Dreyfus Re-mix

Somebody I don’t know sent me a link to this video that re-mixes Bert’s lecture on the Goddard film Breathless over video clips from the film.


About Sean D. Kelly

Sean Dorrance Kelly is the Teresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Faculty Dean at Dunster House, one of the twelve undergraduate Houses at Harvard. He served for six years as chair of Harvard's Department of Philosophy. Kelly earned an Sc.B. in Mathematics and Computer Science and an M.S. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University in 1989. After three years as a Ph.D. student in Logic and Methodology of Science, he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. Before arriving at Harvard in 2006, Kelly taught at Stanford and Princeton, and he was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Sean Kelly's work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. He is a world authority on 20th century European Philosophy, specializing in the work of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He has also done influential work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception. Kelly has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and he has received fellowships or awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others. Fun fact: He appeared on The Colbert Show in 2011 to talk about All Things Shining. Sean Kelly lives at Dunster House with his wife, the Harvard Philosopher Cheryl Kelly Chen, and their two boys, Benjamin and Nathaniel.
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102 Responses to Dreyfus Re-mix

  1. Frank says:

    This book presupposes that there exists meaning and purpose to life. What if there is not meaning nor purpose? What if the belief that life is actually worth living is simply a evolutionary strategy to copy genes?

  2. LaurenceMcM says:

    Frank –
    Then you can be satisfied that your otherwise worthless life has served its purpose.

    • Frank says:

      Ha. It may have served its purpose, but hardly satisfyingly.

      • david leech says:


        As you and Laurence point out, it seems reasonable to say that from a biological perspective our function is to reproduce. But you raise the question of meaning. That’s experiential rather than functional.

        The book supposes that we experience life as meaningful in very different ways in the different epochs in Western culture and that we can hear this by reading the Western literary classics with an ear for those experiences. Your “what if …actually” is what the book refers to as a danger of nihilism: the notion that the only way (a monolithic way) to interpret our lives is on the basis of a scientific model; an interpretation that says, “we are just meaningless stuff.”

        “Just meaningless stuff” is certainly useful for scientific work, but we just don’t experience life that way or act as if we are meaningless stuff. (ATS is full of examples. The coffee cup comes to mind.)

        Your last comment to Laurence hits the nail on the head. What does it mean to speak of an interpretation of a life as “actually satisfying” (versus, I suppose, “seemingly satisfying”). If it seems satisfying it IS satisfying.

        An important facet of the book (its main purpose I think) is to expand our appreciation of how life can “seem satisfying” by looking at how historical Western cultures found satisfaction and trying to find a way to apply their “poly-sources” of meaningfulness in our “secular age.” For the sake of being “seemingly satisfied,” Dreyfus and Kelley argue that we should expand our horizons by looking at how the Homeric Greeks found meaning in many many sources (rather than what came to be seen as the one true source — monotheistic, then scientific) and that Herman Melville’s post-monotheism was onto this too.

        If you want another way to grasp the distinction, I find Albert Borgmann’s distinction between a “device” and a “thing” helpful (as do Dreyfus & Kelley). If you don’t know that distinction, check out Borgmann’s Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life (’84)

  3. LaurenceMcM says:

    david leech-
    Just to be clear, my response to Frank’s initial comment was meant as a criticism of the question, not an agreement.
    You have answered it with measured reason, where I had preferred lazy flippancy!

    • david leech says:

      Actually, I thought you were being generous is supposing that Frank had offspring, the preservation of the immortal coils. While I don’t follow that literature closely I have the impression that there are interpretations within the sociobiological literature that allow for purely altruistic behavior. Maybe that’s where you were coming from and weren’t being generous at all.

      I can see how the preservation of immortal coils could be understood as meaningful. But it runs the risk of being the one true way to meaning which closes off unforeseeable other possibilities.

  4. Frank says:

    Thanks David. Nice thoughtful response. I will look up Borgmann, as I am not familiar with that name. I guess my problem is this: We may assign meaning to life or, as you say, experience meaningfulness, and this may temporarily feel satisfying to the amygdala. But, the mind knows better. The mind knows what you are doing and that there may, ultimately, be no meaning. You say “If it seems satisfying it IS satisfying.” Not so fast. Many things in life are not as they seem. It just FEELS so. Something, on an emotional level may seem satisfying, but the rational mind will see this as a potential deceit. The temporary feeling in the amygdala cannot be sustained when scrutinized by the cerebral cortex.

    • david leech says:


      I accept your distinction between “satisfying in the short-run” and “satisfying in the long-run.” I am not equipped to get philosophical but, still, I think this is not an epistemological question about what is true and what is only apparently true. Rather it is a phenomenological/ontological question. Our experiences are ontologically subjective so that if we feel satisfied, we are. I could be wrong that my satisfying experience will remain satisfying in the long run because my subjective sense of satisfaction is based on being epistemologically wrong about something. But I can’t be wrong that I am having satisfying experiences.

