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Reframing Angst with Heidegger II: Dasein & the Issue of Being


Artwork: "The Search for Seclusion" by Andrew Bains.



Synopsis:


Dasein is at issue with being in that it must thoughtfully content with who it will be and who it might become. In doing so, it must come to an understanding of itself, others and the world. However, the main issue of Being is that there is a radical openness to understanding and interpretation - these are far more fragile and culturally contingent than we would like to believe in respect to the existentiell openness we face. This openness informs Dasein of some set of possibilities of its Being-and-Becoming over others - I can very easily become someone else with a different kind of (self-)understanding. However, Dasein is not pure possibility. Rather it's understanding is often incomplete and constrained, and so to are its possibilities. These aspects of its constraints are apart of Dasein's (inauthentic) average everyday mode of existence, as a Being already-in-the-world alongside-others. However, as we will see in part III, this average everyday existence however can be shattered by angst and guide Dasein towards an authentic mode of existence.



 


In part II of Reframing Angst with Heidegger, I explore Heidegger’s unique re-branding of human-being(s) as Dasein(s), and the existential issues this re-branding entails for how we lead our lives. Content warning: this entails existential issues of Being; a nauseating openness of understanding and interpretation; disclosing possibilities of being-and-becoming; and most unfortunately yet inevitably, the constraints of our (inauthentic) average everydayness as Beings in the world. For anyone interested the trajectory of Heidegger’s overall project beyond the ends of this series, and a more informed understanding of Dasein and average-everydayness, see the following footnote [1]. Coming to terms with this new understanding of Being will illuminate the existential freedom and constraints in which we exist in-between.


To understand how angst can offer a more authentic way of being in the world, we must firstly unpack Heidegger’s prolific re-conceptualisation of human existence as Da-sein (translated as there-Being). In doing so, we can come to understand what this entails for our existential relationship towards ourselves, openness and possibilities, as well as how possibilities are constrained by the inauthentic average everydayness of our Being in the world [2]. In anticipation of part III, we will then explore the power of angst in exposing the discussed constraints of our average everyday inauthentic mode of being-in-the-world, and how it can help guide us towards authenticity.




Dasein and the issues of Being: the existential rebrand of humanity [3]


Heidegger frames the project of a human life as something we must thoughtfully contend with:

“Dasein[‘s] Being is an issue for it.” (Being and Time, 4: 32)

As Daseins we are at issue with ourselves, in the cyclical process of being-and-becoming a someone. We are constantly forced to forge an identity under the pressure of questions asked by ourselves and others: “what do I want?”, “who am I?”, “what do you want? “, “who are you?” [4]. We do our best to satisfactorily answer these questions – exuding moxie in our answers on good days, and hesitation on not-so-good days. Whether we acknowledge, accept, or deny Heidegger's existential framing of Dasein (termed his Dasein Analytic), the brute fact is that we are leading lives in contention with questions of being-and-becoming. The very way in which our lives are led are inherent reflections upon our responses to existential questions concerning our (self-)understandings. As Mulhall (1996) further elucidates, regardless of what the sceptic might retort to Heidegger’s Dasein-Analytic, such existential issues are intrinsic features of being:

“Although this practical relation to one’s existence [as a Dasein] can be repressed or passed over, it cannot be transcended; for refusing to consider the questions [(i.e. issues of Being)] it raises is just another way of responding to them, a decision to go on living a certain kind of life. It is therefore determinative of human Being, of Dasein, that its Being is an issue for it.” (15)


Dasein’s issue of openness: being-and-becoming [5]


Whether one wishes to understand themselves in Heideggerian terms or not, such choices of self-understanding remain fundamental choices that Dasein must contend with at every step of its being-and-becoming a someone. The issue of Being (a someone) is one of open possibilities of (self-)understanding and interpretation based on our response to the questions of being-and-becoming we contend with.


To explore this feature of open possibilities of (self-)understanding further, let’s examine Dasein’s differences with non-Dasein entities, such as stones or birds. Non-Dasein entities do not have questions to contend with, lives to lead, identities to form – their being is not at issue. The non-conscious variety of non-Dasein entities, like stones, do not have a Being. The conscious non-human variety of non-Dasein entities, such as birds, have a Being but are limited in the openess of their Being given they live in instinct loops, determined by purely biological imperatives (such self-preservation and reproduction). Whilst Daseins have undoubtedly inherited a share of biological imperatives, as the ontology of the phylogenetic tree demonstrates, such contemporary biological understandings of ourselves do not undermine the general distinguishing framework of Daseins and non-Daseins [6]. While this understanding may expose the anthropocentric audacity in which we have often regarded ourselves, it is still an act of understanding and interpretation of biological ontologies - that is, the type of interpretation of ourselves as biological organisms - that determines what these ontologies mean for and to Dasein [7]. The integral distinction between a Dasein and non-Dasein here however is that there is a choice over what things meaningfully entail for who a Dasein thinks they are and will become [8]. Dasein can determine what any given socio-psycho-neuro-biological ontological understandings of itself means for who it is - its interpretation is in not determined by these types of understandings. In this sense, a Dasein’s (self-)understandings and interpretations can be called into question.


