Dr William Large
Usually in our course we cover a lot of material in the short space of time. Today, however, we shall only look at one section of Being and Time and that is the section on anxiety. There are several reasons why we shall do this. First of all, the analysis of anxiety, apart from the sections on Being-towards-death, is one of the most famous parts of the book. Secondly, and this is also in relation to the analysis of being-towards-death, the phenomenological description of anxiety is fundamental to the overall argument of Being and Time. We must remember that for Heidegger the only way into the general question of being, which does not end up with vague generalities, is through the being of that being whose being is a question for it; namely us (Heidegger uses the word Dasein [see files 1 and 2]). For the most part, however, as we have seen with the analysis of the everyday, our own being is not a question for us, which simply immerse ourselves in our everyday activities. We must also remember that this is not a moral criticism for Heidegger. This everyday involvement with things and persons, simply describes the way we are. Heidegger calls this way of existing inauthentic. Any yet, if we simply lived inauthentically, the question our being would never arise for us at all. Thus, the only project of a renewal of ontology lies in the possibility of authentic being. There must be a way in which our everyday being is interrupted from its normal cause and that we are thrown back upon ourselves, so as to question who we are. This is the place for the analysis of anxiety.

Now anxiety for Heidegger is a mood, and moods have an important place in Being and Time. The emphasis on moods is part of the general distancing from the prioritisation of our cognitive relation to the world that Heidegger believes is part of the Western tradition. We have already seen this to be the case with our reading of Husserl, who only lets Dasein have one relation to the world and that is via consciousness. To relate to something is to know that thing, and in that knowing that thing is present to you. Without knowledge, the thing is not there at all. This Heidegger argues is a philosophical prejudice, which perhaps has its origin in Plato, and is not a proper phenomenological description of our immediate relation to the world. Before we know something in the epistemological sense we are already in relation to it, and that relation, Heidegger describes in terms of the being of the ready-to-hand. It is in terms of this relation that we first of all live in a world, and only from this world do we develop our cognitive relations. Our present age tends to get this the wrong way around, for good historical reasons Heidegger would say, and believes that science gives us a ‘true’ picture of what things are, whereas are ‘ordinary’ relations to things are some how diminished.

With respect to moods, Heidegger wants to say that when we are speaking about something like the world, then we are not speaking about a relation to an ordinary object. I can say that I know that there is chair there before me, or I can even sit on that chair in the way that it is part of my everyday involvement in the world (I am tired and need to sit down, or I need some where to sit to listen to this lecture). The world is not an object at all. I cannot see it, nor can I use it in the way that I use other pieces of equipment. The world is not ‘there’ in that sense. Of course, I must not confuse the world with something geographical. I can see the ‘world’ represented in the form of a globe, or I can see my world as a name on a map (I can see ‘Plymouth’ in this way), but this is not what Heidegger means by the world, as we have already seen. Rather, he means that world in which I exist; the one that I am familiar and comfortable with, or also the one that feel I do not feel quite at home in, or sometimes is unfamiliar to me. This world is the horizon for my relations to things and persons, both in terms of something ready-to-hand and present-to-hand.

But if the world is not something I can either see or use, then how does it become present to me? The answer for Heidegger is through moods. Elsewhere he talks about boredom - on some days, when nothing seems quite right, and everything seems heavy in your hands. You pick up a book and immediately it becomes uninteresting, you turn on the television and nothing to watch, even your music sounds dull, then your world can becomes present to you, and it does because, the objects that you normally involve yourself in withdraw. Of course, your world does not become present like an object, like the book, the television, or your music, rather it becomes present as a feeling or as an atmosphere; a kind of flavour of existence, if you like.
This tells us something very important about the world. It does not belong to things that are outside of us, in the way that we might believe that there are outside of, rather it belongs to our existence. The ‘worldhood’ of the world, as Heidegger will call it, is part of the ‘there’ of Dasein’s being (and we must remember that the literal translation of Dasein is ‘being-there’). Thus moods, or to be more precise, certain fundamental moods, reveal the ‘there’ of Dasein. We shall talk about this ‘there’ in more detail in the next lecture, but let us now move onto Heidegger’s description of anxiety in Being and Time.

