Being in the World

 Dr William Large

Last week we examined the introduction to Being and Time. There we saw that Heidegger’s intention was to renew the question of being. He sought to do this via inquiring about that being whose being is question for itself, which, of course is ourselves. This being he called Dasein. This week we shall describe and think about how Heidegger understands the peculiarity of this being. Such a process, which refers back to Kant’s analytic in the Critique of Pure Reason, Heidegger calls the ‘analytic of Dasein’. We shall see that the major purpose of this analytic is that we cannot understand the being of Dasein in the same way that we understand the being of things, but this is precisely what the Western tradition has done, and what differentiates this being from the being of things, is that it has a world. Again this would be mean renewing the ontological understanding of the world, and sharply differentiating it from its natural or thing-like explaintion. For example, that the world is something that simply lies outside us, like the air that we breath. One we have understood that the being of Dasein, we understand that the being of things must be dependent on it, since it we who make claims about the being of things, and not things that make a claim about understanding our being. Thus we reverse the traditional Western conception.

The first way that we can understand that the being of Dasein is not the same as the being of the thing is through the notion of existence that we have already introduced in the first lecture. As Heidegger remarks Dasein’s existence must not be understood in the classical way as mere existentia; that is to say as the mere presence of a thing (what Heidegger will call ‘present to hand’ das Vorhandensein). Rather Dasein’s existence must be undersood in terms of possibility. This means that existence for Dasein, unlike being present is something radical singular or individual. Or as Heidegger says the being of Dasein must always be thought in terms of ‘mineness’ (die Jemeinigkeit). In term of possibilities no one can be or I am, though in terms of ‘whatness’ of course we are all the same. Here Heidegger introduces one of the fundamental distinctions of Being and Time between inauthentic and authentic existence. This is not to understand as a moral sense as that one way of existence is worse than the other, but as an ontological distinction that typifies two ways of being. In authentic existence I understand my being in terms of possibility, whereas in inauthentic existence I understand my in terms of existentia; that is to say that in the former that I realise that being a teacher is something that I have chosen, which of course is conditional on certain aspects that are beyond my control, whereas in the latter I think of being a teacher is the same as being a ‘table, house or tree’ to use Heidegger’s example [BT 42]. The way that Heidegger makes distinction between the being of things and the being of Dasein is to distinguish between two different ways of thinking about being. One, he calls categorical, and which goes back to Aristotle, and the other he calls existential. He wants to show throughout the analytic of Dasein that we continually misunderstand the being of Dasein because we understand its being categorically, rather than existential. This is what has happened in the history of Western philosophy, and why retrieving the real meaning of Dasein’s being means deconstructing the tradition that has been handed down to us. 

One of the fundamental ways of thinking about the difference between an existential and categorical meaning of being is to think about the simple preposition ‘in’ (in a certain sense these little words hide the whole meaning of our being in the world). There is a great difference, Heidegger would argue, between the categorical  'in' and the existential 'in'. Categorically speaking, the water is in the glass, and existentially speaking Dasein is in the world, but it would be quite wrong to say that Dasein is in a world in the same way that water is in a glass

In the latter case, ‘in’ is merely understood in the sense of the space of things (that is to say categorically), when we think of the water being in the glass, and glass being in the room and the room being in the building. Whereas in the second case in is thought of in terms of residing or dwelling, where residing is first of all not thought of being in something, but of being familiar or at home (that is to say existentially). 

Existentially speaking this ‘being-in’ a world can be understood as being near or being alongside the world. This bear near or being alongside should again not be understood in the way that we talk of one thing being next to another. We can describe the chair as touching the wall. But what does touching in this case mean? Is it not true to say that chair and the wall never touch, not because there is always a space between them, but because the wall cannot reach out to encounter the chair and the chair cannot reach out and encounter the wall. We must, therefore, sharply distinguish between existentially space and categorical space, and if we think of things touching this is only a metaphorical extension from our own ‘lived’ space.

The chair touches the wall. Taken strictly, touching is never what we are talking about in such cases, not because accurate re-examination will always eventually establish that there is a space between the wall, but because in principle the chair can never touch the wall, even if the space between them should be equal to zero. If the chair could touch the wall, this would presuppose that the wall is the sort of thing ‘for’ which a chair would be encounterable [BT 55].