Thus, the issue of Being for Dasein can be more explicitly understood as an issue of openness, given the many possible self-understandings, and their entailed interpretations, one can adopt between themselves, others and the world [9]. Whether one likes this radical openness or not, this is the nature of identity formation, understanding and the interpretation (i.e. hermeneutics) Dasein bears. Another account for this is that the kind of reflexive self-consciousness we possess is always wide open, malleable and consequential for ourselves. This issue of openness has a significant bearing on what Dasein perceives as possible for itself in relation to who it might become-and-be, and what one might perceive, how one might interact, become and be in the world [10]. In this sense, “Dasein is its possibility” (BT, 42). Or as Heidegger scholar Polt puts it, “I have to find purpose myself by choosing some possible way of existing” (78).



Dasein as Possibility: Being-ahead-of-itself


This issue of openness discloses potential possibilities of being-and-becoming. Daseins’ contending with its unique range of projected possibilities, in response to the aforementioned issues-of-Being, is termed 'Being-ahead-of-itself.


“Da-sein is the possibility of being free for its ownmost potentiality of being [(BT, 29: 144)]. [A]ny Dasein has, as Dasein, already projected itself; and as long as it is, Dasein always has understood itself and always will understand itself in terms of possibilities… As projecting, understanding is the kind of Being of Dasein in which it is its possibilities as possibilities [(BT, 31: 185)]. Interpretation is not the acknowledgement of what has been understood, but rather the development of pos­sibilities projected in understanding [(BT 32: 148)]".

Dasein’s ability to question and answer its Being produces a process of refining and ratifying self-understandings and interpretation, which in turn constantly closes and discloses possibilities of its (being-and-)becoming. This capacity of understanding as the basis in which Dasein can project itself into possible futures is accordingly termed ‘projective understanding’ by Mulhall (1996, 83-88) [11]. Dasein is therefore not just what it is currently, but what it could be, what it can become as a being of possibility via its projective-understanding [12]. In this sense, Dasein is, temporally 'ahead of itself'. In projective understanding, Being is adjoined by its relation to Time [13].


However, there are limits to projective understandings, and the possibilities they disclose. Possibilities, understandings, and projective understandings are always incomplete and constrained. Dasein is only ahead-of-itself to the extent in which it can understand its past and present, and to the extent of the possibilities its past and present allows for. Given this, Dasein is not a creature of pure possibility but a Being of finitude, forced to make choices within certain confines of its past and present circumstances. Heidegger identifies these confines by acknowledging Dasein as being already in the world, among others. From here he begins to establish a basis in which it might overcome those confines - the following section will explore this, and part III of this series will build on this overcoming with the aid of angst.



Dasein is always already somewhere (and therefore not pure possibility): Being-already-in-the-world alongside-others

“Whatever I make of myself, I cannot radically disengage myself from the world – so I will have to exist on the basis of what I already am. This feature of my Being is my […] Being-already-in-the-world” (Polt, 79)

As previously mentioned, Dasein is roughly translated as “there-Being”, and “theresignifies that it is always already situated somewhere. As banal as this might sound, Heidegger’s project is to bring rigorous philosophical analysis to the enveloping everyday conditional constraints in which Dasein exists and begins to philosophise from - refer back to footnotes 1 & 3 for details. The “there” in which we are situated accounts for the greater historical context, epistemic paradigm, and cultural-codes we find ourselves enmeshed within. Hence Dasein is Being already-in-the-world. In addition to this, Dasein is also sensitive to the social contingencies with whom it is situated alongside, and thus is also a Being-in-the-world alongside other Daseins. These aspects of Dasein's cultural and social constraints place parameters on the range of possible understandings and interpretations, and thus the projected possibilities of Dasein. Hence Dasein is not pure possibility but a creature of cultural and social contingencies. Or in Heideggerian-speak, a Being-in-the-world alongside others. Thus the constrains of being-and-becoming, the posing and posers of questioning Being, the scope of (self-)understanding, possibilities and projective-understandings are limited. Such limits when unacknowledged and enacted upon lead Dasein to limited, or misguided understanding of itself and the world. This is a mode of Being Heidegger calls the inauthenticity of the average-everydayness.