Anxiety is important for Heidegger because it discloses or reveals the kind of being that Dasein is:

How is it that in anxiety Dasein gets brought before itself through its own being, so that we can define phenomenologically the character of the entity disclosed in anxiety, and define it as such in its Being, or make adequate preparations for doing so [BT 184]?
He begins the analysis, therefore, with a question. Thus, he puts forward the hypothesis that there is something singular about the mood anxiety because it discloses or shows the kind of beings that we are; that is to say, it brings us back to our own being. He now needs to convince us whether there is anything to this hypothesis, and he does so phenomenologically. ‘Phenomenology’, here means to describe how something shows itself as itself. Thus, he must describe the mood of anxiety as it happens in the everyday sense, and not through any kind of theoretical pre-judgement about what it might be. It is up to us to see whether Heidegger gives a valid description or not, for something like anxiety is something that we have all of experienced some time in our lives.

What can be our starting point of this investigation? We must start Heidegger says from our everyday existence, for this has been what we have been describing so far in Being and Time. Everyday existence, he describes as ‘falling’. Falling describes the way in which on the whole Dasein in immersed in the world in that it flees from its own uniqueness:

Dasein’s absorption in the ‘they’ and its absorption in the ‘world’ of its concern, make manifest something like a fleeing  of Dasein in the face of itself – of itself as authentic potentiality-for-being-itself. [BT 184].
But if Dasein were only this falleness, then we could not advance any further. Here Heidegger makes an important methodological distinction that we have already come before between what is ‘ontic-existentiell’ and what is ‘ontologico-existential’ [BT 184].  The former refers to the individual Dasein itself who is always for Heidegger ‘fallen’ (this again explains why inauthenticity is not a moral term for Heidegger, for we are all inauthentic), but what Dasein flees from in its falleness can be disclosed through an ontological existential analysis of Dasein’s being. The phenomenological project is therefore to turn towards what Dasein is in flight from, which is not so much itself, but the event of disclosure.

The question is, therefore, what is it that every individual Dasein is in flight from? First of all for Heidegger we must distinguish anxiety from fear. In fear, we are in flight from something definite in the world, some being that endangers us, but the flight that belongs to falling is something quite different. For what Dasein flees from is not some thing or some person in the world, but itself: ‘In falling, Dasein turns away from itself’ [BT 185]. The flight that belong to falling is therefore something quite different than the flight that belongs to fear, since it moves it quite the opposite direction. In the flight that belongs to fear, I move away from the thing or person that is fearful, whereas in the flight that belongs to falling I move towards things and persons in order to escape from myself. This second flight Heidegger calls anxiety.

To understand it we must remember that the being of Dasein, as we have already seen, and which distinguishes its being from any other kind of being, is ‘being-in-the-world. Thus is fleeing from itself, which means fleeing from its being, what it is anxious about is this ‘being in the world’. Fear is flight away from some being that is in the world, whereas anxiety is a flight from ‘being-in-the world’ as such. I am not anxious about this or that thing, or this or that person, but about my ‘world’ as such; or I am only anxious about this or that thing or this or that person, because I am anxious about my world. This is why phenomenologically speaking we can make a distinction between the mood of fear and the mood of anxiety. In the former we have something definite about which we are fearful, whereas in the latter what characterises it essentially is the feeling of indefiniteness and it is this very indefiniteness that is threatening:

