Heidegger's Being and Time -- Frontispiece & Introduction
“For manifestly you have been long aware of what you mean when you use the expression ‘being.’ We, however, who used to think we understood it, have now become perplexed.” --Plato’s Sophist, 244a:
Plato’s Sophist [244a]: [for a differing translation]
Stranger: But, friends, we will say, even in that way you would very clearly be saying that the two are one.
Theaetetus: You are perfectly right.
Stranger: Then since we are in perplexity, do you tell us plainly what you wish to designate when you say “being.” For it is clear that you have known this all along, whereas we formerly thought we knew, but are now perplexed. So first give us this information, that we may not think we understand what you say, when the exact opposite is the case.
–Plato, Sophist, in Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 12, trans. Harold N. Fowler (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann Ltd. 1921), 244a.
Plato’s Sophist, classically also known as On Being and classified as a logical dialogue that is often grouped with his Parmenides, Philebus, and Statesman, which are, along with Laws, his last writings, set aside from the others for embracing, what he describes in Philebus as those entering a “new path,” and “forging weapons of another make,” and collective reveal less dialogue, very little literary or metaphoric illustration, and demote Socrates’ role as lead speaker (his voice is the main one in Philebus; he is present but mostly silent in Sophist and Statesman, two dialogues wherein the ‘Stranger’ takes a more leading voice and, in the latter, Socrates becomes Elder Socrates with the entering into conversation of a Younger Socrates, presumably another person of the same name; Parmenides also features Young Socrates, presumably he himself at an earlier age; and is absent from Laws). In Statesman, Plato reports that his discussion in Sophist gave the “impression of tediousness experienced”—a fascinating reflection for its revelation of audience impact and strikes me as curiously paralleled in an inverted sense by Anselm’s comments in his Proslogion about the general reaction to his extensive, dense argumentation in Monologion: for Anselm, the density of the first work prompted the desire to create and creation of the latter book as a crystalline condensation of a single, simple ontological proof for God’s existence; for Plato, however, the critiques of tediousness of his earlier dialogue prompted his rebuke in the latter dialogue that chided the audience to seek the grasp of the forms no matter the length and complexity of the argumentation thus required. The difficult argument of the Sophist concerns “how can thought be of what is not?” The sophistic position equates (from a grammatical base) falsity and nonbeing, whereas Plato’s argument (from a more logical base) shows that “that which is not” is not indicating the opposite of “what is,” but instead something that is different from “what is”--i.e., [A≠B] ≠ [A is not]; instead, = [A is not-B], which means that A is different from B. In the selection that Heidegger quotes, the Stranger is speaking to Theatetus.
Heidegger responds to the quote thus:
“Do we in our time have an answer to the question of what we really mean by the word ‘being’? Not at all. So it is fitting that we should raise anew the question of the meaning of being. But are we nowadays even perplexed at our inability to understand the expression ‘being’? Not at all. So first of all we must awaken an understanding for the meaning of this question” (frontispiece).
Parallels: note the different types of parallels at work here, first, the stylistic or literary parallels Heidegger uses in the repetition of the idea of not knowing—from the quote to his first two questions, and again repeated in the opening lines of the Introduction’s first chapter—as well as the literal parallel of his “not at all” responses to both opening questions. There are also parallels at work between Plato’s Sophist and Heidegger’s Being and Time—both are works on the question of being; both are highly logical works, although their ‘logics’ operate on far more dispositional levels; both are countering sorts of sophistic thinking more concerned with winning arguments than with revealing the truth of being; both seek to genuinely grasp not just the answer of the question of being, but to reawaken our ability to hear being as a question; both are exceedingly challenging works, and have been derided by less than open audiences; both require and allow their works to begin and end in a degree of aporias, perplexity: opening by making the unquestioned be questioned, closing by refusing a simple declarative answer (in Heidegger’s case, also quite literally by Being and Time being an ultimately unfinished work). Heidegger demands the same thing as does the Stranger, the speaker of the lines from Plato’s Sophist: that we must be the beings who ask the question of Being, that we must seek to understand the question before we can proceed to seeking to understand its answer. The disposition by which we approach the question/texts is of greatest import (“This guiding look at being grows out of the average understanding of being in which we are always already involved and which ultimately belongs to the essential constitution of Dasein itself” (H.p.8)).