      But maybe a more important question in the ATS context is how we interpret our experiences. I think that the business about the amygdala communicating with the cerebral cortex is NOT a description of your experience, certainly not a satisfying one. Because I am not equipped to get too philosophical, let me put it like this: think of writing your obituary, an interpretation of your life. What is meaningful to you? What are the events or the stuff that would constitute “chapters” in that obit? It strikes me that a story about the interactions of brain functions comes dangerously close to nihilism. (I know this may be an imaginative limitation on my part.) Think of ATS as a self-help book that describe various story genres that can be told about a life. ATS suggests that we’ve lost touch with an important genre. We live in a world in which scientific and technological causal explanations tend to crowd out what could be more satisfying interpretations of “a lived life” but that doesn’t mean that they are the only or even the best kinds of stories. As I understand it, the authors are asking us to go back to other epochs, discover the polytheistic genre and situate it in our world as a form of an interpretation of our “experiences” that is satisfying (if not for the long run, at least for a series of short runs).

  5. Frank says:

    You are wrong David! You are indeed well equipped to wax philosophic!

    Can a subjectively satisfying experience survive intellectual scrutiny? Remember what happened to the baseball player who over-thought in ATS? Can we thrive knowing that our lives are short, meaningless and purposeless? Maybe if we delude ourselves? Invent meaning? “Investigate previous epochs…discover the polytheistic genre?”

    People like to collect stuff. This can be satisfying and meaningful to them. Maybe you collect stamps. Fine. You are right. It feels satisfying, so it IS satisfying…as long as you don’t think about it too much and realize what a silly thing it is to do!

    You are right about coming dangerously close to nihilism, (David Foster Wallace?) but that is a emotional reason, not a intellectual reason to reject those possibilities. Might it be, that the mind is just a creation of our genes to get us to reproduce them? There is nothing behind the whale.

    • david leech says:

      Even from a strictly biological perspective, you are imposing a metaphysical separation between emotional and intellectual that puts you on a path to dis-satisfaction, Ahab. (See Damasio’s “Descartes Error,” or, better, Freeman’s “How Brains Make Up Their Minds” — the latter probably puts you closer to the ATS authors’ perspective because it places itself in the succession of Merleau-Ponty.)

      I think it is true that genes create minds (in some very complicated and non-genetic sense). So what? I still have the option of living a life that is satisfying, and passing on a way of seeing that is consistent with that knowledge AND satisfying AND (perhaps most importantly) that is open to unforeseeable ways of seeing (new “understandings of being” in Heidegger terms). Without that possibility, one could argue, as Heidegger argued, we run the risk of snuffing out what it is that makes us human (phenomenologically speaking).

  6. Frank says:

    David, (Ishmael?) you misunderstand me. The distinction between the emotions and reason is of a natural, biological form, not a metaphysical one.

    The way you talk about your options makes it sound like you believe in free will, a debatable point.

    I agree that there is a bit of Ahab in me. I have this strong desire to figure things out too. However, where we differ is in how we deal with that desire. Ahab was obsessive about it. I have reconciled to the fact that this is a never ending quest. Life is a mystery filled with much uncertainty and doubt. I call myself a mysterian, like Martin Gardner or G.K. Chesterton. My philosophy is pretty well summed up in this nice little talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQab6oHWgrY

    • david leech says:


      I don’t think I misunderstand you. I disagree with you on the biological facts which leads me to assert that your construction of an explanation is metaphysical. As I (feebly) understand how the brain works, the notion that there is emotional reason on the one hand and intellectual reason on the other hand, whereby the latter disciplines the former is functionally wrong. The brain and its parts is part of the body and the body interacts with its environment, physical and cultural. Rather than providing long quotes to support this view that your “division of metal labor” has gotten something very wrong, just check out Damasio’s short introduction section and Freeman short book. In both the unified functioning of emotion/reason are what make for intelligent behavior. One in not superior to the other. Very briefly, from Damasio (just because its closer to me on the shelf and less complex than Freeman), “feelings point us in the proper direction, take us to the appropriate place in decision-making space, where we may put the instruments of logic to good use …Emotion and feeling … assist us with the daunting task of predicting an uncertain future and planning our actions accordingly.” (xiii)

      • david leech says:


        Just to punctuate the above, it seems that Heidegger’s metaphysics (we are beings-in-the-world) is more consistent with the biological facts than the ancient (at least Stoic then Christian) metaphysics that distinguishes the passions and reason.

