Table of content:________________________________________________
Heidegger’s Being and time: 2
Heidegger’s rejection of traditional methods for the study of being: 2
Heidegger’s approach to study of being: 3
Journey to being: 3
The dimension of time: 4
Heidegger’s method: 4
A beginning with Husserl: 5
Against theoretical intuition: 5
Idea of Dasein: 5
Dasein in context: rediness to hand (Zuhandenheit) and presence at hand (Vorhandenheit). 6
Linguistic expression: 6
Phenomenology and hermeneutics – Heideggerian fusion. 7
Further reading: 7
Is is one of the most commonplace words in English language. It sleeps into sentences almost unnoticed. It is difficult to think, write or speak without it. But few people asks –
WHAT IS IS?
This negligence results in not just the neglect of a word but of every resonance that the word might have. Heidegger was an original phenomenologist of the highest rank, who attempted, in his own unique way, to carry out Husserl’s project of getting back to the ‘things themselves’. He spent ten years actively engaging with Husserl’s philosophy before his own Being and Time appeared, which at once claimed phenomenology to be much older than Husserl, as an essentially Greek way of thinking, and also, at the same time, pushed phenomenology beyond Husserl, in that it replaced the study of the intentional structures of consciousness with the more fundamental study of the relation between Dasein and Being itself.
Heidegger’s Being and time:
Heidegger’s main question begins with questioning “IS” or being. What is is? Is is a part of verb to be, the verb of being. That was Heidegger’s central occupation. He argued that Western thought has forgotten the question of being, not just recently but for more than 2500 years. Therefore, he returns to the question “how could being be understood?”
Being and time branches out the question of being in to two distinct tasks:
Part One: the Interpretation of Dasein in terms of temporality, and the explication of time as the transcendental horizon for the question of being.
Part Two: basic features of a phenomenological destruction of the history of ontology, with the problematic of Temporality as our clue.
Heidegger was of the view that a philosopher has only a single deep thought, which he or she constantly struggles to express. In his own case, his whole life’s work was a single-minded attempt to reexamine the question of Being, Thus, in Being and Time (1927) Heidegger announces that he proposes to investigate “the question of Being” that is the “question of the meaning of Being.” Heidegger argues:
If the question of Being is to have its own history made transparent, then this hardened tradition must be loosened up, and the concealments which it has brought about must be dissolved. We understand this task as one in which by taking the question of Being as our clue, we are to destroy the traditional content of ancient ontology until we arrive at those primordial experiences in which we achieved our first ways of determining the nature of Being—the ways which have guided us ever since (Being and time, 1927).
Heidegger’s rejection of traditional methods for the study of being:
Heidegger rejected traditional metaphysical approaches to the question of Being as having misunderstood the nature of beings by understanding them as ‘things’, as what is simply there, as occurrent, as ‘reality’, as present at hand. Traditional metaphysics, which thought it was simply describing things as they are, does not realise that it is constructed on the basis of a certain assumed attitude towards the world, which in fact is not fundamental, but belongs to a distorted way of experiencing due to the way humans are drawn down into everyday existing.
Heidegger’s central insight is that traditional metaphysical understanding is actually a sedimentation of a kind of everyday set of assumptions about reality, and this set of assumptions needs to be shown to be just that, through a deeper exploration of all the ways in which humans relate to the world. In particular the prioritisation of the theoretical, of theoria in the Greek sense, of the contemplative outlook so admired by Husserl, is shown to be a particular effect of tradition and not a fundamental feature of Dasein itself. This leads Heidegger to a radical questioning of the traditional metaphysical definition of human beings as rational animals as well as the traditional scriptural assumptions about human beings being made in the image and likeness of God.
