1. Biographical Sketch
Martin Heidegger was born in Messkirch, Germany, on September 26, 1889. Messkirch was then a quiet, conservative, religious rural town, and as such was a formative influence on Heidegger and his philosophical thought. In 1909 he spent two weeks in the Jesuit order before leaving (probably on health grounds) to study theology at the University of Freiburg. In 1911 he switched subjects, to philosophy. He began teaching at Freiburg in 1915. In 1917 he married Elfride Petri, with whom he had two sons (Jörg and Hermann) and from whom he never parted (although his affair with the philosopher Hannah Arendt, his student at Marburg in the 1920s, is well-known).
Heidegger's philosophical development began when he read Brentano and Aristotle, plus the latter's medieval scholastic interpreters. Indeed, Aristotle's demand in the Metaphysics to know what it is that unites all possible modes of Being (or ‘is-ness’) is, in many ways, the question that ignites and drives Heidegger's philosophy. From this platform he proceeded to engage deeply with Kant, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and, perhaps most importantly of all for his subsequent thinking in the 1920s, two further figures: Dilthey (whose stress on the role of interpretation and history in the study of human activity profoundly influenced Heidegger) and Husserl (whose understanding of phenomenology as a science of essences he was destined to reject). In 1915 Husserl took up a post at Freiburg and in 1919 Heidegger became his assistant. Heidegger spent a period (of reputedly brilliant) teaching at the University of Marburg (1923–1928), but then returned to Freiburg to take up the chair vacated by Husserl on his retirement. Out of such influences, explorations, and critical engagements, Heidegger's magnum opus, Being and Time (Sein und Zeit) was born. Although Heidegger's academic and intellectual relationship with his Freiburg predecessor was complicated and occasionally strained (see Crowell 2005), Being and Time was dedicated to Husserl, “in friendship and admiration”.
Published in 1927, Being and Time is standardly hailed as one of the most significant texts in the canon of (what has come to be called) contemporary European (or Continental) Philosophy. It catapulted Heidegger to a position of international intellectual visibility and provided the philosophical impetus for a number of later programmes and ideas in the contemporary European tradition, including Sartre's existentialism, Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics, and Derrida's notion of ‘deconstruction’. Moreover, Being and Time, and indeed Heidegger's philosophy in general, has been presented and engaged with by thinkers such as Dreyfus (e.g., 1990) and Rorty (e.g., 1991a, b) who work somewhere near the interface between the contemporary European and the analytic traditions. A cross-section of broadly analytic reactions to Heidegger (positive and negative) may be found alongside other responses in (Murray 1978). Being and Time is discussed in section 2 of this article.
In 1933 Heidegger joined the Nazi Party and was elected Rector of Freiburg University, where, depending on whose account one believes, he either enthusiastically implemented the Nazi policy of bringing university education into line with Hitler's nauseating political programme (Pattison 2000) or he allowed that policy to be officially implemented while conducting a partially underground campaign of resistance to some of its details, especially its anti-Semitism (see Heidegger's own account in Only a God can Save Us). During the short period of his rectorship—he resigned in 1934—Heidegger gave a number of public speeches (including his inaugural rectoral address; see below) in which Nazi images plus occasional declarations of support for Hitler are integrated with the philosophical language of Being and Time. After 1934 Heidegger became increasingly distanced from Nazi politics. Although he didn't leave the Nazi party, he did attract some unwelcome attention from its enthusiasts. After the war, however, a university denazification committee at Freiburg investigated Heidegger and banned him from teaching, a right which he did not get back until 1949. One year later he was made professor Emeritus. Against this background of contrary information, one will search in vain through Heidegger's later writings for the sort of total and unambiguous repudiation of National Socialism that one might hope to find. The philosophical character of Heidegger's involvement with Nazism is discussed later in this article.
After Being and Time there is a reorienting shift in Heidegger's philosophy known as ‘the turn’ (die Kehre). Exactly when this occurs is a matter of debate, although it is probably safe to say that it is in progress by 1930 and largely established by the early 1940s. If dating the turn has its problems, saying exactly what it involves is altogether more challenging. Indeed, Heidegger himself characterized it not as a turn in his own thinking (or at least in his thinking alone) but as a turn in Being. As he later put it in a preface he wrote to Richardson's ground-breaking text on his work (Richardson 1963), the “Kehre is at work within the issue [that is named by the titles ‘Being and Time’/‘Time and Being.’]… It is not something that I did, nor does it pertain to my thinking only”. The core elements of the turn are indicated in what is now considered by many commentators to be Heidegger's second greatest work, Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning), (Beitrage zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis)). This uncompromising text was written in 1936–7, but was not published in German until 1989 and not in English translation until 1999. Section 3 of this article will attempt to navigate the main currents of the turn, and thus of Heidegger's later philosophy, in the light of this increasingly discussed text.
Heidegger died in Freiburg on May 26, 1976. He was buried in Messkirch.
2. Being and Time
2.1 The Text and its Pre-History
Being and Time is a long and complex book. The reader is immediately struck by what Mulhall (2005, viii) calls the “tortured intensity of [Heidegger's] prose”, although if the text is read in its original German it is possible to hear the vast number of what appear to be neologisms as attempts to reanimate the German language. According to this latter gloss, the linguistic constructions concerned—which involve hyphenations, unusual prefixes and uncommon suffixes—reveal the hidden meanings and resonances of ordinary talk. In any case, for many readers, the initially strange and difficult language of Being and Time is fully vindicated by the realization that Heidegger is struggling to say things for which our conventional terms and linguistic constructions are ultimately inadequate. Indeed, for some thinkers who have toiled in its wake, Heidegger's language becomes the language of philosophy (although for an alternative and critical view of the language of Being and Time, see Adorno 1964/2002). Viewed from the perspective of Heidegger's own intentions, the work is incomplete. It was meant to have two parts, each of which was supposed to be divided into three divisions. What we have published under the title of Being and Time are the first two divisions of (the intended) part one. The reasons for this incompleteness will be explored later in this article.
One might reasonably depict the earliest period of Heidegger's philosophical work, in Freiburg (1915–23) and Marburg (1923–6), before he commenced the writing of Being and Time itself, as the pre-history of that seminal text (although for an alternative analysis that stresses not only a back-and-forth movement in Heidegger's earliest thought between theology and philosophy, but also the continuity between that earliest thought and the later philosophy, see van Buren 1994, 2005). Viewed in relation to Being and Time, the central philosophical theme in these early years is Heidegger's complex critical relationship with Husserl's transcendental phenomenology—what Crowell (2005, p.49) calls “a dynamic of attraction and repulsion”—as driven by Heidegger's transformative reading of Aristotle. As early as a 1919 lecture course, for example, we find Heidegger arguing that Husserl's view (developed in the Logical Investigations, Husserl 1900/1973), that philosophy should renounce theory and concentrate on the things given directly in consciousness, is flawed because such givenness is itself a theoretical construct. For the young Heidegger, then, it is already the case that phenomenological analysis starts not with Husserlian intentionality (the consciousness of objects), but rather with an interpretation of the pre-theoretical conditions for there to be such intentionality. This idea will later be central to, and elaborated within, Being and Time, by which point a number of important developments (explained in more detail later in this article) will have occurred in Heidegger's thinking: the Husserlian notion of formal ontology (the study of the a priori categories that describe objects of any sort, by means of our judgments and perceptions) will have been transformed into fundamental ontology (a neo-Aristotelian search for what it is that unites and makes possible our varied and diverse senses of what it is to be); Husserl's transcendental consciousness (the irreducible thinking ego or subject that makes possible objective inquiry) will have been transfigured into Dasein (the inherently social being who already operates with a pre-theoretical grasp of the a priori structures that make possible particular modes of Being); and Husserlian intentionality (a consciousness of objects) will have been replaced by the concept of care or Being-in-the-world (a non-intentional, or perhaps pre-intentional, openness to a world).
Each of these aspects of Heidegger's framework in Being and Time emerges out of his radical rethinking of Aristotle, a rethinking that finds its fullest and most explicit expression in a 1925–6 lecture course entitled Logik (later renamed Logik (Aristoteles) by Heidegger's student Helene Weiß, in order to distinguish this lecture course from a later one he gave also entitled Logik; see Kisiel 1993, 559, note 23). On Heidegger's interpretation (see Sheehan 1975), Aristotle holds that since every meaningful appearance of beings involves an event in which a human being takes a being as—as, say, a ship in which one can sail or as a god that one should respect—what unites all the different modes of Being is that they realize some form of presence (present-ness) to human beings. This presence-to is expressed in the ‘as’ of ‘taking-as’. Thus the unity of the different modes of Being is grounded in a capacity for taking-as (making-present-to) that Aristotle argues is the essence of human existence. Heidegger's response, in effect, is to suggest that although Aristotle is on the right track, he has misconceived the deep structure of taking-as. For Heidegger, taking-as is grounded not in multiple modes of presence, but rather in a more fundamental temporal unity (remember, it's Being and time, more on this later) that characterizes Being-in-the-world (care). This engagement with Aristotle—the Aristotle, that is, that Heidegger unearths during his early years in Freiburg and Marburg—explains why, as Sheehan (1975, 87) puts it, “Aristotle appears directly or indirectly on virtually every page” of Being and Time. (For more on Heidegger's pre-Being-and-Time period, see e.g., Kisiel 1993, Kisiel and van Buren 1994, and Heidegger's early occasional writings as reproduced in the collection Becoming Heidegger. For more on the philosophical relationship between Husserl and Heidegger, see e.g., Crowell 2001 and the review of Crowell's book by Carman 2002; Dahlstrom 1994; Dostal 1993; Overgaard 2003.)
2.2 Division 1
2.2.1 The Question
Let's back up in order to bring Heidegger's central concern into better view. (The ‘way in’ to Being and Time that I am about to present follows Gelven 1989 6–7.) Consider some philosophical problems that will be familiar from introductory metaphysics classes: Does the table that I think I see before me exist? Does God exist? Does mind, conceived as an entity distinct from body, exist? These questions have the following form: does x (where x = some particular kind of thing) exist? Questions of this form presuppose that we already know what ‘to exist’ means. We typically don't even notice this presupposition. But Heidegger does, which is why he raises the more fundamental question: what does ‘to exist’ mean? This is one way of asking what Heidegger calls the question of the meaning of Being, and Being and Time is an investigation into that question.