Nothing which is ready-to-hand or present-to-hand within the world functions as that in the face of which anxiety is anxious. Here the totality of involvements of the ready-to-hand and the present-to-hand discovered within-the-world is, as such, of no consequence; it collapses into itself; the world has the character of completely lacking significance [BT 186 my emphasis].
Anxiety rather than coming from something, Heidegger says, comes from ‘nowhere’. Are we then anxious about ‘nothing’? In one sense we are, if what we mean by ‘something’ is some thing or person that is either ready-to-hand or present-to-hand. But ‘nothing’ is not no thing, rather it is what remains when there is no thing or no person, and this nothing is the world:
What oppresses us is not this or that, nor is it the summation of everything present-at-hand; it is rather the possibility of the ready-to-hand in general; that is to say, it is the world itself…. The ‘nothing’ of readiness-to-hand is grounded in the most primordial ‘something’ – in the world…. Being-in-the-world itself that in the face of which anxiety is anxious [BT 187].
Most of the time we talk about this or that thing or this or that person. Sometimes, however, in our lives, the mood comes over us, perhaps in our blackest hour, when we are not affected by this or that thing or this or that person. What troubles us in not someone or something at all, rather it is our very existence that torments us; its meaningless or senselessness. This is why we can understand that ontically speaking every individual Dasein is in flight from the ‘nothing’ that is the world. It fills in this nothing with its daily traffic with people and things, and perhaps only for a moment catches a glimpse of this ‘nothing’ when it turns away. But what the individual turns away, is ontologically speaking, what is most important.

The moment in which Dasein turns, the moment before it falls back into its relations with things and other people, in that moment Dasein is utterly alone. When everything disappear, when the world collapse, so that all there is ‘nothing’, then all that is left is me. Why? Because I myself am not a thing or person, rather I am existence, existence as being in the world. As Heidegger describes it, I am thrown back upon myself, and in that moment I am an individual for the first time:

Anxiety takes away from Dasein the possibility of understanding itself, as it falls, in terms of the ‘world’ and the way things have been publicly interpreted. Anxiety throws Dasein back upon that which it is anxious about – its authentic potentiality-for-Being-in-the-World. Anxiety individualises Dasein for its ownmost Being-in-the-World… [BT 187].
‘Being-here’ – Dasein – must only be understood as individuated. I am anxious about my being – and the ‘being’ of Dasein can only be understood in the singular. This is why the existential understanding of Being is not the same as the understanding of Being in terms of essence, where everything, whether we are speaking of a stone, an animal, or a man, is in the same way. To talk about existence is always to talk of it in terms of ‘my’. Thus not to live one’s life, to live as other’s do, is a choice that I make (one, as Heidegger is well aware that is not external to the history in which I find myself – we might want to say that today it is more and more impossible to be oneself)

To be oneself is something that is very strange for Heidegger. It is not to be at home in the world. For what characterises Dasein on the whole is its involvement in the world, its immersion in things and other people. In this world, I becomes like the others. But this world, in which for the most part I feel at home and am familiar with, can, as Heidegger says, collapse, and in anxiety there is a counter movement where Dasein is thrown back upon itself, and feels itself apart. This is not merely a matter of being an ‘outside’ as existentialism is sometime poorly understood, for this would be to confuse an existential description with something existentiell. I might feel myself to be authentic, a rebel, an outsider, but such personas belong to the very world that I think I am escaping; rather anxiety brings me face to face with the very being of Dasein.

Anxiety reveals what Dasein is: not some thing, whether present to hand or ready to hand, but a ‘being there’, which, because it is neither of these things, and therefore does not belong to the familiarity of what is near, is ontologically speaking ‘not being at home’. Every world has as its ground the absence of a world, which the being-there of Dasein, and is from this that Dasein flees when it takes flight into a world:

When in falling we flee into the ‘at-home’ of publicness, we flee in the face of the ‘not-at-home’; that is we flee in the face of the uncanniness (die Unheimlichkeit) which lies in Dasein.... This uncanniness pursues Dasein constantly, and is a threat to its everyday lostness in the ‘they’… [BT 189].
It is this uncanniness which belongs to the essentially to Dasein that is the fulcrum on which Dasein pivots between inauthenticity and authenticity. Without it fundamental ontology would not be possible:
[I]n anxiety there lies the possibility of a disclosure which is quite distinctive; for anxiety individualises. This individualisation brings Dasein back from its falling, and makes manifest to it that authenticity and inauthenticity are possibilities of its Being [BT 235].
back to WL page

back to site main page