Friday, June 26, 2015
Richard Polt on why you can't explain things physiologically.
The sciences take it for granted that there are beings, and presuppose an understanding of the being of beings; this seems to cut them off from the question of be-ing. If we tried to explain be-ing sociologically, for example, we would have to take society for granted as something with a self-evident way of being. We could then give a factually correct description of how people operate within society and how their behavior brings with it certain beliefs about what it means to be. In doing so, however, we would have to leave our own beliefs about what it means to be unquestioned, so that they could serve as the stable basis for our empirical research. The question of the status and origin of our own understanding of the being of beings would have to be left unaddressed. Similarly, we might be able to give a physiological explanation of the workings of the brain, “explaining” consciousness in terms of the various complex neural responses that are associated with it. But in order to do so, we have to assume that the brain and consciousness have a certain way of being that we understand. If all our observations depend on this understanding of the being of brains and consciousness, then our observations cannot provide a satisfactory explanation of how the understanding of the being of beings occurs. If these considerations are valid, then any scientific attempt to explain be-ing is circular: it must presuppose a given sense of the being of beings. Now, if we are willing to embrace the circle by revising this sense in the course of our investigation, the circle may not be vicious; this is what Being and Time does, after all (SZ 153, 315). But then we are engaging in philosophy, not just empirical science. We are struggling with the limits of our sense of the being of beings, and thus experiencing it as contingent and finite. This distinctively philosophical experience is needed in order for being to trouble us.
Pp. 62-3
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