Many of Heidegger's translators capitalize the word ‘Being’ (Sein) to mark what, in the Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Heidegger will later call the ontological difference, the crucial distinction between Being and beings (entities). The question of the meaning of Being is concerned with what it is that makes beings intelligible as beings, and whatever that factor (Being) is, it is seemingly not itself simply another being among beings. Unfortunately the capitalization of ‘Being’ also has the disadvantage of suggesting that Being is, as Sheehan (2001) puts it, an ethereal metaphysical something that lies beyond entities, what he calls ‘Big Being’. But to think of Being in this way would be to commit the very mistake that the capitalization is supposed to help us avoid. For while Being is always the Being of some entity, Being is not itself some kind of higher-order being waiting to be discovered. As long as we remain alert to this worry, we can follow the otherwise helpful path of capitalization.
According to Heidegger, the question of the meaning of Being, and thus Being as such, has been forgotten by ‘the tradition’ (roughly, Western philosophy from Plato onwards). Heidegger means by this that the history of Western thought has failed to heed the ontological difference, and so has articulated Being precisely as a kind of ultimate being, as evidenced by a series of namings of Being, for example as idea, energeia, substance, monad or will to power. In this way Being as such has been forgotten. So Heidegger sets himself the task of recovering the question of the meaning of Being. In this context he draws two distinctions between different kinds of inquiry. The first, which is just another way of expressing the ontological difference, is between the ontical and the ontological, where the former is concerned with facts about entities and the latter is concerned with the meaning of Being, with how entities are intelligible as entities. Using this technical language, we can put the point about the forgetting of Being as such by saying that the history of Western thought is characterized by an ‘onticization’ of Being (by the practice of treating Being as a being). However, as Heidegger explains, here in the words of Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, “an ontic knowledge can never alone direct itself ‘to’ the objects, because without the ontological… it can have no possible Whereto” (translation taken from Overgaard 2002, p.76, note 7). The second distinction between different kinds of inquiry, drawn within the category of the ontological, is between regional ontology and fundamental ontology, where the former is concerned with the ontologies of particular domains, say biology or banking, and the latter is concerned with the a priori, transcendental conditions that make possible particular modes of Being (i.e., particular regional ontologies). For Heidegger, the ontical presupposes the regional-ontological, which in turn presupposes the fundamental-ontological. As he puts it:
The question of Being aims… at ascertaining the a priori conditions not only for the possibility of the sciences which examine beings as beings of such and such a type, and, in doing so, already operate with an understanding of Being, but also for the possibility of those ontologies themselves which are prior to the ontical sciences and which provide their foundations. Basically, all ontology, no matter how rich and firmly compacted a system of categories it has at its disposal, remains blind and perverted from its ownmost aim, if it has not first adequately clarified the meaning of Being, and conceived this clarification as its fundamental task. (Being and Time 3: 31) (References to Being and Time will be given in the form of ‘section: page number’, where ‘page number’ refers to the widely used Macquarrie and Robinson English translation.)
So how do we carry out fundamental ontology, and thus answer the question of the meaning of Being? It is here that Heidegger introduces the notion of Dasein (Da-sein: there-being). One proposal for how to think about the term ‘Dasein’ is that it is Heidegger's label for the distinctive mode of Being realized by human beings (for this reading, see e.g., Brandom 2002, 325). Haugeland (2005, 422) complains that this interpretation clashes unhelpfully with Heidegger's identification of care as the Being of Dasein, given Heidegger's prior stipulation that Being is always the Being of some possible entity. To keep ‘Dasein’ on the right side of the ontological difference, then, we might conceive of it as Heidegger's term for the distinctive kind of entity that human beings as such are. This fits with many of Heidegger's explicit characterizations of Dasein (see e.g., Being and Time 2: 27, 3: 32), and it probably deserves to be called the standard view in the secondary literature (see e.g., Haugeland 2005 for an explicit supporting case). That said, one needs to be careful about precisely what sort of entity we are talking about here. For Dasein is not to be understood as ‘the biological human being’. Nor is it to be understood as ‘the person’. Haugeland (2005, 423) argues that Dasein is “a way of life shared by the members of some community”. (As Haugeland notes, there is an analogy here, one that Heidegger himself draws, with the way in which we might think of a language existing as an entity, that is, as a communally shared way of speaking.) This appeal to the community will assume a distinctive philosophical shape as the argument of Being and Time progresses.
The foregoing considerations bring an important question to the fore: what, according to Heidegger, is so special about human beings as such? Here there are broadly speaking two routes that one might take through the text of Being and Time. The first unfolds as follows. If we look around at beings in general—from particles to planets, ants to apes—it is human beings alone who are able to encounter the question of what it means to be (e.g., in moments of anxiety in which the world can appear meaning-less, more on which later). More specifically, it is human beings alone who (a) operate in their everyday activities with an understanding of Being (although, as we shall see, one which is pre-ontological, in that it is implicit and vague) and (b) are able to reflect upon what it means to be. This gives us a way of understanding statements such as “Dasein is ontically distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it” (Being and Time 4: 32). Mulhall, who tends to pursue this way of characterizing Dasein, develops the idea by explaining that while inanimate objects merely persist through time and while plants and non-human animals have their lives determined entirely by the demands of survival and reproduction, human beings lead their lives (Mulhall 2005, 15). In terms of its deep ontological structure, although not typically in terms of how it presents itself to the individual in consciousness, each moment in a human life constitutes a kind of branch-point at which a person ‘chooses’ a kind of life, a possible way to be. It is crucial to emphasize that one may, in the relevant sense, ‘choose’ an existing path simply by continuing unthinkingly along it, since in principle at least, and within certain limits, one always had, and still has, the capacity to take a different path. (This gives us a sense of human freedom, one that will be unpacked more carefully below.) This can all sound terribly inward-looking, but that is not Heidegger's intention. In a way that is about to become clearer, Dasein's projects and possibilities are essentially bound up with the ways in which other entities may become intelligible. Moreover, terms such as ‘lead’ and ‘choose’ must be interpreted in the light of Heidegger's account of care as the Being of Dasein (see later), an account that blunts any temptation to hear these terms in a manner that suggests inner deliberation or planning on the part of a reflective subject. (So perhaps Mulhall's point that human beings are distinctive in that they lead their lives would be better expressed as the observation that human beings are the nuclei of lives laying themselves out.)
The second route to an understanding of Dasein, and thus of what is special about human beings as such, emphasizes the link with the taking-as structure highlighted earlier. Sheehan (2001) develops just such a line of exegesis by combining two insights. The first is that the ‘Da’ of Da-sein may be profitably translated not as ‘there’ but as ‘open’. This openness is in turn to be understood as ‘the possibility of taking-as’ and thus as a preintellectual openness to Being that is necessary for us to encounter beings as beings in particular ways (e.g., practically, theoretically, aesthetically). Whether or not the standard translation of ‘Da’ as ‘there’ is incapable of doing justice to this idea is moot—one might express the same view by saying that to be Dasein is to be there, in the midst of entities making sense a certain way. Nevertheless, the term ‘openness’ does seem to provide a nicely graphic expression of the phenomenon in question. Sheehan's second insight, driven by a comment of Heidegger's in the Zollikon seminars to the effect that the verbal emphasis in ‘Da-sein’ is to be placed on the second syllable, is that the ‘sein’ of ‘Da-sein’ should be heard as ‘having-to-be’, in contrast with ‘occasionally or contingently is’. These dual insights lead to a characterization of Dasein as the having-to-be-open. In other words, Dasein (and so human beings as such) cannot but be open: it is a necessary characteristic of human beings (an a priori structure of our existential constitution, not an exercise of our wills) that we operate with the sense-making capacity to take-other-beings-as.
The two interpretative paths that we have just walked are not necessarily in conflict: in the words of Vallega-Neu (2003, 12), “in existing, Dasein occurs… as a transcending beyond beings into the disclosure of being as such, so that in this transcending not only its own possibilities of being [our first route] but also the being of other beings [our second route] is disclosed”. And this helps us to grasp the meaning of Heidegger's otherwise opaque claim that Dasein, and indeed only Dasein, exists, where existence is understood (via etymological considerations) as ek-sistence, that is, as a standing out. Dasein stands out in two senses, each of which corresponds to one of the two dimensions of our proposed interpretation. First, Dasein can stand back or ‘out’ from its own occurrence in the world and observe itself (see e.g., Gelven 1989, 49). Second, Dasein stands out in an openness to and an opening of Being (see e.g., Vallega-Neu 2004, 11–12).
As we have seen, it is an essential characteristic of Dasein that, in its ordinary ways of engaging with other entities, it operates with a preontological understanding of Being, that is, with a distorted or buried grasp of the a priori conditions that, by underpinning the taking-as structure, make possible particular modes of Being. This suggests that a disciplined investigation of those everyday modes of engagement on the part of Dasein (what Heidegger calls an “existential analytic of Dasein”) will be a first step towards revealing a shared but hidden underlying meaning of Being. Heidegger puts it like this:
whenever an ontology takes for its theme entities whose character of Being is other than that of Dasein, it has its own foundation and motivation in Dasein's own ontical structure, in which a pre-ontological understanding of Being is comprised as a definite characteristic… Therefore fundamental ontology, from which alone all other ontologies can take their rise, must be sought in the existential analytic of Dasein. (Being and Time 3: 33–4)
It is important to stress here that, in Heidegger's eyes, this prioritizing of Dasein does not lead to (what he calls) “a vicious subjectivizing of the totality of entities” (Being and Time 4: 34). This resistance towards any unpalatable anti-realism is an issue to which we shall return.
