Thoughts on Kant, Heidegger, and Existence – part II

In my last post, I briefly discussed the Kantian thesis that being is not a real predicate. According to this line of thought the “existence” or actuality of a coffee mug is not something that is “added” to its thinghood, its what-content, or essence. The essence of a coffee mug does not entail that it exists and the existence or actuality of a coffee mug must be different than what essentially makes a coffee mug a coffee mug (being able to contain coffee). So what is going on when we assert “the coffee mug exists”? If we are not talking about an essential aspect of the coffee mug, then what are we doing? According to Heidegger, Kant’s answer to this question is that actuality or extantness is equal to absolute position, which is equal to perception. Heidegger’s charitable interpretation of this cryptic equation is that actuality is equivalent to being-perceived, or perhaps, the possibility of being perceived.

Existence cannot be equated with the perceived existent, but it can quite well, perhaps, be equated with the being-perceived of the perceived, its perceivedness. It is not the existent, extant, window that is existence, extantness, but perhaps the window’s being-extant is expressed in the factor of being-perceived, in consequence of which the thing is encountered by us as perceived, as uncovered, and so is accessible to us as extant by way of the perceiving. Perception in Kant’s language would then mean the same thing as perceivedness, uncoveredness in perception. (BP 48)

As I mentioned in my last post, the link being perception and being-extant requires a form of ontic realism wherein the ontic structure of the world exists independently of our interpretation of it as being ontic. In this way we can answer the inevitable question of constitution: does our perception of the coffee mug constitute its existence? This is perhaps the route that Kant took in working out the consequences of asserting that being is not a real predicate. For Heidegger however, “The window, however, surely does not receive existence from my perceiving it, but just the reverse: I can perceive it only if it exists and because it exists” (BP 49).

Here we have a clear answer regarding the alleged anti-realism of Being and Time era Heidegger. It is only on account of there being an ontic, extant world “out there”, external to our bodily perceptual systems, that we can perceive at all. The perception of the coffee mug necessarily requires that there be a extant coffeemug there in the world, presencing itself to us. But how can we make sense of the perceptual relationship between myself and the coffee mug, between my mind and the world, the intentional consciousness and the intended object? In section 9, part B, “The Ontological constitution of perception. Intentionality and transcendence” Heidegger begins to sketch out what an intentional theory of perception looks it in terms of what it means for a subjective consciousness to be intentionally linked to a real, existing coffee mug. In this way, Heidegger elaborates on what it means for existence to be equated with being-perceived.

Heidegger begins by describing the “unitary structure” of perception, which is essentially a “directedness-toward”.

What we concisely call perception is, more explicitly formulated, the perceptual directing of oneself toward what is perceived, in such a way indeed that the perceived is itself always understood as perceived in its perceivedness…this directedness-toward constitutes, as it were, the framework of the whole phenomenon “perception” (BP 57).

This “discovery” of directedness should not be surprising. All comportment is a comportment towards something, whether that something is internal to our body as with proprioception, or external as with ecological perception. However, although this formula of directing-oneself-toward has been discussed in the phenomenological literature ever since Brentano, there still remains some room for confusion and error in determining the ontology of intentional perception. Heidegger outlines at least two possible mistakes in conceiving intentionality.

The first mistake involves what he calls “erroneous objectivizing”. This involves making it so that the intentional-perceptive relation is itself “extant”, meaning this it can rise and fall in accordance to whether there is an extant object to be perceived. According to this theory, the “subject” is something extant which can exist separately from the extant object and the perceptional relationship comes in and out of existence in accordance to the extantness of the isolated subject and object. In this way, the intentional relationship comes to being through the extantness and can be itself seen as an extant relation that happens when an objected is “added” to the subject. Heidegger rejects this view and claims that the intentional character is a priori to the subject itself. Intentionality is not something “added” to the subject’s experience when a coffee mug pops into the forefield of the subject, but rather, intentionality is there within the character of the subject itself and accordingly, “the subject is structured intentionally within itself. As subject it is directed toward”. The isolated subject that “gains” intentionality when a real object is “added” to the scene is a myth.

Heidegger uses the thought experiment of a hallucinator in order to make this point more clearly. Suppose a person is hallucinating an elephant in the room. The elephant is not extant but the subject is directed towards it nonetheless. However,

Only because the hallucinative perceiving has within itself qua perpcetion the character of being-directed-toward can the hallucinator intend something in an imaginary way. I can apprehend something imaginarily only is, as apprehender, I intend in general…Perceiving must be perception-of something in order for me to be able to be deceived about something.

Thus, because of the possibility of subjective interpretation, intentional perception must be something that stands or falls quasi-independently of the extant structure of the world given that hallucination is possible. However, it is only on account of intending-towards in general that we are able to lock into the extant world and possibly be deceived. The intentional relation then “does not arise first through the actual extantness of objects but lies in perceiving itself, whether illusionless of illusory” (BP 60). James Gibson made a similar point when he said:

Perceiving is an achievement of the individual, not an appearance in the theater of his consciousness. It is a keeping-in-touch with the world, an experiencing of things rather than having of experiences. It involves awareness-of instead of just awareness. It may be awareness of something in the environment or something in the observer or both at once, but there is no content of awareness independent of that of which one is aware.

With that said, the possibility of hallucination brings us to the second possible mistake in conceiving intentionality: erroneous subjectivizing. If intentional perception is not driven by the extantness of objects, then it is natural to conclude that it must be a pure determination of the subject.

The question arises, How can this ego with its intentional experiences get outside its sphere of experience and assume a relation to the extant world? How can the ego transcend its own sphere and the intentional experiences enclosed within it, and what does this transcendence consist in? (BP 61-62)

However, for Heidegger, “this interpretation of intentionality…fails because for it theory comes first, before fulfilling the requirement to open our eyes and take the phenomena as they offer themselves as against all firmly rooted theory and even despite of it…” (BP 62).

To say that I am in the first place oriented towards [subjective] sensations is all just pure theory. In conformity with its sense of direction, perception is directed toward a being that is extant. It intends this precisely as extant and knows nothing at all about sensations that is is apprehending. (BP 63)


In everyday behavior, say, in moving around in this room, taking a look around my environment, I perceive the wall and the window. To what am I directed in the perception? To sensations? Or, when I avoid what is perceived, am I turning aside from representational images and taking care not to fall out of these representational images and sensations into the courtyard of the university building?

Accordingly, to ask how it is that our intentional perception reaches out towards the extant world is to ask the wrong kind of question. “I cannot and must not ask how the inner intentional experience arrives at an outside. I cannot and must not put the question in that way because intentional comportment itself as such orients itself towards the extant” (BP 63).

The statement that the comportments of the Dasein are intentional means that the mode of being of our own self, the Dasein, is essentially such that this being, so far as it is, is always already dwelling with the extant…”The Dasein exists” means, among other things, that the Dasein is in such a way that in being it comports towards what is extant but not toward it as toward something subjective.

In the next post, I will do more to elaborate on the consequences of accepting a coupling between an ontic realism and a direct, non-naive epistemological realism. I will also perhaps to begin to fill in the concrete details involved in Heidegger’s theory of non naive direct perception through  a comparison with Gibsonian visual theory.

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One response to “Thoughts on Kant, Heidegger, and Existence – part II

  1. Pingback: Philosophy Carnival XCV | Minds and Brains

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