  7. dmf says:

    Sean, you may want to contact Ta-Nehisi Coates about guest-posting on his blog, or at least leave a comment/link:

  8. Frank says:

    David, I think we have wandered off a little far a-field. My theory is that there is no discernable purpose or meaning to life other than what we choose to give it. There is no discernable purpose to the life of a turtle, a frog, or a chimp. We have evolved selectively and deselectively to survive, and to make more people, turtles, frogs, and chimps. We may think of ourselves as special, divine, or soulful, and it may serve useful beneficial purposes (or not) but there is unconvincing evidence for it. There can be no “luring back of the gods”. “Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player who struts and frets his hour on the stage and is heard no more…Tis a tale told by and idiot. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Do you agree or disagree with this theory that Shakespeare and I are proposing?

    As far as how the mind works, although we do see a integrated response, it should not be controversial to say that it does in fact employ a a “division of labor” strategy. Surly you remember Phineas Gage? The mind reasons WITH emotion. Loss or damage to particular mind matter can result in very specific loss of function. Suffer a stroke in a particular area of the brain and you may lose language function. Some neuro scientist believe that there is even a difference in how the left vrs. right hemispheres function. PET scans, fmri, EEG’s – all attempt to tease out how different area of the mind function.

    • david leech says:

      I do not agree. Unlike other “world poor” animals, we are ensconced in culture. Therefore we are not completely free to “choose” our interpretation but we can be more or less open to alternative interpretations and “pay them forward” rather than being “heard of no more.” Does that deny the evolutionary/biological story? No, of course not. Its integral too it. I suspect that your (and Hamlet’s) nihilistic perspective is inimical.

      But I am not interested in the science of culture. (Well, I am, but its not my focus.) I am interested in the way the scientific perspective competes with and crowds out the sense of meaning and significance that is clearly important to us. I am not anti-scientific. Science, as I understand it, is about the meaningless: how things work. “What does it mean?” and “How do I incorporate this scientific knowledge into my life?” are also important questions to beings like us. They are not scientific questions. They are interpretive ones. It appears that there are aesthetic reasons for squaring the interpretive account with the scientific account (I don’t know why and haven’t thought about it) but it is not required that be the same. In the secular age, if they are the same we call it nihilism. I think what ATS is trying to do is square “interpretation” (under-standing) with science in such a way that preserves, indeed strengthens, our sense of wonder and preserves and strengthens our understanding of the kinds of beings that we are, the kinds for which meaning matters and that are, at our best, open to new meanings.

      You can deny it by convincing yourself that your life has no meaning. As you said early on, “not very satisfying.” I think its perfectly obvious that life does have meaning (at least we act that way when we are not depressed) and part of that meaning is the struggle to get clear about it. It keeps me off the streets and has been an endless source of motivation to do all sorts of things one would not do if life were perceived as meaningless and an endless source of conversation with friends an family. That is why we are having this conversation and why “we’ve” been having it for as long as we have records.

      Regarding the bodily division of labor, I agree completely of course, on the analytical level, that one can distinguish nervous system functionality. But how it works (its “essence” in the Heideggerian sense) is holistic and does not unequivocally support the metaphysical rational > emotional hierarchy you impute.

  9. Frank says:

    Very well said, David, and for all I know you may be right. As I say, I am a mysterian, so I often say I Don’t Know. Hamlet has a reasonable perspective though, right? I mean you can see how he feels as he does, even though I sense your strong distaste for it. You make a good counter point. I think Shakespeare makes a stronger case than you do, but I cannot say you are wrong. I don’t know.

    You say: “…we are not completely free to “choose” our interpretation but we can be more or less open to alternative interpretations and “pay them forward” rather than being “heard of no more.” What does “pay them forward” mean? Most people live their lives and are heard no more. A few leave a legacy. In a few hundred years whatever payment we made forward will most likely be loooong forgotten. Life is a brief glimpse at time between two eternities, someone once said.

    • david leech says:

      Well, sure Macbeth’s perspective is reasonable if you like being depressed! I prefer, Hamlet’s, “What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god!”

      Well, not a god, not for me. I am not comfortable with eternities. I prefer Heidegger’s interpretation of us, as poets, as demi-gods, watching and waiting for the lightning flash of a new understanding. Christianity theology refers to conversion. In Heidegger, as I read B&T, the non-theological phenomenon of conversion is the flip side of the possibility of existential “death,” the possibility of being open to wiping the slate and rebuilding. I assume it happens at least a few times in a life, all this-worldly. I am open to the next.

      Of course not all of us are Holderlins or Shakespeares but if we view them as exemplars of our interpretive possibilities; if we read Homer with an openness to the poly-phenomenon Sean and Bert think they were onto, our horizons for a satisfying life are widened; we have another antidote against nihilism.

