Notes on Hegel: “Lordship and Bondage.”

I wrote these notes for a presentation on Hegel’s “Lordship and Bondage” for a graduate seminar last year. I have decided to post them here, although I admit they’re not very detailed and lack the explanations needed for a more detailed piece.


“All the World’s a Stage.” -Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II Scene VII

The man who becomes aware of himself directly in the cogito also perceives all the others, and he does so as the condition of his own existence. He realizes he cannot be anything (in the sense in which we say someone is spiritual, or cruel, or jealous) unless others acknowledge him as such. I cannot discover any truth whatsoever about myself except through the mediation of another. The other is essential to my existence, as well as to the knowledge I have about myself.
– Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism.


Self-Consciousness exists “in and for itself ” insofar as it exists “in and for itself ” for another. It exists only in being acknowledged. Human action requires recognition to exist. Without recognition, I cannot truly “act.” Action is public, political, and moral existence. The second sentence of this passage is a mistranslation. It reads better:

The concept of this unity within its doubling, of infinity realizing itself in self-consciousness, is a many-sided and pluri-significant webbing such that its moments must one the one hand be held strictly apart, and on the other hand must in this differentiation at the same time also be taken and known as not distinct, or in their opposite significance. The double meaning of the distinct [moments] lies in the essence of self-consciousness, [viz.] that it is infinite, or directly opposite of the determinateness in which it is posited. -H.S. Harris’ Translation

Notice the movement of infinity from “Force and the Understanding.” Further, we’ve seen this play throughout the Phenomenology; something is many, yet also unified within its difference. They have this “double meaning” because such duplicity belongs to the essence of consciousness – i.e. consciousness posits itself as “determinate,” but is in fact the opposite, an infinite movement of “self-sundering.”

Continue reading


Nietzsche Contra Capitalism

While Nietzsche undoubtedly paints himself as an enemy of the left, he is certainly no friend of capitalism.

For Nietzsche, capitalism represents a system of bourgeois values. Insofar as capitalists see the value of human beings, not in their free spirit, great deeds, or artistic creations, but simply in terms of their ability to manage investments, capitalist values are directly opposed to Nietzsche’s thought.

Nietzsche sees the ideal class as an aristocracy: a group of people freed from the toil of labor by the sweat of those less excellent, a “high society” where greatness and free spiritedness can prevail (albeit it for the few).

Nietzsche believes that capitalism creates a completely decedent society (the worst form of society so far, in fact). Against the adolescent reading of Nietzsche, his thinking vehemently opposes so-called “libertarian” philosophies (such as those espoused by Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan, and other teenagers).

Consider this passage from The Gay Science (aphorism 40):

Soldiers and leaders still have far better relationships with each other than workers and employers. So far at least, culture that rests on a military basis still towers above all so-called industrial culture: the latter in present shape is altogether the most vulgar form of existence that has existed.

Remember this is the late 19th century, the most laissez-faire era of capitalism. He continues:

Here one is at the mercy of brute need; one wants to live and has to sell oneself, but one despises those who exploit this need and buy the worker.

This even echoes Marx in Capital (in criticism, if not in answer). Yet Nietzsche continues:

Oddly, submission to powerful, frightening, and even terrible persons, like tyrants and generals, is not experienced as nearly so painful as is this submission to unknown and uninteresting persons, which is what all the luminaries of industry are. What the workers see in the employers is only a cunning, bloodsucking dog of a man who speculates on all misery; and the employer’s name, shape, manner, and reputation are a manner of complete indifference to them.

Suffice it to say, Nietzsche hated capitalism, thinking it the worst form of existence so far. Under tyranny, one at least has some great general or leader as a boss. Under capitalism, the greediest buffoon (a person completely uncultured and without taste except for profit) takes command.

While Nietzsche’s ideal form of government certainly isn’t socialism (and indeed these reactionary elements of his thought are troubling), it’s quite easy to demonstrate that the “libertarian” appropriation diametrically opposes his thought, so much so that Nietzsche would prefer a completely militarized society over a laissez-faire democracy.

Heidegger & Ethics

Heidegger most heavily discusses “ethics” in “The Letter on Humanism,” a work responding to a series of questions posed by his French followers. One question was:

“What I have been trying to do for a long time now is to determine precisely the relation of ontology to a possible ethics.”