In part III, we will come to understand the ways in which Dasein is constrained by its Being-already-in-the-world alongside-others. This will then be brought up against the mood of angst, and its significance in acknowledging the existential constraints of Dasein, and it's overcoming them through an authentic mode of being. This will involve exploring the various constraining aspects of inauthentic average everydayness – what Heidegger identifies our state of ‘fallenness’. This situatedness of its Being-in-the-world (termed ‘facticity), and the determining social-structures of Being-alongside-others (termed ‘the They) will be explored. Finally, the nature of moods - most specifically that of angst - will be discussed in relation to its capacity reveal these constraints of inauthenticity, and how it can offer an alternatively authentic mode of being.



 


Summary:


Dasein is at issue with being in that it must thoughtfully content with who it will be and who it might become. In doing so, it must come to an understanding of itself, others and the world. However, the main issue of Being is that there is a radical openness to understanding and interpretation - these are far more fragile and culturally contingent than we would like to believe in respect to the existentiell openness we face. This openness informs Dasein of some set of possibilities of its Being-and-Becoming over others - I can very easily become someone else with a different kind of (self-)understanding. However, Dasein is not pure possibility. Rather it's understanding is often incomplete and constrained, and so to are its possibilities. These aspects of its constraints are apart of Dasein's (inauthentic) average everyday mode of existence, as a Being already-in-the-world alongside-others. However, as we will see in part III, this average everyday existence however can be shattered by angst and guide Dasein towards an authentic mode of existence.



 


Footnotes:

[1] Polt, who has written the most lucid and comprehensive companion text to Heidegger’s B&T I have read yet, describes Being and Time as “the explication of our own way of Being”. There are two implied intentions to Polt’s description of Being and Time, and what Hediegger’s terminology offers: firstly, this text elucidates Being’s general (hermeneutic-) phenomenological structures that human-beings live within and interpret (identifying Dasein in this broader sense is the existential); and secondly, this understanding can guide us to our own individually authentic way of existing (identifying Dasein in the more particular individual’s instance as existentiell). For those curious to the overall intentions of Being and Time: Heidegger introduces us to BT’s with reference to zeno’s paradox regarding the generation of new knowledge. To bring about a progressive understanding of Ontology, Heidegger wants to turn to the enquirers of ontology: ourselves.

“Any enquiry is an enquiry about something. This means, first, that it has a direction or orientation of some sort, however provisional, from the outset; without some prior conception about what is sought, questioning could not so much as begin” (Mulhall, 12) Any point of inquiry requires some prior understanding, and such points are ourselves, and ourselves must be sufficiently understood – inquiry “must reflect, be understood as inflections of, the Being of the enquirer” (ibid). Hence, to understand ontology as a whole, we must consult the act of inquiring into ontology, thus he begins with ourselves (the ontic starting position). This approach to ontology is largely in opposition to Descartes starting basis from a false-notion that engagement in rationality is its own objective, stable starting point of inquiry. Heidegger is thus rejecting a presuppositionless starting point of philosophizing, and intends to begin inquiry from a new position: (hermeneutical) phenomenology. Hence Heidegger returns to the average everdayness of being, which will be touched upon in part II, and further explored in part III in relation to inauthenticity and angst. [2] “[…] in order to discover the meaning of Being in general, we are going to look at our own way of Being, Dasein’s way of Being. We can tentatively say that what is distinctive about Dasein is the way it exists, the way it is enmeshed in its world, its “there” (29, Polt).

[3] Heidegger wants to over-turn all prior Philosophical understandings of human-beings (as “souls”,” spirit”, or “consciousness”) and explore something more fundamental about our everyday existences than the concepts of human-beings modelled across the fields of anthropology, sociology and psychology. Hence, he rebrands all notions of ourselves, and creates the concept of Dasein. This concept is free from misleading implications, providing a fresh-start to re-introduce ourselves to ourselves, and bring about new insights. This helps to disclose what is most fundamental to the everyday averageness of being and the meaning of our experience as beings. This reconceptualising is game-changing because it is not grounded in a complex metaphysic (such as Heidegger’s addressed predecessors Aristotle, Descartes and Kant) but informed by average everyday experience. This is the basis Heidegger’s unique investigation, using hermeneutical phenomenological methods to understand our human existences beyond the other ontological understandings of ourselves.

[4] Forging in both the sense of shaping and becoming, and to produce intimations via personae.

