This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Heidegger and the Problem of Idealism
University of Nevada, Reno
Was Heidegger a ‘realist’ or an ‘idealist’? The issue has been and continues to be hotly debated in Heidegger scholarship. Here it is argued that the much more desirable realistic interpretation of Heidegger can be sustained, provided his theory of moods is given its due. Moods, I argue, are not only ‘equiprimordial’ with Dasein’s understanding of being, but are also irreducible to the latter. It is often held – correctly, as it seems to the author – that Heidegger’ s idealism is all but inevitable if Dasein’s awareness of entities is grounded only in Dasein’s understanding of being. But in Being and Time Heidegger speaks also of how what there is is ‘disclosed moodwise’. The essay closely analyzes this speci cally moody mode of disclosure, and shows both its autonomy vis-a-vis the understanding of being and its function of ` securing, for Dasein, an access to a truly independent reality.
Half a century ago, Alphonse de Waelhens, at that time perhaps Europe’s most in uential Heidegger commentator, was concluding his examination of Heidegger’s ‘early’ philosophy on a rather pessimistic note. According to de Waelhens, Heidegger is in no position to escape the threat of idealism. Entities are rendered intelligible, both in their essence and in their existence, only on the basis of Dasein’s understanding of their being. Consequently, any ascription, to entities, of an existence truly independent of Dasein must be deemed unintelligible and contradictory. 1 Recently, the argument has been renewed, albeit from a somewhat different angle, by William Blattner. 2 Blattner’s claim is a bit weaker than de Waelhens’: the ascription, to entities, of a Dasein-independent status is not, perhaps, altogether unintelligible and contradictory, but it is certainly devoid of truth value. Blattner arrives at this conclusion by focusing upon the function of Heideggerian temporality. Temporality is both the meaning of Dasein’s own being and the horizon of the meaning of the being of entities other than Dasein. To ask whether entities are dependent or independent vis-a-vis Dasein means to apply the category of ` existence beyond the boundaries of its permissible use – beyond the boundaries of Dasein’s temporal understanding of being. And so, the only legitimate application of the category of existence to entities other than Dasein is relative to Dasein’s own understanding of the being of these entities. Whichever way we interpret it, the threat of Heideggerian ‘idealism’ is very real. In fact, just about all the traditional conceptual devices employed in the past to set aside such a threat seem to fail, often very openly, in the case of Heidegger. Nothing can be more signi cant, in this respect, than Heidegger’s
# 2000 Taylor & Francis
we do so only because we ‘understand and conceptualize’ precisely such a ‘characteristic of Being’. aware of nature and (in the early Heidegger at least) nature is precisely that alien. . Quite the contrary: on this particular issue Heidegger explicitly endorses what can only be viewed as a radical version of idealism. To be sure. we would have to encounter them as stripped of any intelligibility. p. But.3 And since all ‘characteristics of being’ are relative to Dasein. Nature can also be when no Dasein exists’ (BPP. p. characteristic of Dasein’ (BT. the Heideggerian being ‘in itself’ of entities has nothing to do with the Kantian thing in itself. He thinks that we are. as totally alien and undomesticated visa-vis our human Dasein. says Heidegger. a . taken as they are. As long as entities are said to be intelligible only in terms of our understanding of being – and this. that Dasein discovers nature as . after all. Certainly.404 Piotr Hoffman own clari cation of the concepts of ‘in itself’ and ‘in themselves’ as applied to entities. . the ‘in itself’ status of entities is also relative to Dasein. To the extent. p. these statements fail to remove the threat of idealism. 228). and as Dasein exists. pp. since Heidegger rejects explicitly ‘psychological’ idealism (BT. But this does nothing to abolish their dependence upon our understanding of their being. 170). In this respect the world is very different from nature. He elaborates on this. 205. and so on. at least. To encounter them as so independent. . p. unrelated to what we mean in everyday life when we speak plainly of things as ‘independent’ of us. apprehension. 