Existence – Lecture 7

April 25, 2013

In the previous lecture , we examined the introduction to Being and Time. There we saw that Heidegger’s intention was to renew the question of Being. He sought to do this via inquiring about that being whose Being is question for itself, which, of course is ourselves. This being he called Dasein. This week we shall describe and think about how Heidegger understands the peculiarity of this being. Such a process, which refers back to Kant’s analytic in the Critique of Pure Reason, Heidegger calls the ‘analytic of Dasein’. We shall see that the major purpose of this analytic is that we cannot understand the Being of Dasein in the same way that we understand the Being of things, any yet this is precisely what the Western tradition has done. What differentiates this being from form things is that it has a world. Again this would mean renewing the ontological understanding of the world, and sharply differentiating it from its natural or thing-like explanation. For example, that the world is something that simply lies outside us, like the air that we breathe. Once we have understood the being of Dasein, we can understand that the being of things must be dependent on it, since it is we who make claims about the being of things, and not things that make a claim about understanding our being. Thus we reverse the traditional Western conception.

The first way that we can understand that the Being of Dasein is not the same way as the Being of the thing is through the notion of existence, which we have already introduced in the first lecture. As Heidegger remarks, Dasein’s existence must not be understood in the classical way as mere existentia; that is to say, as the mere presence of a thing (what Heidegger will call ‘present to hand’ das Vorhandensein). Rather Dasein’s existence must be understood in terms of possibility:

The essence of Dasein lies in its existence. Accordingly those characteristics which can be exhibited in this entity are not ‘properties’ present-at-hand of some entity which ‘looks’ so and so and is itself present-at-hand; they are in each case possible ways for it to be, and no more than that [BT 42].

Because Dasein’s existence is understood in terms of possibilities and not properties, then every existence is radically singular or individual. This is because everyone’s existence is an issue for them individually. Of course it can be the case that we might be faced with the same possibilities, and this is more than likely to be so, since what is possible for us is going to be determined by a given culture. But how we face these possibilities and what they might mean for us is going to be radically singular. We shall find, as we read through Being and Time, that there is one possibility that we all share in common, but we all have to face in our own individual way, which is the possibility of our deaths, because no one can die our deaths for us. The individuality of existence is, therefore, very different from the existence of things, since each thing, even if it has different properties, exists in the same general way:

We are ourselves the entities to be analysed. The Being of any such entity is in each case mine. These entities, in their Being, comport themselves towards their Being. As entities with such a Being, they are delivered over to their own Being. Being is that which is an issue for every such entity [BT 42].

Possibilities are not something that are just added to my existence, rather they make me the person I am, and they, so to speak express my being, even if these possibilities are the same as the person who is sitting next to me. This is quite different from the possibilities of thing, which are each case the same for each thing that has them. Thus it is the same possibility to be an oak tree for acorn A as it for acorn B, but unlike the possibilities of human existence, these acorns do not live these possibilities in a personal way. Of course the development of this possibility might differ from one acorn to the next, but this difference in development belongs to the possibility indifferently and not because of the relation of the acorn to this possibility. This is why the possibility of an acorn becoming an oak tree can be investigated scientifically. For human being, possibilities are something quite different, because I choose to be who I am. The acorn does not choose to be an oak tree, and if it does not become one, then this is because of some external force; it did not rain that year, or the soil in which it fell was poor. It would be absurd to say that the acorn did not choose to grow. But I choose to be who I am, whether I am a student, a lecturer or even the Vice-Chancellor of the university; and even if I do not choose these possibilities, I choose not to choose them. This does not prevent external factors from influencing who I can be, but these external factors do not prevent me from being who I am. Thus I can live my life authentically or inauthentically: I can choose to be who I am, or just live my life without choosing at all. What is important ontologically for Heidegger is that it is only human existence that can be either authentic or inauthentic. Acorns do not choose to be oak trees, and a frog cannot decide to be a dog, but you can choose to be a student. Of course you might be a student, because you didn’t really make a decision, and just ending up doing it, because everyone else is doing it. Then your existence, for Heidegger, is inauthentic. We shall have to see later why this is not a moral judgement:

Dasein is in each case essentially its own possibility, it can, in its very Being, ‘choose’ itself and win itself; it can also lose itself and never win itself; or even ‘seem’ to do so. But only in so far as it is essentially something which can be authentic – that is, something of its own – can it have lost itself and not yet won itself. As mode of Being, authenticity and inauthenticity … are both grounded in the fact that any Dasein whatsoever is characterised by mineness [BT 42-3].

But if Dasein is to be understood as existence and existence as possibility, then what type of existence best typifies what it means to be Dasein? We might be tempted to pick some kind of existence that we think would be most authentic, a poet, philosopher or artist for example, and use this as example of what it truly it means to be a human being, but this would be a mistake for Heidegger. For a possibility is only has a proper existential meaning in the sense that it is chosen my someone, we cannot abstract it from a life and then make it an objective property, when we say for example that the best acorn, the one that most expresses the essence of what it means to be an acorn, is that one which has the shiniest and healthiest brown skin. This is what Heidegger means when he writes that ‘In determining itself as an entity, Dasein always does so in the light of a possibility which it is itself and which, in its very Being, it somehow understands’ [BT 43]. To avoid choosing one possibility above any other as being somehow more authentic than any other possibility, Heidegger says we must choose what is most undifferentiated about Dasein. This undifferentiated character of Dasein Heidegger calls averageness or average everydayness, and this averageness is what for the most part how Dasein is, no matter what Dasein we are speaking about:

We call this everyday undifferentiated character of ‘averageness’. […] And because this average everydayness makes up what is ontically proximal for this entity, it has again and again been passed over in explicating Dasein. That which is ontically closest and well known, is ontologically the farthest and not known at all; and its ontological signification is constantly overlooked [BT 43-4].

The way that Heidegger makes the distinction between the Being of things and the Being of Dasein is to distinguish between two different ways of thinking about Being. One, he calls categorical, and which goes back to Aristotle and the other he calls existential. He wants to show throughout the analytic of Dasein that we continually misunderstand the being of Dasein because we understand its being categorically, rather than existentially. This is what has happened in the history of Western philosophy, and why retrieving the real meaning of Dasein’s Being means deconstructing the tradition that has been handed down to us:

All explicata to which the analytic of Dasein gives rise are obtained by considering Dasein’s existence-structure. Because Dasein’s characters of Being are defined in terms of existentiality, we call them ‘existentialia’. These are to be sharply distinguished from what we call ‘categories’ – characteristic of Being for entities whose character is not that of Dasein…. The entities which correspond to them require different kinds of primary interrogation respectively: any entity is either a ‘who’ (existence) or a ‘what’ (presence-at-hand in the broadest sense) [BT 44-5].

One of the fundamental ways of thinking about the difference between an existential and categorical meaning of Being is to think about the simple preposition ‘in’ (in a certain sense these little words hide the whole meaning of our Being). There is a great difference, Heidegger would argue, between the categorical ‘in’ and the existential ‘in’. Categorical speaking, the water is in the glass, and existentially speaking Dasein is in the world, but it would be quite wrong to say that Dasein is in a world in the same way that water is in a glass:

What is meant by Being in? We are inclined to understand this Being in as ‘Being in something’. This latter term designates the kind of Being which an entity has when it is ‘in’ another one, as the water is ‘in’ the glass [BT 53-4].

In the latter case, ‘in’ is merely understood in the sense of the space of things (that is to say categorically), when we think of the water being in the glass, and glass being in the room and the room being in the building and so on till we get to the universe as a whole. Dasein, however, is not just in the world in the sense; rather it is ‘in’ the world in the sense of being at home or familiar to a place. I am ‘in’ Cheltenham, therefore, can have two senses: one, that I am physically inside the town, and the other, that I feel part of or accustomed to it. ‘In’ in the second case expresses a way of Being, rather than a spatial relation, the ‘in’ of ‘intimacy’, rather than the ‘in’ of ‘inside’:

Being-in […] is a state of Dasein’s Being; it is an existentiale. So one cannot think of it as the Being-present-at-hand of some corporeal Thing. […] In is derived from innan – ‘to reside’… to dwell [BT 54].

Existentially speaking this ‘Being-in’ a world can be understood as being near or being alongside the world. This being near or being alongside should again not be understood in the same way that we talk of one thing being next to another. We can describe the chair as touching the wall, but what is meant by touching in this case? Is it not true to say that chair and the wall never touch, not because there is always a space between them, but because the wall cannot reach out to encounter the chair and the chair cannot reach out and encounter the wall. We must, therefore, sharply distinguish between existentially space and categorical space, and if we think of things touching this is only a metaphorical extension from our own ‘lived’ space.

The chair touches the wall. Taken strictly, touching is never what we are talking about in such cases, not because accurate re-examination will always eventually establish that there is a space between the wall, but because in principle the chair can never touch the wall, even if the space between them should be equal to zero. If the chair could touch the wall, this would presuppose that the wall is the sort of thing ‘for’ which a chair would be encounterable [BT 55].

This does not mean that Dasein cannot be understood as thing – as something merely present to hand, as ‘a what’. We do so, for example, when we say that a human being is merely a ‘rational animal’ or, to give such definition a more modern ring, a ‘gene carrier’. But such definitions completely miss the essential way of Being of Dasein as existence. Indeed, the very possibility of treating Dasein as thing must arise from the particular way that it relates to things from out of its own Being. If I understand myself as a thing, then this understanding comes from the way that I encounter things in my world. A stone cannot conceive of itself as a fact.

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The Method of Being and Time – Lecture 5

March 20, 2013

If the Being of Dasein is the clue for Heidegger, at this stage, for the general meaning of being, then what method can give us access to being? The problem is that although we all exist in a pre-ontological, pre-theoretical or pre-philosophical understanding of being, this understanding is not something that we have explicitly:

Ontically Dasein is not only close to us – even that which is closest: we are it each of us. In spite of this, or rather for just this reason, it is ontologically that which is furthest away [BT 15].

