Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Heidegger's Representationalism

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Heidegger's Representationalism

Article excerpt

For at least the last twenty years, Anglo-American philosophers have displayed two interrelated tendencies in their efforts to make sense of Martin Heidegger. First, they have frequently mapped Heidegger onto debates and problems within contemporary cognitive science and North American philosophy of psychology. Second, they have often attempted to discern deep identities and affinities with more familiar philosophers and traditions, in particular, with Wittgenstein and American pragmatism. That these twin strategies of interpretation are so popular is in large part due to the work of Hubert L. Dreyfus. Dreyfus has pursued both lines of hermeneutic attack with a vengeance, and in so doing has devised an interpretation of Heidegger which makes him appear as a theoretical philosopher whom even hard-nosed cognitive scientists and analytical philosophers of mind can take seriously.

As Dreyfus reads him, Heidegger's central achievement lies in his anticipating contemporary antirepresentationalist critiques of representational theories of mind. According to Dreyfus, Heidegger's prime innovation and novelty is to challenge the subject/object model of mind which has dominated philosophy and psychology from Descartes through Husserl to the present. The subject/object model construes the knowing and acting "self" as a "subject" which is always related intentionally to the world via "representations" of "objects." Heidegger, according to Dreyfus, rejects this: "Heidegger accepts intentional directedness as essential to human activity, but he denies that [all] intentionality is mental, that it is, as Husserl (following Brentano) claimed, the distinguishing characteristic of mental states."(1) In other words, while Heidegger concedes that intentionality is essential to being a "subject" or "self," he rejects the traditional idea that intentionality is always and only a feature of the standard folk-psychological states and experiences. It is not always and only what Dreyfus calls representational intentionality, that is, a matter of being in, or having, the standard folk-psychological intentional states and experiences.(2) While "we sometimes experience ourselves as conscious subjects relating to objects by way of intentional states such as desires, beliefs, perceptions, intentions, etc ....,"(3) Dreyfus's Heidegger also insists that our actually relating to objects by way of such standard folk-psychological states and experiences is "a derivative and intermittent condition."(4) Only when our normal, everyday dealings with familiar things become problematic, or even break down completely, do psychological states and experiences with any kind of mental or representational content arise.(5) In general, claims Dreyfus, Heidegger maintains that "all relations of mental states to their objects presuppose a more basic form of being-with-things which does not involve mental activity."(6)

Elsewhere I have shown that Dreyfus really has no basis at all in Heidegger's texts for attributing to Heidegger the thesis that representational intentionality is an intermittent condition founded in such nonrepresentational "absorbed coping" with familiar things.(7) In this same paper, I also suggest that this purely negative demonstration must be complemented by a more positive account of what Heidegger is really getting at, an account which clearly entails the falsity of attributing this thesis to Heidegger. Sketching at least the broad outlines of, the Entwurf or Vorgriff for, just such an account is the task of the current paper. Specifically, I shall outline an account of what Heidegger means by Dasein, more precisely and specifically, by Dasein's self-comportment toward innerworldly entities, from which it clearly follows that Heidegger is not at all out to reject the traditional idea that subjects or selves relate to the world via representations, at least not when these notions are correctly understood.(8)

Indeed, the account to be outlined here not merely does not entail Dreyfus's central thesis, it positively contradicts it. …

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