Being and Time, 2

The World

Having established “being-in-the-world” as a “fundamental structure of Dasein,” Heidegger will continue to analyze, in Chapters 3 and 4, two “factors” of that “primordial[] and constant[] whole” (39): the “world” (63) and the “they” (111). Because Dasein is “always already ‘outside’ together with some being encountered in the world already discovered,” and “in this ‘being outside’ together with its object, Dasein is ‘inside,’ correctly understood” (62), it is necessary to analyze these “outside” factors in terms of which Dasein initially understands itself. To talk about Dasein’s capacity for “knowing” or knowledge, such an analysis is vital; knowing is predicated on Dasein’s being with in its “fundamental constitution” (62).

The initial factor to be analyzed is “world.” Specifically, in §14, Heidegger sets out to delineate the “Idea of the Worldliness of the World” so as to make clear its “ontological meaning” (63). World is more than “natural things”—it “means letting what shows itself in the ‘beings’ within the world be seen” (see his phenomenological method in §7) (63). Thus, world is not only things, but the “being of beings present in the world” (63). The “substantiality” of things, considered to be the “basis of everything,” is no longer given, but problematized (63). Nature, being the sum of these substantial beings, is therefore “itself a being which is encountered within the world” (63). Therefore, in such disciplines as mathematics or physics, the idea of a natural world and its laws already presupposes the idea of world. What, then, is the “worldliness of world in general” (64)?

Heidegger uses the term “world” in two primary cases: 1) “that ‘in which’ a factical Dasein ‘lives’ as Dasein,” and 2) the “ontological and existential concept of worldliness” (65). As a term, for Heidegger, world, and its worldliness, is above or transcendent to things and thingliness; indeed, things and thingliness are only discoverable within world. However, Dasein “skips over” the world and its worldliness in its “average everydayness” (65, 66), taking the ontic content of world (objectively present things; nature) as world. Heidegger’s goal is to expose the world in its truth, as it has been covered over with an ontology of “res extensa” (66).

The world is encountered in our “dealings in” it “with innerworldly beings” (66). These “dealings are already dispersed in manifold ways of taking care” (66-67). Everyday Dasein is caught up in these dealings, in its world, and because that which it deals with is nearest to it—i.e., things; beings in the world—Dasein’s everyday ontology “finds ... characteristics of being such as substantiality, materiality, extendedness, side-by-sideness” initially, and most typically (67). The natural sciences follow after such determinations. Heidegger’s intent here, however, is not to say that substance, matter, or extension is an illusion, but rather that these are not constitutive of world in general: “the beings encountered and taken care of are also pre-ontologically hidden at first in this being” (67). The “pragmata” or “useful things” with which we are involved in “praxis,” in our dealings, are embedded in world, and this embeddedness has “the structure of ‘in order to’ [‘um-zu’]” (68). A useful thing is “something in order to ...” and this structure “contains a reference” to a “totality” that is “always already discovered before the individual useful thing” (68). The useful thing has the character of “handiness” insofar as it belongs to this totality (69).

In dealings with handy or useful things, our encounter with the world is by way of “circumspection,” a “kind of seeing” wherein “what is initially at hand ... withdraws” into the “totality of references” (69). What is ‘present’ is not the thing used, but the “work,” the “what-for [Wozu]” and the “whereof [Woraus]” of the thing (70). In its reference to the “usability” and the constitution of the thing, work forms the “constitutive reference” of useful things and our dealings with them (70). It is in work that we initially discover the world. This is a significant claim. In our “absorption” in the “work-world,” in “taking care of things,” we first “discover[] ... innerworldy beings that are brought along together with their constitutive references” (71). We do not first discover objective, substantial, thingly things. To determine things according to their “objective presence” is to go “beyond” the handiness of things, to eschew the “primordiality” of circumspection in favour of a different kind of sight: theory (71). Handiness, circumspection, praxis—this way of dealing is primordial, as evidenced by Heidegger’s phenomenological analysis; other modes of dealing, such as theory, have always already presupposed the idea of world disclosed in handiness. The ‘objective’ world ‘discovered’ in physics, for instance, is only discovered on the basis of Dasein’s circumspect dealings with the “constitutive reference” of world (70).

