The Clearing of Being

Last month's discussion of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations has allowed us to cover enough ground to increase the specificity of our concept of non-dualism and clarify what we concretely mean by the use of the term in this series. It will be helpful at this point to define a schema of different kinds of non-dualism.

First, what is dualism? Dualism is usually of two kinds:

  1. Spirit / Matter (Platonism, Gnosticism, Christianity, etc.)
  2. Subject / Object or Mind / Matter (Descartes)

The first kind is probably based on archaic animistic human relationships towards the world. These are found in all known pre-modernist traditional societies. The second kind, while it does need to be characterized separately due to its historical differentiation from the first as a problematic, turns out to be a disguised form of the first, perhaps nowhere more visibly then in German Idealism. Difficulties of — 1) the definition of spirit and/or mind in ontological separation or isolation from matter/the physical world and 2) the relationship between the two terms of the dichotomy understood in terms of this separated nature — lead to the breakdown of these forms of dualism as philosophically coherent conceptions of reality. This leads to the attempt to formulate a non-dualist position by the positing of monism, which is usually of two kinds:

  1. Materialism/Realism (Marx, Hobbes, etc.)
  2. Idealism (Berkeley, Fichte, etc.)

Both overcome the problems inherent in these dualisms by denying the real existence of one or the other half of the dichotomy. In so doing, however, they covertly assume the duality they seek to overcome. Then in the terms of that conception negate the actuality of seemingly real phenomenon, i.e. conscious mind or the outside world. There is another method, which is to get behind or deconstruct the original assumption of a fundamental dichotomy within Being. Tonight's presentation of Heidegger will provide an example of this method in action.

In contrast to these two traditional options, both of which presuppose the reality of a subject/object dichotomy aligned along the trajectory of metaphysical discourse in the wake of Cartesianism, the position I am proposing is a non-reductive naturalism. This includes an integral aspect. Different aspects of being exist in simultaneity, and these aspects while fully coordinated with each other, without any ontological 'seams', nevertheless are not reducible to each other. Looked at another way all these aspects, i.e. mind, matter, individual, collective etc. are all descriptions, from different perspectives of the same concrete phenomenon, namely reality or Being. Full explication of the meaning and validity of this position will be the subject of this series of talks, explored against the background of a certain historical movement of Western philosophical thought in both opposed and congruent elements.

A number of questions are raised by this approach. For example: what do we mean in the above description by the use of the word 'Being'. This leads us directly into our next subject, the philosophy of Martin Heidegger — for the central question of his thought is the nature and meaning of Being. Heidegger's initial major work exploring this theme is Sein und Zeit or Being & Time, first published in 1927 as the habilitation thesis for an academic position he had applied for. This text will be our focus. Being & Time is a famously difficult work, but its obscurities are capable of penetration, especially given a basic orientation towards the argument of the book.

What does Heidegger mean by 'Being'? Being for Heidegger is first of all not an object, not a particular being in terms of which other particular beings are determined in their Being. Heidegger writes, "The Being of beings 'is' itself not a being. The first philosophical step in understanding the problem of Being consists in [...] not determining beings as beings by tracing them back in their origins to another being — as if Being had the character of a possible being." (BT pg. 40) For if we described the Being of some particular being in terms of another particular being, i.e. a platonic form, an atomic structure, a spiritual soul, a god or entity, etc., then the Being of that explanatory being would still itself be lacking in explanation.

Rather, Being for Heidegger turns out to be intelligibility itself, the background meaningfulness of reality in virtue of which it is able to become present as itself to itself. It is this phenomenon that Heidegger asserts ontologically founds all other possible modes of being, and which he will further identify with time or temporality, hence the title of his major work Being & Time. Exactly what it means for him to hold this position requires some explication, which is the theme of the rest of this presentation. However, if we keep this general characterization of Being as intelligibility in mind then many of the obscurer aspects of Being & Time will become clear and we will be able to understand not only what philosophical moves Heidegger is making, but why he makes them.

