Even though Heidegger insists on these distinctions in a strong way throughout $0″- and $0″&, we have already noted how Being and Time ends by questioning the di’erence between Dasein and other entities, or at least in warning us that it must not become something of an unquestioned dogma. While the fault-lines are already beginning to appear, it is only in $0″/ and $0″0 that these fissures reach a critical point in the overturning of fundamental ontology and in the question of animality.
Both of these moments in Heidegger’s lecture courses involve some form of implicit naturalistic challenge to the di’erence between Dasein and nature, and Heidegger appears to be acutely aware that they have the possibility of undermining the very project of a phenomenological ontology. In a restricted sense I am claiming that the demise of Heidegger’s fundamental ontology happens at the hands of naturalism.
The first important break can be seen in the appendix to his $0″/ seminar on the Metaphysical Foundations of Logic. Here Heidegger notes that the concept of world developed within fundamental ontology leads to a necessary “overturning [Umschlag]”. This overturning is not simply a change in focus or understanding, as if we should now turn to an ontic metaphysics because we have exhausted the resources of fundamental ontology. Rather, he sees fundamental ontology and a new “metontology” as complementary sciences, with the former developing into the latter: “precisely the radicalization of fundamental ontology brings about the above-mentioned overturning [Umschlag] of ontology out of its very self.
In what does this overturning consist? It consists precisely in going beyond the radical distinction between Dasein and nature that was decisive for fundamental ontology, and in further investigating in a more primordial manner the ontic existence that Dasein shares with other extant entities.
Since being is there only insofar as beings are already
there [Da es Sein nur gibt, indem auch schon gerade
Seiendes im Da ist], fundamental ontology has in itthe latent tendency towards a primordial, metaphysical
transformation which becomes possible only when
being is understood in its whole problematic. The intrinsic
necessity for ontology to turn back to its point
of origin can be clarified by reference to the primal
phenomenon of human existence: the being “man”
understands being; understanding-of-being e’ects a
distinction between being and beings; being is there
only when Dasein understands being.
The transformation from fundamental ontology to metontology involves noticing that even though the ontological di’erence happens only if and as long as Dasein is, all of this is simultaneously dependent on ontic existence. There is a strange circularity here: even though the distinction between being and beings happens only if Dasein exists in a manner di’erent from entities, Dasein can exist in this way and have an understanding of being only “insofar as beings are already there [indem auch schon gerade Seiendes im Da ist].”
Why does this return us to the problem of naturalism? Because Heidegger is suggesting that we think of Dasein as one entity among others that factically happens to have an ontological tendency. The dichotomy between the facticity of Dasein and the factuality of nature is here going to break down, and this becomes clear when Heideggeruses the term facticity for the type of being of nature, a term he earlier reserved only for Dasein. This important moment is obscured by the translation, which, in line with Heidegger’s earlier claims, insists on di’erentiating factical and factual, presumably hoping that this is simply a momentary terminological slip:
In other words, the possibility that being is there in
the understanding presupposes the factical existence of
Dasein [die faktische Existenz des Daseins], and this in
turn presupposes the factual extantness of nature [das
faktische Vorhandensein des Natur]. Right within the
horizon of the problem of being, when posed radicallyit appears that all this is visible and can become understood
as being, only if a possible totality of beings is
This statement would have been unthinkable in Being and Time, since here Heidegger is not only “equivocating” between the type of being of nature and that of Dasein, but also claiming that the facticity of Dasein presupposes the facticity of nature. The suggestion is that beyond the di!erence between Dasein’s Existenz and nature’s Vorhandensein, there is a factical ( faktische) mode of being they share. Furthermore, fundamental ontology is said to depend on an understanding of “a possible totality of beings [eine mögliche Totalität von Seiendem],” once again precisely the type of move that he criticized under the name of “traditional” ontology. What would this totality of beings be, if not the “cosmos” he criticized as somehow a misinterpretation of what it means to be in a world? Nevertheless, at this moment Heidegger claims that if posed radically enough, even the problematic of Being and Time necessarily leads in that direction.
One year later and now in Freiburg, Heidegger returns to a different question that threatens to undermine the distinction between Dasein and nature, but this time through the issue of animality.