[5] Terming this an issue of openness is my own added term. This serves as a greater access point for the overall purposes and trajectory of my argument regarding the potent reframing device of angst. This also follows nicely into our later explored terms for part III – identified as sources of inauthenticity, termed ‘thrownness’, ‘fallenness’, ‘facticity’ and ‘the-they’ – which capture the cultural and cognitive contingencies in which we (inauthentically) appropriate our understandings and interpretations of ourselves, others and the world. [6] Ontology: “a set of concepts and categories in a subject area or domain that shows their properties and relations between them.” (Oxford Languages) [7] For more on the basis of understanding and interpretation, see work in the field of hermeneutics. [8].1 An example of the openness of interpretation in relation to self-understanding might be a biological self-understanding. This offers a biological ontology that interprets us as belonging to the category of the genus Homo, as a species of Homo-Sapien. This ontological understanding ascribes us as a species that perpetuates itself as a string of genes guided by the biological imperatives of reproduction. However, this is open to question us in the sense that we can take issue with this interpretation of Being. We can choose what this interpretation entails for ourselves and the lives we can lead – this may be one ontological basis for understanding ourselves, but it need not determine our Being. Meanwhile, as far as we know, non-human animals do not question such imperatives. A funny portrayal of non-Dasein consciousness, which operates purely at the level of biological imperatives, can be seen in the (definitely-not-for) children’s show Adventure Time link here. To grasp the full extent to which certain ontological understandings can entail extreme ontological (mis-)understandings, Dawkins’ Selfish Gene is one instance of a very one-dimensional biological self-understanding. The consequences of his narrow and reductive understanding of Being are entertainingly critiqued in Midgley’s Science and Poetry and Lent’s The Web of Meaning (121-147). [8].2 As a side thought, I find this point strikingly akin to Hume’s guillotine. This points out a value-fact fallacy that claims any propositions that can tell me what ‘is the case’ cannot logically entail what ‘ought to be the case’. To me, this makes explicit the non-linear relationship between being a creature with an existential self-understanding such as those given to us by Heidegger (and many others like Camus and De Beauvoir) and a knowledge-seeking creature with scientific methods as its means. With credit to Dawkin’s Selfish-Gene, he does acknowledge this guillotine in that he states this genetic understanding should not encourage selfishness. For an alternative, and more linear understanding of the relation between facts and values posed by Hume’s guillotine, Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape is a fascinating denial of this fallacy in relation to human existence, and what it means to live a ‘good’ life.

[9] To get clear on the use of the terms ‘understanding’ and ‘interpretation’, Heidegger builds his theory of language and thought through an inter-related structuring of the concepts of understanding, interpretation and assertion/statement. Given the scope of this series, I will take of his definition of interpretation at a basic level in relation to possibilities to avoid getting to caught in the weeds of Heidegger’s relentlessly unique system of neologisms: “Interpretation is not the acknowledgement of what has been understood, but rather the development of pos­sibilities projected in understanding” (BT 32: 148).

Essentially, interpretations are grounded in understanding, which in turn develops our projected understanding of possibilities. For a more contemporary model of this process of human understanding and interpretation, see also hermeneutic circle. For more from the source itself, see sections 31, 32 and 33 of Being and Time.

[10] To return to the biological understanding as an example, if Dasein were to takes its biological ontology seriously enough then the meaning of Being would be merely that possibilities that would maximise chances for the most successful reproductive partner for the fittest and healthiest offspring, to gather the most resources, and compete as best one can. It is no doubt that these are genuine possibilities for everyone, but many do not aspire to these as the meaning of Being. To not want children and not wish to constantly maximise resources at the cost of all other things, and prefer instead to read philosophy or listen to music, would otherwise be thought of as frivolous and redundant resources in the linear-logic of reductive biological understandings. Less reductive evolutionary understandings are now being termed extended evolutionary synthesis. [11] Although not of concern to this series, projective understandings also extend to Dasein’s relation to objects in its environment, as well as itself. For more, see Heidegger’s terms ‘ready-at-hand’ and ‘present-to-hand’.

[12] The issue openness of understanding and interpretation, and its dynamic relation to future possibilities is bears resemblance to what STEM-fields term second-order chaos (G. Lakhwani). Note that Lakhwani refers to the psycho-analytical term of “self-fulling prophecy” as the opposite of second-order chaos on the assumption that self-fulfilling prophecies respond correspondingly to their predictions (i.e. what behaviour is predicted is exactly what behaviour takes place in response to that initial prediction),whereas second-order chaos does not respond in exact correspondence with its prediction (i.e. what behaviour is predicted causes a different behavioural response to that initial prediction). Where self-fulfilling refers to a relation to the self, there is also the broader intra-social term of second-order chaos termed the “Pygmalion effect” which accounts for the relation between the self and others. For more on this dynamic relationship of thought, meaning and the world’s responses (as possibility), see Freya Matthew’s Invitation to Ontopoetics.

[13] Later leading to Heidegger’s later proclamation that Being is the horizon of time.



 


References:


Martin Heidegger's Being and Time (1962)


Stephen Mulhall’s Heidegger and Being and Time (1996)


Richard Polt’s Heidegger: An Introduction (1999)


John Richardson’s Heidegger (2012)





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