92). Heidegger also states that only ‘Being (not entities) is dependent upon the understanding of Being’ (BT. entities cannot be viewed as dependent upon our mental acts of experience. p. undomesticated reality contrasted with the man-made world. but in their existence as well. so to speak. These expressions have a distinctly Kantian avor. for exactly the same reason as Kant’s empirical realism does nothing to abolish his transcendental idealism. p. and for the same reason. underlying the spatio-temporal phenomenal world. or things in themselves. 251). 255). To quote Heidegger again. The world. as Heidegger makes it abundantly clear in the Basic Problems of Phenomenology (BPP. ‘the world is. Dasein-ish’ (BPP. ‘World is only. if. 251). explaining that ‘entities are. and at their face value. but this is not how Heidegger chooses to understand them. For the entities’ ‘independence’ too. not just in their essence. quite independently of that experience by which they are disclosed. seems clear. . 166). is interpreted by Heidegger as an ontological characteristic derivative from Dasein’s understanding of Being (BT. p. If we speak of entities as being ‘in themselves’. then. and the grasping in which their nature is ascertained’ (BT. ` Would such a way of gaining access to entities be even possible for the Dasein of Heidegger’s early writings? His intention. the acquaintance in which they are discovered. 212) – we cannot encounter them in their independence from us. Nor should it be supposed that by speaking of the entities’ being ‘in themselves’ Heidegger uses this term only in some purely technical fashion. ‘is .
100). But this does not entail the proposition that there are in fact such entities or that we have some access to them. the status of entities as independent from Dasein on account of their unmeaningness and unworldliness is itself nothing other than Dasein’s conception. as when Heidegger speaks famously of ‘the wood [as] a forest of timber. a quarry of rock’ (BT. In anxiety. intelligible. I take. To put it plainly. and Dasein alone. Dasein has access to a truly independent reality. the present-athand nature is often encountered within the world. But Dasein. 100). if this is true. beings in their full but heretofore concealed strangeness as what is radically other’. iron. p. statements from the lecture What is Metaphysics. tongs and needle. the peculiar meaning of the presentat-hand as ‘unworldly’ and ‘unmeaning’. Part of what is involved in this conception is just this: we conceive entities as independent of us. . But how does Dasein become even aware of nature as so understood? We can notice immediately how Heidegger takes away with one hand what he gives with the other. The present-at-hand as such and. wood. ‘Hammer. p. all the way down to entities’ very existence. sustained by our everyday understanding of the being of nature. And. it seems.Heidegger and the Problem of Idealism 405 Heidegger understands it here. 103). p. posits ontological characteristics of entities. undomesticated region of reality to which Dasein nds itself vulnerable. is dependent upon Dasein’s understanding of being. in what follows I argue that Heidegger does have a way of escaping the idealistic consequences of his doctrine of Dasein’s understanding of being. Now. This is clearly part of the humanized ‘world’. He speaks of nature in this particular sense in a key passage of Being and Time in which he points out how such an ‘unworldly’ and ‘unmeaning’ nature can ‘break in’ upon Dasein and even destroy it (BT. For in the very same lecture Heidegger tells us that ‘in the face of anxiety all utterance of the “is” falls silent’ (ibid. But then nature as ready-to-hand has its boundary conditions in nature as present-athand. and often dismissed. nihilation ‘discloses . metal. refer in themselves to steel. 193). mineral. but Heidegger also allows for our encounter with an ‘unworldly’ and ‘unmeaning’ present-at-hand nature. Heidegger’s often quoted. However. Even in the same key passage of Being and Time the ‘unworldly’ and ‘unmeaning’ status of nature is itself identi ed as nature’s ‘ontological characteristic’. And again: ‘only because the nothing is manifest in the ground of Dasein can the total strangeness of beings overwhelm us’. in that they consist in these’ (BT. Heidegger means clearly nature as an alien. p. then the ‘radically other’ said to . But the question remains: can Dasein discover nature as nature is here contrasted with the man-made. . this can’t apply to nature understood as ready-to-hand.4 We need not go beyond the text of What is Metaphysics to see why many people tend to dismiss those statements. and domesticated world? Certainly. we now see. the mountain. as my point of departure. In such passages..
