Thursday, October 26, 2006

¶2. The Formal Structure of the Question of Being

In the second section of the Introduction to Being and Time, Heidegger addresses the nature of the question as question. By doing so he is trying to show how the "question of being" has a particular character that it does not share with other inquiries (24/H5). Every question is a seeking and every seeking is "guided beforehand by what is sought." Thus, every question is about something, but it is also a questioning of that something which, at present, remains indeterminate. Beyond this questioning we have the goal of the questioning: "that which is to be found in the asking" (Ibid). When we ask a question in an explicit way, as we are in the question of being, the question itself does not become transparent until we become clear about these different aspects of the question as question.

As something that must be guided before, the question of being must start from the fact that "being must already be available to us in some way" (25/H5). In fact, this understanding of being is necessary for even our most everyday activities within the world--opening doors, driving cars, eating food, etc. We cannot currently say that we "know" what being means, even if we use the copula (is) every day in various circumstances (see ¶1). Furthermore, "[w]e do not even know the horizon in terms of which that meaning is to be grasped and fixed" (Ibid), hence we do not even know where to start. However, we must realize that this understanding of being, however vague and imprecise, is a fact.

The indefiniteness of our understanding of being--that we use it and understand it every day but we cannot make it transparent--is itself a positive phenomena that we need to account for. But before we can understand how it is we are to clarify this common understanding of being, we need to examine the historical understandings of being as a concept. By doing so, we can gain a preliminary understanding of what our common understanding of being is; we can also locate possible obscurations that may hinder a more illuminated understanding. We may find that our average understanding of being is partially informed by various theories and opinions that simultaneously illuminate and obscure our common understanding. It will be necessary to make these theories explicit.

"What is asked about" in our inquiry is being--"that which determines entities as entities, that on the basis of which entities are already understood, however we may discuss them in detail" (25-26/H6). Here Heidegger brings in the ontological difference (taken from Aristotle), which should be quoted in full:

The being of entities 'is' not itself an entity. If we are to understand the problem of being, our first philosophical step not 'telling a story'--that is to say, in not defining entities as entities by tracing them back in their origin to some other entities, as if being had the character of some possible entity. Hence being, as that which is asked about, must be exhibited in a way of its own, essentially different from the way in which entities are discovered. (26/H6)
Because of this, "what is to be found out by the asking"--the meaning of being--must be seen on its own, "essentially contrasting with the concepts in which entities acquire their determinate signification" (Ibid). Being, as that which "determines entities as entities," cannot itself be an entity as, for every entity we can name, the question of its being still remains. Even modern discussions of 'necessary' and 'contingent' beings (as they relate to God or mathematical propositions) still pass over this point--the being of beings, whether they are necessary or contingent, has not been addressed but merely assumed (see ¶1).

Since it is being that we are asking about and being is understood as the "being of entities," we must initially turn to entities; entities are "what [are] interrogated" (Ibid). But if we are able to use beings as our basis for interrogating being, then it must be the case that beings are accessible to us "as they are in themselves." Thus, in asking about being, we must understand how it is that we access beings. But this raises a question: what being are we to interrogate, when everything (or every thing) that we speak of is a being? In looking at every being, there is one that has priority: Dasein, that which each of us is.

Looking at something, understanding and conceiving it, choosing, access to it--all these ways of behaving are constitutive for our inquiry, and therefore are modes of being for those particular entities which we, the inquirers, are ourselves. Thus to work out the question of being adequately, we must make an entity--the inquirer--transparent in his own being. The very asking of this question is an entity's mode of being; and as such it gets its essential character from what is inquired about--namely, being. (27/H7)
It might be immediately objected that this approach is circular: we are trying to understand an entity in its being so that we can "formulate" the question of being? This supposed circularity is inescapable when we are trying to find "first principles," but the charge is equally groundless. Heidegger has two reasons for making this assertion: first, it must be accepted that "first principles" will be in effect in any endeavor we make, so we cannot even raise the question of their meaning without invoking them (in this he is quite close to Kant). Second, as argued in the first section, our understanding of being is currently deficient and, hence, cannot be used circularly. He succinctly states this:
One can determine the nature of entities in their being without necessarily having the explicit concept of the meaning of being at one's disposal. Otherwise there could have been no ontological knowledge heretofore... The 'presupposing' of being has rather the character of taking a look at it beforehand, so that in the light of it the entities presented to us get provisionally articulated in their being. (27/H7-8)
An understanding of being, no matter how provisional, is a positive constituent of Dasein's being as seen in the fact that Dasein is that being that intelligibly speaks of being. Thus, there is no "circular argument" in raising the question of being in this way: we are not assuming a concept of being and then proving it by examining Dasein; rather, we are "laying bare the grounds for [answering the question about the meaning of being] and exhibiting them" (28/H8), which ground is that being that understands being. To quickly restate the argument: Dasein is that being that has an understanding of the meaning of being, hence it is important to understand how that being comes to this understanding so that we can unearth the grounds on which its understanding rest.

We may speak of our questioning of the meaning of being as a "'relatedness backward or forward' which what we are asking about (being) bears to the inquiry itself as a mode of being of an entity [Dasein]" (Ibid). We relate "back" by examining our currently vague understanding of being; we relate "forward" by interrogating a being in its being (Dasein) in order to further clarify our current understanding. We have already seen this in Heidegger's exposition of the mode of being of questioning: it is constituted by "what is asked about," "that which is interrogated," and "that which is to be found out by the interrogation." Not only does this mode of being have an explicitly temporal character, but it also exemplifies an intentional character that will later be seen in Dasein's "care structure" (see Part I Chapter VI). But we have yet to make explicit Dasein's special relation to the question of being--why Dasein itself has a privileged position in our interrogation--though we have already spoken about it in terms of Dasein's understanding of being.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you. This was helpful - I hope.

7:09 AM  

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