Precisely because this average understanding of being is not available to us, we cannot use it straight away as the way into the question. It is precisely this understanding that needs to be interrogated and we need to find a way in which to investigate it. This is not an epistemological problem, whereby we have to find access to some object that lies external to us, because we already exist in this understanding. Our problem, therefore, is not like Descartes’ as to how we can prove whether world already exists or not, because even before we ask this question we already exist in the understanding of our being and always so exist. This is why access to this everyday understanding cannot be by some kind of arbitrary idea of being. Rather we have to follow the meaning of this everydayness itself. Nonetheless the same problem remains. How are to gain access to it, when it is that which is ontologically furthest away from us? To some extent Heidegger answers this question by saying that even in this understanding there is something that is made visible to us and that is every understanding of being is temporally formed or structured:

Whenever Dasein tacitly understands itself and interprets something like Being, it does so with time as its standpoint. Time must be brought to light – and genuinely conceived – as the horizon for all understanding of Being and for any way of interpreting it [BT 18]

But even this notion that time is the ultimate horizon of the understanding of being is still something that is not clear to us unless we have worked through the history of philosophy as such. This is because history is not something that lies outside of Dasein’s being, but expresses the very way that Dasein is. Thus we never come to any investigation empty handed, but already have preconceived ideas about what is true or false. The idea of presuppositionless beginning is itself a presupposition that needs to be investigated. Our inability to ask the question of being itself, as we have seen, has it source in our history, but equally if we are going to attempt to retrieve this question by analysing our average understanding of being, then we will have to be aware that this history will affect our way of understanding. Indeed it might be this history that stands in the way of grasping our everyday understanding of being. We have already seen this to be the case in the opening pages of Being and Time.

When tradition thus becomes master, it does so in such a way that what it ‘transmits’ is made so inaccessible, proximally and for the most part, that it rather becomes concealed [BT 21].

This does not mean that we reject our own history, but we have to free up possibilities of questioning so as to get back to object in question, in the case the everydayness of Dasein, that we are interrogating so as to find out about the meaning of being. It is Heidegger’s thesis, as we shall see, that Western philosophy since Plato has overlooked this everydayness, or interpreted it as something not worthy of philosophical attention, in its fascination with the theoretical relation to things. Thus it has been the being of things, rather than Dasein’s being that has determined the general concept of being in the West. But such a concept, as we have seen, only leads to banal, meaningless and sterile concept of being, as the mere empty fact that everything exists. To get back to phenomenon of everydayness requires what Heidegger calls a ‘destruction’ of the Western tradition of philosophy. This must be understood in a positive way not as a dismantling of the tradition for its own sake, but to find within this tradition the possibility of a genuine interrogation of everydayness:

If the question of being is to have its own history made transparent, then this hardened tradition must be loosened up, and the concealments, which it has brought about must be dissolved. We understand task as one in which by taking the question of Being as our clue, we are destroy the traditional content of ancient ontology until we arrive at those primordial experiences in which we achieved our first ways of determining the nature of Being – the ways which have guided us ever since [BT 22].

This does not mean getting rid of tradition, but finding that which in the tradition helps us to gain a better understanding of being. Thus the positive sense of tradition, with the clue given to us by our preliminary description of the everyday understanding of being, is to see in what way traditional ontology has treated the theme of time. In this case, despite all the ways that he also concealed this problem, the most important philosopher for Heidegger is Kant, who made time central to The Critique of Pure Reason. Prior to Kant, the most fundamental notion of time in Greek philosophy is the present and the most important philosopher here is Aristotle. This understanding of being in terms of the present also comes out the everyday understanding of being, even though it is now a block on our understanding of it. It is only in the destruction of this tradition that the everyday understanding of being can be revealed, but this destruction of the tradition is also its renewal, since the possibility of making the everyday understanding of being visible is something that this tradition itself grants. For it’s only from the past that we can find resources to engage the present by opening it out to future possibilities that remain hidden there.

If hermeneutics somehow helps to circumvent the tradition that has prevented us from asking the question of the meaning of being, but also, to some extent, if we keep this question in mind, can also help us to renew this question, then we are still left with the problem of a positive method. How are we to actually investigate the Being we have discovered initially by dismantling the tradition that has concealed it? ‘The task of ontology is to explain,’ Heidegger writes, ‘Being itself and to make the Being of entities stand out in full relief’ [BT 27]. But how are we to make Being ‘stand out’? The answer to this question, for Heidegger, is phenomenology. This is because the basic tenant of phenomenology is to describe beings as they manifest themselves. ‘The term “phenomenology”’, Heidegger explains, ‘expresses a maxim which can be formulated as “To the things themselves”’ [BT 27-8].

Rather enigmatically, however, rather than go back to Husserl, the inventor of the phenomenological method, and Heidegger’s teacher, Heidegger explains phenomenology through its Greek etymology. The word ‘phenomenology’, he explains, is made of the two Greek words φαινόμενον (phainomenon) and λόγος (logos). Therefore, to understand the true significance of this word, we need to go back true meaning of the Greek. Why would Heidegger think that investigating the Greek meaning of words would help us to formulate the true significance of phenomenology? This is because, for Heidegger, the Greeks, at least before Plato and Aristotle, still had an understanding of the question of the meaning of being that had not been distorted by the tradition (though paradoxically, of course, they are the originators of this tradition), and thus if we ourselves are going to be able to ask this question again, let alone answer it, we shall need to retrieve this tradition. We again can see the connection between Heidegger’s hermeneutical and phenomenological method:

The meaning of the Greek word φαινόμενον is as follows:

Phenomenon signifies that which shows itself in itself, the manifest. Accordingly the phainomena or ‘phenomena’ are the totality of what lies in the light of day or can be brought to light [BT 28]

Heidegger makes it clear that we should not confuse this notion of phenomenon with appearance, for an appearance suggests that there is something behind what appears, which itself is not an appearance, just as symptom is an appearance of an underlying disease, which is itself not visible [BT 28]. Rather, appearance is derivative of the more fundamental notion of phenomenon as a ‘self-showing’, even if what is most important, the meaning of being is hidden in this showing.[1] On the other side, the meaning of λόγος is: ‘discourse’ means […] to make manifest what one is talking about in one’s discourse [BT 32]. Again, just as with the word φαινόμενον, we have to retrieve its authentic Greek meaning, as opposed to its continual re-interpretation through the tradition. λόγος does not originally mean, for Heidegger, some kind of logical or conceptual judgement, but rather it means ‘letting something be seen’ [BT 32]. The true significance of the work ‘phenomenology’ is, therefore, a combination of the original sense of these Greek words:

Thus ‘phenomenology’ means […] to let that which shows itself be seen from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself […]. But here we are expressing nothing else than the maxim formulated above: ‘To the things themselves!’[BT 34].

This notion of directly grasping something should not be confused with naivety, for the way in which things conceal themselves belongs to their very essence as phenomenon. The task is to bring this concealment to presence rather than simply annul it. In relation to the particular object Dasein, phenomenology is to be understood as hermeneutics. This is not just because the investigation is historical, as described above, but that the phenomenological investigation is interpretative. This we return to the start of our investigation. My being is what is closest to me, but at the same time, in terms of my understanding, it what is furthest away. What makes it difficult to understand it is that the tradition handed down to me distorts my experience of being. At least now, however, I have a method, phenomenology, which allows me to being to approach it as its shows itself in my experience of my self, the world and other people, rather than how I think I ought to interpret it through metaphysics and the history of philosophy. The rest of Being and Time, will be Heidegger’s attempt to do precisely that, to describe Dasein’s being as it shows itself, and in so doing he will turn around the whole course of Western philosophy.


[1] Heidegger’s long discussion here of the various meanings of appearance, and why they are derivative of the original meaning of phenomenon, is aimed at neo-Kantians.


The Question of Being – Lecture 4

March 15, 2013

Being and Time opens with a quotation from the Sophist:

For manifestly you have long been aware of what you mean when you use the expression ‘being’. We, however, who used to think we understood it, have now become perplexed [Sophist 244a].

We must understand this to mean that we cannot gain access to the question of the meaning of being unless we are perplexed. If we think that we know what the answer to the question is, then the route will be bared to us. Yet Heidegger adds that our situation is even worse that the stranger of the Sophist. For we are not only not perplexed about the question of being, but we think that it is not even a question worth asking, for everyone knows what the word ‘being’ means Surely things just are? What is philosophically interesting about that? What can we say about this being at all? Isn’t it a nonsensical question?

And yet the more we think about this word are we really sure that we know what it means? What does it mean for something to be? Do all things, trees, universes and humans ‘be’ in the same way? Why has it come about that the question of meaning is no longer a serious philosophical question? The answer to this, Heidegger would argue, must come from the history of philosophy. He tells us that there are three definitions of being, which appear mutually exclusive, and yet explain our indifference to renewing the question of being:

  1. That being is the most general concept
  2. That the concept of being is indefinable
  3. That the meaning of being is obvious.

