On Reading Being and Time:

An Explication and Commentary by Roderick Munday



The Interpretation of Dasein in Terms of Temporality
and the Explication of Time as the Transcendental
Horizon of the Question of Being



The Preparatory Fundamental Analysis of Dasein



In this document: "Explication and Commentary 3"


I. The Exposition of the Task of a Preparatory Analysis of Dasein

  9. The Theme of the Analytic of Dasein

10. How the Analytic of Dasein is to be Distinguished from
      Anthropology, Psychology, and Biology

11. The Existential Analytic and the Interpretation of Primitive Dasein:
      The Difficulties in Securing a "Natural Concept of the World"


This is an ongoing project, more content will appear here over the next few months.


For the contents of other sections see the main index

There is also an online glossary of terms referred to in this document.

Your comments on this document are welcome. Please make them at my blog site Synthetic Knowledge




November 4 - December 9, 2005

(page 65)











Introductory remarks

To ascertain the meaning of Being, we must interrogate Dasein. This preparatory analysis of Dasein will be unusual because, to put it simply, Dasein is the object of its own inquiry. When we consider ourselves as entities under examination, our behaviour changes--i.e., we become self-conscious--and therefore the nature of the object we are studying also changes [ref. ¶5, page 37]. Therefore inquiring about Dasein incurs specific problems that must be addressed before, during and at the concluding stages of the investigation. This section presents an analysis of Dasein in outline, which also touches on the Being of other entities running alongside it.

It is very important that the reader does not get mislead by Heidegger use of language in this section. In order to articulate his conception of Being, Heidegger often constructs his sentences in a way that either de-emphasises the subject term, or does away with it altogether. E.g. "Being is that which is an issue for any such entity." instead of 'Being is an issue for Dasein'. Another strategy he employs is to deliberately break the rules of agreement between noun and pronoun. For example, when he is articulating the fundamental interconnectedness of Being and Dasein he switches (seemingly) from the third person to the first person: "Dasein has in each case mineness." This is meant to signify that the kind of Being that belongs to Dasein is the same Being which can belong to any one of us. I think the problem with these strategy is that it is confusing. I imagine that you, as my hypothetical ideal reader (whether you are conscious of it or not), will always try to make sense of a text by analysing it according to the rules of grammar,i.e., separating the subject from its predicate to discover how the understanding of one is illuminated by the other and vice versa. Throughout this explication and commentary, my strategy has been to attempt to explain Heidegger's philosophy by employing these normal conventions of language (grammar as it is ordinarily understood) and then problematising them in a subsequent manoeuvre. Heidegger's method, on the other hand, is to 'cut to the chase' and collapse the subject into the predicate, leaving the reader to work out what is going on (or not as the case may be). The disadvantage of my approach, is that it appears to be misinterpreting the text, in that I seem to be forcing Heidegger into the very grammatical boxes from which he is earnestly trying to escape. However, in my opinion, this disadvantage is far outweighed by the advantage of the reader the opportunity to take in the argument and then, from this position of basic understanding, see the problems Heidegger is faced with as regards to his argument with logic and philosophy. And moreover hopefully, be in a position where you also appreciate how he overcomes these problems, without yourself feeling ensnared by them.

Dasein has a pre-ontological understanding of Being [ref. ¶4, page 35]. We must therefore lay bare the structure of this understanding in Dasein, which Heidegger terms Being-in-the-world. This structure of Being-in-the-world is pre-ontological and thus it can be likened to the a priori in Kantian terminology, i.e., this understanding comes before we are able to form any ideas about things like "Being" and "the world", and consequently it also comes before we can articulate that understanding back to ourselves as thoughts [ref. ¶6, Page 45]. Unlike other kinds of analysis which are premised on cutting up objects up and piecing them together again in new configurations, the structure of Dasein's understanding is primordially (and constantly) a whole and will remain so. However we are afforded various ways of looking at 'wholeness' by highlighting certain items which are constitutive of it. In other words, while we should continually emphasise a) that the structure of Being in the world is wholeness and b) that it comes before the appreciation of discreet phenomena, we will find by using the phenomenological method of investigation that we can show how certain items can be made to stand out.

(page 66 is a blank page)

(page 67)





¶ 9. The Theme of the Analytic of Dasein

Dasein is us; that is Dasein is you, me, him, her, or if we are speaking generally, the human Being. This means that we ourselves are the entities to be analysed. The ontological characteristics which distinguish us from other entities are:

a) We are conscious of our own existence, and

b) Our existence is an issue for us.

The Being of Dasein is the Being of each human individual. Thus for the individual 'Dasein' we can say that the Being under investigation is in each case mine.

As the translators of Being and Time note the reader must not get the impression that there is anything solipsistic about this statement. Heidegger is merely point out that the kind of Being which belongs to Dasein is the kind that each and every one of us relates to in terms of our own Being.

This means that Dasein in its Being is delivered over to its Being. In other words when we talk of Dasein: your Being, his Being, her Being, their Being is fundamentally understood in terms of my Being.

This way of characterising Dasein has two consequences:

1/ The essence of the entity Dasein lies in its "to be."

2/ The Being which is an issue for Dasein (in its very Being) is in each case mine.

We will now discuss these consequences in more detail.


1/ The essence of the entity Dasein lies in its "to be."