Heidegger’s approach to study of being:
Heidegger argues that human existence must be thought radically in its own terms. There are two sides to this: one is an attempt at an existential analytic of Dasein; the other is an attempt to retrieve the essential meanings of key words expressing existence from beneath the weight of encrusted tradition. To highlight and expose this one-sided partiality of traditional metaphysical accounts (including the medieval Scholastic, the Cartesian, Rationalist, and Kantian approaches), Heidegger favours a new ‘fundamental ontology’, an enquiry into the manner in which the structures of Being are revealed through the structures of human existence, an enquiry, furthermore, which could only be carried out through phenomenology, now transformed into hermeneutical phenomenology, since the phenomena of existence always require interpretation, and hermeneutics is the art of interpretation. Human existence is not an entity which is simply there in the world, accessible from different points of view. Rather human existence is some specific person’s existence; it has the character of ‘specificity’ (Jeweiligkeit) or ‘mineness’ (Jemeinigkeit). So too an interpretation of human existence cannot be neutral, dispassionate, theoretical contemplation, but must take into account the involvement of the enquirer him- or herself in the undertaking.
Human beings are involved with their existence in such a way that hermeneutics must be able to accomplish this movement backwards and forwards between the existence to be examined and the nature of the examining enquirer. Heidegger’s fundamental ontology, in Being and Time, will try to map out the transcendental conditions which made human existence (Dasein) possible, while recognising that humans are individual existing beings whose Being is an issue for them. Heidegger has raised to an ontological level the essential role of humans as questioning beings. It is this fundamental questioning concern with Being which marks out human existence as such. Questioning is prioritised over all other forms of interacting. Understanding what it is to be a questioner reveals the purely human mode of ‘being-in-the-world’ (Inder-Welt-Sein) as a kind of projective caring and involvement in the world.
Journey to being:
Throughout his life, Heidegger restlessly pursued a problem: the term “Being” had meant many different things to those who used it. Out of this was later to arise his first formulation of the being-question: what was the meaning of being? He searched through three major epochs: those of the ancient Greeks, the Medieval Scholastics, and Modern Philosophy. Heidegger worked on all three, reading each in the light of the others.
For Plato, every being had an ideal existence, as a perfect, unchanging form. What we experience as visible, audible, tactile beings are merely imperfect reflections or copies of the ideal beings.
For Aristotle the realm of being would be divided into different types, categories of beings. In the first place being comes either as SUBSTANCES of as ATTRIBUTES. SUBSTANCE is what something is in itself, identifiable and separable from other substances. E.g. Animals and plants, stars and planets
An ATTRIBUTE is some kind of quality or characteristic that substances have. For example a substance may be poisonous, purple in colour, 18cm in length etc. etc. This schema is close to modern, empirically oriented commonsense.
But another statement is possible. THE THING IS… we announce that it exists, that it has its being. And being is neither a substance, nor an attribute. That was Heidegger’s problem.
Aristotle had categorized beings, but offered no satisfactory account of being. Each of the categories marks out a type of being, and how it can be known – but there was no single, unified concept of being as such.
For scholastics it was important HOW the various entities are known: HOW they are thought to exist. For them, Christian theologians’ concept of GOD as something all encompassing and generating all other beings – creating all substances and attributes becomes important. So, God’s being without substance – now became the ground of being, its ultimate origin and its explanation.
The dimension of time:
In Being and Time, Heidegger does not want merely to give an existential analysis of human being. His ultimate aim is to understand the meaning of Being and its relation to time. Heidegger rightly sees that traditional metaphysics and theology had an orientation towards thinking of true Being as timeless, eternal, unchanging. In the metaphysical tradition stemming from Plato and Aristotle, Being has been understood as presence (Anwesenheit, which contains the word ‘Wesen’ which means ‘essence’, the Greek ousia) as that which has some kind of static occurrence. Heidegger, on the other hand, sees human existence as essentially taking place in time, spread out between past and future and radically limited by death and so essentially incomplete. Being must be understood radically in terms of time. Unfortunately, the concepts of time available from the philosophical and scientific tradition are inadequate to the task. Heidegger thus proposes in the second half of Being and Time to run through various fundamental human experiences in terms of their temporal character to try to develop an authentic sense of temporality as a first step towards approaching the problem of time itself and its relation to Being.
