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Gendlin, E.T. (1967). An analysis of What is a thing? In M. Heidegger, What is a thing? (W.B. Barton & V. Deutsch, Trans.), pp. 247-296. Chicago: Henry Regnery. From

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An Analysis of Martin Heidegger's What is a Thing?

by Eugene T. Gendlin

University of Chicago

In the pages to follow, four main topics will be discussed: (1) the sort of questions that are philosophical (to explain such questions as "What is a thing?"); (2) the text itself, dealing with sections A, in which the question "What is a thing?" is raised; B-I, which examines the basic assumption system involved in modern science; and B-II, which presents the way Kant fundamentally altered the grounds on which this scientific assumption system was based and the limits within which it can be valid; (3) the relationship of Heidegger to Kant; (4) the later Heidegger and future philosophy.

Heidegger's first section (A) is preparatory and is designed to give the reader a fresh start, freeing him from some of the preconceptions he is likely to have. Although written as a simple common-sense discussion, it contains all of Heidegger's major points. This analysis will attempt to relate these points as raised in section A with their carefully detailed analysis in sections B-I and B-11. However, before examining the text itself, we must discuss the meaning of the question "What is a thing?", and, [Page 248] as this question is one version of the sort of question philosophy always asks, we must briefly discuss what sort of questions are philosophical.


The task of philosophy differs from that of science, for, unlike science, philosophy examines not our conclusions but the basic conceptual models we employ—the kind of concepts and ordering patterns we use. Philosophy concerns not the explanation of this or that but questions such as "What, really, is an explanation?"

For example, is something explained when it is divided into parts and if we can tell how the parts behave? This is but one type of explanation. It works fairly well for a car (although it does not tell what makes it run), less well for a biological cell (whose "parts" are not alive and do not explain its life), and very poorly for explaining personality (what are the "parts" of a person?). Or, choosing another of the many types, has something been explained when we feel that we "understand" it because we have been shown how it fits into some larger context or broader organization? These questions, philosophic questions, are not designed to determine the explanation of this or that, but to discover what an explanation is. Yet, as we have seen, there are many different kinds of explanations. In any one case, which shall we use? Or should we try to use them all, and, if so, when and with what advantages and pitfalls? How is our choice among these varied explanations to be made? Should it depend on the field in which we work, on what we want an explanation for, or on the style of the times?

When we ask questions of this sort, we seem to be talking about nothing in particular; as Heidegger points out, such philosophic issues at first seem to be empty. Yet, they very basically affect whatever we study, for, [Page 249] depending upon which mode of approach we use, different questions and hypotheses will be formulated, different experiments set up, different illustrations cited, different arguments held to be sound, and different conclusions reached. Much in our conclusions about anything comes not from the study of the things but from the philosophical decisions implicit in the way we start.

Ideally, a clear division could be made between what is asserted of the things and what is only characteristic of one's preferred type of explaining. But these two are so intermeshed and interdependent that the very research, findings, and objective results of one approach will seem to those holding another approach as completely irrelevant or poorly asked about and answered from start to finish. It would be convenient to be able to say, "These aspects I found by studying my subject matter, and about them you must accept what I say; whereas those other aspects of my results stem merely from the sort of approach I always use, from 'the way I slice things,' and so you needn't accept that side of my conclusions." But the effects of one's approach cannot be separated out. Even what we ask, the questions with which we begin (as well as every subsequent step and finding), is already a result of, and is formulated within, a certain context and a certain way of conceptualizing things.

Since it is philosophy's task to discuss, clarify, and decide about such choices, philosophy cannot be based on a study of how the things are in order to see what approach is most suitable. How we find the things to be already depends upon our approach. Thus, the question "What is a thing?" is one way of putting the basic question of approach.

The "thing," as we have things today, is a certain sort of explanatory scheme, a certain sort of approach to anything studied. Heidegger finds this approach current in both science and ordinary common sense. It is an approach that renders whatever we study as some thing in [Page 250] space, located over there, subsisting separate from and over against us and having certain properties of its own. It is as obvious as "that orange-colored chair over there," or "an atom," "a cell," "a self," "a sense datum," "a body."

Although Einstein's physics has changed this thing-model somewhat, Heidegger views Einstein's theory as a more complex modification of the same basic thing-model (20, 15). [*] We assume the thing so naturally that only a far-reaching discussion such as Heidegger's can make us realize how constantly we approach everything in this way, how this approach came about, and how a different approach is possible. These are the sort of aims that are the task of philosophy.

Heidegger tells us that science begins and can begin without explicitly examining its basic approach. Science begins with contemporary problems, which arise in the context of how the people of the time approach things. Although philosophic questions are often decided in science, this occurs only implicitly. In proceeding further, science makes further decisions, but these are made through action.

Fashions in science change, and, therewith, much seemingly important work becomes irrelevant. But, since it is not the task of science to examine its implicit decisions directly, it can begin without preliminaries. Heidegger argues that philosophy, however, cannot simply begin. It asks a question "with which nothing can be started" (2, 2). Therefore, the question of the thing is a question with which one cannot begin. Thus, we are faced with a dilemma: Since philosophy cannot simply start without abandoning its task, which is to examine how we are to begin, how we are to approach and conceptualize; how, then, can philosophy ever begin and proceed at all?

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Another way to put this dilemma is to talk about "experience." People often say that they want their knowledge to fit (or to be based on) experience. But different modes of study involve different sorts of "experience." For instance, one might know something from reading a dial on a complex experimental apparatus, or one might know something from culturally learned common-sense observation. When these and other sorts of "experience" occur they already make sense, even before interpretations are formulated. The physicist's dial reading is obviously an "experience" into which much thought has already gone, and common-sense objects around us are also experienced only with interpretations already in them. What we appeal to, check against, and call "experience" is always already organized and cut up, defined and made. Thus, philosophy's problem is not solved by basing philosophy on experience. Once we have chosen how to have "experience" (and on what selected and shaped aspects of it our statements can be "based"), what philosophy must first examine has already been decided and concluded. Hence, the basic philosophical choices and decisions are already settled in any settled acceptance of "experience."

So far these have been presented as if they were quite free "choices," as if one could adopt any sort of method, type of concept, sense of explanation, form of thing, and type of "experience." But this is not so. In Heidegger's view we cannot today, for instance, ignore our mathematics and science and embark on some new beginning that bears no relation to science (95, 73). Nor can we ignore our common-sense perspective. One is always in a given situation, at a particular pass in history. The choices confronting us are choices in our current historical context.

Although a decision to assume our present context relieves us of what could otherwise seem an endless and arbitrary relativity of choices, Heidegger's decision to [Page 252] study this context is made in order to put it into question, to reopen questions that at present appear settled. In this examination Heidegger sees the answer to our dilemma of how philosophy can start at all without abandoning its basic task, how it can examine basic approach and not simply fall into the existing approach.

While we cannot accept our present approach unexamined, neither can we simply reject it, for in rejecting it we would still be standing in it and we would still be using it, constantly, implicitly, in spite of ourselves. We must, then, examine this approach as we have it, realizing that it has developed as a series of answers to a series of questions asked long ago, settled long ago, and now no longer asked. Our now unquestioned, implicit approach was once a new answer to a question that was then open. If we find our way back to those questions, we will not only see them as live questions and as they were answered at that time, but we will be, thereby, in a position to answer them differently. Regaining these questions as live and open is the only way to get behind our unexamined assumptions, to see how they are now our basis, and to change them (49-50, 38). Heidegger calls this "reopening" a question, or taking a question that is now "quiescent" and "setting [it] into motion" again (49, 38).

In order to move beyond the current context, the current way we see "things" and "experience," the way we have knowledge and questions, Heidegger presents the historical steps and philosophical decisions that brought us to the current approach. He reopens decisions that were made and are now implicit (are now "happening") in our assumed approach. Philosophy thus makes the current, implicit context explicit and thereby provides the opportunity to carry further, add to, or change "things" (49-50, 38)! Thus, Heidegger says that only philosophy builds the roads that create and alter what things are.

But does he not say that science and ordinary common-sense living in any culture do this also (65-66, 100; 50,78)? Yes, but they do it implicitly. Philosophy adds a [Page 253] different power in explicating implicit decisions, thereby reopening them and posing them for further decision (10, 41, 53-54; 8, 31, 41).

Heidegger tries to reopen some of these crucial decisions that made things and experience as we now have them, decisions set by Plato and Aristotle, Galileo and Newton, Leibniz and Kant. The book reopens especially those basic cultural decisions that at first were involved chiefly in modern science, although they also came to determine how we now view and live with and in anything. Thus far we have seen what philosophy does and how, for Heidegger, it is possible only as it examines its own role in history.

But are we not today quite aware of the thing-model and its limitations? Is there now already a sufficiently widespread critical attitude of this sort? Since the publication of Sein und Zeit in 1927, an entire generation of thinkers—scientists, authors, artists—has lived and written in the climate that Heidegger (with Dilthey and Husserl just before him) helped create. Because of this intellectual climate, nearly all thinkers since the thirties have been at least indirectly influenced by Heidegger and his immediate predecessors. We owe to Heidegger much of current thought, with its emphasis on getting beyond mere models by appealing to the wider context of ordinary living.