Perplexity (ηπορηκαμεν ‘perplexity,’ although more literally ‘without means or resource,’ to be at a loss, be in doubt, be puzzled, baffling (from αφοραω, ‘look away from all others in view,’ via απορεω, ‘to be at a loss, be puzzled, at an impasse’)), is what, for Socrates and Plato, indicated the beginning of knowledge—“this feeling—a sense of wonder—is perfectly proper to a philosopher: philosophy has no other foundation” (Plato, Theaetetus, 155d)—the turn to the philosophical disposition, embraced the idea of wisdom as a knowing what you do not know (Plato, Apology, 21d), and that “the unexamined life is not worth living …” (Ibid., 38a). Heidegger will seek to awaken our perplexity, and will do so throughout on a deeply affective level. Note, here, that what he will do first is to “awaken an understanding for the meaning of the question;” not an understanding of it, but for it. He will attenuate us to embody the proper disposition by which we can then seek to understand the question of Being.
The Question: what Heidegger asks us to raise anew is the question of the meaning of being. This specific phrasing is telling. The German, die Frage nach dem Sinn von Sein, can equally validly be translated as the question of the meaning of being as it can to question what it means to be. Translating das Sein as ‘being’ and as the infinitive ‘to be,’ the latter thus suggesting both command and action, is valuable to remind us that the ‘object’ of our study is also precisely ‘subject’ and the activity of a subject; this also quietly reminds us how this is a work of existentialism: the ‘meaning of being’ is ‘being’ as ‘the to be.’ ‘The to be’ also intonates an unfinished activity—which directs our attention to demSinn, to ‘meaning,’ ‘that from which something is understandable as that which it is,’ i.e., in its purpose and context, hence dynamic, dynamically embedded in and through and stretching across, and hence in Zeit, in-across-through time.
Concretely: He adds that his inquiry into the question of the meaning of being, and to awaken an understanding for the meaning of being, that is, to question what it means to be, will be done concretely. “Concretely” ought to be read as “phenomenologically,” not in the sense of scientific facts, empirical studies, or humanistic studies (for it is not a study of phenomena, he will tell us in the Introduction, but is itself a study, an activity undertaken wherein the undertaking is the studying). To be done phenomenology implies that one recognizes the cooperative dimension of meaning creation, that there is a subject asking the question, and thereby affecting the question, the study, and so forth, and that the object is as dynamically contributing to the meaning. This is no disinterested study, even though we will not be studying the particular existence of you, me, Bobby, or Zelda. The questioner must be put into question when asking the question of the meaning of Being. The task is attenuation: to attune us to the proper disposition by which we, who are the Dasein, the beings for whom Being is a question, seek the meaning of what it means to be.
Note, also, that he says that his “provisional aim is the interpretation of time as the possible horizon for any understanding whatsoever of being” (frontispiece).
Provisional aim: recall the foregoing terms/tasks: to raise anew and to reawaken—hence, our provisional aim can be read as a pro-vision, a seeing-forward to what is awakened and new, yet awakened and new in the sense of being such once more—being as time reveals that being “is its past. It is its own past not only in such a way that its past, as it were, pushes itself along ‘behind’ it, and that it possesses what is past as a property that is still objectively present and at times has an effect on it,” that “Dasein ‘is’ its past in the manner of its being which, roughly expressed, on each occasion ‘occurs’ out of its future. … Dasein grows into a customary interpretation of itself and grows up on that interpretation. … Its own past … does not follow after Dasein but rather always already goes ahead of it” (H.p.20). Pro-vision, then, invokes the being whose past is within the present and broaching forward to the future, pulling up what was in the affected now to freshly raise anew and reawaken what will be. Much later herein (cf. H.p.302) and in his later work On Time and Being (1962, cf., p.35), Heidegger proposes that authentic being is as a readying for the not-yet, for death, in this every provisionality of resolve is existentially recovered (authentically understood).
