Is “To Dwell” a Success Term?

by C.S. Lammer-Heindel

Last month, a colleague and I delivered back-to-back papers at our institution’s annual symposium. He happened to address Heidegger’s use of the term “to dwell,” and I happened to address Levi Bryant’s use of the same term. It became apparent that whereas I (following Bryant) conceive of dwelling as a term that describes the way in which all beings exist, my colleague (following Heidegger) interprets it as a success term: to dwell is to achieve a particular way of being.

The discussion highlighted the extent to which I need to further familiarize myself with Heidegger, but it will be awhile before I have the opportunity to do so. In the meantime, I’ve been reflecting on the tension between our perspectives.

The obvious benefit of interpreting dwelling as a success term is that it straightforwardly serves as a kind of moral telos—that is, something to aim at. But I wonder whether my interpretation of it as ontologically descriptive, rather than prescriptive, can also be put to moral use?

It happens that I recently finished teaching a course pertaining to ancient Stoicism, and as I’ve puzzled over this question, I hit on an analogy from the Stoics. They held that all things have a logos, which accounts for each thing being what it is. Human beings, for example, are matter with a human logos and an oak tree is matter with an oak logos. But all things also are part of greater wholes, which themselves have logoi of their own, which impinge on the being of the things that constitute the whole. The universe, the “one that contains the many,” is itself structured according to the supreme Logos, which Seneca refers to as “Creative Reason” (Letter 65) and the existence of various particular things unfolds in accordance with this Logos. The relevant point is that this doesn’t prevent the Stoics from having a robust ethic: although we never really fail to live in accordance with the Logos (Creative Reason), we can do so more or less consciously and in ways that contribute or fail to contribute to the achievement of oikeiosis—a sense of “being at home” with other beings, and especially other human beings.

Perhaps what I’ve been struggling with is the distinction between conceiving of dwelling as the inescapable “always already” aspect of our being, on the one hand, and the conception of it as something analogous to oikeiosis, on the other hand. Perhaps an object-oriented ontology could benefit from rehabilitating this Stoic notion.