Here are some brief observations about his answer.

First of all, Heidegger rejects the distinction between “ethics” and “ontology.” “Ethics,” after all, comes from Plato’s academy, where philosophy was divided into “logic, physics, and ethics.” For Heidegger, the division of things into different “regions” means that “thinking” has disappeared and “science” has taken over, slicing “ethics” off as a separate region of study, something unconnected to Being. Remember, Heidegger isn’t interested in doing “ontology,” but something prior to ontology: raising the question of Being itself.

Accordingly, Heidegger goes back to thinking before this Platonic division, where philosophy wasn’t divided into independent categories. His primary source for ethics is Sophocles. He writes:

Thinkers prior to this period [Plato’s academy] knew neither “logic” nor an “ethics” nor “physics.” Yet their thinking was neither illogical nor immoral … The tragedies of Sophocles – provided such a comparison is at all permissible – preserve the ethos in their sayings more primordially than Aristotle’s lectures on “ethics.”

He discusses Antigone in detail in the lecture course Introduction to Metaphysics. He also discusses Heraclitus’ fragments in the “Letter on Humanism” in relation to “ethos” as well.

The Heraclitus fragment is three words:

“ethos anthropo daimon”

Heidegger translates these three words as:

“The (familiar) abode for humans is the open region for the presencing of the god (the unfamiliar one).”

He takes this from a story where some people went to see Heraclitus and found him huddle around the fire, shivering. The people who went to see Heraclitus were disappointed, thinking he’d be a guru who’d do something eccentric, something they could recount to their friends. Yet Heraclitus, bundled up before the fire, invites them in, saying (in Heidegger’s translation): “here too the gods come to presence (a translation of einai, which means “Being”).

For Heidegger, “ethics” is primarily connected to human “dwelling.” Dwelling, for Heidegger, is the human mode of “Being-in,” of existing within a world, of having a home. Yet this “home” houses the truth of Being. Heidegger likes a Holderlin poem that says: “poetically man dwells upon this earth.” Likewise, humans “dwell ethically.”

Heidegger’s “ethics,” accordingly, doesn’t treat classical ethical problems or even talk about “what is the right thing to do.” Rather, it thinks about the way that Being opens up a dwelling space, a city, a sphere for human action. Even huddling around the fire, “gods are here too.” As Heidegger writes:

“even here,” at the stove, in that ordinary place where everything and every circumstance, each deed and each thought is intimate and commonplace, that is, familiar, “even there” in the sphere of the familiar, it is the case that “gods come to presence.”

He thus concludes:

“If the name “ethics,” in keeping with the basic meaning of the word ethos, should now say that ethics ponders the abode of the human being, then that thinking which thinks the truth of Being as the primordial element of the human being, as one who eksists, is in itself originary ethics.

So basically, there’s a difference between the “thinking of human ethos” and the “science of ethics.” Heidegger isn’t interested in the latter, but the former.

On the Use and Misuse of Equipment in Heidegger

How does Heidegger view the “misuse” of equipment? If I take a hammer and use it as a weapon or a book and use it as a doorstop, has this somehow violated Heidegger’s account? Many pragmatic interpreters imply that the “proper use” of something is set in stone by cultural norms. Yet careful attention to the text shows this to be a misreading.

In Section 18 of Being and Time, Heidegger makes a dialectical move away from “purpose” to “reference” and “relevance.” To jump into the text a bit:

The what-for of serviceability and the wherefore of usability prefigure the possible concretion of reference. The “indicating” of signs, the “hammering” of the hammer, however, are not qualities of beings. (SZ, 83).

Not “qualities,” as an “ontological structure,” Heidegger says, but rather

“serviceability (reference) is also not the suitability of beings, but the condition for the possibility of being for their being able to be determined by suitability.”

This “reference” means “having the character of being referred.”

Beings are discovered with regard to the fact that they are referred, as those beings which they are, to something. They are relevant together with something else. The character of being of things at hand is relevance. To be relevant means to let something be together with something else. (84)

Notice that Heidegger is really careful to point out that this isn’t dependent upon the purposivity, but rather is a condition for the possibility of purposivity. This explains how equipment can be “repurposed,” e.g. a hammer can be used as a weapon.

