Presencing and Essencing
Man's mode of being is being-in-the-world. In its essence, this means that man is related to beings and being; not only that, but man is essentially (not contingently) related to beings/being. In Being and Time, Heidegger discusses many equiprimordial characteristics that make up man's being-in-the-world, as exemplified in the care-structure. The German term for equiprimordial is gleichursprünglich, literally translated as "equally primordial." Moving away from the tendency for 'simplicity' in earlier philosophies, Heidegger is proposing (or bringing to light) multiple grounds for man's being, each of which is equally essential in Dasein's ontological constitution.
The phenomenon of the equiprimordiality of constitutive items has often been disregarded in ontology, because of a methodologically unrestrained tendency to derive everything and anything from some simple 'primal ground'.I'd like to begin with the question of presencing, or making present. As a being-within-the-world, I am at or exist as a 'here' (Da-sein, "being-here"). It is by virtue of my being a 'here' that there can be a 'yonder' or a 'there.' Within so-called 'objective' space, as constituted by absolute coordinates, there cannot be a 'there' as there are no privileged points in space; there are only objective distances between points in homogenous space. But with Dasein, as the being that is concerned with being, including its own being, there is a privileged place that is Dasein's 'there.' Every being is a certain direction and distance from a given Dasein: (pointing) "It's that way (from here)," "When you reach the corner take a right (your right)," etc. Even in the case of objectified space--i.e. North, East, West, South, 30° Latitude, 145° Longitude, coordinates (3, -5)--there is still a reference to Dasein, but in a modified sense: each objectified spatiality is enveloped within Dasein's concern (Dasein's world) and each is, in some sense, arbitrary in their measurements. Because of this, they cannot be fundamental.
Being and Time, 170/H131.
Dasein's spatiality is dominated by presencing, or by making beings present in its concern in the world. This making present has little to do with objective space, as that which is 10 feet away--say an approaching acquaintance--is 'closer' in Dasein's world than the glasses through which they are looking. One other way of putting it is that the acquaintance appears, is present in Dasein's concern, while the glasses are not--they are that through which I see my friend, they are not what I see. This also applies to beings that are not in sight, according to the intentionality of Dasein's activities: when I am concerned with my wife, though she is out of sight, she is more present to me than the objects in my cubicle. It is because she can be so present that I am 'in my own little world' or that I 'just didn't see' my co-worker enter my cubicle, even though they were in my visual field. When I am 'somewhere else' I am no longer actively engaged with that which is objectively closer and, thus, I do not 'see' such things, they are 'far from my mind.'1
Heidegger's later thought added an element to this notion of presencing: that every presencing is also a non-presencing. Using his later terminology, every uncovering of entities is also a covering of entities. One example I've been toying with recently is a baseball bat: when I am in a baseball game, I presence the baseball bat in a particular way. Within that context, it is something that I use to hit the ball, it is a piece of equipment used in-order-to do something else. This understanding is further embedded in the game of baseball: the purpose of hitting the ball is to give myself enough time to run bases in-order-to eventually get to home base in-order-to score a point for my team. Included in this context are also other readily understood rules: I cannot hit other players with the bat, I can only use regulated bats, etc. The bat's meaning appears in this context: because of the rules, constraints, and intended purposes inherent in the game of baseball, the bat is presenced in a certain way.
When you are at the batter's box, the bat has a peculiar presence: you can feel it in your hands, but it is not the object of concern. What is most salient is the pitcher's movements that indicate he is about to pitch and then the movement of the ball. At that point one's muscular gestalts, developed through hours upon hours of practice, kick in as you swing at the ball. Throughout this scenario the bat doesn't really appear, it isn't present in itself. In fact, you could just as well use another bat with the same general physical composition, so the bat in its particularity is inconsequential and does not need to appear. Instead, the bat is absorbed into the context that includes myself, the pitcher, the ball, and the context. Quoting Heidegger:
Equipment can genuinely show itself only in dealings cut to its own measure (hammering with a hammer, for example); but in such dealings an entity of this kind is not grasped thematically as an occurring Thing [merely objectively present], nor is the equipment-structure known as such even in the using... In dealings such as this, where something is put to use, our concern subordinates itself to the "in-order-to" which is constitutive for the equipment we are employing at the time; the less we just stare at the hammer-Thing, and the more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become, and the more unveiledly is it encountered as that which it is--as equipment. The hammering itself uncovers the specific 'manipulability' of the hammer.Within a museum context, by contrast, the bat is allowed to appear in its singularity, in itself. Rather than being seen as something used in-order-to do something else (and hence not really being 'seen' at all), I notice the bat itself: I see its imperfections, the wood's grain, the way the lighting in the museum plays off its polished surface, perhaps those features that differentiate it from other bats. Within this context there are also various practices/rules: the bat is not seen, for example, as something that I can pick up and start hitting things with, which would cause screams of outrage from patrons and owners. Furthermore, in this case the bat is seen differently than the bats I could find at any sporting goods store: it has a history that is tied to various individuals and events that make it Latham's bat, it is Latham's bat. This is the same reason why we value originals in artwork: the copy, even the perfect copy, lacks a historical relation such as being the object where the moment of creation came to fruition (there are stark phenomenological differences between creation and copying).
Being and Time 98/H69.