That the meaning of being is most general comes from Greek metaphysics. It has its most classical form in Aristotle’s ontology. Aristotle divides reality into individuals and species. Thus Gary is an individual and he belongs to the species ‘human being’. Species themselves belong to different genera. Human beings belong to the genus animal. The generality of being, however, is not the same as the generality of genera. We cannot define it through a single meaning. There are different ways in which things are. Aristotle’s solution to this problem, in Metaphysics book 4, is to argue that the generality of being is to be thought through analogy. Although we speak of being in different ways, such that we speak of privations, attributes or qualities, these different meanings nonetheless have an analogous sense in that they all relate to the meaning of being as substance. Thus I can say of something that it is potentially or actual, or that it is relative to another being, or that it its being is accidental, or that it is true. These different ways of talking about being in general all have their focal point in the meaning of being as substance. Thus, it is substance that is accidental, potential or actual, true, relative and so on. The example that Aristotle gives is that of the word ‘healthy’ (1103b35) in which the word is meant in different ways, but each different meaning goes back to a ‘core’ meaning of the word ‘healthy’. Something can be healthy because it preserves health, or because it produces, indicates or possesses it, for example.[1]

Heidegger’s response to Aristotle’s treatment is both positive and negative. Positive in the sense that is opens the question of the meaning of Being in general, but negative in that Aristotle’s answer leaves everything as much in the dark as before. ‘Being is the most universal concept,’ Heidegger writes, ‘this cannot mean that it is the one which is the clearest or that it needs no further discussion. It is rather the darkest of all’ [BT 23]. At this stage, we do not know what is incorrect about Aristotle’s definition of being, and why it cannot be the route into the meaning of being in general. We shall have to wait for the answer later in the text.

The very generality of the meaning of being would lead some thinkers, and Heidegger uses the example of Pascal [BT 23], to say that being is indefinable. We can say what Gary is because he belongs to a species, and belonging to a species is part of what it means to be able to give a definition of something, but because being in general does not belong to a species, we can say nothing about it. We cannot even say that being is, for there are only individual beings that are. Despite these philosophical difficulties in defining being, some would even argue the opposite that that the meaning of being is obvious since we make use of the expression in our everyday discourse. Thus, it is not a serious philosophical topic at all, but only a linguistic usage that everyone knows about.  Thus analytic philosophy will talk about existence as an ‘existential quantifier’ and denote it with a special logical symbol, ∃, which just means ‘there exists something’.[2] Yet this very obviousness of the word ‘being’ will be a clue for Heidegger. For it means, to some extent, that we all already have a grasp of the meaning of being, even though we might not at first be able to make clear this understanding to ourselves.

Even though these definitions of being that come from out of our philosophical traditions have made the question of being a non-question, Heidegger will say that each of them, if we look at them closely, offer us a positive way into the question. In Aristotle, being is seen as something different from individual beings, and is this difference that will force Pascal to say that being is indefinable. The obviousness of the word, however, shows that all of us live in an understanding of being, even though we might not be able to bring into to philosophical clarity. It is the last clue, which will be for Heidegger, the way into the question, but before he sets off in this direction he first of all will ask what is questioning itself, and will this help us retrieve the meaning of being?

Heidegger divides the structure of questioning into four parts:

  1. Das Suchen – seeking
  2. Das Gefragtes – that which is asked about
  3. Das Befragtes – that which is interrogated
  4. Das Erfragte – that which is to be found out by asking

We can apply each of these parts to the question of being. What we are seeking after is the meaning of being. Every seeking, Heidegger, argues, is not merely a groping in the dark. To be able to seek something means that the way to the something that one seeks must already be given in advance in some way. If one did know have any experience, in some sense, of what one was seeking, then one could not even begin to search for it. In relation to the meaning of Being, we must already to some extent ‘move in an understanding of being’ otherwise we would not even know what the question means, even though we might not be able to give a clear answer to the question. In this questioning, that which is asked about (Das Gefragtes) is the meaning of Being and that which is interrogated, so as to find out the meaning of Being, is a being (Das Befragtes). Beings are everything that we speak about and intend, that are there in reality, so to speak and present to us in some way or another.

If the only way into the question of being is through the beings surrounding is, why is it not the discourses that already investigate these beings that can answer this question for us? These discourses are what we know as science.[3] Is it not the sciences which tell us what things are in their physical being, history in their historical being, and so on? Heidegger here, however, (and he follows Husserl in this regard and before him, Aristotle) would make a distinction between regional and general ontology. Even though each science investigates the specific nature of certain group of beings, they nonetheless are dependent on the general distinction between beings and Being. This distinction is not a scientific question, and therefore is not open to any kind of scientific investigation. The former, in Heidegger’s terminology, is ontical, and the latter, ontological. Science itself already exists within an understanding of being that it takes for granted, but without which it would not be able to function.[4] This understanding of being therefore has an ontological priority. Ontology, however, tells us nothing about the specific nature of any being. We should not confuse an ontological priority with an ontical one. Philosophy can no more tell us about the sub-atomic structure of atoms than common sense. This requires an ontical investigation.

The ontological difference, however, between beings and being does tell us that there is one being that has an ontical priority over all other beings, and that being is ourselves, for it is we who ask about other beings, and not beings that ask about us. But we ask about other beings, because our own being is a question for us. Our being is question for us in the sense that our existence is something that we seek to understand. And if we did not seek to understand our existence and our world, then something like a scientific investigation would not be possible. We inquire about other beings, but we ask about our own being. What is ontical distinctive about human beings (which Heidegger calls Dasein) is that ‘it is ontological’:

Dasein is an entity which does not just occur among other entities. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it […]. Understanding of Being is itself a defining characteristic of Dasein’s Being. Dasein is ontically distinctive in that it is ontological [BT 12].

But how does Dasein understand its own being? It grasps its being as existence. Existence is not merely the fact of just being there, when we say that a table or a chair ‘is’ or ‘exists’; rather existence should be understood in terms of possibilities. I understand myself in terms of possibilities that I choose or do not choose: ‘to be or not to be’ to quote a famous phrase from Hamlet. How I particularly understand myself though the possibilities that are offered me, Heidegger calls existentialls (shall I read Being and Time, shall I come to the lecture, shall I take my study of philosophy seriously, shall I become a teacher, mother, and so on). The question of existence is therefore not an abstract philosophical question, but something that all of us face or avoid facing. The understanding of the structure of existence in general, however, Heidegger calls existential:

The question of existence never gets straightened out except through existing itself. The understanding of oneself which leads along this way we call existentiell. The question of existence is one of Dasein’s ontical affairs. This does not require that the ontological structure of existence should be theoretical transparent […]. The context of such structures we call existentiality. Its analytic has the character of an understanding which is not existentiell, but rather existential [BT 12].

Dasein understands itself in terms of its own being as existence (not what it is, but how it is). This is the reason for its priority, for no other being has its own being as question for itself. If we go back to Heidegger’s own division of questioning into separate elements, then Dasein is that which is interrogated in order to find out what is meant by the word being. We have thus managed to leave behind the empty sterility of the definition of being as a mere generality, or something indefinable or even something obvious that does not need to be questioned.

The description of Dasein’s existence Heidegger calls the ‘analytic of Dasein’ and it is first division of the first part of Being and Time. We should remember that it is only the preparatory opening onto the general question of being for Heidegger. It should also be noted that Heidegger never wrote the final division of the first part, where he might have advanced to the general question of Being, and nor did he write the second part of Being and Time, which would have been a deconstruction of Western ontology through this revived ontology that has its roots in the existence of Dasein. Thus Being and Time never even gets to the question of being itself, let alone gives us an answer to the question ‘What is being?’ This is because Heidegger’s thought had already moved on before he had time to complete this book. He saw being no longer in terms of the being of Dasein, but language. This would, however, require another lecture series to investigate.

At the end of this section, Heidegger summaries the threefold priority of Dasein:

The first priority if an ontical one: Dasein is an entity whose Being has the determinate character of existence. The second priority is an ontological one: Dasein is in itself ‘ontological’, because existence is thus determinative for it. But with equally primordiality Dasein also possesses – as constitutive for its understanding of existence – an understanding of the Being of all entities of a character other than its own. Dasein, therefore as a third priority as providing the ontic-ontological condition for the possibility of any ontology [BT 13].

What does Heidegger mean by these three priorities of Dasein? First of all he means that Dasein is different from any being in terms of its own existence. It is true to say that other things exist. Stones, plants and animals do exist. Yet Dasein’s existence is not the same as theirs. Stones and plants exist simply in the sense of being present, and whereas we might think that animals have a more complicated existence than stones and plants, nonetheless their existence is constrained by a behaviour that has not changed (unless of course it has been changed by human beings, who are precisely the question we are faced with). Human existence, on the other hand, is a question of being of oneself, and even if physiology and biology might constrain this (one cannot chose to fly without some kind of machine), one still nonetheless chooses oneself through these constraints, and every culture and person must do so. But the very ontical distinctiveness of human being, that is different from any other being, means that it also ontologically distinctive. Just because it stands towards its existence as something that matters to it, an understanding of being belongs necessarily to it. As Mulhall describes it, ‘an understanding of its own Being is itself a definite characteristic of Dasein’s Being.’(1996, p.17) From both these priorities, lies the condition for the third. Since it is only Dasein whose being is issue for it, and therefore it already exists in an understanding of being, the being of every other entity, or being that exists, such as stones, plants, and animals, can only be comprehended through its being. This does not mean that Dasein creates or produces these beings, and that without them they would literally cease to exist, but their ‘intelligibility’, to use Dreyfus’ expression from the lectures, is wholly dependent on the understanding of Being of Dasein (Dreyfus n.d.). It is only because Dasein understands itself, that plants, stones and animals can be understood. We can see now why the Being of Dasein is the clue to the meaning of being, and that the analytic of Dasein is the basis of ‘fundamental ontology’.

Works Cited

Dreyfus, H.L., Heidegger by Hubert L. Dreyfus – Free Podcast Download. Learn Out Loud. Available at: http://www.learnoutloud.com/Podcast-Directory/Philosophy/Philosophers/Heidegger-Podcast/24272 [Accessed January 26, 2012].

Hanley, C., 2000. Being and God in Aristotle and Heidegger : the Role of Method in Thinking the Infinite, Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Hausman, A., Kahane, H. & Tidman, P., 2010. Logic and philosophy : a modern introduction, Australia; Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth/Cengage learning.