In reading What Is A Thing? (which was first published in Germany in 1962, although it consists of lectures given in 1935), [1] we do much more than reinforce today's general attitude that science consists of man-made models within [Page 254] a human world. We cannot remain content with this mere attitude, this implicit assumption about science. Only if we see an exact analysis of science in the human context, if that is spelled out, explicated, can we move further. We must go behind our own current climate of thought, which Heidegger helped to create, and examine Heidegger's exact analysis of the thing-model. The thing-model is, despite our current attitudes, still second nature to us.

In the following pages I will be more exact and will attempt to state some main points that should make the reading of Heidegger's book easier and more enjoyable (for the way in which the book reveals and delineates certain major aspects basic to our thinking is extremely enjoyable, once barriers to its understanding have been overcome).


Section A

In citing the housemaid who laughed at the ancient philosopher Thales when he fell into the well while observing the stars, Heidegger agrees that philosophy can look like a laughable endeavor of no particular use; while searching for the ultimate grounds of things one can easily fall into a well, and in a well one falls a long time before hitting the ground. (We are searching for the "ground" or basis of how anything appears and is approached and studied.) Also, the maid is right in that it is best to look carefully at the ordinary things around us before looking far away.

As we shall see later, Heidegger goes beyond Kant and other philosophers, for he does begin with the ordinary things around us. To be more accurate, he begins with us and the things around us, as we are among them at this time in history. Kant does not do this, nor, in Heideg- [Page 255]ger's view, do the natural sciences. Throughout the book, therefore, Heidegger adds the larger human context to the discussion of Kant and of science.

We come today upon a scene in which "things" are held to be objects around us, separable and movable in space. But, already at the start of the discussion (4-6, 3-5), Heidegger prepares for his own larger context, which involves humans as well as things. Thus, he sets up three sorts of things: (1) the objects around us, (2) our human attitudes and procedures, and (3) the totality of these two in interdependence together. And, as he says later, the third is really first (16, 74; 12, 57). Within this larger context, our inquiry here will center on the things we find around us. In order to grasp how these seemingly independent things come to be as we ordinarily find them around us we will have to concern ourselves also with our own human speech and attitudes and with the context that encompasses both us and them.

Heidegger uses such phrases as "the being of what is" or "the thingness of the thing," and means by that the basic way (model, approach, framework) in which we meet these things. This is not some mysterious, additional, floating "Being," for it is only the mode of being of these things around us, how they are (9, 7). But that involves more than they do. What they are also involves the context in which, together with us, they come to be the way they are for us.

Heidegger next discusses the difference between the things of common sense and those same things as rendered by science. Why does he discuss this difference here? He wants to make clear to us that the things we run into are not simply given, as they seem, but have always already involved a certain "approach," which could be different. Once we note these two very different ways in which we render things, we can no longer consider the things according to either as simply given, independent of us.

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The ways in which science and everyday common sense present "things" are not at all the same. For example, in ordinary terms, the sun "rises" and "sets," while science says that it does not (13, 10). What is the relation between these two things—the thing of science and the thing of common observation? Heidegger finds that an understanding of "an original reference to things is missing" these days between the things as rendered by science and the ordinary things around us (41, 31). To relate these two current approaches of ours we would have to understand how approaches come to be. It is one of the tasks of this book to show this, and to show the common origin of these two.

Heidegger says that ordinary things are always particulars, this one or that one, whereas science studies only universalities (15, 11-12). He asks: Does modern science drop out particularity? The common sense things around us are always this one or that one, but, for science, any specific thing or event must be "derivable" from general theories. We say that we lack an explanation (scientific account) of a thing as long as we cannot yet derive its nature and occurrence from universal, basic theoretical postulates (axioms, premises, principles, Grundsätze, postulates). This is the basic "axiomatic" character of modern science with which Heidegger deals in detail in the latter part of this book. In contrast, any ordinary thing is always this one, a singular, particular thing.

Heidegger next shows that the particularity of things seems to depend completely on their space and time, that each is here or there, now or then. If two things are alike (15-16, 23; 12, 17), this one is different from that one only because it is here now, while the other is there, or is here later. It is space and time that make ordinary things particulars. Here he poses a question that he deals with only later: Scientific propositions, too, concern events in space and time, and not only generalizations. How does [Page 257] science use space and time so that events can be both specifically determined and derivable from universal theory (111, 129; 86, 101)?

Kant assumed that human space and time are those of Newton's physics (77, 59), and he showed how Newton's "absolute" space and time are really generated in the way man thinks about and perceives any lawful and specific object. (Later we shall see exactly how this is done.) While Heidegger's notion of man is fuller than Kant's Newtonian man, he, too, derives space and time in the same basic way as did Kant: Space and time are generated in the encounter between man and the things that humans point out, locate, and make specific.

But Heidegger asks: Is space really involved in the very make-up of specific things? Is not space merely a system of external relations obtaining between things? He shows (19, 198; 15, 153) that even if we break a thing to get to the space "inside" we find external relations between its parts, bits, and pieces. Space seems to be not really "in" the thing but only the "possibility" of arrangements of its parts (in, out, next to, etc.). How does this possibility of spatial structuring come into what a thing is?

"Possibility" is an important concept in this book and always refers to how our basic approach first makes things: it is our possible mode of approach that makes it "possible" for things to be as they are encountered, located, and found by us (21, 189; 16, 148). The thing is given there, over against us. This encounter's externality is an arranging that makes and gets into the thing. And just as we did not see space in the thing directly, we certainly never see or perceive time as such, or in things. Yet, only space and time are in the particularity of each thing.

To what does Heidegger trace this characteristic of things, that they are always "this one" or "that one" (and, [Page 258] thus, to what does he trace space and time, since space and time lend things their particularity)? He traces the thing's character of being always "this one" to the thing's relation to us or our relation to the thing. We point at things and so call them "this one" or "that one" (24-25, 202; 18-19, 157).

Thus, again (as he did when he set up the three kinds of "things"), Heidegger invokes the larger, ordinary, human context in which we and things appear together. In that interplay between us and things, space and time are generated.

Heidegger argues that words such as "this" and "that," the demonstrative pronouns, should not be called "pro" nouns, that is, substitutes for nouns. The use of the words "this" and "that" is the most original and earliest mode of saying anything and thereby selecting and determining a thing (25, 19). Only after our interplay with things do they come to have a resulting nature of their own. The noun becomes possible only on the basis of our pointing. Our demonstrative definitions precede more developed definitions, i.e., "things" arise only in the context of their relation to us and our pointing them out.

And so we arrive at what might be called the main theme of the book, the "between." Heidegger is not saying that a thing is something subjective. "What a 'this' is does not depend upon our caprice and our pleasure." What it is does depend upon us, but "it also equally depends upon the things" (26, 20; also 243, 188). This "between" is not as though first we and things could have existed separately and then interacted. Rather, what a person is is always already a having things given, and a thing is already something that encounters.

As we have seen, what a thing is (for instance, the sun) depends on whether we take the thing of science or the thing of common sense. As Heidegger phrases it, "The things stand in different truths (14, 11)." What a thing is [Page 259] always depends on some interplay with us, upon some truth in which it stands.

But Heidegger never speaks of mere viewpoints concerning what things are. He is concerned with concrete situations, with things we run into, work on, and use (both the common sense things and the scientific airplanes we fly). That the airplanes we build actually fly is no mere viewpoint! It is through action in concrete situations that "things" come to be acted on and taken as of a certain character. The character of things is therefore no mere viewpoint, but is made in our actions and in the situations. With our approach we create. And by explicating the implicit approach, philosophy can reopen old decisions and make further crucial decisions that have equally concrete effects on what things are. Conversely, only in perceiving and acting on things do we constitute ourselves as humans, just as only thereby do the things become things.

Heidegger now illustrates this interplay "between" man and things with some examples from Hegel. Hegel showed that the seemingly obvious and solid things, "this here" and "this now," change constantly and are relative to us. Space and time are generated in the interplay between us and things. The "this here now" depends on me and is a different "this here now" when I turn. The mere "here now" is not enough to make a "thing." It lacks a lasting truth and is only its changing relation to us. Thus, the temporal and spatial aspects of this interplay "between" us and things is not alone sufficient to determine a thing. A second major consideration must be taken up (32, 24).

This is our opportunity, therefore, to discuss the two major considerations along which everything in this book is divided: (a) sensation and (b) concepts, or, more basically, (a) givenness and (b) collection in a class, or (a) particulars and (b) universals: (a) the here-now "this one" and (b) "what it is."

What something is is always a universal (many other [Page 260] things can be the same "what"). If we call "this one" here now a "cat," we thereby take and know it as the same as many other things not here now, which are also cats. "Cat" is thus a universal or a class. What is a cat? We can delineate the traits that make something a cat, and each of these traits is also a universal: many other things (other cats and still other things) are furry, or are animals, etc. These are "concepts" in Kant's sense of that word. For Kant (A320, B377), a concept is a "characteristic mark" that defines the members of a class. Concepts are commonalities; they are the same wherever and whenever they occur. A thing is a "this here now" that "bears" such universal "traits."