Possible Horizon: is what and how the interpretation of time is for an understanding of being; and it is a phenomenological term.
Consider any phenomena, that is, think about anything that ‘appears’ to you (noting the fact that Heidegger takes pains in the Introduction to argue that a phenomenon is not an appearance, but in our first grasp of the term, an everyday understanding of ‘appearance’ is just fine). For example, here, my cat Kali just jumped on my computer. This is a phenomenon, an appearance, giving itself to me. It is also demanding something of me. (This demand is multifarious: she wants dinner; she wants recognition in a Hegelian sense, which grants her being as self-consciousness as it does me; her appearance is an event that is like a question that grabs my attention because it awakens a sense of the need to answer, etc..) Of this phenomenon, Kali the cat, I grasp it horizonally. First, take this literally. The horizon of the land meeting the sky cuts off what is seen and what is not, yet, if you walk towards it, you can see more. So, I see the face and front of the kitty. I know that she has two back legs, even though from this angle, I cannot see them. I can always verify this by shifting positions. I can also always be wrong (maybe she suddenly lost them), but this would just make me readapt my knowledge of possible horizons. Now, beyond what is physically given, every phenomenon has a vast number of horizons: the event of Kali jumping up makes me ‘see’ (think) of her as a feline, the idea of feline itself, the ideas of genus and species, her as a kitten, the kitty I had before her, of a painting of a cat in the Louvre, etc.—all of these are different horizons of thought that contribute to the meaning founded by the event of her happening, her jumping up here in front of me.
So, time, for Heidegger, is a possible horizon for understanding being. It is not yet presented here in immediacy. It may be or may not be right. It is a possible mode of understanding the meaning of being. But, we will see, that it is also a mode of being itself.
“Do we in our time have an answer to the question of what we really mean by the word ‘being’?
Not at all.
So it is fitting that we should raise anew the question of the meaning of being. But are we nowadays even perplexed at our inability to understand the expression ‘being’?
Not at all.
So first of all we must awaken an understanding for the meaning of this question.”
--Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, frontispiece.
Martin Heidegger in 1949
INTRODUCTION ~ CHAPTER ONE:
INTRODUCTION: THE EXPOSITION OF THE QUESTION OF THE MEANING OF BEING: Chapter I: THE NECESSITY, STRUCTURE, AND PRIORITY OF THE QUESTION OF BEING:
§1: Metaphysics; 3 Prejudices; Must begin with the Question
§2: Always Already & Stand in; Dasein; Not a Vicious Circle
§1) The Necessity of an Explicit Retrieve of the Question of Being:
Forgotten, but “Metaphysics:” The first sentence recalls the idea from the frontispiece, that today in our modern age we have forgotten the question of being. Plato and Aristotle thought the question of Being genuinely, but today, we fail to make Being itself an authentic question for study, even as the canon repeats (distortedly or disguisedly) their insights, and even as we think ourselves progressive in thinking about “metaphysics” today—in and through which we intellectually separate idea of Being from presence.
The canonical short-course and scare-quotes around “metaphysics” alerts us to an acerbic undercurrent: metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the question of being and reality, but that is not really what it means here; Heidegger re-defines metaphysics to be almost a dirty word: “a naming of Being as something other than Being. Elsewhere, he calls Sartre a “metaphysician” for saying Being is a human being, that ontology is a humanism (“Letter on Humanism”) and Nietzsche is such for making Being will to power (Nietzsche, 4 vols.); for Heidegger, Sartre, Nietzsche, and most philosophers fall prey to metaphysics by calling Being something it is not: X is Y—a misidentification, for the truth is that Being is Being (hence, ‘Let being be!’)—a reminder of “being” having a peculiar linguistic nature: a grammatically correct definition of ‘being’ uses a conjugation of being (‘is’) in its definition so that the thing in question is explained by referring to itself.