Kuhn, T.S., 2012. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mulhall, S., 1996. Heidegger and “Being and Time”, London; New York: Routledge.


[1] For a good explanation of analogy in Aristotle and its See C. Hanley, ‘The Science of First Principles and Grounds’ in Being and God in Aristotle and Heidegger (2000, p.47).

[2] ‘The existential quantifier (∃x) is used to assert that some entities (at least one) have a given property. Thus to symbolise the sentence “Something is heavy” or the sentence “At least one thing is heavy,” start with the sentence form Hx and prefix an existential quantifier to it. The result is the sentence (∃x)Hx, read “for some x, x is heavy,” or “There is an x such that x is heavy,” or just “Some x is heavy.”’  (Hausman et al. 2010, p.177)

[3] ‘Science’ has a much broader meaning in the context in which Heidegger uses it. It includes not just what we think as science, such as biology and physics, but also what we would call the ‘humanities’, history and literature, for example. Science means here every kind of investigation that researches certain kinds of beings, such that chemistry studies the elements, physics matter and nature, and literature, novels and poetry, for example. ‘Elements’, ‘matter’, ‘nature’, ‘novels’ and ‘poetry’ are types of beings.

[4] We need to make it clear here that Heidegger is not saying that science is not ontological, but to function normally it has to keep its ontological presuppositions in the background or its daily tasks would never begin. When science is in crisis, then this ontological presuppositions (what is ‘matter’, what is a ‘book’) might come to the foreground. Then a science might become ontological, but it if is ever going to answer these questions in a fundamental way, it would also have to become philosophical. Heidegger’s distinction between ontic and ontological science, is very similar to Kuhn’s between normal and revolutionary science, though these is no evidence that the latter read the former (Kuhn 2012).


Phenomenology – Lecture 3

February 21, 2013

Of all the precursors to Heidegger’s Being and Time, phenomenology is probably the most obvious. Unlike with Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, its source is not hidden. Indeed Being and Time is dedicated to Husserl.[1] Again due to constraints of time, we cannot hope to cover all of Husserl’s work (which is very extensive in itself), but only focus on that material useful for our reading of Being and Time: namely, the critique of psychologism and the natural attitude through the phenomenological reduction, and the intentional structure of consciousness that emerges from such a distancing from psychologism and the natural attitude. We shall end with Heidegger’s critique of the presuppositions of Husserl’s phenomenological method and thus how he saw his own fundamental ontology going further and deeper.

In the Prolegomena, the first part of Husserl’s Logical Investigations, Husserl offers a sustained argument against psychologism in logic, which he believed had come to dominate the philosophical scene in the early part of the 20th century (2012, pp.9–160). This is not merely a parochial issue for Husserl, for it is a matter of the status of philosophy itself. Psychology, or the domination of psychology, which is a natural science, marks an extreme danger to philosophy that could have the consequence of its own disappearance. This unease should not be misunderstood as an expression of hatred against science or that the sciences themselves do not tell us something true about reality (Husserl remains deeply committed to the scientific project of the 17th and 18th century, and this commitment in some sense marks the difference between him and Heidegger), but the belief that science ought to be limited to its own proper area of investigation. When science does exceed these limits it becomes a myth or an ideology. What do mean by science exceeding its limits. For example, Steve Hawking in his introduction to modern cosmology, A Brief History of Time, argues that the physico-mathematical theories of the universe that he and his other colleagues have uncovered are a representation of ‘God’s mind.’[2] We need to be clear that science can tell us nothing about God, and the statement that physical theories are a representation of God’s mind are not scientific but mythical.

What matters for Husserl, however, is not just what scientists say or do not say, but the relation between science and philosophy. He makes two fundamental claims: one, philosophy is not a science, and two, science is impossible without philosophy. There are perhaps many who would agree with the first statement, because they would think that philosophy is more akin to literature than anything scientific, or more pejoratively, that philosophy is just metaphysical claptrap, which we don’t need at all. But the second claim makes it clear that Husserl would not agree with this dismissal of philosophy. Rather, he wants to insist that science cannot ground itself scientifically. In other words the natural sciences require philosophy in order to be legitimate, even though philosophy itself is not science in their terms:

Man should admit that truths which have their roots in the concepts which constitute the objectively conceived Idea of Science cannot also belong to any particular science. They should see that such truths, being ideal, cannot have their home-ground in the sciences of matter of fact, and therefore not in psychology. (Husserl 2012, p.172)

But why should the sciences require philosophy in order to be properly grounded or legitimated? The answer is logic. All the sciences require the truths of logic in order to put forward properly constituted arguments. This is why we can see that there arises a conflict between philosophy and psychology. For psychologism is the belief that logic is based in human psychology. Psychology is just one more natural science (though Husserl will say that is not a well formed natural science), and if psychology could demonstrate the basis of logical truth, then the sciences no longer require an extra-scientific discourse in order to legitimate themselves. To save philosophy from this redundancy Husserl must show that logic cannot be validated legitimately in psychology and thus philosophy is still necessary to the natural sciences.

There are three, Husserl argues in introduction to the Prolegomena, primary explanations of logic: ‘psychological, formal and metaphysical’ and, as we have seen, the first, the psychological has gained the ascendancy (2012, p.3). Psychologism can be defined as follows: laws that regulate the mental must themselves have a mental basis. The regulative principles of knowledge must be grounded in the psychology of knowledge. Take, for example the law of non-contradiction that P cannot be P and not P at the same time. The psychologist would say that this certainty of this law was grounded in the feeling of certainty of the person whose thought it is (perhaps today we might speak of MRI scans). Now Husserl’s argument against this is not a factual one (that there could be, for example, a better factual account of our minds), but that these psychologists have made a fundamental mistake about semantics. This error does not invalidate their scientific accounts, but it does call into question their ability to determine the status of logical truths from facts about the human mind.

The source of Husserl’s theory of semantic is Bolzano. Like Kant, he argues that all knowledge is representation and representations can be divided into concepts and intuitions. There are two meanings to representation: on the one hand, mental states of the soul, which are the states of my mind when I perceive something, which is a subjective representation, and on the other side, there is the inter-subjective representation, which is not a representation in us, but a representation in itself; that is to say, an ‘objective representation.’ This difference can be made sense of in the following way: each grammatical unity (a word) is associated with a host of subjective representations, but with only one objective representation. There are many subjective representations of the word ‘nothing,’ for example, but only one meaning of the word ‘nothing.’ Whereas subjective representations are real, objective ones are not. The subjective ones are real because they exist in the psychological state of the mind, the objective ones are ideal because they do not require a subject and cannot be said to exist. There is also a distinction between objective representation and the object of representation. The meaning of ‘table’ should not be confused with actual tables.

We can see what Husserl’s critique of psychologism might be. It is the confusion between meaning and the psychological state. Or, in other words, they believe that meaning and the activity of the mind belong to one and the same region of being, reality or nature, which is to be understood through the same causal laws. But this is to fail to make the distinction between real and ideal being. Husserl would speak here of a difference between the content of thought, which is nothing real, and the activity of thought itself, which is something real. Take his example of the number 5 again in the Prolegomena. No one would think that the concept or the meaning of 5 is the result of their own counting or someone else’s. The number five is not the result of the activity of thinking (or what Husserl’s calls ‘presentation’) by this or that person rather it is a possible object (‘object’ here not meant as a real object, but as an ideal object) of any activity of thought or presentation. In the activity of thought, we can, Husserl’s argues, make an abstraction, from the actual event of thinking itself, which takes place in a certain time and certain place, to what is being thought, which is not dependent on certain time and place. This ideal meaning tells us nothing about reality, to use the example of the number 5 again, the actual activity of counting, or the thinking the number, or objects in the real world, which might be counted through the concept of the number 5 itself.

The critique of psychologism is negative. It attempts to show that we cannot give a scientific account of our understanding of the world because we need a non-natural account of meaning. We need a positive account, however, what it means to do philosophy if we reject the natural attitude. Husserl’s description of what it means to do philosophy he calls the reduction.

I see the table in front of me. Now it seems clear to me that this table exists. But what do I mean by the word ‘exists’? I mean possibly that it is something real. That is to say that it is not a dream, an illusion or a hallucination. But what do I mean by the word ‘real’? This word seems just as obscure as the word ‘exists’. Perhaps I mean by this, taking into account my reference to illusions and so forth, that is has a physical existence. And what is something physical? It is something that is made of matter, and if I have some passing knowledge of physics, I might add that this matter is made of atoms and energy that can be described by quantum mechanics.

What of the world that things are in? Is that too a thing? From a scientific point of view, we might think of the world as the totality of things, which would be nature ruled by causal laws. The difficulty comes when we speak of the scientist itself. What is she or he? In one sense they are just like the chair about which they speak. They too are things. We would want to say, however, that they are much more than that.  Unlike things, they think (they are scientists after all), and like the rest of us, they have hopes and desires, which chairs do not have. Thus we must make a distinction between what is psychical and what is physical, and to each we could say, there belongs a corresponding world: for the world of things, nature, and for people, the mind.

This vision of a world split into two, the physical and the psychical, is already an interpretation and one perhaps that is even the more distorting and powerful because we just take it as obvious. First of all we need to go back, Husserl would say, to our most fundamental and basic relation to things, and therefore to the world in which they belong, and that is perception before we make metaphysical or even scientific speculations. We ask ourselves ‘how does the thing appear to us?’