Heidegger calls time and space (as we just left them, above) the "realm" (32, 24) in which things encounter us (now, and from over there), in which things can be "given" as over against us. Concepts, however, organize. They stabilize the flow of sentience; they make it into something. They bring it to a lasting stand. Only both make a thing. An object in German is a Gegenstand, literally, a standing-against (137, 140, 184, 190; 107-110, 144, 148).

Both givenness and concepts are really interplays "between" us and things, for givenness is their mode of encountering us, and the concepts of traits are our way of determining and defining them. Thus, both givenness and concepts are our ways. And both are the thing's ways. Yet it is clear that both belong to us only in regard to how givenness and concepts make things, and belong to things only as encountering us.

But to what does Heidegger trace this conceptual trait-constitution of things? He traces it (37, 28) to the structure of our speaking to each other about a situation (much as, earlier, he traced the time-space realm of the particularity of "this" or "that" thing to our pointing things out to each other).

Traditionally in philosophy, a sentence had been an- [Page 261]alyzed as a connection between a subject and a predicate. Heidegger puts the sentence into the larger context of a person's expressing himself to others about a situation in which facets of the situation are stated, and something (the predicate) is asserted about some facet (the subject). What is said, the predicate, becomes the "traits" of a "thing." The subject of the sentence is the thing, not as seen or perceived but as hypothesized as one "under" its many traits. The subject "bears" the traits. This ancient mode of the underlying subject, as familiar and pervasive as it is, seems foolish, and its widespread use must be puzzling unless it is seen in the light of its derivation from the context of uttering something in speech. Of course, once it is seen in this way, one is hardly inclined to assume that this model is simply a given thing that has this structure of its own accord and apart from us. In Heidegger's view, the underlying trait-bearing thing was modeled after the sentence.

Thus, we have the second of the two major considerations: the thing as bearer of traits (or classes), this, too, deriving from within an interplay "between" man and things.

It is vital that givenness and concepts are really seen as two different considerations. In modern times it is a Kantian contribution to insist upon the difference. Descartes, Leibniz, and many others before Kant did not view perception and thought as really different. Perception was viewed as still-unclarified thought. It could be wholly analyzed and reduced to thought units. But that meant that there was no realm of givenness of here-now "this one" and "that one." Hence, Leibniz had to hold the "principle of indiscernibles": Two things cannot be alike in every one of their conceptualizable traits. They would be only one thing (23, 17). For Leibniz, only traits, not space and time, could distinguish two things. Why does this matter here? Because that view gave all power to axiomatic concepts and none to givenness. In that view, [Page 262] reason determines everything and depends only on itself (a rational, axiomatic, mathematical-physical system). That was the Renaissance way "things" were. Heidegger wants to show that it was this limitless power of pure reason that Kant "limits" in his Critique. Kant limits the rational by showing how concepts are only the ways in which sensory givens go into the make-up of the things we experience. These have been some of the main problems which Heidegger discusses in the first section and upon which he builds the latter sections of the book.

Even though it seems so "natural," the "thing" is a historical product (37, 28). Things would not need to be as they are, over there, movable in space, lasting through time, each thing with its traits (universals) held, carried, and borne by an individuating space-time position.

"That orange chair over there" is a historical product. It is something made. A furniture manufacturer made it along certain lines of use and taste that a designer had before he designed the chair (71-72, 55). And the "mere" observer is also a maker, but in a special, narrowed case that occurs in a setting of cultural making. As its character as a chair is made, so also are its general characteristics as a thing made, along the model of movable units in space and time, a model that the physicists first made, i.e., postulated axiomatically.

We might wish simply to reject this model of the thing because it is a "mechanistic," lifeless, rigid model. There is a current tendency among some groups to denigrate scientific conceptual methods without actually grasping their nature, and to reject pseudo-explanatory models altogether. In line with this tendency we might wish to reject the thing-model in favor of a simple appeal to the ordinary, or in favor of a reaffirmation of life and human creativity. But if we do only that we will fail to move beyond the thing-model, because without examining it fully, we will not notice how it pervades the way we think, [Page 263] meet, and deal with almost any thing. Thus, we might reject the mechanistic, thinglike ways of thought where we do see them clearly, and yet we will operate with them and with nothing else in all we see and do. As Heidegger argues, only by studying the model in depth, only by appreciating the questions it answered (putting what it decided into question anew) can we really get beyond it.

Heidegger gives some examples (51-52, 39): We tend to approach poems as things and thereby make the study of poetry "dreary." We fail to understand plants and animals because we tend to approach them as "things," i.e., as movable bodies in space, as the orange chair over there. We have become so accustomed to this "thing" that we approach anything as a separable "thing" over there. A plant is considered as a "living thing," as basically a thing or body with mysterious added-on traits of life. Works of art are considered "things" with aesthetic traits somehow added on. Similarly, we often view personality, and even ourselves, as a "personality structure," or a "self" (as if it were a thing, inside), or as having "personality contents" or "personality traits"—as if a person were a structure with parts, a container with things inside, or a subject bearing traits.

A thing has a separate location in space, and hence we impute a separate location to anything we approach as a thing. This model of the thing leads to a great many separations: we separate subjects and objects, inside and outside, feelings and situations, individuals and interpersonal relationships, individual and community, the time moment now and time a moment later, symbol and knower, body and mind, etc. These many divisions are not separate issues, since each involves the same type of conceptual construct of things, each as separately located, a unit "thing" existing here now in a certain unit of space and at a "moment," i.e., a unit bit of time. Time, too, is conceived as made up of bit things, units, moments. Why? It is not because we somehow perceive and study time and [Page 264] find it to be such. One does not perceive time as such. We conceive time as moments because our approach is one of thing units.

Section B-I

Here, Heidegger traces the thing-model's history. We will likely take for granted that "space" is everywhere the same until we realize that the notion of such a space was lacking among the Greeks. Instead, they thought that each thing had its own proper place, and that the movement of a thing was always back to its proper place. Unless externally restrained, an earthen thing tended "downward" and a fiery one "upward." Each thing thus tended to move in a certain way of its own accord, and this was termed each thing's "internal principle of motion." Greek things were not mere bodies that had to be moved. If allowed to do so, they moved themselves back to their own places (83-84, 64-65). Thus, there were different kinds of places in the Greek model. We realize that our own everywhere-uniform space, too, is very much a model, perhaps better than the Greek, perhaps not, but at any rate not self-evident.

In the Newtonian model, just as in the Greek, the nature of space is related to what thing and motion are. For us there is no "internal principle of motion" by which a body moves itself. Rather, bodies are moved, put into motion only by something else, and they remain in motion until stopped by something else. All our "principles of motion" are "outside principles": something else outside the body is always posited to explain why a body comes into motion. Our laws of motion are the same for all places, and, hence, there is "space," everywhere just the same. Of course the earthen things, when allowed to, can still be observed to move "downward" just as they did in ancient Greece. But how we grasp what things are differs. We posit gravitational attraction outside the thing to explain why it moves.

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When the different motions of different things are explained by different outside causes, all "bodies" (things) are viewed as fundamentally the same in their basic nature. Of course they do not all look or act the same, but then we think of them as made up of little "things" (a few types, each always the same: atoms, electrons, protons), and we explain all differences as different arrangements of these same things. What, where, and when anything is or moves will always be derivable according to the same basic principles.

The world is conceived as made of arrangements of uniform units of matter and space (92-93, 71-72). If two constellations are made of the same parts and in the same patterns, exactly the same events will occur. And if time and space do not make two otherwise identical constellations different (as for Leibniz they do not), such two things would really be only one thing.

Heidegger terms this aspect of the scientific approach its basic "mathematical" character. He calls modern science mathematical, not because it so widely employs mathematics but because this basic plan of uniform units makes it possible to quantify everything one studies. It makes everything amenable to mathematics.

Heidegger discusses two related reasons for calling the basic scientific approach "mathematical," i.e., two reasons for mathematics' becoming such an important tool in this approach: First, because it is a model of uniform units and hence makes uniform measurement possible everywhere, and, second, because it is "axiomatic"—that is it is posited (as an axiom in geometry). Furthermore, Heidegger argues that the model copies our own thought procedures. Its uniform units are uniform thought steps transformed into a ground plan postulated as the basic structure of things. Here these two lines of argument will be discussed in turn:

1) The approach to things as consisting of uniform units makes mathematics applicable to things: numbers are compositions of uniform units. Seventeen consists of [Page 266] the same units as fourteen, only there are three more of them. Since the units are the same, it would not matter which three of the seventeen units were considered to be three more than fourteen. There is a serial procedure employed in counting. In this procedure we obtain various numbers because we always keep in mind the units already counted. Our counting "synthesizes" (puts together) fourteen and another, another, and another. We keep what we have with us as we add another same unit. Our own continuity as we count gets us to the higher number. As Kant phrased it, without the unity of the "I think," there would be only the one unit counted now, and no composition of numbers. We get from fourteen to seventeen by taking fourteen with us as we go on to add another, another, and another. Thus, our activity of thinking provides both the series of uniform steps and the uniting of them into quantities. These units and numbers are our own notches, our own "another," our own unity, and our own steps. Why do two plus two equal four? The steps are always the same; hence, the second two involves steps of the same sort as the first two, and both are the same uniform steps as counting to four. Thus, the basic mathematical composing gives science its uniform unitlike "things" and derivable compositions (70-71, 54). Therefore, everything so viewed becomes amenable to mathematics (93-94, 72).

