Hartmann, Schutz, and the hermeneutics of action

Axiomathes 12 (3-4):327-338 (2001)
Abstract
Hartmann's way of conceiving what he terms "the actual ought-to-be [aktuales Seinsollen]" offers a fruitful approach to crucial issues in the phenomenology of action. The central issue to be dealt with concerns the description of the "constitution" of anticipated possibilities as projects for action. Such potentialities are termed "problematic possibilities" and are contrasted with "open possibilities" in most of the works published by Husserl as well as those published by Alfred Schutz. The description given by Alfred Schutz emphasized that the projecting of possibilities is thoroughly conditioned by the agent's habitual beliefs and interests. Schutz, however left open the possibility that other factors might affect the projecting of courses of action and the choosing of one in preference to others. In particular, he left open the possibility that the agent come to take an interest in possibilities in which she had no prior interest. More recent interpretations of his position on this issue have left this possibility undiscussed or else excluded it altogether. The result has been that a sort of value nihilism (subjectivism, sociologism, lingualism, anthropologism, historicism, psychologism, etc.) came to prevail in the phenomenological description of actions. A quite parallel development occurred in interpretations of Heidegger's account of actions (of "explication [Auslegung]" in the vocabulary of Being and Time). Heidegger expressly and emphatically rejected most ways of conceiving values in discussing the forms of action (circumspection and assertion in the vocabulary of Sein und Zeit). it came quite generally to be assumed that he subscribed to some variation of nihilism regarding values despite his insistence in the "Letter on Humanism" that he meant no such thing. The literature on this subject has concentrated on Scheler's work to the complete exclusion of Hartmann's axiology — as happened in Parvis Ermad's Heidegger and the Phenomenology of Values, His Critique of Intentionality, foreword by Walter Biernel (Glen Ellyn, Illinois: Torey Press, 1981). Scheler's view entails the radical separation of ontic traits from axiotic traits, of what-is from what-ought-to-be. However, for Hartmann, the set of ontic traits that becomes actual when laws about what-ought-to-be are satisfied is identical with the set of traits that ought-to-be, Hartmann's way of conceiving the ought-to-be, the actual ought-to-be, and the three-fold structure of the finalistic nexus seems entirely compatible with Heidegger's way of thinking about actions. They are also an enlightening supplement to Schutz's description of "Choosing Among Projects of Action" (in Collected Papers 1, 67-96). That description requires that choice and action be thoroughly conditioned by psychological, social, and historical facts about the agent. However, nothing of this vital determination of actions is sacrificed when these concepts that are so central to Hartmann's "absolutism" with respect to values are introduced into the description. Their introduction provides an elaboration that Schutz himself neglected, perhaps due to pragmatic deference to biases which were prevalent then in the intellectual climate of philosophy and sociology in the U.S. Still, the transformation they bring is a significant improvement. It shows decisively that being conditioned linguistically, psychologically, socially, and historically does not enclose the choice among projects within a "Hermeneutical Circle" such as would exclude the possibility that agents be open to previously unfamiliar values. Hartmann's conception of the plurality as well as the absoluteness (or "objectivity") of primary goods allows, put in Kantian terms, that an agent may, however rarely, take an interest in possibilities such as she may never before have been interested in at all; or, put in Heideggerian terms, that she may come to care about possibilities such as have never concerned her before.
Keywords naturalism  noncognitivism (in morals)  objectivity in social science  Nicolai Hartmann  Alfred Schutz  methodology in social science
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