This does not mean that Dasein cannot be understood as thing – as something merely present to hand, as ‘a what’.  We do so, for example when we say that a human being is merely a ‘rational animal’ or, for example, to give such definition a more modern ring, a ‘gene carrier’. But such definition completely misses the essential way of being of Dasein as existence. Indeed, the very possibility of treating Dasein as thing must arise from the particular way that it relates to things from out of its own being. Thus being a fact for Dasein, Heidegger argues, is not the same a being a stone. If I understand myself as something then this understanding comes from the way that I encounter things in my world. A stone cannot conceive of itself as fact. That Dasein can understand itself in a certain way Heidegger calls facticity (die Faktizität). But this faciticity, even that which is the most abstract and scientific, must first of all being understand as arising out of the ordinary way that Dasein is in this world, and what characterises all the ways of being in the world and others is ‘concern’.

Dasein’s facticity is such that its Being-in-the-World has always dispersed itself or even split itself up into definite ways of Being-in. The multiplicity of these is indicated by the following examples: having to do with something, producing something, giving something up and letting it go, undertaking, accomplishing, evincing, interrogating, considering, discussing, determining…. All these ways of Being-in have concern as their kind of Being [BT 56-7]

We need, Heidegger says, to understand concern (or what he would later call ‘care’) not in their ordinary sense, but ontological. Ontolgically care expresses the way that we existence in a world. This being in a world is not the same as water being in a glass. In the latter case we might say that being-in is merely a property of the water, which it would lose if it were tipped out of the glass. Metaphorically speaking, we might say that we can be tipped out of our world, but we would not mean by that the same as water being poured from a glass. Losing a world is not the same as a glass losing water.

We can understand therefore that the relation between Dasein and its world is not the same as the relation between one object and another, but this is precisely how philosophy tries to grasp it in epistemology when it tries to think how one gets from the ‘I’ to the ‘world.’ The world is not a thing at all, and is not outside Dasein in the way that we would say that a tree is outside my window. 

This is the primary way that Heidegger differs from his teacher Husserl. For the latter takes epistemology; that is to say, the problem of knowledge as primary, whereas Heidegger would say that Dasein first of all has to exist before it can know anything. In the language of Being and Time, Heidegger says that knowing is a ‘founded’ mode. This means that it is secondary or derivative. This runs counter to the whole tradition of philosophy, of which Husserl is only its completion, which make knowledge the primary relation to the world

In traditional philosophy the way of conceiving of Dasein’s relation to the world is through the distinction between the subject and the object? We first of all must understand this relation through the way of being of Dasein itself; that is to say existentially and not categorically. It is only Dasein that knows something and not a ‘table, house or tree’. In knowledge the world is understood as external nature, which is in some sense ‘out there’, and the problem of knowledge is how we get from the inner sphere of the subject. But within this epistemological model there are whole sum of ontological problems that are left unclear. For even in epistemology, the subject is not seen as thing in the world, but as something apart from it, but it leaves us complete in the dark as to how we are to conceive this difference. Is the inner sphere of the subject, for example the same as the inside of box, or something different?

Epistemology takes it for granted that there is knowing subject, but this knowing subject must itself be grounded in something more ontologically primary, which is the being of the subject. Even though this might have been something abstractly recognised by Kant and Husserl (remember for example that Husserl says that are idea are not in consciousness in the way that things are in a bag) they do face this question directly. For we can only know what it means to be a subject by investigating the ontological structure of Dasein. First of all Dasein exists alongside the world and is ‘fascinated’ by things. This fascination is to be understood through the ontology of care that is more primordial than the abstract knowledge of things present to hand. Things first of all matter to me in a world that I care about. Only then, in a second moment, can I have relation to them in terms of knowledge. Thus knowledge rather than being the essential relation to things as philosophy interprets it, is a falling away from care. To know something means to hold oneself back from one’s involvement in the world. This is precisely the view one gets in philosophy’s continual use of the example of perception as the model of our relation to the world – for in perception the context, the situation of perceiving, falls away, and we are left with the existential empty correlation of the eye with a thing – this table, this house, this tree. But my primary relation to things is one of which they matter to me. The table is for putting something on, the house for living in, the tree for sheltering and so on. What philosophy puts first is in fact second. From this we can see that the problem of epistemology of getting from the inside to an outside is a false problem for Dasein is already outside of itself in its involvement with things.

We now, therefore, need to look in a deeper sense by what we mean by involvement or what Heidegger calls Being-in-the-world and this means grasping the ‘world’ in a different sense then merely as something external. We say that things are outside of us: table, trees, houses. But these things, in a certain sense, conceal the world from us, or make us think that the world itself is a thing. This means that for Heidegger the question of the world is ontological problem and not an ontical one. This is why the sciences can tell us nothing about the world, for even the idea of nature as totality is something that only has a meaning for us in our Western scientific world.