2) But Heidegger terms the modern model of things "mathematical" (97, 74) for a second reason. He argues that "mathematical" means "axiomatic": the basic nature of things has been posited as identical to the steps of our own proceeding, our own pure reasoning. The laws of things are the logical necessity of reason's own steps (102, 75) posited as laws of nature. It is this that makes the model "mathematical" and explains why mathematics acquired such an important role. The everywhere-equal units of the space of uniform motion of basically uniform bodies are really only posited axioms. They are the uniform steps of pure, rational thought, put up as axioms [Page 267] of nature. Descartes had said it at its "coldest" (101, 78) and most extreme: Only a method of reducing everything to the clear and distinct steps of rational thinking grasps nature.

Is not such an approach simply unfounded? Everything may follow from the starting assumptions, but what are they based upon? How can that be a valid method?

Heidegger says that the axiomatic method lays its own ground (98, 75). He thus gives the term "axiomatic" a meaning it does not always have: he makes it reflexive (as Descartes' method was). "Axiomatic" means not only to postulate axioms and then deduce from them; it does not refer to just any unfounded assumptions one might posit and deduce from. Rather, Heidegger emphasizes that the axioms that rational thought posits assert the nature of rational thought itself. Axiomatic thought posits itself as the world's outline. It is based on itself. It creates the model of the world, not only by but as its own steps of thought. As we have seen, it is rational thought that has uniform unit steps and their composits, logical necessity and so forth. The axiomatic ground-plan of nature is simply the plan of the nature of rational thought asserted of nature. This, then, is the basic "mathematical" character of modern science. It is founded on the "axiomatic" method of "pure reason," which, as we shall see, Kant retains but limits.

Heidegger now shows the extent to which science's axiomatic thought-plan had reigned. Even God was subject to it. Philosophically explicated (Descartes and Leibniz), the lawful character of nature meant that God's thinking (the thinking that creates nature) was axiomatic, logical thought. The power of axiomatic thought is thus limitless. It creates nature. And so it was held that God himself could not act otherwise than he does and that he is subservient to logical thought. Nature could not possibly be otherwise than along the lines of that which follows logically.

Heidegger recalls that medieval philosophy had be- [Page 268]queathed three different main topics of philosophy: God (theology), world (cosmology), and man (psychology) (111, 86), which are similar to Heidegger's three sorts of "things" (6, 5). All three now became determined by man's axiomatic thought. There was thus a "rational theology," a "rational psychology," and a "rational cosmology." Reason was limitless. Using pure reason, man could conclude not only about man, world, and God but about what was possible and impossible in any possible reality. This unlimited power of pure reason leads to Kant's task of setting its limits. We must notice, however, not only the vast extent of this power and the evident need to limit it but that this power is founded on the role that thought has in generating the basic scientific ground-plan, unity, and lawfulness of things! Kant limits the power of reason only by showing more exactly how its power is legitimately founded. He shows how thought legitimately participates in the formation of anything we experience. But first, Heidegger prepares for his discussion of Kant by reopening the question of the time: Why is the axiomatic model applicable to nature? Heidegger shows the vast role that came to be assigned to rational thought. Then Kant limits it by showing the roles of thinking in the experience of things, the generating of space, time, units, the unity of anything, and the lawfulness of events.

We recall Heidegger's earlier discussion of the need for the thing to be an underlying "bearer of traits." A person's "this here now" is always changing. Something must stand steady: it is the thing, which underlies all its visible and changing traits. This view goes back to Aristotle, for whom the thing was analogous to the subject of the sentence and the traits were the predicates. The Greek term for matter means "what underlies," and its Latin translation is "subject." Thus, already for the Greeks, the thing as the underlying matter was viewed in terms of the subject to which predicates are tied in thought.

[Page 269]

With the rise of modern science the axiomatic method of purely logical steps of thought has replaced the underlying matter that holds the traits together and explains how they change. (For instance, in Descartes' example (Meditations, II), a piece of wax is first white and then charred. The scientific explanation requires that the wax really be an underlying analytical framework. Both the perceived white and charred must be reduced to these underlying thought-dimension.)

Heidegger points to the change in meaning that the word "subject" underwent from being "what underlies" as the subject of the sentence and the matter of the thing to its modern meaning as the "person" and "subjective" thought. The thing that underlies is now our own thought!

For Kant, too, the unity of things and of space and time (in fact, all necessary connective unity) comes from "I think." If there were not a single thinker and perceiver, thoughts and perceptions would be isolated: if you both saw and tasted a lump of sugar, it would be as though you saw white and someone else tasted sweet. The oneness of our thinking is "what underlies" (as, for example, when we count units we take them along and thereby unite them as we go on counting). Thus, the subject that "bears" the traits or predicates is the thought unity of the experiencer.

But this "I think" is not an object; it is only the unity of our process in knowing sensory objects. For Kant, rational logic is no longer valid independent of sensation. Sensation is no longer simply "confused" thought that must be reduced to analytic clarity derivable from axioms. Rather, the sensory given and rational thought are two different ingredients of any experience.

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason considers axiomatic thought to be only our human, finite thinking (rather than world-constituting rationality). This fundamentally alters the whole approach (135, 105-106). As human and finite, our axiomatic thinking is limited to its roles in the make- [Page 270]up of sensory experience. Alone it does not constitute an object. Thereby, rational metaphysics comes to be seen as invalid speculation.

With Kant (and Heidegger), this valid, limited role of our thinking has always already occurred whenever we experience. It is not something we "get from" or "add to" experience. Thus, the mathematical aspects of nature are not some grid that we place over what we experience, but our approach to sensible things. Only with some approach does one encounter anything. Kant thought only the Newtonian approach was really basic to human experience; Heidegger views this as historically variable. But they agree that things are never experienced except as some approach has already played its role. Only then is anything such as "experience" rendered possible, for experience is always already organized (for example, laid out, sequential, quantifiable, predictable, and understood as whatever it is an experience of). We never experience something totally unrecognizable, unidentifiable, and out of context. Even if we were to have such an experience, we would identify it by time, place, and what led up to it. Thus, the Kantian Critique, and Heidegger too, will do nothing to overthrow those aspects of the axiomatic method that imply that experience is made partly by thought. The best example of this is the scientific experiment.

Heidegger argues that the basic character of modern science is missed if one says that it differs from earlier science by being experimental. For Heidegger, the fact that modern science is "experimental" is only another result of its being basically axiomatic: an experiment is no mere observing. An experiment in the modern sense always first sets up a hypothetical framework. We set up the conditions and procedures in advance; only within them is nature allowed to answer, and it can say only yes or no. It must respond within our framework (67-68, 93; 52,72). (Bacon had said that it is not enough to observe [Page 271] nature. We must "torture" nature and see what then happens under the circumstances we set up and put into action. And Kant cites Bacon's point in his Preface.) [2]

Heidegger argues that objects in science are made in a way similar to the way we make tools. (Again, here he provides the broader, ordinary man-world context within which science and all else arise.) The use of a tool is known in advance and determines the structure we give it when we invent and make it (71-72, 55). A context of culture and use is always already implicit when anything is made. As tools are made, the things of science and the results of experiments are also made and involve a prior cultural knowing—a pre-existing context of man and world in which the thing is made as (and can then be taken as) that kind of thing.

For the Greeks there was a basic difference between made things and things of nature (83, 63). Only natural things had their own nature and internal origin of motion. Something artificially made had its being moved only from the outside, by being made. For axiomatic science all things are only as we mathematically "make" them.

Later in this analysis we will discuss Heidegger's attempts to move beyond the current technological situation, in which nature is something we make. Heidegger sees vast dangers in it, just as he criticizes the view of human nature, art, and life as "things." We have seen that the thing is made. Will man the maker reduce himself to an axiomatically made "nature" that can say only yes or no within a framework set in advance?

Of course this making of nature works only when nature says "yes" to the framework and apparatus we devise. But nature and reality are "working forces" (93, 72). Nature "works" for us within the terms we pre-set. Thus, the experimental character of modern science is [Page 272] another aspect of its "axiomatic" character: our determining what things are. As we will see now, Kant explained and limited this puzzling fact.

Section B-II

Kant accepts the axiomatic character of thought (184, 144), as can be seen from his own axiomatic way of proceeding. He sets up a "system" and derives experience from the principles he sets up (122, 94-95).

Kant also retains the mathematical approach to experience: as we still often do, Kant views experience in terms of units. The mathematical method has been applied to break things up into sense-data units—felt pressure sensations, heard bits of sounds, seen color bits, etc.—as if these were self-subsisting, separate unit-things (209, 162). But for Kant these are not experience. Experience is never had except as it involves much more than such unit sensations.

For example: I am hit on the arm by a rock. The sensations are the pressure, the sound thud, and the gray, etc. However, these sensations occur here (on my left arm), now (while the sun is shining), and at a certain, given, measurable intensity. For Kant, sensations never occur without being definitely located in space and time, nor do they occur without a certain intensity. [3] It is not [Page 273] possible to have an experience of pressure such that I would not know where, or would not as yet know when, or not yet sense any degree of intensity. Finally, sensations are never experienced except as connected to other events. I would not consider it "possible" that I am being hit, but not by anything related to anything previous (if I had only this momentary appearance of pressure and a floating gray shape). If a rock hit me I would wonder who threw it. Someone "must have." Or it "must have" fallen from somewhere. It "could not" have popped out of nowhere just in front of my arm. Experience is only "possible" as a tissue of already connected events.