Let us go back to our table again. There are two sides to our experience of this table. One side is transcendent and the other is immanent. The natural attitude only ‘sees’ the transcendent side of the object. What is meant by transcendence here? It is the object conceived as something real that lies outside of consciousness conceived of as something mental. From the perspective of the natural attitude knowing something is to go outside of oneself towards the object and to bring it back to the mind. Here consciousness is conceived of as a bag that contains the representation of the objects passively. And yet there are great difficulties with this theory. How would one know that the picture one had of the object was the same as the object itself? Moreover it is clear that my perceptions can be disappointed. I think that I seeing a chair, but on closer inspection it is a stage prop. It is clear that these questions themselves are not scientific ones, for what matters here is not knowledge of this or that object by a subject, but knowledge in general, that is to say, the relation between the subject and object, rather than the subject and object in themselves. Moreover, even if I were never deceived, does not this image of knowledge beg the question? How can I make the reality of external things the basis of knowledge when this is the very thing that I am trying to prove? The phenomenological reduction, which Husserl says is the very beginning of the philosophical method, brackets any claim to the external transcendent reality of things:

We put out of action the general positing which belongs to the essence of the natural attitude; we parenthesise everything which that positing encompasses with respect to being: thus the whole natural world which is continually there for us on hand, and which will always remains there according to consciousness as an actuality, even if we choose to parenthesise it. (Husserl 1980, p.61)

What need to underline here, and make sure that it is completely understood, that this is not a theory about the non-existence of the world: that everything is a dream, and that nothing exists except consciousness. For these claims themselves would be metaphysical and thus outside the reduction. Rather, it is a matter, of methodology. This is clear in the above quotation. The very being of the external world is one of actuality, and it is not as if the phenomenologist will put his or her hand in the fire after the reduction, because he or she know believes that the world does not really exist. I ask myself if the knowledge of exterior things cannot be the basis of knowledge itself, is there anything left if I discount this knowledge from my own procedure? You would think that the quick answer to this question would be nothing. For if I can no longer used the facts and material obtained by the natural science, or even my everyday experiences, then they must be nothing left over.  For I still see my consciousness as an empty bag that need to be filled with the things outside of it, and once I have got rid of these things, then all I am left with is something useless and null.

Yet consciousness is certainly not a thing, and this is what Husserl wants us to see above all, and moreover if I take out the transcendent object, then I am not left with nothing, rather everything remains, but with a different status.  What I am left with after the reduction, what Husserl calls the ‘phenomenological residuum,’ is the immanent object. In The Idea of Phenomenology, Husserl refers to Descartes to make sense of this idea. Cartesian doubt leads us to the cogito as something self-evident, for even if I doubt everything I cannot myself doubt that I doubt. But the evidence, of the cogito extends over all conscious acts. If I remember something, I cannot doubt that I remembering it and if I desire something, I cannot doubt that I desiring it. The immanent object remains, even if the transcendent one does not:

I might reach such a degree of sceptical despair that I finally say: Nothing is certain, everything is doubtful. But it is at once evident that not everything is doubtful, for while I am judging that everything is doubtful, it is indubitable that I am so judging. […] And likewise with every cogitatio.  Howsoever I perceive, imagine, judge infer, […] it is absolutely clear that I am perceiving this or that, and as far as the judgement is concerned that I am judging of this or that, etc. (Husserl 1964, p.23)

Now the content of the immanent object must be exactly the same as the transcendent object, though the latter is a real object and the former an ideal one. For the real object, external to consciousness can be in reality be destroyed, whereas the ideal object cannot; it only exists immanently within the consciousness. It is Husserl’s argument that the immanent object is given absolutely. Thus there is no possibility that I can doubt it. If I am thinking of a chair then I am thinking of a chair, whether the chair exists or not, or whatever the chair is made of.

The reduction opens up a field of the phenomenological analysis of immanent objects. But we do need to be careful to understand how far we have got here. We still do not know what the relation, if there is any, between the immanent and transcendent object is, and how we are to grasp the meaning of the world after the reduction. Do we simply return to the distinction between the subject and object, as Descartes does after the proof of the existence of God, or is the relation between immanence and transcendence far more complex than this? An answer to this question will only be found by a closer analysis of the difference between transcendence and immanence, and this can only be attempted after a deeper look into the structure of consciousness that will only be obtained after a discussion of perhaps Husserl’s most important and central concept, intentionality.

How things present themselves, rather than how we might wish them to present themselves, has to do with the intentional structure of consciousness. Like Kant, Husserl would argue that consciousness is not just a passive recipient of information from the external world, but already determines shapes and constitutes the object we see. Consciousness is not just opposed to the object, but constitutes the relation between the self and the object. These two ‘subjects,’ however, cannot be thought as identical. The first subject is the actual empirical subject, whereas the second subject, which cannot be identified with any actual living person, is ideal and transcendental. The analysis of intentionality is the description of its essential structure.

The notion of intentionality has its roots in medieval investigations of signification, but the immediate source for Husserl was his philosophy teacher Brentano, who made intentionality a distinction between mental and physical phenomena. Mental phenomena, for Brentano, are to be divided into the act of presentation, such as hearing a sound or seeing a colour, but also expectation, hope, judgement, love, happiness and joy, and the content of the presentation of the things or matter which is aimed at in the act of presentation. This ‘presentation’ is not to be confused with any actual thing or state of affairs (Brentano 1973, pp.77–81).

Brentano’s account is still empirical (different ways that we are conscious of the world) however, whereas Husserl’s is transcendental (what does it mean to have a consciousness of the world at all?). To explain intentionality, let us return to the distinction between immanent and transcendent objects Transcendent objects, or real objects, are given to us, Husserl argues, only through a continuum of profiles, perspective or adumbrations (these are not only spatial, but temporal):

Of necessity a physical thing can be given only ‘one-sidely,’ and that signifies not just incompletely or imperfectly in some sense or another, but precisely what presentation by adumbrations prescribes. (Husserl 1980, p.94)

Yet it is equally clear, Husserl would say, if we simple reflect upon our perception of things, we do not just see aspects and profiles, rather there is another element. I always see one and the same thing. Take the example of the table described in the Ideas:

Let us start with an example. Constantly seeing this table and meanwhile walking around it, changing my position is space in whatever way, I have continually the consciousness of this one identical table as factually existing ‘in person’ and remaining quite unchanged. (Husserl 1980, p.94)

We are continuously conscious of this one and the same table as really existing yet our perceptions of it change. My perceptions of the object are perspectival, whilst I am conscious of the table in person as being there as one thing. We can, therefore, also make a fundamental distinction between appearing and appearance. There is one and the same appearance, Husserl would say, though the appearing of this appearance is always changing. The one and the same appearance is the immanent object, and the changing manner of the appearance is the transcendent object.

We confuse objectivity with the transcendent object, but it is this object that is continually changing and therefore could never be the ground for scientific knowledge. It is the immanent object that gives unity and sense to our experience of things in the world. It is this unity that is valid meaning of objectivity. This unity provided by the immanent object already organises, or synthesises Husserl would say, our experience of the world, prior to any theoretical or scientific judgements that I might make of it. It is because the world is already organised by the immanent intentional structure of consciousness that we see things as having such and such meanings and therefore can make judgements about them. My experience of the world is already organised by the structure of intentionality before I have any sensations.

The world is not something outside of us, in the sense of nature in the scientific or common-sense attitude; rather the world should be understood as the network of meanings, which is the horizon in which we encounter objects. The world is this region of sense in which we are orientated. This world for Husserl is identical to the immanent life of consciousness. It is constituted through it. The key to understanding this claim is to no longer to see the world on the analogy of a natural thing, but in terms of language. For the self-same and identical appearance that appears at the heart of appearing is sense or meaning. It is not a natural thing, and nor does it have any basis in nature, yet it is the ground and possibility of our experience and judgements about nature.

What then did Heidegger take from Husserl’s phenomenology and what did he reject? First of all, it goes without saying, that not one page of Being and Time can be understood without it. It is phenomenological through and through. Heidegger himself is very clear about this when he describe the phenomenological method on Being and Time in section 7 (which we will describe in greater detail when we get to it). What is more difficult is seeing where Heidegger wanted to distance himself from Husserl. Here lectures that Heidegger gave on Husserl’s method, called The History of the Concept of Time, can be very useful.

In the third part of these lectures, he gives what he calls an ‘immanent critique’ of Husserl (Heidegger 1985, pp.90–131). The problem with the earliest conception of phenomenology is how it conceived our relation to the world. For Husserl, at least, this relation was primarily epistemological and his ideal was the sciences, even if, as we have seen, these sciences could not ground themselves. We can talk about tables other things around us and ask how it is that we know them, but is this really the primary and most important way that we relate to the world? For Husserl it seems that it is, such that any subsequent relation to the world must be built from it. What Husserl takes for granted is that we are nothing but consciousness and this is how we relate the world. What evaporates in this relation is the very concrete lived being that is consciousness and who must be the basis of any conscious act. The aim of Being and Time is to show that the there is a more elemental relation to the world than this conscious self-reflective one whose dominance is historical rather than phenomenological. Heidegger’s method could be described as a double reduction. A reduction of Husserl’s reduction so as to discover the concrete life it takes for granted. The latter, Heidegger, describes as a ‘fundamental ontology’ whose method is still phenomenological even though it rejects the primacy of the theoretical attitude (1962, pp.33–4).

Works Cited

Brentano, F., 1973. Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint;, London: Routledge.

Hawking, S., 2009. A Brief History Of Time: From Big Bang To Black Holes, New York: Random House.

Heidegger, M., 1962. Being and Time, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Heidegger, M., 1985. History of the Concept of Time : Prolegomena, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Husserl, E., 1980. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, The Hague: M. Nijhoff.

Husserl, E., 2012. Logical Investigations D. Moran, ed., Routledge.

Husserl, E., 1964. The Idea of Phenomenology, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Rockmore, T., 1997. On Heidegger’s Nazism and Philosophy, University of California Press.