We can already see a link with Wittgenstein's views on understanding which we encountered in last month's discussion where his argument in the Philosophical Investigations was summarized regarding the non-reducibility of understanding to a mechanistic mental rule following.

Immediately, we can see one way we might object to Heidegger's characterization of Being as intelligibility. To the question, what is Being?', we might answer: Being is the totality of things. We might want to add a few elements to cover zones of ambiguity and rephrase our statement as, for example: Being is the totality of objects and events in space and time. That is to say, reality reduces to, or is nothing but a collection of objects in causal interaction in space and time. No additional factors need be added to have a full account of Being. Reductive materialism or, as it is now often called, Physicalism answers the question of Being in these terms. We might even think that this was an intuitive or obvious answer, especially if we were unaware of the Cartesian/Newtonian historical conception that underlies the context within which such an answer seems 'obvious'. Under this conception matter and energy in motion in space and time provides a necessary and sufficient account of reality. To appeal to the 'Being' of this totality as an additional category of understanding is a mystification, the introduction of a superfluous metaphysical obscurity.

Heidegger describes this ontology, this description of the mode of being of phenomenon as present-at-hand (Vorhandenheit). In contrast, he proposes that human existence, which he designates by the German term Dasein ('being-there', or an existent) is characterized by what he calls 'Being-in-the-world' (In-der-Welt-sein).

He writes,

What is meant by Being-in? Our proximal reaction is to round out this expression to Being-in in the world, and we are inclined to understand this Being-in as Being in something. This latter term designates the kind of Being which an entity has when it is in another one, as the water is in the glass, or the garment is in the cupboard. By this in we mean the relationship of Being which two entities extended in space have to each other with regard to their location within that space. Both water and glass, garment and cupboard, are in space and at a location, and both in the same way. This relationship of Being can be expanded: for instance, the bench is in the lecture-room, the lecture-room is in the university, the university is in the city, and so on, until we can say that the bench is in world-space. All entities whose Being in one another can thus be described have the same kind of Being — that of Being-present-at-hand — as Things occurring within the world.

Being-present-at-hand in something which is likewise present-at-hand [...] in the sense of a definite location-relationship with something else which has the same kind of Being, [...] are of such a sort as to belong to entities whose kind of Being is not of the character of Dasein.

Being-in, on the other hand, is a state of Dasein's Being; it is an existentiale [ontological structure]. So one cannot think of it as the Being-present-at-hand of some corporeal Thing (such as a human body) in an entity which is present-at-hand. Nor does the term Being-in mean a special in-one-another-ness of things present-at-hand, any more than the word in primordially signifies a spatial relationship of this kind. In (an) is derived from innanto reside (wohnen), habitare, to dwell (sich auf halten). An signifies I am accustomed, I am familiar with, I look after something. [...] Being-in is thus the formal existential expression for the Being of Dasein, which has Being-in-the-world as its essential state.
(BT pg. 79-80)

Again, "As an existentiale, 'Being alongside' (Sein bei) the world never means anything like the Being-present-at-hand-together of Things that occur. There is no such thing as the 'side-by-side-ness' of an entity called 'Dasein' with another entity called 'world'" (BT pg. 80)

What does this all mean? Let's back up a bit and approach the issues involved again. Confronted with the experience of the present-at-hand as a mode of being Heidegger asks the philosophical question: is this the most primary, founded mode of encounter with the 'worldhood' of the world? He proceeds to answer this question through the use of a new innovative form of the phenomenological method of analysis. What is this method?

Phenomenology is a philosophical method developed by Edmund Husserl under whom Heidegger had studied. Phenomenology for Husserl is a continuation of the Cartesian project of founding our knowledge of the world through philosophical examination of our experience of it. Evolved in dialog with Descartes' method of radical doubt Husserl developed a technique called 'eidetic reduction'. In this method the experiences of consciousness of the world are 'bracketed' and interrogated with regard to their nature while suspending any prior assumptions with regard to that nature. Husserl coins the technical term 'epoche', a Greek word for the suspension of belief, to designate this phenomenological bracketing of experience.