Being and Time is a radical attempt to rethink traditional philosophical approaches to human beings, to Being, to time and history, and, of course, to the history of philosophy itself. The book aims to be both an a priori transcendental phenomenological description of the essential structure of human existence, Dasein, and an appreciation of the temporal, cultural, and the dispersed nature of human historicality. Somehow, Heidegger saw all of these problems as capable of being clarified through a phenomenological approach, although, now, an approach which he had to some extent forged by himself. For, by the time of writing Being and Time, he had come to view Husserlian phenomenology as yet another project of idealist philosophy which had got lost from the essential historicity of human nature.
A beginning with Husserl:
Being and Time first appeared to be a radical deviation from Husserl’s phenomenology, but the publication of the drafts of Heidegger’s lecture courses from 1917 to 1927 shows Heidegger working his way through phenomenology, employing a close reading of Husserl’s texts, and situating his own problematic as emerging from them.
For Husserl, phenomenology was the approach to locate “universally-true” consciousness. By phenomenological REDUCTION. First reduction is to Suspend any attention to mere particulars, “bracket” them out… remove from the scene, and what is left will be the essential, universal structures of the mind. For Husserl, the real objects are not objects in consciousness. Second reduction is the argument that objects to appear in our minds some kind of mental activity, or ACT must be performed, that too must be studied. In Reduction three he argues that objects and acts are of many different types – therefore, they come plural. Therefore, if we can bracket out even the objects and acts, the Transcendental Ego is what remains. This is what Husserl called ABSOLUTE BEING.
Clearly, Husserl, equates being with absolute consciousness. Heidegger was skeptical about this abstract, sovereign consciousness. Did it rule unchallenged? Entities might turn up… but did they turn up only for a purified, disembodied Ego?
He therefore, argues that, one can step in an arithmetic world, as long as one adopts the arithmetic standpoint, bu the ordinary, natural world is always there for me. If the ordinary practical world is there, always, it comes first. It has to be there for someone before they can launch into abstract calculations, theorizing about transcendental egos etc. Husserl, having noticed it, kept putting it back in brackets. But Heidegger set off dramatically new path – towards being as it was encountered and mand meaningful, in PRACTICAL EVERYDAY LIFE.
Against theoretical intuition:
In his lectures of the early 1920s Heidegger had criticised Husserl’s account of intuition as not sufficiently recognising that our original understanding is not theoretical, but grounded in our practical engagements (comportment, Verhalten) with the world. Our understanding is interpretative from the very start and that interpretative involvement with things need not be at a level of intellection or cognition, but more usually comes in concernful, practical dealings.
Idea of Dasein:
In Being and Time, Husserl’s notion of intentionality is replaced by a phenomenological account of Dasein’s practical comportments within the world of practical relations with things (Zuhandensein). This leads Heidegger to revise Husserl’s conception of intentionality and finally to drop it altogether in favour of the conception of Dasein’s transcendence. Heidegger promises to show how intentionality is grounded in the ec-static nature of Dasein, that is, the manner in which human existence always runs ahead of itself in expectation and lingers behind in memory.
Dasein… that entity in its being which we know as human life; this entity in the specificity of its being, the entity that we each ourselves are, which each of us finds in the fundamental assertion: I amDasein in context: rediness to hand (Zuhandenheit) and presence at hand (Vorhandenheit)
In Being and Time he first introduces Dasein in terms of his discussion of the formal structure of the question of Being:
Thus, to work out the question of Being adequately, we must make an entity—the inquirer—transparent in his own Being. The very asking of this question is an entity’s mode of Being; and as such it gets its essential character from what is inquired about— namely, Being. This entity which each of us is himself and which includes inquiring as one of the possibilities of its Being, we shall denote by the term “Dasein”.
Dasein is not an entity that stands on its own, like a stone or a chair; it is always caught up in a world. The fundamental nature of Dasein is always to be in a world. World here means a context, an environment, a set of references and assignments within which any meaning is located Human being is ‘Being-in-the-world’. Furthermore, it is not as if Dasein is somehow sitting side by side with the world. Dasein is world-involved, and as Heidegger will later argue, world-disclosing. Being-in-the-world is such a basic state of Being that it is through it that all the other ‘existentialia’ (Dasein’s equivalent of the categories which apply to inanimate things) of Dasein get determined.