Heidegger asserts in so far as we can talk about Dasein’s 'Essence' (i.e. what Dasein is), we must do so in terms of the Being of Dasein. But Heidegger does not want to discuss Being in terms of essences for the reason that it is far too vague and states rather that the Being of Dasein should be discussed only in terms of its 'Existence.' The term 'existence' designates Dasein's essence and the term should only be applied to a Being who has an ontological understanding of its own existence. And in this sense our analysis becomes an ontological one as opposed to one that is merely ontical (see the glossary if you are confused about the difference between ontological and ontical).

Previously [ref. ¶ 4, page 33] Heidegger has also used the term 'existentia.' But do not confuse 'existentia' with 'existence' because although the former term stands for a general understanding of Being, Heidegger uses it only when he is talking about the Being of entities that are not Dasein, i.e., entities that are present-at-hand.

Therefore, at the risk of belabouring the point, but to avoid confusion...

i/ Existentia = Entities whose Being is only present-at-hand and which are understood ontically

ii/ Existence = Entities whose Being is an issue for them (Dasein) and who are understood ontologically

iii/ Essentia = synonymous with 'essence,’ a vague and potentially misleading term which Heidegger seeks to supplant it with 'existentia' when he is talking about things that are not Dasein and ‘existence’ when he is talking about Dasein.


Existence over Essence

Heidegger expresses the differences between essentia, existentia and existence in the following way. He says that "the essence of Dasein lies in its existence." In other words Dasein's Being can only be understood ontologically as opposed to ontically. When one asks, "what is an entity's essence?" the question forces us to consider the given entity as if it were a 'thing'. But the essence of Dasein lies in its "to be", that is in its potential and not in its "thinghood". So when we talk about Dasein's Being we talk about it in terms of possibility rather than actuality. This means that the analysis will be looking at Being as existing within the totality of a field of potentials, rather than as something static. This for the simple reason that Dasein's "to be" is all that Dasein "is".

But of course describing something in terms of all of the potential ways that it can be, is far more complex than describing it in terms of what it "is". So when Heidegger says that Dasein's "to be" is all that Dasein "is", he is actually saying quite a bit.

We need to bear the distinction between 'existence' and 'essence' in mind when we talk about Dasein's Being, because we simply cannot express this idea as if it were a "what", as we do when we are talking about a table or a tree.

It is worth noting that this phrase 'existentia over essentia,' was transmuted by the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre into the maxim 'existence over essence' and has since acquired an iconic status in existential philosophy. However, as I emphasised at the start of this section, Heidegger's argues against talking about Being in terms of 'essentia', because it has a potential to mislead us into thinking that Dasein's Being is the same as the Being of other entities, in other words something that can be pointed out and remarked upon as a "what". This misunderstanding is certainly born out in the case of Sartre misappropriation of the phrase ‘existence over essence.’ For in Sartre's book Being and Nothingness--at least in the way I understand it (?)--essentia is understood as being synonymous with the soul, and so "existentia over essentia" becomes an atheist maxim: a statement which asserts the primacy of existence over notions of the essential, pre-ordained and divinely given qualities possessed of each individual human Being. Whereas in fact all Heidegger is saying with "existentia over essentia," is that the Being of Dasein is not a "what," but a "to be".


2/ The Being which is an issue for this entity Dasein in its very Being is in each case mine.

To designate Dasein the personal pronouns "I" and "you" will always be used and when Dasein is addressed, Heidegger will say, "I am" or "you are." Dasein is never to be taken as...

(page 68)

...an instance or special case of some entity (or genus of entities) which is present-at-hand because this would violate the principle that Being is wholeness. In our preontological understanding of our ownmost Being this fact is grasped before any other precepts can be inferred and for this reason it cannot be violated retrospectively and cut up into categorical distinctions as part of our analysis. On the other hand a kind of categorisation might be applicable to the Being of entities that are not Dasein, because (if you will excuse the implied anthropomorphism) their Being is a matter of indifference to them.


'My to be'

In addition to the use of the personal pronoun when addressing Dasein we also need to be aware that when a particular Dasein talks about Being it is in each case "my Being." And because the essence of Dasein lies in its 'to be' it is therefore 'my to be' that we will be talking about.

Heidegger seems to be implying that Being is a property of Dasein in the sense of designating one's ownership over one's being. However as he has already pointed out [ref. ¶ 4, page 32] this is not the case. Being is not a property of Dasein; But rather that from which Dasein is itself constituted, which happens long before Dasein can even think about formulating notions of ownership. Therefore Being cannot be owned by Dasein, and the expression ‘Dasein’s Being’, although used by Heidegger in the text of Being and Time (for instance on page 74, paragraph 1) is a mere linguistic convenience used to distinguish existence from existentia.



The decision as to which way the Being of Dasein is 'my to be,' is something that a particular Dasein will have decided beforehand, based on the constraints imposed upon it by experience (see historicality [ref. ¶ 6, page 41]). That entity Dasein which in its Being has "this very Being" as an issue for it comports itself towards its Being as its ownmost possibility. In each case Dasein is its possibility and for that reason it can chose itself and win itself, or conversely lose itself and never win itself, or perhaps only seem to do so. But this choosing and loosing is defined only in the sense that it can be essentially viewed by Dasein as Being authentic - that is as something which has a reality value that is not relative to or measured by comparisons with anything else. Authenticity stands alone: it is the way things are.

