The point of Being and Time: To properly formulate the question, What is being? so as to draw forth its meaning.
The process of reading B&T is sort of like being zoomed in on a pixel of a photograph and slowly zooming out to see the context. Which explains why my first reading in college was so infuriating—I had no sense of where things were going, I had no context for understanding. Now that I’m on my second reading I hope I’ll be able to provide some of that context as I start from the beginning, although a blog post is certain to be inadequate. Maybe, though, it will be a jumping-off point for further reading.
Well, let’s start with some terminology. (With this I’m only touching the tip of the iceberg, and even so we may not get any farther in this post):
phenomena: Heidegger often seeks the meaning etymologically, so we, too, will go back to the Greek: φαινόμενoν (phainomenon) which he takes to mean “to bring something to light.” “φαινω” (phaino) is closely related to φῶς (phos), which means “light.” He calls phenomena
“the totality of what lies in the light of day or can be brought to the light—what the Greeks sometimes identified simply with τὰ ὄντα (ta onta, entities)” (29).
So here we already see that phenomena is tied to beings or things. As if all we needed to do was turn on the light. But how did Being remain in the dark until Heidegger came along? Well Heidegger’s answer is that we’ve been asking the wrong questions. The mind-body problem has never been a legitimate problem.
The study of Being will turn out to be possible only through phenomenology. This is a radical claim.
Heidegger defines phenomenology as: “to let that which shows itself be seen from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself”…aaaaannnnd…this is when we try not to throw the book against the wall in despair. Or we go ahead and throw it just to vent…
Why all the verbiage?
Well, he’s being careful here. Phenomena can be challenging. Sometimes phenomena present themselves in a straightforward way, like this coffee mug before me. Other times phenomena point outside themselves, like a symptom pointing to a disease. For instance, a runny nose, a cough, etc. are indicative of something behind them, causing them; namely, a cold. So the reason Heidegger adds “in the very way in which it shows itself” is because appearances can be taken to mean a mere semblance. In other words, it can reveal itself as something which it is not. (29)
We have thus far two kinds of phenomena:
a) “appearances” that show themselves
b) “appearances” that, in showing themselves, show what they are not. Symbols, metaphors, symptoms, illusions, and indicators are all in this category.
The latter is constituted in the former. Without straightforward appearances, there would be no indicators. The latter are in a reference-relationship to the former (31).
Then there’s another kind of phenomenon:
c) “appearances” “brought forth” that do not make up the real Being of what it brings forth, but constantly keep the thing it announces veiled (30).
c) sounds mysterious. I think I know where he’s going with this, but I would only be guessing. For now let’s just take Heidegger’s definition of phenomenology at face value—as that which shows itself in the very way in which it shows itself. Soon we will see how his phenomenology is distinguished from Husserl’s, which I discussed more fully here.
In order to understand Heidegger’s stance on phenomenology, we need to know what noumena is: It’s an unknowable thing-in-itself, which cannot be experienced. The word is often used in opposition to phenomena and is a term used by Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason. There, Kant gives examples of noumena: God, the soul, freedom, and objects as they exist ‘in-themselves,’ apart from our experience of them. For Kant, noumena is ‘behind’ phenomena in a causal relationship, but noumena are never directly experienced.
It helps to take the phenomena/noumena divide into the context of phenomenology. While Husserl ignores noumena, simply setting it aside in order to focus on the phenomena, Heidegger outright rejects noumena in order to find the meaning of Being phenomenologically. Imagine it like this:
Husserl explicitly turns away from the question of being itself in merely bracketing noumena (in the earlier post on Husserl, the thing bracketed was designated “the natural attitude,” but it amounts to the same thing). His phenomenology is simply not concerned with things as they are “in themselves” in the Kantian sense. Husserl wants only to describe the phenomena as it appears, taking no positive stance on noumena.
Heidegger makes a positive claim: Being itself and its meaning can be disclosed to us. It’s not something “out there” beyond experience causing our experiences. Dualism (the mind-body problem) is predicated on a huge mistake that has carried through the whole history of Western philosophy (of which more in future posts).
For Heidegger, being is hidden, but only because we don’t pose the question of being properly, not because it is inherently inaccessible. Phenomena never lie. Nothing is hidden behind the phenomena.
In the next post I’ll discuss the mistake we are inclined to make in posing the question of being, and why we make this mistake.
Another thing. This post took me for-freaking-ever to write. And this was the easy one. So the next post may not come too rapidly…although hopefully I’ll gain some direction from your comments.