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- Understanding and Ontology
- pp. 31-2.
Much of philosophy has been an attempt to understand how the mental and physical domains are related -- how our perceptions and thoughts relate to the world toward which they are directed. Some schools have denied the existence of one or the other. Some argue that we cannot coherently talk about the mental domain, but must understand all behavior in terms of the physical world, which includes the physical structure of our bodies. Others espouse solipsism, denying that we can establish the existence of an objective world at all, since our own mental world is the only thing of which we have immediate knowledge. Kant called it "a scandal of philosophy and of human reason in general" that over the thousands of years of Western culture, no philosopher had been able to provide a sound argument refuting psychological idealism -- to answer the question "How can I know whether anything outside of my subjective consciousness exists?"
Heidegger argues that "the 'scandal of philosophy' is not that this proof has yet to be given, but that such proofs are expected and attempted again and again." He says of Kant's "Refutation of Idealism" that it shows "... how intricate these questions are and how what one wants to prove gets muddled with what one does prove and with the means whereby the proof is carried out." Heidegger's work grew out of the questions of phenomenology posed by his teacher Husserl, and developed into a quest for and understanding of Being. He argues that the separation of subject and object denies the more fundamental unity of being-in-the-world (Dasein). By drawing a distinction that I (the subject) am perceiving something else (the object), I have stepped back from the primacy of experience and understanding that operates without reflection.
Heidegger rejects both the simple objective stance (the objective physical world is the primary reality) and the simple subjective stance (my thoughts and feelings are the primary reality), arguing instead that it is impossible for one to exist without the other. The interpreted and the interpreter do not exist independently: existence is interpretation, and interpretation is existence. Prejudice is not a condition in which the subject is led to interpret the world falsely, but is the necessary condition of having a background for interpretation (hence Being). This is clearly expressed in the later writings of Gadamer:
It is not so much our judgments as it is our prejudices that constitute our being.... The historicity of our existence entails that prejudices, in the literal sense of the word, constitute the initial directedness of our whole ability to experience. Prejudices are biases our our openness to the world. They are simply conditions whereby we experience something -- whereby what we encounter says something to us. --- Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeenutics (1976), p. 9.
Our implicit beliefs and assumptions cannot all be made explicit.
- Winograd, Terry and Flores, Fernando (1986). Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. Ablex Publishing Corp. [^]
- Gadamer, Hans-Georg (1976). Philosophical Hermeneutics. (trans. and ed. by David Linge). University of California Press, 1976. [^]
- 1975/March/J [^]
- Heidegger, Being and Time (1962), p. 249, emphasis in original.
- Ibid., p. 247.