A few, rather random notes on Being and Time
These notes are sketchy; just some thoughts about various features of
B&T. Remember my warning that my own perspective is as a metaphysician,
so I give too little attention to the historical and historicist notions
in Heidegger's work.
- Dasein is in each case mine -- that is, it is always
a who, a someone.
- The essence of Dasein lies in its "to be." Dasein is
different than "present-at-hand" things like tables and
chairs. It is instead a thing which has to become
- This term "present-at-hand" is crucial. It replaces
traditional terms like existing-thing, or object.
- So, to study Dasein, we study how it acts and encounters
the world, and its responsibilities -- not any properties
it has like weight or somesuch thing.
- Dasein is not an instance of some genus of present-at-hand
things -- an instance of the genus ape, for example. That
kind of investigation is reserved for present-at-hand things.
- One special feature of Dasein will be authenticity. Dasein
is its possibilities, and as such it is responsible for what
it is and does. This means it can be something authentically
or inauthentically. We will find out what this means later.
- To understand Dasein, we won't focus on some particular
way of being (being a student, for example). Instead, we
aim for the general "undifferentiated" character of its
average everyday existence, or average everydayness.
- But our average everydayness is obscure to us, it is wholly
taken for granted and lost in our other concerns.
- Our analysis will be ontological: we will always
ask about Dasein in terms of its relation to Being. We will
not ask about its "categories," by which Heidegger means
a traditional kind of analysis of something present-at-hand.
- So: Dasein's features are existential features,
which he calls here existentialia. Present at hand things
have properties which we might call categories. Dasein is
a who. Present at hand things are a what.
- Contrast this investigation with Descartes.
Descartes studied thinking (cogitare) and the self
(ego) but not the being of Dasein.
- Heidegger promises to show us that if you
start with the idea that Dasein is a present-at-hand
thing, you'll miss its most important features. You'll
miss it completely.
- Scheler and Husserl (contemporary philosophers) don't
do any better. They simply treat Dasein as the subject
having phenomenal contents.
- Two traditions are worthy of note. Man is a rational
animal. Man is that which, because it has reason, strives
towards the divine.
- But all these sciences, and these traditions, treat
Dasein as another object ammong objects.
- Dasein is being-in-the-world, so we need an analysis of
- World (in the existential sense) cannot be understood as a
collection of entities. Worldhood is an existentiale.
- Heidegger reviews four notions of world. (Collection of
present-at-hand things; the being of present-at-hand things with
a particular purpose or towards-which; the situation of Dasein;
and then worldhood.)
- Worldhood is more fundamental than space. This is in contrast
to Descartes, who takes world as space, and human being as an object
which has a body in that space. Heidegger's view of worldhood will
be most clear when contrasted with Descartes.
- We will start by looking at the kinds of dealings which
are "closest to us," and these are putting things (entities
within the world) to use.
- The way we first or primarily encounter things in the world
is not with a theoretical attitude.
- Indeed, when we interpret, or turn to theory, we lose the
phenomenology of our concernful dealings.
- What do we deal with, in our concern? Things. Pragmata.
This Greek word is related to praxis, practice. Heidegger sees
this as a hint of something covered over: we primarily encounter
things as ready-to-hand; these things are equipment, in
a totality of equipment, where each thing has its in-order-to.
- The kind of understanding that accompanies our use of
ready-to-hand things is circumspection (Heidegger uses Umsicht,
which allows an evocation of Sicht, sight.)
- A very challenging aspect of this discussion is that
ready-to-hand things have their own kind of being. There is
something of a puzzle to understand how the chair can be
present-at-hand and ready-to-hand and the same chair. Something
like perspectivalism is at play here, where perspective (way of
encountering might be more accurate) shapes the kind of being.
- Ready-to-hand things play a role in work. They have a
- We even encounter materials that constitute ready-to-hand
things as ready-to-hand.
