[Rembrandt's Artist in His Studio]
[Follows "Husserl's Phenomenological Reductions"]
[Based on Martin Heidegger’s “On the Essence of Grounds,” as interpreted by Greg Schufreider]
By virtue of the transcendental reduction, Husserl ended up elevating consciousness, the subject, into the transcendental ego, placing it over and above all other beings, constitutive (rather than a part) of the world. Husserl had the right intentions, but his method—calling it phenomenology—turned out to be, Heidegger exclaims, not sufficiently phenomenological! Although he had found it using phenomenology, Husserl’s conclusions turned out to be but the most sophisticated form of transcendental idealism. Hence, Heidegger concludes, this—Husserl—must be the end of modern thought (launched by Descartes asking, “What can I know for certain?”). Against this, Heidegger plans to rethink, to, true to phenomenology’s injunction, “go back to the things themselves!” i.e. get through all the semblances fostered by the tradition and start anew—thereby establishing what comes to be known as postmodern thought.
Husserl, Heidegger argues, elevated the subject into the transcendental ego because he had failed to see how the subject, consciousness—the human being, i.e. der Mensch—is fundamentally different from other beings. Husserl was fixated on perception, hence the subject-object opposition. What about other modes of experience, Heidegger asks, say instrumentality? When you’re using something as a tool, an item of gear, e.g. when you’re writing on the desk (as opposed to looking at something through one-sided perspectives of the thing, e.g. when you’re looking at the different sides of the desk), you don’t notice your separation from the thing (the desk). Rather, you are fully occupied in your engagement with it (you don’t think of what the different sides of the desk look like; you’re simply writing on it, what it is is given, how it looks irrelevant). You don’t think of the separation, the difference between you, the subject, and the thing, the object. You are already in the midst of things, of other beings, wholly integrated in using them as gear. It is thus in the nature of the subject, der Mensch, (not to be a transcendental ego but) to be Dasein: literally, to be there.
Heidegger concludes from this that the human being, Dasein’s being, is being-in-the-world. Der Mensch inherently exists with other beings. Even though you may be reflecting about it (and this is what makes you different from other beings, i.e. your ability to reflect about your experience, in contrast to the pencil, which just lies there), your being always already involves your exposure to other beings (which, in fact, is what allows you to reflect about them). Other beings, in effect, serve as the environment—but, Heidegger stresses, not as something surrounding the human being as though der Mensch was in the center. That would be falling to the objectification that Husserl, by fixating on perception (which Heidegger calls the mode of objectivity), became prone to.
Dasein is being-in-the-world. You are in the world. You don’t stop moving, stand over it, to reflect about the world, to give structure to it. That only works if there is a distinction between subject and object. On the contrary, as intimated by the mode of instrumentality, there is a mode prior to the subject-object relation. For in instrumentality, der Mensch, the human being, understands itself with (not over and above) the objects (technically: the instruments) being used (e.g. when you’re writing on the desk): der Mensch, in other words, is Dasein. Of course, while you do project possibilities of how you’re going to use the instrument (intention), just like in the mode of objectivity, that projection has something to do with the property of the instrument itself (intuition).
Dasein is thus totally integrated with (other) beings. These (other) beings, however, are not us; they are not ourselves. Thus we end up confusing our being with their being. (This is why the Western tradition elevated der Mensch as the transcendental ego: to separate itself, to distinguish itself—which, unfortunately, leads to objectivity, the subject-object dichotomy, and the elevation of the subject). But, Heidegger claims, Dasein is fundamentally different from other beings. Hence, there’s no need for the transcendental ego. You, as ein Mensch, are already different.
Dasein is a fundamentally different being in that is exists (unlike other beings, say the pencil) with some understanding of the being that it is. Humans, in other words, are the only beings that ask about being. There must be, then, some privileged determination of the being we want to understand: ourselves. In other words, there exists a pre-ontological (hence, there really is no need for metaphysics, if we already have such understanding pre-ontologically) notion of the beings that we are, which then makes possible philosophy, not the other way around. The condition for possibility of objects/instruments (other beings) is the appearance of objects/instruments (as phenomena, what we can be indubitable about), and the ground for that is Dasein—but not as something that constitutes the world, but as the being (consciousness) in which these objects/instruments, these other beings, appear.
The objects/instruments, the other beings, do not change. They remain the same beings (so unlike in Husserl, where, through categorial intuition, different things are categorized into different types . . .)—but they do change in the way that they present themselves, the way that they appear to consciousness (. . . in Heidegger, the same things appear in their different beings.). Therein, for Heidegger, lies the ontological difference: the difference between being, the mode of presentation, and the specific beings. The astonishing thing about beings is that the same being (same ontically) (e.g. the desk) can appear in different modes (ontological being) (e.g. the desk as something you’re looking at, i.e. as a perceived desk, v. the desk as something you’re writing on, i.e. as an instrument, v. the desk as part of the barricade on the streets in a revolution, i.e. as an instrument, but for a different purpose . . .).
Dasein is further different in that—being not only in-the-world, but also having a pre-ontological notion of being—it is able to switch back and forth between the different modes of appearing, the different comportments, i.e. it is aware of different types of experience, i.e. it can see the same being (the desk) in its different (ontological) modes of being (as object, as instrument, as instrument for a different purpose, etc.).
This further compounds the difference of Dasein: Dasein is being-in-the-world, but, despite (and by virtue of) being occupied in the midst of beings, Dasein is free—free, by virtue of its relation not only to beings but to (its intimation of) being itself, to let the beings appear as—be—the beings that they are (in whatever mode they happen to appear at that moment). This is how Dasein is ek-sistent, compared to other beings which are only existent. While Dasein is thus occupied in beings, it is by no means engulfed. Dasein is both in the midst of beings and free—free not to be completely absorbed, free to go beyond beings, to make that switch between different modes of being—free in its transcendence over beings.
Dasein itself—and not simply the (transcendental) Kantian structures of the mind that make possible experience—is transcendent (but is not the noumena). There is thus no need for Husserl’s transcendental ego because Dasein is already fundamentally different: transcendent. The confusion occurs because even as Dasein is ek-sistent, it insists, gets wrapped up in the midst of beings, so it forgets the being that it is. Hence the need to keep in mind Dasein’s difference.
Dasein’s freedom, however, is not free-floating (not just intention, but intuition: “To the things themselves!”); rather, it consists in Dasein being free to submit to other beings as the binding criterion of its relationship to those beings (which then is what makes a proposition either true or false), i.e. Dasein is free to let the beings be free (in whatever mode they happen to be at the moment), i.e. to let beings freely appear as the beings that they are.