¶4. The Ontical Priority of the Question of Being
Dasein is peculiar in that Dasein is that being that, “in its very being, that being is an issue for it” (32/H12). This implies that Dasein has a particular relationship with being that relationship is itself Dasein’s being; to use Heidegger’s later language, Dasein’s being is constituted by care, that it cares about its being. Lastly, this means that Dasein understands its being in a particular way and that this “[u]nderstanding of being is itself a definite characteristic of Dasein’s being. Dasein is ontically distinctive in that it is ontological” (Ibid). Let me restate this more succinctly: ontically, Dasein has priority because it is that being whose being is an issue for it; ontologically, Dasein has priority because this very ‘being an issue for it’ is an ontological (i.e. not merely ontic) mode of its being. But if we understood “ontology” in the way it is traditionally understood—as “that theoretical inquiry which is explicitly devoted to the meaning of entities”—then Dasein’s being and its understanding of that being must be “pre-ontological,” or pre-theoretical (Ibid). These two modes of being are what define Dasein as “being in such a way that one has an understanding of being” (Ibid).
That towards which Dasein directs itself in its being we will call “existence” [Existenz], which later will be understood as Dasein’s futural temporal mode of being—projection. Because of this, Dasein understands itself “in terms of a possibility of itself: to be itself or not itself” (33/H12). The possibility of not being itself is Dasein’s inauthentic (uneigentlich) mode of existing—where one’s possibilities are defined by what one (das Man) does and are not “one’s own” (eigen).1 The possibility of being itself is Dasein’s authentic (eigentlich) mode of existing—where one’s possibilities are taken up as one’s own. This will be exemplified, within B&T, in the discussion of death which is “that possibility which is one’s ownmost [eigenste]” (294/H250). Death is an example of that which is necessarily Dasein’s own, it cannot be ‘shared’ by das Man, though even this ownness is possible only on the background of Dasein’s being-in-the-world and, hence, is not “subjective” in the usual sense; something ‘beyond’ Dasein’s ‘inner’ world is essential to the possibility of authenticity. Dasein’s concrete (ontic) understanding of itself will be termed “existentiell [existenziell]”—the specific modes of being that Dasein can enact—while the (ontological) understanding about the “structures” that make Dasein’s ontic being possible—that allows Dasein to be in a particular way—will be termed “existential [existenzial]” (33/H13). It is through an examination of Dasein’s ontic (existentiell) being that its fundamental ontological (existential) structures will be made transparent. It should be restated, however, that this understanding must move within an understanding of being, not in terms of some ‘inner’ essence, like Jean-Paul Sartre’s appropriation of Heidegger’s thought.
Dasein’s understanding of being essentially entails 1) “an understanding of something like a ‘world’” and 2) “the understanding of the being of those entities which become accessible within the world” (Ibid). The examination of being-in-the-world that will happen later in this work is an attempt to bring to light these two entailments: of how “world” and “entities” are co-necessary in man’s essential relationship and understanding of being. As said earlier (see ¶3), B&T fails in moving beyond this analysis to being itself—it is ultimately too concerned with discussing how beings appear—but a proper grasp of the being of beings is needed before we can understand being itself.
With the above we have made clearer Dasein’s ontical and ontological priority in the question of being. “Therefore fundamental ontology, from which alone all other ontologies can take their rise, must be sought in the existential analytic of Dasein” (34/H13). To restate, Dasein has three levels of priority: ontically, Dasein is that being whose being is an issue for it and thus “has the determinate character of existence,” of possibility (Ibid). Ontologically, Dasein’s “existence is…determinative for [its being]” (Ibid); you cannot separate Dasein’s ‘essence’ from its ‘existence,’ nor should one even accept the duality.2 In fact, Heidegger will argue that the traditional categories of ‘essence’ and ‘existence’ are themselves ontologically inadequate because they are ontic categories that continue to hold force because of the historical forgetting of the question of being—we have become entrenched in one mode of disclosure. Lastly, what might be called a methodological priority, Dasein, because of its understanding of beings/being, is the “ontico-ontological condition for the possibility of all ontologies” (Ibid). Ontology, as an articulation of being, requires a being with Dasein’s constitution, hence Dasein has methodological priority—it must be understood before we can better understand being.
