Monday, December 28, 2009

Heideggerian Hyperbole PART 2: The Nature of Dasein's Body

Spurred on by Enowning's observation of the glacial pace at which Seynsgeschichte postings occur, I have decided to publish this present post an entire year early. Such is the high regard in which I hold all the fine, frequently-posted things going on in that forum, which was the original other Heidegger website.

If the remarks of the previous post (Part 1 of the full consideration at hand) have gone any stretch of the way in clarifying the manner in which nature can be present-at-hand, thereby gaining some measure of liberation from the presupposition that nature is obviously present-at-hand, they were not intended to mislead the reader into supposing that there is no reason why nature should be mistaken for the present-at-hand, as if this were just some random and arbitrary error. Not only is there such a reason for this possibility; explicitly articulating this underlying reason provides the clue in terms of which Heidegger's statement that Das Dasein ist nie vorhanden can be appropriately interpretted. For the presupposition that nature is ---by its very nature, as it were --present at hand (vorhanden), and that there are things-in-themselves 'objectively' existing irregardless of Dasein is a mis-articulation of an ontic experience which is both true and indisputable (because not yet articulated):

“[T]he ontical obviousness of the Being-in-itself of beings within-the-world misleads us into the conviction that the meaning of this Being is obvious ontologically, and makes us overlook the phenomenon of the world...” (BT152, SZ116)
In acknowledging "the ontical obviousness of the Being-in-itself of beings within-the-world" Heidegger is simply pointing out that he is not in anyway neglecting that evidence that Dr. Samuel Johnson so famously appealed to in his attempt to refute Bishop Berkley's esse est percipi, for in this legendary attempt he did not utter a word --except to point out that his refutation was accomplished without the utterance of a single word:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."
Boswell: Life

What Johnson had so desperately tried to say without actually saying is precisely what Heidegger is here calling "the ontical obviousness of the Being-in-itself of beings." It is beyond the scope of our present discussion to discuss the necessary shortcomings of Johnson's refutation or to consider how, because this refutation could only pretend to be an ontological response while at the same time not quite remaining in the realm of ontic experience whose evidence it sought to uphold, Berkley, and not Johnson, inevitably 'won the day'. Suffice it to say that Heidegger's point is formally indicative: Heidegger is beset with the task of bringing to light just what it was that Johnson only kicked, and for that very reason he must first of all acknowledge (i.e. formally indicate) that something is there to be kicked. The formale anzeige or formal indication serves the purposes of drawing explicit attention to and countering the necessary fact that this 'something' which has been kicked is straightaway articulated and thought of as a some thing, a vorhanden, individual object (or collection of objects). It is in this way that Heidegger's formale anzeige is, as an indication, merely formal, a mere place-marker for what has yet to be 'placed', i.e. what has yet to be fully articulated and appropriately interpretted; in short, it indicates 'something' but not as such, and is therefore an ontological means of referring to the ontic --and inarticulate realm --necessarily preliminary to all ontological articulation (of that ontic realm). In its most condensed (and, no doubt, ridiculous) description: the formal indication refers to something as not as such.

There is no need to focus any further at this juncture on Heidegger's employment of formal indication (although, as we shall see later, this is important for the overall consideration of Dasein's body). What is crucial here is rather that Heidegger is by no means content to acknowledge the "ontical obviousness of the Being-in-itself of beings within-the-world", nor even that this "ontical obviousness" is mistaken for vorhandensein when it is first articulated. More important than this is the peculiarity that the former truth tends to mislead us into the latter error, in the perilous passage from the ontic to the ontological. For Heidegger (and not merely in Sein und Zeit) the danger is always the same: it is hidden in what is obvious, and it is precisely this hiding (cf. the previous post's remarks on die gefahr). In the case we are now discussing, the danger regards misunderstanding the beings around us. This danger of misunderstanding lies hidden in "ontical obviousness", since in the ontic realm we (already, in advance) discover beings without having to utter a word (at least, that is, a word regarding them as such); we effortlessly consort with everything around us as though we know it in advance, which in someway we do: it is obvious. On the other hand, however, in passing through the gates of articulation and escaping, as Homer likes to put it, "the barrier of our teeth," the danger now hides on the other side, in the ontological realm, and this is far more dangerous; for the truth of the obviousness of the ontical realm consists in the fact that beings are there already without further ado --we neither asked for them or have yet said 'thank you', as it were. Despite our having never been formally aquainted with beings within-in-the-world (or with ourselves for that matter, a point toward which we will return shortly), we already are familiar with them. To 'tone down' an oft-used, more vulgar expression: "we're already working with them before even the hand shake". But what about when it finally comes time to learn their name, to meet them as such and greet them? At this point we are completely unprepared and unsuspecting of the exertion that is now required, since it has up to this point been effortless: the fact that we are already in the midst of beings has been one of those things that "goes without saying". We are therefore led to presume by the effortless truth of the obviousness of our ontical dealings that the truth of our ontological articulation will be no differently won --but nothing could be farther from the truth, as the most famous 'line', chanted in slight variations throughout Sein und Zeit, reminds us: the closer something is ontically, the farther away it is ontologically, or in other words, to the extent that something is discovered in advance and is obvious, to that precise extent does it remain implicit, or as the later Heidegger will emphasize, withheld.