Dasein is, then, our primary ‘object’ of study, and our point of investigative departure is Dasein's everyday encounters with entities. But what sort of philosophical method is appropriate for the ensuing examination? Famously, Heidegger's adopted method is a species of phenomenology. In the Heideggerian framework, however, phenomenology is not to be understood (as it sometimes is) as the study of how things merely appear in experience. Rather, in a recognizably Kantian staging of the idea, Heidegger follows Husserl (1913/1983) in conceiving of phenomenology as a theoretical enterprise that takes ordinary experience as its point of departure, but which, through an attentive and sensitive examination of that experience, aims to reveal the a priori, transcendental conditions that shape and structure it. In Heidegger's Being-centred project, these are the conditions “which, in every kind of Being that factical Dasein may possess, persist as determinative for the character of its Being” (Being and Time 5: 38). Presupposed by ordinary experience, these structures must in some sense be present with that experience, but they are not simply available to be read off from its surface, hence the need for disciplined and careful phenomenological analysis to reveal them as they are. So far so good. But, in a departure from the established Husserlian position, one that demonstrates the influence of Dilthey, Heidegger claims that phenomenology is not just transcendental, it is hermeneutic (for discussion, see e.g., Caputo 1984, Kisiel 2002 chapter 8). In other words, its goal is always to deliver an interpretation of Being, an interpretation that, on the one hand, is guided by certain historically embedded ways of thinking (ways of taking-as reflected in Dasein's preontological understanding of Being) that the philosopher as Dasein and as interpreter brings to the task, and, on the other hand, is ceaselessly open to revision, enhancement and replacement. For Heidegger, this hermeneutic structure is not a limitation on understanding, but a precondition of it, and philosophical understanding (conceived as fundamental ontology) is no exception. Thus Being and Time itself has a spiral structure in which a sequence of reinterpretations produces an ever more illuminating comprehension of Being. As Heidegger puts it later in the text:
What is decisive is not to get out of the circle but to come into it the right way… In the circle is hidden a positive possibility of the most primordial kind of knowing. To be sure, we genuinely take hold of this possibility only when, in our interpretation, we have understood that our first, last and constant task is never to allow our fore-having, fore-sight and fore-conception to be presented to us by fancies and popular conceptions, but rather to make the scientific theme secure by working out these fore-structures in terms of the things themselves. (Being and Time 32: 195)
On the face of it, the hermeneutic conception of phenomenology sits unhappily with a project that aims to uncover the a priori transcendental conditions that make possible particular modes of Being (which is arguably one way of glossing the project of “working out [the] fore-structures [of understanding] in terms of the things themselves”). And this is a tension that, it seems fair to say, is never fully resolved within the pages of Being and Time. The best we can do is note that, by the end of the text, the transcendental has itself become historically embedded. More on that below. What is also true is that there is something of a divide in certain areas of contemporary Heidegger scholarship over whether one should emphasize the transcendental dimension of Heidegger's phenomenology (e.g., Crowell 2001, Crowell and Malpas 2007) or the hermeneutic dimension (e.g., Kisiel 2002).
2.2.2 Modes of Encounter
How, then, does the existential analytic unfold? Heidegger argues that we ordinarily encounter entities as (what he calls) equipment, that is, as being for certain sorts of tasks (cooking, writing, hair-care, and so on). Indeed we achieve our most primordial (closest) relationship with equipment not by looking at the entity in question, or by some detached intellectual or theoretical study of it, but rather by skillfully manipulating it in a hitch-free manner. Entities so encountered have their own distinctive kind of Being that Heidegger famously calls readiness-to-hand. Thus:
The less we just stare at the hammer-thing, and the more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become, and the more unveiledly is it encountered as that which it is—as equipment. The hammering itself uncovers the specific ‘manipulability’ of the hammer. The kind of Being which equipment possesses—in which it manifests itself in its own right—we call ‘readiness-to-hand’. (Being and Time 15: 98)
Readiness-to-hand has a distinctive phenomenological signature. While engaged in hitch-free skilled activity, Dasein has no conscious experience of the items of equipment in use as independent objects (i.e., as the bearers of determinate properties that exist independently of the Dasein-centred context of action in which the equipmental entity is involved). Thus, while engaged in trouble-free hammering, the skilled carpenter has no conscious recognition of the hammer, the nails, or the work-bench, in the way that one would if one simply stood back and thought about them. Tools-in-use become phenomenologically transparent. Moreover, Heidegger claims, not only are the hammer, nails, and work-bench in this way not part of the engaged carpenter's phenomenal world, neither, in a sense, is the carpenter. The carpenter becomes absorbed in his activity in such a way that he has no awareness of himself as a subject over and against a world of objects. Crucially, it does not follow from this analysis that Dasein's behaviour in such contexts is automatic, in the sense of there being no awareness present at all, but rather that the awareness that is present (what Heidegger calls circumspection) is non-subject-object in form. Phenomenologically speaking, then, there are no subjects and no objects; there is only the experience of the ongoing task (e.g., hammering).
Heidegger, then, denies that the categories of subject and object characterize our most basic way of encountering entities. He maintains, however, that they apply to a derivative kind of encounter. When Dasein engages in, for example, the practices of natural science, when sensing takes place purely in the service of reflective or philosophical contemplation, or when philosophers claim to have identified certain context-free metaphysical building blocks of the universe (e.g., points of pure extension, monads), the entities under study are phenomenologically removed from the settings of everyday equipmental practice and are thereby revealed as fully fledged independent objects, that is, as the bearers of certain context-general determinate or measurable properties (size in metres, weight in kilos etc.). Heidegger calls this mode of Being presence-at-hand, and he sometimes refers to present-at-hand entities as ‘Things’. With this phenomenological transformation in the mode of Being of entities comes a corresponding transformation in the mode of Being of Dasein. Dasein becomes a subject, one whose project is to explain and predict the behaviour of an independent, objective universe. Encounters with the present-at-hand are thus fundamentally subject-object in structure.
The final phenomenological category identified during the first phase of the existential analytic is what Heidegger calls un-readiness-to-hand. This mode of Being of entities emerges when skilled practical activity is disturbed by broken or malfunctioning equipment, discovered-to-be-missing equipment, or in-the-way equipment. When encountered as un-ready-to-hand, entities are no longer phenomenologically transparent. However, they are not yet the fully fledged objects of the present-at-hand, since their broken, malfunctioning, missing or obstructive status is defined relative to a particular equipmental context. The combination of two key passages illuminates this point: First:
[The] presence-at-hand of something that cannot be used is still not devoid of all readiness-to-hand whatsoever; equipment which is present-at-hand in this way is still not just a Thing which occurs somewhere. The damage to the equipment is still not a mere alteration of a Thing—not a change of properties which just occurs in something present-at-hand. (Being and Time 16: 103)
When something cannot be used—when, for instance, a tool definitely refuses to work—it can be conspicuous only in and for dealings in which something is manipulated. (Being and Time 68: 406)
Thus a driver does not encounter a punctured tyre as a lump of rubber of measurable mass; she encounters it as a damaged item of equipment, that is, as the cause of a temporary interruption to her driving activity. With such disturbances to skilled activity, Dasein emerges as a practical problem solver whose context-embedded actions are directed at restoring smooth skilled activity.
Although Heidegger does not put things this way, the complex intermediate realm of the un-ready-to-hand is seemingly best thought of as a spectrum of cases characterized by different modes and degrees of engagement/disengagement. Much of the time Dasein's practical problem solving will involve recovery strategies (e.g., switching to a different mode of transport) which preserve the marks of fluid and flexible know-how that are present in ready-to-hand contexts. In the limit, however (e.g., when a mechanic uses his theoretical knowledge of how cars work to guide a repair), Dasein's problem solving activity will begin to approximate the theoretical reasoning distinctive of scientific inquiry into present-at-hand entities. But even here Dasein is not ‘just theorizing’ or ‘just looking’, so it is not yet, in Heidegger's terms, a pure disengaged subject. With this spectrum of cases in view, it is possible to glimpse a potential worry for Heidegger's account. Cappuccio and Wheeler (2010; see also Wheeler 2005, 143) argue that the situation of wholly transparent readiness-to-hand is something of an ideal state. Skilled activity is never (or very rarely) perfectly smooth. Moreover, minimal subjective activity (such as a nonconceptual awareness of certain spatially situated movements by my body) produces a background noise that never really disappears. Thus a distinction between Dasein and its environment is, to some extent, preserved, and this distinction arguably manifests the kind of minimal subject-object dichotomy that is characteristic of those cases of un-readiness-to-hand that lie closest to readiness-to-hand.
On the interpretation of Heidegger just given, Dasein's access to the world is only intermittently that of a representing subject. An alternative reading, according to which Dasein always exists as a subject relating to the world via representations, is defended by Christensen (1997, 1998). Christensen targets Dreyfus (1990) as a prominent and influential exponent of the intermittent-subject view. Among other criticisms, Christensen accuses Dreyfus of mistakenly hearing Heidegger's clear rejection of the thought that Dasein's access to the world is always theoretical (or theory-like) in character as being, at the same time, a rejection of the thought that Dasein's access to the world is always in the mode of a representing subject; but, argues Christensen, there may be non-theoretical forms of the subject-world relation, so the claim that Heidegger advocated the second rejection is not established by pointing out that he advocated the first. Let's assume that Christensen is right about this. The supporter of the intermittent-subject view might still argue that although Heidegger holds that Dasein sometimes emerges as a subject whose access to the world is non-theoretical (plausibly, in certain cases of un-readiness-to-hand), there is other textual evidence, beyond that which indicates the non-theoretical character of hitch-free skilled activity, to suggest that readiness-to-hand must remain non-subject-object in form. Whether or not there is such evidence would then need to be settled.
What the existential analytic has given us so far is a phenomenological description of Dasein's within-the-world encounters with entities. The next clarification concerns the notion of world and the associated within-ness of Dasein. Famously, Heidegger writes of Dasein as Being-in-the-world. In effect, then, the notion of Being-in-the-world provides us with a reinterpretation of the activity of existing (Dreyfus 1990, 40), where existence is given the narrow reading (ek-sistence) identified earlier. Understood as a unitary phenomenon (as opposed to a contingent, additive, tripartite combination of Being, in-ness, and the world), Being-in-the-world is an essential characteristic of Dasein. As Heidegger explains:
Being-in is not a ‘property’ which Dasein sometimes has and sometimes does not have, and without which it could just be just as well as it could be with it. It is not the case that man ‘is’ and then has, by way of an extra, a relationship-of-Being towards the ‘world’—a world with which he provides himself occasionally. Dasein is never ‘proximally’ an entity which is, so to speak, free from Being-in, but which sometimes has the inclination to take up a ‘relationship’ towards the world. Taking up relationships towards the world is possible only because Dasein, as Being-in-the-world, is as it is. This state of Being does not arise just because some entity is present-at-hand outside of Dasein and meets up with it. Such an entity can ‘meet up with’ Dasein only in so far as it can, of its own accord, show itself within a world. (Being and Time 12: 84)
As this passage makes clear, the Being-in dimension of Being-in-the-world cannot be thought of as a merely spatial relation in some sense that might be determined by a GPS device, since Dasein is never just present-at-hand within the world in the way demanded by that sort of spatial in-ness. Heidegger sometimes uses the term dwelling to capture the distinctive manner in which Dasein is in the world. To dwell in a house is not merely to be inside it spatially in the sense just canvassed. Rather, it is to belong there, to have a familiar place there. It is in this sense that Dasein is (essentially) in the world. (Heidegger will later introduce an existential notion of spatiality that does help to illuminate the sense in which Dasein is in the world. More on that below.) So now, what is the world such that Dasein (essentially) dwells in it? To answer this question we need to spend some time unpacking the Heideggerian concept of an ‘involvement’ (Bewandtnis).
