Heidegger and Time

The following started as a post on Facebook in the Heidegger Forum (February 16, 2021). For me it clarifies the connection between being and time. It struck me as I was reading a passage from GA 26, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Logik im Ausgang von Leibniz (1928).

Before I quote the passage, let me backpedal to being-in-the-world (Sein und Zeit I 3 §15–16). The following will be familiar to readers of SZ, but we need to have it fresh in mind. Take the example of the hammer while I’m joining pieces of wood to build a booth for the fair, where my wife and I will show our produce. While I nail, the hammer is unobtrusive. Yet it’s not not present! In fact, this unobtrusive mode of presence is the genuine (echt) mode for a tool, so that I don’t need to attend to it and can concentrate on the work. The unobtrusive mode of presence is termed Zuhandenheit (which Macquarrie and Robinson translate as “readiness-to-hand,” but let’s just say “handiness”). Not only is the hammer unobtrusively present while I nail, but so are the fairground, the sun, the air, the earth beneath my feet, my clothing, my eyeglasses, my arm and hand, my torso, etc. Yet if for some reason (perhaps qua philosopher) I pay attention to the hammer while swinging it, or if later I single it out—say, to describe it for a catalogue, or to use it in a seminar as an example of an object—it loses its genuine mode of presence, appearing instead in the mode that H. calls Vorhandenheit (“presence-at-hand” in M-R, but let’s say “pat presence”). The strange thing is, I can never examine the hammer in its handiness: as soon as I try, turning my attention to it, it is patly present instead. I cannot catch anything in its genuine mode—not the sun, not the wind, not my shoes, not my eyeglasses, not my arm. As soon as I try, pat presence takes over.

Is there no way, then, that the hammer can appear to me in its handiness? There is, namely when it ceases to be handy—e.g., when it breaks or is missing (likewise the sun when it’s eclipsed, the earth when it quakes, the wind when it dies at Aulis, my car when it fails to start). While I roam the yard in search of the missing hammer, hand clenching and unclenching, I feel the meaning hammer. I feel how the hammer is bound up with the nails and the boards that are lying idly there, with the booth I need to finish, and with a network of broader concerns (with my marriage, for instance, for if I don’t get the booth done before she comes Lord help me!). All of these constitute what Heidegger calls an involvement-totality, which may be included in wider involvement-totalities, up to some ultimate end (Endzweck), an ultimate for-the-sake-of-which (Worumwillen). The whole chain is gathered and focused in my frustration while I roam the yard. Earlier, when I picked up the hammer and commenced to work, I was tacitly looking into the involvement- totality—and through it toward the ultimate Worumwillen, even if I had only the vaguest sense of this.  Nailing, I aimed at the nail, but I was also “aiming” through it. While I happily nailed, the involvement-totality unobtrusively filled my marginal perception of the hammer, as it now obtrusively fills my clenching and unclenching hand. The hammer could not be a hammer, meaning what it means, if I did not look into the totality.

Notice how time plays a role: Hammering the nail, I must exist futurally, in the ultimate Worumwillen. From the future I come back to where I already am—and this is the case with every swing of the hammer. To stand out of myself is to be ec-static (from the Greek ek-stasis). The genuine presence of a hammer depends on the ec-stases of future, past (the “already”), and present.

About the ultimate Worumwillen, Heidegger writes at SZ p. 84 (I translate very freely):

“The involvement-totality itself, however, goes back ultimately to a what-for that is not a part of some further involvement, a what-for that is not itself something handy [like a hammer] within a world, but rather to an entity whose being is defined as being-in-the-world, an entity, that is, to whose constitution belongs worldliness itself. …. The primary “what-for” is a Worum-willen, a for-the-sake-of-which. However, the “for-the-sake-of“ always has to do with the being of Dasein, which in its being is concerned essentially with its being. The indicated connection, leading from the structure of involvement to the being of Dasein itself, that is [als], to the authentic and unique for-the-sake-of-which, shall not be pursued more closely for the present.”

Not be pursued more closely for the present! But that’s what we want to know! We want to identify that ultimate what-for! Where will the topic be picked up again?

The ultimate what-for, he has already indicated, is Dasein itself (umwillen seiner selbst). This is not narrow egoism, he stresses in GA 26 pp. 239-40.