This is a consideration worth savoring, to wildly understate the issue. Heidegger himself pursued 'nothing else' throughout the course of his entire denkweg; so let us take a moment to at least "blink" over it, before "moving on". No one wakes up in the morning vexed by the fact that there are beings surrounding him on all all sides, and that along with this fact, he himself is (a being). Nor is it the case that the reason why we are not throttled into astonishment by this 'fact' is because we have gotten used to it, like riding a bike; rather is it the reverse: in order to 'get used' to something, it must already be there. The easy example of getting used to some thing, e.g. riding a bike, is nevertheless still instructive, since it makes one thing clear: obviousness is a function of time. Usually, something happens in time --we learn to ride a bike --and after a certain time, what one does with a bike is 'obvious'. Likewise, even though no one "wakes up in the morning vexed by the fact that there are beings surrounding him" there is still a fading afterglow of wonder for those for whom 'the world is still new', those ones whom we simply call children. But one's youth is always also a "growing up" and one's wonder always a relunctantly departing companion --it hesitates for a while, and we call that while childhood. But no one, not even as a child, was ever young enough to, for the for the first time, encounter any being whatsoever. When it comes to beings, we are right from the very beginning already in some measure or other familiar. This, our being in media res, is the "ontical obviousness" of which Heidegger speaks in the quote above. Before the first occurrence of something or another, indeed of anything whatsoever, we have already discovered and understand that there are things to begin with ---this much is obvious. Obviousness of any sort, however, is, as we have just said, a function of time. But the time which has already transpired before anything in time comes to pass is by no means obvious; everything obvious comes after this time. It is regarding this "time that has already transpired," a time which we in some way must have endured in order to find beings familiar (including ourselves), that Heidegger says "Dasein is always already ahead of itself". This already-transpired-time is no actual occurrence in time, it does not take place like something occurring in front of us, as it were; it is rather precisely what, having already transpired, is missed in any actual occurrence ---missed not only in the sense of "missing a target" but also in the sense of "missing your mother". A secret nostalgia, then ---but a nostalgia for no thing, a nostalgia only for that which allowed us to be already familiar with any being whatsoever, a nostalgia for what Sein und Zeit initially calls the "worldhood of the world." This condition for the possibility of ontical obviousness, this missed time in which the world has been passed over, is precisely what makes our consorting with beings effortless, and it is therefore also what misleads us, once the time finally comes to say just what these beings are which we have always been around and have even ourselves always been, into thinking we effortlessly accomplish our goal. With this in mind we now return to the quote above, this time in its fuller context

“Just as the ontical obviousness of the Being-in-itself of beings within-the-world misleads us into the conviction that the meaning of this Being is obvious ontologically, and makes us overlook the phenomenon of the world, the ontical obviousness of the fact that Dasein is in each case mine, also hides the possibility that the ontological problematic which belongs to it has been led astray.”(BT152, SZ116)
The mistake that occurs when we first begin to speak of beings as such, i.e when we engage in ontology, is that we suppose we are "synched up" with what we are now bringing to explicit understanding: we take for granted the manner in which we have already understood and thus even previously discovered beings within-the-world ---in short, we completely forget about this "previously" itself, this missed time. Accordingly, the articulation of nature as present-at-hand is inevitable initially; it is only after that first articulation is offered that the opportunity arises to detect the possibility that this ontological articulation has missed its mark and "been led astray".