Dasein’s relationship to entities has not been ignored even within more traditional ontologies, and Heidegger quotes Aristotle to that effect: “Man’s soul is, in a certain way, entities.”3 Similarly, Thomas Aquinas saw the priority of Dasein (the “soul”) as “an entity which…is properly suited to ‘come together with’ entities of any sort whatever” (Ibid).4 Contrary to many existential and so-called postmodern approaches, Heidegger is quick to point out that “[t]his priority has obviously nothing in common with a vicious subjectivizing of the totality of entities” (34/H14). This is due to Dasein’s intentional character and the transcendence of beings: that beings (including Dasein) necessarily escape any way we bring them to light; beings cannot be made completely transparent. The later Heidegger will refer to this as the essential belonging together of man and being, the essential belonging together of subject and object, which belonging together necessarily recasts those categories in a non-traditional way that has not yet become transparent. This warrants Heidegger’s statement: “Dasein then [in ¶2, as the being who’s questioning is an ontic mode of its being] revealed itself as that entity which must first be worked out in an ontologically adequate manner, if the inquiry [about the meaning of being] is to become a transparent one” (35/H14).
Heidegger ends this section with a good summary of Dasein’s priority:
If to interpret the meaning of being becomes our task, Dasein is not only the primary entity to be interrogated; it is also that entity which already comports itself, in its being, towards what we are asking about when we ask this question. But in that case the question of being is nothing other than the radicalization of an essential tendency-of-being which belongs to Dasein itself—the pre-ontological understanding of being. (35/H14-15)Dasein already comports understandingly with being; it is always already in a relationship with being, which relationship is a positive constituent of Dasein’s being. What fundamental ontology attempts to do is to address this relationship in a more radical—i.e. more fundamental—way than our everyday understanding. But before we can do that we must start with Dasein’s everyday (inauthentic) mode of being with beings, after which we will be in a position to better understand Dasein’s authentic mode of being with beings.5
- M&R translate das Man as “the ‘they,’” which has a wrong connotation, as in us vs. them. In German one says, “Wie spricht man…” (How does one say…), or, “Wie tun man…” (How does one do…), which does not translate as well into, “How do they say…,” and, “How do they do…”
- Nor should we think of pairing existence and essence with the ontological and ontic. Dasein’s essence is its existence; one is not derived from the other, nor does one have priority over the other. Furthermore, Dasein’s ontic facticity is not its essence, if we understand essence as the possession of the necessary and sufficient properties that make something what it is. The substance/property metaphysic on which most of our discussions of essence and existence rests subsists on an all-too-limited temporal priority—the present. Dasein, as an essentially temporal being, cannot be understood in terms of its pure presence in an abstract atemporal space (nature at an instant). This point will be accentuated throughout B&T.
- De Anima Γ 8 431 b 21. Richard McKeon translates it as “the soul is in a way all existing things” (“De Anima,” Richard McKeon, trans., in The Basic Works of Aristotle (New York: Random House, 1941), 595).
- Questiones de Veritate, q. I, a 1 c.
- For Heidegger, fundamental ontology and authenticity are intimately tied together. Our inauthentic relation with being remains inadequate due to its fallenness in das Man: my relation with being is mediated and delimited by ‘what one does’ and does not have the clarity that our phronetic grasp of the situation has (see ¶60). But when one has a phronetic grasp of the situation, one is then in a position to see that the understanding of das Man is fundamentally ungrounded, that beings exceed any given articulation. It is this ungrounding—the ‘nothing’ on which man’s being-in-the-world rests—that will preoccupy Heidegger’s thoughts into his later works. See Hubert Dreyfus, “Can There Be a Better Source of Meaning than Everyday Practices? Reinterpreting Division I of Being and Time in the Light of Division II,” in Heidegger’s Being and Time: Critical Essays, Richard Polt, ed. (Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005), 141-154.