The German term Bewandtnis is extremely difficult to translate in a way that captures all its native nuances (for discussion, see Tugendhat 1967; thanks to a reviewer for emphasizing this point). And things are made more complicated by the fact that, during his exposition, Heidegger freely employs a number of closely related notions, including ‘assignment’, ‘indication’ and ‘reference’. Nevertheless, what is clear is that Heidegger introduces the term that Macquarrie and Robinson translate as ‘involvement’ to express the roles that equipmental entities play—the ways in which they are involved—in Dasein's everyday patterns of activity. Crucially, for Heidegger, an involvement is not a stand-alone structure, but rather a link in a network of intelligibility that he calls a totality of involvements. Take the stock Heideggerian example: the hammer is involved in an act of hammering; that hammering is involved in making something fast; and that making something fast is involved in protecting the human agent against bad weather. Such totalities of involvements are the contexts of everyday equipmental practice. As such, they define equipmental entities, so the hammer is intelligible as what it is only with respect to the shelter and, indeed, all the other items of equipment to which it meaningfully relates in Dasein's everyday practices. This relational ontology generates what Brandom (1983, 391–3) calls Heidegger's ‘strong systematicity condition’, as given voice in Heidegger's striking claim that “[t]aken strictly, there ‘is’ no such thing as an equipment” (Being and Time, 15: 97). And this radical holism spreads, because once one begins to trace a path through a network of involvements, one will inevitably traverse vast regions of involvement-space. Thus links will be traced not only from hammers to hammering to making fast to protection against the weather, but also from hammers to pulling out nails to dismantling wardrobes to moving house. This behaviour will refer back to many other behaviours (packing, van-driving) and thus to many other items of equipment (large boxes, removal vans), and so on. The result is a large-scale holistic network of interconnected relational significance. Such networks constitute worlds, in one of Heidegger's key senses of the term—an ontical sense that he describes as having a pre-ontological signification (Being and Time 14: 93).
Before a second key sense of the Heideggerian notion of world is revealed, some important detail can be added to the emerging picture. Heidegger points out that involvements are not uniform structures. Thus I am currently working with a computer (a with-which), in the practical context of my office (an in-which), in order to write this encyclopedia entry (an in-order-to), which is aimed towards presenting an introduction to Heidegger's philosophy (a towards-this), for the sake of my academic work, that is, for the sake of my being an academic (a for-the-sake-of-which). The final involvement here, the for-the-sake-of-which, is crucial, because according to Heidegger all totalities of involvements have a link of this type at their base. This forges a connection between (i) the idea that each moment in Dasein's existence constitutes a branch-point at which it chooses a way to be, and (ii) the claim that Dasein's projects and possibilities are essentially bound up with the ways in which other entities may become intelligible. This is because every for-the-sake-of-which is the base structure of an equipment-defining totality of involvements and reflects a possible way for Dasein to be (an academic, a carpenter, a parent, or whatever). Moreover, given that entities are intelligible only within contexts of activity that, so to speak, arrive with Dasein, this helps to explain Heidegger's claim (Being and Time 16: 107) that, in encounters with entities, the world is something with which Dasein is always already familiar. Finally, it puts further flesh on the phenomenological category of the un-ready-to-hand. Thus when I am absorbed in trouble-free typing, the computer and the role that it plays in my academic activity are transparent aspects of my experience. But if the computer crashes, I become aware of it as an entity with which I was working in the practical context of my office, in order to write an encyclopedia entry aimed towards presenting an introduction to Heidegger's philosophy. And I become aware of the fact that my behaviour is being organized for the sake of my being an academic. So disturbances have the effect of exposing totalities of involvements and, therefore, worlds. (For a second way in which worlds are phenomenologically ‘lit up’, see Heidegger's analysis of signs (Being and Time 17:107–114); for discussion, see Dreyfus 1990, 100–2, Cappuccio and Wheeler 2010.)
As already indicated, Heidegger sometimes uses the expression ‘world’ in a different key sense, to designate what he calls the “ontologico-existential concept of worldhood” (Being and Time 14: 93). At this point in the existential analytic, worldhood is usefully identified as the abstract network mode of organizational configuration that is shared by all concrete totalities of involvements. We shall see, however, that as the hermeneutic spiral of the text unfolds, the notion of worldhood is subject to a series of reinterpretations until, finally, its deep structure gets played out in terms of temporality.
2.2.4 The Critique of Cartesianism
Having completed what we might think of as the first phase of the existential analytic, Heidegger uses its results to launch an attack on one of the front-line representatives of the tradition, namely Descartes. This is the only worked-through example in Being and Time itself of what Heidegger calls the destruction (Destruktion) of the Western philosophical tradition, a process that was supposed to be a prominent theme in the ultimately unwritten second part of the text. The aim is to show that although the tradition takes theoretical knowledge to be primary, such knowledge (the prioritization of which is an aspect of the ‘onticization’ of Being mentioned earlier) presupposes the more fundamental openness to Being that Heidegger has identified as an essential characteristic of Dasein.
According to Heidegger, Descartes presents the world to us “with its skin off” (Being and Time 20: 132), i.e., as a collection of present-at-hand entities to be encountered by subjects. The consequence of this prioritizing of the present-at-hand is that the subject needs to claw itself into a world of equipmental meaning by adding what Heidegger calls ‘value-predicates’ (context-dependent meanings) to the present-at-hand. In stark contrast, Heidegger's own view is that Dasein is in primary epistemic contact not with context-independent present-at-hand primitives (e.g., raw sense data, such as a ‘pure’ experience of a patch of red), to which context-dependent meaning would need to be added via value-predicates, but rather with equipment, the kind of entity whose mode of Being is readiness-to-hand and which therefore comes already laden with context-dependent significance. What is perhaps Heidegger's best statement of this opposition comes later in Being and Time.
What we ‘first’ hear is never noises or complexes of sounds, but the creaking waggon, the motor-cycle. We hear the column on the march, the north wind, the woodpecker tapping, the fire crackling… It requires a very artificial and complicated frame of mind to ‘hear’ a ‘pure noise’. The fact that motor-cycles and waggons are what we proximally hear is the phenomenal evidence that in every case Dasein, as Being-in-the-world, already dwells alongside what is ready-to-hand within-the-world; it certainly does not dwell proximally alongside ‘sensations’; nor would it first have to give shape to the swirl of sensations to provide a springboard from which the subject leaps off and finally arrives at a ‘world’. Dasein, as essentially understanding, is proximally alongside what is understood. (Being and Time 34: 207)
For Heidegger, then, we start not with the present-at-hand, moving to the ready-to-hand by adding value-predicates, but with the ready-to-hand, moving to the present-at-hand by stripping away the holistic networks of everyday equipmental meaning. It seems clear, then, that our two positions are diametrically opposed to each other, but why should we favour Heidegger's framework over Descartes'? Heidegger's flagship argument here is that the systematic addition of value-predicates to present-at-hand primitives cannot transform our encounters with those objects into encounters with equipment. It comes in the following brief but dense passage: “Adding on value-predicates cannot tell us anything at all new about the Being of goods, but would merely presuppose again that goods have pure presence-at-hand as their kind of Being. Values would then be determinate characteristics which a thing possesses, and they would be present-at-hand”(Being and Time 21: 132). In other words, once we have assumed that we begin with the present-at-hand, values must take the form of determinate features of objects, and therefore constitute nothing but more present-at-hand structures. And if you add more present-at-hand structures to some existing present-at-hand structures, what you end up with is not equipmental meaning (totalities of involvements) but merely a larger number of present-at-hand structures.
Heidegger's argument here is (at best) incomplete (for discussion, see Dreyfus 1990, Wheeler 2005). The defender of Cartesianism might concede that present-at-hand entities have determinate properties, but wonder why the fact that an entity has determinate properties is necessarily an indication of presence-at-hand. On this view, having determinate properties is necessary but not sufficient for an entity to be present-at-hand. More specifically, she might wonder why involvements cannot be thought of as determinate features that entities possess just when they are embedded in certain contexts of use. Consider for example the various involvements specified in the academic writing context described earlier. They certainly seem to be determinate, albeit context-relative, properties of the computer. Of course, the massively holistic character of totalities of involvements would make the task of specifying the necessary value-predicates (say, as sets of internal representations) incredibly hard, but it is unclear that it makes that task impossible. So it seems as if Heidegger doesn't really develop his case in sufficient detail. However, Dreyfus (1990) pursues a response that Heidegger might have given, one that draws on the familiar philosophical distinction between knowing-how and knowing-that. It seems that value-predicates constitute a form of knowing-that (i.e., knowing that an entity has a certain context-dependent property) whereas the circumspective knowledge of totalities of involvements (Dasein's skilled practical activity) constitutes a form of knowing-how (i.e., knowing how to use equipment in appropriate ways; see the characterization of readiness-to-hand given earlier). Given the plausible (although not universally held) assumption that knowing-how cannot be reduced to knowledge-that, this would explain why value-predicates are simply the wrong sort of structures to capture the phenomenon of world-embeddedness.
