My running is now back on and seems fine. It’s always a tad ropey picking up after a lay-off of more than a couple of days, but all seems well. I should get around 8kms under my belt this afternoon (maybe 11km, depending on my pace). Thinking about running, however, is not running. Running is something that we just do. Knowing how to run is a ‘know-how’ rather than a ‘know-that’. Additionally, unlike other sports, it is extremely simple in its fundamentals, a very ordinary and everyday kind of thing to do for anyone able-bodied and at an ordinary level of fitness. Two philosophers, giants of twentieth century thinking, concerned themselves with the everyday experiences of life: Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Both Heidegger and Wittgenstein spent a great deal of time showing how we get so much of philosophy wrong. They approached the task in different ways, but essentially tried to demonstrate that the ordinariness of life – embodied, physical, skilled, messy, connected, meaningful, linguistic, diverse, directed, goal-oriented, social … – is all the metaphysics we need. All the rest, the problems and questions about the ‘fundamental’ nature of things are based on mistakes. There is a good book by the philosopher Lee Braver, Groundless Grounds (Braver, 2012), that explores many themes that overlap in the work of Heidegger and Wittgenstein, which I highly recommend.
On Heidegger’s side of things, his central concern throughout his life was to investigate ‘Being’, that is, the way things are, how they turn up in our world. He wanted to overturn the idea that best way to understand things and ourselves is from a perspective of abstract reflection and a passive ‘objectivity’, and to show that things have a variety of different meanings and different ways of being in how they are used and interact with us. Additionally, the being that we are, which he calls Dasein (‘being there’, ‘existence’ or ‘presence’), is rather more than a mere ‘rational animal’. In fact, people have written vast tracts on what Dasein is, but, very crudely, it is a being with some awareness of its own way of being in the world (being-in-the-world), and with a concern for its nature and its connectedness to everything else. In that Being, it is our projects and goals that really shape our existence, the vast majority of which are ordinary, everyday acts and orientations. Sometimes, however, we choose to do things that develop a deeper skill or a use of ourselves that heightens (or deepens?) our awareness of our being while we are engaged in it: it becomes what Heidegger would call an expression of authenticity. Of course, as already suggested at the top of this post, we can’t effectively reflect on this being or authenticity, only do it and, perhaps, catch it in language that does not repeat the errors of metaphysics (which I have failed to do here!). So, perhaps, running – or more specifically, training and improving – while ordinary and everyday, can become deeply authentic. Something else to explore further …
BRAVER, L. 2012. Groundless grounds : a study of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.