(The critique of metaphysics figures throughout most of Heidegger’s works, a point to think further with his later writings, especially, “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking.”)
So, the first paragraph’s point: misidentifying Being is all the rage today. Beyond the canon, consider how widespread this truly is, e.g., being is getting ahead in life; being is being good to others; being is becoming wealthy and powerful; being is conquering one’s enemies, etc.—despite how often our modern times talk about being, we are not talking about Being qua Being:
Beyond Forgotten, Universal/Empty: In addition to forgetting Being, yet claiming to be metaphysically progressive, today’s further common presumption: “It is said that ‘Being’ is the most universal and the emptiest concept.” Not only does this lead into his review of the three prejudices, it also echoes the paradox to come of Being being a being and being Nothing.
In other words, “being” means everything and nothing. Everything is being, has a being, but nothing is being in and of itself. You can say the tree has a being, the world has a being, you have a being, the tree is a being, the world is a being, you are a being, but you cannot say that being is the tree, world, or you: everything shares in being, but being is not any of these things.
Prejudices against re-asking the question of the meaning of Being are rooted in the ancient thinking (in the thinking of the last ones who got it right, according to Heidegger—both an upholding and critique of ancient metaphysics); but we must prepare to ask the question of Being (which is ontology), thus we must proceed to this soil from which the question came (i.e., Aristotle’s Metaphysics, namely the demonstration of his “categories,” which build from an account of ousia (being, essence, substance), and delineate ways of being or its qualities, including quality, quantity, relation, time, place, action, and being-acted-upon, which show us how ‘being’ is ‘said in many ways,’ but these ‘sayings’ do relate to a single central sense … it is this central sense that we seek in Heidegger’s B&T.)
(I am struck by the stylistic similarity here to Plato’s Apology: before Socrates can address the current charges against him from Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon, he needs to bring to light the longstanding prejudices against him from ‘the many, and especially Aristophanes’—that is, before three addresses of two charges (corrupting the youth and, briefly put, impiety), he must address three prejudices (studying things in the sky and below the earth, making the worse argument the better, and teaching such things for a fee), three prejudices which can be seen as disguised and distorted versions of the actual charges.)
Prejudice Number One: Being is the most universal concept. Heidegger quotes Aristotle (Metaphysics III, 4) to name this prejudice (not accusatory—while for all other investigations into things, Aristotle does very well divide substances by genus/species, as the most basic way by which to think about how we think about things,* he does not for Being, hence identically identifies this as the problem with Heidegger). Next quoting Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica II, 1, q.94), Heidegger further spells out this prejudice by saying that understanding is contained in all that we apprehend. These quotes together show us how being is considered the most universal concept because everything that we apprehend, all phenomena, are apprehended by us as some sort of being … hence, it seems to be THE most universal idea: that it is.
(*: i.e., if I know the genus “tree” (the one definition), I can then discern that the oak (one of these many things, many species in front of me) is a tree and the dog is not; on the other hand, I can also know things if I start from the many (e.g., oak, elm, poplar, maple, etc.) and discern the one genus as that which they all share in common.)
