Over at Fragile Keys Tim has a wonderful post elaborating on his philosophy, drawn from Jean-Luc Nancy, of “being-with”. I can’t respond in detail right now as I’m getting ready to head out camping and will be unconnected for the weekend, but I wanted to draw attention to this passage:

This would be the heart of the differend, perhaps: For me, everything is “related” because we all share this common structure of being-related-to, even if this just means being-related-to-myself. Because we are all there, we are all also with something else, even if that something else is myself! Not “related” in some scheme of interconnection, not “forged together” in some purposeful collaboration between humans and/or nonhumans, but simply being-related-there by dint of the fact that being-there is structured (“internally,” if you want) as being-with — as being-with-its-(other-)self (withdrawn, subtracted, split, divided, etc.). This is a “with” that cannot be destroyed, since its always literally there wherever any being is.

In my view, the claim that the with cannot be destroyed since it is already literally there wherever being is is a thoroughly dogmatic claim since it fails to account for the conditions of possibility of being-with and being-related. It merely asserts that beings are related, treating this as a primitive ontological factum, without grounding this possibility. I think this is one of the problems with the suspension of the natural attitude practiced by phenomenology that has clearly influenced Nancy (whom I admire with Tim). Because we have suspended the natural attitude, because we have “bracketed the world”, we feel as if we are entitled to say we are just related because I’m able to see my student Cameron sitting over there “immediately”. Having banished the independent and material world we then feel that we need not attend to things like the fact that I am only able to see Cameron over there by dint of electro-magnetic waves traveling between me and him that both take time to travel and that can fail to travel.

The epoche is fine as a methodological device deployed to allow us to describe experience so as to get at what must be explained, but it becomes dogmatism when it is deployed to legislate ontology on the basis of how we experience the world and when it is used to banish things such as the fact that relations can only occur materially and that as a result of the absence of many material interactions there are many unrelated things. While I think phenomenology has taught us much of value, I also believe that it has done tremendous damage to ontology and metaphysics by leading us to believe that we can infer structures of being from structures of lived experience. Some will say that I’m being unfair to phenomenology here– and yes I know that Nancy is not working solely within a phenomenological tradition, but his inheritance comes out clearly here –but let’s not forget that in Ideas Husserl directly says that the natural world cannot be the condition for consciousness because consciousness is the condition of the natural world. This entails that the manner in which lived experience is structured allows us to legislate the structure of being, that being and lived experience are identical. The price of this is incredibly high, requiring us to reject all sorts of things from other disciplines such as the points about time of travel and information theory with respect to relation I’ve been making.

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