Already in Being and Time, Heidegger had noted how life is somehow in between Dasein and objective presence, and that it does not fit comfortably within that dichotomy: “Life is neither pure objective presence, nor is it Dasein”. Within the categories o’ered in Being and Time, this exception should have become central to Heidegger’s analytic; however, it remains a marginal comment with no further elaboration. Heidegger famously attempts to deliver on this promissory note in the lecture course The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics. Here, Heidegger returns to the distinction between the “worldless” constitution of the stone (which now replaces the chair as the exemplar of the Vorhanden) and the “world-forming” constitution of Dasein.
However, Heidegger places the animal in an in-between category, famously claiming that “the animal is poor in world”.
This poverty is phenomenologicallydeveloped through a comparative and privative analysis in relation to Dasein, an analysis that has led many interpreters to accuse Heidegger of anthropocentric tendencies. As Derrida has shown, Heidegger believes that when compared to Dasein there is something deficient in the “as-structure” (als-Struktur) of the animal, even if this deficiency is not to be understood as an absolute privation.
While the animal is not world-forming, it does have a mode of access to entities – and entities are actually phenomenologically “given” to the animal: “whatever the lizard is lying on is certainly given in some way for the lizard, and yet is not known to the lizard as a rock”.
Animals have distinct relationships to their environments, treating entities in a manner that is fairly close to Zuhandenheit. Just as I may see a hammer asma hammer, my dog may see it as object-to-be-chewed. However, as Derrida, Calarco, and others have argued, Heidegger is unable to successfully articulate these distinctions. He notices that animality transcends Vorhandenheit, but cannot find a way to determine its relationship to Dasein other than through privation and comparison. In the end, the seminar concludes aporetically, once again showing that animality is an impasse to the distinctions essential to fundamental ontology:
“Thus the thesis that ‘the animal is poor in world’ must remain as a problem.
In fact, problems and aporiai proliferate in this text, which is the lecture course in which Heidegger questions whether the ontological difference is adequately treated through fundamental ontology, going so far as to suggest the abandonment of ontology altogether.
It is arguable that the problem of animality once again brings with it the implicit threat of naturalism. This is because the distinction between the facticity of Dasein and the factuality of nature is blurred by the addition of a previously excluded middle. Animals are clearly a part of nature, and yet they do not necessarily fit the categories of Vorhandenheit or Zuhandenheit, challenging the notion that nature is even appropriately determined by these categories.
Furthermore, if animals are to some extent within a world, then Dasein is not as distinctive and unique as it would appear from the analytic of Dasein in Being andTime. More importantly,m what the question of animality brings with it is the threat of something like gradualism – the idea that one can be more or less Dasein-ish, that one can be “in” a world to different degrees. If that is the case, then Dasein’s ontological possibilities cannbe ontically reinterpreted as capacities or dispositional properties of a particular kind of entity within a natural cosmos. Not only are “animals” poor in world, but many human animals can be poor in world, such as children or the mentally disabled, or perhaps even the severely drunk or sleeping.
The problem of world-poverty and the privative interpretation that goes along with it could be equally applied, mutatis mutandis, to infants or to humans with specific types of neurological deficiencies. This is a problem Heidegger briefly acknowledged in his treatment of young Dasein in the $0″//$0″0 winter semester lecture course in Freiburg.
Heidegger wonders about the challenges inherent in understanding early and young forms of Dasein in the fundamental-ontological manner, and how to appropriately treat a mode of being that is not-quite Dasein but already includes several aspects of comportment and understanding of being. As Andrew Mitchell notes, “the similarities with the treatment of the animal are striking.”
The relationships between Dasein and humans, between Dasein and other animals, between Dasein and nature become much more difficult to clearly delineate, once one acknowledges that there is a serious methodological problem in the constitution of different levels and modes of Dasein itself. If the capacity to have an understanding of being and of electuating the ontological difference can happen to di’erent degrees, it could potentially be explainable as an ontic capacity embedded in our material nature. What Heidegger called the “enactment of the difference between being and beings [der Vollzug des Unterschiedes von Sein und Seiendem]” – which was allegedly only possible within Dasein – is itself conditioned by specific natural capacities of human beings. Whether or not Heidegger acknowledges this explicitly, the questions of animality and of metontology bring his project of fundamental ontology to the brink of naturalism and to a radical blurring of the contours of the ontological difference.