“Bestellbarkeit” of being human through technology: Heidegger’s thought as a site of resistance

The essence of nursing, including its theory, is in the Sorge um the well-being of the sick and the dying. As elucidated by Heidegger in Being and time, the ontological primacy of Sorge, which is primordial to nursing care, is based on the facticity (qua being-in-the-world) that it belongs to the existential structure of Dasein. Only by thinking with Heidegger can nursing theory, as reflective discourse on nurses and nursing, interrogate the fundamental meaning of care and its associated tasks, such as the “lived experience” (Erlebnis) of patients and the education (Bildung) of nurses.

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A current example of hermeneutics in search for evidence

With Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 having gone missing for already 15 days, the tragic story continues to occupy headlines in world media. A 22 March 2014 article from BBC provides an example, although not explicitly stated, in the hermeneutic process of evidence-based Bayesian statistical research for missing planes: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26680633. It quite clearly explains two essential aspects of hermeneutics, namely the historicity of understanding and the Vorstruktur in Dasein‘s striving for a picture that can explain a phenomenon, in this case the crash of AF447 into the Atlantic Ocean. Knowledge is not created ex nihilo: it is dependent on its own history, which includes experience

Hermeneutic insights from information science

Quite unexpectedly in the field of computing science, also known as information science, I discovered an article today that shows a good grasp of hermeneutics by its author: Matthew Chalmers, Hermeneutics, information and representation, European journal of information systems, 13, 210-220. I shall now quote the most impressive passage in the article:

Interpretation is based on prejudice, which includes assumptions implicit in the language that the person uses. That language in turn is learned through experiences of interpretation. The individual and their prejudice are changed through the use of language, and the language changes through its use by individuals. A new word or experience is understood in relation to, and within, language and history. This endless process of seeing the part in and through the whole is the hermeneutic circle (Chalmers, 2004, 212).

However, unlike computer science, which is founded upon formal constructs, hermeneutics, in its study of lived experiences, does not strive for what Chalmers describes as the tendency for formal language to gain situational distanciation. As Chalmers himself notes, “Hermeneutic theory is based on accepting the effect of this indefinite, inevitable and infinitely detailed situational background” (Chalmers, 2004, 211). In fact based on hermeneutics, Chalmers argues that there is no Platonic space outside language for the meta-language of formal constructs to call home; the latter has to keep referring back to the living language of Dasein in order for it to be relevant and adaptable (see Chalmers, 2004, 212). In other words, language is bound up with the temporality (Zeitlichkeit) of Dasein. User activity and utterances thrive on a system of holism and interdependence: while Chalmers is not advocating that a “hermeneutic system” will be the new be-all-and-end-all of informatics in the “shared toolkit of techniques and devices” accessible to computer scientists (Chalmers, 2004, 219), his vision for the role of hermeneutics in his scientific field is relevant to the application of hermeneutics in even human-centred fields such as nursing theory:

We adapt and strengthen the tool of hermeneutics, testing its claim to universal applicability, with each turn of our own hermeneutic circle (Chalmers, 2004, 219).

However, it may be proper to question Chalmers’ affirmation of hermeneutics as a “tool” in a “toolkit” as missing the whole point of hermeneutics, which is founded upon the fundamental ontology of ontic-ontological differentiation, as emphasised by Heidegger in Being and time? The universality of the question of being (Seinsfrage), hence hermeneutics, does not mean that it can be readily appropriated in a mode of being that is shaped by the instrumentalism of techne. In other words, hermeneutics resists being reduced to techne by virtue of its very essence. Its practical application in being-in-the-world (In-der-Welt-sein) is in the attainment of understanding and not in its mere utility as a device or technique.