Although Heidegger's methodology in Being & Time is inspired by Husserl's conception of phenomenology (the book is dedicated to Husserl), he is also critical of this initial formulation. In particular, Heidegger asserts that phenomenology should not be founded upon an assumption of the Cartesian cogito as the foundation of our philosophical knowledge of the world. Instead, Heidegger begins with the phenomenon of human existence in the wholeness of its engagements with its world, rather then simply of its experience of consciousness. Heidegger now philosophically interrogates this being, which he neutrally designates as 'Dasein', a word meaning simply, 'being-there' or 'an existent'.

Although not fully described in the text of Being & Time itself, Heidegger unpacks the ontology of Dasein by a technique he calls 'formal indication'. This is analogous in its logical structure to what is known in the Analytical tradition as 'rigid designation', a concept developed by the philosopher Hillary Putnam in the 1970's, but prefigured earlier by Heidegger within the continental tradition. Described simply, rigid designation asserts that the revealing of more fundamental structures of the Being of a phenomenon do not negate the ability to successfully designate and describe the Being of that phenomenon at the level of that description. An example is called for: I designate the moon in a proposition. It then turns out that the moon is a mirage produced by an orbiting alien satellite. This does not mean that the designation 'moon' in my earlier proposition has failed of reference entirely. It still designates a real phenomenon, namely the appearance of the moon, even if it turns out that that appearance does not have the nature of being that I had initially conceived it of having. Analogously to rigid designation, formal indication for Heidegger allows him to designate Dasein as a phenomenon and then successively discover deeper levels of its ontology without loosing grip on reference to his phenomenon as he moves from structural layer to layer.

Following this method Heidegger unpeels the layers of Dasein's Being to uncover successively deeper and more fundamental ways of characterizing its existentiality. Thus Being-in-the-world when analyzed reveals 'Care' as its more primordial characterization. Ultimately Heidegger proposes time or temporality as the most fundamental ontological structuring of Dasein. We will now follow the trajectory of Heidegger's uncovering of Dasein in these terms.

First, what does it mean for Heidegger to characterize the phenomenon of Dasein as Being-in-the-world? Being-in is not a property of an underlying substance, such as matter or some other structure conceived spatially. Dasein is not 'X', which then acquires or adds a world. For example, Dasein is not in essence a mind which encounters and relates itself to a world. Rather, any 'mental' aspect of Dasein's phenomenon is ontologically founded upon Being-in-the-world as an existentially prior structure.

Being-in-the-world, "Does not arise just because some other 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." (BT, pg. 84)

The 'world' as Heidegger conceives it is not a phenomenon which the scientific method encounters in an ontological manner privileged above other modes of encounter, although the scientific perspective may have ontical practical advantages over other modes, for example in the manner mathematical physics uses to discover and describe the spatial relationships between objects appearing present-at-hand. The 'world' as an existential phenomenon presupposes all modes of encounter. It is the task of phenomenological ontology to clarify the nature of this 'world'.

Being-in-the-world, says Heidegger, is a unitary phenomenon. Ontologically, it is not built up out of constitutive parts from which it derives its Being. Rather, its essence is transcendental, in the Kantian sense of 'transcendental', and is itself the ontological ground of the ability of Dasein to encounter entities present-at-hand.

Being-in-the-world has the aforementioned negative ontological characteristics. However, it is also a positive phenomenon. Insofar as it is the primary existentiale upon which our Being as Dasein is founded it is also something we are always already experiencing ontically. It has been common within the Western philosophical tradition following in the lead of Descartes to the subject/object relationship as the primary way that human existence knows its world. In assuming this priority which Descartes arrives at through his process of radical epistemological doubt in the Meditations on First Philosophy an attempt is made to found an ontology on this basis.