Continuing from here, Heidegger goes on to talk about hammers, how they relate to nails, how nails relate to houses, etc. He then says:

The total relevance which, for example, constitutes the things at hand in a workshop in their handiness is “earlier” than any single useful thing, as the farmstead with all its utensils and neighboring lands. The total relevance itself, however, ultimately leads back to a what-for which no longer has relevance … the for-the-sake-of-which always concerns the being of Dasein which is essentially concerned about this being itself in its being. (ibid.)

So basically, if I take a hammer as a weapon during the zombie apocalypse, the hammer has been “made relevant” as a weapon alongside other things within a general situation.

Now, remember that things like hammers have a relevance for which “they are always initially freed,” but this isn’t the end of relevance. Rather:

Ontically, to let something be relevant means to let things at hand be in such and such a way in factical taking care of things, to let them be as they are in order that they be such (ibid.)

This “letting be” lets things be what they already are so that they can be seen as such. When we describe (not when we use) hammers as hammers, we bring to light what they already are.

Previously letting “be” does not mean first to bring something to its being and produce it, but rather to discover something that is already a “being” in its handiness and thus let it be encountered as the being of this being. (85)

By “previously letting ‘be’”, Heidegger means that something “already is what it is” and that this being, when “discovered” (i.e. in unconcealment), shows itself as something “already handy.”

In a footnote Heidegger says “thus to let it presence in its truth.” If related to other Heidegger, the handy thing is “put on display” as the kind of being that it is, like Van Gogh’s painting of the peasant shoes. This means that we encounter the Being of the vorhandene when we “show it as something at hand,” when we make its handiness explicit. When using a hammer, however, this being isn’t explicit at all. Phenomenological description brings its being as a hammer to light.

Things are always already freed for relevance. There’s no gap between subject and object; the world we are describing is the one already there.

To have always already let something be freed for relevance is an a priori perfect characterizing the kind of being of Dasein itself. (85)

In a footnote, Heidegger associates this phrase “a priori perfect” with Aristotle’s phrase to ti en enai (what it was to be).

… when a being is discovered in its being, it is always already a thing at hand in the surrounding world and precisely not “initially” merely objectively present “world-stuff.” (85)

I think the sentence above characterizes the purpose of analyzing praxis well: the problem of knowledge doesn’t concern a subject and material objects, but Dasein already involved in a familiar world. Anything discovered must be “wrestled” from the familiar, practical way of encountering it.

This resists the pragmatic reading. According to the pragmatic reading, “beings are” because of socio-cultural factors. Thus considered, a hammer is a hammer because has a “proper use.”  Dreyfus writes:

… a piece of equipment like a chair is defined by what it is normally used for by a normal user in a culture where such objects have an established function. (Being-in-the-world, 64).

By this reading, can Heidegger’s phenomenology account for the “misuse” of a hammer, for instance, the hammer as a weapon?

For Heidegger, however, hammers are already there as pragmata, as “useful things.” They are already encountered as relevant, but to get to the being of hammers, we have to “let them show themselves” in their handiness. Tools, one might recall, “disappear” into the work. Precisely for this reason, they require phenomenological description.

While the pragmatic reading would perhaps dismiss “using a hammer as a weapon” as a “misuse” of the hammer as such, phenomenological description can account for both. In “bringing the hammer to light,” we might bring to light the possibility that such a thing could be made a weapon, just like a sword made into a plowshare.
A work of art seems the appropriate medium for this. Art, for Heidegger, brings something into unconcealment, “puts it on display” in its being. For instance, if a painting depicted a warrior charging with a hammer and the hammer still had a hardware store sticker on it, this would bring this “misuse” explicitly to light as such. Turning the home improvement item into a war axe, this imagery puts the hammer on display as something “not a weapon” turned into a weapon.

Originally posted on /r/ askphilosophy. Modified from its original version.

Heidegger & Art: A Translation Attempt

Here, I translate two paragraphs from “The Origin of the Work of Art” here, attempting to convey some of the poetic connotations Heidegger invokes.

This translation privileges the artistic connotations of Riß, a word Heidegger uses to convey both the rift between earth and world and the space for artistic creation.  Riß (contemporary spelling is  Riss) primarily means “tear,” can be merely a “scratch” or a deep “chasm.” However, this also means “outline,” “sketch,” and “blueprint.” I attempt to express this connotation using phonetic and poetic aspects of English, at the risk of etymological anachronism.