As modes of Being both authenticity and inauthenticity are grounded in the fact that any Dasein is characterised by mineness. But the inauthenticity of Dasein does not designate a low level in the hierarchy of Being as might be supposed. Dasein's Being can be characterised as inauthentic when it is at its most concrete, for instance when Dasein is excited, or interested, when ready for enjoyment, etc., as we shall see later.

Both the authentic and inauthentic characteristics of Dasein illustrate :

1/ The priority of 'existentia' over 'essentia.'

2/ The fact that Dasein is in each case mine.

Dasein does not have the kind of Being which belongs to it as something present-at-hand, this as we have already pointed out at length. But we emphasise this because it goes to the heart of what is unusual about Dasein. And consequently means that...

(page 69)

...the right way of presenting Dasein as a phenomenon is far from self evident. And of course to determine what form this presentation shall eventually take is itself an essential part of the analysis. One thing is certain: it is only by presenting Dasein in the right way that will we have any meaningful understanding of ‘my Being’. Therefore, no matter how provisional our analysis might be, it must carry the assurance that we have started in the right way.


The Right Way

In terms of determining itself as an entity, Dasein always does so in the light of a possibility of mineness, which it is itself and which in its very existence it somehow understands. This sentence designates the formal meaning of Dasein's essential construction, albeit in a roughly-hewn form. But what it tells us is that the problematic of its Being must be developed from the existentiality of its existence, i.e., from existential, (the formal understanding of Being in general). This needs to happen if we are to describe the state of 'pre-ontological' Being, which is the kind of Being towards which Dasein comports itself and is the very thing that Heidegger terms 'existence'.

If we are to begin in the right way, this cannot mean that "Dasein" is to be construed in terms of some concrete idea of existence, no matter how provisionally that idea may be cast. At the outset it is particularly important that Dasein should not be Interpreted with the differentiated character of something which has some definite way of existing, but that it should be uncovered in its undifferentiated character. This statement underscores the fact that Being is fundamentally wholeness and also emphasises Heidegger’s insistence that it is abject folly to follow a line of reasoning that tries to pick that wholeness apart in any kind of logical analysis[ref. ¶8, page 65].



This undifferentiated character of Dasein is not nothing, but is actually a positive phenomenological characteristic of this entity. What Heidegger calls Dasein's "averageness."

"Out of this kind of Being--and back into it again--is all existing, such as it is."

In this sense averageness reminds me of Edmund Burke's 'state of indifference'. Burke remarked that whereas most people thought that pain emerged out of a state of pleasure and vice versa, in fact there was an inter-mediate state of indifference out of which extremities of emotion emerged and after a time fall back into again. (Burke 1998, 30-32)

The averageness of Dasein makes up what is ontically proximal for this entity which is Everydayness. No doubt the reason that the averageness of Dasein has been passed over again and again in philosophical explications of the human condition is because it is so unremarkable. But this almost tautologically sounding statement in fact underscores the truth in Heidegger's maxim, "what is closest to us ontologically is at the same time the furthest away" [ref. ¶5, page 36]. The averageness of Dasein's existence introduces a thematic as well as a problematic for the task ahead - namely, that in order to understand that which, phenomenologically speaking, is the closest thing of all, such an understanding has to be articulated in a way that means 'the closest thing' is not overlooked, but seen rather in its positive characterisation.


Average Everydayness

Dasein's average everydayness is not to be taken as an aspect of it. Dasein comports itself towards its Being in the mode of average everydayness, and the understanding of this is felt by Dasein even before it can be articulated. In this sense, for some people no doubt conceiving of Being as being an issue for Dasein seems rather at odds with conceiving it in terms of average everydayness. For average everydayness does not seem to imply concern for one Being. There are two elements to address in answering this criticism: partly I think this discrepancy can be explained as an example of how the average everydayness of Being is continually overlooked, and partly I think these remarks can be taken as a kind of criticism of a tendency in Dasein towards inauthenticity which Heidegger will now elaborate upon.



Heidegger calls Dasein’s mode of average everydayness an inauthentic mode of Being. But the interesting thing about this inauthenticity is that it comes before the conscious realisation of one's Being, where ideas of authenticity and inauthenticity might have been thought to originate. But this is not the case. In Heidegger’s analysis authenticity is not a judgement one can make of oneself retrospectively for it comes even before thinking. In this case the inauthentic mode of being is conceived of a kind of mould into which Dasein gets poured. Heidegger’s analysis of the inauthentic still carries with it a judgmental aspect, but in this case the judgement designates a mode of Being characterised by Heidegger evocatively as Dasein fleeing in the face of its Being "and forgetting thereof."

(page 70)

The other thing to mention about the term 'average everydayness' is that it does not carry the usual hazy indefinite connotations that these words have in ordinary speech. In the explication of Dasein anything that is understood ontically can be thought of as existing in an average way and this mode may be grasped in patterns of existence. These are Patterns which Heidegger terms 'pregnant structures', which may be indistinguishable from an authentic Being of Dasein (in other words Dasein choosing and winning itself by comporting itself towards its Being as its ownmost possibility).