"But subject and object do not coincide with Dasein and the world" (BT, pg. 87)

Heidegger proposes that Dasein in its mode of Being in 'everydayness' (Alltäglichkeit) exhibits a different, more fundamental way of knowing the world then that of a Cartesian mental subject encountering a world as its object, a relationship which, while a real phenomenon —

  1. is not the way our being most immediately knows or is 'in' its world
  2. covers over or conceals Being-in-the-world as the mode of Being of Dasein

The primary mode of Being of Dasein by which it dwells in the world Heidegger calls 'Care' (Sorge), a word which carries the connotation of having concern or involved engagement, emotively or more fully than a more abstract cognitive characterization. Ontically, this shows itself as the absorbed, pre-cognitive skillful coping of Dasein in the world.

Heidegger calls the 'space' opened by this skillful coping Dasein's 'environment' (Umwelt) which it encounters in the mode of Being as Care, "We shall call those entities which we encounter in concern 'equipment' (das Zeug)." (BT, pg. 97) Heidegger continues, "Equipment — in accordance with its equipmentality — always is in terms of it belonging to other equipment: ink-stand, pen, ink, paper, blotting pad, table, lamp, furniture, windows, doors, room." (BT, pg. 97) — and to continue: house, street, city, culture, history, 'world'. Heidegger calls this internal coordination of Dasein's environment the 'equipmental totality' and the mode of Being of the equipment within this world 'ready-to-hand' (Zuhandenheit).

It is useful to pause and note that so far Heidegger has identified three different modes of Being of phenomenon:

  1. present-at-hand
  2. ready-to-hand
  3. Care

Numbers 1 and 2 are the modes of Being whereby the world is a phenomenon to Dasein whereas number 3, Care, is the mode of Being of Dasein itself.

We shall now explore Heidegger's ontology of the ready-to-hand. To characterize this mode of Dasein's Being Heidegger selects a typical phenomenon and subjects it to phenomenological analysis. Tool use is the example he uses.

Let's say I'm using a hammer. When I'm involved in the skillful coping with this equipment am I encountering it as present-at-hand, for example as a piece of metal carved with certain angles. No, Heidegger says, I do not primarily and fundamentally encounter the hammer in this way. Rather, in its skillful use the hammer is transparent to my conscious noticing. I am familiar with it. I simply pick it up and use it. Only if there is some interruption of my normal skillful use, the head comes loose from the shaft for example, might the hammer show itself as a bare object present-at-hand. The ready-to-hand exists in the mode of Dasein's being-in-the-world of an equipmental totality that is already fundamentally intelligible to it, not in the privative, derived mode of an abstract consciousness encountering a world as a kind of bare presence to which consciousness assigns value as a noetic activity.

This quality of Dasein's familiarity with the world Heidegger calls circumspection (Umsicht). This can be illustrated in another example, that of entering a room. When we enter a room, what is the phenomenon of this? How do we 'know' the room as a room? Is it the case that we perceive a collection of substances in their bare presence and then apply categories to them, thereby 'figuring out' that, yes, it is a room that we are entering? Isn't it rather the case that the room is already 'familiar' to us as equipment available for use?

In this mode of being the room solicits our use in various ways — the chair for sitting, the rug for standing, the books for reading, etc. My skillful coping with my environment opens the room as a room and I find myself at home in it. This background intelligibility of our environment is what Heidegger means by Dasein's circumspection.

In this mode of Dasein's being the world has a spatial aspect, but not in any Newtonian/Cartesian sense of bare extension. Rather, the needs of my coping as it opens the space of the room will light up certain possibilities of use. I need to write something, so the pen on the table I'm sitting at becomes 'near' to my coping, while the pen locked in the desk drawer shows up as 'far'. Therefore, while I reach first for the drawer I immediately abandon this and take up the pen on the desk top instead. Meanwhile I am having a conversation with my friends and have no conscious explicit noticing of my action. I simply reach over and get a pen. This is the most primordial way that space is a phenomenon for Dasein.

Circumspection as the primary spatial expression of Dasein's Being is not limited to tool-use of course. This merely provides Heidegger with an example, a phenomenon to bracket for the purpose of formally indicating an aspect of Dasein's mode of Being. The 'regions' opened by Dasein's spatial comportment include a whole range of cultural ways of experiencing the world, of Dasein being in relationship to Being.

