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?

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Thanks for watching!

Heidegger’s Being and Time (Part II: Dasein)

In the last Heidegger post, I promised I’d address why Heidegger thinks that dualism (the mind-body problem) is predicated on a huge mistake that has carried through the whole history of Western philosophy. I will eventually. I’m putting that off until the next post…I hope you’ll stick around until then. I’m not promising anything, but I hope to make a video. I just downloaded iMovie into my iPad and I’m having fun learning how to use it, but as I said, no promises.

First we need to know a key term—Dasein. Dasein is what we would ordinarily call a human being or consciousness, but these are very poor word choices because they have connotations Heidegger would want to dispense with. I only offer this as something to hold onto briefly, a foothold or scaffolding which should later be taken away.

Normally the word Dasein would be translated into English as simply “existence” or “presence.” For Heidegger, the word takes on a special signification which can be better grasped if we take a look at its roots: Da-There, Sein-Being. Being There. When English speakers read Heidegger, the word is left untranslated to avoid confusion. For people like me who don’t speak German, it comes across in its foreignness as a technical term with a special meaning. I imagine it would be confusing for those whose native language is German, as they would simply think existence in the ordinary way. So perhaps English speakers have the advantage here. Dasein is to be taken as a special technical term.

What is Dasein? Heidegger says:

Dasein is an entity which in each case I myself am. Mineness belongs to any existent Dasein, and belongs to it as the condition which makes authenticity and inauthenticity possible…But these are both ways in which Dasein’s Being takes on a definite character, and they must be seen and understood a priori as grounded upon that state of Being which we have called “Being-in-the-world”…The compound expression ‘Being-in-the-world’ indicates in the very way we have coined it that it stands for a unitary phenomenon. This primary datum must be seen as a whole. (53)

Note: Authentic could mean “the mode in which I can discover Being” and inauthentic “the mode in which I flee from discovering Being.” These words do carry some of the usual connotations. But to keep things simple, just think: authentic=good, inauthentic=bad.

My sloppy interpretation of the quote above: I am always in the world in a unified way. But by “in” I don’t mean that “I” am in the world as water is “in” a glass. As Heidegger puts it, “There is no such thing as the ‘side-by-side-ness’ of an entity called ‘Dasein’ with another entity called the ‘world'” (55). Such a relationship is spatial and relies on that mistake I’ve been alluding to.

As Heidegger says: “It is not the case that man ‘is’ and then has, by way of an extra, a relationship-of-Being towards the ‘world’—a world with which he provides himself occasionally.” (57).

So much for Dasein for now. There’s a lot about Dasein that I’ve excluded, but I figure this is enough to take in for now.

In the first post, I explained that Heidegger’s project in Being and Time is to uncover the meaning of Being. I explained that Heidegger simply does away with noumena and radically asserts that we can know Being phenomenologically, although its meaning eludes us.

Why does Heidegger say that Being is veiled or hidden from Dasein? 

When we want to inquire into what something is, we tend to look for a definition.

In order to come up with a definition, we seek a genus and species. We want to know how the thing in question is like a certain group of things and how it is at the same time distinguished from those things. Definitions always express a relationship to other entities.

However, Being cannot be defined—there’s nothing broader than Being, so we have no way of offering a genus for a definition, there’s no greater category to which “Being” belongs. Being is not a category to be broken up. Being is not an entity.

Being can be discovered, but because it can’t be defined, it cannot be assessed or judged retrospectively.

We fail to apprehend Being because we are for the most part caught up in the things in the world. This state is what Heidegger would call “average everydayness” and it’s for the most part inauthentic. Our average everydayness gives rise to the problem of dualism.

Thanks for reading! Your comments make this work worthwhile!

Heidegger’s Being and Time (Part I: Phenomenology)

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:


phenomena    [noumena]



phenomena     noumena

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.