Re-centering The Heideggerian Ontology to Focus on Psyche in Aristotle’s De Anima
In this thesis, which I call an essay in “fundamental psychology” (a title styled after Martin Heidegger’s “fundamental ontology”), I attempt to argue that Being as such is structured through the potential of living beings. This means that Being is not centered on understanding (noocentrism), which I take to be Heidegger’s claim, but is centered on what Aristotle calls “soul.” Aristotle, in fact, says “the soul is somehow all beings,” but gives no indication that it is a human soul, or a soul predominantly identified with understanding. In short, I propose that the soul is the proper focus for radical ontology. The first chapter offers a re-interpretation of Aristotle’s account of the soul in De Anima in order to claim that there are various ways in which all lifeforms make a creative contribution to the possibilities that characterize beings as belonging to one ontological region or another. Life gives to beings their specific modes of existing. Heidegger privileges “understanding” as that which discloses Being, but I will argue that living beings display the Being of their environments in dimensions of possibility that issue from the adapted modes of an organism’s living. For instance, and very basically, while a chemical substance may have an “objective” set of properties that marks the difference between its being poisonous and its being harmless, the ontological category under which this difference is determined is not something that exists in the world – it is not an entity – but it is a dimension of possibility that is constituted through a living anatomy. I call such categories psychological forms (in the broad sense of Aristotle’s psychology). The totality of psychological forms has a wider range than the categories that Heidegger was able to identify (presence and readiness), and it does not belong to “Dasein” to “reflect” these forms in its kind of Being. But rather, a chinchilla or an elephant proves itself to be ontological by displaying such forms as stemming from an organismic make up. In the second chapter, I attempt an extended phenomenological hermeneutic of the organismic, focused on working out the meaning of Aristotle’s analogy that the soul is like the hand. The basic conclusion reached is that the analogy presupposes a psycho-ontological interpretation of the hand as ambiguously organ and instrument, flesh and world (after Merleau-Ponty). Taking its start from Heidegger’s notion of the “ready-to-hand,” and then drawing upon themes worked out in light of the recent contributions to phenomenology under the title “carnal hermeneutics” (Kearney, Chrétien, Desmond and others), the chapter develops a “carnal” challenge to the carelessness of reducing the Being of beings to an ontological category that conforms so explicitly to a single body part – i.e., the hand. However, although Heidegger’s category of handiness is shown to be too reductive, the chapter still takes the ontological category of handiness, especially in the way Heidegger establishes it, to be instructive for understanding how an organ is figured into a living being’s possibilities with beings. By looking at the differences among prominent phenomenological interpretations (Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty) of how our hands relate to other organs, to instruments, and to sense-perception, a case can be made for trying to understand the organismic kind of Being through the organized structure of environmental possibilities. Basically, the conclusion of the chapter is that the Greek organon-concept reflects the way in which life-forms, characterized by articulate and differentiated bodies, figure into the formulation that makes beings possible as a whole. So, the hand, for instance, lays out a touch-world and a tool-world that are defined by a kind of intertwining of possibilities in which the organ is involved, where the interconnectedness is summed up by a totality of possibilities that refer back to the organ. The hand, then, is both instrument and organ, because it makes the dimension of Being of instrumental beings possible, while at the same time, being reflexively fit into that dimension itself instrumentally. Chapter three attempts to demonstrate how living beings can make an ontological contribution to the structure of Being as a whole from within the course of the causal succession in which they are generated. The chapter is structured as an address to a problem: “How can something relatively late in the order of becoming be prior in the order of Being?” This question arises out of the strong claims of the first two chapters that life and organs have a prior existential responsibility over beings on the whole. This is addressed through an account that tries to disentangle the chronological order of causes from the existential order. By focusing on the philosophy of Kant, in particular, it is argued that there is no contradiction in thinking that something later in the order of becoming is earlier in the order of Being. Then, through an analysis of a recent experimental attempt to demonstrate the conditions in which life first comes to be from the “primordial soup,” it is argued that life always displays an existential-ontological priority over its causes, which can be appreciated if we take into account the moment in which an ontologically novel category is posited through an entity, and where the category was not even something yet potentially in the cause of the entity. The last two chapters return to Heidegger, in order to argue that the existential-ontological priority of living beings over their causes coincides with a further need for an ontological psychology, attuned to the specific differences that have come to be in living beings. The chapter follows Heidegger in the Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, and Derrida in his reading of Heidegger in The Beast and the Sovereign, in order to argue that the familiar species classifications that Heidegger uses (‘bee,’ ‘lizard,’ ‘human’) can be “deconstructed” down to a central paradox. That is, there is something paradoxical at the core of the classical zoology that Heidegger relies upon in order to carry out his analysis. The distinction between man and animals is, in fact, undermined by the conclusion of Heidegger’s analysis – that “animals are poor in world,” and man is “world forming.” It is argued that, if this distinction obtains between entities within the world, then it simply cannot have anything to say about other worlds, or animal worlds. It cannot even have anything to say about the constitution of the world-hood of our one world. And so, “world-poverty” cannot be a criterion of distinction. The fifth chapter attempts to display further the paradoxical tension in the human essence, and to deconstruct the self-undermining logic of the definition of man as the animal having logos. Man is redefined as the “(im)possible animal,” because, at once, the human being makes the rational categorization of other living beings possible, but, in such a way as shows the “incoherence” of the essential distinction between humans and other living beings. The chapter argues that the way in which the traditional definitions of natural living kinds are considered “true” always entails their untruth (à la Heidegger), to such an extent that to say man is other than the animal in respect of the logos is equiprimordially true and untrue. The un-truth of the logos, we argue, topples the whole of zo-ology from within the specific difference of the human being. We argue that, in the “riddle” of man’s essence, we are finally presented with a means of “escaping” the prevailing noo-centrism highlighted as problematic in the first chapter. The fifth chapter, then, draws to a conclusion the Aristotelian, Heideggerian, and Derridaen lines of thinking that are roughly present throughout the dissertation.