This implies that one's ownmost search for one's possibilities of Being can be easily distorted by a mode of inauthenticity. In this sense, one's potentialities can be likened to liquid metal which has been poured into a mould and cast into something solid. This connotes a vision of the authentic Being of Dasein as liquefied, unpredictable and possessing potential energy whilst inauthentic Being is concretised, restricted and possessing kinetic energy. Inauthentic being limits one's own view of the possibility of one's Being, like a mask whose eye-slits are too narrow limits the field of vision of the wearer. Heidegger's argument with inauthenticity is that for a particular Dasein trapped in an inauthentic mode of Being it is as if the mask itself is forgotten and the restrictive view from out of its slits becomes the dominant frame from which everything else is perceived thought about and judged. Perhaps this analogy imposes too much of Plato’s cave onto Heidegger’s conception of authenticity/inauthenticity? We shall have to see.


Existentalia and Category

If an explanation of Dasein is going to be obtained existentially, we have to consider not the being of Dasein itself, because in relation to Dasein Being should not be understood as an object but rather as the sum total of Dasein's potential ways to be. This is what will be the object of study in the analysis Heidegger calls it Dasein's 'existence-structure' . On the way to arriving at a definition of this existence structure, Heidegger will speak about certain characteristics of Dasein. These he gives the name 'Existentalia' in order to underscore the fact that the existence structure of Dasein must be defined existentially. Heidegger wants his 'existentalia' to be sharply distinguished from the concept of 'category,' as it is ordinarily understood in philosophy.

For want of a better analogy, categories can be likened to abstractly constructed boxes into which people sort various phenomena into groups based on some shared characteristics of that phenomena. For example the characteristics of ‘being alive’ designates the category of living things (animals and plants) from the category of things not alive (e.g., rocks, water, gasses, etc.) and these categories can be further sorted into other more specific sub categories. For example things which are alive that are warm blooded and give birth to live young can be placed in a box marked 'mammals,' whereas things which are alive that are cold blooded and lay eggs can be placed in the box marked reptiles.

For Heidegger 'categories' can only be used to distinguish ontical characteristics of the Being of entities which are not Dasein, and this is he says how we should understand the term 'category' in its primal ontological sense. And what is more we should strictly abide by that definition. This means that we should never be tempted to sort Dasein into the same categorical boxes into which we place entities who are not Dasein.

An interesting consequence of this latest prohibition is that it elevates the importance of humankind over every other entity on the planet in Heidegger's theory. (A negative and perhaps disingenuous(?) implication of this might be to surmise that we are back with Adam and Eve and their stewardship over the Garden of Eden.)


The Ancients and The Logos

In the ontology of the ancients existent entities, the kinds of things that one simply comes across in the world such as rocks plants and animals are taken as basic examples for the interpretation of Being (note that my use of present tense when talking about the ancients will follow Heidegger's lead). The ancients grasp this Being of entities in the form of words. And this is considered the acceptable way to grasp entities. But the Being of those entities must be grasped in a certain way, that is to say in a certain type of speech that lets something be seen. This is so that the Being of a given entity can become intelligible to us when we speak of it at a later time. The sighting of the object in words also means that it can have a kind of presence which can be recalled by language to stand for the object in circumstances where the object itself is no longer present. This presence can also be talked about, say, when we wish to interpret the object by elaborating upon some aspect of it that was not apparent in the initial sighting. We can do this because the original sighting in language has a fidelity to its object which can be elaborated upon, so that aspects that were intitally not remarked upon can be legitimately discussed, even without the object being directly present. In other words Heidegger claims that language allows us to grasp reality with a fidelity that permits future interpretations, for although in the grasping of entities in language the language user may not be able to see the uses to which their sighting may be put, this grasping does not necessarily prohibit those uses, and this is because it does not present the object as an appearance.


The Ontological Definition of Category

In any discussion of entities, Heidegger argues that we always already address ourselves to the question of their Being. This is meant in the sense of when a child points at something and asking "what's that?" the gesture and the question already implies that she is aware that there is a 'Being' there in need of a name. Moreover, this gesture also points to the fact that there is 'something' which is already distinguishable from the manifold of the world in its wholeness as an entity which stands our in terms of its Being. According to Heidegger, the action of addressing oneself to an entity's Being in this way is what the ancients understood by the term 'category'. Their use of category signifies making a public accusation, in the sense of asking someone to account for their actions in front of witnesses. When used ontologically the term category has a similar meaning, but in this case what is made to account for itself, so to speak, is the entity itself. In other words, the particular kind of language we use to determine a category lets everyone else see the object in terms of its Being. When we use Language in this way it allows us to uncover the "what's that?" of an object's Being that exists before it is named. The Categories are therefore what are 'sighted' in words (the logos), which implies the articulation of an explicit description of the Being of a given entity, rather than the covering over of that Being of that entity with a name. This is how the ancient understanding of category differs from the modern understanding of category. For Heidegger, categorisation includes the various ways in which the nature of entities can be addressed and discussed. But this is only as a potential (something which later will be interpreted in a hermeneutic perhaps? [ref. ¶7, page 61 - 62]) because what is important to realise is that the discussion (i.e., the elaboration of the category) always comes afterwards; after the sighting and after the grasping of the entities presence in language. The important thing to understand about categories therefore is their fidelity to the entity, in the sense that they the call it to account in front of witnesses, and this is why Heidegger argues that a category is the most sincere guarantor of truth a person can offer...This connotation of category survives today in the judicial system, where witnesses swear on the Bible and are subject to punishment if they perjure themselves. However we can use this modern analogy of the court to critique Heidegger's notion of category, albeit from the very logical paradigm that he is trying to escape from. For who would argue that the court system is infallible? The truth cannot be guaranteed simply because it is predicated on calling people to public account. What if they are lying? Or mistaken? And even if they are not lying or do not think themselves mistaken, how do we know their sincere grasping of entities is accurate? The point is that they may be sincere, but sincerity alone can never make us sure.