Here is my first draft of the translation:

The Origin of Artwork

Translation of paragraph, pg. 50-1.

As a world opens itself up, the earth comes, jutting out. Earth shows itself as the all-carrying, as contained within its law and always self-sealed. World demands its decisiveness and measure, and beings arrive, let into the open of its path. Earth, carrying and jutting out, strives to uphold and entrust all to its law. Strife is not a rift, in the sense of a dark abyss, rather strife intimately brings antagonists together as belonging to one another. The rift scratches out these opponents together from their mutual ground into the source of their original unity. This is the basic scrawl: the rough sketch, drawing a rough blueprint for working out the clearing of of beings. This rift doesn’t let the opponents burst apart, but brings them by measure and boundary into a scribbling an overall outline.

The truth furnishes itself as strife insofar it brings beings forth only to open up the strife in these beings; that is, the being itself is brought into the rift. The rift is the consistent drawing-motion of rough sketch [Aufriß] and basic scrawl [Grundriß], scraping apart [Durchriß] and scribbling an outline [Umriß]. The truth furnishes itself in beings, so much so indeed, that the being itself owns the openness of truth. This ownership, however, can only happen insofar as that which brings forth, the rift, commits itself to sealing-itself and to jutting out in the open. The rift must shelve itself in the gravity of the stone, the mute hardness of the wood, the dark glow of colors. Here, the earth takes back the rift. Here, the rift first produces and thereby places, that is, seriously sets, in the open, that which, sealing-itself and protecting itself, juts out.

Translated from Heidegger, Martin. “Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes.” Holzwege.Gesamtausgabe, vol. 5. Frankfurt am Main:. Vittorio Klosterman, 1977

Please comment with your thoughts, corrections, or criticisms.

-Colin Bodayle, April 4th, 2016

Heidegger, History, and Humans

Here are some short, scattered, structureless streams of thought on the following passage:

“Language is the primal poetry in which a people poetizes Being. In turn, the great poetry by which a people steps into history begins the formation of its language.”
-Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, pg. 191.

In this passage, Heidegger not only links language and poetry to “a people,” but (based on earlier comments) to the essence of “being human.”

From this passage, Heidegger continues:

“The Greeks created and experienced this poetry through Homer. Language was manifest to their Dasein as a breakaway into Being, as the formation that opens beings up.”

For the major European powers, the so-called “poetization” begins in the latter half of the 16th century and early 17th century. This can be observed in scientific rivalries between nations, leading to the eventual decline of Latin as lingua-franca. For the English language, Shakespeare and the King James Bible play the role of Homer. Yet this begins on a major scale in the 19th century, when various “nationalities” are formed out of linguistic groups.

We might criticize the historical contingency. It’s interesting that, in this essay, Heidegger associates “being human” with a particular notion of “poetry” and “history” that requires a “Volk” (a word with troubling connotations; Heidegger writes in 1936).

Derrida has shown that, while Heidegger does “deconstruct” the humanistic notion of a human being, he nevertheless “retrieves” and “reconstructs” an authentic sense of this. The notion of being Heidegger creates has an obvious Eurocentricism.

Heidegger claims the Greeks came into the essence of their language (and thus “as a Volk”) through Homer. Yet the Greeks wouldn’t have understood themselves this way: the Greeks saw themselves as “human” (and thus not “slave” or “barbarian”) because they defined their species as “existing within a polis.” The zoon logon echon served their own “Greek centered” view, where humans defined themselves through recorded deeds and honor (i.e. history). [It would be characteristic of Heidegger to “repeat” such gestures.]

Let us examine Heidegger’s own description of the human essence. He writes:

Being-human is determined by the relation to beings as such as as a whole. The human essence shows itself here as the relation that first opens up Being to humanity. Being-human, as the urgency of apprehending and gathering, is the urging into the freedom of taking over techne, the knowing setting-into-work of Being. Thus there is history. IM, 189.

This relationship to beings (as such/whole) requires this relation that uses techne to gather, collect, being, and bring-to-presence “beings” through the dispensation of Being. This creates history.