In the wake of his critique of Cartesianism, Heidegger turns his attention to spatiality. He argues that Dasein dwells in the world in a spatial manner, but that the spatiality in question—Dasein's existential spatiality—cannot be a matter of Dasein being located at a particular co-ordinate in physical, Cartesian space. That would be to conceive of Dasein as present-at-hand, and presence-at-hand is a mode of Being that can belong only to entities other than Dasein. According to Heidegger, the existential spatiality of Dasein is characterized most fundamentally by what he calls de-severance, a bringing close. “ ‘De-severing’ amounts to making the farness vanish—that is, making the remoteness of something disappear, bringing it close” (Being and Time: 23: 139). This is of course not a bringing close in the sense of reducing physical distance, although it may involve that. Heidegger's proposal is that spatiality as de-severance is in some way (exactly how is a matter of subtle interpretation; see e.g., Malpas 2006) intimately related to the ‘reach’ of Dasein's skilled practical activity. For example, an entity is ‘near by’ if it is readily available for some such activity, and ‘far away’ if it is not, whatever physical distances may be involved. Given the Dasein-world relationship highlighted above, the implication (drawn explicitly by Heidegger, see Being and Time 22: 136) is that the spatiality distinctive of equipmental entities, and thus of the world, is not equivalent to physical, Cartesian space. Equipmental space is a matter of pragmatically determined regions of functional places, defined by Dasein-centred totalities of involvements (e.g., an office with places for the computers, the photocopier, and so on—places that are defined by the way in which they make these equipmental entities available in the right sort of way for skilled activity). For Heidegger, physical, Cartesian space is possible as something meaningful for Dasein only because Dasein has de-severance as one of its existential characteristics. Given the intertwining of de-severance and equipmental space, this licenses the radical view (one that is consistent with Heidegger's prior treatment of Cartesianism) that physical, Cartesian space (as something that we can find intelligible) presupposes equipmental space; the former is the present-at-hand phenomenon that is revealed if we strip away the worldhood from the latter.
Malpas (forthcoming) rejects the account of spatiality given in Being and Time. Drawing on Kant, he argues that “[any] agent, insofar as it is capable of action at all (that is, insofar as it is, indeed, an agent), acts in a space that is an objective space, in which other agents also act, and yet which is always immediately configured subjectively in terms of the agent's own oriented locatedness” (Malpas forthcoming, 14). According to Malpas, then, equipmental space (a space ordered in terms of practical activity and within which an agent acts) presupposes a more fundamental notion of space as a complex unity with objective, intersubjective and subjective dimensions. If this is right, then of course equipmental space cannot itself explain the spatial. A further problem, as Malpas also notes, is that the whole issue of spatiality brings into sharp focus the awkward relationship that Heidegger has with the body in Being and Time. In what is now a frequently quoted remark, Heidegger sets aside Dasein's embodiment, commenting that “this ‘bodily nature’ hides a whole problematic of its own, though we shall not treat it here” (Being and Time 23: 143). Indeed, at times, Heidegger might be interpreted as linking embodiment with Thinghood. For example: “[as] Dasein goes along its ways, it does not measure off a stretch of space as a corporeal Thing which is present-at-hand” (Being and Time 23: 140). Here one might plausibly contain the spread of presence-at-hand by appealing to a distinction between material (present-at-hand) and lived (existential) ways in which Dasein is embodied. Unfortunately this distinction isn't made in Being and Time (a point noted by Ricoeur 1992, 327), although Heidegger does adopt it in the much later Seminar in Le Thor (see Malpas forthcoming, 5). What seems clear, however, is that while the Heidegger of Being and Time seems to hold that Dasein's embodiment somehow depends on its existential spatiality (see e.g., 23: 143), the more obvious thing to say is that Dasein's existential spatiality somehow depends on its embodiment.
Before leaving this issue, it is worth noting briefly that space reappears later in Being and Time (70: 418–21), where Heidegger argues that existential space is derived from temporality. This makes sense within Heidegger's overall project, because, as we shall see, the deep structure of totalities of involvements (and thus of equipmental space) is finally understood in terms of temporality. Nevertheless, and although the distinctive character of Heidegger's concept of temporality needs to be recognized, there is reason to think that the dependency here may well travel in the opposite direction. The worry, as Malpas (forthcoming, 26) again points out, has a Kantian origin. Kant (1781/1999) argued that the temporal character of inner sense is possible only because it is mediated by outer intuition whose form is space. If this is right, and if we can generalize appropriately, then the temporality that matters to Heidegger will be dependent on existential spatiality, and not the other way round. All in all, one is tempted to conclude that Heidegger's treatment of spatiality in Being and Time, and (relatedly) his treatment (or lack of it) of the body, face serious difficulties.
Heidegger turns next to the question of “who it is that Dasein is in its everydayness” (Being and Time, Introduction to IV: 149). He rejects the idea of Dasein as a Cartesian ‘I-thing’ (the Cartesian thinking thing conceived as a substance), since once again this would be to think of Dasein as present-at-hand. In searching for an alternative answer, Heidegger observes that equipment is often revealed to us as being for the sake of (the lives and projects of) other Dasein.
The boat anchored at the shore is assigned in its Being-in-itself to an acquaintance who undertakes voyages with it; but even if it is a ‘boat which is strange to us’, it still is indicative of Others. The Others who are thus ‘encountered’ in a ready-to-hand, environmental context of equipment, are not somehow added on in thought to some Thing which is proximally just present-at-hand; such ‘Things’ are encountered from out of a world in which they are ready-to-hand for Others—a world which is always mine too in advance. (Being and Time 26: 154)
On the basis of such observations, Heidegger argues that to be Dasein at all means to Be-with: “So far as Dasein is at all, it has Being-with-one-another as its kind of Being” (Being and Time 26: 163). One's immediate response to this might be that it is just false. After all, ordinary experience establishes that each of us is often alone. But of course Heidegger is thinking in an ontological register. Being-with (Mitsein) is thus the a priori transcendental condition that makes it possible that Dasein can discover equipment in this Other-related fashion. And it's because Dasein has Being-with as one of its essential modes of Being that everyday Dasein can experience being alone. Being-with is thus the a priori transcendental condition for loneliness.
It is important to understand what Heidegger means by ‘Others’, a term that he uses interchangeably with the more evocative ‘the “they” ’ (das Man). He explains:
By ‘Others’ we do not mean everyone else but me—those over against whom the ‘I’ stands out. They are rather those from whom, for the most part, one does not distinguish oneself—those among whom one is too… By reason of this with-like Being-in-the-world, the world is always the one that I share with Others. (Being and Time 26: 154–5)
A piece of data (cited by Dreyfus 1990) helps to illuminate this idea. Each society seems to have its own sense of what counts as an appropriate distance to stand from someone during verbal communication, and this varies depending on whether the other person is a lover, a friend, a colleague, or a business acquaintance, and on whether communication is taking place in noisy or quiet circumstances. Such standing-distance practices are of course normative, in that they involve a sense of what one should and shouldn't do. And the norms in question are culturally specific. So what this example illustrates is that the phenomenon of the Others, the ‘who’ of everyday Dasein, the group from whom for the most part I do not stand out, is my culture, understood not as the sum of all its members, but as an ontological phenomenon in its own right. This explains the following striking remark. “The ‘who’ is not this one, not that one, not oneself, not some people, and not the sum of them all. The ‘who’ is the neuter, the ‘they’ ” (Being and Time 27: 164). Another way to capture this idea is to say that what I do is determined largely by ‘what one does’, and ‘what one does’ is something that I absorb in various ways from my culture. Thus Dreyfus (1990) prefers to translate das Man not as ‘the “they” ’, but as ‘the one’.
This all throws important light on the phenomenon of world, since we can now see that the crucial for-the-sake-of-which structure that stands at the base of each totality of involvements is culturally and historically conditioned. The specific ways in which I behave for the sake of being an academic are what one does if one wants to be considered a good academic, at this particular time, in this particular historically embedded culture (carrying out research, tutoring students, giving lectures, and so on). As Heidegger himself puts the point: “Dasein is for the sake of the ‘they’ in an everyday manner, and the ‘they’ itself articulates the referential context of significance” (Being and Time 27: 167). Worlds (the referential context of significance, networks of involvements) are then culturally and historically conditioned, from which several things seem to follow. First, Dasein's everyday world is, in the first instance, and of its very essence, a shared world. Second, Being-with and Being-in-the-world are, if not equivalent, deeply intertwined. And third, the sense in which worlds are Dasein-dependent involves some sort of cultural relativism, although, as we shall see later, this final issue is one that needs careful interpretative handling.
Critics of the manner in which Heidegger develops the notion of Being-with have often focussed, albeit in different ways, on the thought that Heidegger either ignores or misconceives the fundamental character of our social existence by passing over its grounding in direct interpersonal interaction (see e.g., Löwith 1928, Binswanger 1943/1964, Gallagher and Jacobson forthcoming). From this perspective, the equipmentally mediated discovery of others that Heidegger sometimes describes (see above) is at best a secondary process that reveals other people only to the extent that they are relevant to Dasein's practical projects. Moreover, Olafson (1987) argues that although Heidegger's account clearly involves the idea that Dasein discovers socially shared equipmental meaning (which then presumably supports the discovery of other Dasein along with equipment), that account fails to explain why this must be the case. Processes of direct interpersonal contact (e.g., in learning the use of equipment from others) might plausibly fill this gap. The obvious move for Heidegger to make here is to claim that the processes that the critics find to be missing from his account, although genuine, are not a priori, transcendental structures of Dasein. Rather, they are psychological factors that enable (in a ‘merely’ developmental or causal way) human beings to realize the phenomenon of Being-with (see e.g., Heidegger's response to the existentialist psychologist and therapist Binswanger in the Zollikon seminars, and see Dreyfus 1990, chapter 8, for a response to Olafson that exploits this point). However, one might wonder whether it is plausible to relegate the social processes in question to the status of ‘mere’ enabling factors (Gallagher and Jacobson forthcoming; Pöggeler 1989 might be read as making a similar complaint). If not, then Heidegger's notion of Being-with is at best an incomplete account of our social Being.
The introduction of the ‘they’ is followed by a further layer of interpretation in which Heidegger understands Being-in-the-world in terms of (what he calls) thrownness, projection and fallen-ness, and (interrelatedly) in terms of Dasein as a dynamic combination of disposedness, understanding and fascination with the world. In effect, this is a reformulation of the point that Dasein is the having-to-be-open, i.e., that it is an a priori structure of our existential constitution that we operate with the capacity to take-other-beings-as. Dasein's existence (ek-sistence) is thus now to be understood by way of an interconnected pair of three-dimensional unitary structures: thrownness-projection-fallen-ness and disposedness-understanding-fascination. Each of these can be used to express the “formally existential totality of Dasein's ontological structural whole” (Being and Time 42: 237), a phenomenon that Heidegger also refers to as disclosedness or care. Crucially, it is with the configuration of care that we encounter the first tentative emergence of temporality as a theme in Being and Time, since the dimensionality of care will ultimately be interpreted in terms of the three temporal dimensions: past (thrownness/disposedness), future (projection/understanding), and present (fallen-ness/fascination).