- "Readiness-to-hand is the way in which entities as they
are 'in themselves' are defined ontologico-ceategorially. Yet
only be reason of something present-at-hand, 'is there' anything
ready to hand." (M&R translation)
- We've gotten some concepts that will help us understand
world, but the collection of ready-to-hand (and present-at-hand)
things is not the world. We need to dig deeper then to discover
the ontological nature of world.
- These cases where something becomes unready-to-hand,
where circumspection reveals the thing is not useful, reveal
the thing as present-at-hand; and also reveal the in-order-to
and toward-which of the thing. The in-order-to and toward-which
were there in circumspection when we used the equipment, but we
do not attend to it. When the equipment fails to be useful,
the whole totality of references starts to come to our attention.
- So far then we have: "Being-in-the-world... amounts to a
non-thematic circumspective absorption in references or
assignments constitutive for the readiness-to-hand of a totality of
equipment." (M&R translation)
- Signs are special kinds of equipment, they draw attention to
the totality of equipment: "A sign is something ontically
ready-to-hand, which functions both as this definite equipment and
as something indicative of the ontological structure of
readiness-to-hand, of referential totalities, and of worldhood."
- "Reference" here is used as a technical term only loosely
related to the semantic notion of reference. Reference is what
constitutes the ready-to-hand, and constitutes worldhood.
- A ready-to-hand things has the character of involvement.
- Involvement arises from the towards-which and the for-which
of some ready-to-hand thing. The hammer's towards-which might
be to hammer nails; and hammering of nails might have a towards-which
of affixing the roof; and so on.
- The end of such a chain of towards-which is a
for-the-sake-of-which. Only Dasein has a for-the-sake-of-which.
- Dasein lets things be ready-to-hand (it "frees" them to
be ready-to-hand) by already having a totality of
involvements. These must exist before the thing can be
encountered as ready-to-hand. World is this understanding
that must come first.
- World as "an act of understanding which assigns or
refers itself, is that for which one lets entities be encountered
in the kind of Being that belongs to involvements." (M&R
- Heidegger introduces a term, signifying, for the way
Dasein understands these relationships of involvement.
- Remember that we are concerned with Being. Worldhood is
essentially to this greater project because Worldhood is what
allows beings to be encountered as ready to hand. "Dasein,
in its familiarity with significance, is the ontical condition
for the possibility of discovering entities which are encountered
in a world with involvement (readiness-to-hand) as their kind of
Being, and which can thus make themselves known as they are in
themselves." (M&R translation)
- Heidegger raises a question. Isn't this idealism, then?
Is he saying that ready-to-hand things are "thoughts" of
Dasein? In the following sections, Heidegger will argue no.
He is trying to wend a path between realism and idealism.
- A caution. It is not the case that Heidegger is offering
a kind of anthropology identifying humans with pre- or
non-cognitive skills. In a later lecture, Heidegger
explicitly aims to ward this off:
In contrast to [a] historical path toward an understanding of
the concept of world, I attempted in Being and Time to
provide a preliminary characterization of the phenomenon of
world by interpreting the way in which we at first and
for the most part move about in our everyday world. There
I took my departure from what lies to hand in the everyday
realm, from those things that we use and pursue, indeed in
such a way that we don not really know of the peculiar
character proper to such activity at all, and when we do try
to describe it we immediately misinterpret it by applying
concepts and questions that have their source elsewhere. That
which is so close and intelligible to us in our everyday
dealings is actually and fundamentally remote and
unintelligible to us. In and through this initial
characterization of the phenomenon of world the task is to
press on and point out the phenomenon of world as a problem.
It never occured to me, however, to try and claim or prove
with this interpretation that the essence of man consists in
the fact that he knows how to handle knives and forks or use
Assuming Heidegger did not change his mind between B&T and
this lecture, I think we should read this as not denying that
world is significance, but rather as denying that the world is
just ready-to-hand stuff, or that Dasein is only concerned
with the ready-to-hand, or should only be so concerned, or is
authentic only when it is so concerned. Furthermore, we must
conclude that identifying world with significance is only a
first step towards understanding world -- we could develop a
more radical understanding with additional phenomenological
(The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics,
Indiana University Press, McNeill and Walker translators,