has a twofold character: the knowledge of being and the knowledge of the overwhelming. but Dasein’s very capacity to understand entities in their existence. are ‘disclosed moodwise’ (this is Heidegger’s expression: BT. And so. through our state-of-mind. The rst kind of knowledge is achieved on the level of Dasein’s existence. as rst philosophy. and this is precisely what allows us to disclose them as genuinely independent from Dasein and its world. too. that is. and overtakes Dasein. everyday counterpart of the overwhelmingness and strangeness of beings as they are disclosed in anxiety. and (2) this knowledge of the overwhelming is present. p. The rst question I now want to raise is this. Thus. however dimly. But Dasein’s own ‘there’ is the ‘there’ in the midst of entities. our knowledge of being is only one of the two ways of disclosing entities. which. overpowers. The second type of knowledge is achieved on the level of Dasein’s thrownness. he allows for Dasein’s knowledge of the overwhelming. then. 11). Unless we can nd some alternative way of disclosing entities in their existence – alternative to their being disclosed in Dasein’s understanding of being – we seem to be involved in a hopeless venture. (This twofold character corresponds to the twofold in Being and Time of existence and thrownness)’ (MFL. as parts of Dasein’s ‘there’. undomesticated overwhelmingness of entities? No. 173) in the same way. The mood of anxiety. stares it in the face with the inexorability of an enigma’ (BT. Everything I will say from now on will be an elaboration upon these two main points: (1) Heidegger does have a way of escaping idealism because. ‘Let us keep in mind that philosophy. some sense of this status of entities is preserved. In his Metaphysical . In The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic (hereafter MFL). in terms of projection and understanding. our rational explanations and justi cations. 175). on both the metaphysical and the everyday level the menace of idealism can be removed. In the ordinary moods. it turns out. p.406 Piotr Hoffman be disclosed in anxiety eludes not only Dasein’s everyday understanding of being. The inexorable is what overwhelms. for it is prior to. This ‘inexorability of an enigma’ with which Dasein’s ‘there’ is disclosed represents a watered-down. our moods. that is. discloses to us the reality of entities as ‘overwhelming’ us. and the everyday Dasein is thereby given an access to genuinely independent beings. Is the metaphysical mood of anxiety the only mood in which we can apprehend that alien. p. as such. Speaking of the ordinary moods – speaking of all of them – Heidegger says: ‘the mood brings Dasein before the “that it is” of its “there”. aside from Dasein’s knowledge of being. But there is such an alternative way of disclosing entities. But this must still be the inexorability of an ‘enigma’. Heidegger comments in the following way on the subject-matter of philosophy in general and of Being in Time in particular. since they can also be disclosed in our knowledge of the overwhelming. And so they too. and it eludes. in the ordinary moods.
. Indeed resolutness itself is described as a ‘reticent self-projection upon one’s ownmost Being-guilty. that understanding as such is altogether missing in the temporality of anxiety. and it does not mean. nor is the ready-for-anxiety Dasein affected by that ‘radical otherness’ of beings the anxious Dasein is exposed to. It is not unlike the distinction between one’s readiness for grace and one’s being in the actual state of grace. Heidegger states clearly that anxiety is ‘an understanding state-of- . Dasein’s understanding of anxiety and. This. worldly signi cance. Since in anxiety the entire context of intelligibility collapses. cannot mean. on the one hand. being ready for anxiety and being in the actual state of anxiety are very different. The distinction here is between. we must rst see if the conception of anxiety developed in What is Metaphysics (anxiety is the mood in which the overwhelmingness of entities is disclosed on the metaphysical level) is not at odds with what is said about anxiety in the text of Being and Time. ‘Anxiety [says Heidegger] can mount authentically only in a Dasein which is resolute.). 395). Dasein ‘is taken all the way back to its naked uncanniness and it becomes fascinated by it’ (ibid. In the temporality of anxiety the past is neither the inauthentic forgetting and remembering. 