Early Heidegger on Social Reality

In Alessandro Salice & Hans Bernhard Schmid (eds.), The Phenomenological Approach to Social Reality. Springer Verlag. pp. 91-119 (2016)


This book chapter shows how the early Heidegger’s philosophy around the period of Being and Time can address some central questions of contemporary social ontology. After sketching “non-summative constructionism”, which is arguably the generic framework that underlies all forms of contemporary analytic social ontology, I lay out early Heidegger’s conception of human social reality in terms of an extended argument. The Heidegger that shows up in light of this treatment is an acute phenomenologist of human social existence who emphasizes our engagement in norm-governed practices as the basis of social reality. I then defuse a common and understandable set of objections against invoking the early Heidegger as someone who can make any positive contribution to our understanding of social reality. Lastly, I explore the extent to which the early Heidegger’s philosophy provides insights regarding phenomena of collective intentionality by showing how the intelligibility of such phenomena traces back to individual agents’ common understanding of possible ways of understanding things and acting with one another. With the early Heidegger, I argue that this common understanding is the fundamental source and basis of collective intentionality, not the non-summativist constructionism on which contemporary analytic social ontology has sought to focus with much effort. The lesson about social ontology that we should learn from the early Heidegger is that there is a tight connection between the social constitution of the human individual and his or her capacity to perform actions or activities that instantiate collective intentionality.

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