Tag Archives: Being and Time

On the Vorhandenheit/Zuhandenheit "Reversal"

I often hear people say that Heidegger’s big accomplishment in Being and Time was the “reversal” of presence-at-hand and readiness-to-hand.  These people will of course tell the standard story of how Heidegger was dissatisfied with traditional philosophy making vorhandenheit dominant in  Western thought. Being dissatisfied, they say Heidegger then “reversed” vorhandenheit with zuhandenheit, and made readiness-to-hand dominant in ontology. That is, Heidegger hated how objects and objectivity had played such a dominant role in philosophy and created all these problems so he replaced it with Dasein i.e. readiness-to-hand. These two ontological modes play off each other. Traditionally, zuhandenheit was derivative of vorhandenheit but it is said that Heidegger “reversed” this relation, claiming instead that vorhandenheit was derivative from zuhandenheit.

According to this line of thought, Heidegger’s ontology consists of a dualism between vorhandenheit and zuhandenheit. Being a dualism, this will obviously get Heidegger into a lot of trouble, especially with the so-called “anti-correlationists”. The anti-correlationists claim that because of Heidegger’s reversal, he is stuck with anthropomorphism because he claims that vorhandenheit (objectivity) is derivative from zuhandenheit (subjectivity).

I want to challenge this dualism. A careful reading of Being and Time reveals that there is actually a tripartite ontology in Heidegger’s phenomenology: zuhandenheit, vorhandenheit, and the real. This is evidenced in the following passage:

The ‘Nature’ by which we are ‘surrounded’ is, of course, an entity within-the-world; but the kind of being which it shows belongs neither to the ready-to-hand nor to what is present-at-hand as ‘Things of Nature’. (SZ 211)

Passages like these clearly call for a rejection of the simple dualism between readiness-to-hand and presence-at-hand. There is a third element in play: the Real, the environs, the Earth, etc. These terms are all synonymous with Heidegger’s first definition of world as “the totality of entities present at hand”. Thus, we need to distinguish between two different forms of vorhandenheit. There is the vorhandenheit which shows up within-the-world which is derivative from zuhandenheit. This is a phenomenological conception of presence-at-hand. It describes how the world shows up as objective when our familiarity breaks down. But then there is the ontic and naturalistic conception of presence-at-hand which is independent of human concerns. This is a metaphysical notion of vorhandenheit. Heidegger cashes it out in terms of the “Real”.

“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” (SZ 212)

“But the fact that [phenomenological] 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)

This means that there is an underlying naturalistic metaphysics in Being and Time (*gasp*). This metaphysics isn’t made very explicit, but it is there. For example, he says:

Thus Dasein’s Being becomes ontologically transparent in a comprehensive way only within the horizon in which the being of entities other than Dasein — and this means even of those which are neither ready-to-hand nor present-at-hand but just ‘subsist’ — has been clarified. (SZ 333)

Only in so far as something resistant has been discovered on the basis of the ecstatical temporality of concern, can factical Dasein understand itself in its abandonment to a [totality of entities] of which it never becomes master. (SZ 356)

Clearly, Heidegger wants to separate the Earth as it exists naturally and the Earth as it exists within-the-world of human experience. Heidegger recognizes that if humans vanished from the planet the planet would still exist, without Dasein. Indeed, he says that “The present-at-hand, as Dasein encounters it, can, as it were, assault Dasein’s Being; natural events, for instance, can break in upon us and destroy us” (SZ 152).

Accordingly, I have never understood the claim that because Heidegger “destroyed” Western metaphysics he didn’t have his own metaphysics. I find this claim to be absurd, not only philosophically, but textually as well. A close reading of Heidegger reveals that even within the densest descriptions of worldhood there are oftens cracks of Earth poking through, “rupturing” the world structure. In fact, I think this is what Heidegger is describing when he talks about the breakdown structure of both circumspective concern and anxiety before the “nothingness”. The nothing is literally the no-thing, the Real which has not yet been “worlded” and object-ified in terms of human concern. The no-thing is not itself nothing. It is something. It is the all-present, all-surrounding natural environs which grounds our dwelling. We can thus see a metaphysical continuity running from early Heidegger to late Heidegger.

