The Primacy of the Landscape of Being

Descartes, bestowed upon the West a paradigmatic assumption that conscious personal thoughts conclusively verify distinctive human existence. Moreover, ‘I am’ he says, ‘…a real thing and really exist; but what thing? …a thing which thinks’. Later he muses, ‘What is a thing which thinks? It is a thing which doubts, understands, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, which also imagines and feels’; [1] in short, a human. This reflective human I hold to be uniquely, the questioning being.

What is a thing which thinks?

What is a thing which thinks?

Accompanying Descartes’ retreat to the higher ground of indubitability, a vantage point Husserl affirmed conditionally, is an assumption that only consciousness interrogates the world and experiences it. This is too simplistic; though conscious intentionality makes meaning of the world Merleau-Ponty shows that it is in embodied intentionality in fact that this exchange is grounded.

According to Husserl, Descartes brushed aside the assumption that the ‘external world’ is self-evident, establishing consciousness and the undeniable presence of one’s own personal thoughts. Acknowledging his indebtedness, Husserl nevertheless rejected Descartes ‘little tag end of the world’, instituting instead a ‘transcendental’ ‘self’, distinguishable from that world. Whilst I share Husserl’s rejection of rationalistic assurances that are independent of perception, I cannot, as Husserl does, divorce sensation from the lived body, nor regard the lived body as a by-product of intersubjectivity. The early Husserl’s commitment to the primacy of consciousness places the ego beyond all that is questionable; Husserl’s ‘beyond’ is a cul-de-sac of content-less reflection.

The later Husserl, as encountered in his unpublished manuscripts, moves from egological to transcendental-sociological phenomenology[2]. Transcendental intersubjectivity thus understood becomes the absolute ground of being from which the meaning and validity of everything objectively existing originates[3]. In the Lifeworld my being encounters intersubjective meaning, or meaning-formations originating in community and tradition whilst my perceptual experience is already an experience of intersubjectively accessible being, the world which exists for everybody[4]. According to Merleau-Ponty, Husserl holds that the world’s unity prior to the predication of science ‘is ‘lived’ as ready-made or already there’.[5] This means that each person’s consciousness, which discloses to them their own singularity, is tethered to a pre-given existential terrain; the world as it is for them.

Each consciousness is tethered to an existential terrain

Each consciousness is tethered to an existential terrain

But, Merleau-Ponty, insists we need to recognise consciousness itself as a project of the world which it ‘neither embraces nor possesses’.[6] Embodied perception is primary not consciousness, indeed every perception takes place contextually within the world where it is experienced in action. ‘All consciousness is perceptual, even consciousness of ourselves’[7] he contends. The primacy of ready-to-hand practical engagement with the world can be discerned in Heidegger too, but Dasein is not alone and Heidegger acknowledges this situatedness as Being-with-others. He hints moreover, of the primacy of the shared world for Being-with is Being-there. Merleau-Ponty argues that ‘what we ordinarily think of as mental states and activities are constituted by bodily engagement with the world’;[8] ‘the body is a form of consciousness’ embedded in the Lifeworld[9].

In a radical synthesis of these three philosophers I conclude that the world’s meaning arises from embodied perception, our primordial contact with the world and its recursive interaction with that world, but that this is not all. If the conscious subject carries out tasks against a background of habitual skills sedimented in its body, and prior to these conscious acts the body already has a grip on the world and itself in perception and sensory-motor skills, then the subject is ‘at home in’ the world,[10] which by implication is also primordial. Consciousness is bodily engagement with the world to which one is tethered, I conclude therefore that in fact each ontological aspect of the description ‘embodied intersubjective intentionality embedded in the world’ is equiprimordial.

Identity in the questioning being is embodied, recursively intersubjective and embeded in a world that offers meaning and is made meaningful thereby

Identity in the questioning being is embodied, recursively intersubjective and embeded in a world that offers meaning and is made meaningful thereby

This descriptive group, the Landscape of Being describes the foundation of existence in the questioning being. Embodied Intersubjective intentionality embedded in the world, that is the Landscape of Being, this rather than consciousness, perception, or the world, is primary.

Returning to Husserl’s contention that the world gets its sense and verification through the Ego’s thinking, we are advised that because the only world one has is that which derives sense and validity from consciousness, knowledge of the world, and the world’s meaning originate in conscious experiences. The early Husserl judges that the Ego and its ruminations are prior to the world. An additional substrata of this knowledge acquisition however can be inferred from Merleau-Ponty’s analysis that recursively, the body’s movements combine with external phenomena to accommodate the organs of perception, incorporating and assimilating automatically, the motive for changes to any vista.[11] This motivation, represents an unconscious perpetuation of significance in our bodily orientation in the world. Consequently, the perceptual situatedness of our bodies is the spontaneous, self-calibrating, precognitive background of intentionality: ‘our body is not the object of an ‘I think’, but an ensemble of lived meanings that finds its equilibrium’.[12] Taking this a step further I argue that each singular identity, is precisely, a pre-thetic disposition to harmonise experience driven by a desire for significance in order to fulfil a purposive capacity within a pregiven environment whose meaning is derived from this exchange.