As Dasein, I ineluctably find myself in a world that matters to me in some way or another. This is what Heidegger calls thrownness (Geworfenheit), a having-been-thrown into the world. ‘Disposedness’ is Kisiel's (2002) translation of Befindlichkeit, a term rendered somewhat infelicitously by Macquarrie and Robinson as ‘state-of-mind’. Disposedness is the receptiveness (the just finding things mattering to one) of Dasein, which explains why Richardson (1963) renders Befindlichkeit as ‘already-having-found-oneself-there-ness’. To make things less abstract, we can note that disposedness is the a priori transcendental condition for, and thus shows up pre-ontologically in, the everyday phenomenon of mood (Stimmung). According to Heidegger's analysis, I am always in some mood or other. Thus say I'm depressed, such that the world opens up (is disclosed) to me as a sombre and gloomy place. I might be able to shift myself out of that mood, but only to enter a different one, say euphoria or lethargy, a mood that will open up the world to me in a different way. As one might expect, Heidegger argues that moods are not inner subjective colourings laid over an objectively given world (which at root is why ‘state-of-mind’ is a potentially misleading translation of Befindlichkeit, given that this term names the underlying a priori condition for moods). For Heidegger, moods (and disposedness) are aspects of what it means to be in a world at all, not subjective additions to that in-ness. Here it is worth noting that some aspects of our ordinary linguistic usage reflect this anti-subjectivist reading. Thus we talk of being in a mood rather than a mood being in us, and we have no problem making sense of the idea of public moods (e.g., the mood of a crowd). In noting these features of moods we must be careful, however. It would be a mistake to conclude from them that moods are external, rather than internal, states. A mood “comes neither from ‘outside’ nor from ‘inside’, but arises out of Being-in-the-world, as a way of such being” (Being and Time 29: 176). Nevertheless, the idea that moods have a social character does point us towards a striking implication of Heidegger's overall framework: with Being-in-the-world identified previously as a kind of cultural co-embeddedness, it follows that the repertoire of world-disclosing moods in which I might find myself will itself be culturally conditioned. (For recent philosophical work that builds, in part, on Heidegger's treatment of moods, in order to identify and understand certain affective phenomena—dubbed ‘existential feelings’—that help us to understand various forms of psychiatric illness, see Ratcliffe 2008.)
Dasein confronts every concrete situation in which it finds itself (into which it has been thrown) as a range of possibilities for acting (onto which it may project itself). Insofar as some of these possibilities are actualized, others will not be, meaning that there is a sense in which not-Being (a set of unactualized possibilities of Being) is a structural component of Dasein's Being. Out of this dynamic interplay, Dasein emerges as a delicate balance of determination (thrownness) and freedom (projection). The projective possibilities available to Dasein are delineated by totalities of involvements, structures that, as we have seen, embody the culturally conditioned ways in which Dasein may inhabit the world. Understanding is the process by which Dasein projects itself onto such possibilities. Crucially, understanding as projection is not conceived, by Heidegger, as involving, in any fundamental way, conscious or deliberate forward-planning. Projection “has nothing to do with comporting oneself towards a plan that has been thought out” (Being and Time 31: 185). The primary realization of understanding is as skilled activity in the domain of the ready-to-hand, but it can be manifested as interpretation, when Dasein explicitly takes something as something (e.g., in cases of disturbance), and also as linguistic assertion, when Dasein uses language to attribute a definite character to an entity as a mere present-at-hand object. (NB: assertion of the sort indicated here is of course just one linguistic practice among many; it does not in any way exhaust the phenomenon of language or its ontological contribution.) Another way of putting the point that culturally conditioned totalities of involvements define the space of Dasein's projection onto possibilities is to say that such totalities constitute the fore-structures of Dasein's practices of understanding and interpretation, practices that, as we have just seen, are projectively oriented manifestations of the taking-as activity that forms the existential core of Dasein's Being. What this tells us is that the hermeneutic circle is the “essential fore-structure of Dasein itself” (Being and Time 32: 195).
Thrownness and projection provide two of the three dimensions of care. The third is fallen-ness. “Dasein has, in the first instance, fallen away from itself as an authentic potentiality for Being its Self, and has fallen into the world” (Being and Time 38: 220). Such fallen-ness into the world is manifested in idle talk (roughly, conversing in a critically unexamined and unexamining way about facts and information while failing to use language to reveal their relevance), curiosity (a search for novelty and endless stimulation rather than belonging or dwelling), and ambiguity (a loss of any sensitivity to the distinction between genuine understanding and superficial chatter). Each of these aspects of fallen-ness involves a closing off or covering up of the world (more precisely, of any real understanding of the world) through a fascination with it. What is crucial here is that this world-obscuring process of fallen-ness/fascination, as manifested in idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity, is to be understood as Dasein's everyday mode of Being-with. In its everyday form, Being-with exhibits what Heidegger calls levelling or averageness—a “Being-lost in the publicness of the ‘they’ ” (Being and Time 38: 220). Here, in dramatic language, is how he makes the point.
In utilizing public means of transport and in making use of information services such as the newspaper, every Other is like the next. This Being-with-one-another dissolves one's own Dasein completely into a kind of Being of ‘the Others’, in such a way, indeed, that the Others, as distinguishable and explicit, vanish more and more. In this inconspicuousness and unascertainability, the real dictatorship of the ‘they’ is unfolded. We take pleasure and enjoy ourselves as they take pleasure; we read, see, and judge about literature and art as they see and judge; likewise we shrink back from the ‘great mass’ as they shrink back; we find ‘shocking’ what they find shocking. The ‘they’, which is nothing definite, and which all are, though not as the sum, prescribes the kind of Being of everydayness. (Being and Time 27: 164)
This analysis opens up a path to Heidegger's distinction between the authentic self and its inauthentic counterpart. At root, ‘authentic’ means ‘my own’. So the authentic self is the self that is mine (leading a life that, in a sense to be explained, is owned by me), whereas the inauthentic self is the fallen self, the self lost to the ‘they’. Hence we might call the authentic self the ‘mine-self’, and the inauthentic self the ‘they-self’, the latter term also serving to emphasize the point that fallen-ness is a mode of the self, not of others. Moreover, as a mode of the self, fallen-ness is not an accidental feature of Dasein, but rather part of Dasein's existential constitution. It is a dimension of care, which is the Being of Dasein. So, in the specific sense that fallen-ness (the they-self) is an essential part of our Being, we are ultimately each to blame for our own inauthenticity (Sheehan 2002). Of course, one shouldn't conclude from all this talk of submersion in the ‘they’ that a state of authenticity is to be achieved by re-establishing some version of a self-sufficient individual subject. As Heidegger puts it: “Authentic Being-one's-Self does not rest upon an exceptional condition of the subject, a condition that has been detached from the ‘they’; it is rather an existentiell modification of the ‘they’ ” (Being and Time 27: 168). So authenticity is not about being isolated from others, but rather about finding a different way of relating to others such that one is not lost to the they-self. It is in Division 2 of Being and Time that authenticity, so understood, becomes a central theme.
2.3 Division 2
As the argument of Being and Time continues its ever-widening hermeneutic spiral into Division 2 of the text, Heidegger announces a twofold transition in the analysis. He argues that we should (i) pay proper heed to the thought that to understand Dasein we need to understand Dasein's existence as a whole, and (ii) shift the main focus of our attention from the inauthentic self (the they-self) to the authentic self (the mine-self) (Being and Time 45: 276). Both of these transitions figure in Heidegger's discussion of death.
So far, Dasein's existence has been understood as thrown projection plus falling. The projective aspect of this phenomenon means that, at each moment of its life, Dasein is Being-ahead-of-itself, oriented towards the realm of its possibilities, and is thus incomplete. Death completes Dasein's existence. Therefore, an understanding of Dasein's relation to death would make an essential contribution to our understanding of Dasein as a whole. But now a problem immediately presents itself: since one cannot experience one's own death, it seems that the kind of phenomenological analysis that has hitherto driven the argument of Being and Time breaks down, right at the crucial moment. One possible response to this worry, canvassed explicitly by Heidegger, is to suggest that Dasein understands death through experiencing the death of others. However, the sense in which we experience the death of others falls short of what is needed. We mourn departed others and miss their presence in the world. But that is to experience Being-with them as dead, which is a mode of our continued existence. As Heidegger explains:
The greater the phenomenal appropriateness with which we take the no-longer-Dasein of the deceased, the more plainly is it shown that in such Being-with the dead, the authentic Being-come-to-and-end of the deceased is precisely the sort of thing which we do not experience. Death does indeed reveal itself as a loss, but a loss such as is experienced by those who remain. In suffering this loss, however, we have no way of access to the loss-of-Being as such which the dying man ‘suffers’. The dying of Others is not something which we experience in a genuine sense; at most we are always just ‘there alongside’. (Being and Time 47: 282)
What we don't have, then, is phenomenological access to the loss of Being that the dead person has suffered. But that, it seems, is precisely what we would need in order to carry through the favoured analysis. So another response is called for. Heidegger's move is to suggest that although Dasein cannot experience its own death as actual, it can relate towards its own death as a possibility that is always before it—always before it in the sense that Dasein's own death is inevitable. Peculiarly among Dasein's possibilities, the possibility of Dasein's own death must remain only a possibility, since once it becomes actual, Dasein is no longer. Death is thus the “possibility of the impossibility of any existence at all” (Being and Time 53: 307). And it is this awareness of death as an omnipresent possibility that cannot become actual that stops the phenomenological analysis from breaking down. The detail here is crucial. What the failure of the ‘death of others’ strategy indicates is that in each instance death is inextricably tied to some specific individual Dasein. My death is mine in a radical sense; it is the moment at which all my relations to others disappear. Heidegger captures this non-relationality by using the term ‘ownmost’. And it is the idea of death “as that possibility which is one's ownmost” (Being and Time 50: 294) that engages the second transition highlighted above. When I take on board the possibility of my own not-Being, my own being-able-to-Be is brought into proper view. Hence my awareness of my own death as an omnipresent possibility discloses the authentic self (a self that is mine). Moreover, the very same awareness engages the first of the aforementioned transitions too: there is a sense in which the possibility of my not existing encompasses the whole of my existence (Hinman 1978, 201), and my awareness of that possibility illuminates me, qua Dasein, in my totality. Indeed, my own death is revealed to me as inevitable, meaning that Dasein is essentially finite. This explains why Heidegger says that death is disclosed to Dasein as a possibility which is “not to be outstripped” (Being and Time 50: 294).