Leaving the question of “nationalism” aside, without question “national identity” is at stake in this essay. National identity connects to language, and language through poetry opens up Being, and with it the particularly “national” elements that govern history, philosophy, science, etc. 

“History” (Geschichte) for Heidegger (as clarified in later places), means the “sending” (schicken) that’s a “giving” (schenken)  in a movement of “destiny/dispensation” (Geschick) that determines and grounds an epoch of Being from Being itself (but in a particular dispensation) in a movement of self-concealing unconcealment. Yet this passage shows “history” (all understood as resulting from being) to be tied to apprehending and gathering, a movement Heidegger associates with the Presocratics, the inception of occidental history, yet also with the movement of “poetry,” which does (empirically, at least) ground “national identity.”

This passage, just as much as a number of other troubling places, is a crucial place for assessing Heidegger’s treatment of the west’s “other,” yet the obvious post-colonial criticism is not, in my view, necessarily the only way to interpret Heidegger’s analysis. “Being,” as the history of the sending of the various epochs of Being itself, presences in our own time as das Gestell: as technological mastery. This technological mastery, Heidegger points out in On Time and Being, violently forces itself upon the west’s “other.” Considered as such, if “history” (in Heidegger’s specific sense) stems from an inception of Being that “destines” the technological forces of neocolonialism and neoliberal capitalism, we might indeed critically appropriate the history of Being (along some of the same lines as Derrida) to expose the dominating elements of occidental history.

Animals in Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’

Given the recent interest in Heidegger’s account of animals, I’ve compiled all of the references to animals in Being and Time. Some of these have, to my knowledge, been hitherto overlooked.

Heidegger fully develops his account of animals in the lecture course Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, and Solitude, a text to which both Derrida and Agamben devote significant attention. Here, Heidegger claims: “the animal is poor in world.” For sake of brevity, I shall not discuss these lectures in detail, aside from occasional references. Yet many of the cryptic remarks about animals within Being and Time foreshadow the analysis in Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics. In turn, these lectures point towards Heidegger’s well-known comment in The Letter on Humanism:

Of all the beings that are, presumably the most difficult to think about are living creatures, because on the one hand they are in a certain way most closely akin to us, and on the other are at the same time separated from our ek-sistent essence by an abyss. -Martin Heidegger, “Letter on Humanism,” Basic Writings, 230.

Conscious of this abyss and anticipating his future project, Heidegger gives only a few words on animals in his magnum opus, yet his few comments are nevertheless intriguing.

Animals Perish

Heidegger discusses animals in relation to being-towards-death, implying that animals don’t die, but rather “perish.” He writes:

Let the term dying stand for the way of being in which Dasein is towards its death. Thus we can say that Dasein never perishes. Dasein can demise as long as it dies.
-Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, 247.

For Heidegger: Dasein, unlike animals, relates itself to its death. While animals “die,” they don’t live with this possibility as a “certainty” ahead of them, nor need they cover up their impending demise.

Derrida analyzes this passage in Aporias, writing:


Heidegger never stopped modulating this affirmation according to which the mortal is whoever experiences death as such, as death. Since he links this possibility of the “as such” (as well as the possibility of death as such) to the possibility of speech,
he thereby concludes that the animal, the living thing as such, is not properly a mortal: the animal does not relate to death as such. The animal can come to an end, that is, perish (verenden), it always ends up kicking the bucket [crever]. But it can never properly die. -Jacques Derrida, Aporias, 35.

Derrida points to this “as such” as “indicating something like a flash in the sky,” that is: a moment of presence. He takes this phrase from Heidegger himself, quoting On the Way to Language where Heidegger writes:

Mortals are they who can experience death as death. Animals cannot do this.But animals cannot speak either. The essential relation between death and language flashes up before us, but remains still unthought.

Here, as elsewhere, Derrida is interested in the way such moments of presence create concepts such as human beings through differences such as the human/animal difference (I have already discussed Derrida’s concept of man here).

Of course, Heidegger wasn’t the first to claim that animals differ from humans because they are not aware of their impending death, yet his point is noteworthy: especially given the conceptual importance of “death” for the analysis. In “being-towards-death,” Dasein is able to understand itself as a whole; as a project with an expiration date. On this basis, Heidegger can work out Dasein’s “ecstatic” temporality. Yet can any holistic picture of animal existence be given?

