HEIDEGGER ON BEING

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Document status: June 4, 2003

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HEIDEGGER ON BEING

From Heidegger

Being is not an entity – “what is the being of entities?” – and in this way not definable

We live in understanding of being, yet its meaning is cloaked in darkness… this requires us to face the question of [the meaning of being]

It is Dasein that can and does ask: “What is [the meaning of] being?”

This entity which each of us is and includes inquiring as a possibility of its being, denote by ‘Dasein

The question’s occurrence implies at least vague understanding – we cannot ask a question about a subject of which we have no awareness

There is no circularity in the question, for time is the horizon for understanding / interpretation / meaning

Ontology must clarify the meaning of Being

Every ontology is blind to its own aim if it has not first clarified the meaning of being and conceived this clarification as its fundamental task

Dasein takes priorities over all other entities in several ways:

It’s being has the determinate character of existence – is ontical

Existence is determinative for it – the ontological character

As constitutive for its understanding of existence, it possesses an understanding of the being of all entities of a character other than its own – the ontico-ontological condition for the possibility of any ontologies

Preliminarily, the following is a selection / paraphrase from the introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, Charles Guignon, ed., Cambridge University Press, 1993

Introductory part to the Introduction to the Cambridge Companion

We go beyond Heidegger’s realism and beyond knowledge as object knowledge [object knowledge includes description, representation, and presentation.]

Heidegger’s ambition: rejuvenate Western Philosophy to recover a clearer richer ontology… by clearing away the rubbish, i.e. substance ontology and related confusions, accumulated since 2500 BC in the tradition from Plato-Descartes-contemporary scientific naturalism. But the problem of the objectifying outlook is in the “theoretical attitude”… and not, today, in naturalism or natural science as such

He does this from, in part, a complex range of sources: St. Paul, the pre-Socratics, Aristotle, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Meister Eckart, Kant, Hegel, Schelling, Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dilthey, Bergson, Husserl, Scheler

He blends the opposites:

Systematic rigor

-

Kierkegaardian passion

Romantic individual fulfillment

-

Hegelian communitarianism

German idealism

-

hardheaded realism

Historicity and finitude of life

-

search for stable ground

Fundamental Ontology in Being and Time

There are knots in the thinking that characterizes western philosophy due to “substance ontology” that arose at the dawn of western philosophy and dominates thought today. Due the emphasis on permanence or enduring presence, this traditional ontology is also called the “metaphysics of presence.”

Either / ors [dualisms] due to the substance ontology since Descartes:

There is mind, or, all is matter
Ideas represent objects, or, nothing exists outside mind
Something in an individual remains constant in change, or, there is no personality
Values have objective existence, or, everything is permitted

“These either / ors lay out a grid of possible moves and countermoves in a philosophical game that eventually can begin to feel as predictable and tiresome as tic-tac-toe.”

Heidegger’s intention is to undercut this game by challenging the idea that reality must be understood in terms of a substance ontology. Mind and matter exist but are derivative, the result of some high level theorizing. Note that Heidegger finds matter, in addition to mind, to be a theoretical construct[1]. Such concepts are fundamental only in certain regional inquiries or sciences[2]

The problem originates at the dawn of western philosophy and continues through Plato, Descartes and down to contemporary scientific naturalism. But the problem is not so much natural science as the “theoretical attitude,” the idea of a disengaged, presuppositionless, external view of the world… Heidegger hopes to recover a more original sense of things by setting aside reality as seen from theorizing and focusing on the way things show up in the flux of every pre-reflective activities

Heidegger begins by asking the question of traditional ontology, “What is the being of entities?” But Heidegger quickly asks “What is the meaning of being?” or else ontology will remain nave and opaque

Since what things are [their being] is accessible only if intelligible to us, “fundamental ontology” will clarify the meaning [that is, the conditions of intelligibility] of things in general

Since our existence [being-there = Dasein] is the original place of intelligibility, fundamental ontology must clarify the conditions of having any understanding which itself belongs to the entity called Dasein

This inquiry, the conditions for the possibility of understanding, is the analytic of Dasein and constitutes the published portion of Being and Time

…Therefore, the investigation starts with inquiry into our own being - so far as we are entities with some understanding of being - and does so to lay basis for inquiry into the being of entities in general. The question of being is, then, reformulated as a question of the intelligibility of things - this is Kantian; but Heidegger also breaks from Kant in that mind and consciousness as a self-evident point to start an account of reality is questioned. Instead, Heidegger starts from a description of ourselves in our every day practical affairs before the mind / matter split; i.e., the start is from the “existentiell.” There is no external presuppositionless vantage point of understanding and so “fundamental ontology” must begin with the phenomena of our everydayness as agents in practical contexts. This requirement is reasonable... but I believe that “everydayness” is undefined. Heidegger’s carpenter is no more ordinary than Heidegger. How did everydayness come about?