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Textual evidence for direct or "naive" realism in Being and Time era Heidegger

I’ve been gathering quotes in preparation for my master’s thesis. I will admit that I am deliberately reading into the texts to find quotes to support my position, but the textual evidence for direct realism is overwhelming. It seems to me that the only way to falsify my position would be to show that the translations, particularly in Basic Problems, are somehow misleading. However, I believe that any attempt to falsify my thesis will need to provide an equally parsimonious framework to capture the essential structure of Heidegger’s thought. In my opinion,  reading Heidegger in terms of direct realism makes his system coherent and intelligible while making the least metaphysical assumptions.

Quotes Supporting Direct Realism in Basic Problems of Phenomenology

“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. In every case, perceivedness presupposes perceivability, and perceivability on its part already requires the existence of the perceivable or the perceived being…This extantness, or existence, belongs to the extant, the existent, without its being uncovered. That alone is why it is uncoverable” (BP 49)

“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)

“To say that I am in the first place oriented towards 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 it is apprehending” (BP 63)

“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 toward the extant. I do not first need to ask how the immanent intentional experience acquires transcendent validity; rather, what has to be seen is that it is precisely intentionality and nothing else in which transcendence consists” (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 idea of a subject which has intentional experiences merely inside its own sphere and is not yet outside it but encapsulated within itself is an absurdity which misconstrues the basic ontological structure of the being that we ourselves are.” (BP 64).

“A window, a chair, in general anything extant in the broadest sense, does not exist, because it cannot comport toward extant entities in the manner of intentional self-directedness-toward them” (BP 64)

“the intentional constitution of the Dasein’s comportments is precisely the ontological condition of the possibility of every and any transcendence…The Dasein, comports existingly toward the extant” (BP 65)

“On the contrary, implicit in the sense of perceptual apprehension is the aim to uncover what is perceived in such a way that it exhibits itself in and of its own self…Perceiving uncovers the extant and lets it be encountered in the manner of a specific uncovering” (BP 69).

“Perceiving is a release of extant things which lets them be encountered. Transcending is an uncovering” (BP 70)

“Or can it be shown that something like an understanding of extantness is already implicit in the intentionality of perception, that is, in perceptual uncovering?” (BP 70)

“in opposition to the subjectivist misinterpretations that perception is directed in the first instance only to something subjective, that is, to sensations, it was necessary to show that perception is directed toward the extant itself” (BP 71)

“In this understanding, what extantness means is unveiled, laid open, or, as we say, disclosed” (BP 71)

“it is implicit in the basic constitution of the Dasein itself that, in existing, the Dasein also already understands the mode of being of the extant, to which it comports existingly, regardless of how far this extant entity is uncovered and whether it is or is not adequately and suitably uncovered” (BP 71)

“the disclosure of extantness belongs to this comportment, to the Dasein’s existence. This is the condition of the possibility of the uncoverability of extant things.” (BP 71)

“The Dasein’s comportments have an intentional character and that on the basis of this intentionality the subject already stands in relation to things that it itself is not” (BP 155)

“For the Dasein, with its existence, there is always a being and an interconnection with a being already somehow unveiled, without its being expressly made into an object” (BP 157)

“The Dasein does not need a special kind of observation, nor does it need to conduct a sort of espionage on the ego in order to have the self; rather, as the Dasein gives itself over immediately and passionately to the world, its own self is reflected to it from things…This is not mysticism and does not presuppose the assigning of souls to things. It is only a reference to an elementary phenomenological fact of existence, which must be seen prior to all talk, no matter how acute, about the subject-object relation” (BP 159)

“Nevertheless, the walls [in a lecture hall] are already present even before we think them as objects. Much else also gives itself to us before any determining of it by thought. Much else – but how? Not as a jumbled heap of things but as an environs, a surroundings, which contains within itself a closed, intelligible contexture” (BP 163)

“Until the ontology of the Dasein is made secure in its fundamental elements, it remains a blind philosophical demagoguery to charge something with the heresy of subjectivism” (BP 167)