      Our “world” (think, “culture”) is incredibly and, as you say, mysteriously, rich in interpretive possibilities. Figuring out which one work to provide a satisfying framework for thought and action (for me, a framework that squares with science and technology but is not dominated by it) is more than one lifetime of work. So by “pay it forward” I just mean sharing our hard won perspectives with family, friends, colleagues, fellow-bloggers, (students, if we have them) in the way we react to things, interpret events, take action, live our lives. Fleeting, I agree. Alas, we’re mortal.

      • Britt Z says:


        You say that the world is still filled with rich possibilities, but doesn’t the effort to scramble for or the hope of stumbling upon the last rich possibilities point to a phenomenon that is, to say the least, disconcerting? Why must we make an effort for what seems to have been something so effortless throughout the centuries? Is it worthwhile to go through this effort? Isn’t effort exactly the obstacle standing in our way? How happy, how engaged, is someone that must make an effort to smile? How could we ever make an effort to again be mystified? How mystified are we once we know the secret of a magic trick? Perhaps it’s time to walk away like Clov, and no longer subject ourselves to such miserable, feign undertakings.

        Below are some notes I’ve been thinking about involving the issue of whether or not, for the most part, the damage has already been done. Can the damage be repaired or has disenchantment, the program of the Enlightenment, left us burnt to a crisp?

        Es gibt, il y a, differance, khora, difference-in-itself, the Symbolic, all of which are anonymous, constitutive forces — almost every Post-Husserlian, Continental philosopher has a similar coinage — act as a mediator between us and the Real, allowing us access to entities but with a certain level of filtration, resulting in the possibility of cultural worlds. However, science and technology are in the early stages of making it possible to bypass these mediating “systems.” In the work of Wilfrid Sellars, there is a divide between the manifest image and the scientific image (Heidegger would describe it as the divide between earth and world). The West’s current and future path appears to be the slow but steady eradication of the manifest image. We are getting burned by the rays of the Enlightenment! The process has only led to continual disenchantment.

        Beyond science, Heidegger, post-structuralism, and postmodern literature, all play a role in disenchantment as well. The earlier epochs in the West, when the manifest image thrived, depended upon the illusions of ontotheology and pure presence. The works of Heidegger and Derrida unravel the manifest image from within, revealing its inner workings. (Side note: If, like in the episode of the Odyssey, things must remain in the background, leaving the gods to their work, for things to shine as meaningful, what then did Heidegger think his work of taking notice of the clearing, a-letheia, and the withdrawal of being, might accomplish? If anything, it did the opposite of his desired nostalgic leanings. He admits that not even the pre-Socratics experienced what he describes as a-letheia, meaning there is the possibility that the withdrawing, necessary operation for the manifest image to function is now exhumed. Aided by Heidegger, awareness at the level of late-modernity/post-modernity makes the return of the gods, of meaning, impossible.) Various authors, like Pynchon and Borges, illustrate the underlying perversity of the signifier, aka endless recontextualization, explaining how the manifest image can repeat itself differently when faced with exhaustion. Beginning in the 20th century, literary and philosophical works impel us to pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

        To sum it up:

        The scientific image now works to bypass the manifest image all together, and we, making our way in the manifest image, are unraveling it from within. Meaning is depleted, and adapting Melville’s proposal only results in us pushing around used pieces, hoping to again be mystified by a trick we know all too well. The Real, against what Baudrillard theorized, is dissolving our reality, and the only possibility for a new beginning is to push disenchantment and nihilism to its conclusion, and stop trying to avoid the endgame.

  10. david leech says:

    Britt Z:

    I am sorry but my response needs to be somewhat biographical, of course, even though I suppose the properly philosophical response tries to hide those roots. You are probably better read than I. Certainly differently read. I don’t know well many of the authors to whom you refer. (And maybe I am better off for it!) My background is in the social science (economics in particular); I was always ill-at-ease with its philosophical commitments; and I backed into Heidegger about 10 years ago, thinking I found a way out of the positivistic “dark wood” in which I found myself.

    Hubert Dreyfus helped me understand Heidegger to the extent that I do and I think probably my “take” on things is a dim (maybe distorted) reflection of his take. (I am reminded of William James’ distinction between the religion of healthy mindedness and the sick soul. By and large I tend to the former rather than the latter and I have always sensed that in Dreyfus as well.)

    My Heideggerian “tools” are probably like that old creaky comfortable rocking chair in the other room. Nothing too fancy; it creaks; isn’t composed of the latest materials; and the fabric covering it is something my country Methodist grandmother would have thought “nice.” It’s not stylish. But it’s comfortable and serves my purpose. Its got a lot of “rock” left in it. At any rate, its what I got.