On the other hand, it seems like sophistry to suggest that language therefore has no fidelity to objects in the real world. There must be some correspondences for if it were otherwise we would not be able to tell anything about the world at all, which would mean that there could be no knowledge apart from that obtained by direct experience. But in case we judge Heidegger’s argument to be overtly mimetic and want to dismiss it for that reason, it must be born in mind that his claim that language 'grasps' reality does not presuppose that it therefore necessarily grasps reality absolutely, or that objects somehow tell us what they are (although it does not exactly disavow this interpretation either!). We should perhaps bear in mind that all Heidegger is saying in discussing the ancient conception of 'category' is that language has a truth-value. In other words language is something that works in that it can re-presenting its object with some degree of accuracy (although Heidegger would never use the term 'representation of course because it sound too much like covering up). What is important here to take on board is that the understanding of the term 'category' allows an entity to stand out from the manifold of existence and thus it can become the discursive ground upon which other discourses can be elaborated. And indeed this is implicit in Heidegger's discussion the science of hermeneutics itself [ref. ¶7, page 61 - 62].

(page 71)

Existentalia and categories are the two basic possibilities for characters of Being. The entities that correspond to them are these...

Existentialia = Dasein

Categories = Entities that present at hand, i.e., not Dasein

...and these two terms require different kinds of primary interrogation. In other words, any entity that is either a 'who' (existence) or a 'what' (present-at-hand) is treated differently. However there can be no more elaboration of this because the connection between the essential characters of these two modes of Being cannot be clarified until the horizon for the question of Being has itself been clarified.


The problems of answering the question, "What man is?"

The task of laying bare the a priori basis of the investigation must be visible before the question of "what man is?" can be discussed philosophically. In saying this Heidegger is claiming that the human sciences have their priorities the wrong way round. The reason for this is that in trying to determine man as the object of their inquiries, the human sciences have looked at the human Being from the outside in rather from the inside out and consequently have missed what is essential to the understanding of what it is to be human. Heidegger’s argues that the way to discover "what man is" is not to categorise 'his' surface attributes but to grasp the essential being in its wholeness. Hence he says "the existential analytic of Dasein comes before any psychology or anthropology and certainly before any biology". While Heidegger concedes that these human sciences are also ways in which Dasein can be legitimately investigated," he means this only in the sense of a negative judgement, and claims that we will be better able define the theme of the analytic of Dasein (i.e., what it is to be human) and with more precision, if we distinguish our inquiry from the mistakes of the tradition of the human sciences.

¶ 10. How the analytic of Dasein is to be Distinguished for Anthropology, Psychology and Biology

Now that we have outlined the theme of the analytic of Dasein in positive terms, it is important also to show what is to be left out. But in order for this to be a fruitful exercise and not just a purely negative one, we must show what the previous scientific investigations of Dasein have overlooked. And Thus identify the real philosophical problem that leads to this overlooking. For as long as the human sciences persist in missing the problem, they have no right to lay claim any success in achieving the understanding for which they are striving for.

In distinguishing the existential analytic from both the theoretical assumptions and methodologies of anthropology psychology and biology, we shall confine ourselves to what in principle is the ontological question. However this manoeuvre will obviously be found wanting from point of view of anthropologists, psychologists and biologists, whose devotedness to the scientific method blinds them to any criticism of its philosophical failings. But who cares? Heidegger intention is to attack these methods and assumptions from the root and branch, precisely because they have their source in the same ontological probematics that have antagonised him throughout this investigation, namely the flawed ontological tradition of philosophy. It is not surprising that the investigation here touches again in criticisms of Descartes cogito ergo sum as the example par excellence of a conspicuous early offender in the spread of the collective philosophical myopia regarding the problem of Being.


Descartes’ "Cogito"

Histrologically, the aim of the existential analysis of Dasein can be clarified by comparing it to Descartes, "cogito sum" [ref. ¶6, page 45]. Whilst Heidegger credits Descartes with investigating the cogitate (the "think") of the ego ("I"), at least within certain limits. He criticises him for leaving the sum (the "am", or Being) completely undiscussed, even though Descartes regarded it as being no less primordial than the cogito.

(page 72)

In contrast, we may judge that the main claim Heidegger could make for his analytic is that it raises the ontological question of the am (the "sum") above all other questions. Indeed the dominant claim in Being and Time makes this explicit--it is not until the nature of Being in general has been determined can we even begin to grasp the kind of Being which belongs to this thinking being we call "I".