“no reason can be adduced that makes it evident that a Dasein necessarily exists” (BP 169)

“World is only, if, and as long as a Dasein exists. Nature can also be when no Dasein exists” (BP 170)

“intraworldliness does not belong to the being of the extant, or in particular to that of nature, but only devolves upon it. Nature can also be without there being a world, without a Dasein existing…The being of beings which are not a Dasein has a richer and more complex structure and therefore goes beyond the usual characterization of that extant as a contexture of things” (BP 175)

“Such a being, for example, nature, does not depend in its being – that and whether it is a being or not – on whether it is true, whether or not it is unveiled and encountered as unveiled for a Dasein” (BP 219)

“For nature to be as it is, it does not need truth, unveiledness” (BP 221)

“How can the being of a being, and especially the being of the extant, which in its essential nature is independent of the existence of a Dasein, be determined by uncoveredness?” (BP 222)

Quotes Supporting Direct Realism in Being and Time

“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)

“In such in interpretation, the way in which the entity we are interpreting is to be conceived can be drawn from the entity itself, or the interpretation can force the entity into concepts to which it is opposed in its manner of being” (SZ 150).

“The present-at-hand, as Dasein encounters it, can, as it were, assault Dasein’s Being; natural events, for instance, can break in upon us and destroy us” (SZ 152)
“Our everyday environmental experiencing, which remains directed both ontically and ontologically towards entities within-the-world…” (SZ 181)

“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).

“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” (SZ 212)

“Being (not entities) is something which ‘there is’ only in so far as truth is. And truth is only in so far as and as long as Dasein is” (SZ 230).
“…the world does not ‘consist’ of the ready-to-hand” (SZ 75)

“Previously letting something ‘be’ does not mean that we must first bring it into its Being and produce it; it means rather that something which is already an ‘entity’ must be discovered in its readiness-to-hand, and that we must thus let the entity which has this Being be encountered” (SZ 85)

“The ‘Nature’ by which we are ‘surrounded’ is, of course, an entity within-the-world; but the kind of Being which it shows belongs neither to the ready-to-hand nor to what is present-at-hand as “Things of Nature’”(SZ 211)

“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)

“When Dasein does not exist…entities will still continue to be” (SZ 212)

“Dasein’s Being becomes ontologically transparent in a comprehensive way only within the horizon in which the Being of entities other than Dasein – and this means even of those which are neither ready-to-hand nor present-at-hand but just ‘subsist’ – has been clarified” (SZ 333)

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The "Folk" on Heidegger

Simon Critchley has posted his third installment of his exposition of Being and Time in the UK Guardian. While his analysis is good, albeit old-news if you are a Heideggerian scholar, I think the most fascinating part of these articles is the comments section. It is interesting how broad the range of opinion on Heidegger is for the layman. Comments range from livid hatred at his “atheistic Naziism”, sympathy for his position but mystification at his strange use of words, to flat out miscontruals and the most hilarious/awful strawmans you can think of. It also seems like a lot of people are simply responding to Critchley’s less than comprehensive analysis. One commenter went so far as to stretch philosophical history so that amazingly, “Hobbes , Locke and Hume rejected Cartesian dualism and did it in a much more sustained , powerful and original way than Heidegger.”

Will Heideggerian thought ever become mainstream in the way Cartesian “soul-talk” is? Seems unlikely to me. Heidegger said the most self-evident facts are farthest from our understanding because they are so phenomenological transparent…but one person said Crichtley’s Heidegger was “common sense”, so I suppose it is possible after all.

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Dasein for Dummies part II – Being as disclosure: the understanding of being

…continued from Dasein for Dummies part I

With the possibility of phenomenological-ontology in place, we are getting ready to better understand the general motifs of Being and Time and the underlying reason for Heidegger’s choice of “Dasein” as the central figure of his magnum opus. As we have seen, Heidegger quickly establishes in Being and Time that his project is phenomenological-ontology: the study of phenomena; that which shows itself. We must then further clarify how this “showing” unfolds; what does it mean for a world to show itself as something? First, it becomes clear as you read the text that for Heidegger it is important that this presentation of the world has to be presented to an observer for it to be considered a “showing.” Second, the totality of entities which shows itself must exist independently of our awareness or else being would be a construction, and not a presentation. A rock does not take the world to be one way or another, for a rock is only an entity amongst other entities, which “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” (BT 228).