    So I use my “ole Heideggerian” tools (which I am learning to use better but have no real plans for a major upgrade), because they feel right in my hands, and I confront my world. With those limitations (a relatively simple box of tools), I only have a few comments.

    First, regarding “the effort to scramble for or the hope of stumbling upon the last rich possibilities,” its not the “last rich possibilities” that keep me excited (though the point of diminishing marginal satisfaction is no where in sight), ultimately, but the sense, based on my few generations of experience, that there are more ahead. I find life in all its forms fascinating and intriguing. Perhaps I’m just a dull bulb but I don’t think so. Something else has been happening over the years that I never could have imagined at an earlier stage. (It may be a function of age, but need not be. Taking the “dull bulb” remark seriously, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if brighter bulbs cycle through stages faster than duller ones and have essentially the same experiences without all the lapsed time.) Things that I have worried over so long ago that I hardly recalled them are starting to make sense, coiling back and interacting with my current grasp in ways that are surprising. Of course the world around me is changing: babies getting married, generations fading, new shopping centers and housing developments replacing pastures, new exciting authors, that sort of thing. The notion that the richness of life is burned to a crisp, miserable, and feign is just not on my radar. There is an old Christian hymn that comes to mind easily shorn of its theological baggage: “Keep on the sunny side of life.” There have been times when the sun ducked behind clouds. So far it’s always come back. So while I am sympathetic to the “burnt crisp, miserable, and feign,” I am not empathetic. The world just doesn’t strike me that way.

    Second, regarding the scientific man behind the curtain (if I understand you correctly), as I said to Frank above, I don’t experience the world objectively, usually. If I did, I would consider myself clinically depressed. The example in the choice of coffee cups in ATS, and Borgmann’s distinction between devices and focal things speak clearly to the issue. My “beloved” economic theory tells me I am a resource to be maximized. No I am not. It’s that simple. It is an incontrovertible subjective truth that we don’t think or behave, for the most part, as if we were meaningless stuff. So why would I let myself buy into such a story. I will grant that our commercial culture (and my “beloved” economic ideology) seem to have the power to overwhelm us with an implicit metaphysics that we and the devices that surround us in our lives are endlessly “switch-aboutable,” but I take great pleasure in resisting and am still hopeful that others share that sense of resistance and that, “we may overcome some day.”

    Finally, regarding “the trick” of pushing around used pieces, hoping to again be mystified, it’s only a trick if the scientific/objective/controllable/predictive model applies to how we interpret the world, even if, as I do, want my interpretation squared with a scientific perspective where that perspective is appropriately applied. I don’t think the scientific perspective does apply to our understanding of the world (culture-world) (perhaps “in principle” — I am still working on that) and as long as that is the case we are able to “resist” AND the next understanding (your “mystification”) doesn’t reach back to a rabbit in the hat, primarily, it leans forward groping for something else altogether. (I think Heidegger is onto this most clearly (sic!) in the Ister lectures.)

    If Heidegger and my teachers (mostly Bert and his students-turned-professors) are right, its no trick to be open to new possibilities. It’s what we are at our best. That’s my story, to date, and I’m sticking with it. It’s exciting and I am hoping that its not because my bulb is dull.

      • david leech says:

        dmf (and others):

        different subject altogether but it just struck me that some of the very well read folks who blog here might just have an answer for me: if ATS is a Hedeggerian reading of the Western canon, can anyone think of a comparable Marxist reading; one that is readable the way ATS is readable and maybe assumes but does not dwell on the underlying theory?

        A Marx scholar friend suggested Ray Williams. I looked around, and read Culture & Materialism but that’s really not comparable. Lukacs is too theoretical (so far as I know his work). I am looking fro something as sweeping as ATS that read more or less the same canon with classic marxist (up to and including Capital) eyes and ears.

        Its been suggested that I just use Hegel but I don’t think that is sufficient. I read him — as to Bert and Sean I think — as representative of a third sweeping interpretation: the Western liberal/progressive reading.

        I am trying to put together a “intro to the great works course” that would start with three broad interpreatations of the Western canon: Adler’s “Great Conversation”; ATS; and _(?)__. Then with that we’d go to textual passages and read them from three perspectives.

        Thoughts? Thanks

  11. LaurenceMcM says:

    David –
    Have you considered Erich Auerbach’s “Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature”?
    It certainly matches ATS in terms of scope, and there are many thematic overlaps. It’s not especially Marxist, but it could be described as Hegelian in its historical/epochal analysis. In the sense that an epoch’s literature is seen as representative of a particular “understanding of being”, it is closely related to ATS.
    So close in fact that I am surprised not to have heard either Kelly or Dreyfus refer to this work.

