The They
Dr William Large

So far, to a certain extent, we have only been speaking about Dasein’s relation to things and how out of this relation to things something like the notion of a ‘world’ develops [see file]. In this essay, we shall look at Dasein’s relation to society. In one, sense we have already touched upon this topic, for of course, in our relation to things we already relate to others. This is clear in Heidegger’s analysis of the ready-to-hand, since in my involvement with things I am already necessarily involved with others.
This relation to others is also paramount in Heidegger’s understanding of the distinction between inauthentic and authentic existence. As we remember, this distinction for Heidegger is an ontological and not moral; that is to say it is not a matter of being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but of two possible ways of being that are given to Dasein. These two ways of being are primordially interpreted by Heidegger in terms of social existence. To be inauthentic is to live for the most part the lives of others, whereas to be authentically is to choose one’s own life in the face of one’s mortality. For the most part, Heidegger would say we live inauthentically, and only in certain key moments is authentic existence a possibility.

If Dasein’s relation to things is to be understood in terms of ‘being-in’ then its relation to others is to be understood as ‘being-with’. But I am with others in the sense of being a ‘who’. But what does it mean to speak of Dasein as a ‘who’? The usual philosophical response to this question is to say that the ‘who’ of Dasein is the ‘I’, but this ‘I’ is usual thought of in terms of some kind of substance that remains the same through everything that is experienced. But the who of Dasein in its everydayness, Heidegger argues is not to be understood in this sense of the ‘I’, but as the ‘they’. 

This expression makes more sense in German than it does perhaps in English, for it does not refer to the 3rd person plural, but to the sense in English when we say ‘one says,’ or ‘one does.’ In German, the equivalent to ‘one’ is man. For the most part, existentially speaking, we do not live as an ‘I’ at all, but as they do. Thus the ‘I’ is not something that simply remains the same through experience, as philosophy is used to interpreting it, but breaks through the anonymity of existence. The authentic self, to use Heidegger’s language is not something that is given, rather it need to be achieved against the background of the everydayness of life. This means that it is entirely a possibility that Dasein can lose the possibility of being a self, and most of the time, Heidegger would say, it does do so in the alienation of modern life. 

As we have already indicated our description of the everyday involvement with things already presupposes a relation to others. In, for example, making a shelter I do so for others and in relation to them. These others are not simply added onto my world as an extra item, rather things are encountered in the world already in relation to others. The bus I catch to work in the morning is already driven my others, and used by others. The college already belongs to a community and a history that predates my birth and in some way will continue after my death. Just as much that I do not encounter things in isolation, but always in relation to others things, so too are these things related back to others.

This does not mean, however that I am with others in the same way that I am with things, because is not a things that is either present-to-hand or ready-to-hand, although I do not meet them outside this encounter with things. They are ‘there’ Heidegger would say in a very different way than things are ‘there’, for they too like me have a world. This world is not something opposed to my world, as though there were as many worlds as there were people, rather their world is the same as my world. Thus what characterises my relation to others as opposed to things is that I do not stand apart from me. Being with is not merely the involvement of the ‘being-in’ but intimacy.

By ‘Others’ we do not mean everyone else but me – those over against whom the ‘I’ stands out. They are rather those from whom, for the most part, one does not distinguish oneself – those among whom one is too…. [t]he world is always the one that I share with Others. The world of Dasein is a with-world (Mitwelt) [BT 118].
We must distinguish between the ontological and epistemological understanding of the relation to others. In the first case, the ‘I’ is understood as something separate from others. Yet one does not think one’s way to others, rather in your existence you are already related to others in advance. I do not encounter others first of all conceptually by labelling them as ‘human beings’ or even ‘others’, rather in my involvement I already concerned about them, and our world is something that we share in common in our very way of being. Even if I do choose to exist in isolation then this is already chosen in relation to others (only a being whose very way of being belongs to other could choose to be alone, or even be lonely). My understanding of myself is always already determined by my relation to others, thus the philosophical problem of how we make a bridge from the self to the other is a false one, for it understand the being of Dasein in the same way that it understand the being of things, and not in terms of existence.

For the most part my relation to others, which Heidegger calls solicitude, is one of indifference. Just as my involvement in the world is a matter of indifference (I take no notice of the bus that takes me to work), then my relation to others is equally of indifferent to me (I do not see the people who sit on the bus, even if they might be the same ones everyday). Again this is not a moral statement by Heidegger, but simply a description of the everyday manner of being of Dasein. They are, however, Heidegger, argues two positive ways that Dasein concerns itself with others. One is one of domination, where it takes over the possibilities of others and directs and controls them. The other is when it liberates the other to be itself. 

There is, however, another way that the other figures in Dasein’s existence and this does not have the same meaning as the other I either dominate or liberate; rather it is closer to my indifferent relation to others. In this indifferent relation it is the others who come to dominate over me and not me over them. This stripping away of my possibilities, however, is not quite the same as Dasein’s taking over the possibilities of the other. For here it is not a case of an action or a result, but an insidious dissolving away of my own individuality, which Heidegger believes is the general effect of modern life.

In this indifferent relation to others every other becomes ‘substitutable’. It is in this sense that we talk about the others as being ‘they’ (das Man). And yet is this very indeterminateness of the ‘they’ that rules over our existence: 

We take pleasure and amuse ourselves as they take pleasure; we read, see and judge about literature and art as they see and judge; likewise we shrink back from the ‘great mass’ as they shrink back; we find ‘shocking’ what they find shocking. The ‘they’ which is nothing definite and which all are, though not as sum, prescribes the kind of being of everydayness [BT 126-7].
What we are for the most extent is not what philosophy interprets as the subject, but this general way of being, where all possibilities are levelled down to what is most common. This levelling down of possibilities Heidegger calls the ‘public’ (die Öffentlichkeit). It is this way of being that is most common to us. It is not, however, to be understood in terms of the categories of things. Even as the most general way of being it is not to be interpreted as a genus; rather it only describes the existence of Dasein and it can only be grasped historically. If Dasein has the possibility of being a self then it is only against the background of this general existence from which it must distance itself. On the whole, however, our existence is to be understood in this manner of this average way of being.

In terms of the overall method of Being and Time, the being of Dasein is the access point to the meaning of being in general. The ontological interpretation of Dasein starts with the everyday being of Dasein. It is this everyday being of Dasein, however, that can lead us astray, since in our involvement with others and things, we take on their own indifferent being. Being in general then takes on this interpretation, and it guides our metaphysics to such an extent that the existential understanding of being becomes completely lost. Just as much as everydayness is the opening onto the question of being, it also conceals its unique meaning from us. We then end up, as with the case of Husserl, with a subject that is understood as something present-to-hand, as though it were a thing, and we are oblivious of its existential origin.

If  however, the origin of metaphysics is to be found in our everyday being, then its overcoming must also be found there, or something like the possibility of the existential analysis would not be given to us. Or to be it another way, if we were all lost in the public world, then something like philosophy would not be possible for us.

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