In understanding the bat as something used to hit a ball, or understanding the bat within the baseball game context, some aspects of the bat come to presence (i.e. its utility) while others are covered over (i.e. its singularity). Beyond the above examples, other aspects of the bat are also covered over, like its utility as a weapon to protect oneself against an intruder, or as a door stop, or as a hammer, or as a trophy (which is slightly different than as a museum piece), or any other possibly limitless ways. In relation to the first case, when my life is threatened the bat has a particular salience as a weapon that is missing when I am engrossed in trying to hit the pitch. Each presencing of the bat as something in particular does reveal the being of the bat, but each also covers over other aspects, giving us an indeterminable excess of meaning that any given articulation cannot capture. This is not due to ignorance or the simple lack of information, but it is an essential aspect of every appearing/presencing.
Inherent in the above is another aspect of presencing: its circumspective character. The bat appears as an object with which to hit baseballs only within the context of the game of baseball. Without the rules, regulations, and practices inherent in the game, the baseball would lose some of its content through, Heidegger would argue, covering up aspects of its being that the context does not bring out. Another cogent example used by John Haugeland, in his Having Thought: Essays in the Metaphysics of Mind, is a Rook. Divorced from the game of chess, with its inherent rules and objectives, a Rook loses much of the meaning (or being) that it had within the game. While we may still ascribe certain movements to the Rook on a coordinate plane that mimic those found in an actual chess game, we lose other aspects of the Rook in the process: that it is useful for certain purposes and strategies, that in certain circumstances it is either wise or unwise to use the Rook, that it is weaker against some chess pieces, etc. (Wikipedia has an entry on Rooks, for those of us who are chess challenged, that mentions such matters). The Rook and bat, then, gain meaning depending on the context in which they are found. This requires a different kind of presencing.
To better illustrate this, consider a common literary point: inherent in every story is a context which makes the story intelligible, normally called the plot. The plot is that which unifies the otherwise disparate events within the story. These disparate events can occur in multiple stories and in various orders: the protagonist could (1) fall in love with the girl, (2) lose her to the antagonist, (3) valiantly fight to save her, and then (4) marry her; similarly, the protagonist could (2) lose the girl to the antagonist, (1) fall in love with her (3) in the process of valiantly saving her, and (4) then marry her; or the protagonist could (4) marry her, (2) lose her to the antagonist, (3) valiantly fight to save her, and then (1) fall in love with her; or the protagonist could (3) valiantly save the girl, (1) fall in love with her, (4) marry her, and then (2) lose her to the antagonist. What the plot does is organize these disparate events and (hopefully) connect them into a whole; it makes them coherent. Furthermore, it makes salient specific aspects of each event that are important for the movement of the plot itself, such as the personality quirks of those involved, how the protagonist and the girl fall in love, etc. What features are made salient within the individual telling are incredibly important, but are not determined or contained within the general events themselves.
This is what is needed in our intelligible actions: we need to gather together disparate beings according to certain purposes and motivations to make a context wherein they can become relevantly intelligible. This is Heidegger's "circumspection," or Umsicht ("looking-about"). By being receptive (or, to use another Heideggerian term, open) to what is needed in each circumstance, including how to presence beings and how to best respond to the contingencies of the situation as it unfolds, we come to understand beings in their essence. Perhaps the better way to put it is that we essence (as a verb) beings by bringing (or presencing) them into the proper contexts, which include various norms, intentions, and motivations, that make them meaningful. It is not that we somehow find essences 'out there in the world,' but we bring beings into their essence by presencing them in a context.
As a final point, this aptly indicates one of the Heideggerian problems with supposed 'objectivity'--a thing's essence, that which it is, is not found in a thing-in-itself completely separated from other beings. Rather, a thing's essence is at least partially constituted by its relations with other beings and intentions. This also requires a being that can presence the disparate beings and intentions into a context. Furthermore, every presencing simultaneously entails an excess that is covered over. Thus, every presencing will essentially be incomplete and cannot fully describe the being in question. This also implies that there is no privileged way to presence beings, whether it be through science or literature. Hence, objectivity itself becomes problematic, if not impossible, as it is traditionally understood.
- See, for example, Arian Mack and Irvin Rock, Inattentional Blindness (London: MIT Press, 1998); Simons, D.J., and C.F. Chabris, "Gorillas in Our Midst: Sustained Inattentional Blindness for Dynamic Events," Perception 28 (1999), 1059-1074; Lachter, Joe, Eric Ruthruff, and Kenneth I. Forster, "Forty-Five Year After Broadbent (1958): Still No Identification Without Attention," Psychological Review 111/4 (2004), 880-913; Susan Hurley, Consciousness in Action (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998); Alva Noë, Action in Perception; Steven B. Most, Brian J. Scholl, Daniel J. Simons, and Erin R. Clifford, "What You See Is What You Set: Sustained Inattentional Blindness and the Capture of Awareness," Psychological Review 112/1 (2005), 237. Maurice Merleau-Ponty argued for this when he claimed that we "polarize the world," bringing out those aspects of the environment that we set ourselves to see (see Phenomenology of Perception, Colin Smith, trans. (London and New York: Routledge & Keagan Paul, 1958), 129). Heidegger makes a similar claim with his discussion of "moods" (Stimmung) and "state-of-mind" (Befindlichkeit); see Being and Time, 29-31, 172-188 (H134-148) and The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, William McNeill and Nicholas Walker, trans. (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995), 78-167.
Labels: Later Heidegger