    • david leech says:


      Do you know where Eagleman fits on the spectrum that has Freeman/Dreyfus (Barwise)/Kelly(?) at one end, maybe Michael Wheeler an increment toward the other end, represented by ___?____ (Kurzweil?), and with Dennett somewhere in the middle spectra? Eagleman says some things that sound Dreyfus-ish.

      Has anyone seen the spectrum spelled out. I did some evaluation work with James Albus (Engineering of Mind) a few years back (thank goodness it wasn’t comparative evaluation!) and he seemed to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from Dreyfus but axes and the gradations of the spectrum have never been obvious. Kinda like figuring out the spectrum of Heidegger scholarship!

      • dmf says:

        dl, I don’t know some of those names but Eagleman is on the experimental psychology end of the spectrum but despite looking at 1st person experience not , I think, a phenomenologist (Sean and Bert have had their go-rounds with Dennett), for me the future is with the fusion of phenomenology with enactivism/extended-minding, a good starting place is:

  12. LaurenceMcM says:

    In relation to the discussion here regarding the possibility of meaning, Thomas Sheehan has written a paper for the Heidegger circle which may be of interest. Here’s the link:

    Click to access Gatherings2011-01Sheehan.pdf

    • Britt Z says:

      Thanks, Laurence! Sheehan’s writings are usually pretty interesting, as he’s always attempting to make Heidegger clearer than before.

      • david leech says:

        Sheehan told me once, when I was complaining about translation issues that I am powerless to do anything about (since I read neither German, nor Greek, nor Latin), that his approach was to read the Greek and Latin with German eyes for the purpose of translating into English. Whatever he is doing, it always works. He is a treasure.

        I am with you Britt. I just find Sheehan’s work so systematic (even formulaic) and helpful and insightful that its always a joy to study. (I fact its all I can do NOT to read Laurence’s Sheehan post so that I can finish an economic analysis project that, while very interesting, is far less compelling than Sheehan on Heidegger!)

        I think it was Woody Allen who described work as a necessary inconvenience.

  13. MrObstat says:

    Mon May 30 11:53am EDT
    Video: Monfils huffs, puffs and blows ball over net in Ferrer victory

    By Chris Chase

    A fortunate bounce over the net helped Gael Monfils earned a crucial break of David Ferrer in their fourth-round match at the French Open. Up 2-1 in the decisive set of their match, which started Sunday and had to be pushed back because of darkness, Monfils earned a break point when his backhand tapped the net cord and fell on Ferrer’s side of the court.

    Replays and pictures showed that the ball may have had a push from a secondary source:


    Every little bit counts, right?

    Ferrer would break back at 3-5 in the fifth set to force an extended fifth set, before Monfils broke in the 14th game to win 6-4, 2-6, 7-5, 1-6, 8-6. The Frenchman will play Roger Federer in Tuesday’s quarterfinal. This will be the third French Open matchup between the players in the last four years.

  14. Michael says:

    Will you be reviewing or commenting on Tree of Life?

    Am I missing something, or did you already write a post on Malick? The ending line of Thin Red Line, why is there no reference to this in your book (I’m not saying there has to be, just curious)?

    Looking forward to it…

  15. dmf says:

    dl. I don’t know Di Paolo but this exchange with Protevi (who I have posted somewhere here I think) might be of interest:

    on the Heidegger front see:

  16. ESF says:

    Excuse my late arrival. Have been lingering in 3rd ring of hell. Wondering whether the authors or other participants here have referenced the work of Gregory Bateson. Whilst I am in awe of the winnowing-down represented by ATS, about half way in to my first ATS read, I  could not help but reach for my copy of Bateson’s “Mind and Nature.” Bateson’s pointers to the “patterns that connect” the links between science and sacred, including his thoughts on epistemology, tautology, and misteps in historical understanding (and or representation) of empirical fact offers fertile territory – a potentially valuable read  – complementary to ATS.

    • Frank says:

      Interesting piece you point to, dmf. my own view is that we have the feeling that we can do what we want, but the rub is that we can not want what we want. thank goodness! imagine if we could choose what we want?! who would want that freedom!?

  17. Britt Z says:

    Sean, you need to start a new post to discuss “The Tree of Life!” The similarities between the two works are profound!

  18. Frank says:

    Richard Feynman…a mysterian too?
    I don’t think David will like this:


    • david leech says:

      Why would I not like this. I find his view sensible. I, like him, am indifferent about the meaning of the universe. That’s a much bigger question than the meaning of a life or a generation and this more circumscribed question we can give answers to. Many in fact. If we don’t give answers, and argue about them, and pass the questions and answers along, we give in to nihilism.