It is with this, at last, that we are poised to revisit the problematic of Dasein's body raised by the maverick commentator cited in our last post (PART 1). In a sense, we have, at this point, already come to the answer: Heidegger can justifiably say that Dasein is never present-at-hand because, as was demonstrated in the PART 1, anything present-at-hand has already been discovered within-the world as ready-to-hand, and Dasein can never be discovered as something ready-to-hand within the world. This last claim is grounded by the fact that the ready-to-hand depends, in its very Being, on having already been assigned to Dasein in advance, since its inner-worldly Being is itself made possible or "freed" by Being-in-the-world (i.e. Dasein's way of Being). The argument is thus direct:

1.) Dasein cannot (ever) be ready-to-hand
2.) Readiness-to-hand is a necessary condition for presence-at-hand
3.)Dasein cannot (ever) be present-at-hand a fortiori.

This 'proof', however, can only be regarded as a negative demonstration of why Dasein is never present-at-hand. It does not yet achieve its results phenomenologically, since it does not show how the error of considering Dasein to be (at least in some respects) present-at-hand is possible. Admittedly, we have gone a certain stretch of the way in satisfying the rigors of phenomenology, insofar as we have given a formal sketch of the manner in which the ontical obviousness of beings within-the-world misleads us into possibly mis-articulating them ontologically. But with this we have still not yet achieved a positive result. The question before us is not only asking about beings within-the-world, but about that disclosure that makes their discovery possible: How is it even possible that Dasein can appear as something present-at-hand? The positive phenomenological demonstration must expose precisely this possibility, and it must expose it as a possiblity. In this way, phenomenological research's positive results amount not to the disclosure of some actual positum (as is the case with the positive results of any ontic science), but to the disclosure of a possibility that is itself the condition for the possibility of ontic scientific discovery, as Heidegger says at the end of Sein und Zeit: "Higher than actuality stands possibility."

Dasein ist nie vohanden. So we are told. But then we start thinking for ourselves: What about anthropology, biology, human-anatomical studies, and even psychology to name just a few instances. Isn't Dasein the object of these studies? In so far as these sciences make claims about the nature of humans ---and they certainly seem to make such claims --don't they owe the possibility of their claims to the fact that Dasein can be present-at-hand, or in other words, to the impossibility that Dasein is never present-at-hand? In a consideration such as this one, everything depends on our appreciation of the limits, that is to say the domain and reach (bereich), of such claims, and therefore at the same time on our ability to perceive what lies entirely beyond their reach:

[E]ven beings which are not worldless --Dasein itself, for example --are present-at-hand within the world, or, more exactly, can with some right and within certain limits be taken as merely present-at-hand. To do this, one must completely disregard or just not see the existential state of Being-in.(BT 82, SZ 55, italics Heidegger's)

With what "right" and within which "certain limits" can Dasein be taken as present-at-hand? Heidegger's answer is peculiar: only to the extent that one fails to see that Dasein is not present-at-hand, i.e. to the extent that they "disregard or just not see the existential state of Being-in. Despite the misgivings it provokes, this answer is no mere tautology. The point Heidegger is drawing the reader's attention to (even through his italics "can" and "taken") is crucial: the very possibility that one can take Dasein to be present at hand is granted by Dasein's existential state of Being-in: this possibility is Dasein's possibility of fore-saking itself, a possibility that cannot belong to anything present-at-hand. In other words, only if "Dasein is in each case mine", i.e. is that being which ontically is addressed as "I", must it always either be owned up to or fore-saken:

It may well be that ontically it is always correct to say of this being that 'I' am it. Yet the ontological analytic which makes use of such assertions must make certain reservations about them in principle. The word 'I' is to be understood only as a formal indicator, indicating something which may perhaps reveal itself as its 'opposite' in some particular phenomenal context of Being. In that case, the 'not-I' is by no means tantamount to a being which essentially lacks 'I-hood', but is rather a definite kind of Being which the 'I' itself possesses, such as having lost itself [Selbstvorlorenheit]. (BT 152, SZ 116)
The extent, then, to which Dasein can legitimately be taken as something present-at-hand is precisely the extent to which it cannot but initially fore-sake itself, that is to say, be ontologically misled by the fact that it is ontically obvious. Thus, because Dasein is already familiar with beings (by understanding their Being in advance), so too has it already understood itself as a being, thereby missing its unique way of Being --existenz --because of its unique way of Being, i.e. as a consequence of having understood beings in advance --including the being which it itself is. The assertion that "Dasein is never present-at-hand" can only be a false exaggeration, contradicting the admission that Dasein can be taken as present-at-hand, if this "never" is understood as a negation of the possibility of any present-at-hand instance. But this "never" refers instead to the very condition for the possibility of taking Dasein to be present-at-hand: Selbstvorlorenheit.