Heidegger's account of Dasein's relation towards the possibility of its own not-Being forms the backbone of a reinterpretation of the phenomenon of care—the “formally existential totality of Dasein's ontological structural whole” (Being and Time 42: 237). Care is now interpreted in terms of Being-towards-death, meaning that Dasein has an internal relation to the nothing (i.e., to not-being; see Vallega-Neu 2003, 21, for an analysis that links this ‘not’ quality to the point made earlier that sets of unactualized possibilities of Being are structural components of Dasein's Being). As one might expect, Heidegger argues that Being-towards-death not only has the three-dimensional character of care, but is realized in authentic and inauthentic modes. Let's begin with the authentic mode. We can think of the aforementioned individualizing effect of Dasein's awareness of the possibility of its own not-Being (an awareness that illuminates its own being-able-to-Be) as an event in which Dasein projects onto a possible way to be, in the technical sense of such possibilities introduced earlier in Being and Time. It is thus an event in which Dasein projects onto a for-the-sake-of-which, a possible way to be. More particularly, given the authentic character of the phenomenon, it is an event in which Dasein projects onto a for-the-sake-of-itself. Heidegger now coins the term anticipation to express the form of projection in which one looks forward to a possible way to be. Given the analysis of death as a possibility, the authentic form of projection in the case of death is anticipation. Indeed Heidegger often uses the term anticipation in a narrow way, simply to mean being aware of death as a possibility. But death is disclosed authentically not only in projection (the first dimension of care) but also in thrownness (the second dimension). The key phenomenon here is the mode of disposedness that Heidegger calls anxiety. Anxiety, at least in the form in which Heidegger is interested, is not directed towards some specific object, but rather opens up the world to me in a certain distinctive way. When I am anxious I am no longer at home in the world. I fail to find the world intelligible. Thus there is an ontological sense (one to do with intelligibility) in which I am not in the world, and the possibility of a world without me (the possibility of my not-Being-in-the-world) is revealed to me. “[The] state-of-mind [mode of disposedness] which can hold open the utter and constant threat to itself arising from Dasein's ownmost individualized Being, is anxiety. In this state-of-mind, Dasein finds itself face to face with the ‘nothing’ of the possible impossibility of its existence” (Being and Time 53: 310). Heidegger has now reinterpreted two of the three dimensions of care, in the light of Dasein's essential finitude. But now what about the third dimension, identified previously as fallen-ness? Since we are presently considering a mode of authentic, i.e., not fallen, Dasein, it seems that fallen-ness cannot be a feature of this realization of care, and indeed that a general reformulation of the care structure is called for in order to allow for authentic Being. This is an issue that will be addressed in the next section. First, though, the inauthentic form of Being-towards-death needs to be brought into view.
In everyday Being-towards-death, the self that figures in the for-the-sake-of-itself structure is not the authentic mine-self, but rather the inauthentic they-self. In effect, the ‘they’ obscures our awareness of the meaning of our own deaths by de-individualizing death. As Heidegger explains: in “Dasein's public way of interpreting, it is said that ‘one dies’, because everyone else and oneself can talk himself into saying that ‘in no case is it I myself’, for this ‘one’ is the ‘nobody’ ” (Being and Time 51: 297). In this way, everyday Dasein flees from the meaning of its own death, in a manner determined by the ‘they’. It is in this evasion in the face of death, interpreted as a further way in which Dasein covers up Being, that everyday Dasein's fallen-ness now manifests itself. To be clear: evasion here does not necessarily mean that I refuse outright to acknowledge that I will someday die. After all, as I might say, ‘everyone dies’. However, the certainty of death achieved by idle talk of this kind is of the wrong sort. One might think of it as established by the conclusion of some sort of inductive inference from observations of many cases of death (the deaths of many others). But “we cannot compute the certainty of death by ascertaining how many cases of death we encounter” (Being and Time 53: 309).
The certainty brought into view by such an inference is a sort of empirical certainty, one which conceals the apodictic character of the inevitability with which my own death is authentically revealed to me (Being and Time 52: 301). In addition, as we have seen, according to Heidegger, my own death can never be actual for me, so viewed from my perspective, any case of death, i.e., any actual death, cannot be my death. Thus it must be a death that belongs to someone else, or rather, to no one.
Inauthenticity in relation to death is also realized in thrownness, through fear, and in projection, through expectation. Fear, as a mode of disposedness, can disclose only particular oncoming events in the world. To fear my own death, then, is once again to treat my death as a case of death. This contrasts with anxiety, the form of disposedness which, as we have seen, discloses my death via the awareness of the possibility of a world in which I am not. The projective analogue to the fear-anxiety distinction is expectation-anticipation. A mundane example might help to illustrate the generic idea. When I expect a beer to taste a certain way, I am waiting for an actual event—a case of that distinctive taste in my mouth—to occur. By contrast, when I anticipate the taste of that beer, one might say that, in a cognitive sense, I actively go out to meet the possibility of that taste. In so doing, I make it mine. Expecting death is thus to wait for a case of death, whereas to anticipate death is to own it.
In reinterpreting care in terms of Being-towards-death, Heidegger illuminates in a new way the taking-as structure that, as we have seen, he takes to be the essence of human existence. Human beings, as Dasein, are essentially finite. And it is this finitude that explains why the phenomenon of taking-as is an essential characteristic of our existence. An infinite Being would understand things directly, without the need for interpretative intercession. We, however, are Dasein, and in our essential finitude we must understand things in a hermeneutically mediated, indirect way, that is, by taking-as (Sheehan 2001).
What are we to make of Heidegger's analysis of death? Perhaps the most compelling reason for being sceptical can be found in Sartre, who argued that just as death cannot be actual for me, it cannot be one of my possibilities either, at least if the term ‘possibility’ is understood, as Heidegger surely intends it to be, as marking a way of my Being, an intelligible way for me to be. Sartre argues that death is the end of such possibilities. Thus:
[The] perpetual appearance of chance at the heart of my projects cannot be apprehended as my possibility but, on the contrary, as the nihilation of all my possibilities. A nihilation which itself is no longer a part of my possibilities. Thus death is not my possibility of no longer realizing a presence in the world but rather an always possible nihilation of my possibilities which is outside my possibilities. (Sartre 1956, 537)
If Sartre is right, there is a significant hole in Heidegger's project, since we would be left without a way of completing the phenomenological analysis of Dasein.
For further debate over Heidegger's handling of death, see Edwards' (1975, 1976, 2004) unsympathetic broadsides alongside Hinman's (1978) robust response. Carel (2006) develops an analysis that productively connects Heidegger's and Freud's accounts of death, despite Heidegger's open antipathy towards Freud's theories in general.
2.3.2 Anticipatory Resoluteness
In some of the most difficult sections of Being and Time, Heidegger now begins to close in on the claim that temporality is the ontological meaning of Dasein's Being as care. The key notion here is that of anticipatory resoluteness, which Heidegger identifies as an (or perhaps the) authentic mode of care. As we have seen, anticipation is the form of Being-towards in which one looks forward to a possible way to be. Bringing resoluteness into view requires further groundwork that begins with Heidegger's reinterpretation of the authentic self in terms of the phenomenon of conscience or Being-guilty. The authentic self is characterized by Being-guilty. This does not mean that authenticity requires actually feeling guilty. Rather, the authentic self is the one who is open to the call of conscience. The inauthentic self, by contrast, is closed to conscience and guilt. It is tempting to think that this is where Heidegger does ethics. However, guilt as an existential structure is not to be understood as some psychological feeling that one gets when one transgresses some moral code. If the term ‘guilt’ is to be heard in an ethical register at all, the phenomenon of Being-guilty will, for Heidegger, be the a priori condition for there to be moral codes, not the psychological result of transgressions of those codes. Having said that, however, it may be misleading to adopt an ethical register here. For Heidegger, conscience is fundamentally a disclosive rather than an ethical phenomenon. What is more important for the project of Being and Time, then, is the claim that the call of conscience interrupts Dasein's everyday fascination with entities by summoning Dasein back to its own finitude and thereby to authenticity. To see how the call of conscience achieves this, we need to unpack Heidegger's reformulation of conscience in terms of anticipatory resoluteness.
In the by-now familiar pattern, Heidegger argues that conscience (Being-guilty) has the structure of care. However, there's now a modification to the picture, presumably driven by a factor mentioned earlier, namely that authentic Dasein is not fallen. Since conscience is a mode of authentic Dasein, fallen-ness cannot be one of the dimensions of conscience. So the three elements of care are now identified as projection, thrownness and discourse
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Death, Faith & Existentialism
Filiz Peach explains what two of the greatest existentialist thinkers thought about death: Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers.
Death has been discussed comprehensively by very few philosophers. Those who have dealt with it offer their views mostly on the awareness of death. Indeed, the only knowledge we have regarding death itself is that it is an inevitable universal event. We all know that we will die, and sooner or later most of us confront the reality of our own mortality. Let us look at the changing attitudes towards death over time, and then turn to the significance of death from two existential perspectives: Martin Heidegger’s and Karl Jaspers’.
I would like to say a few words, however briefly and simply, about the popularly-held religious view of the significance of death. This will provide a good contrast with Heidegger’s and Jaspers’ views. According to this view, a person’s death is not seen as the end because the soul is regarded as immortal. In the mediaeval period, for example, the soul was regarded as the ‘form’ of the body and the two were seen in natural unity. This unity is broken up at the moment of death when the body perishes, whereas the soul continues to exist in one form or another. Some of the most important, though by no means universal, tenets of this commonly held religious view are:
• Man’s being is non-finite in that existence continues beyond death both bodily and spiritually, however not as a disembodied soul.
• What comes after death is valued higher than ‘being-inthe- world’ here and now.
• Belief in resurrection and judgement by God is closely tied up with the significance of the individual’s actions during his lifetime. After death the individual’s life is judged, the good are rewarded and the bad are punished.
• There are two specific forms of existence after death, namely peaceful existence in heaven or suffering in hell.