Is the notion of a world something merely cultural or historical? But we are not interested in this or that world – the world of the modern man, as opposed to the primitive, for example – but the very notion of the world as such, which Heidegger calls the worldhood (die Weltheit) of the world which is true of every world. The way to get to this phenomenon is to through that which is closest to us; that is to say our everyday world, which Heidegger calls our environment, and in analysing our environment we shall be able to understand what we mean by worldhood.

To get to this everyday world we must describe how things present themselves in our everyday dealings with them and fight against our temptation to over-interpret them, for example in the models of perception which are numerous in the history of philosophy. We need to describe simply how things are there for us, and not how we think that they ought to be there in the way that we have learnt from philosophy. This way of interpreting things is the phenomenological method of Being and Time
Things are there for us first of all because they matter to us. For this reason we first of all encounter things as equipment or tools (das Zeug). We do not first all perceive things; rather they have a part to play. Heidegger understands this by saying that we relate to things first of all in terms an ‘in order to’ in which I ‘assign’ them in a totality of other usable things. I open the door in order to leave the room. I walk down the corridor in order to leave the building; I use the lighter in order to light my cigarette and so on. Thus unlike perception, I do not see a thing apart from everything else, rather a relate to things in totality:

Equipment … always is in terms of its belonging to other equipment: ink stand, pen, ink, paper, blotting pad, table, lamp, furniture, windows, doors, room. These ‘Things’ never show themselves… we encounter the room not as something ‘between four walls’ in a geometrical spatial sense, but as equipment for residing [BT 68-9].
When Heidegger say that things as equipment should be understood as use, he emphasises that we should not think of this use theoretically. It is not the looking at the hammer that reveals it’s the being of the hammer as equipment, but the hammering itself. We thereby must distinguish the being as something present, present-to-hand, from how its reveals itself in its use – ready to hand. No matter how hard I look at something I can never disclose its ready-to-handiness, for as soon as something is called to my attention then it becomes present-to-hand. The hammer ceases to be a ‘hammering nails into wood in order to build a house’, but simply a hammer. What matter in my everyday involvement with things is not the presence of the thing itself but that towards which my activity is direction (what Heidegger calls the ‘towards which’) – circumspection rather than inspection. Circumspection relates back to care, which Heidegger has already characterised Dasein’s being in the world, for I can be circumspect in the sense that the world as such matters to me.

The whole drive of Heidegger’s analysis is to show that my everyday involvement with things already involves implies a world, which remains completely invisible in my inspection of things, but precisely because philosophy has taken perception to be the essential way that I relate to things, the phenomenon of the world has been utterly cut off from it. Every use relates to every other use, and in this way the world is present in some way in every use. But it is not present in the way that we understand present as something present to hand. The world is precisely not something that I can perceive and this explains why the world is not present in such examples of perception. The perceived thing is worldless. In equipmentality, the world becomes visible not when we pay attention to it, but when it breaks down:

The assignments themselves are not observed; they are rather there… but when an assignment has been disturbed – when something is unusable…then the assignment becomes explicit…. Or circumspection comes up against emptiness and now sees for the first time what the missing article was ready-to-hand with, and what it was ready-to-hand for. The environment announces itself afresh [BT 75].
The world then is not external nature, but referentiality, the ‘towards which’ of the ‘in order to’. Referentiality only has a meaning, however, in relation to my involvement. In hammering there is the involvement with making something secure, which is involved in protecting oneself from the weather. All these involvements relate back into the end to Dasein’s existence; that is to say, in terms of its own possibilities. This means that all equipment in the end point back to a being which is not a piece of equipment and that is Dasein. The primary ‘towards which’ of all equipment is for the sake of Dasein, because its being is an issue for it.
[With a] hammer there is an involvement in hammering, with hammering an involvement with in making something fast; with making something fast, there is an involvement in protection against bad weather; and this protection ‘is’ for the sake of proving shelter for Dasein – that is to say, for the sake of a possibility of Dasein’s Being [BT 84]. 
No single involvement, however, makes sense on its own, but only within a totality of involvements. This totality is the horizon of my world in which this or that purpose has its relation to other purposes. This world, however, is neither something ready to hand or present to hand; it is not one more item added to the things that I encounter. The world, rather, belongs to Dasein’s understanding. We would be wrong to interpret this understanding in an objective or theoretical grasp of something. Understanding here mean’s Dasein’s familiarity with a world.

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