394). And the present of the temporality of anxiety is neither the inauthentic making present nor is it the authentic moment of vision (BT. p. in which one is ready-for-anxiety’ (BT. entities are now stripped of their domesticated. p. however. Concerning anxiety itself. He who is resolute . p. As such a readiness-foranxiety resoluteness prepares Dasein for the actual experience of anxiety. it is still apprehended from within Dasein’s projection towards the future. It is otherwise with the actual state of anxiety. mood and understanding are equiprimordial. that is. Since there is no explicit analysis of this in the text of Being and Time. brings one back to the pure ‘that-itis’ of one’s ownmost individualized thrownness’ (ibid. 343). As a general proposition. . This form of temporality differs not only from the inauthentic but even from the authentic form of temporality. here ‘anxiety . Let me start with the following distinction drawn by Heidegger in Being and Time. as is demonstrated by Heidegger’s analysis of the temporality of anxiety. nor is it the authentic repeating. . understands the possibility of anxiety as the possibility of the very mood which neither inhibits nor bewilders him’ (BT. And that is so because in mere readiness-for-anxiety anxiety is still understood as a possibility. on the other hand. In one’s readiness-for-anxiety the everyday world does not collapse into insigni cance. and Dasein can discover them in their radical otherness. Still.) where Dasein nds itself in the midst of entities. In the temporality of anxiety. the actual mounting of anxiety.Heidegger and the Problem of Idealism 407 Foundations of Logic’s comments on Being and Time Heidegger is categorical: the distinction between the knowledge of being and the knowledge of the overwhelming is said to be operative in Being and Time itself. .
Understanding. here temporalize themselves only in terms of the past. But how can the everyday Dasein encounter even such bits and pieces of the overwhelming? To be sure. I think. But if the knowledge. that is for Dasein’s pursuit of its for-the-sake-of-whichs. since all for-the-sake-of-whichs are suspended. for anxiety is grounded primordially in having been. is too hasty an inference. or the understanding. To put it in the terms I have borrowed earlier from Heidegger’s own clari cations: our knowledge of the overwhelming is equiprimordial with our knowledge of being. Since the future. but in the temporality of anxiety understanding is wholly determined by mood. In the temporality of anxiety no such projection is possible. even to the everyday Dasein its thrownness. it seems. But in all ordinary moods there is still ample room for projection. that potentiality too is now merely given (ibid. then. the temporality of all moods shows the priority of the past. ordinary moods. p. Even in these moods. or even ‘bursts forth’. the everyday Dasein. as Heidegger says. seems to have a way of gaining access to this ‘naked’ thrownness. Moreover. watered-down sense of what is disclosed. To be sure. But this. I now want to turn to the everyday Dasein and to its way of experiencing thrownness in the midst of being via the everyday. we are once again confronting the menace of idealism. That is. too. is here wholly subservient to the knowledge of the overwhelming. as ‘naked’ (BT. and only out of this do the future and the Present temporalize themselves’ (BT.408 Piotr Hoffman mind’ (BT. including even Dasein’s authentic potentiality-for-Being. ‘shows itself’.). 394). And this description. Dasein’s thrownness in the midst of beings is disclosed to it moodwise with the ‘inexorability of an enigma’. has a structure of projection and. ‘The temporality of anxiety is peculiar. it exhibits the priority of the future. without any modi cation. ‘peculiar’. of being is present in anxiety’s disclosure of the overwhelming. as such. that is in terms of thrownness. the knowledge of being. for Heidegger. we have also noted. are indeed equiprimordial. State-of-mind and understanding. to the anxious Dasein’s coming face to face with its thrownness. its pure ‘that it is and has to be’. This expression. on the metaphysical level. is tailor-made to convey a more modest. To the everyday Dasein its naked . p. Like everything else about Dasein. in the anxious Dasein’s encounter with the overwhelmingness and strangeness of beings. thrownness determines the entire content of what is here understood by Dasein. it seems. and hence also projection and understanding. Precisely because of that. knowledge of the overwhelming and knowledge of being. But in the temporality of anxiety both the present and the future temporalize themselves out of the past. could have been applied. we have noted earlier. the temporality of anxiety is. 172). p. while still present. 226). since both what counts as an actual state of anxiety and what is disclosed in that state are now made intelligible – even if not in terms of everyday intelligibility – within Dasein’s understanding of being.
