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Heidegger Response

Heidegger Response

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Published by Christopher Wallis
Some thoughts on Heidegger Copyright 2005 by Christopher D. Wallis
Some thoughts on Heidegger Copyright 2005 by Christopher D. Wallis

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Published by: Christopher Wallis on Aug 02, 2012
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08/02/2012

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Chris WallisHeidegger 2-Pager 
One might say that Heidegger’s philosophy is profoundly
anthropocentric
, relatingas it does all aspects of Being back to that specific being, the human Dasein. In other words, the world and its entities are to be explicated in terms of Dasein, and whatever meaning they have can only be construed in those terms. Even epistemology does notescape the gravitional field of significance constituted by Dasein’s Being: “
there is truthonly in so far as Dasein is
(226).
But perhaps this is not as ‘biased’ as it at first appears;after all, it is Dasein asking the questions, and as we have seen, Dasein is that being for whom Being is an issue. Still, it is perhaps not going too far to say that Heidegger’senterprise is not so very distant from a philosophical version of the project of religionaccording to Berger (‘the audacious attempt to conceive the cosmos as humanlymeaningful’). It may be the case that Heidegger would say that any attempt by Dasein toconstrue the existential meaning of the entities in the world in any terms
other 
than thosethat pertain to Dasein’s Being would be simply inauthentic.What, then, is the relation of Dasein and the world (i.e. the total collection of entities)? Heidegger says that “all the modes of Being of entities within-the-world arefounded ontologically upon the worldhood of the world, and accordingly on the phenomenon of Being-in-the-world.” (211) So Dasein is
essentially
a Being-in-the-world.This intially unimpressive-seeming statement is in fact of crucial importance, for itconstitutes an overturning of centuries of philosophical speculation on the ontology of thehuman being, beginning with Descartes’ assertion ‘I am a thing that thinks’. By constrastto the concept of the human as
res cogitans
alongside a collection of entities that arenothing but present-to-hand entities occupying a specific space (
res extensa
) (211), Daseinis constantly engaging with the specific aspects of the world in specific contexts throughspecific modes of Being. Dasein’s existence is thus essentially relational: “The world of Dasein is a
with-world 
[Mitwelt]
.
Being-in is
 Being-with
Others.” (118) In fact, Heidegger suggests that worldliness or worldhood (Weltlichkeit) can only factically be applied toDasein.What then is the status of the objects we encounter in the world? Heidegger againcritiques traditional philosophy, arguing that the allegedly ontological but really ontical
 
analysis of objects as present-to-hand (i.e. simply existing and perceptible) things withcertain properties and occupying a certain space is an artificial abstraction. In fact, weencounter objects in the world as existing for specific purposes and we primarily think of them in terms like ‘in-order-to’. Thus Heidegger states that objects in the world are nearlyalways to be understood as ‘ready-to-hand’, a term that conveys the fact that we primarilythink of things we encoounter in terms of the use to which they may be put. “Readiness-to-hand is the way in which entities as they are ‘in themselves’ are defined ontologico-categorially.” (71) This is important (in part) because it is an argument against the philosophical idea that first we encounter the object in its ‘pure’ state and only then do wesuperimpose an interpretation upon it (e.g., its usefulness). Rather, since the meaning of theBeing of an entity is to be understood contextually and with reference to Dasein, we
 first 
encounter it as part of a web of contextual significance that imparts to it its function andthus its meaning. “The less we just stare at the hammer-Thing, and the more we seize holdof it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become, and the moreunveiledly is it encountered as that which it is—as equipment.”
(69)
 What, we may then ask, is Dasein’s fundamental mode of Being through which itengages with the world of primarily ready-to-hand entities as well as Other Dasein?“Being-in-the-world is bound up ontologically in the structural totality of Dasein’s Being,and we have characterized care as such a totality.” (209) Other modes of Dasein’s Beingmay be derived from this primal one of 
care
(and its correlates, concern and solicitude),including deficiency of care. The argument that the Being of Dasein is care—a central onefor BT—is not a ‘touchy-feely’ one, because it is broadly construed as
any
sort of concern —intellectual, ethical, financial, etc.—as well as the comportment based on that concern,including all forms of human striving, all of which necessarily presuppose care. Thus for the philosopher, “The achieving of phenomenological access to the entities which weencounter, consists rather in thrusting aside our interpretive tendencies…which conceal notonly the phenomenon of such ‘concern’, but even more those entities themselves
as
encountered of their own accord
in
our concern with them.” (67)Heidegger presents three “fundamental ontological characteristics” of care:existentiality, facticity, and Being-fallen (191). These clearly parallel the three centralfeatures of Dasein (existence, thrownness, and falling). These three (former) characteristics
 
are all present, Heidegger argues, in the unitary structure of Dasein’s care, defined as
ahead-of-itself-in-already-being-in-a-world 
” (192). This weird phrase suggests, then, 1)that Dasein is future-focused, it is ahead of itself, due to its care; 2) that Dasein is throwninto a particular factical situation, historically determined, which limits the possibilities for the application of its care; 3) that Dasein has
being-with
entities in-the-world, that is, in anygiven present moment, Dasein is ‘fallen’ into its specific care-determined activities. Thelatter quality points towards the means by which Dasein avoids the (subjectively) negativeaspect of care, i.e. anxiety. In other words, by ‘falling’ or becoming absorbed in thefamiliar Umwelt, the public ‘They’ and its familiar and limited set of possibilities, weexperience at-homeness, the opposite of the unsettling feeling of being not-at-home in theworld. (189)Yet, Heidegger seems to imply, we must risk the constant threat of not-at-homenessin order to attain authenticity, for the latter is a state impossible for one who is constantly‘fallen’. Only through taking a step back and becoming critically cognizant of our situation, our surroundings, our moods, our relations with Others—the act of a philosopher  —can we discern whether our choices are our own or whether we have inauthenticallyceded them to the ‘They’. (129) Hence it might be said that Heidegger’s Dasein is a beingwhose existence is fraught with tension.Has Heidegger succeeded in articulating the fundamental structures of man’sexistence, and hence of existence itself (insofar as we can know it) or is his depiction of man’s world, like that of most philosophers, contingent on the cultural tradition that produced him? I would argue that Heidegger’s relentless interrogation and deconstructionof his own tradition (e.g. 21-2) has indeed allowed him to attain to some insights that areuniversal in their truth-value. Yet perhaps it is most accurate to say that he hascharacterized the existence of most Dasein, but not all. I am thinking particularly of thosereligious adepts of (say) India, whose herculean task has been to
undo
the very structures of normal human life that Heidegger analyses; for example, purposely contemplating objects(and people) in sustained meditation not as ready-to-hand means to an end, but as present-to-hand ends in themselves, as well as consciously identifying and avoiding the state of  being ‘fallen’ with its several characteristics. Some adepts further renounce the attitude of 

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