But back to SZ. To summarize very quickly: The ultimate Worumwillen is vague because Dasein’s self is hidden. It is hidden because Dasein flees from what it always already understands: the prospect of its death (my possibility of not being). Dasein flees from its finitude by preoccupying itself with the infinitely realizable projects that das Man offers (das Man = “the they,” “one” as in “what one says or does in such a situation”). There are times, however, when a basic dread plucks me out of my preoccupations, out of my fallenness, out of das Man, giving me the opportunity to experience myself as I am and beings as they are. The culmination is the italicized paragraph on SZ p. 385:

“Only a being that is essentially futural in its being, so that, free for its death, smashing up against it, it can let itself be thrown back upon its factical being there (Da) – that is, only a being which, as futural, is equiprimordially having-been – can, handing the inherited possibility down to itself, take over its own thrownness and be alert in the moment for ‘its time.’ Only authentic temporality, which is at the same time finite, makes possible something like destiny, that is, authentic historicity.”

So we are not given a specification of the Worumwillen. We are told how to find it, each for him- or herself. The “they” (das Man) into which we are fallen has corrupted all traditions by its flight from death. The corrupted traditions offer only jaded possibilities. But in the light of my mortality, I can retrieve possibilities from the traditions, possibilities which the death-fleeing “they” could never see and therefore could not corrupt. I can retrieve them as possibilities and let them inform my active living.

Everything depends, then, on ceasing to flee from my mortality. In a post on the Heidegger Forum of Feb. 12 I wrote this:  My possibility of not being ‘is not a thought that I can summon up, as if to say, ‘Now I shall think about my death.” I can never imagine my death in a fundamental way, because insofar as I imagine, I am alive. I cannot go to the thought of my death, but it can come to me. And when it does, the heart-thumping, throat-constricting wonder I feel – I might someday not be! – is related to the tamer wonder aroused by the question, “Why are there beings rather than nothing?”’

I cannot think my not being, I cannot hold onto the thought long enough to weave it together with other thoughts as in a syllogism, nor – except in a token way – can I include it in an essay, conversation, or meditation. Who is the “I” who cannot think not being? This “I” is Dasein, but not in its transcendence. Analyzing what he terms the call of conscience in SZ,  Heidegger says that when the thought of my death comes to me [grabbing me by the throat], it comes from my Dasein. Who then am I in relation to this calling Dasein, which is “in each case mine.” My Dasein and I – two and yet one? Well, why not? The divided self—that is familiar from psychoanalysis. Despite the obvious (ontological) difference, it would be interesting to compare Heidegger with Freud or Jung, but we won’t do that here.  

Unknown to me for the most part, my Dasein is alert to its possibility of not being. When I flee from this possibility into das Man, my Dasein continues to be alert to my death—only I am no longer my Dasein in its completeness: I have become inauthentic. Sometimes, however, in the midst of my death-fleeing preoccupations, the call comes from my Dasein, which gives me to understand what it under-stands.

All that is prelude. Now here is the passage from Metaphysische Anfangsgründe… p. 269 that clarified something for me (as translated by Michael Heim in the Metaphysical Foundations of Logic):

“Now we say each ecstasis [of time] encloses itself and does so precisely as ekstasis [written in Greek-SL]. One could believe the converse to be the case, that being-carried-away [in the ek-stasis] is the very leap over every barrier. Certainly there is, on its own, nothing determinate in expectance itself [in der Gewärtigung selbst]; it is not able to decide for itself, and certainly never unambiguously, what, on its basis, can be expected and how it can be expected. But the being-carried-away (Entrückung) as such nonetheless provides something, just something futural as such, futurity as such [überhaupt], i .e., possibility pure and simple. Of itself the ecstasis does not produce a definite possible (ein bestimmtes Mögliches}, but it does produce the horizon of possibility in general, within which a definite possible can be expected.”

So then! Here is what came to me as a clarification: No wonder Heidegger doesn’t specify an ultimate Worumwillen! It would be nonsense to do so, because the ultimate Worumwillen is the horizon of the future, “futurity as such,” possibility “pure and simple.”

