We, I, You…Who’s Who?
I’m reading Heidegger. Whether you like Heidegger or not, in my opinion, is immaterial — one thing that does seem to always happen is that he makes you think issues through in different ways, which in my opinion is always a good thing. It’s too easy to get stuck in “how one thinks” (if you get the pun). So in reading him, I’ve been wondering about a very basic question: what comes first, “we” or “I”? Heidegger’s answer seems pretty straightforward (not straightforwardly explained, but the position itself is clear): “we” comes first.
Of course, this runs up against two intuitions.
1. It’s takes a lot of “I”s to make a “we”.
2. My own private thoughts and mind are always primary; belonging to a group is something that “I” do.
(1) and (2) are linked, of course.
Heidegger’s point seems to be that the private “theater” we tend to think of as “you” is a derivative phenomenon. Instead, what comes first — as an a priori condition (that which is first required) is an immersion within a public world of meaning. So imagine a baby. It has no “I” in the sense in which we think of it. Instead, over time, it slowly becomes socialized into a set of rituals and public meanings. As it does, it starts to behave in meaningful ways, given that it begins to “understand” (not in a self-reflective sense) how to navigate the public world it is, from the start, within. This, to Heidegger, is “we” intentionality. The baby/child has a kind of pre-reflective understanding of “what one does” in this or that situation, and that’s the space in which it exists as an entity.
Somewhere down the line from there it encounters “breakdowns”. For one reason or other, something within that world stops working, or stops playing its role. The person “looks at it” in a sense that is distant. In this kind of “distancing” the entity sees it as an object opposed from itself, and the “I” starts to become a conscious entity to be reflected upon. With this, it seems, more intentional “I” related talk comes into existence.
Heidegger’s thoughts here are decisively anti-Cartesian, where the “I” is always seen as the transcendental starting place for all experience or being. For Heidegger, it’s secondary, even if we tend to be more “conscious” of it and thus accord it more weight (with respect to importance) than it is due.
I think there are some clear connections here that can be made to virtue theory and to Confucianism (after all, Ames and Hall’s Thinking Through Confucius, in my opinion, seems to be a working through — in some ways — of Heideggerian thought to the Analects. Well, maybe more Hall than Ames.) In any respect, I’ll refrain, and save it for a post that I have more time to compose. After all, there’s enough going on in this post already!