[1]Though shamefully Heidegger removed this dedication whilst he was rector of Freiburg and also banned Husserl from using the library. For a thorough account of Heidegger’s ‘turn to Nazism’, see the chapter ‘The Nazi Turning and the Rectoral Address’ in On Heidegger’s Nazism and Philosophy (Rockmore 1997, pp.39–72).

[2] ‘However, if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God’ (Hawking 2009, p.136).


The True World – Lecture 2

February 1, 2013

Just as was the case with Kierkegaard, Nietzsche pervades the pages of Being and Time, but if you were to try and prove this by the amount of times that Heidegger refers to his work, then you would equally fail.[1] Just as we said in our lecture on Kierkegaard, however, weighing up citations does not really prove anything at all. Indeed, you might argue their absence proves more than their presence. For if Heidegger had signalled the importance of Nietzsche in Being and Time, then he would have had to litter the text with footnotes. Yet perhaps this importance is more than just scholarly. If Nietzsche is present everywhere in the pages of Being and Time, it is not because this work is an interpretation of Nietzsche, or just follows on from the work of Nietzsche, as though Heidegger’s own philosophy were just a new version of one of Nietzsche’s famous thesis on the eternal return or the will to power. To understand the importance of Nietzsche to Being and Time, you have to interpret it from this vantage point and not impose it from the outside, as though you were just hunting for citations and reference. Such an activity, anyway, is strange way of doing philosophy. It transformation the creativity of thought into a hobby of collecting numbers.

Being and Time opens with the question of being. Not only do we not know the answer to this question but we do not even know what it means to ask it. If Heidegger is going to convince us that it is even worth doing so then he has to have a method. This method is twofold. First of all he has to show us why it is that we have forgotten it and secondly what it is that we have forgotten otherwise we would not know that we had forgotten it. The first method is historical and the second is phenomenological and it is in the first that we might discern the influence of Nietzsche.

To think is not to think in isolation. We might think that there is a simple agreement with what we say about the world and what the world is. Either we think this agreement as its source in the world, so that the aim of knowledge is to discover the truth that is in the world itself. Or we might think its origin is in the subject, such that it is we who have to agree with the world, but the world that has to agree with us. We can see in these two forms the oppositions that have characterised Western philosophy itself throughout its long history through various forms of idealism and materialism. What is common across this opposition, however, is the idea that truth is a representation. One says that the true image of reality is to be found in the world and we simply have to see it there, and the other, in the self, so we simply have to look at ourselves. What is lacking in this account of truth is any sense of history. It either asserts that the world is atemporal and eternal, or the self is atemporal and eternal. Error is not a property of either the universal world or the self, but the individual who has mistaken truth for its opposite. Science, then, is nothing but the progress to an ultimate truth that has been there from the very beginning and which, one supposes, if we ever reach it, will mean that science itself will come to an end. Each individual scientist has been seeking for the same truth from the very beginning, and if they made mistakes, then this was because they were ignorant or biased. Now from our vantage point, because we know that we our closer to the truth than they, we can see this even though they cannot. They thought they were speaking the truth but they were not.

What does it mean to think truth historically? It means that one understands that the representation of the world is not first but second. The source of our image of the world has its origin in a tradition that is itself not an image. Take for example Nietzsche’s argument in his essay ‘On Truth and Lie in an Extra-moral Sense’(Nietzsche 1990).[2] Truth is something that has to appear on this planet. It is an accomplishment, not a given. In other words, there have to forces that produce and create truth. It is only because we have forgotten that truth has a history that we think the agreement between the self and the world, whether from the side of the world or the self, is natural and universal to the human species. It is in this social existence that the first urge for truth arises. It is society that fixes the truth of terms. The liar is excluded because he misuses words and meanings. So it is not deception that bothers us but what harm comes to us from deception and we want truth because it is agreeable and preserves our existence. Truth is first of all normative. It’s basis is that we experience the world in the same way and this can only be brought about through social force. We have to be made to feel the world in the same way. Only then can we claim that truth is in us or outside of us as a representation.

Truth is imposed upon us by society. We use the same metaphors as everyone else. Lie like everyone else. We forget that we are lying so no-one knows that they are lying. Because we forget, we think the lies are the truth. This commitment to truth is moral, for one’s attachment to it means that you judge as the liar the one who does not speak conventionally. You also judge yourself. You think only in abstractions and universals, and you ignore every subtle impression or sensation. Thus everything is reduced to schemata and diagrams that turn the perceptual and visual world into a grid. This how we humanise the world so that it does not threaten and disturb us. You have to understand that this is first of all a moral order. We force the world to conform to our concepts and then only subsequently say that it is true.

Does this mean, then, that Nietzsche himself is telling us lies. Does he not fall for the paradox of claiming that everything is lie apart from the statement ‘everything is lie’? That would be so if the only account of truth that we could give is representational. If the only truth were the agreement of the world with the self, either from the side of the world or from the viewpoint of the self, then Nietzsche would be the relativist that people confuse him with, because they think that when he says that everything is an interpretation he means that every truth is just what you say it is. Yet this truth, as we have seen, is not first but second. It is the result of certain history that prioritises representational thought, but it itself cannot be representational. There must, therefore, be another kind of truth, a ‘higher’ then this kind.

First of all there must be a truth about the history of truth. We must be able to examine how this truth came about, and also that there could be other truths, other ways of conceiving the world than agreement. This method Nietzsche calls genealogy. So his Genealogy of Morals, for example, is not about the definition of morality, as one might find in Kant and Bentham, but this history of this morality, which has a common source, even though at the level of representation they appear as opposites. The history of morality is the study of how something like morality came about in the first place and how different moralities are expressed in different civilisations and through time. Yet the past is not just for the sake of the past, for Nietzsche. It is not about collecting facts like an entomologist butterflies, but how the past means something for us in the future. Why does it matter to us, what does it have to say to us, and how will it change us. Nietzsche interest in the Ancient Greeks, for instance in The Birth of Tragedy, was not merely a matter of historical curiosity about the past, but that they could say something to us about our future.

Why the ancient Greeks were so important is that they had not fallen under the thrall of representational truth, though there philosophy, to some extent, in the thought of Plato and Aristotle, set in train its eventual triumph. What the ancient Greeks knew, and what they could still teach us, is that the world is not first of all represented but created. Even the world as representation had to be created. Creation, then is the other meaning of truth, as well as history. For what we see when we look at history of truth is its creation. It is these creations that are the original source for the paradigms of truth that over time forget their own origins so that they confuse themselves for the truth.

Creativity requires freedom otherwise how could there be other possibilities than the reality that faces us? When we think about freedom, however, we think about in terms of freedom of choice. We think freedom is simply a matter of choosing between one thing and another, or between one life and another. We have already seen with Kierkegaard that this is not the only way of interpreting freedom. What freedom means for Nietzsche is self-determination and self-determination is nothing like choosing, and indeed from its perspective self-determination will look very much like un-freedom.

When we come to think of the difference ourselves and nature, we think of nature as being determined and ourselves as being free. We think of nature made up of atoms which are causally tied together by the chain of necessity. We however, are more than just atoms (though they make up our physical nature) because we have reason. Freedom is not a natural property of something. Freedom does not exist in this way. Rather freedom is an idea. It has no reality about from people asserting it. Yet this difference between freedom and necessity mirrors the very opposition between idealism and materialism that is the basis of representational truth, and which we have seen Nietzsche rejects. This is why some readers of Nietzsche can get confused and think he’s a determinist and cannot understand how at the same time he will speak of genius and creativity. If you think you are free because you have reason, then Nietzsche is a determinist, because he would claim that this idea is a fiction. But that the same time the causal universe of science is also only an idea. Reality goes deeper than both reason and matter. It is the lived body.

What Nietzsche means by the livid body is not the physiological body of science, since that body too is thought in terms of causes and effects, but existence. Existence here is not a category of thought, but a way of being. When we speak of a physical body, then we are thinking of body that is common to many, but existence is not. Existence is individual. The body that Nietzsche speaks of is my body. The body I live in and which expresses my being concretely and not abstractly. It is my body which first of all says who I am and not thought. Thought has its source in the unthought and the unthought is the body with feelings, instincts and drives. It is the body which is the vehicle of history (it is the body that both resists and is formed by power) and not thought that only catches up with history retrospectively.

I am where my body already is shaped by history and projected into the future. The real opposition is not between the self and the world, which is an opposition of thought and not the body, but between thought and the unthought. Thought want to say that it is it that battles against thought, but in fact thought has its origin in the unthought, and without it thought would be sterile and lack creativity. We do not first exist as individuals because we think, since the thinking self is the universal self that is common to everyone. I exist first of all as the lived self that is my body. Only retrospectively does this body think. Reason has its origin in the historical being of the concrete individual, and not the other way around as it likes to imagine.

The ontological freedom of self-determination is to become who you already are. To become what your body, in its historical being, has already fated you to be. The choice I have is affirmation. Can I affirm my individual existence or not, and not whether I can choose between one action or not. The authentic individual is not someone who makes choices, but who seizes their own existence as their own. Outwardly nothing has changed at all. I am still the person I have always been and would have been. Yet this time I accept fully the person that I am. To do so, for both Heidegger and Nietzsche, means to live in the truth. It cannot be understood, of course, in terms of representational truth, for that would mean an agreement between the self and the world, an acceptance of reality, and a passivity in relation to its image, whether that image was  internal or external. To live in the truth is to be revealed to oneself as one is out of one’s past and forward into the future.

Works Cited

Haase, U.M., 2008. Starting with Nietzsche, London; New York: Continuum.

Heidegger, M., 1981. Nietzsche: The Will to Power as Art, Taylor & Francis.

Nietzsche, F.W., 1990. Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche’s Notebooks of the Early 1870’s, Humanity Books.