Yes, but! How can the horizon of the future—an empty horizon, one might think— function as an end-purpose (Endzweck), determining the significance of the hammer at the fair? Has Heidegger contradicted himself?  

First, it is noteworthy that death makes no appearance by name in GA 26, except briefly when referring to SZ.  

In SZ, the horizon of the future is my possibility of not being.  This possibility is not empty after all – not a nihil negativum. It is full of dread – that is, care – which I feel when the possibility grabs me by the throat. Combining SZ and GA 26: Only as an entity that is always already aware of its death does Dasein have a future.

We know from SZ and GA 26 that Dasein is for its own sake (umwillen seiner selbst). And from SZ we know that its ownmost can-be (sein eigenste Seinkönnen) is its death as the possibility of no possibility. SZ 250: “With death Dasein stands before itself in its ownmost can-be.” SZ 251: “Dread in the face of death is dread in the face of the ownmost, nonrelational, and unoutstrippable can-be.” We can see how my death, so defined, may indeed create the horizon of futurity as such. For this possibility is mine at every moment but, unlike other possibilities, it can never in principle be realized. The possibility of not being is pure possibility. It cannot be filled – as can other possibilities – by an image of its realization. It is sheer openness.

Yet there still seems to be the contradiction. We were led to the idea of the Worumwillen by my building of a booth at the fair. The involvement-totality, it was said, is anchored in and determined by an ultimate what-for. But how (we ask again) can the possibility of my not-being determine a chain of involvements aiming toward it? How can a hammer have significance in the light of this Worumwillen? Heidegger notes the difficulty in SZ 383:

“The forerunning projection of oneself upon this un-outstrippable possibility of existence, death, guarantees only the wholeness and authenticity of resolution. However, the factically disclosed possibilities of existence are not to be gleaned from death.”

Or earlier, in SZ 298: „But toward what does Dasein open itself in resoluteness [in the resoluteness to endure the disclosure of its mortality – SL]? What should it resolve itself to do? The answer can only be given by the resolve itself.”

An answer is in the passage already quoted from SZ 385: Only a being that smashes up against its death (or to vary the description: only a being whose possibility of not being grabs it by the throat) can be thrown back on the facts of its life in such a way as to retrieve, from the corrupted traditions, possibilities which the death-fleeing “they” never saw, was not able to see, and therefore could not corrupt. The resolute Dasein can retrieve them and bring them into its active living. Think, for example, of certain poets, as Heidegger does. The language of the “they” is corrupt: having lost the freshness of its origin, it has been leveled down to idle chatter (Gerede). But the poet stands bare-headed under the open sky and catches the lightning stroke of the god and passes it on to the people.

And I cannot help thinking of Heidegger himself. Two paragraphs before the italicized passage of SZ 385, he says (I paraphrase) that when Dasein lets death become powerful in its life, it understands how to take over the impotence (Ohnmacht) of being delivered over to itself, and it then becomes clear-sighted for the contingencies of the disclosed situation. However, since this fateful (schicksalhaft) Dasein, as being-in-the-world, exists essentially in togetherness with others, its happening is a happening-with, and it receives its determination as destiny (Geschick, from schicken, “to send”). I quote: “In this way we characterize the happening of the community, of the Volk. Destiny is not put together from individual fates any more than being-with-one-another can be understood as the occurrence of many subjects together. In being-with-one-another in the same world, and in the resoluteness for definite possibilities, the fates are already guided in advance. It is in sharing (Mitteilung) and in battle (Kampf) that the might of destiny first becomes free. The fate-laden destiny of Dasein in and with its ‘generation’ makes up the full, authentic happening of Dasein.”    

The year is 1927. We know what the choice and fate of Heidegger will be in the years that follow. It is easy to condemn this choice and fate from the viewpoint of das Man. But surely we can see, from what I have cited and quoted above, that the fate-laden choice is closely, even inextricably, bound up with his thinking. It is not enough merely to accept that thinking as truth. We will do well to look closely and see whether something is missing, and whether the missing element or dimension might be responsible for his having resolved as he did. I have an idea about what is missing. I called it, in a post of Feb. 1, Du-vergessenheit. Of which more later. 

A blog on Heidegger and Du-vergessenheit is on the way. Meanwhile, to get an idea of what I mean by the term, here is a series of three:




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