Now Heidegger warns us that it is misleading to use Descartes 'Cogito' (even in the critical sense) as an example of how to go about analysing Dasein. For the reasons that this approach is too histriological and has the effect of ossifying the notion of Being into something far too concrete and therefore inauthentic. Our first task is rather to prove that if we posit the concept of the subject (or Descartes' "I") as something that is proximally given, i.e. graspable in the immediacy of perception, that we shall completely miss the phenomenal content of Dasein--that is the Being of Dasein's--which stands above notions of the binary conception of subject and object and therefore is given over to us even before the "I" of the subject can be articulated.


A Plea For Your Indulgence!

In the following passage, Heidegger makes a plea for our indulgence concerning his obtuse use of language. He pleads that he is not being "terminologically arbitrary" when he avoids using traditional grammatical forms to explain his philosophy. For example using 'existential' and 'Dasein' instead of ordinary expressions like 'life' and 'man' to designate the entities which we are ourselves. The reason for this is he wants to get away from conceptions of 'subject' and 'object', but unfortunately these conceptions are already inscribed in language and become the schemata to a kind of thinking that is evoked as soon as one opens one's mouth or puts pen to paper. Ontologically every idea of a 'subject'--unless refined by a previous logical determination of its basic character--still posits what maybe called in Scholastic language the subjectum (which Heidegger translates as Being-already-at-hand). The subject possesses this no matter how many vigorous ontical protestations an advocate of this doctrine cares to make against the 'soul substance' or the 'reification of consciousness' etc., etc. The point is that such reification always going to happen in the arena of language where every Being becomes a "thing" and every thing becomes a name. In this paradigm Dasein becomes simply "I" and the world is a collection of predicates which lie always outside of the "I". Only by using the phenomenological method can the ontological origin of these terms be demonstrated and we can go about the task of dismantling these assumptions in earnest. However such knowledge is certainly not available to any logical proof (since logic is predicated on grammar of language and this grammar has already cut Being out of the equation!) So if we are to manoeuvre ourselves into a position from where we can ask the question, "What do we understand positively when with think of this unreified Being that we have hitherto considered to be the subject, soul, consciousness, spirit, person, etc?" we must do two things:

1/ Appreciate how all these "subjectum" terms in fact refer to definite phenomenological domains which can be 'given form', using the phenomenological method.

2/ Be aware that this method cannot be employed unless we first take on board the idea that the Being of theses entities is what is being designated and not the 'thingness' of them.

On the other hand any serious and scientifically-minded 'philosophy of life' (although this expression tells us as much as "the botany of plants"!) always expresses an unexpressed tendency towards an understanding of Dasein's Being. Now what is conspicuous in that tendency (and this is why the human sciences are defective in principle) is that 'life' itself, as an ontology, is something that never become a problem precisely because of the a priori burying of the problem of Being. And it is upon this error that the 'philosophies of life' are always founded. I think the philosophers who in Heidegger view ignore being can be likened to gravediggers who one stood at the opening of a grave and shovelled their dirt into the hole so fast that they did not notice that there was something very much alive down there struggling to get out. Like the good gravedigger that they were these philosophers levelled off the dirt and tramped it down hard with their boots so that when the human sciences came along looking for a good place to build their citadels of knowledge, they found the ground on this particular spot to be firm and conducive to the task. Fast forward to the present situation where we inhabit these citadels and walk their streets completely oblivious that below our feet there is a restless spirit howling to be let out.

(page 73)


Flaws in the Phenomenological Tradition

Certainly in Heidegger's judgement all movements that try to outline a philosophical anthropology utilising the ontological tradition in philosophy are bound to fail. In contrast, the phenomenological interpretation of personality (the tradition into which Heidegger himself was indoctrinated into as a student of Edmund Hussurl) is sometimes more radical and transparent at least in principle. But it too must fail because here also Dasein has a dimension which is precluded by their analysis.

Take the claims of the phenomenologist Max Scheler for example, Scheler maintains quite correctly that the person is neither a thing, nor a substance, nor still an object [ref. Scheler Jahrbuch Vol. II, 1916, p 242]. Here he echoes Hussurl's insistence that the unity of a person must have a constitution essentially different from the unity of a thing of nature [ref. Hussurl, Logos I, 1910, p 319]. Scheler applies the same assumptions qua personhood to his analysis of acts. An act for Scheler is never an object either. It is essential to the Being of acts that they are experienced only in their performance which is given over to consciousness afterwards in the form of a retrospective reflection. In other words the notion of the phenomenon as an 'act' is in fact only actuated when we think about it afterwards and thus our thoughts where the act becomes known also necessarily have the status of being 'retroactive'. This means that acts are purely experiential in a way that psychical events are not. Scheler follows this line of reasoning to its logical end and concludes a person essentially only exists in the performances of these acts, and for that reason a person cannot be considered in any rational way to be an object, since the objectification of personhood is only an idea applied after the (f)act. Conversely any psychical objectification of acts in retrospective thought is equivalent to the 'de-personalisation' of the person. Scheler's theory in effect places a prohibition on any kind of talk about defining acts or personhood claiming that such talk always leads to a reification. A person in Scheler's sense can only therefore be defined as "a performer of intentional acts which are bound together by the unity of meaning." Thus a sharp differentiation has been drawn between the 'personal' and the 'psychical' Being. But Heidegger is obviously not happy with this distinction given his twin contentions that Being is first and foremost "wholeness" and that as a phenomenon, it can be grasped in language. Thus he makes a critical intervention at this point by asking what he calls two crucial questions of Scheler, "What constitutes the ontological meaning of performance?" and "How is the kind of Being that belongs to a person going to be ascertained in a positive way?" In asking the first question Heidegger wants to draw our attention to the fact that we must face the Being of the whole person, so to speak, who is customarily taken as the unity of the body...