  1. Interesting. Heidegger like Dr Johnson is obviously not a skeptic, whether of Cartesian or...Humean sort in regard to external world--the ontic. However Berkeley was an idealist right, not really a skeptic of any sort. In a sense Johnson doesn't really refute Berkeley: I imagine Berkeley would have said, "well, you kicked the stone only because God's grace had arranged reality..and human existence-- so as to allow you ...or what you take to be you, see something we call the stone, and kick it," or something. Berk. doesn't really deny we perceive objects--but denies that they have an existence apart from Mind (ultimately, a spiritual mind), or something like that.

    Anyway Dasein is ontological, not ontic--MH is not Berkeleyan in the sense of holding all of reality ideal. Dasein is, so an external world exists: but it is unique, not "ready-at-hand" which seems to be just ordinary experience of the ontic; humans may be in the world, tho' not always conscious of Dasein, via inauthenticity of various sorts. Thus...Dasein seems to suggest---the authentic human spirit for lack of a better term, which MH suggests cannot be defined in stricly rational terms (why he criticizes Descartes).

    It seems many philosophy types simply ignore the psychological aspects, when that was arguably the raison d'etre of Heidegger's system and SZ. As psychology I respect it to some degree. It's the hints of transcendence and neo-platonic mysticism that I don't accept (not to say...well, the nastier bits of the Heideggerian programme).

  2. "In a sense Johnson doesn't really refute Berkeley: I imagine Berkeley would have said, "well, you kicked the stone only because God's grace had arranged reality..and human existence-- so as to allow you ...or what you take to be you, see something we call the stone, and kick it," or something."

    I think that is exactly right! And this is what, as I emphasize above, leads Heidegger to press forward and distinguish between what is "ontically obvious", for example the rock that exists before I kick it or see it, and the manner in which it exists, which is both presupposed in the ontically obvious fact that it exists in itself and unclarified by that fact. No amount of hand-cutting or running into a brick wall or kicking a rock can explicate the very way in which something is, even if it does confirm THAT something is. In short, what we mean by this "thatness" is by no means clear, even if all the more obstinately relied upon. Thus does there eventually arise the clarification and articulation of this presupposition ---that is, there arises ontology. But where does such ontology arise? It arises only where it was already implicitly presupposed, and therefore in danger of being forgotten altogether. Such a danger does not lie in the rock; it lies instead in that being for whom the being-in-itself of the rock can be ontically obvious. This being Heidegger calls Dasein. So to one of your other points, "Anyway Dasein is ontological, not ontic" it must be responded that actually Dasein is both ontic and ontological, which is why Heidegger sometimes characterizes Dasein as the very living difference between the ontic and ontological. You will recall in the very first introduction to SZ, Heidegger declares: Dasein is ontically distinctive in that it IS ontological. After all, it is not as if Dasein was not a being. Each one of us is indeed something that is. So of course Dasein is ontic. But how? Should we just consider it as one group of beings alonside others --say a species like the "human race". The revolutionary answer that Heidegger gives is: No. But more precisely what is revolutionary about Heidegger's answer is that he says Dasein CAN develop an understanding of itself in which it considers itself as an instance of a species, but when it does so it has forgotten itself ---and only a being which is more than an instance of a species is capable of forgetting that fact.

  3. Dasein is ontically distinctive in that it IS ontological.

    yes, but ....that would seem to suggest...the Ontological (human uniqueness, cognition, understanding, language, etc) should be considered separate from the ontic (sort of my point however indelicately phrased on Herr Enowning's site). And the...existential aspects of SZ at least suggest that the ontological realm Dasein exists, whether one realizes it, or not. At least potentially, anyone (at least anyone not diseased, mentally ill, etc) can become a Rilke, authentically aware of Dasein--not that many will.

    That said, the ontological reflections may be important...but MH's schema seems rather apolitical in a sense (as I have remarked elsewhere), not to say...prone to solipsism of a sort. Some poor folks living in tenements or trailer camps might enjoy Rilke (..a type of verbal dasein in a sense) for a few minutes a week --I doubt many would, and would much rather have larger paychecks (or...healthier ...ho's) than the collected writings of Rilke (or german metaphysicians). That may seem a trifle vulgar....yet metaphysics is a luxury of sorts