Self, Other, Thing: Triangulation and Topography in Post-Kantian Philosophy

By Malpas, Jeff | Philosophy Today, Winter 2015 | Go to article overview

Self, Other, Thing: Triangulation and Topography in Post-Kantian Philosophy


Malpas, Jeff, Philosophy Today


I. Thinking and Triangulation

In a discussion of Heidegger on language, the Swiss theologian Heinrich Ott, significant for his hermeneutical appropriation of Heidegger within theology, reports Heidegger as acknowledging three ways in which thinking can proceed that can be summarised as follows: through the relation between 'man' and the self, through reflection on the relation between 'man' and the other, and through reflection on the relation between 'man' and the thing.1 Ott, who in this essay relates Heidegger's thinking to that of Martin Buber, characterises Buber's path as the second of these and Heidegger's, by Heidegger's own account, as the third. The three directions in which these paths of thinking move-towards self, other, and thing-appear elsewhere in Heidegger's thinking as marking three different and fundamental modes of inter-relation. Thus, in lectures from 1919-1920, Heidegger writes:

The manifold, then, which lies within the field and the field which accompanies the continuously flowing life in each of us [is this]: our surrounding world-the land, regions, cities, and deserts, our with-world-parents, siblings, acquaintances, superiors, teachers, pupils, civil servants, foreigners, the man there with his crutch, the lady over there with her elegant hat, the little girl with her doll, our self-world,-inasmuch as all this is encountered by me, giving my life this personal rhythm. We live in this surrounding-, with-, and self-world (the world "about" in general).2

The correspondence here is not exact (the 'surrounding' world is construed here more in terms of the physical environment than the thing), but Heidegger's distinction between these three different senses of world seems nevertheless to overlap with the distinction Ott reports Heidegger as invoking between self, other, and thing. Moreover, since the earlier distinction is surely not one between autonomous senses of world, but rather senses that surely implicate each other in an essential fashion-as they are all senses that belong to the idea of the world as such-so one might well be led to remark that the three paths of thinking at issue here cannot be wholly autonomous either.

Although these paths may be distinct, they move within the same terrain, crossing similar ground if from different directions, providing varying perspectives on what are nevertheless the same landmarks. These three paths thus implicate each other in the same way as do different locales within the same landscape or territory. Indeed, the distinctness of those locales, and so also the distinctness of these three paths, depends not on their separation, but on their inter-relation-on their essential belonging together. Consequently, no matter which path we start with, it seems we will inevitably also come across the others. What might thus be thought of as the partiality of our engagement is itself what enables an engagement that goes beyond such partiality.

As Ott reports matters, Heidegger's own emphasis is on the path that is oriented towards the thing, but this should not be seen as implying a disregard for the other two paths, and certainly not a dismissal of self or other. Since the thing does not stand apart from self or other-just as no-one of the three senses of world Heidegger identifies in the 1919-1920 lecture stands apart from the other two-so any thinking that addresses itself to thing, or to other, or to self, will have to address all three, even if only implicitly. Indeed, in Heidegger's own thinking, notwithstanding the tendency for the focus on the thing to come to the fore, one can also discern the way in which both self and other are implicated within the same structure. The nature of that implication may require explication, which is partly what Ott attempts to do in his juxtaposition of Heidegger with Buber, but it nevertheless involves drawing out elements that are already present within the Heideggerian account rather than being arbitrarily added to it. …

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