The idea of world is not contained in an ‘objectively present nature’; it can only be discovered through our “heedful absorption in useful things at hand” (72). Heidegger demonstrates this fact through a discussion of the unhandy. Beings in the “modes of conspicuousness [unusability], obtrusiveness [absence], and obstinacy [obstruction]” reveal the more basic handiness of “what is at hand” (73). We do not first discover objectively present things, and then determine uses for them, but rather encounter things in their handiness in our everyday dealings. This is the more primordial phenomenon. An encounter with an unhandy thing is not an encounter with a more basic form of being, but rather is a “breach,” a “disruption of reference,” circumspection that “comes up with emptiness and now sees for the first time what the missing thing was at hand for [wofür] and at hand with [womit]”—namely, the world (74). Even when something is unusable, absent, or obstructs one’s dealings, praxis still comes up with something; the breach makes available for consideration what is “always already disclosed,” that which is always already “unlock[ed]” and “open[ed]” by circumspection (74). The “world does not ‘consist’ of what is at hand,” but is rather the in which of our everyday dealings. Our “being-in-the-world” is, therefore, the “unthematic, circumspect absorption in the references constitutive for the handiness of the totality of useful things” (75). When something is unhandy we do not gain access to a more fundamental reality, but observe a breakdown in the totality which was previously withdrawn. This totality is the “referential totality” which is “in some sense constitutive of worldliness itself” (76).

At this juncture (§17), Heidegger proceeds to examine the “phenomenon of reference” (76). The useful thing is an in-order-to (um-zu) that withdraws into the what-for of the work. The world, in its everydayness, is the work-world, and it consists of a totality of these references. The what-for of the totality must remain unexamined for a moment, but the structure of referencing itself can be discussed on the ground heretofore established. Insofar as everything encountered in our everyday dealings is first encountered as a reference embedded in a totality (or context), we can say that the eminent reference, as that useful thing which signifies the structure itself, is the sign. Heidegger argues that “being-a-sign-for something” is a “universal kind of relation,” and that the “sign structure itself yields an ontological guideline for “characterizing” any being whatsoever”—formally, this guideline is “relation” (76). But he emphasizes that “relation does not function as the genus for “species” of reference,” but is only a “formalization” which can be “directly read off ... from every kind of context” (76). This is to say that a contextual whole is, formally, a set of relations, and that the concept of relation finds its “ontological origin in reference,” which in turn is “grounded in the structure of being of useful things” (77). The sign, then, as a particular useful thing that exists in order to reference, to signify or indicate, is the “ontic concretion of the what-for” (77). It does not merely “stand in an indicating relationship to another thing; rather, [signs] are useful things which explicitly bring a totality of useful things to circumspection so that the worldly character of what is at hand makes itself known at the same time” (78). This means that signs “always indicate primarily ‘wherein’ we live,” that is, that we live within a world of significant relations. In recursive fashion, the sign is that which as “something ontically at hand ... indicates the ontological structure of handiness,” or as a reference indicates the ontological structure of referentiality (81).