Heidegger’s description of being human [Dasein] will “do violence” to the inherited commonsense Cartesian view of humans as minds in bodies. Heidegger subverts the mind-matter opposition. He describes human existence as a happening, a life unfolding between birth and death. Existence as a temporal life course arises quite naturally from consideration of human agency: action is nested in the contexts of the world and a life story. Action is rooted in meaningful contexts of the past and directed to some future end

As a temporal unfolding of a life course three structural elements that make up human existence can be identified [1] the given situation [culture, history, shared practices… ] into which Dasein is “thrown.” This thrownness into a given situation constitutes Dasein’s “facticity,” [2] Agency is discursive in that action is articulation - interpreted in words or language, and [3] Dasein is understanding in that it takes a stand on the possibilities of meaningfulness for things and itself, i.e., Dasein is futural, i.e., Dasein is on the way to realizing some future outcome. Dasein’s being is defined by the stands taken over its lifetime. My being is what unfolds in interaction with the world in the course of my life

…and the same matrix of relations defines the being of entities [including tools] in the environment. This, not substance ontology and the mind-body split, shows that being-in-the-world is a unitary phenomenon. What is to be explained is not how the elements of being and the world hook up but, rather, “why the tradition has overlooked this unified phenomenon and how the disjunction of self and things ever arises in the first place.”

Heidegger explains the appeal of the substance ontology by describing “how the spectator attitude and the objectifying ontology result from a “breakdown” in average everydayness.” It is in the breakdown that we notice things as such, catch a view of the worldhood of the world, can look at things as brute present-at-hand objects to be investigated from a theoretical perspective in which things are explicitly noticed, are seen as value-free, as enduring, as meaningless objects whose usefulness is merely a product of our own subjective interests and needs. According to Heidegger, reality as built up from contextless objects arises only derivatively from a “more primordial” way of being absorbed in a more meaningful life world. Therefore, such contextless objects[3] cannot be the base components of the world. Self and world belong together in the single entity Dasein. Being is a temporal event inseparable from the understanding of being embodied in Dasein’s forms of life

It follows that there can be no presuppositionless knowledge - we are always caught up in a hermeneutic circle, e.g., were we to seek ground for all knowledge. But this does not mean that we do not have access to things in them selves. Since the way things show up are what those things really are, access to appearances just is access to those things. All appearances are presentations, not merely re-presentations

This shows how Heidegger tries to undercut traditional skepticism about the external world by undermining the source of the skepticism - the representationalist model. The idea of a contextless world distinct from all modes of presentation is an illusion bred by the dominance of representationalism. That the world is just the human[4] world in its various manifestations is an affirmation of the reality of what shows up for us



[1] I have long argued that both matter and mind are theoretical constructs or concepts. More accurately, I argue that both ideas have a perceptual and a conceptual nature and, further from an examination of the history of the ideas, do not designate something definite. That is, the ideas are in evolution. There are many other ideas that are possessed of a similar nature: death, space-time…

[2] The appeal of some of the regional sciences, were they to be projected to the whole, is the unified account of Being that would be provided. For example, there is hope that matter can be described in terms of forces and fields that stand in a unified relation to one another.

[3] We may say, approximately, that the absoluteness attributed to boundaries that make up objects and that make up isolated events are convenient fictions for various purposes but, as absolute, are not real. And, in this way, the distinction between things and appearances, also, is a convenient fiction but not, finally, real.

[4] Taken as a starting point, this is not anthropocentric but just acknowledges that our immediate knowledge is our first knowledge – Heidegger’s approach to the fundamental ontology has been criticized as being anthropocentric. One response is that whatever is / known as ultimate is in some way in contact with human being. Therefore the start with Dasein is no real limitation. In so called "objectivity" the start is Dasein(-) which is less than Dasein. What may be limitations, and therefore what may need review, are in the meaning of Dasein and what are the phenomena that provide the start for the investigation of being - "everyday pre-reflective activities" and "our everydayness as agents in practical contexts." My main questions regarding these issues are (i) what is the "everyday", and (ii) why artificially exclude the esoteric from the every day or from the phenomena? Note, that if we hold that there is no start, that the entire issue is one of being in a hermeneutic circle then rather than going from phenomena to being we are engaged in a continuing give and take: … being --phenomena -- being -- phenomena -- being …


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