Heidegger, in this first prejudice, gives us 2000+ years of philosophical thinking on the question of being within a paragraph (the never-finished final parts of division II were to have been all about destructing/deconstructing the history of metaphysics, so, he had intended to come back to this canonical review); it leaves us a very quick attribution to Aristotle the following points: being is universal, it is a unity within itself (thus not a genus), and that all of the categories of being make up a manifold unity within being (thus being is not composed of pieces and parts). He rightly says that the medieval thinkers, especially St. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus and their respective followers, followed Aristotle in the belief about the unity and transcendence of being (Being seems to be the transcendens, that which is beyond genus, hence not knowable; it is, but is beyond our grasp), but that as much as they thought and worked on the idea, they did not get to a much better explanation of why or how being was like this. Heidegger then posits Hegel’s definition of Being, following from Aristotle’s idea of universality, as the indeterminate intermediate, and how this is entirely unclear and mostly incorrect (Hegel ‘remains stuck in ancient ontology,’ which is ambiguously praise and condemnation served with a half nod for giving up the struggle of trying to reconcile the concept of the unity of being with the manifold of categories). Heidegger believes that most philosophers have been caught up in the same prejudices made by the Greeks about being, and that no one has broken free. Next, we will move to the second prejudice, which is a logically following conclusion for one who holds the first.
Prejudice Number Two: “Being” is indefinable. Heidegger says thinkers have assumed this for two reasons:
(1) because, if Being is more universal than the most universal classification of Being, then it must be so universal it cannot be thought of;
The historical reference point for this prejudice is through Pascal: a definition comes from naming the highest universality of something; if Being is beyond genus, the highest universal, then it is beyond definition.
(2) because, if Being is not genus, and definitions are made by determining genus and difference, then something with no genus cannot have a definition.
He says that this is only right if one is assuming that ‘definition’ means calling being a being (recall Heidegger’s definition of metaphysics, above). He says it is also true that we cannot define being as something higher or lower than it. This is also an idea from Aristotle, and much quoted by medieval religious thinkers: that you cannot derive something from something higher than it, for example, you cannot explain what a person is by defining what God is, these two concepts may conceptually go together, but their definitions do not follow from one another. Also, you cannot represent something by something lower than it; for example, you cannot attribute rational thought to an earthworm. So, in regards to being, this is saying that you cannot say that being has the same definition as Spirit, Absolute, God, Nature, etc.; nor can you give being the attributes of humans or other living things (sensory perception, etc., for example, you cannot say that being gets hungry, animals get hungry, not being).
But, says Heidegger, none of these disclaimers mean that Being cannot be defined or that it is not a problem. On the contrary, they simply show all the more that Being is a problem that demands recognition. We just cannot use the classic notions of “definition” in our search for the meaning of being.
Prejudice Number Three: Being is a self-evident concept. This is the prejudice that says that we use “being” all the time—in all knowing, in every predication, in every relation, etc.—therefore we must know what it means: it is obvious! “Being” is just like any other word—even children know it, right? Heidegger says no, just because we use it, it does not mean that we know what it means. Actually, because we understand the concept on a very simple level just contributes all the more to the confusion about its actual meaning. Saying that we know it because on some simplistic level we use it or live it is not philosophical evidence. (Even if it will be the justification for our recognition of it as a problem and our necessary starting point from which to investigate it!)
Taking these three prejudices against re-asking the question of the meaning of Being into account, Heidegger says, it becomes clear that not only do we have absolutely no concept about Being’s meaning, we do not even know where to begin with the questions. So, this is our first project. We cannot examine Being until we know the right question to ask.
(Recall Plato’s Theatetus’ declaration that ‘wonder’ is the most proper disposition for the philosopher, or Apology’s famous declaration of ‘wisdom’ as knowing what one does not know. Philosophy, education, the well-lived life: all necessitate beginning in a questioning disposition, an openness to questions, an ability to thoughtfully formulate questions. Ancient philosophy demonstrates the ultimate importance of questions; medieval philosophy shows us those passionately wracked with (e.g. Augustine’s Confessions) and those piously listening to (e.g. Aquinas’ Summa) with questions. To begin learning, we must begin by thinking about questions; we need to acknowledge what we do not know—hence, the transition between section one and two is a turning from questioning the answers already given in the canon to the question of the meaning of Being to a questioning of the question.)
Heidegger's Die Hütte, Todtnauberg, Germany
“Dasein tends to understand its own being in terms of that being to which it is essentially, continually, and most closely related-- the ‘world’.”