- Ontological Inquiry and Emblematic Meanings of Life
existential psychotherapy, ontological, implicit world-projection, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty
I am grateful for the valuable commentaries to my paper that nicely complement each other in their general focus and, taken together, provide me with a welcome opportunity to further clarify a few central points. Melvin Woody spells out the philosophical context within which Heidegger’s ‘ontological turn’ can be appreciated by contrasting it, both, with Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology as well as with the epistemological premises of empirical sciences. He pays particular attention to the welcome possibilities as well as challenges of an existential–ontological approach for psychiatrists trying to make sense of the complex meaning dimensions in their patients’ lives and worldhood, while trained in the for the medical disciplines so central empirical–natural science paradigm. In turn, Kym Maclaren follows my elaborations on Binswanger’s world-design and Merleau-Ponty’s notion of emblems of Being and re-describes them as “matrices of meaning” and “characteristic forms of sense-making” that are present “not just with trauma, but in all lived experience, by virtue of our historicity” (2015, 148). This brings her to question the significance of the idea that ontical matters can become an ontological issue or problem. Maclaren also notes that there are still some traces of the subject–object divide in my language, despite my exposition and affirmation of a relational vision of human existence and the world.
Questions about the place and role of existential ontology and its relation to the sciences are certainly of perennial interest; thus, Woody’s sketch of the broader philosophical landscape within which my inquiry can be situated is very helpful. I also find myself principally in agreement with Maclaren’s thoughts about the distinction of the ontical from the ontological being ‘tricky.’ I think it is so for a number of reasons, even when staying strictly within the Heideggerian frame of reference, not least of which being that no ontological inquiry could get off the ground without a pre-ontological relationship to the ontical. Typical critiques of a purported ‘erroneous’ ontical-ontological nexus would come in the form of ‘if it isn’t fundamental ontology, it isn’t ontological’ or ‘if it’s not among the existentials described by Heidegger, it’s not relevant for existential ontology.’ However, as I have suggested, there are good reasons to reach outside Heidegger’s thinking of Being and Time. Specifically, I have based my ‘breach’ of the Heideggerian frame on the critique of the validity of universal ontological structures. To this, other arguments could be summoned, for example, Gilles Deleuze (1994) questioned the purported unity of temporality as the basic structure of [End Page 155] Dasein in its Being-in-the-world. This could be of potential relevance to some aspects of temporality addressed in my case examples. Perhaps temporality does not just manifest in its ontical variations and (deficient) modifications of an ever-same unitary ontological structure of becoming but would appear as an altogether different ontological phenomenon, what Deleuze introduced as the temporality of ruptures. However, this may lead us too far afield so I shall return to Maclaren (2015), who approaches this question from the opposite direction: why can’t any ontical experience be of ontological significance? Specifically: why would ontological insecurity or oversensitivity be different from regular ‘unhappiness at work,’ because with ontological attunement any form of distress “could (within the therapeutic relationship) lead into an exploration of how being is at issue for us” (p. 149). Here my answer is, according to my own take on this issue, both, a qualified yes, and a general no. If an exploration of the unhappiness at work brings to light a pervasive implicit meaning projection that is co-constitutive of the whole meaning of Being-in-the-world and of which the unhappiness is an ontical sign or experience, then yes. However, it would still not be the unhappiness as such that would be of ontological significance, but the particular all-encompassing implicit world projection and world relationship which colors our historicity in a dominant way and is, of course, always embodied and in a...