fear reveals thrownness in so far as fear is but an effort to ee thrownness – indeed at some point Heidegger asserts that all forms of ight are based on fear (HCT. in paragraph 29. Thus. understanding is based on projection. provided that we take seriously what he says about moods. Everything. ‘disclosed moodwise’ (BT. respectively. for the ‘inexorability of an enigma’ with which beings could be ‘disclosed moodwise’ to the ordinary Dasein. Heidegger seems almost to reverse his position. I do not want to minimize this dif culty. Whatever it is that affects. in fear. the inauthentic and the everyday understanding – if indeed inauthenticity and everydayness can be kept separate. but I think Heidegger does give us a way of overcoming it. in it. There is no place. 230).Heidegger and the Problem of Idealism 409 thrownness is. and this. the distinction between state-of-mind and understanding will be a distinction without a difference. even the ordinary moods are given an autonomous cognitive function vis-a-vis ` understanding. again. is in place here: to the everyday Dasein its thrownness in the midst of entities imposes itself with that ‘inexorability of an enigma’. but unless our moody. thrownness is now said to be ‘understood’. affective ways of disclosing reality are to have some margin of autonomy. with its pool of for-the-sake-of-whichs. p. My latest quotes and references were all taken from Being and Time’s paragraph 29. which underlie. however indirectly. 283) – while . 173). If. ‘fear is anxiety fallen’ (ibid. at least as far as Being and Time is concerned. Now. is quite in line with Heidegger’s overall distinction between our knowledge of being and our knowledge of the overwhelming. To be sure. and gets through to. anxiety ‘makes fear possible’ (ibid. the everyday understanding shapes and conditions the everyday Dasein’s disclosure of its thrownness in the midst of beings. we recall. where Heidegger carries out his main analysis of moods. Consequently. p. in paragraph 31. the ordinary Dasein is made intelligible by our everyday understanding. However. to say that fear is anxiety ‘made ambiguous’ allows us to understand how the radical otherness of beings – their strangeness and overwhelmingness – disclosed in anxiety is still preserved. fear and indifference. and understood ‘in every case’. Equiprimordial they may be.).). p. the naked thrownness was said to be ‘disclosed moodwise’. But only a few pages later. Let me rst make my point about the two moods. It is probably easier to start with fear. I then follow Heidegger in generalizing from these two moods onto all ordinary moods. fear is ‘anxiety which has been made ambiguous’ (BT. and the everyday Dasein is in possession of the speci cally moody disclosure – very different from the disclosure by understanding – of that inexorable enigma of entities. for there are numerous places in which Heidegger asserts its kinship with anxiety. Now. 298). then. Fear and anxiety are ‘kindred phenomena’ (BT. p. there is a dif culty with this view. and the everyday understanding is based on the everyday projection.