    • Charlie says:

      Only god can fill the abyss of boredom (Pascal)? Or, dmf, was Schopenhauer right and it reflects our vanity in the face of the void? How about we cut the baby in half and revel in the trivial (ATS)?

      Boredom is woefully out of vogue. Facebook will now go public with a $100B+ market cap. Yet the connectivity is hollow at the core. Where is angst, fear and trembling in our modern world, concealed beneath layers of distractions? I think this is where Sean’s project is instructive, dispersing the sacred and connecting in an apophatic way. If boredom was the progenitor of faith and existentialism, then, today, it can be overcome in smaller and varied ways with an openness/sharing. A mood is the perfect antidote.

      Thanks for the link dmf…I was wrapped up in my work and appreciate being reminded of my predicament. I hope your summer is off to a good start.

      • dmf says:

        I wouldn’t confuse frenzied activity/stimulation with engagement, I think facebook and all are in fact capitalizing on boredom, kids (of all ages) inabilities to find/make meaning in their own flesh and blood lives/experiences.
        in the midst of moving again, that’s the new economy, so my life is neither here nor there…

    • david leech says:

      That is an interesting little set piece. The Mornay sauce example gives a hint of the gigantic task that ATS lays before us: conceiving and conveying meta-poietic skills (attunement skills) for uncovering meaning as we go about our lives. Daunting.

  19. dmf says:

    shows on anxiety and finding home:

    • dmf says:

      just listening to simon on nietzsche/heidegger on tragedy/lethargy/disgust and the sublime/monstrous, the world of the too much or the too much of the world, and out of nowhere he takes an unfortunate cheap shot at ATS siding with Wills, he is a puzzle in that he is an interesting reader of heidegger but his editorial work on nyt’s the stone has been pretty dismal. not sure why taking philosophy public has been so difficult for profs.

      • dmf says:

        ah he sees ATS as part of the american “historical amnesia” per heidegger, the denial of the monstrous. not sure how that relates to wills’ nonsense but it is a serious worry (not so much about heidegger’s politics but to the degree in which things shining is an antidote to the butcher’s block of history).

  20. dmf says:

    if you can tune out the inteviewer this is a nice bit on getting in the flow of a disciplined practice:

  21. dmf says:

    some interesting thoughts on Dreydeggerish phenomenology:

  22. dmf says:

    beyond production?

    • david leech says:


      I sent the author, morgan meis, an invitation to join us here. His review makes me appreciate the ATS position all the more.

      • david leech says:

        BTW: I have mostly finished reading another book you recommended above, Incognito. While I haven’t completely digested Eagleman’s perspective (that is put it in context with the other stuff I’ve read on the subject — I am slow), his computational language suggest that at one level he is on a different wavelength than Dreyfus & Kelly (and MP). On the other hand the phenomenon (and lack thereof) that he describes seems very consistent with the dreydeggerian model that includes coping, skills, and background practices.

  23. dmf says:

    dl, no hurry in such matters most profound things take a while to work through, maybe even a lifetime.

    • david leech says:

      I do think its interesting to see DFW put into play this way. I’ll be interested to see how Sean responds. Another view of DFW was provided by dmf last week at http://www.thesmartset.com/article/article06241101.aspx

      I invited the author of that post to join us here. I think he may. I wish I had read enough DFW to comment but life is short and DFW is long (and by some accounts strategically boring) so, alas, I can only listen to the debate that I hope ensues.

  24. dmf says:

    rag and bone shop:

  25. dmf says:

    have we really evolved for this modern life, or is that Romantic?

  26. Charlie says:

    Mutation would be fairer if we start with ancient Greece. Hope all is well dmf

  27. dmf says:

    if Charles Taylor and other dated quasi-hegelians are the official last word here than we have come to an unbreachable impasse, which is unfortunate but not surprising since many are still unable to grasp the death of God and so chase traces of fleeting shadows/echoes, manufacture deus ex machina.
    for those who can do without such totems and taboos I would say read the works of James C.Edwards: http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/edwards.htm