Heidegger notes, "Regions are not first formed by things which are present-at-hand together; they always are ready-to-hand already in individual places. [...] Thus the sun, whose light and warmth are in everyday use, has its own places — surise, midday, sunset, midnight; these are discovered in circumspection and treated distinctively in terms of changes in the usability of what the sun bestows. Here we have something which is ready-to-hand with uniform constancy, although it keeps changing; its places become accentuated 'indicators' of the regions which lie in them. These celestial regions, which need not have any geographical meaning as yet, provide the 'whither' beforehand for every special way of giving form to the regions which places can occupy. The house has its sunny side and its shady side; the way it is divided up into rooms is oriented towards these, and so is the arrangement within them, according to their character as equipment. Churches and graves, for instance, are laid out according to the rising and the setting of the sun — the regions of life and death, which are determinative for Dasein itself with regard to its ownmost possibilities of Being in the world." (BT, pg. 137)

Because the ready-to-hand is primarily encountered in pre-cognitive absorbed world coping it is easy to pass over its ontology in favor of a derived, non-primordial cognitive or Cartesian conception of Dasein's essence. Heidegger writes, "The peculiarity of what is proximally ready-to-hand is that, in its readiness-to-hand, it must, as it were, withdraw (zurückzuziehen) in order to be ready-to-hand quite authentically." (BT, pg. 99)

We are now prepared to understand Heidegger's summation of Dasein's essential Being as follows, "Being-in-the-world, according to our interpretation hitherto, amounts to a non-thematic circumspective absorption in references and assignments constitutive for the readiness-to-hand of a totality of equipment." (BT, pg. 107)

Characterized in this way the worldhood of the world is itself an existentiale, an existential structure of Dasein itself, but it is not thereby made 'subjective', for the phenomenon of the subjectivity of the Cartesian cogito is founded upon Dasein's prior 'ek-statical' (ekstatisch) existentiality. That is to say, Dasein's projecting of its essence outside of itself as activity of skillful coping in-the-world. In this sense Dasein has no metaphysical inside. This is what Heidegger means in a passage at the opening of Being & Time where he remarks, "The essence (Wesen) of Dasein lies in its existence (Existenz)." This became the basis of Sartre's famous formulation of the central tenet of Existentialism as, "Existence precedes essence"; a concept which we will explore more fully later in our series.

Heidegger further clarifies his statement that the essence of Dasein is its existence when he writes, "When we talk in an ontically figurative way of the lumen naturale ['light of nature'] in man, we have in mind nothing other than the existential-ontological structure of this entity, that it is in such a way as to be its 'there'. To say that it is 'illuminated' [erleuchtet] means that as Being-in-the-World it is cleared [gelichtet] in itself, not through any other entity, but in such a way that it is itself the clearing [Lichtung]. Only for an entity which is existentially cleared in this way does that which is present-at-hand become accessible in the light or hidden in the dark. By its very nature, Dasein brings its 'there' along with it. If it lacks its 'there', it is not factically the entity which is essentially Dasein; indeed, it is not this entity at all. Dasein is its disclosedness." (BT, pg. 171)

Time or temporality (Zeitlichkeit) for Heidegger's ontology is the 'horizon' of the understanding of Being. By time, Heidegger does not mean a mechanistic Newtonian notion of time as mere sequence or 'clock time', as he calls it. Instead, this clock time is itself ontologically founded upon a more fundamental phenomenon, primordial time or temporality. This is the self-presencing of Being understood not as the presencing of objects present-at-hand to each other in space and time, but rather within the context of Dasein's mode of Being, which is our means of being temporality, as absorbed pre-cognitive skillful coping of Dasein with the equipmental totality. How does this mode of Being reveal itself primordially as time itself?

Heidegger's account of time is incomplete in Being & Time, as the book is unfinished. However, in a lecture series given in 1927, the same year as the publication of Being & Time, and itself published under the title The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Heidegger lays out a complete synopsis of his theory of temporality. The following summary is based on this text.