Of course we may not as yet know who threw it, or [Page 274] even if it was a rock. If it looks very strange we may not yet know what it is. But we know it cannot be just a "sensory datum" of grayness and pressure, floating and unconnected to any other observable events.

Thus, the explanatory connective relations are always already necessarily involved in any sensory experience, and even if we do not yet know what they are we flatly insist that they are there and that we must study until we find them.

It may require long and highly specific empirical study to determine what the object is, i.e., what necessary relations actually obtain between this sensation and other sensations. (Say we eventually discover that it is a meteor, a leftover bit from a planetary explosion attracted to Earth by gravitation.) We do not just invent the specific conceptual relations that explain and tie together the appearances we sense. But in advance of determining what a given connection is, we already know and insist that some necessary objective connections do obtain. The general system of necessary relations is set in advance. Without it the pressure and gray shape could be purely floating appearances, but we consider that "impossible." The necessary relations are objectively there, they are already, in experience. We work until we discover them specifically.

Thus, in the scientific approach any experience always already involves definiteness in spatio-temporal quantitative and intensity respects, and necessary conceptual connections between events. The peculiar twist here is that it is just the conceptual connections (of thought) that make sensations into objects rather than mere subjective appearances.

This Kantian puzzle is resolved when we realize that "connections" are not possible without that which they connect. Therefore, these are valid thought-connections only as they are the connections of sensory givens. Kant begins with the interplay. "Experience" is an interplay. [Page 275] Only within it are there a thinker and things. There is no human subject except as a receiver and thinker of experience. There are no things except as received and thought in experiencing.

As Heidegger views it, German nineteenth-century Idealism, although later than Kant, failed to absorb this insight of Kant's: that the whole experiential interplay is already involved in anything like a self. Similarly, Positivism failed to absorb Kant's insight: that the experiential interplay is already involved in anything like a separate thing. Therefore, in Heidegger's own historical sequence, Kant comes after German Idealism and Positivism. (Only as a result of the much later neo-Kantianism was Kant understood, says Heidegger (60, 46). It was one hundred years late (57, 43), as Kant himself predicted.)

How do conceptual connections function in given sensations?

An "object" is really sensations. But sensations have a definite size and duration in space and time (Categories, group I) and intensity (group II), and Kant calls such determinate sensations appearances. (Sensations never actually appear any other way.) And, when such determinate sensations are further determined by explanatory conceptual connections (group III) so that their occurrence follows from laws, Kant calls such sensations objects. (As unconnected, such appearances could only be subjective.) We really see only the gray shape, even when we see it now and here, so large and as a rock, which must have been thrown. Thus, objects are sensations, but the conceptual connectives have always already functioned in any actual experience.

Kant calls this conceptual tying together of sensations into objects "synthesis." But it is only from experience that we learn what specific connections do obtain between two events (and what space-time relations and what intensity obtain). Only the framework of the type [Page 276] of measures and questions is conceptual. It was in this same sense that we said earlier than an experiment poses the hypothetical framework in advance of the results, and only within this framework does the experiment have precise results. Only within the framework does it provide objective, empirical answers.

But such science raises the basic question: In what way does the given exert control over the specific conceptual connections? Thought steps such as in logic or counting must be such that sensory givens can control them! When and why?

Thus, Kant alters the basic view that until then had been held traditionally, concerning what such a thought step, a "judgment," is. As had been discussed by Descartes and Leibniz, a judgment was only a connection between two concepts (the subject and the predicate in a sentence). Heidegger's example, "The board is black" (155, 122). A judgment was viewed as a connection between two concepts, a merely logical step from one to the other, tying the two. Now Kant shows that there is a type of thought step that connects not only concepts but, in the same act, connects the grid ("realm," Bereich, manifold) in which any possible sensations will occur.

Heidegger emphasizes that for Kant the view of judgments as mere connections between two concepts (Subject and Predicate) is insufficient. Kant seeks the sort of connection between two concepts that simultaneously organizes whatever sensory givens can occur. Kant calls such a connection "synthetic."

The question of judgment is now not "On what basis are a subject and a predicate tied together (S-P)?" Rather, the question is "How does an S-P tie go to make up (synthesize) an experience of an object (SP-0)?" It is not a thought coupled to another thought, but a thought-couple coupling all possible sensations, thereby making an object (157, 123).

But there are four ways in which synthetic thought [Page 277] connections work in an experience of objects. These are the four principles, the Kantian demonstrations, which Heidegger discusses in the last part of the book:

I. For Kant, "two plus two equals four" is a "synthetic" judgment. By explaining his view on this, we can best shed light on the first role conceptual connections play in making up experience ("The Axioms of Intuition," 194,151).

Judgments are "analytic" when the subject already means the predicate. ("Bachelors are unmarried.") What Descartes said applies to such judgments: One need only avoid contradiction. Thus, the principle of non-contradiction is the "top principle of all analytic judgments." But, in opposition to Descartes, Kant holds that the principle of non-contradiction is not enough (173, 181-182; 135, 142). Mathematics first involves a synthesis that is necessary for all experience.

Synthetic judgments involve a further step of thought not given by non-contradiction alone. But the "top principle of synthetic judgments" involves not merely the two concepts of this step of thought but also imagination and the unity of the thinker. "Two plus two," considered as mere concept, seems to give enough information to give us four, and thus seems analytic. But we are concerned with how the concepts are formed in the first place, and we are concerned with how, in being formed, they also synthesize the realm for all objects. In forming the concept of "two" and of "four" we must add, count, and keep or unify the steps to form the number. (Similarly, if we imagine drawing a line, we keep what we have imagined drawing as we draw further, or we would get no line, only momentary bits.) The unity of one activity of thought provides the connective union. Kant calls the judgment "synthetic" because in the connection of the steps of counting we generate the continuous quantifiable grid for all possible objects. We generate the quantifiable space (as we draw lines) and the sequence of time (as we [Page 278] count). Space and time are basically those of imagined drawing and counting units. Hence, the connections between our steps of thought "synthesize" the imagined "schemata" of space and time.

Thus, conceptual connections are involved in the generation of the continuous imagined grid of units of space and time, and anything ever sensed or imagined must appear within them.

Because of this synthesis or composition of units, we can also define the purely analytic relationships of the concepts. But, for Kant, the synthesis (the making) of concepts always precedes their analytic relationships. Concept formation precedes the analysis of already formed concepts. The origin of the connections in a concept must first be shown. And concept formation must be so accounted for that we can see how the experience of object is thereby patterned. In this instance we have seen the formation of numbers and the thought steps of counting in such a way that the uniform unit composition of experience in space and time was also shown.

Heidegger, too, shows how time, space, and unit things are generated in the interplay between man and thing. We are our concerns, fears, and hopes, and, because we are a projection into the future, we generate time. (Hence we must not think of ourselves as "things" present in time.) For Heidegger, we generate space in the context of pointing to and distancing objects as over there, plotting out a system of orientations in a social interaction with others amid things (25, 19). But the uniform, quantitative grid of size and duration is only one of the ways that connections between conceptual steps also connect experience. Let us turn to a second.

II. Quantitative measurement is applicable, not only to space and time locations and durations of sensations, but also to their intensity. Kant's "anticipations of perception" (206, 160) concern this second and different way. [Page 279] Space and time alone, only imagined, make geometry and arithmetic applicable to anything. Why is degree of intensity a different sort of thought connection? Because something actually sensed must appear. But even before it appears we know it must have a measurable "intensity." To color shades, light, intensity, degree of pressure, etc., the (conceptual) continuum of degrees and mathematical measurement is again applicable. This is the second way in which connections between concepts also thereby synthesize a connective continuum for sensory experience.

III. The first two have been Kant's "mathematical" principles. In these the thought steps and connections are inherent in the sensory appearance itself. In contrast, the third concerns connections between different occurences of givens (224, 174). Kant calls the third and fourth "dynamical." From something now given we can often infer that something else must soon happen. Let us say we know that the inferred always had happened whenever this sort of thing first happened. But our sequential memory alone cannot ensure that it must happen in the same sequence again. If we do not know why this always happens when that does, we may well be wrong or we may have neglected to account for some intervening change. At any rate, we did not yet have the objective connection. Only if we know why this makes that happen can we say that it "must" happen again. Thus, explanatory conceptual connections (just as Descartes said) provide the objective scientific connections of any possible appearances.

But, even so, we might be wrong. We are sure only that the general structure of experience is along these lines. There is some explanation connecting events. The specific explanations are constantly discovered, improved, and extended. They must be found from experience. When we find that we were wrong, we find that what we thought was an "objective" explanation really was not. [Page 280] Thus, we experience "objects" only in terms of necessary connections between events, i.e., the explanatory relations we seek.