(page 74)

...soul and spirit and by asking the second Heidegger contends that the hitherto considered nebulous notions of "body" "soul" and "spirit" may also be grasped in a positive sense using the phenomenological method, and consequently can be made to stand out as phenomena which can be investigated. Thus a challenge has been issued to Sheler's prohibition of talking about the person as a phenomenon. While Heidegger does not actually elaborate on these questions, he promises that he will do so once the question of Being has been properly outlined. He adds almost as an afterthought that within certain limits the ontological indefiniteness of the body soul and spirit may not even prove to be important.

There are two things that we should be aware of because they have the potential to stand in the way of an analytic of Dasein's Being and therefore could pull the investigation off track.

1/ The ancient world, whose inadequate ontological foundations have been overlooked by both the philosophy of life and by personalism.

2/ The ‘anthropology of Christianity’

I will now elaborate on both of these in turn:


1/ The inadequate ontological foundations of the ancient world

Man is defined as an 'animal having speech' which has been interpreted to mean 'rational animal.' But the kind of Being that belongs to this animal is thought of as something present-at-hand which is also occurring. This ‘also occurring’ is illustrated in English by the very term we use to designate ourselves--The 'human being'--the also occurring is inscribed in the word by the fact that 'human being' is written in the continuous tense. The logos (speech of reason) which figures in the endowment of "animal having speech" is the reason why human beings are considered to be superior to the animal’s. However in Heidegger's opinion the Being which belongs the logos in this particular conception is rendered as obscure as the phrase 'rational animal' itself. In other words the very expression under which the entire entity human being has been defined has actually overlooked the uniqueness of its Being because 'animal having speech' emphasises the meaning of the logos as "speech" rather than its phenomenological meaning of the logos as "letting something be seen" [ref. ¶ 7, page 58].


2/ The ‘anthropology of Christianity’

The second clue for determining man's 'essence' is a theological one, epitomised by the phrase from the Bible, "And God said, let us make man in our image after our likeness" [Genesis, I, 26.] This phrase is the axiom on which the Christian interpretation of man can be said to be based. But just as the Being of God gets interpreted ontologically, so does the being of the ens finitum (mortal being). In modern times the Christian definition has been deprived of its theological character, but the idea of transcendence, i.e., that man is something that reaches beyond himself, is fundamentally rooted in Christian dogmatics.


(page 75)

The Problems with Anthropology

In the attempt to determine man as an entity Heidegger asserts that…

a) his Being has been forgotten.

b) the uniqueness of this being has been perceived either as something self-evident, or as something merely 'present at hand',

and consequently Being of man has been overlooked. This is not just the case with Dasein, the Being of all "created Things" has been overlooked also. These two remarks a) and b) are said by Heidegger to be two clues which have become intertwined in the anthropology of modern times, where both human consciousness and the interconnectedness of experiences served as the points of departure for methodological study. But since in the theoretical assumptions which determined the methodology of the cogitans were either left undetermined or seen as something so self evident and that it did not need to be explained further, it meant that the very foundations of anthropological problematics remained undetermined also.


The Problems with Psychology and Biology

The same is true of psychology, whose anthropological tendencies are, according to Heidegger, unmistakable. And the problems of neither discipline can be solved by combining both into a biological science. While biology is the 'science of life,' it must be born in mind that this 'life' is founded on the life of Dasein and whilst Heidegger does concede that life itself does have a kind of Being that is accessible on its own, this does not imply that it is a) ever detached from Dasein, nor b) that it can ever be totally detached from Dasein. In other words 'life' does not and cannot exist in its own right. And if this is accepted as being true it becomes clear that the philosophical assumptions on which the science of Biology are based start to crumble. Thus biology, as the ontology of life becomes, in Heidegger's opinion, merely a privative Interpretation: "a science of mere aliveness".


Summary of Heidegger's Criticisms of Anthropology, Psychology and Biology

In suggesting that anthropology, psychology and biology fail to give an adequate answer to the question of Being, Heidegger does not mean to pour scorn on the positive work done in each of these disciplines. However he does wants to make it clear that the ontological foundations of man can never be disclosed by them in the form of a retrospective hypotheses derived from empirical material. Heidegger maintains the foundations of Being are always 'there' as an a priori even at the stage when empirical material simply gets collected. The ontological primacy of Being is in fact more radical and more problematical than any of the problems these sciences can identify, ponder, debate, prove, or disprove.

(page 76)

¶ 11. The Existential Analytic and the Interpretation of Primitive Dasein. The Difficulties of Achieving a 'Natural Conception of the World'

The interpretation of Dasein in its everydayness is not the same as describing some primitive stage of Dasein (for which read tribal peoples!*) that we can become acquainted with empirically through anthropology. Everydayness is not the same thing as primitiveness. Everydayness is a mode of Dasein's Being, even when Dasein lives in a highly active and differentiated culture, in fact precisely then. Moreover, even primitive Dasein has the possibility of Being which is not of the everyday kind. So primitive culture is not the place to discover Dasein's everydayness, although primitive Dasein often speaks to us of more directly of a primordial absorption in phenomena in the sense of it being pre-phenomenological. But as a way of conceiving an ontology of entities, any approach based on looking ‘through the eyes’ of primitive peoples seems to be too clumsy and crude, but on the other hand it can be positively helpful in bringing out the ontological structures of phenomena.