Animal Temporality

The next reference, again well-known, is in the discussion of temporality: specifically the section discussing the temporality of attunement (Befindlichkeit). Here, Heidegger writes:

Only beings that in accordance with the meaning of their being are attuned, that is, existing, have always already been and exist in a constant mode of having-been can be affected. Ontologically, affection presupposes making present in such a way that in it Dasein can be brought back to itself as having been. -Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, 346.

“Attunement” translates the German word “Befindlichkeit,” a neologism Heidegger coins from the idiomatic German expression “Wie befinden Sie sich?” a colloquial way of asking “how are you?” The phrase implies that one “finds oneself,” which is why Heidegger speaks of it as a “retrieval” at times. Attunement is an existential; it represents Dasein’s ability to be affected by moods. Here, Heidegger points to the temporality of moods, specifically that moods retrieve a feeling that “already has been,” and that sudden moods interrupt something already there.

Attunement, as part of Dasein’s ecstatic temporality, temporalizes out of the past. When asked “how are you?”, one can answer by reporting the events of the day. In this sense, moods “make present” from the past into the future.

Continuing the passage quoted above, Heidegger writes:

How the stimulation and touching of the senses in beings that are simply alive are to be ontologically defined, how and where in general the being of animals is constituted, for example, by a “time,” remains a problem for itself. – Ibid.

In Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, Heidegger answers  (at least to some degree) the first question about the “stimulation” and “touching” of the senses. In Being and Time, Heidegger claimed objects can never “touch” each other. However (as we shall see), he intimates that this does not apply to Dasein or to animals.

In Fundamental Concepts of Metpahysics, Heidegger argues that animal experience involves “captivation” (Benommenheit), which “signifies: essential withholding [Genommenheit] of every apprehending of something as something.” (FCM, 247). According to these lectures, animals “have worlds,” but do not experience “beings as beings.” Juxtaposed to the discussion of animals is a grueling discussion of boredom, an analysis that takes Heidegger half the book. [For a discussion of this, cf. Giorgio Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal, pp. 49-73.]

Boredom shows, for Heidegger, that Dasein isn’t always “captivated” by its surroundings, but grows restless. I’ve always wondered if Heidegger had cats, and whether this might have affected his analysis of boredom.

The second part of this passage reads:

“how and where in general the being of animals is constituted, for example, by a “time” … -Sein und Zeit, 346.

Notice the indefinite article before the parentheses. His parentheses, as Heidegger reminds readers of Sartre in the Letter on Humanism, are important, and the sentence indicates that the experience of time may differ among animals.

Heidegger was aware of the experiments of biologists such as Jakob von Uexküll, a Neo-Kantian biologist who attempted to sketch out, from a transcendental idealist perspective, the “categories” of animal experiences. One of the more remarkable experiments by Uexküll flashed an image at different frames per second, testing the point at which the images fused into a single gestalt. Remarkably, animals such as Beta fish (which react very quickly to things) were able to distinguish the frames per second far past the abilities of humans, while slugs (without surprise) were significantly slower. Uexküll opined that animals experience the flow of time at different rates.

I take it that Heidegger uses the indefinite article and parentheses to indicate he is aware of these experiments. However, such experiments presuppose the “vulgar concept of time.” Like Kant, Uexküll sees events moving through a series of infinitesimal “nows.” Since Heidegger sketches out, in this section, Dasein’s unique temporality, the passage suggests that animal time, similarly, in some way cannot be reduced to the dogma of metaphysics of presence. Does this imply that animals have their own kind of ecstatic relationship to time?

Animal Worlds

The previous passages are well-known and have been discussed by both Derrida and Agamben. However, there are two other mentions that have not (to my knowledge) been discussed. The first of these is a subtle indication Heidegger makes:

The supplement “which are not worldless” must not be left out, because those beings which are not worldless, for example Dasein itself, are objectively present “in” the world, too. –Sein und Zeit, 55.

Here, Dasein is listed among the beings that have a world. In Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, we discover that the animal “is poor in world.” Although the passage doesn’t say much in itself, it demonstrates that, already in Being and Time, Heidegger was aware that the topic of animal being required careful consideration.

In Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, Heidegger will speak of the animal as existing in its “environment” or Umwelt, a word Heidegger uses for human beings in Division I, Chapter Three of Being and Time. 