IV. Finally (236, 183), since experience is possible only with us, not for objects apart from us, what can rational thought conclude in advance as to what is possible or impossible? For Kant, God, nature, and man are no longer subject to the logical laws of rational thought. Logical possibility is not experiential possibility. Only that is possible in experience which conforms to the above three groups of principles (I, II, III). Except as thought connections also synthesize actual sensory experience, thought alone is not decisive about what is possible or impossible.

In these four principles, Heidegger shows that Kant "demonstrates" the role of each conceptual principle in experience by a syllogistic sequence. The first (major) premise tells something that is the case in all experience. The second (minor) premise states that this aspect of experience is possible only as a certain conceptual connection has already participated. The principle Kant is proving then follows by logical necessity. But despite this elegant method of proof, the proofs are all "circular": the principle that is concluded (proven) is really merely shown to have been already involved in the first premise. In short, the demonstration shows how the principles are already involved in experience.

This "circle" (224, 241; 174, 187) is of great importance to Heidegger and lies in the very nature of ontology (the study of how what is is constituted). Whatever is is always already patterned in interplay with us before we ever make explicit what and how it is. Our "understanding" prestructures everything in those respects we have outlined. We have always already been involved in anything we have experienced. Our approach has functioned already. To make it explicit is what Kant calls the "transcendental" task. We can show only circularly how we are [Page 281] always already involved. The human subject's process is always already involved implicitly and thought along with the thing when the thing is approached as a separate entity out there. Thus, the roles of thought in synthesizing what things are "leap ahead of" things in Heidegger's way of putting what Kant called "transcendental." Philosophy makes explicit how we have already approached and participated in the making of the thing (as well as, in the same process, in the making of ourselves as selves or subjects). But such explicating can alter (how we approach) things. Therein, Heidegger sees the power of philosophy.


One reason, among others, that it was necessary to go so exactly into Kant's approach is that Heidegger's philosophy follows Kant's in so many basic ways—with this difference: Heidegger begins with man in the context of the ordinary world rather than in the context of science. This difference gives a very different ring to everything Heidegger says. We will take up here how Kant's "transcendental" roles that thought plays (in what objects are) become Heidegger's "transcendence"—the way human beings' feeling, explication, language, and action "sketch" out the world, set up situations, and thereby partly create what the things are.

Heidegger, like Kant, views time's order as generated by us in our interplay with things. For Heidegger, however, this is not the linear time generated by mathematical thought but a time generated by the broader human process of "being-in-the-world," feeling, speaking, and acting in situations. Hence, it is a time in which the import of the past is being modified by how one is now concerned about what one is about to do.

Just as for Kant the human subject (the "I think" that provides the synthesizing and steps of thought) is not [Page 282] itself an object, so for Heidegger the human being is not a thing, but rather the process of approaching things. A human person is a being-in and a being-toward, always a caring for, worrying about, trying to avoid, striving for, being afraid of, hoping for, etc. Man is this projecting. (Heidegger calls it the care structure.) I am my being-in the situations (the sentence I am trying to write, the point I am getting at, the book I am finishing, the situation I am trying to create, the pitfalls I am trying to avoid, etc.).

Heidegger insists, as did Kant, that in any experience or situation the crucial ways we participate in creating things and situations have already functioned. Heidegger points out that apart from our own striving or fearing there cannot be a situation in the first place. A situation is not like given things in the room, but like my trying to find something, or get out, or in, or whatever I am trying to do there, perhaps what I wish I could and cannot. But there is no fact that I cannot do it until I first project it by wanting to do it, and this implies my purposes, fears, or concern.

Kant had shown that even for the things in the room to be given, thought has already functioned in constituting and objectively connecting sensations into objects. Thus, the role Kant assigned to scientific thought Heidegger assigns to the wider human feeling, living, and thinking.

For Heidegger, as for Kant, our transcending has always functioned in advance of (it "leaps ahead" and helps create) the facts we experience. But what for Kant was called "experience" (the connected system of experienced nature as rendered by science) becomes, for Heidegger, our always finding ourselves "thrown" into situations. Just as objects involve our being affected by sensations, so for Heidegger a situation is my situation because it can affect me (in terms of affect, feeling, Befindlichkeit). Like Kant, Heidegger asserts the partial independence of both the human role and the thing's role. We can define neither [Page 283] except as the interplay has already functioned, but what can be done with the things is not at all arbitrary, not just anything we like.

Kant derived the transcendental principles from "pure concepts" of the "understanding" (Verstand) (144, 112). For Heidegger, how human feeling sets up situations is called "understanding" (Verstehen) and is pre-conceptual. A context of meaning is projected by the way we are feelingly in our situations. (Situations are made by our concerns in terms of which they are situations for us.) With words we can then explicate this "understanding" of our situations, which was already implicit in our felt being-in situations.

It is an error to consider feeling as something within us that could exist without constituting a situation, and to consider situations as external, apart from how we feel our thrownness and vulnerability. That view considers feelings along the thing-model as if they were little things located "inside" us. My fear is my vulnerability to being affected in the situation, and it constitutes the threat. The threat that could materialize or that I could avoid is my situation. What I feel is not my feeling but my situation. The situation is not physically defined facts but the significance and facts created by how I am and could be in them. Therefore, Heidegger says that man is his possibilities.

As for Kant, so for Heidegger: we do not "understand" relationships that are given in the facts except as we have already created those facts by how we have already functioned. And Heidegger is perfectly deliberate in so using the word "understanding" along Kant's lines, as creating ("synthetic") things and situations before we can explicate (Kant called it "analyze"). Here, too, and in the same sense, the synthesis of meanings precedes their analysis.

But, as we have seen, "explication" (Auslegung) for Heidegger is not merely conceptual and analytic, but is it- [Page 284]self a further creative process. Thus, while the primary human "understanding" is a feeling process, the further human processes of explicating in language and thought are also "constitutive" of what man is. This means that what we are as humans and how we constitute situations and things is always partly and irreducibly linguistic. We have seen that Heidegger traces the metaphysical model of the thing as the "bearer of traits" back to modes of speech (the subject "bearing" predicates). Our approach to what is (the thing) was modeled on the nature of the proposition that, in turn, stems from the context of people's ordinary speaking to each other about facets of their situation (37, 64, 152-153; 27, 49, 119). Explication and speech, as well as felt understanding, project possibilities and render things along certain lines. They are processes that transcend, sketch, and thus partly create what things are. Thus philosophy's power. Language and thought add their own structures and do not merely draw out the significances of feeling. They are of a different order. Explication must be based on what was already understood in feeling, but "based on" does not mean "equal." Rather, it means "hermeneutic," a process of further drawing out and further creating, which, when authentic, expresses my directly felt "thrownness" and creatively explicates what I am, i.e., my felt being-in my situations.

In keeping the role Kant gives to "understanding," but expanding it to be primarily feeling and only then explicative thought, Heidegger follows Schleiermacher and Dilthey. Dilthey had outlined a method of Verstehen in which one interpreted human products, institutions, and literary works as expressions of a felt experiential process that made its own sense. For Dilthey, mere logic uses only certain very thin derivatives from the felt continuity of human experiencing.

Of course for Kant too (and Descartes and others), logical relationships and logical necessity were derived from the continuity (Kant called it "unity") of human processes as, for example, the unity and continuity of [Page 285] the "I think" in counting units and keeping them so as to compose numbers. But to Dilthey this meant that logical relations were extremely thin derivatives from the broad lived and felt process of experiencing and its continuity. This continuity was the adaptive and historically elaborated process of the living human organism and was first of all felt. It made its own experiential sense and had its own experiential meanings in its organismic, structural, and functional context.

Thus, to attempt to explain something experiential by some logical construction was, for Dilthey, like explaining man by one of his own thinnest derivatives. Instead, Dilthey proposed viewing any human product as patterned by an experiential process with experiential significances. Thus, the felt "understanding" of the inquirer would parallel (and explicatively elaborate verbally) the "understanding" implicit in the felt experiential process itself.

Dilthey, too, was deliberate about the Kantian use of "understanding," and saw himself as providing a "critique of historical reason" to augment Kant's Critique of purely conceptual reason.

And, for Heidegger, history is always implicit in any man's ways of feelingly being-in and setting up his situations. The individual is a creative "repetition" of historical meanings in an always already historical context. I can attempt to live from out of my own authentically felt meanings, but I can do this only by explicating and elaborating the historically given meanings I actually already feel and live. Just as we said of philosophy in Heidegger's view, so also he views the individual as opening up new avenues, but only as he begins by feeling and explicating that which he already is. Nothing else is authentic. Nothing else can be creatively elaborated. To avoid what one authentically is leaves one totally alienated and at the mercy of routines and patterns given by others. Of course in such avoidance, when one is "fallen" into everydayness, one still has one's desire to maintain [Page 286] this avoiding, but one usually avoids explicating that as well. Explicating it would be one's most authentic move and would lead through everydayness beyond it. Therefore, in Sein und Zeit Heidegger begins precisely with "everydayness" and explicates its felt understanding.

One cannot authentically and creatively elaborate everything, nor would one want to. I must choose what shall be important to me. In some very few chosen respects I can attempt to work genuinely, creatively. In most respects each day I will remain more or less in everydayness. Either way I stand on and in a historically produced context and historical meanings.