In the West, with the growth of scientific knowledge, particularly from the 17th century onwards, man’s intellectual interest shifted towards science and technology. The creator, the creation of the universe and man’s central position as maintained by theology were questioned, and religious faith began to decline. The weakening of religious beliefs changed man’s outlook concerning his idea of death and its significance. Increasingly, the focus switched to life ‘here and now’ as man became more preoccupied with the material side of the world at the expense of the spiritual.
With the existential-phenomenological approach to death, man’s being-in-the-world, his alienation from himself and the acceptance of his finitude in the face of death have become primary philosophical concerns.
Heidegger’s Analysis of Death
Now, let us look at Heidegger’s view on death. It is interesting to note that Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was brought up and schooled within the traditional religious framework and yet this framework seems to be discarded in Being and Time. In fact, there is no explicit reference to God in this work. Although Heidegger’s analysis indicates a radical break with the traditional view, some of his concepts point to some religious ideas, for example ‘fallenness’, ‘thrownness’, ‘guilt’, etc. Heidegger gave new significance to the meaning of death in his ontological inquiry in Being and Time. He asks what it means for any entity to be, and gives an existential analysis of Dasein (his term for human existence). According to Heidegger, the Being of human beings can be established on a purely phenomenological basis without reference to a deity or the concept of immortality.
Heidegger’s analysis of death is not concerned with how people feel when they are about to die nor with death as a biological event. Its focus is on the existential significance which this certain ‘yet-to-come’ death has to human life, i.e. to Dasein’s being-in-the-world. For Heidegger, understanding the phenomenon of death involves grasping the Being of Dasein as a whole. If Dasein is understood existentially as a possibility, then it becomes clear that Dasein’s authentic Being in its totality is ‘Being-towards-death’. Through facing death, Dasein understands what it means to be. This reflective process is the crux of Heidegger’s analysis of death. In order to clarify his views on the existential conception of death, Heidegger distinguishes between two basic forms of Being: authentic and inauthentic Being.
In the everyday mode of being, Dasein interprets the phenomenon of death as an event constantly occurring in the world. It is a ‘case’ that happens to others. The general comment is “One of these days one will die too, in the end; but right now it has nothing to do with us.” Dying remains anonymous and it has no connection with the ‘I’.
Facing one’s own death is radically different from being concerned with the death of others. My own death means the end of my possibilities, the total disintegration and the end of my world. The fear of my own death comes from the fear of my extinction as a human being. This causes me a great deal of anxiety. I may be able to face other people’s death but may find it virtually impossible to come to terms with my own death. Heidegger says Dasein cannot experience its own death. As long as Dasein exists, it is not complete, that is, there are still some of its possibilities outstanding. If, however, Dasein dies, then it is ‘no-longerthere’.
How, then, does Dasein break through the mode of fallenness and lift itself up to authenticity? Heidegger’s answer to this question is: through ‘Being-towards-death’. Rising to authenticity can be achieved, says Heidegger, through a particular state-of-mind: dread (Angst). Dread is a mood which enables Dasein first to turn away from itself and then to be thrown back to confront itself. In order to achieve this, one has to transcend one’s everyday inauthentic mode of Being. Heidegger says dread is necessary for Dasein to grasp its existential freedom and his possibilities. Death is existentially significant when one perceives one’s existence in the light of Being, not if it is merely taken as an empirical event that will happen someday. According to Heidegger, this analysis enables us to have an understanding of our finitude, and this awareness makes authentic existence possible. Heidegger does not give an explanation of death itself but offers a phenomenology of our relationship to death. His philosophy is thoughtful but gloomy. His account of death portrays a no-hope mode of Being and he has often been criticised for this.
Jaspers’ Notion of Death
Turning to Jaspers’ approach to death, we will find that it is quite different from Heidegger’s view. First of all, unlike Heidegger, Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) does not impose an ontological structure upon human beings. Secondly, his break with the traditional view of death is not so radical. Jaspers offers a possibility for Existenz to merge into Transcendence, ultimate reality. This does not necessarily suggest personal immortality nor does it imply total annihilation. Although Jaspers’ views on death are not considered to be religious, certain existential concepts such as Existenz, Transcendence and Being remind us of religious concepts but under different terminology.
It might be useful here to give a brief description of Jaspers’ key philosophical terms, namely Dasein and Existenz. According to Jaspers, Dasein is a mode of Being which manifests itself as the empirical self with a temporal dimension. It is a part of the world but cannot be understood as an object in isolation. Existenz, however, is the true, non-objective and free self that transcends time. As it is not an objective entity it is not accessible to empirical inquiry. Since authentic existence is very difficult to achieve, and man often falls back into his empirical existence, Existenz remains mostly as a possibility. Jaspers’ Dasein is quite different from Heidegger’s Dasein in that the latter cannot transcend its finitude.
In order to understand Jaspers’ views on death we must first bear in mind that according to Jaspers we are always in situations. This is an inevitable condition of man’s existence. Secondly, there are four major ‘boundary situations’ (those situations which threaten our sense of security and the foundation of our existence) of which the most important is death because it signifies the end of man’s ‘being-in-theworld’. Jaspers distinguishes between two different meanings of death. Death is perceived as either the ceasing of existence as an objective fact or as a specific boundary situation. Put simply, the fact of death is very different from death as a boundary situation. Facing one’s own death is a specific boundary situation and it is personal because Existenz convinces itself that Dasein – the basis of its empirical existence, ie the bodily existence – is temporal and transient and has to come to an end. Despite the end of one’s empirical being, Existenz itself is not subject to death. As Existenz we are concerned with the significance of death and how we relate to it. We know that we have to face up to nothingness as there is no return for Dasein and we have to come to terms with this.
As Existenz, one grasps Dasein’s finitude through the constant presence of potential death and the concrete reality and necessity of it. One knows that one has to face death with dignity, accept it and come to terms with it. Jaspers says that the boundary situation of death suggests that anything we do as possible Existenz in existence has to be ‘in view of death’. In a sense, life becomes a continuous process of learning to die.
Jaspers says that when the death of the person one loved occurs life may become a lonely worldly existence for the one who stays behind. The grief and pain we feel lead us to hopelessness and may take us into the boundary situation of death. Although death destroys the loved one phenomenally, existential communication is preserved, it is eternal.
Jaspers goes on to say that human beings understand the inevitability of their future deaths and the concept of nonbeing. Man thinks that as long as he is alive he cannot experience his own death, and once he ceases to be alive he cannot experience it either – a typical Epicurean argument!. So, the experience of one’s own death seems an impossibility. As a result, he does not perceive death as cause for concern. He ignores his possible Existenz and clings on to his worldly activities. Alternatively, Dasein may ignore its everyday existence entirely and hide within its nihilistic or mystical realm. This would be another way of avoiding boundary situations. Thus, if man cannot face up to death existentially, he either preoccupies himself with worldly things or escapes into a mystical realm.
The Problems of Immortality
There is a widely held belief that existence continues in some other form after death. This belief is generally connected with religious faith or personal ‘psychic’ experiences. The individual is able to get rid of the terror of facing death through his belief. Jaspers thinks that the temporal continuity of Dasein in any form is absurd. He says that in this situation ‘the horror of not being’ is lost and ‘true dying’ ceases. This, in turn, stops man from seeking his true self. I think there are some problems to be addressed here. Firstly, Jaspers assumes that any belief in immortality of human beings is unfounded and false. There is indeed no conclusive evidence – scientific or otherwise – to indicate that there is any kind of existence beyond death. This belief is based on faith. By the same token, some of the Jaspersian notions such as Existenz, Transcendence and Being are also based on faith, philosophical faith but faith nonetheless. Some of Jaspers’ concepts are not describable, demonstrable or, some would claim, not comprehensible. Yet Jaspers himself based his whole philosophy on these concepts and believed in them wholeheartedly. In theory, his basis for his belief is not much different from the basis of the belief of those individuals who believe in immortality. The only difference is that Jaspers argues his case a lot better and more systematically.
Secondly, according to Jaspers, the individual’s ‘unfounded belief’ in immortality stops man from seeking his true self. I would argue that human beings understand the horror of the experience of death whatever their belief is. However much they may believe in immortality, when they come face to face with death sooner or later they may still feel despair. In the face of death no belief can guarantee the individual a sense of relief or a sense of ‘exemption’ so to speak.
Furthermore, it is not impossible for a human being to seek her true self and actually transcend her physical being within the framework of her own belief system, whether it is theological or philosophical. For example, the Sufis do not need boundary situations in order to transcend their worldly being and become one with the totality, ie God. They are able to find the true self within themselves by achieving higher levels of consciousness and dissolving themselves into that Being. The meaning of death for the Sufi is returning of the consciousness to the universal totality and being One with the Deity. The physical body decays and disintegrates at death but the individual consciousness is absorbed in this ultimate reality and returns to its original source which is infinite and eternal. This concept is not much different from Jaspers’ Existenz merging into Transcendence, ultimate reality.
We have seen that the 20th century existential view of death is significantly different from the traditional view. However, in the analyses of both Heidegger and Jaspers there is a hint of religious notions. Certain existential concepts such as fallenness, call of conscience, guilt, Transcendence, Being and Existenz all point to theological conceptions in secular guise. With the traditional view, death signifies the end of our being on which judgement will be passed and on which the possibility of a higher form of being depends. This very point has been taken up by both Heidegger and Jaspers. Heidegger is silent on any possibility of transcending the finitude of Dasein; human beings are inherent in the world and authentic existence within the world is emphasised. Jaspers, however, develops a concept of transcending death, not as a person or Dasein but as Existenz. I think this is a transworldly correspondence to the traditional view of death.
Having looked at the significance of death from different perspectives, it is reasonable to assume that it will continue to take different forms in accordance with people’s world views. At the present time there is a general scepticism about the possibility of life after death. The traditional concepts of reward and punishment by God do not seem to be relevant today to many people. We know we must all die but we are not certain that contemporary scientists are correct in maintaining that consciousness must discontinue with the bodily death. We know that the concepts of physics have changed. On the one hand, we may believe but cannot prove that scientists have sufficient knowledge about the nature of things to assert that survival in some form is impossible. On the other hand, we may be convinced, but similarly cannot prove, that certain phenomena indicate that survival is possible. A belief in survival provides a universal comfort and reassurance but since knowledge of ultimate things cannot be attained by mere reasoning, such belief, as Jaspers would be the first to agree, has to be based on an act of faith.
© Filiz Peach 2000
Filiz Peach is working on a PhD on Existentialist perspectives on death. She lives in London.