Cartesian Mechanisms and Transcendental Philosophy

If we follow a traditional reading of Descartes and throw in some of our favorite German philosophers (Kant, Husserl and Heidegger, for instance) we can isolate a doctrinal current that says that the pure intellect has no immediate access to the extra-mental world. This reduction of experience to reason forces the question of the external world’s existence, leading to Heidegger’s assertion that the scandal of philosophy was not that it had yet to furnish a proof for the external world’s existence, as Kant thought, but that the question emerged in the first place. Prior to representing realities, the human being dwells in the world. Knowing is, thus, founded on Being-in-the-world. Once this is remembered, it seems quite extraneous to inquire about the existence of the external world, since it is given as part of the structure of human experience. But, if the question of the external world's existence arises when we reduce experience to rational experience, then we have learned something important about the structures involved in knowing the world. Knowing succeeds by breaking away from Being-in-theworld. As Levinas says, "it is still and always a solitude" (EI 60). Though knowledge might begin as a mode of Being-in-the-world, it succeeds by turning its back on these origins and entering upon another terrain. Thus, Heidegger's recourse to the external world could not be within knowledge. Instead, he grounded it in concern, the primordial way in which the human being dwells in the world. Knowing is but one way in which the human being exhibits this concern. Where Husserl showed the limits of representation to be within the parameters of the transcendental ego, Heidegger pushed the frontiers of the world down to another level, the level of function. On this level, the human being dwells as a worker; things are construed as implements for-the-sake-of something else. These implements refer to other implements in a referential totality guided by "circumspection." The world of function is held together as a totality by an intricate web of references, each pointing to others..
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