Not only the other people of past history but the other people of now are already an inherent part of what a person is. One is always a being-with and a being-toward others, and human situations are not possible without this. Even being painfully lonely or needing to be alone is possible for human beings only because being-with is an inherent aspect of what they are. Chairs and tables neither feel lonely nor need to be alone.

Thus, Heidegger overcomes Husserl's problem of the existence of others by finding one's living with and toward others as already part of what it is to be a person. Again, here he follows Kant, who overcame the solipsistic problems left by Berkeley (for example, "Refutation of Idealism," B274), by not allowing the existence of subjects except as they are already a perceiving and thinking of objects. Heidegger, by widening "understanding" to the feeling and acting in situations, includes the others as they are for and to us in situations, that is to say, as humans whose concerns and cares are part of our situations. Thus, neither they nor I, as selves, are subjective things inside, but always already a feeling and living-in situations, and situations are partly created by our understandings. Just as Kant's "I think" is not an object but partly constitutes objects, so, for Heidegger, people are not objects but situation-constitutors. My being toward [Page 287] others is always already involved in any situation as I find myself thrown in one. [4]

Thus, both history and my being toward present other people are already involved in the felt understanding that has functioned to make me what I am, as I am a being-in the situations that are authentically situations for me.


Heidegger's emphasis in later years has been consistent with his earlier work, but in an important sense he has added something. He has made very clear exactly in what new sense one ought to interpret his earlier work. There [Page 288] are two ways in which one could interpret all this insistance that things always already involve our making, defining, projecting, transcending, approaching. One might conclude that being is what we make it, what works for us, what we define and devise. But Heidegger denies precisely this view of being. A different interpretation is really intended in all his work: Heidegger has all along reminded us that what things are is made by our approach, but being is not the made things. Being is the possible interaction, a third which is first. It is not the things we made. Being is the whole context in which such making and defining can make, define, reveal, and bring forth. Being is predefined; it is the whole, infinite, as yet undisclosed richness of all possibilities, of all possible defining and making.

In this way arises Heidegger's great interest in the pre-Socratic philosophers, since they were concerned with predefined being, "that in which all defined things come to be and perish again." It seems to Heidegger that this was lost with Socrates.

From Plato through Nietzsche, Heidegger sees one continuous development (with many decisive steps, some of which he traces in this book). From Plato on, being is taken as that which is clear, already defined, and constituted. Being is what is formed and what works. Modern technology is the ultimate development of this approach.

Heidegger terms the structure posited by technology a "Gestell," which in German combines the meanings of "positing" and "structure," and also has the connotation of an apparatus or a contraption. As we look about us in the city today, we find ourselves surrounded by man-made things, by technologically determined routines and views. There has been a silencing of nature, including our own nature.

Heidegger sees vast danger in this way of construing being as something formed and made. That view is idolatry. It forgets our role in making anything formed. It misses being and may enslave us to what we have made. [Page 289] Not only might man blow up the world with technology, technology has already gone far toward making man its appendage, making man into a thing whose nature can say only yes or no within the structuring of technological projecting. The danger is man (and being) as made!

Both "undisclosed" being and man must be grasped in their roles in the making of anything. "Being needs man," says Heidegger in Die Technik und die Kehre. To "rescue" ourselves from the danger of technology we must look precisely there "where the danger is." Technology shows us not just a few contraptions but a much larger fact—the interplay. Man is in danger of becoming something made of man and being. Instead, he must take himself as maker. So viewed, being is not what is made, but that vastly wider sense of being as the not yet made, in which we bring forth anything that is made.

Man's approach at a given historical time is a certain way, and hence things are a certain way. At another time the models are different, and so are things. Evidently, then, being can be defined neither by this nor by that model or approach. Rather, being is this whole condition in which different human approaches can differently determine what things are.

This is also what Heidegger means by overcoming metaphysics. [5] We must think beyond any one model, for any [Page 290] model is still only that same approach that began with Plato and came to its height with Nietzsche and technology. A new approach to being is coming, says Heidegger. What is this new approach to being? He cannot tell us. It will be the work of an entire culture, not the work of one man (50, 38).

No philosopher can "jump over his own shadow" (150-151, 118). Heidegger means that no philosopher can jump over the historical context in which he works and which he alters. No one can get out of the limits of his own historical time to deal with the further changes that his own philosophical decisions have made necessary. (Only Hegel did it, but by "jumping into the sun," i.e., beyond history altogether, to the idea of an absolute end of all history. But that is purely theoretical. We are always still within history.)

And so Heidegger cannot jump over his own shadow. Each of his recent writings ends with his standing at the edge of an abyss, pointing into the fog of a coming new approach to what is.

Can we move beyond Heidegger's shadow?

On the one hand, we are not to fall back into models, metaphysics, this or that assumption system, which renders what is as merely these or those created things. On the other hand, an "approach" to being, as far as Heidegger has gone, always is a model, a framework, a sketching out of "things," be they similar to our things or different. Thus, the new approach he envisions poses a dilemma: It cannot be a new "approach"; it must be a different sort of thing altogether and, in fact, precisely not just a thing."

In the first half of our century (and due partly to Heidegger and others) there has already occurred a fundamental split between models and concrete living. There is no longer a "thing," with a single inherent form seemingly of its own, nor does man view himself as having one given inherent human nature. That is exactly why we [Page 291] speak of "models" or "approaches"; these words indicate variety and relativity. The rigid bodies Newton located in absolute space have given way to Einstein's relativity to the measurer in physics. The cubists gave us things not from one but from many simultaneous perspectives. Pure form without representing anything permitted vast, wonderful, formal virtuosities, for example, in art and in logic and mathematics. Amazing achievements became possible with the variety that forms could have when freed from life. Non-Euclidian geometries, modern design, architecture in reinforced concrete, proliferations of specialized social roles—all these attest to the new power achieved with forms freed from what had been thought to be the constraints of their "natural" contents.

But whereas in the past man had lived and felt himself in his roles and definitions, now the relativity and contradictions of so many different forms do not permit that sort of inherent identification with a role or form. We are no longer any of the many roles, values, or forms of expression. Form split from living leaves living inchoate. Thus, living humanness has more and more expressed itself by inchoate protest against reason, against empty roles and forms. This protest has sometimes been beautiful and sometimes not.

How shall form (model, construct, "approach") and man come back together in a new way? It must be a new way, since there can no longer be a genuine restoration of some one model, form, metaphysics, value system, social role, or artistic style. "New way" does not mean the old imposition of some one model, but a method of using many models, a method of using this human modeling power rather than staying within some one model for a century or two. As I see it, the process of forming must itself be the new type of "approach." What has happened occasionally and some centuries apart must now become routine for us. It is not this or that model, but the process of model-creating itself.

[Page 292]

In modern life, to get through even one day an individual cannot depend solely on the models and interpretive patterns he is given by his culture. These contradict, they are too many, and often they do not solve the situation in which he finds himself. To deal with what he is up against they are too few. He must reinterpret, newly interpret, invent meaning, create myth, and generate new futures and new significances in order to mold the already given troubling meanings of his situation.

Recently, Kuhn's analysis [6] (highly consistent with Heidegger's analyses in this book) has clarified the basic difference between merely carrying out the implications of a given scientific model and creating a new one. Kuhn terms the creation of a new model a "scientific revolution." I have termed it the creation of meaning. [7]

The process (or doing) that creates and schematizes cannot itself be explained by some supposedly underlying or axiomatic model or scheme. In retrospect one finds that one's doing has set up a situation that is implicitly meaningful in ways that can be explicated. Such explication may look like a logical account of what occurred, but it is an error to view it as the cause of the process. The explication is a product of the process. It is a model or scheme created by the process, and we must see that the process as concrete doing is prior.

But is not such an approach to being—as the process of meaning making—really an invitation to arbitrariness? Is it not merely saying that there are no criteria, that you can have it any way you like? Anything you say or do is as good as anything else you might say or do; it all depends on your interpretation. Existentialism often [Page 293] sounds like that. [8] But this is not at all the case! We know this from how difficult it is to devise courses of action and interpretations that take account of all in the situation and leave us feeling whole and unconflicted. That is why the situation in physics remained unresolved for so many years, and why Einstein worked for so many years. That is why we so often fail to devise any action or meaning that resolves "hang-ups." There are always plenty of easy alternatives for saying and doing something that fails to resolve anything.

To really resolve the "hang-ups" is a very different and far more difficult matter than just picking one or another of the many available schemes and actions that will not resolve anything. In practice we know the difference from the case of one and the difficulty of the other, from our frequent failure to devise the latter, and from the unhappily unmistakable consequences of such failures. Thus, the use of this human power of defining is anything but arbitrary, anything but a choice from among many available alternatives. It is a highly controlled process of devising meanings that must take account of more facets than have ever yet been formulated.

Existentialism seemingly places a gap of arbitrariness between every moment and the next, just because existentialism denies the logical, deductive type of continuity. What sort of ethics, for example, can come from a view that rejects every statable criterion of value or rightness, and views it as created by, but not determining, human [Page 294] action? Must it not result in high-sounding rationalizations for doing absolutely anything one pleases? And, similarly, how can there be a basis for discussing being or science if one purports to explicate some not fully formulated "situation"? To say that it cannot be deduced or checked against a scheme-how is that more than saying that it must always remain unfounded?