I bring up this issue of metaphysical realism in order to answer the charge that Heidegger was only concerned with the human-world relationship and had nothing pertinent to say about the real ontological question of “being qua being” – which would account for how the world is, independent of human access. In my view, this reading of Heidegger is disingenuous given that it fails to account for how he dealt with realism through his conception of “presence.” Through the development of this concept, Heidegger defends a crude form of ontic realism, wherein the occurrent (vorhanden) structure of world is independent of human disclosure. For Heideggen then, there is, in essence, some “fixed totality of mind-independent objects”. In Basic Problems of Phenomenology, he states:

This entity[the world] is intraworldly. But innerworldliness nonetheless does not belong to its being, rather in dealing with this entity, nature in the widest sense, we understand that this entity is as something occurrent, as an entity that we run up against, to which we are given over, that for its own part always already is. It is, without our uncovering it, i.e. without our encountering it in our world. Innerworldiness devolves upon this entity only when it is uncovered as an entity.

On my reading then, “being qua being” – the classic question of ontology – is already pre-reflectively understood by humans insofar as we are always running up against an ontically real world. The world is presented to us as being “there,” independent of our disclosure of it.

Entities are grasped in their being as “presence”; this means that they are understood with regard to a definite mode of time – the “Present”. (BT 47)

Those entities which show themselves in this and for it, and which are understood as entities in the most authentic sense, thus get interpreted with regard to the Present; that is, they are conceived as presence (ousia). (BT 48)

Hopefully, we can now begin to understand how Heidegger’s minimalistic defense of ontic realism helps answer the question of the meaning of being. By determining the meaning of “that which defines entities as entities, that on the basis of which entities are in each case already understood” (BT 25-26), “being qua being” comes into focus circuitously. Our understanding of the mode of being for the “mind-independent” totality of entities is presence. The German is “Anwesenheit,” which connotes the presence of someone at some place on such and such occasion. The “showing itself” of phenomenology now becomes more intelligible. While philosophers of antiquity had been focused on merely establishing the ontic configuration of that which is present, Heidegger sought to elucidate the neglected human-ontological understanding of this being – of the worlds intelligibility as being occurrent. Phenomenological-ontology is then focused on the being of entities, not on the occurrent structure itself, with being strictly understood as the disclosure-relationship between entities who understand that things are and what they are, and the world itself. In this sense, Being and Time is decidedly a human-centered enterprise that nevertheless helps shed light on the metaphysical questions of mind-independent realism.

While this might seem horribly anthropocentric, Heidegger’s reasons for keeping the question of being within an analytic of Dasein have nothing to do with denying intelligence or cognition to non-human animals or denying that they too have a unique “perspective” on the world. Nor does it have to do with denying crude ontic realism in the way his continental forebearers had. Heidegger’s basic point is that although the ontic configuration of the environment is the same for all biological organisms, by virtue of the type of creature we are, only the human-world interaction can actually be a disclosure of entities as entities, for such a phenomenon requires the powers of complex language, replete with syntactical and semantic depth. This is a subtle but crucial point. Only with creatures for whom the world is linguistically organized can the world show up as this or that entity – “something which is.” Heidegger was very impressed by the fact that humans understand what it means for something to be. “Today is windy.” “The cat is on the mat.” “I am a good person.” It is only in virtue of our linguistic constitution that the world shows up as something which “is.” By focusing on this particular sense of being – the determination of entities as entities, as being intelligible in terms of that it is, and what it is, Heidegger can avoid the complete anthropocentric idealism that is often leveled against him. Indeed, as Taylor Carman puts it:

To say that entities exist independently of us is not to assert the being or existence of anything like being or existence, as if too were a kind of entity, that is, something that is alongside or in addition to the entities themselves. It is consistent, then, to say that although being consists solely in our understanding of being, occurrent entities are independently of us and our understanding. (Carman, 2003, pp. 202-203)

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