Following on this discussion, Heidegger can now make the claim that beings “are discovered with regard to the fact that they are referred,” that they “are relevant together with something else” (82). Beings are always relevant with respect to the “total relevance which, for example, constitutes the things at hand in a workshop in their handiness” (82). The total relevance is not the sum of objectively present things side by side at a location, but rather the whole of their handiness together with each other. This is world. But the world itself has the structure of referentiality (a totality of references), and so, it “ultimately leads back to a what-for which no longer has relevance, which itself is not a being of the kind of being of things at hand within a world, but is a being whose being is defined as being-in-the-world, to whose constitution of being worldliness itself belongs” (83). The significance, relevance, or worldliness of things in-order-to ultimately refers back to the being of Dasein, which is the “primary ‘what-for’” as the “for-the-sake-of-which”—the what-for of the totality. Dasein is that being that “let[s] something be relevant,” that “let[s] things at hand be ... as they are and in order that they be such” (83). This letting be is a discovery of the “being of this being,” the “a priori” of its relevance, and of the total relevance of the world. In this discovery, we see the being of Dasein as that which has “always already let something be freed for relevance,” the “a priori perfect” (83), the “has-been” which is “not something ontically past, but rather what is always earlier, what we are referred back to in the question of beings as such” (83, footnote ‡).

Given this structure of being-in-the-world we can see that Dasein’s primordial, pre-ontological understanding of its being as being-in-the-world is a referral, an “in-order-to in terms of an explicitly or inexplicitly grasped potentiality for being ... for the sake of which it is, which can be authentic or inauthentic” (84). This potentiality will become incredibly important later in the text, but for now it is enough to note that it is in this primordial referral of Dasein to its “potentiality for being” that the structure of referentiality, of relevance, of the world, finds its ontological origin. To be sure, one must not make the mistake to think that Dasein precedes the world ontically—Dasein and its “relations are interlocked among themselves as a primordial totality” (85). It is this “relational totality of signification” that Heidegger designates as “significance,” and which is made concrete in “words and language” (85, 86). As such, the world is significance.

Heidegger’s reformulation of world as significance referred back to the being of Dasein allows him to dismantle the Cartesian ontology of world as “extensio” (87). Such is a world conceived on the basis of “substantiality” (88), which, as Heidegger has shown, is not the case. Substantiality, the ‘natural world’ as studied by physics, is discovered within the world of relation, within that totality of significations that is for the sake of the potentiality of being of Dasein. To assert an ontology of substantiality is to follow Descartes and “pass over the phenomenon of world,” consequently ignoring the problem of being (93). Descartes effectively “forced the ontology of the ‘world’ into the ontology of a particular innerworldy being” (96). But as before, Heidegger is not asserting the illusory quality of substantiality; rather, he is concerned with discerning the ontological basis of such a phenomenal conception.

Metrical or dimensional space—Cartesian space—is only conceivable on the basis of the spatiality of Dasein. Following the phenomenological method, the world as it is encountered by Dasein in its being-in-the-world has the “character of nearness [Nähe]” (100). Nearness is the character of a thing being at hand, and because of the embeddedness of handy things, the nearness of things is also the nearness of the “place” in which those things are “installed” (100). Place is therefore “the definite ‘over there’ and the ‘there’ of a useful thing belonging there,” and the “whereto” of this belonging is “region” (100). In place and region we find space disclosed as “spatiality,” that which “belongs to beings themselves as their place” (101), just as the handiness of useful things is that which belongs to the totality of relevance. The possibility of such a disclosure is found in the spatiality of Dasein itself, its “essential tendency toward nearness” (103), which Heidegger characterizes as “de-distancing” and “directionality” (102). De-distancing is a “circumspect approaching, a bringing near” (102), and directionality is the heedful orientation of Dasein to a place that is over there. Just as Dasein in its being-in-the-world is the “freeing of a totality of relevance,” Dasein in its spatiality is a “freeing of the spatial belongingness of things at hand,” a freeing or disclosure that “lies in the significance with which Dasein as heedful being-in is familiar” (107). Space is the “pure wherein” of Dasein’s being-in (107). In light of this discussion, then, we can say that Dasein as “being-in-the-world” consists of world (significance; totality of relevance; system of relations) and being-in (spatiality; de-distancing and directionality).

