Puzzle Passage in Heidegger – Reality and the Real

Of course, only as long as Dasein is, that is, the ontical possibility of the understanding of being is, “is there” being. If Dasein does not exist, then “independence” “is” not either, nor “is” the “in itself”. Such a thing is then neither understandable nor not understandable. Then also intraworldly entities neither are discoverable, nor can they lie in hiddenness. Then it can be said neither that entities are, nor that they are not. Nevertheless, it can now be said — as long as the understanding of being, and thereby the understanding of occurrentness are — that then entities will continue to be. (SZ 212)

In his 2007 article in Inquiry (“Heidegger’s Kantian Idealism Revisited”), William Blattner concludes from this passage that the question “Do occurrent entities exist when humans do not?” is impossible to answer for “If we suspend the understanding of being, then ‘entities do exist’ and ‘entities do not exist’ not only lack truth-values; they are undefined, meaningless” (327).

It is my contention however that such questions do have meaningful answers and that moreover, a proper interpretation of the above puzzle passage can provide the conceptual means for doing so. A clue is given in the very next sentence: “As we have noted, being (not entities) is dependent upon the understanding of being; that is to say, Reality (not the Real) is dependent upon care.”

Thus, in accordance with the puzzle passage, we can make several distinctions:

-How beings “are” when Dasein understands them and how beings “are” independent of Dasein’s understanding of being.
-The Worldhood of the world and the extantness of the planet.
-Reality as opposed to the Real
-An entity understood or determined “as” an entity and the entity as it is independent of Dasein’s as-structure.

In light of these distinctions, which are synonymous, we can see how Blattner’s answer to the puzzle passage is much too complicated for its own good. Instead of claiming that the concept of entities existing independently of Dasein is meaningless (a bizarre claim), we can instead claim that it makes sense in terms of the distinction between Reality and the Real.

Reality is the Kantian concept of “thingness” or Sachheit. In how Heidegger adopts the term, it designates the mode of being of objects as understood through Dasein’s understanding and interpretation of the world as worldly. When Heidegger defines being as “that which determines entities as entities”, the determination of entities according to the as-structure is the “Reality” of such objects. In contrast, the “Real” existence of entities is the determinate structure of entities as they exist independently of our understanding and interpretation of them as entities.

Thus, when Heidegger says “entities will continue to be” only when there is Dasein’s understanding of being, there is a crucial ambiguity here overlooked by Blattner. We can distinguish between “continue to be” in the sense of Real existence (subsistence, extantness) and “continue to be” in the sense of Reality or the as-structure of worldhood. It is my contention that Heidegger meant the latter. Accordingly, the puzzle passage’s cryptic meaning becomes clear. Only as long as Dasein exists “is there” being in the sense of that which determines entities in terms of entities as entities i.e. in terms of the understanding of being. This can be translated as “Only as long as Dasein exists is there a determination of entities as entities”. Accordingly, there is no contradiction in saying that being is dependent on Dasein’s understanding of being but entities nevertheless are “extant”. We can then make sense of the other puzzle passages in Being and Time, which say:

“Readiness-to-hand is the way in which entities as they are “in themselves” are defined ontologico-categorially. Yet only by reason of something present-at-hand, ‘is there’ anything ready-to-hand” (SZ 71)

“Entities are, quite independently of the experience by which they are disclosed, the acquaintance in which they are discovered, and the grasping in which their nature is ascertained” (SZ 183).

“But the fact that Reality is ontologically grounded in the Being of Dasein, does not signify that only when Dasein exists and as long as Dasein exists, can the Real be as that which in itself it is” (SZ 212)

Thus, the answer to the question of whether occurrent entities can exist independently of Dasein’s understanding of being depends on how you understand the occurrent existence of entities. If you understand it in terms of the ontological-categorial determination of entities as entities (Reality), then no, entities do not exist independently of Dasein. If you understand it in terms of the Real and extantness, then yes, of course occurrent entiteis continue to exist or “subsist” when Dasein is not around. Case closed?

1 Comment

Filed under Heidegger, Philosophy

One response to “Puzzle Passage in Heidegger – Reality and the Real

  1. Interesting and helpful. I’ve been puzzling over these passages myself. Cheers.

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