[1] There are only three references to Nietzsche, as David Farrell Krell remarks in his analysis of Heidegger’s later lectures on the same philosopher, in Being and Time (Heidegger 1981, p.247)

[2] Ulrich Haase provides an excellent guide to this text and to Nietzsche thought as a whole in his introduction, which is more than just an introduction since it is a philosophical interpretation, Starting with Nietzsche (2008, pp.22–23). Much that is written here is inspired by it.


Kierkegaard and Existence – Lecture One

January 18, 2013

For the first three weeks of this course on Being and Time we are going to read three philosophers as background to the text: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Husserl. We are not reading them in terms of themselves, but only to the extent that they help us to better understand Being and Time. In this way, we are doing all three a disservice, because we cannot hope to be true to their philosophy by investigating what they have written in any depth. Hopefully, at some other time perhaps, if these philosophers interest you then, you can read them for themselves rather than just for Being and Time.

We are perhaps even doing a greater injury to Kierkegaard than the other two, because he expressly saw his writing as having a higher religious purpose than simply being a philosophical treatise or worse an introduction to something called ‘existentialism’. Yet in some way this wrong done to his intentions was already committed by Heidegger. Our purpose here is to explain what influence Kierkegaard had on Being and Time, and not purely his own project. Nonetheless it is important to mark what the limitations of this interpretation are.[1]

As with most writers that have influenced Being and Time directly there is little evidence in the text itself of Kierkegaard.[2] The reasons for this are probably twofold. First of all, like every original thinker, Heidegger wanted to present his work as a radical break with the previous tradition. Being and Time is not a work of scholarship on Kierkegaard, however much Heidegger himself was influenced by this reading of Kierkegaard.[3] Secondly, I think it was important for Heidegger to differentiate his philosophy from religion, precisely because, at least in terms of its vocabulary, there is much that is in common with a religious conviction. As we have already intimated, the primary purpose of Kierkegaard’s writing is religious. His aim is to place in front of the reader the real demand of becoming a Christian. Now on the way to that it might be the case that existential themes are announced, since for Kierkegaard one cannot truly be Christian without first of all becoming a self (indeed the two are necessarily entwined for him).[4] Whereas for Heidegger, the fundamental project is the existential analysis itself. Despite these two possible reasons for the virtual disappearance of Kierkegaard’s name in Heidegger’s text, it is clear that his work present throughout.[5]

What then did Kierkegaard discover that was so important to Heidegger’s existential analysis? Kierkegaard’s fundamental insight is that the self is not a category of thought. One does not think subjectivity into being, one has to become a subject. Existence is not a category of thought but a way of being. In terms of Kierkegaard’s context, he is writing against what he saw as the predominance of Hegelian philosophy at the time, where the human individual disappears in the system that he thinks.[6] What does it mean to be a self? We might think that this is the easiest thing of all to accomplish, since we are just born a self, but Kierkegaard wants to convince us that it is the hardest task of all, and some never achieve it. What is important is that simply thinking about it will not help. You cannot define the self into existence. You have to be it. In a footnote to Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard makes the famous distinction between learning about swimming and swimming. In the end to swim one has to swim. So too, to be a self, one has to exist as a self.[7]

In speaking of self objectively, I am describing the self from the outside. I might speak of myself or another person in terms of culture, morality and science, for example. But this way of speaking is not the same as being a self from within. Precisely by speaking of oneself from the outside, as though one were nothing but this objectified self, then the decision of being a self is left out. One just is one’s culture, society, or how science objectively describes me (a member of the human species for example). In this description, what make you or you a living self disappears. You vanish in the objective descriptions themselves. This does not mean that these objective descriptions are wrong. The scientific investigation of objective existence is right in itself, but it is wrong to confuse this with the subjectivity of lived existence. There are therefore two kinds of errors. One can make a mistake at the level of an objective description (one can think, for example that human beings did not evolve from a common ape ancestor), but there is more fundamental ontological error of confusing an objective description and subjective existence.

This means that nothing objective can help you make a subjective decision. Kierkegaard’s example is the decision to become a Christian. Nothing objective could make you become a Christian as a matter of faith. No-one becomes a Christian through the proofs of the existence of God, even if these arguments were true objectively. On the contrary faith is not a matter of reason for Kierkegaard but a subjective decision and it would be an ontological error to measure the latter by the former (as though faith were irrational in relation to the rationality of reason). An ‘objective acceptance of Christianity,’ Kierkegaard writes, ‘is paganism or thoughtlessness’ (Kierkegaard 2009, p.108). What is ‘thoughtless’ here is not that one has made an objective mistake, but one has confused the subjective with the objective.

We think that what is objective is hard and what is subjective is easy. We think the objective is hard because it has to be learnt, whereas the subject is just given as a birth right. On the contrary, the opposite is the case. Anyone can learn if they want to, but to want to learn is harder than to learn (as any student knows). The first is objective and the second subjective. Not only is there a difference between the two, the objective is dependent on the subjective, and not the subjective on the objective. I learn because I want to learn. Without this first subjective decision, nothing objective would be learnt. Even if I live in a culture that treasures learning for itself, I still have to, as a subject, take this upon myself as task for myself. No-one can learn for me, I have to have this passion in order to learn. Rather than my subjectivity being given to me at birth, it is therefore something that I have to accomplish and it is an infinite task, for just when I think that I might have become myself I can lose myself again.

This difference between the subjective and the objective is the basis of the first problem of Fear and Trembling (Kierkegaard 1983, pp.54–67). Objectively, the subject matter of this book is the sacrifice of Isaac, his son, by Abraham, which is told in Genesis 22. Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his son. He takes him up to Mount Moriah, makes an altar, binds his son, and as he raises the knife a voice commands him to stop. Everyone knows this story from the outside, but Kierkegaard, through the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio, wants us to experience the true horror of Abraham’s action from within.[8] Either he is a murderer or he is acting from faith, but if he is acting from faith then what he does makes no sense at all.

What is ethical, Kierkegaard explains, is universal and belongs to everyone and at every time. It is the ultimate telos and purpose of the ethical individual’s existence. This telos, however, is external and not internal, objective and not subjective. The individual breaks with this order by refusing to subject his will to the universal. This is what we mean by evil. An evil act is an action that breaks with the moral order as it is institutionalised in a given culture.[9] From this perspective, Abraham is a murder, and that he only stops his hand because he hears a voice would not make our judgement of him any better. But is this break with the ethical only an evil? Is there another way in which the ethical order is suspended? The paradox of faith is that the individual is higher than the universal not because the individual merely contradicts it but because the individual as individual is in relation to the absolute. The relation to the absolute is not the same as the relation to the universal, because in relation to the latter the individual is subsumed, whereas in relation to the absolute it is preserved. This cannot be understood from the outside, since from the exterior this relation can only be understand through the universal. Abraham could either be a murderer or a man of faith, but only he can know this. We can never be certain.[10]

Kierkegaard distinguishes the man of faith from the tragic hero. The tragic hero, however tragic he might be, finds recognition in the universal. The force of tragedy is the tension between the particular and the universal that finds resolution in the universal. Kierkegaard compares the Abraham’s sacrifice of his son with the Greek tragedy of Iphigenia (Kierkegaard 1983, p.57). On the surface these two stories might appear to be exactly the same. Abraham has to sacrifice his son; Agamemnon his daughter. Yet the results or outcomes of these stories are quite different. Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter for the sake of a higher purpose, the whim of the gods who will allow the winds to blow so that the Greeks can sail to Troy. It is terrible that Agamemnon must sacrifice his daughter, but everyone knows that is this is the right and just thing to do. For Abraham, on the contrary, there is no result or outcome. His act is not justified by the universal, and no-one thinks that his act is legitimate. On the contrary, Kierkegaard asserts, the opposite is the case, there is no justification. Either Abraham is a murderer because he breaks the moral code, or he is man of faith, but the difference between the two is not rational. The true analogy between them would have been if Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter even though the winds had already started to pick up and there was no reason at all to carry through the terrible act.

What is the difference between the tragic  hero and Abraham? The tragic hero is still within the ethical, still within the universal. He has a higher purpose, goal or telos that in the end justifies the action however much the individual suffers, both the doer of the deed and the victim. This is the meaning of the spiritual trial or tragedy of the tragic hero. For Abraham, on the contrary there is no spiritual trial, even if he might think there is or we might do so, since he suspends the teleology of the ethical for something higher still.[11] He has a relation to something else that is not the universal, which is the absolute.[12] This relation, however, can only be subjective and not objective. It can only be recognised inwardly and not outwardly. He goes ahead with the act because as living proof of his faith in God, which is an individual subjective relation and not an objective universal one.

Abraham’s temptation, therefore is not to break the law, but to act out of duty. Not to trust in God, but to trust in the law. His temptation is not to kill his son, but the opposite, not to kill him. This struggle, unlike the tragic story, cannot be described, because what matters is internal not external. You can describe it from the outside as Kierkegaard does, but that is not the same as undergoing this trial. Because from the outside we do not whether Abraham is a murder or a man of faith. This is why from the outside his action can only appear as absurd and meaningless.

Because I cannot know whether my faith is justified or not from the outside, then I can only experience it in terms of doubt, distress and anxiety. If I could point to something outside of myself, some proof, reason definition, then I could find a stable resting place. But it is precisely these that are lacking. What has happened to contemporary Christianity, for Kierkegaard, is that it finds its certainty in the external so that it can avoid the anxiety of the internal. At least at the time when he was writing, everyone could confirm their faith by simply being a citizen but one did not have to take a stand individually in the way that Abraham had to proof his faith in the sacrifice of his son.