Heidegger's analysis of temporality begins with Aristotle's definition of time in the Physics, "For time is just this — number of motion in respect of before and after" (219b1f), that is to say, the counting of movement within the context of past and future. This definition raises a number of questions. If time is the counting of time, doesn't time itself as a phenomenon presuppose the ability to count it? In saying that time is in 'respect of before and after', isn't time again presupposed in order to explain it? Isn't Aristotle really describing how, as a conscious act of noticing, we encounter time in this privative mode, rather than actually saying what time is?

Heidegger calls this privative, derived mode of encountering time 'clock time', and proposes that it conceals a more primordial phenomenon of time as temporality. Temporality, as Heidegger understands it, is the furthest back we can reach in the ontology of Dasein. As it is the way that Being becomes present there is no way for us, as caught up in our Being as this presencing, to get behind it to further structures of Being that would be intelligible to us. Therefore, Heidegger says that temporality is the horizon of the understanding of Being.

Temporality consists of three aspects which as an original unity constitute primordial time. These are expecting (Gewärtigen), retaining (Behalten) and enpresenting (Gegenwärtigen). These correspond, respectively, to the future as a coming-towards-oneself, the past as a going-back-to and the present as a being-with. Therefore, for Heidegger temporality is not a bare sequence of nows in succession. Time is not monadic in this way. Rather, it carries forward the past and anticipates the future. But this is also a characterization of an essential feature of the opening of the world in the Lichtung of Dasein's absorbed, pre-cognitive skillful coping in-the-world. The future as 'expecting' describes Dasein's capacity-to-be, its projecting of itself upon future possibilities. The past as 'retaining' is Dasein's having-been-ness, its context of being in the now as based upon its totality of prior nows. Finally, the present as 'enpresenting' is Dasein's staying-with, or dwelling-with its world as Care.

This is a brief description of Heidegger's account of temporality, which is the climax the ontology of Being & Time. Let us now sum up by going back to issues raised earlier. At the beginning of this talk reference was made to two forms of philosophical non-dualism, namely realism and idealism. How does Heidegger's ontology relate to the terms of this traditional dichotomy? It seems that he is attempting a kind of holistic synthesis of the two, but not in a dialectical manner in the tradition of Hegel and his successors. Rather, Heidegger formulates a philosophical approach new to the Western tradition consisting in the 'destruction' of the underlying metaphysical assumptions of the tradition so that new understandings can emerge. In this sense Heidegger is the originator of the idea of 'Deconstruction'. The philosophy that emerges from this approach in Being & Time can be characterized in both realist and idealist terms, without truly being either. Therefore, Herbert Dreyfus calls Heidegger a 'robust realist' in his account of Being-in-the-world, while Dreyfus' student William Blattner says he is a 'temporal idealist' in his account of temporality.

Another issue should be noted here in passing. According to Heidegger Dasein in its ontological essence is not the body. In a quotation given above he writes: "Being-in, on the other hand, is a state of Dasein's Being; it is an existentiale. So one cannot think of it as the Being-present-at-hand of some corporeal Thing (such as a human body) 'in' an entity which is present-at-hand." (BT pg. 80) But what does it mean to qualify Dasein's Being as Being-in-the-world and then say that it is not the body? Heidegger does not adequately discuss the phenomenon of the body in Being & Time. Precisely this theme is taken up by the French phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty in his work The Phenomenology of Perception. When we reach the topic of Existentialism we will take a month to discuss this work, specifically within the context of Merleau-Ponty's famous set of objections to Sartre's philosophy in Being and Nothingness.

Heidegger in Being & Time proposes to lay bare the ontological horizon for an understanding of human existence. This can then serve as a foundation to ground other disciplines which can explicate the implications of this ontology in various modes of human life, i.e. anthropology, ethics, sociology, etc. We will explore some of these implications as we proceed through this series.


Work Cited as "BT":

Heidegger, Martin, Being & Time, translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson, Harper and Row, New York, 1962.

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