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Will Britt

Time at the Center:

I visited from Boston College, where I am at work on dissertation in Philosophy. My current project is to sort out the relation between trust and our most basic mode of being in the truth. In other words, what kind of beings are we such that truth and falsity matter to us? And what does this have to do with our basically trusting attitude toward the world, especially since the latter tends to be (is constitutively?) layered over with suspicion and something like distrust?

To this end, during my three-week stay at the Center I worked on a phenomenology of trust, particularly in terms of the different kinds of objects that trust (or phenomena like it) can take – for example, reliance on individual things, trust in more abstract systems of things, or trust in persons. This will prepare me to ask about our trust in (and possible mistrust of) language – whether it is more like trusting a person or like trusting a system – and similarly about our basic trust in the supportiveness of the world (upon which our trust in language is presumably founded).

My hunch is that the criterion-impossibility that applies to trust (i.e., there can be no sufficient criterion for trusting other than one’s lived experience of trust, under penalty of a vicious regress) is somehow the same as the criterion-impossibility that we find with truth (i.e., what is most basically true must simply be evident as such, again under penalty of a vicious regress). I cannot keep asking whether or not I should trust my mistrust of my own trust (etc.); nor can I continue asking whether or not some set of criteria for truth is itself the true set of criteria, which would require a further independent set of true criteria (etc.), even if it may be possible to iterate such a question once. (Perhaps Nietzsche would urge free spirits to trust their own trusting as well as their suspicion.) If it is right to think with Heidegger that we cannot presuppose any criteria for the most basic kind of truth because truth itself founds all presupposing, and if it is also right to think that trust (and whatever mistrust is woven into it) also must be originary, what is the relation between trust and truth?

In the further course of the dissertation, I would like to show that any appropriate thinking about the phenomenon of truth at the most basic level should begin from a thinking of trust and distrust. To do so, I will interrogate two different interpretive practices as limit-phenomena of complex trusting: Freudian psychoanalysis and Heidegger’s phenomenological reading of the philosophical tradition. I will draw out some problems that Freud encounters and bring them to Heidegger’s account of truth as unconcealment, using as a point of connection between the two thinkers the necessity of language for revelation of truth.


Current Biography:

I majored in Philosophy at Yale University, then got an MA and PhD at Boston College. After that long layover on the east coast, I now teach near the beach in Los Angeles, about 90 minutes from where I grew up.

My research is in philosophical anthropology, the metaphysics of mind, or the way human beings belong to world, depending on which philosophical language you speak. I want to understand the way reconciliation (with oneself, with God, and with others) both reflects and is enabled by basic ontological structures.

To that end, my first major project articulates the nature of truth in terms of a certain kind of trusting — a trust that constitutes our fundamental receptivity to being and beings. Such openness is both affective and cognitive, and I find help in seeing how it can be both from phenomenology and psychoanalysis (Heidegger and Freud, more specifically).

My next project will involve a generative phenomenology of embrace, asking how it is possible to love one’s enemy while recognizing that we often become like what we embrace.