27 August 2008

Dreyfus, Heidegger, McDowell, and Action

Dreyfus has written about McDowell again, this time explicitly focusing on McDowell's account of action. (Edit: HT: Enowning.) It's generally more of the same, though the specific ways in which Dreyfus modifies his errors to take account of McDowell's response to his last critical piece might be of interest to some. He now "gets" that McDowell doesn't link conceptuality with "generality" in the sense Dreyfus assumed in his earlier articles, but he still links "propositional structure" and "objective facts" to what could be grasped by "detached observers", and he's able to throw out phrases like "timeless, descriptive, propositional account" -- as if the three were synonyms. So, same song, different tune.

Dreyfus is still as pleasant to read as ever, thankfully, and he does bring up interesting ways that McDowell might be misunderstood. His criticism of McDowell's appeal to demonstratives ("this moment", "this shade", "this situation") reminds me of Heidegger's critcism of Hegel's conception of time at the end of "Being & Time" -- though I think it's worth noting that Heidegger credits Hegel with linking "time" and "spirit", and merely complains that he didn't get their communion right. (Heidegger's criticisms seem to me entirely justified, incidentally. Hegel's account of time is just too quick, for just the reasons Heidegger gives. His long footnote about Hegel & Aristotle was also quite enlightening. Contrariwise, Dreyfus's criticisms of McDowell seem to me misplaced, for McDowell does not have a narrow notion of what relationship "this moment" can stand in to other times & happenings & events.)*

This bit from a footnote struck me as particularly egregious:

To say that the world solicits a certain activity is to say that the agent feels immediately drawn to act a certain way. This is different from deciding to perform the activity, since in feeling immediately drawn to do something one experiences no act of will. Rather, one experiences the environment calling for a certain way of acting, and finds one’s body responding to the call. There is no experience of an object and so no object to bring under a concept. There is also no “I”. Involved in the flow, one’s body is just drawn to do what needs to be done.

Here Dreyfus appears to me to make a number of errors.

The one that leaps out at me most is the notion that in (e.g) expert action one "finds one's body responding", rather than responding oneself (it can't be oneself that responds, since there is no "I" and therefore no one performing the action). I can "find my body responding" by spasming when a nerve is pinched by pants that are too tight, or find my leg swinging up when my knee is struck; but when things go normally, I do not "find my body" at all. I simply act, without any opposition between "me" and "my body" (or "my body" and "my mind" or my "soul" or "spirit" or "I"). "My body" exists for me only when I abstract in reflection because of some particular problem with my body which makes its being an issue for me. And the same for the things which are supposed to be opposed to "body" (mind, soul, "I") -- they exist by themselves only as abstractions. (I take this to be a Heideggerian point. SuZ 117: "The "substance" of human being is not the spirit as the synthesis of body and soul, but existence." "Body" is as much to blame for phenomenological errors as "soul" (and other more clearly "Cartesian" or "dualist" terms). I know I have seen this point made explicitly (perhaps in Macquarrie's introduction?), and I thought it was in SuZ itself, but I'm not finding it.)(Incidentally, I find it amusing that Heidegger remarks that "coporeality" is not something he is going to discuss in SuZ 108 -- indeed, the term is barely in the book at all. This is not what you'd expect if you approached Heidegger solely by way of Dreyfus.)

Dreyfus appears to slip up here: "one experiences the environment calling for..." -- surely this is irrelevant to what I find "one's body" to be doing. If one experiences an object, then one (one's body?) is not coping absorbedly, and one cannot experience any environment without experiencing any of the objects in it. Hence in truly absorbed coping, Dreyfus should say that not one, but a body responds to a call that is not experienced, but merely felt by that body. (I suspect that Dreyfus's account of "motor intentionality" could be modified to remove this vestige of intentional language, "feels". Surely Dreyfus wants to say that a "motor-intentional" being is put into a state of disequilibrium by the causal impetus of some facet of its environment, and its "motor-intentional" system moves itself in such a way that it will be returned to equilibrium -- thus is everyday action explained without any need for "intellectualizing" notions like "action". Hence removing the phenomenology from Dreyfus is the proper way to develop his phenomenology.)

Incidentally, I ran across a Heidegger passage I liked while looking up index entries for "body" in SuZ, 47/48:
The person is not a thing, not a substance, not an object. Here Scheler emphasizes the same thing which Husserl is getting at when he requires for the unity of the person a constitution essentially different from that of things of nature. What Scheler says of the person, he applies to acts as well. "An act is never also an object, for it is the nature of the being of acts only to be experienced in the process itself and given in reflection." Acts are nonpsychical. Essentially the person exists only in carrying out intentional acts, and is thus essentially not an object. Every psychical objectification, and thus every comprehension of acts as something psychical, is identical with depersonalization. In any case, the person is given as the agent of intentional acts which are connected by the unity of a meaning. [I especially liked this sentence.] Thus psychical being has nothing to do with being a person. Acts are carried out, the person carries them out. But what is the ontological meaning of "carrying out," how is the kind of being of the person to be defined in an ontologically positive way? But the critical question cannot stop at this. The question is about the being of the whole human being, whom one is accustomed to understand as a bodily-soul-like-spiritual unity. Body, soul, spirit might designate areas of phenomena which are thematically seperable for the sake of determinate investigations; within certain limits their ontological indeterminacy might not be so important.
He then goes on to complain about a variety of dualistic conceptions of personhood (I laughed at his gloss of the "rational animal" as an animal life with "a higher endowment whose kind of being remains just as obscure as that of the being so pieced together").

And another short one: "Neither may Dasein's spatiality be interpreted as an imperfection which adheres to existence by reason of the fatal "linkage of the spirit to a body." On the contrary, because Dasein is "spiritual", and only because of this, it can be spatial in a way which remains essentially impossible for any extended corporeal Thing." (SuZ 368) Only a "spiritual" being can see things as far away, nearby, too close, too far, in the area, "a stone's throw away", etc.

* Actually, looking at Dreyfus again, his criticism of McDowell's use of demonstratives is not similar to Heidegger's criticism of Hegel's "now" at all. But I wanted an excuse to mention that that part of Heidegger is especially good, so this paragraph is staying as is, and the truth is being hidden in a footnote. Dreyfus thinks that referring to "this situation just now" would be "an empty gesture". Surely it would, for a "detached observer", just like all the other descriptions he's considered. But why should it not be sufficient for the chessmaster? He saw that the situation on the board was that way at that moment, and made the right move without hesitation, manifesting his chessplaying virtue. Seeing the same board wasn't sufficient for the detached observer, but that's because the detached oberver can't play chess (if he could, he would not be detached).

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