‘Anxiety,’ Kierkegaard writes, ‘is the dizziness of freedom’, but what is meant by ‘freedom in this remark (1980a, p.61)? It is not the freedom to want something, which Kierkegaard calls finite freedom, but infinite freedom. How do we distinguish infinite and finite freedom? One way to distinguish it is the object of freedom. The object of finite freedom is things, but the object of infinite freedom is literally nothing. It is precisely because infinite freedom has its object nothing that it is experienced as anxiety. What is this nothing about which I am anxious? It is my existence as such. Not this or that part of my existence, or even something in my existence, but my very existing itself. Faith, for Kierkegaard, is an expression of such an existence.

Here we come to the crux of Kierkegaard’s thought, existence. How are we to approach existence? If we were to describe it externally, then we would do so through categories, but is so doing we would lose its very character and what is revealed in anxiety would vanish in our labels, definitions and certainty. We want to understand existence in terms of its own being, from within and not from without. To do so, Kierkegaard argues, we have to experience it as a possibility rather than as an actuality. When we think of existence from the outside, we imagine it as an actuality. I think of myself, for example, in terms of the role I occupy. I am a student or a lecturer. But what defines these roles form the outside is that they are eminently substitutable. Anyone can be a student or a lecture, not just me. What I want to capture is the fact that is I who am a student or a lecturer. The only reason that I could be so is that these actualities were a possibility that I could choose or choose not to be. In terms of existence, therefore, possibility precedes actuality, whereas in terms of essence (objective and universal thought), it is the other way around, actuality precedes possibility. The anxiety that Kierkegaard describes as fundamental to becoming a self has to do with this possibility. For a possibility is not yet something, so to experience the possibility of possibility is to feel the anxiety of nothingness. What is it that I shall be? How to I become myself? What is my task?

There is another way of thinking possibility. It is not to be understood as lack, chance of good fortune, as when someone says on some happy day, ‘anything might be possible’. For the possibilities they are imagining, buying a new car, getting a better job, winning the lottery, are all actualities of this world, banal and common place. Rather what Kierkegaard means by the infinite is that ‘all things are equally possible’. In other words, everything is suspended in the possible before it is actualised. Not this or that possibility in my life, but my whole life has become a possibility and one that can be torn away and annihilated. In comparison, reality is easy to bear, because you have never risked your life for it. You become a part of your reality by acquiescing to it. You only become yourself, however, by rejecting it. Yet to reject reality is not replace one part of it for another. You never learn anything from existence by merely standing a little apart from it. Only when it, as pure possibility, has robbed you of all certainty do you learn anything at all. Existence only teaches me when I am stripped off my reality and not when I am absorbed in it. To experience the possible at the heart of the actual, and not the actual at the heart of the possible and to accept the impossible as the movement of existence is a matter of faith. For knowledge and reason will have already defined in advance what the possible is by the actual, rather than the actual by the possible.

No doubt for the most part, we do not live like this for who wants to face the anxiety of the possible every day? Also, Kierkegaard is certain that we live in age where what is ultimately possible is levelled down to the lowest level. We understand ourselves as others understand themselves, we think as others think, like what they like and even end up having the same opinions. We are hardly even living as individuals even though ironically we live in the age of the individual. Everything is fed to is so we do not have to face ourselves. Our lives are one distraction following another where what dominates are ‘the public’ and endless ‘chatter’(Kierkegaard 1978, pp.91–110).

There is, however, one eventuality that cuts through this banality and that is our deaths. Of course we all know that we are going to die eventually, but this death is an actuality, a fact, a death that we read about everyday online. What it isn’t is the possibility of our own deaths. The possibility of my death is not something that happens at the end of my life and which I can postpone as much as I wish. The possibility of my death is permanent and imminent. Moreover my death is something that I have to face myself. Someone else I cannot die my death. I have to do so alone. This possibility of my death shows me that my existence is fragile and temporary. All the actualities on which I have constructed my existence can be swept away by this possibility which is the impossibility of all my possibilities. If I were really to face this permanent possibility of my death would I not choose my life as an individual, rather than have someone else choose it for me?

Suppose death were so devious as to come tomorrow! Just this uncertainty, when it is to be understood and held fast by an existing individual, and hence enter into every thought, precisely because as uncertainty, it enters into everything […], so that I make it clear to myself whether, if death comes tomorrow, I am beginning upon something that is worth starting on. (Kierkegaard 2009, p.139)

If I were to die tomorrow, would I really be what I am now? It is not that this or that action or role is authentically individual or not (as though one were more authentic if one were a poet rather than a street cleaner, or Kierkegaard’s tax collector, for this again would be to confuse the inner with the outer), but whether one is authentically individual at all. Whether one really has chosen one’s life at all, and the risk, distress and anxiety this causes. Or whether one has accepted the safe and secure position, but which, from one’s death bed, one regrets as a life wasted. As Kierkegaard continues,

For me, my dying is not at all something general; maybe for the others my dying is a something in general. Neither, for myself, am I such a something in general; maybe for the others I’m a something in general. But if the task is to become subjective, then every subject will for himself become the very opposite of a something in general. (2009, p.140)

Risking one’s life, facing one’s death, being oneself, subjectivity as a task and an accomplishment, the priority of existence over essence, the internal over the external, the possible over the actual, are all themes that we shall find at the heart of Being and Time. What we will not find is any talk of God. We shall need to ask whether this absence troubles us or not. For the great difference between Kierkegaard and Heidegger is not, as Heidegger believed, that Kierkegaard lacked a sufficient ontological analysis of existence, but that for Kierkegaard to truly be a self you have to be in a relationship with God. For Heidegger, it is sufficient to be in relation to one’s own death. This is perhaps the difference between an ontological ethics and an ethical ontology.

Works Cited

Carlisle, C., 2010. Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling: a Reader’s Guide, London; New York: Continuum.

Hannay, A., 2010. Why Kierkegaard in Particular? Kierkegaard Studies Yearbook, pp.33–48.

Heidegger, M., 1962. Being and Time, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Kierkegaard, S., 2009. Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Crumbs, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kierkegaard, S., 1983. Fear and Trembling   Repetition, Princeton  N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Kierkegaard, S., 1980a. The Concept of Anxiety : a Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin, Princeton  N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Kierkegaard, S., 1980b. The Sickness unto Death : a Christian Psychological Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening, Princeton  N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Kierkegaard, S., 1978. Two Ages : the Age of Revolution and the Present Age : a Literary Review, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

McCarthy, V., 2011. Martin Heidegger: Kierkegaard’s Influence Hidden and in Full View. In J. Stewart, ed. Kierkegaard and Existentialism. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., pp. 95–125.

Stewart, J., 2007. Kierkegaard’s Relations to Hegel Reconsidered, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


[1] I agree with Hannay that there is no philosophy in Kierkegaard’s writings as such however they might be appropriated by philosophers as such. ‘I myself have ceased to look for such a philosophy in Kierkegaard. Whatever his private thoughts , and however much we like to ‘depth’ read the texts as an escape from nihilism, or to skim from them an early course in existentialism, that is not what Kierkegaard’s writings say on their face or even under the skin, not to me at least.’ (2010, p.46)

[2] There are only three footnotes to Kierkegaard in Being and Time. For a thorough analysis of the presence of Kierkegaard in Being and Time see Vincent McCarthy ‘Martin Heidegger: Kierkegaard’s Influence Hidden and in Full View’ (2011).

[3] This should not prevent others from finding Kierkegaard there for themselves.

[4] As Kierkegaard writes in Sickness unto Death, ‘Despair is intensified in relation to the consciousness of the self, but the self is intensified in relation to the criterion for the self, infinitely when God is the criterion. In fact the greater the conception of God, the more self there is; the more self, the greater the conception of God’ (1980b, p.80).

[5] We should be particular suspect of Heidegger’s insistence, in one footnote, that Kierkegaard was only capable of existentiell rather than existential analysis and thus any ontological understanding lacking in his work (Heidegger 1962, p.494n). If this were the case it would be difficult to explain how even his existential concepts have a remarkable kierkegaardian flavour. This is clear when one compares the pages on subjective anxiety in The Concept of Anxiety  and the description of the same phenomenon in Being and Time (Kierkegaard 1980a, pp.60–80).

[6] ‘From an abstract point of view, system and existing cannot be thought together, because systematic thought in order to think life must think of it annulled and hence not as life. Existence is the spacing that holds things apart; the systematic is the finality that joins them together’ (Kierkegaard 2009, p.100). Kierkegaard’s comments against Hegel are more aimed against Danish Hegelians and a philosophical fashion than Hegel himself. For a detailed account of Kierkegaard’s relation to Hegel see Kierkegaard’s Relations to Hegel Reconsidered (Stewart 2007).

[7] ‘In learning to go through the motions of swimming, one can be suspended from the ceiling in a harness and then presumably describe the movements, but one is not swimming’ (Kierkegaard 1983, pp.37–8).

[8] Clare Carlisle, in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, explores the significance of this pseudonym (2010, pp.24–8).

[9] There are three spheres of existence for Kierkegaard: the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious. The ethical expresses the universal (which he understands in an Hegelian sense; the aesthetic the capricious will of the individual; the religious, the relation of the will to the absolute. The important distinction is between the aesthetic and the individual. In other words, do not confuse subjective relativism with a genuine commitment to the self.

[10] This is why Kierkegaard says that from the outside one could never differentiate the knight of faith from the knight of infinite resignation. He tells the story of the knight of faith as an ordinary person who goes about his day without anyone knowing. ‘He belongs to the world; no bourgeois philistine could belong to it more’ (Kierkegaard 1983, pp.38–41).

[11] It is very important not to confuse the teleological suspension of the ethical for the sake of the absolute with subjective relativism. The latter is not a mark of commitment or courage, but precisely the opposite. Relativism is an expression of following the crowd and not a mark of authentic individualism, which is always a relation to something higher than oneself.

[12] It significant that the relation to God is to the absolute and not to the universal. In the latter God is part of reason; in the former He transcends it.