Monday, October 05, 2015
In the LARB, Charles Clavey reviews Matthew B. Crawford's The World Beyond Your Head : On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.
These philosophers deserve more than the cursory treatment they receive or total neglect they suffer in The World Beyond Your Head. The same goes for the theories of labor as socially necessary and morally valuable propounded by Simone Weil, Hannah Arendt, and Alasdair MacIntyre. Instead, Crawford, it seems, subscribes to a narrowly circumscribed philosophical canon.
Certainly the most striking omission from this canon is Martin Heidegger. Crawford’s belief that we encounter our world as laden with pre-given meanings and significances, his claim that we act in the world through the pragmatic use of skill in the pursuit of projects, and, above all, his argument that true individuality consists in both the rejection of the dominant opinion of an anonymous public and the authentic embrace of tradition — in short, the entire scope of the book’s argument — relies heavily on the recondite philosophical anthropology the young Heidegger developed in Being and Time. Moreover, Crawford’s dim evaluation of the dominant philosophy of the subject — as a sovereign self at once isolated from the world yet imperiously demanding authority over it —resonates deeply with the later Heidegger’s trenchant critique of Western metaphysical thought and its concomitant humanistic worldview. Modern technology, Heidegger argued, encapsulated this view of man as an all-powerful subjectum, a tyrant who orders, manipulates, and controls the things of the world. Heidegger urged a clearer thinking that would abandon this position in favor of a humble view of man — of human being — as subordinate to the larger sway of Being. Though couched in a poetic idiom foreign to The World Beyond Your Head, this must, I believe, be the inspiration for Crawford’s complaint about the autonomous Kantian subject and advocacy for an embedded human condition.
But Heidegger’s thinking, an occluded polestar for Crawford’s arguments, does not point toward Kant. True, Heidegger took Kant to be a powerful interlocutor. But Heidegger’s thought points in this instance to another source: to the ancient Greeks and, in particular, to Aristotle.
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