Heidegger explicates this conception of Being-in-the-world through an account of our basic contacts with things in the environment. Traditionally, Heidegger feels, philosophy, including even Aristotle, has prioritised the theoretical encounter with things, things as they are to sight.
Sight stands at a distance and seeing does not tamper with the thing seen. Against this traditional metaphysical view, Heidegger emphasises that our initial contact with objects is in terms of their use and availability to us for certain assigned tasks, tasks generated by our interests. We tamper with and manipulate things as determined by our interests and our goals. Things initially present themselves with this kind of available being, what Heidegger calls Zuhandensein, ‘readiness to hand’, or what Hubert Dreyfus renders as ‘availability’.10 Normally we reach for an object to act as a hammer, we see a tree as a source of wood or shelter from the rain, and so on. Heidegger’s descriptions give a certain priority to these kinds of ‘workworlds’ —the work-world of the carpenter, for instance (BT § 26). Only subsequently, and by a separate act of intention—one which is much more theoretical—do we see the tools as things in themselves, as things standing on their own, available for inspection. This theoretical way of viewing things leads to science, to the pure interest in examining things as they are, bracketed from their connections and engagements with our interests. Things seen in this theoretical mode are vorhandene—present at hand, simply there.
According to Heidegger Husserl’s conception of intentionality is not sufficiently tuned in to express our practical engagement with the world. Much more than Husserl, Heidegger is interested in the linguistic dimension of intentionality. Our whole comportment towards things is expressive, and this expression can appear as linguistic assertion (Aussage).
It is not so much that we see the objects and things but rather that we first talk about them. To put it more precisely: we do not say what we see, but rather the reverse, we see what one says about the matter.
Understanding is not just a matter of having a sensory input, conceptualizing it, and reacting to it. The sensory dimension of the experience falls short of what the assertion says about it: I say the chair is yellow but I do not literally see the being-yellow of the chair. ‘Being’, ‘this’, and so on are not in the subjective reflection, but are correlates of the act. Heidegger develops Husserl’s notion of categorial intuition into his account of the experience of being and truth. Heidegger is coming to see that the essential disclosure of things takes place through Dasein’s concernful dealing with things in the environment, that it takes place essentially in expression. Relating to things, disclosing them, always relates to our concerns in advance, our relation is primarily interpretative, or hermeneutical.
Phenomenology and hermeneutics – Heideggerian fusion
Heidegger gives Husserl’s account of practical intentionality an entirely new shape by connecting it with the tradition of hermeneutics. Heidegger later recalled that he had first encountered hermeneutics as a branch of theological interpretation during his Catholic seminary days. By ‘hermeneutics’ Heidegger does not just mean the method specific to the historical and cultural sciences, but the whole manner in which human existence is interpretative. All our experience is interpreting and encountering what has already been interpreted by ourselves and by others.
Heidegger calls this way of approaching things the “existentialhermeneutical as”; it is a kind of approach which gets pushed into the background when we adopt the more neutral view of a thing as an entity with specific properties. All neutral understanding of things, for example scientific understanding, presupposes our existential encounter with things and our original interpretation of them in the light of our concerns and dealings with the world. If this is forgotten, according to Heidegger, we end up with a theory of truth as judgement instead of an experience of truth as revelation. Heidegger then is seeking to replace the traditional view of knowledge as a kind of intellectual representation with a new view which sees knowing as a sub-species of a kind of concernful dealing with the world. In Being and Time Heidegger struggles to develop a new vocabulary to express this kind of relating to the world, using terms like ‘Umsicht’ (circumspection) which suggest a connection with ‘Umwelt’ (environment).
Mortan, D. (2000). Introduction to phenomenology. London: Routledge
Macann, C. (1993). The four phenomenological philosophers: Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau – Ponty. London: Routledge
M.Heidegger, “A Dialogue on Language”, trans. Peter D.Hertz, On the Way toLanguage (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), pp. 9–10.
Dermot Moran, “The Destruction of the Destruction: Heidegger’s Versions of the History of Philosophy”, in K.Harries and C.Jamme, eds, Martin Heidegger. Politics, Art and Technology, op. cit., pp. 175–196.