the difference between fear and indifference begins to appear less and less striking. on the level of the plain and the everyday. p. not only fear and indifference. the mood of indifference is described. 175). 174). Above all. Already in The Essence of Reasons (1928) Heidegger states5 that in Being and Time’s analytic of Dasein the ‘concept of nature is missing’. humanized ‘world’ and the alien. he does not think that in Being and Time he has established clearly enough the connection between this ‘primordially manifest’ nature and Dasein’s thrownness. At the same time. in Being and Time. And it is easier to see how eeing. The threat of idealism can be removed.). then. But how deep is here his discomfort with Being and Time? To say that nature as primordially manifest only ‘seems’ to be missing in Being and Time is not quite the same thing as stating categorically that primordially manifest nature is missing in that work.410 Piotr Hoffman indifference is most often described as outright forgetfulness. This is due to the nature of evasion since. ‘in the evasion itself the “there” is something disclosed’ (BT. at least as far as the issue of idealism is concerned. but on the other hand Heidegger also stresses that fear is bewilderment precisely in so far as fear is a forgetting of thrownness (BT. in order to point to a region of reality genuinely independent of Dasein. p. This is Heidegger’s reply. it is precisely our knowledge of the overwhelming which carries the day in favor of realism. rather than forgetting. Heidegger himself – here as elsewhere his own best critic and commentator – went on. both on the metaphysical and on the plain. Given all these quali cations. in Heidegger’s words. p. Let me conclude this argument. True. could represent a way of rechanneling and repressing – and thereby preserving – the message of anxiety. Even in the ordinary moods. as the ‘inauthentic way of having been’ (BT. 392). as Heidegger puts it. . everyday level. just as fear was. . So the element of forgetfulness is present even in fear. I considered the contrast between the man-made. It rather looks as though Heidegger himself hesitated in evaluating Being and . 396). only insofar as situatedness (thrownness) belongs to the essence of Dasein’ (ibid. p. to the challenge of idealism. very quickly. because knowledge of being is not our only access to what there is. ‘Nature is primoridially manifest in Dasein . Dasein’s ‘there’ in the midst of beings gets disclosed with the ‘inexorability of an enigma’. p. Earlier on. our knowledge of the overwhelming is just as important and. and he offers his diagnosis as to why this is so. to express dissatisfaction with his treatment of nature in Being and Time. Strangely enough. Presumably. This is why. but there is no element of bewilderment in indifference – in that ‘pallid lack of mood’ which underlies Dasein’s everydayness. undomesticated ‘nature’ – the contrast Heidegger appealed to. Fear is bewilderment. 177). ‘we must as a general principle leave the primary discovery of the world to “bare mood” ’ (BT. but all everyday moods are ways of disclosing Dasein’s thrownness by evading it (BT.
M. 1999). trans. Robinson (New York: Harper Row. La philosophie de Martin Heidegger (Louvain: Editions Nauwelaerts). 1985) = HCT. University of Nevada. NOTES 1 A. 1969). Kisiel (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press. trans. pp. Being and Time. He thereby relates nature as so apprehended to our knowledge of being.com . Malik (Evanston: Northwestern University Press. pp. USA. Heim (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Hofstadter (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press. Heidegger. 316. Even in that key passage. Heidegger. p. where Heidegger talks about nature as ‘unmeaning’ and ‘unworldly’ telling us how such a nature can ‘break in’ upon and ‘destroy’ Dasein. Reno NV 89557. 81–82 fn. since such knowledge would have to be achieved on the level of thrownness – are there passages in Being and Time where nature is disclosed from within our thrownness? Here is one passage where Heidegger comes close to saying just that. M. Department of Philosophy. Received 5 September 2000 Piotr Hoffman. Macquarrie and E. ‘In its thrownness Dasein has surrendered to changes of day and night. J. Basic Writings (New York: Harper Row. 2 William D. but through our knowledge of the overwhelming? And. M. 465). 1962). Heidegger. see esp. Day with its brightness gives it the possibility of sight. What is Metaphysics . 309. 4 M. The Essence of Reasons. A. History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena. 105. And so. Heidegger. 1967 ( rst ed. in M. Blattner. p. trans. Heidegger. we recall. trans. Now. trans. even on the issue of nature. 1977). de Waelhens. But to be appreciated for what they are. Cinquie `me edition. 251 (henceforth cited as BT). T.Heidegger and the Problem of Idealism 411 Time on this particular point. pp. Heidegger. 1942). 1984) = MFL. T. E-mail: lidiahoffman@hotmail. they must be taken jointly with Heidegger’s fundamental distinction between our knowledge of being and our knowledge of the overwhelming. I also use the following abbreviations: M. I think. 111 5 M. The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic. But are there some other passages in Being and Time where our knowledge of nature is achieved not through our knowledge of being. some of Heidegger’s moves in Being and Time have a consistently realistic thrust. 1982) = BPP. night takes this away’ (BT. he at once identi es these features of nature as its ‘ontological characteristics’. 3 M. Heidegger. Heidegger’ s Temporal Idealism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology . 251–3. not to our knowledge of the overwhelming. pp. in most passages of Being and Time nature is indeed construed in terms of our understanding of being.