Heidegger on the entity-ness of an entity

Avid asked:

What does Taylor Carman mean (in his foreword in Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’) by ‘Yet the entity-ness of the entity is just what possession of the property was supposed to explain.’ It is prefaced by ‘What would an entity be without the property of existence? Nothing. And what could have such a property? Only an entity.’ I understand that Carman is stating an entity is that which has the property of existing and that Heidegger classifies Being as a separate characteristic of an entity and existing. But the sentence explaining it (see above) is rather wordy and confusing. I fear I am missing vital info by simply glossing over this information. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

This is not a test or essay question, (I mean its a pretty obscure line to have a prompt based off of) but I am going to be taking Heidegger courses in the coming fall and wanted to get a good grasp on the subject before diving in. I have already read ‘Question Concerning Technology’ and now want to read Being and Time but this line is really getting me! Hoping there are some fellow Heidegger aficionados on this site, ones with better knowledge/experience than I currently have.

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

I’ve not read Carman; but from your quotation I can see what bothers you — the doubling up of concepts where there is only one. An ‘entity’ is after all a word that includes its predicate, which makes the attribution of the property ‘existence’ completely redundant.

The problem here is, that Heidegger’s philosophy entails a repudiation of our normal ontological (i.e. scientific) approach of taking the existence of things for granted. It is not at all self-understood, as our perennial search for ‘final substances’ and ‘ultimate particles’ indicates. The thrust of his thinking is aimed precisely at showing that taking for granted deprives us of real insight into the nature of existence. So his insistence on separating an existent from existence must not be read in terms of properties, but in terms of understanding existence as a feature shared by all existents, but not equally, nor in the same way.

He is predominantly concerned with the form of existence he calls ‘Dasein’. Hence the importance of enquiring into this form of existence is, that it evidently differs in some way from the form of existence of a nugget or a flintstone. It also differs, less dramatically, from the existence of vegetation, insects, animals etc. It differs, finally, from the existence of those things which did not arise spontaneously from the mere aggregation of molecules, but were fashioned by a human will to a human purpose.

When you look at this, you should recognise four forms of existence, where traditional philosophy (and science) knows of only one.

The only one these which is self-evident is the last. A hammer comes into existence because some people have a need for a hammer. So a tool’s existence is a derived existence, and no further questions need to be asked.

But we have never asked the question of the conditions that must prevail to explain the existence of the other existents. Heidegger’s point here is, that we did not ask, because we assumed that coining such concepts as ‘final particle’, ‘substance’, ‘hypokeimenon’, even ‘God’, were sufficient to pre-empt our unasked question. However, assumptions stand or fall by their demonstration; and Heidegger’s claim is that none were ever successfully demonstrated to be what they were proposed to be — because they are in fact indemonstrable.

Instead, his own proposition is tantamount to the question: Is there a kind of ‘residual existential potential’ in the universe, or at least on Earth? This is the gist of Heidegger’s breaking up of apparent synonymity — to break through to a more authentic conception of the existence of conscious, self-reflexive agents, i.e. existents having ‘Dasein’.

This ‘Dasein’ is not an abstract concept, though non-specific in itself (and after all a perfectly commonplace non-technical word in German). So Heidegger employs the expedient of anthropomorphising it, in order to draw its specific features and aspects into the light of our understanding, so that we can grasp and absorb the meaning of our individual ‘Dasein’, what it involves and implies. Important to remember that Dasein is NOT an existent in itself: it is a mode of human life and experience.

I will stop here, as I believe I’ve answered your question. There is more baffling terminology waiting for you in his text. But at least on this one issue, I hope you will be in the clear now.


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