  28. Charles Myro says:

    Hi, Charles Myro here,

    Years ago at Berkeley I took an existentialism class taught by Hubert Dreyfus. The movie, The Third Man, was presented as an exemplar of artistic work with existential content. I got an A on the paper I wrote for the class. Enjoyable class.
    Yes, I have moments wherein arises the thought that life is hard and then you die and isn’t that absurd and pointless and meaningless. Then again I have moments wherein I am content to simply do as I do.
    But the existentialist point of view is based upon fear of death and presumed dissolution of the presumed entity, the individual. This is based upon the notion that this narrow individual is all that we are—–that each man is an island of separation from the rest of existence somehow and that this depiction, this representation in thought and mind of such separation must reflect an actuality that cannot be denied.
    Well, I am not an existentialist, because I deny the actuality of such an island individual; I deny not that there is such a notion, but that it is an example of being, and comes from the wider being of things or existence generally, and that being continues when this representation of separation discontinues in death.
    If existence generally continues after the representation of individuality dies, then it seems absurd to me to limit our being to the notion of our each being an island separated from the wider being. I see no basis for subscribing to such a limitation. Even science considers the universe to be operating as one system. We are each a part of the general being and system that produced the notion of island individuality. This island notion comes from the wider system operating moment to moment sustaining us and all; we come from the wider system which continues after the death of the island notion; we are even now this wider system which is inclusive of and the source of, this island notion of individuality.
    Thus, we do simply live on at the death of body and mind and individuality. The mistake is the myopic vision which refuses to see what (for me and others) is the obvious generality of being before our eyes and felt within——our being is not limited to the island notion.
    We live on as that which we are, now at this moment, that which we are above and beyond the notion of separate individuality and the senses and mind.
    With this wider view, and I don’t mean a wider notion or idea, but the realization that being contains all notions and outstrips what it contains. You can simply stare in silence and this really is enough. Don’t ask what is, just ask “is there isness?” and look and look. At no point does being itself disappear–being common to all things or no things.
    The mistake is a narrowness of vision, of perception, that prevents seeing the obvious.
    Seeing the obvious diminishes but does not eliminate a bodily fear of death, but death becomes something contained within the wider life, the wider being, that is seen, sensed—whether there is a notion of it or not—-with a wider vision.
    With such a wider vision that angst that comes from clinging to the notion of one’s being only an island individual—that angst cannot stand.


    • david leech says:

      I have learned a lot from Professor Dreyfus, but I didn’t learn that the existentialist point of view based on the fear of death. Yes, it recognizes our mortality but it seems to me that the more important perspectives are that our lived lives are grounded in a groundless historical ground and, more importantly maybe, a new day may dawn; will dawn, if we are open to it. In Heidegger, at any rate, the lonely individual you speak of is recognized as a constructed modern fiction. We are actually beings-in-the-world; a complex and dialectical interplay between what really turns us on (our “own-most,” if we can uncover it) and “the they.”

      Your “island individual” seems more like the product of our post-modern, technological, era; a symptom that Heidegger (and Dreyfus) diagnose, not some position they advocate. If you want to get a readable fix on this, check out All Things Shining. There, Dreyfus and Kelly diagnose our contemporary ills (a prime example of which is your island individual-nihilism), and offer an approach to a way out that that has certainly exercised us here on the ATS blog.

      • dmf says:

        dl, Dreyfus’ pragmatist/west-coast take on Heidegger is as you say but mortality/finitude is a central, if not the central, theme in Heidegger’s own writings. I think that Spinosa is right that ATS has more to do with the authors’ heroic/Ishmaelite angle on Moby Dick than with Heidegger’s pauline philosophy per say, reminds me of Becker’s Angel in Armor.

      • david leech says:

        I’ll come back to this when I finally wrap my arms around all that Spinosa says. But for now, it is Heidegger, as you say, not Dreyfus that concentrates on mortality/finitude, but Dreyfus (he student-turned- professor Blattner too) sharpens Heidegger’s distinction between the marginal “demise” (physical death) and the central “death” (existential death — what I think of, in a Pauline vein, as the phenomenological equivalent of “conversion/convertibility”).

        That existential death is the core of dasein, our groundless ground; our ontologically definitive capacity to be the site of new understandings of being. It seems to me that this is pure Heidegger, not dreydegger.

        It seems to me that our finitude/mortality is another piece of the “model;” a piece that emphasizes the limits of the scope our our (here and now) convertibility to a new way of understanding/grasping meaning. We are thrown into a world that has central background practices (this time, this class, this gender for example) and because of our capacity for existential death (Paul’s conversion is a good example) we are capable of valorizing marginal practices. But the marginal practices that can be successfully moved from the periphery to the center are conditioned by our specific finitude.

        So I disagree with you. I think the death/demise distinction is core Heidegger. That said, I think the simple two-part “model” is only nascent (or “first draft”) in B&T so that role of what I call “specific finitude” that is developed in later Heidegger appears in B&T as “reciprocal rejoinder”. Now I don’t know if the margin-center conceptualization is actually in Heidegger. Perhaps that is a Dreyfus pedagogical tool (it’s in William James, your pragmatist connection) but, if so, its a static version of a more dynamic framework that IS in later Heidegger, what I call the “watery infrastructure” of rivers and bridges that connect historical palimpsest towns to “foreign lands.”

  29. I really found this blog post , “Dreyfus Re-mix | All Things Shining”, quite engaging and it was a terrific read.

    Thanks for the post-Ingrid

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