of physics” and “the physical world.” I brought this up in the last set of notes. While suitability relates a piece of equipment to the physical world, appropriateness relates a piece of equipment to “the world of physics.”

Take ‘the world of fencing:’ if two people were adapting the rules of fencing for use with broken tree-branches, that would arguably be suitable for the task of fencing, but in no way appropriate within the world of fencing. This means that the being of equipment depends on the world.

Now, I’m looking into Dreyfus a bit here, but I would argue that in the reading of Heidegger he’s giving us, that for an entity to appear to us as Vorhanden– remember, this means as a substance-predicate complex, or like an object divorced from context– then there has to be something about that thing that makes it stand out, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to see it.

For us, this might be either that we need to see it in order for us to take a stand on our being, or that we need to see it because it objects to the way we are standing on our being.

A scientist in the Cartesian mold needs to look at things as Vorhanden/Substance to take a stand in their being– they need to assume objectivity. What’s interesting is that this is a way of seeing that takes things apart— it is also the way of seeing that we assume when something breaks, or in other words goes to pieces.

II. How You Are In-The-World.

Recall from the last note that your coping determines your being, and that therefore the ways in which you cope determine your being. If that is so, then your appropriation of equipment is also constitutive of your being.

In order for this idea to land as hard as it landed on me, let’s explore an idea called the for-the-sake-of-which. For Heidegger via Dreyfus, the for-the-sake-of-which is an aspect of coping. Coping isn’t coping for no reason– there is something for the sake of which coping occurs. 

Dreyfus characterizes this into two sort of broad categories; the goal-obtainable and the goal-unobtainable. A paradigm case of the goal-obtainable is building a home. A paradigm case of the goal-unobtainable is being the sort of person that builds homes. What I find interesting here is that this distinction seems to line up quite nicely with Fromm’s having-being distinction.

To cope in such a way that having a shelter at the end of the coping is the goal is a having-oriented-coping. Whereas coping in such a way that being the sort of person that builds shelters– a shelterer– is the goal is a being-oriented coping. This is another way that Dasein can be said to ‘take a stand on its own being.’ If I cope in such a way, building shelters, that I am to be a shelterer, then I am taking a stand on my own being.

However, this is something that Dasein cannot do without equipment. You can’t magic a shelter into being, and of course, a shelter being equipment itself requires a world to make it such that it is suitable or appropriate for sheltering. That means that the whole world is a pre-requisite in some sense for your being a shelterer. 

Dreyfus puts it another way: “you can’t become a teacher without the equipment necessary to be a teacher: classrooms, essays, books, lecterns, universities, etc.”

The interesting consequence of all this is that you can’t be yourself as something unless you’re coping using the available equipment. I’m coping as a writer by using this keyboard and computer screen. I cope as a thinker-researcher with my notes and the books and lecture material I can track down and synthesize. It’s a nice idea, that being can be assumed in this way.

I guess you could say this is one way that Heidegger definitely has an edge on Sartre– Sartre tends to think that there is an eternal sort of nihilism separating us from any particular purpose, whereas Heidegger seems to think that trans-formative labor can get us to a definite-if-temporary assumption of a discrete identity.

III. Some Really Assorted Connections, and Conclusion to Note Series.

One other really interesting consequence of all this is that it seems like you need a body to be able to think. That’s quite an odd leap, though. In my last note, I started talking about the necessity to read into Gibson and ecological perception. Then I got into a real rabbit hole that led me toward theories of embodied cognition.

It also turns out that Dreyfus’ own critique of AI was heavily influential in the attempt to bring cognitive science away from the computer model of the mind and towards an embodied model. That’s something I find pretty interesting. 

The Cognitive revolution in Psychology– which birthed cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), the mainstay of the modern NHS insofar as psychotherapy is concerned– relied heavily on the computer model.

One interesting area for further investigation would be to examine the degree to which CBT is still stuck in that conceptual paradigm. Another interesting angle from which to approach would be to ask whether or not we could rescue anything useful from CBT by freeing it from the computer-model. If there wasn’t a possible rescue, we could also think about introducing concepts from embodied cognition fluidly. 

I can’t pretend to be enough of an authority on either of these at the moment. But mark my words, I’m gonna get there, and when I do, I’ll hopefully be able to come up with some tentative approach to these questions.

As a rough guide to the relationships between Heidegger and Cognitive Science/Psychology in the next few lectures: lecture six gives us some nice language to understand flow states; lecture seven doesn’t have too much in it, aside from being the leadup to lecture eight, which is where critiques of the computer model start to really get into full-swing. 

Now, listening to lecture eight was quite an interesting experience for me, because it seemed to open up this massive world of inquiry that I had been completely blind to. It was a bit of a coming-to-Christ sort of experience.

To be honest, I’ve had a hard time not thinking about it since, which is certainly why this series needs to stop here– I need to get more confident about these ideas before I talk about them, and I need to figure out how they’re situated in my broader field of interests.

Hopefully these notes have been interesting and useful. If not, then hopefully they prompted someone to start listening to Dreyfus, who I am certain is both interesting and useful.

4 thoughts on “Dreyfus on Heidegger No. 4 and 5; also, The Conclusion to This Series for The Moment.”

  1. I for one thank you for your monumental exploration of this field of thought, even if I have been grappling, like you, to understand it. Your blogs are challenging but that is a reason for carrying on, not stopping. Keep it up! I think your reference to various distinctions is interesting and in my blog I’ve been exploring the way that we tend to think in dualisms and wondering whether this has anything to do with our divided brain. I’ve also been looking at the thorny problem of nihilism.


    1. Cheers berggolts! Well okay I’ll do the next bit on Dualism next and Heidegger’s critique of Descartes. But only because you sweet-talked me.

      I’m pretty sure that’s the most relevant part of the issue. It sure seems like a Cartesian mode of seeing/seeing solely in terms of Vorhanden/presence-to-hand is a very left-brain ‘divided’ mode of looking. I’ve been thinking a lot about ways we could empirically test this. I’d like to write some proposals.

      Seriously though, thank you so much for your comment. It’s nice to know that someone is listening.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. No problem nosiarch. It’s important to have serious bloggers like yourself when there’s so much nonsense on the internet.


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