However, Dasein is not merely being-in-the-world. The being of Dasein is delimited as such, but we must clarify that Dasein is that which “is taken over [benommen] by its world” (111). Being-in-the-world is a “way[] of its being,” but the question must now be asked, “Who is it that Dasein is” in this way (111)? This line of questioning brings Heidegger to “structures of Dasein which are equiprimordial with being-in-the-world: being with [Mitsein] and Dasein-with [Mitdasein]” (111). To continue his analysis of Dasein in its everydayness, then, Heidegger contends that it is “[i]n this kind of being [that] the mode of everyday being a self is grounded; the explication of this mode makes visible what we might call the ‘subject’ of everydayness, the they [das Man]” (111). Consequently, “Dasein is, initially and for the most part, not itself” (113), but they.

Insofar as Dasein is in the world, it is with the things that are at hand within it. But entailed by the significance of a thing as an “in-order-to” is the system of relations, the totality of references, that the handiness of a thing is embedded in; one such reference is that of things as they “are at hand for the others” (115). In disclosing useful things, Dasein encounters those others that do not have the character of in-order-to, but rather have the character of a for-the-sake-of-which. Because Dasein is a being-with, an encounter with such a being is therefore a disclosure of Dasein-with, that is, a being-with with Dasein: “Others are ... those from whom one mostly does not distinguish oneself, those among whom one also is” (115). Part of such an understanding is that others are also in the world, with oneself. Being-in-the-world is, therefore, “with-bound” (115). When one encounters the world in taking care, one also encounters the others who are taking care as well. We meet these others “at work,” in “their being-in-the-world” (117), just as we, too, are primarily at work in our everydayness. Not only, then, is our heedful dealing a circumspection that “belongs to taking care of things,” but it is a “considerateness” that is a sort of taking care of others, what Heidegger defines as “concern” (119, 118).

Through our being-with-others, the scope of reference and significance expands. Heidegger claims that the “referential context of significance is anchored in the being [Sein] of Dasein toward its ownmost being” (120). Because Dasein in its being-in-the-world is with others that are also beings “for the sake of which” they are as they are, the “referential context of significance” is with-bound as well: “being-with thus helps to constitute significance, that is, worldliness” (120). Because Dasein first encounters itself in its everydayness as being-in-the-world, and because being-with is equiprimordial with being-in-the-world, and because the structures of significance through which Dasein understands and interprets the world are co-constituted with others, the self that Dasein initially discovers itself to be “is not itself,” but rather the self disclosed in the heedful dealings, the being-in-the-world, of others (122). These others, the “they,” are those who “prescribe[] the kind of being of everydayness” (123) through language and culture, which are the concretion of referentiality that is the primordial worldliness and spatiality of Dasein. Dasein first learns its way around from the they with whom it is always already with, and as such, for the most part, “[e]veryone is the other, and no one is himself”—the they is the “nobody to whom every Dasein has always surrendered itself” (124). Dasein in its everydayness cannot be characterized as an “I”: “I ‘am’ not in the sense of my own self, but I am the others in the mode of the they. In terms of the they, and as the they, I am initially ‘given’ to myself” (125). Thus, Heidegger’s goal in exposing the “they-self” as an existential structure of Dasein is to distinguish it from the “authentic self” that is not it, that self which must be gathered from the they and “explicitly grasped” (125).

It is with authenticity that Heidegger will be concerned for much of the remainder of Being and Time, with the question of the “sameness of the authentically existing self” as it is “separated ontologically by a gap from the identity of the I maintaining itself in the multiplicity of its experiences” (126). What is the self? What is Dasein? Through the foregoing analysis, Heidegger has effectively penetrated through the “disguises” of the they to the ontological constitution of Dasein so that he might continue in his analysis free of the distorting effects of such. With this greater clarity in his questioning of Dasein, it is his further aim to eventually return to the preeminent question, the question of the meaning of being, in its fullest illumination.

Works Cited

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. 1927. Translated by Joan Stambaugh, revised by Dennis J. Schmidt, State University of New York Press, 2010.

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