Heidegger helped fight and win the battle against equating concrete living with a scheme, won the battle against reading some theoretical scheme into things, and showed that living humans are the reason for schemes and not the reverse. Therefore, we must understand the seeming gap as these oppositions to the earlier rationalistic and logistic view.

We must reopen the question to which Heidegger's apparent gap of arbitrariness is the answer. That question was: Is there some rational or scientific thinglike defined order that determines world and man? His answer: No.

Having seen the question to which Heidegger's "No" is the answer, we can now separate out a different question that is too often merged with the first. Our second question is: Are there other criteria, other ways we might characterize and recognize an authentic, successful inventing and forming from those many, easily achieved ways of interpreting, inventing, and forming that seem to offer solutions but really leave us in pain, in conflict, sick, or about to embark on something we will later say we knew better than to do? Even if there is no logical or rational scheme of things except one that is historically derived and in the process of being changed—by us—might there be a (nonschematic) way of recognizing the scientific revolution and telling it apart from mere nonsense or evil?

And, as Heidegger states so well, further reinterpretations in life or philosophy are possible only on the grounds of the ones we are already in, the given ones. We [Page 295] cannot genuinely throw away our interpretations, values and reactions, problems and anomolies, no matter how emancipated we are in general, no matter how convinced we are in general that our values are "merely relative," that science uses "only models." In fact, they are not just "relative," they are "relative to" the situations in which they inhere, the problems they helped pose. Unless we carry all this further we cannot get out of it. Therefore, scientific revolutions and everyday problems are so difficult to solve adequately (and so easy to avoid or deny verbally in obviously futile and merely pained ways).

But is there nothing then that can be said to differentiate the authentically experienced, context-inclusive, unconflicted manner of meaning-making from an alienated, inauthentic, merely irresponsible manner of have it whatever way you like? In different kinds of situations there are different recognizable marks, some private and some observable (even in objective research). What basically sets the authentic manner of meaning-making apart is that it moves from the defined to the as yet undefined (the felt, concrete sense of the whole situation), and then from out of that to another, new or modified, more adequate form. This movement can apply to anything formed—things, words, art, ways of acting, or social roles. [9]

The next form is not just another model taking the place of the first; it is a "zag" in a continuing "zig-zag" [Page 296] process between one's live sense and the realm of forms. The next definition can change one's felt sense. To define a situation alters what one is about. Saying something in words has an effect on what one wants to say-it clarifies, intensifies, or shifts it. From such an "experiential shift" one can move to a further step of forming; one can suspend any given formulation and turn to the preconceptual, which always implicitly includes the whole complexity of which we are sensitive, and which develops further in interaction, and is carried forward in a zig-zag that is experientially (though not logically) continuous.

There are a number of different kinds of moving relationships between forms and concrete experiencing. I give experiencing the "ing" form because it is activity. In various distinguishable ways, experiencing lets us create an endlessly greater variety of relevant forms than the few rigid ones that culturally given perception and social roles hold steady for us. This experiential zig-zag movement is the approach that is more than an approach.


[*]In this analysis the first reference given will be to the English translation of What Is A Thing?, and the second, in italics, to the German text.

[1] By 1935 Heidegger had already courageously withdrawn from support of Nazism, which had at first seemed to him a hopeful revolt against rationalized, technologized culture. He withdrew at a time when very few could see ahead, and his early support should not be remembered without also remembering his early withdrawal. On the other hand, why this type of philosophy was not a better guide for his political decisions and how this type of philosophy relates to political allegiance, are certainly questions to reopen!

[2] ". . . constraining nature to give answer to questions of reason's own determining" (B xii-xiii).

[3] These ways in which conceptual aspects participate in experience to make up objects are ways in which objects become individually and specifically "determined" (186, 202; 146, 157). We must always see empirically just where and when something occurs, and with what intensity, and in which necessary explanatory connections. These specifications determine a specific thing. Any objective thing is necessarily determined along these respects, and as long as we do not know all these we have not determined the thing objectively.

Thus, explanatory concepts belong to the determinate character of any thing, as Leibniz held, but so do space and time locations, as Newton held.

Leibniz argued, against Newton's absolute space, that space is only a system of relations between bodies. Thus, motion is always only relative. Motion is a change of location, but location for Leibniz was definable only relative to other bodies and not in an absolute space. If this body moves, one can just as well say that all others move in various ways with respect to it, and it is at rest. Things are real, but space is only their relation.

Newton, however, found that a body in motion develops centrifugal force. Yet nothing like this happens to the objects at rest, although they have motion with respect to the first body.

Thus, an object's spatial location (and change in location, which is motion) must somehow be absolute. The space system must be capable of determining which body is in motion, and not merely the spatial relations between them. In this context it is very important for Kant to show how spatial location has a determinative role in making up what the object is. Thus, for Kant, space and time are not concepts but (as Heidegger put it) "realms" in which anything encounters, or, in Kant's words, the form of anything sensorily given, i.e., outside us and sequentially. Kant thus showed both the quantitative idealization aspect of time and space, which has a conceptual origin, and the determinative role that space and time location must play in specifying any possible sensory object, this one rather than another one like it. (And thus, too, Leibniz's principle of indiscernibles comes to an end, precisely because it had been an expression of the limitless and sole power of axiomatic thought without its function in interplay with givenness.)

But, for Kant (B136 and 138), the united and uniform quantitative character of space is fundamentally organized only by the observer's thought connections. In this latter respect Kant anticipates Einstein, for whom also the measurer's framework is an inherent part of what space is and how it determines things.

[4] The way in which being-toward others is inherent in what a person is cannot be split off from the person's living among things (as though these were our relations to other people and those were our relations to things). Rather, anything that encounters us is already the sort of thing it is (a door or a gun) by virtue of its having been made along lines of use and purpose by people, both historically in devising such a thing and currently as the makers of this thing. We have already seen what Heidegger does to the "understanding," to which Kant gave the role of partly constituting objects. Heidegger widens it to include human feeling and living. Hence, for Heidegger, a thing is no longer limited to its being a body in physics and chemistry, but also includes what it is as a use-object partly constituted by human situations. But in having that sort of being, every thing through and through involves the other people who made it and who are implied in it. Even the things of physics are humanly made and imply physicists and history, although such things involve narrowing the usual experience to a "mere" observing. We do not usually receive the pure sense of mere hearing. We do not usually hear "a sound"; we hear a door slamming downstairs. As Heidegger says (209, 162), ordinarily experienced things must first be "broken up" into separate bits of "sense data," and only by this careful and deliberate process can we then have "sense data." A science that employs carefully narrowed perception and deliberate "mere looking" (as he says in Sein und Zeit) can have a perfectly legitimate place in Heidegger's view. But, it requires "a very complicated and artful focus" (209, 163). It must be recognized as a narrowed focus within the wider human world and the wider human experiencing, which involves other people, history, and human making.

[5] Kant had overcome the speculative metaphysics of his time. He showed that reason is valid only in its transcendental role of partly making experience. Kant was then able to show that apart from this experiential power the purely rational speculative schemes could be argued for or against equally well (Kant's antinomies).

Kant posited "things in themselves" as a limiting notion. We cannot know anything about things in themselves, for anything known is related to us, given to us, partly made by our reception. The notion of things in themselves allowed Kant to treat the things of experience not as things in themselves but as partly involving us. Heidegger puts being in relation to man, but, like Kant's things in themselves, being has no made form. It is that "in which" is formed anything we participate in forming. But Heidegger envisions the next development in man as going beyond this merely made and as approaching this being in another way.

[6] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).

[7] Eugene Gendlin, Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning (New York: The Free Press, 1962).

[8] It is a question that besets the method of linguistic analysis also. The rules for the use of a word are not in the dictionary; they are implicit in our knowing how to speak. One explicates these rules, not by "leaning on a model," but by leaning directly on our knowing how to talk and act in situations. Current philosophy of both sorts is very much at the juncture at which Heidegger pictures it. There is a pre-conceptual court of appeal.

[9] On this and on the points made above, the reader may wish to examine my other writings: Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning (New York: The Free Press, 1962); "Experiential Explication and Truth," Journal of Existentialism, VI, (1966), 22; "A Theory of Personality Change," in Personality Change, ed. by Worchel and Byrne (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1962); "Focusing Ability in Psychotherapy, Personality and Creativity," in Research in Psychotherapy, ed. by J. Shlien (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1967), Vol. III; "What are the Grounds of Explication?", The Monist, XLIX (1965), 1; "Expressive Meanings," in Invitation to Phenomenology, ed. by J. Edie (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1965).

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  • Biographic Note: Eugene T. Gendlin is a seminal American philosopher and psychologist. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and taught there from 1963 to 1995. His philosophical work is concerned especially with the relationship between logic and implicit intricacy. Philosophy books include Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Language Beyond Post-Modernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin's Philosophy edited by David Michael Levin, (fourteen commentaries and Gendlin’s replies), and A Process Model. There is a world wide network of applications and practices ( stemming from this philosophy. Gendlin has been honored three times by the American Psychological Association for his development of Experiential Psychotherapy. He was a founder and editor for many years of the Association’s Clinical Division Journal, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. His book Focusing has sold over half a million copies and has appeared in seventeen languages. His psychology-related books are Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.
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