Animals as Natural Resources

Not only are animals “objectively present” from a particular point of view, they are also “at hand” like tools and pieces of equipment. Specifically, animals are revealed as resources and commodities.

These hides are taken from animals in the world which were bred and raised by others. We also find animals in the world which were not bred and raised and even when they have been raised these beings produce themselves in a certain sense. Thus beings are accessible in the surrounding world which in themselves do not need to be produced and are always already at hand. -Sein und Zeit, 70.

Here, Heidegger speaks of what we might call “nature.” While Heidegger reserves “nature” in Being and Time as a term for Kant’s concept of natural science, we might recall that Being and Time has a strong Aristotelian dimension. Heidegger claims that the Greeks used the “production” of things as an ontological basis for interpreting nature; in Being and Time, Heidegger “repeats” [wiederholte] this gesture. Heidegger continues:

“Nature” is also discovered in the use of useful things, “nature” in the light of products of nature.” -Ibid.

In Aristotle, natural things “produce themselves,” a key difference between an artifact created by something else. On this basis, Aristotle distinguishes the phūsei onta (natural things) from the techne onta (artifacts).

Like Aristotle, Heidegger first describes “natural things” from the standpoint of production. However, Heidegger goes on to suggest that this isn’t the only way that nature can be described. He first entertains the scientific description of nature as something “objectively present,” writing:

We can abstract from nature’s kind of being as handiness; we can discover and define it in its pure objective presence. -Ibid.

The pure, disinterested description contrasts, however, with the romantic notion of nature, a description that foreshadows Heidegger’s later work on the concept of phūsis. 

But in this kind of [scientific] discovery of nature, nature as what “stirs and strives,” what overcomes us, entrances us as landscape, remains hidden. The botanist’s plants are not the flowers of the hedgerow, the river’s “source” ascertained by the geographer is not the “source in the ground.” -Ibid.

Yet does the Dasein-centered analysis say anything about natural things in-themselves? According to the analysis, “handiness” is the “in-itself” of beings. In a footnote, Heidegger clarifies that this is “only as a characteristic of being encountered” (Ibid, 71 n.) In other words, human beings encounter natural things as useful “in-themselves,” but then move from here into encountering them “in their own right.”

Heidegger sees natural things as “produced” by nature, but he doesn’t associate this with reproduction (as Aristotle does), but with “resource.” Instead, he interprets these beings as available material, writing:

Hammer, tongs, nails in themselves refer to – they consist of – steel, iron, metal, stone, wood … But nature must not be understood here as what is merely objectively present, nor as the power of nature. The forest is a forest of timber, the mountain a quarry of rock, the river is water power, the wind is “in the sails.” -Ibid.

Here, nature reveals itself according to what Heidegger later will call the “Gestell” or “enframing,” the modern epoch of being in which all beings are revealed as resources available for the exertion of human power.


While writing Being and Time, I doubt the cabin-dwelling Heidegger looked out his window past the water trough into the black forest and saw only timber. Here, Heidegger isn’t interpreting nature “in its own right,” but only as it is initially encountered by and already familiar to human beings. If we abrogate to Heidegger’s later view, here Being and Time demonstrates itself to be subject to historical contingency (although Heidegger indicated in lectures that Being and Time couldn’t describe the “Greek Dasein”).

Nevertheless, Heidegger claims that a gulf separates us, even from our closest animal companions (cf. discussion of domesticated animals in FCM, pg. 210). As he states in the Letter on Humanism:

… It might also seem as though the essence of divinity is closer to us than what is so alien in other living creatures, closer, namely, in an essential distance which, however distant, is nonetheless more familiar to our ek-sistent essence than is our scarcely conceivable, abysmal bodily kinship with the beast. Such reflections cast a strange light upon the current and therefore always still premature designation of man as animal rationale. – “Letter on Humanism,” Basic Writings, 230.

Neither zoon logon echon nor imagio dei, Dasein still keeps ‘those beings unlike it, but not entirely worldless’ at a safe distance from its essence, maintaining that dangerous divide Agamben calls the caesura: “a life excluded and separated from itself” [The Open, 38], those forces of difference that create “Dasein” and “man” alike.

By Colin Bodayle