Heidegger’s Being and Time (Part III: Dualism)

I’ve been threatening to explain Heidegger’s views on why dualism is predicated on a mistake, and I’ve finally done it. Well, I let someone else do it while I held the camera.

Please don’t read my criticism below until after you’ve seen the video. (It won’t make any sense.)


If Heidegger could prove that presence-at-hand arises out of readiness-to-hand, that the world of purpose (teleology) which we inhabit is primordial, that the world of bare existences is dependent on the world of value, then he’s proven that dualism has been misguided. Heidegger shows how presence-at-hand could arise out of readiness-to-hand, but he doesn’t show that it must. The necessary connection is missing, and this weakens the whole of Heidegger’s project as I understand it.

As always, feel free to ask questions, offer criticisms, shower praise on Geordie and his exquisite performance, etc.


Me: Why is dualism predicated on a huge mistake that has carried through the whole history of Western philosophy?

Professor: Dualism is the view that there are two substances in the world, two kinds of being—mind and matter—and that somehow mind perceives matter, perceives the world. They are separate ontologically—that is, conceptually—but somehow they connect. When Heidegger addresses this problem, he doesn’t do it in the traditional kinds of terms that I just used. I think that the key to understanding him is in his idea of presence-to-hand [presence-at-hand] and readiness-to-hand. And the primacy of readiness-to-hand.

Presence-at-hand is what we modern Westerners think of as simply the way things are. They sit out there and fill up space and time and nothing else. Readiness-to-hand is the object in so far as it has value.

The only thing in philosophy that I know of that is like this is final cause in Aristotle, where objects have certain values insofar as they are good for certain purposes or created by those purposes. The value, then, is in the object. But here in Heidegger it is much broader than that and I don’t think Heidegger had very much respect for the Aristotelian final cause. It comes from the active involvement or engagement of Dasein—that is, human being—with the world. The world exists first as value-laden.

The mountain that sits there as a chunk of matter or worldliness is not simply a volume filled with stuff. It is an obstacle in a path, it is a goal to be climbed, it is a piece of beauty to be looked at and enjoyed. It is all kinds of values first—primordially—and then in Heidegger we subtract from it those values and thus come to the presence-at-hand. So that presence-at-hand is actually derived from readiness-to-hand, not the other way around. And I believe Heidegger refers to this by saying that presence-at-hand is a deficient mode of readiness-to-hand. First of all, it is there in Dasein’s active engagement with the world as a value-ful object, then we subtract the value and come up with the idea of present-at-hand, which he thinks we mistakenly put back into the object and try to imagine Dasein coming across something present-at-hand and adding value to it. That is dualism as Heidegger understands it. For him, it’s wrong.

An example of the relationship that Heidegger gives between present-at-hand and ready-to-hand is the idea of being broken. You start with the primordially-given ready-to-hand…say, a tool, which has a certain value imbued in its being, being good for hammering would be the value that’s in a, well, hammer. Then we are to imagine a hammer breaking, perhaps the handle breaks so that it’s no longer [something in German] ready-to-hand, it becomes now merely present-at-hand, sort of stupid. All I can do with it now is kick it.

Kind of like a car that doesn’t work anymore, the first reaction is to kick it. It just sits there, being, but no longer good for anything. And it is obviously bad for something, but its presence-at-hand comes forward and in this way the present-at-hand is derived from the ready-to-hand. And this is an example, I suppose, of what Heidegger means by presence-at-hand being a deficient mode of readiness-to-hand.

Me: What is Heidegger’s attitude towards science?

Heidegger’s attitude towards science is not that science is simply wrong or anything like that, but that science is a derivative activity that comes up with a purely theoretical view of the world, which it then superimposes back on the world, then imagines Dasein coming upon the world and tries to imagine how it can happen that Dasein knows the world. But in fact, according to Heidegger, Dasein was already there in the world with Being-in-the-world before any of that happened. Of course, the world that Dasein was “in,” so to speak, was a world of readiness-to-hand. Everything was ready-to-hand in one way or another. Either as an obstacle or a source of food—it was good for something or bad for something, let’s put it that way. Dasein was already there, with it in a primordial unity which is what he calls Being-in-the-world. Again, from that primordial unity Dasein has the capacity to withdraw itself from the world, and merely look at the world instead of using it or being engaged with it in some way. And that’s what science is.

Now gravity of course is a scientific idea. And so the idea of gravity is for Heidegger derivative. Derivative, in what sense? Gravity is the idea that all pieces of matter anywhere in the world attract each other with a certain force. It would be closer to the original primordial experience to say something like…well to use the etymology of the word “attract”…that is, it’s not just a motion of two bodies towards each other, but a real attraction in which, in Aristotle’s terms or in old Greek terms, the bodies experience a kind of love. I’m sorry if that sounds romantic or hideously old-fashioned, but that would be closer to what Heidegger thinks. Though, I don’t think that Heidegger is saying that “love makes the world go ’round” or anything like that, but that the world is not simply matter in motion. The world can love, it can hate…it has all sorts of value-laden relations that are involved with motion. It’s just growth. Growth is a motion in Aristotle’s terms, and growth is a much richer concept than mere gravitational attraction.

Back to the mind-body problem:

So now if we’re trying to imagine this primordial unity of Being-in-the-world (in which the world is encountered as value-laden in myriad ways) and presence-at-hand (which is derived from that world), we can see that in order for presence-at-hand to emerge in that way, Dasein must have been already there in the world before it performed that feat of abstraction which lead to presence-at-hand. So Dasein was already there in the world before we separated Dasein and the world and then tried to figure out how to get them back together again. If we begin with the primordial unity of Being-in-the-world, according to Heidegger, we don’t have the mind-body problem. We have the unity of Dasein and the world, which he called, Being-in-the-world.

What do you think?

Join the discussion at philosophyandfiction.com

Thanks for watching!


Geordie Bear

I had a few minutes to fool around with iMovie, so I thought I’d capture some Geordie moments. He’s quite the ham.

If this works out, I’ll be much more encouraged to make that Heidegger video.

Please let me know if you notice any problems! (Besides the fact that I don’t know how to make movies.)

Checking In, Chit Chat

I was reluctant to post this since it’s not very interesting and kind of whiny, but I figure blogging has turned into a relationship, and I wanted to let you all know that I’m still around. I have notifications of all your publishing activity piling up in my inbox and I’m feeling guilty for not commenting on them. So I wanted to let you know it’s not because I don’t want to!

Update on my last health update (for some of you, this will be a repeat): I found out since that update that I misunderstood a lot of what the doctor told me. Still no diagnosis. Apparently MS has not been ruled out, but that’s because it’s hard to diagnose and rule out (I get the feeling it’s virtually impossible to rule out). Just about everything’s been ruled out, except for a few things that can’t be ruled out. The neurologist also mentioned these things as possibilities: “some kind of virus” such as Epstein Barre-CFS, fibromyalgia (which doesn’t fit the bill for me since I’m not in any pain, but that’s just my incredibly dubious opinion), Guillain-Barre syndrome (I can’t believe this one either). I don’t think this is an exhaustive list, just possibilities that he threw out. If it’s some kind of virus, there’s not much I can do anyways. The neurologist mentioned a spinal tap, but after seeing my reaction, he changed his mind and asked me to get yet another MRI in July to check for lesions. I’m actually not worried about it at this point. There’ve been so many ups and downs that I can’t take anything seriously anymore. I’m just relieved to be done with testing for the time being. I have one more appointment, and hopefully that will be the end.

I finished doing physical therapy for balance, and now it’s time to get on with my life. I have to try to get out of the house and pretend everything is normal. It’s like smiling when you’re feeling down; fake it until you make it. This is proving to be a bit of a challenge. I went to an opera yesterday (The Magic Flute, my favorite) and I had one of the worst dizzy-ick days ever, with stiff muscles to boot. Luckily the theater was filled with very old folks whose health problems put mine into perspective. And the Queen of the Night aria was fantastic.

The strange thing is that suddenly my interests are expanding as my ability to do them diminishes. I’m all over the place. My “Things to Do” list is becoming a scroll.

For instance, I bought a wood burning kit before I got my prescription to deal with brain fog. I thought it would be an easy way to get a feeling of accomplishment without requiring any thinking. It actually requires a lot more attention and fine motor skills than I had anticipated, since you’re dealing with a very hot object and no way to erase mistakes. It took several days to complete, working in small increments:



(It says: “Wherefore he resolved to have a moving image of eternity.” The quote comes from Plato, of course. It’s in the Timaeus.)

So naturally I want to get into woodwork as well, and then burn designs on my own creations. That will definitely not happen soon, but I’ll keep this project idea on the side just in case I ever hit that brain fog again. (That was another reason why I didn’t comment very frequently, or when I did, it always included an apology, just in case I wasn’t making any sense.)

In the meantime, I have more writing projects coming up that require research into a subject I know almost nothing about, a Heidegger post that I promised you, a book to critique by next month, and Geordie to walk every day. Not gonna mention my novel or all the books I mean to read. And an olive oil orange cake that I’ve been wanting to make for my husband as a little gesture of appreciation for all that I’ve been putting him through. (He called it “perfect” last time I made it, and he never uses that word unless he means it. For those who are interested in trying it, I added a few drops of orange blossom water but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. It’s a very simple cake that would be great in the morning with coffee.)

That’s it for me! I really appreciate y’all. You’ve been my only social life lately, but I haven’t felt in the least bit deprived. The conversations I’ve had with you throughout all of this have kept me afloat. Thank you!