Thus the shared Lifeworld is that which confers meaning to consciousness in a recursive exchange with one’s embodied intentionality, an exchange which necessarily incorporates other people. The philosophical genesis of identity in the questioning being which craves significance, is intentional and intersubjective; it presupposes embodiment in the physical world and an adumbrated embeddedness in the nexus of human meaning[13], and this admix, the cradle of identity, is necessarily primordial.

At this stage a circle emerges in my analysis[14]. Having argued that the Landscape of Being is primordial, I also argue that the desire for significance –capacity for purpose which distinguishes the questioning being ontologically from all other beings, and in its ontic expression distinguishes all questioning beings from each other is also primordial; how can that be?

One’s desire for significance unearths  the Landscape of Being: the Landscape of Being generates the desire for significance.

One’s desire for significance unearths the Landscape of Being: the Landscape of Being generates the desire for significance.

My case is this. Without embodied intersubjective intentionality which is embedded in the Lifeworld, neither Peter, nor any other questioning being could have the potential for significance. The Subject is a potentiality not a property[15]. The Landscape of Being is a potent dynamic which triggers the fundamental desire for significance –capacity for purpose. However, the primordial desire for significance –capacity for purpose is equally that very essence of the questioning being which is required for embodied self, others and the Lifeworld to coalesce into world-experience which may be appropriated and interrogated for meaning as such. One’s desire for significance unearths, in its ubiquity the Landscape of Being; the Landscape of Being generates the desire for significance.


[1] Descartes, Meditation II, in Atkins, K. Self and Subjectivity, Malden, Blackwell Publishing, 2009, 14-15

[2] Zahavi, D. Husserl’s Intersubjective transformation of transcendental philosophy. This is an online version of an article originally published in The Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 27/3, 1996, 228-245, accessed at http://cfs.ku.dk/staff/zahavipublications/Husserl_s_20transformation_20of_20transcendental_20philosophy.pdf/. 21st September 2013, 15:58

[3] Zahavi, Ibid, 1

[4] Zahavi, ibid

[5] PP, ibid, xix

[6] Ibid. xx

[7] Merleau-Ponty, M. ‘The Primacy of Perception’, in The Primacy of Perception: And Other Essays on Phenomenological Psychology, the Philosophy of Art, History and Politics,(Trans.) James M. Edie, Northwestern University Press, 1964/1989, 13

[8] Romdenh-Romluc, K. Merleau-Ponty and Phenomenology of Perception, London, Routledge, 2011, 2

[9] Romdenh-Romluc, ibid, 3

[11] Carmen, T. The Body in Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, in Philosophical Topics, VOL. 27, NO. 2, FALL 1999, 217

[12] PP, 153, in Carmen, 218

[13] I conclude that human identity is necessarily generated in embodied intersubjective intentionality embedded in the world.

[14] See Steve Martinot Sartre’s Being-for-Heidegger; Heidegger’s Being-for-Sartre, for a discussion of his circular ontological account of Being, accessed online at http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~marto/hs-sh.htm, accessed, 22nd September, 2013, at 21:27.

[15] For Heidegger ‘Selfhood’ can be identified existentially only in one’s authentic potentiality-for-Being-one’s-Self. Here authentic potentiality-for-Being discloses the constancy of the ‘Self’ whereby it has somehow become situated. ’ Self-constancy ‘signifies nothing other than anticipatory resoluteness’, that is one’s dwelling in one’s purposive capacity to be oneself. Heidegger, M. Being and Time, (2006) Trans. J. Maquarrie & E. Robinson. Malden, Blackwell, 1962/2006, 369

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3 thoughts on “The Primacy of the Landscape of Being

  1. While it appears a great deal of your writings are over my head, something in the material is still forming an image to which I can relate.

    In my own words, I have been reviewing my historical relationship with my environment, noticing an undeniable link between the depth of my affection for an environment and my identity’s sense of wholeness.

    Restated, I have tried to reason that my environment should not hold any power to define my identity; that I should be a whole and consistent self in any setting. (That I should be only logistically impacted by moving from city to city, or home to home.)

    But that has simply not been my experience. And the attempt to maintain myself separate from my environment has left me with a sense of being less – less whole, less connected.

    And now I am unsure of how to re-establish the integration w my environment and regain (if possible) the greater sense of wholeness I once had.

    I will keep reading. Maybe something in what you are sharing will bring insight.

    Like

    • I think this puzzle is a valid one and the exploration of it is a means of authenticating oneself. I don’t subscribe to Gaia theory, nevertheless each of us is embedded in the world as an indebted element of it. The environment, be that an empirical urban or rural landscape, or an experienced community of some kind, or both, is not my identity any more than my age or ethnicity is. The appropriation, that is the adoption and embracing of any of these aspects of the world however, allows them to become a part of my identity. I assimilate so to speak. This filtering, absorption, auditing or questioning, call it what you will, is the functioning of one’s identity-sense; the discovery of what it is like to be me in the environment on offer. I live in Essex England. Only some parts of Essex, only some parts of England, are truly part of me.

      Like

      • Just today I read the segment on preference. Maybe I have discovered that, after tasting both varieties (whether by accident or will I have yet to determine), I prefer the sense of being assimilated to my environment.

        Like

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