*MD in the comments pointed out that I was a little too quick to equate the word "primitive," as in "primitive peoples," with "tribal peoples." Here's what he has to say:

I wouldn't be so quick. Heidegger was a philosophical and ontological elitist, who believed several things that we might find peculiar, such as that the German and Greek languages were simpatico in a way other European languages were not, that German Dasien was peculiarly situated to do philosophy, that the combination of German-ness and the German language favored the philosophic tradition and efforts of German philosophers, etc. I don't think Heidegger thought the English were even capable of doing philosophy, as he conceived of the discipline. When Heidegger refers to "primitive peoples," he may as well be referring to the French or the Italians as to any image we may hold of "tribal peoples." We may find that fantastic, but a lot about Heidegger is fantastic.

However, I think these remarks bear out my criticisms of Heidegger's advocacy of language as something that can truly represent phenomena [ref. ¶8, Page 63]. The point of this criticism can be expressed simply by asking a question, "How can language grasp the essential nature of the phenomenon in any real sense without also grasping the prejudices of the speaker?" In other words, what guarantees are there in language that ensures that we can grasp anything of the entities in themselves, when the very perceptions of those entities are always framed by some sort of judgement the observer brings to her or his perceiving, which, as Kant noted and Heidegger quoted [ref. ¶6, Page 45], comes even before any apprehension of can be thought about, let alone articulated?



Up to now our information about primitives has been provided by ethnology, which is a science that operates with very definite preliminary conceptions of what it means to be human. Whether ethnology has genuine phenomenological access to its object of study is a matter of debate. In Heidegger's analysis ethnology is build on similar misconceptions as anthropology, psychology and biology, in that it presupposes an analytic of Being which is clearly inadequate. But since the positive sciences cannot and should not wait for philosophy to come up with a foundational doctrine that is impervious to error, they have to push on with their own research using with whatever philosophical resources are available to them at the time, no matter how inadequate they are. Therefore ethnology like the other human science tends to recapitulate the dogmatic assumptions of philosophy qua Being, but in a way that purifies them and makes them more ontologically transparent. I interpret this remark as somewhat ironic, in a way that is akin to Judith very quotable remark "what does transparency keep obscure?" (Butler 1999, xix)


A Natural Conception of the World

Heidegger has shown in some detail how ontological problematics differs from merely ontic research, but he concedes that having such knowledge does not make our task of starting an existential analytic any easier. This task requires that something which has both been long desired is considered necessary, that is - a natural conception of the world. This is an idea that philosophy has long felt to be disturbing, and has continually refused to achieve. However, the rich store of information now available on the most exotic...

(page 77)

...cultures and forms of Dasein (for which read tribal societies). It therefore seems a potentially fruitful first step to consider this avenue. But just in case you are alarmed that Heidegger is about to tread a Rousseauian path, he interjects that this information is merely a semblance, (i.e. an appearance which is deceptive) of the right path. The shear amount of information can seduce us into misrecognising the essential problem. That is, there can be no genuine knowledge of essences obtained simply by the syncretistic activity--a term meaning the unconvincing synthesis of essentially disparate phenomena--which Heidegger argues go to make up the modern idea of category. Subjecting the manifold of existence to taxonomies and tabulations does not equate with an actual understanding of what lies before our eyes when we grasp the world. In fact it often makes us overlook the kind of ordering that existence already falls quite naturally into. Consider this; if an ordering principle is genuine it must already have a content, in and of itself, this constitutes a natural ordering which can never be revealed if one imposes an arbitrary order on top of it. For example, if one is set the task of ordering various pictures of the world it is important to realise that it already presupposes an idea of the world that is subject to an ordering, otherwise how could such an ordering even be possible let alone take place? And furthermore, if the world is constitutive for Dasein as Heidegger asserts it is with his "Being-in-the-world", it presupposes that one already has an insight into the basic structures of Dasein as well as those of the world, for if this were not the case, Heidegger argues that we would not be able to form any conceptions of the world-phenomenon at all.



In this chapter Heidegger has characterised some things positively and some things negatively. In both cases the goal was the same; to outline the correct understanding of ontology. This then constitutes starting the inquiry in the "right way". That ontology can only contribute indirectly to the advancement of the positive sciences, does not imply a criticism of the former, but merely alludes to the fact that the goals of ontology are different to those of the human sciences. However, we should not be tempted to marginalise the latter on that account and not think about what these sciences claim, for even if we go beyond the mere collecting of information about entities, we will find that the question of Being is the spur for all scientific thinking.


Additional References

Burke, Edmund, A Philosophical Enquiry Into The Origin of Our Ideas of The Sublime and Beautiful, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Butler, Judith (1999) Gender Trouble: Feminism and The Subversion of Identity, (10th Anniversary Edition), London: Routledge


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This is the third part of my explication and commentary of Being in Time, tor contents of previous sections see the main index

There is also an online glossary of terms referred to in this document.

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