Why does Heidegger in “Being and Time” think that the notion of “self-sufficient substances” provides an incomplete description of what being is?
Underlying Heidegger’s Being and Time is the notion that the language used to describe some phenomena is either adequate or inadequate to capture (ie. describe in a compelling way) that phenomena as it presents itself to us.
So the point is less that we should be convinced by argument as such, and more that we should consider our experience, and see whether the descriptions of the structures that Heidegger educes are consistent with and revealing in respect of everything that is important about the world as we experience it.
Lets start by distinguishing two kinds of knowing: know-how and know-that.
Know-how — eg. knowing how to use a telescope.
Know-that — eg. knowing that the earth goes round the sun.
Heidegger asserts in Being and Time that we live primarily in a world composed of a wholistic equipmental totality with which we are transparently coping. The more competent we are in respect of any particular activity, that is to say the more competent we are in knowing how to perform an activity, the less we pay attention to it or need to pay attention to it.
Any given component of the equipment takes for granted the whole network of equipment of which it is a part. My computer keyboard is part of an equpimental whole that takes for granted computer screens, the internet, global data centres, printers, flash drives, and smart phones. To understand my computer keyboard, to make sense of it, assumes the background of this equipmental whole.
The nature of equipment is to withdraw into the accomplishment of the task. The clutch pedal in a manual geared car barely registers in our experience at all, but anyone who has ever learnt to drive one knows they use the clutch pedal 50 times just driving to the shops and back.
Where should we start from in trying to understand the world /our world?
Heidegger thinks we should start from our experience. If we want to educe an understanding of the world which is consistent with our experience of the world, what other choice is there? What else is there to choose from?
Well, perhaps we should start from a “scientific” “objective” “view from nowhere”? While Heidegger loves science, and the scientific viewpoint, he thinks that in making sense of our world we cannot assert the primacy of science and must assert instead the primacy of experience (ie. “the phenomena”). Possibly this is for two reasons:
(1) It is only as a consequence of our practical engagement in the world that we are able to do science in the first place. Science is a set of practices which are designed to reveal a world that exists independently of any human practices. But in order to understand how that world gets revealed by scientific practice, we do need to understand the practices that constitute science as being practices.
(2) Whilst it is possible to pick out self-sufficient substances from the background of the wholistic world which we experience (ie. traverse from the whole to the parts), it is not possible (or at least it appears to be beyond human capacity) to put together the meaningful world that we find ourselves always already being in, by assembling it from pieces (ie. traverse from the parts to the whole).
Experience is wholistic
We are always already in a whole situation which we can then, if we wish, analyse into components. But we always experience the whole first and the whole understanding (understanding in the sense of know-how).
Experience is always already in-the-world
Normal healthy humans do not in fact have any such experience that corresponds to being “in here” and the “external world” being “out there” — except maybe when we are asleep, or perhaps in some mediative state.
We are so used to philosophers talking this way that we can barely even manage to notice that this description of our experience is not even slightly like how we actually experience the world as we go about our normal everyday lives.
Two more kinds of being
Heidegger sees our western philosophical tradition as having essentially lost sight of something that right in front of us — that self-sufficient substances (which Heidegger calls “present-at-hand” — vorhanden) are not the only or even the primary way in which we make sense of the world.
Heidegger uses the world “being” to describe ways in which humans make sense of the world — “being is that on the basis of which beings are already understood”.
This article is being re-worked here: