It should already be becoming clear that Heidegger conceives of the human way of being as essentially conditioned. The Western philosophical tradition has often presupposed that the human subject can in some way transcend the material realm upon which it fixes its gaze, and so that human beings are only contingently possessed of a world; but, for Heidegger, no sense attaches to the idea of a human being existing apart from or outside a world. This does not, however, mean that human beings are somehow imprisoned in the world, forcibly subjected to the essentially alien limits of embodiment and practical interaction with nature; for those limits are not essentially alien. If no recognizably human existence is conceivable in the absence of a world, then the fact that human existence is worldly cannot be a limitation or constraint upon it; just as someone can only be imprisoned if there is a world outside her prison from which she is excluded, so a set of limits can only be thought of as limitations if there exists a possible mode of existence to which those limits do not apply. Since that is not the case here, the inherent worldliness of human existence must be thought of as an aspect of the human condition. It is a condition of human life, not a constraint upon it.
But, on Heidegger’s account, human existence is not only conditioned by worldliness – or, rather, worldliness conditions human existence in ways that we have not yet examined. This chapter will examine two of them: the way in which the world is inherently social or communal, and the ways in which it conditions human affective and cognitive powers.
INDIVIDUALITY AND COMMUNITY (§§25–7)
So far, it may have seemed that Dasein’s world is populated solely by physical objects or entities, what J. L. Austin called ‘medium-sized dry goods’. But Heidegger emphasizes that there is at least one other class of beings that must be accommodated by any adequate analysis of that world, those with the kind of Being belonging to Dasein – in short, other people. And if we cannot understand Dasein in the terms appropriate to objects, then neither can we understand other human beings and Dasein’s relations with them in that way.
But, of course, many philosophers have tried to do just that. The very title under which this set of issues is commonly known in the discipline confirms this: ‘The Problem of Other Minds’. It implies that, while we can be certain of the existence of other creatures with bodies similar to our own, justifying the hypothesis that these bodies have minds attached to them is deeply problematic. Here, a dualistic understanding of human beings as mind–body couples combines with a materialist impulse to suggest that our relations with other putatively human beings are, in effect, relations with physical objects of a particular sort to which we are inclined to attribute various distinctive additional characteristics – which inevitably raises the question of our warrant for such extremely unusual attributions. And any attempts to solve this ‘problem’ inevitably share those presuppositions, since they will be couched in the terms in which the problem itself is posed.
The argument from analogy, for example, tells us that our justification lies in the similarities of form and behaviour between our bodies and those of other humanoid creatures. Given that we know from our own case that such behaviour is associated with mental activities of various sorts, we can reliably infer that the same is true in the case of these other entities. This is a species of inductive inference, drawing a conclusion about what is correlated with the behaviour of other bodies on the basis of our acquaintance with what is correlated with the behaviour of our own. But, of necessity, our observations relate solely to correlations between mental phenomena and our own behaviour, and so provide no basis whatever for conclusions about what (if anything) might be correlated with the behaviour of others – a correlation that it is in principle impossible for us to observe directly. It may seem that such an extrapolation is justified by observable similarities between our own bodies and behaviour and the bodies and behaviour of others, but the key issue is: which similarities? That the bodies and the behaviour are similar in bodily and behavioural respects is not in question. But the similarity that matters is that a mind be similarly attached to those other bodies and their behaviour; and no amount of similarity between our bodily form and behavioural repertoire and theirs can establish that. To think otherwise – to think that a correlation established between body and mind in my own case can simply be extrapolated to the case of others – is to assume that comprehending the essential nature of others is simply a matter of projecting our understanding of our own nature onto them. But it is precisely the legitimacy of such empathic projection – of regarding (one’s relation to) another humanoid creature as if it were just like (one’s relation to) oneself, or, in more Heideggerian language, viewing Being-towards-Others in terms of Being-towards-oneself – that is at issue.
This, I take it, is Heidegger’s point in the following passage:
The entity which is ‘other’ has itself the same kind of Being as Dasein. In Being with and towards Others, there is thus a relationship of Being from Dasein to Dasein. But it might be said that this relationship is already constitutive for one’s own Dasein, which, in its own right, has an understanding of Being, and thus relates itself towards Dasein. The relationship-of-Being which one has towards Others. . . then become[s] a Projection of one’s own Being-towards-oneself ‘into something else’. The other would be a duplicate of the Self. But while these deliberations seem obvious enough, it is easy to see that they have little ground to stand on. The presupposition which this argument demands – that Dasein’s Being towards an Other is its Being towards itself – fails to hold. As long as the legitimacy of this presupposition has not turned out to be evident, one may still be puzzled as to how Dasein’s relationship to itself is thus to be disclosed to the Other as Other.
(BT, 26: 162)
Thus, the argument from analogy appears to work only if the question it is designed to answer is begged – only if it is assumed from the outset that all the other humanoid bodies I encounter are similar to mine not only physically and behaviourally but also psychophysically, i.e. that they are similarly correlated with minds. The similarity that legitimates the inductive inference thus turns out to be the similarity that it is supposed to demonstrate; the argument from analogy assumes what it sets out to prove. In this respect, a Cartesian understanding of other minds faces the same difficulty as a Cartesian understanding of the external world: in both cases, no satisfactory answer is available to the sceptical challenge that the terms of such understandings invite. Heidegger concludes that we should therefore jettison an essentially compositional understanding of other persons: the sceptic’s ability to demolish our best attempts to treat that concept as a construction from more basic constituents (e.g. as resulting from the projection of the concept of a humanoid mind on to that of a humanoid body) reveals that such treatments
either presuppose or eliminate what they set out to analyse. We must, rather, recognize that the concept of the Other (of other persons) is irreducible, an absolutely basic component of our understanding of the world we inhabit, and so something from which our ontological investigations must begin. To adapt Strawsonian terminology, it is the concept of other persons (and not that of other minds plus other bodies) that is logically primitive.1 And in so far as others are primordially persons, creatures with a perspective upon the world and whose essence is existence, then their Being must be of the same kind as Dasein.
But Heidegger’s point is anti-solipsistic as well as anti-dualist. It is not just that the concept of another person must be understood non-compositionally (i.e. as Dasein rather than as the juxtaposition of two present-at-hand substances). That concept is also essential to any adequate ontological analysis of Dasein (i.e. the Being of Dasein is essentially Being-with-Others). After all, the Being of Dasein is Being-in-the-world, so the concepts of Dasein and world are internally related. But the structure of the world makes essential reference to other beings whose Being is like Dasein’s own. So Dasein cannot be understood except as inhabiting a world it necessarily shares with beings like itself.
And just what are these essential references to Others?
In our description of the . . . work-world of the craftsman . . . the outcome was that along with the equipment to be found when one is at work, those Others for whom the work is destined are ‘encountered too’. If this is ready-to-hand, then there lies in the kind of Being which belongs to it (that is, in its involvement) an essential assignment or reference to possible wearers, for instance, for whom it should be cut to the figure. Similarly, when material is put to use, we encounter its producer or supplier as one who ‘serves’ well or badly. . . . The Others who are thus ‘encountered’ in a ready-to-hand, environmental context of equipment are not somehow added on in thought to some Thing which is proximally just present-at-hand; such ‘Things’ are encountered from out of the world in which they are ready-to-hand for Others – a world which is always mine too in advance.
(BT, 26: 153–4)
This suggests three different senses in which other people are constituents of Dasein’s world. First, they form one more class of being that Dasein encounters within its world. Second, what Dasein works upon is typically provided by others and what it produces is typically destined for others; in other words, the ‘whereof’ and the ‘towards-which’ of equipmental totalities relate the work-world to other people. Third, the readiness-to-hand of objects for a particular Dasein is not (and could not conceivably be) understood as their readiness-to-hand for that Dasein alone; if any object is handy for a given task, it must be handy for every Dasein capable of performing it. In this sense, readiness-to-hand is inherently intersubjective; and since a parallel argument applies to the recontextualized world of present-at-hand objects, it entails that Dasein’s inherently worldly Being is essentially social.
Note that Heidegger is not claiming that Dasein cannot be alone, isolated from all human company; whether or not that is the case is a purely ontic question, to do with a particular individual in a particular time and place. The claim that the Being of Dasein is Being-with is an ontological claim; it identifies an existential characteristic of Dasein which holds regardless of whether an Other is present, and for two reasons. First, because, if it did not, the possibility of Dasein’s encountering another creature of its own kind would be incomprehensible. For, if, ontologically, Dasein’s Being was not Being-with, it would lack the capacity to be in another’s company – just as a table can touch a wall but can never encounter it as a wall, so Dasein could never conceivably encounter another human being as such. Second, it is only because Dasein’s Being is Being-with that it can be isolated or alone; for, just as it only makes sense to talk of Dasein encountering an object as unready-to-hand if it can also encounter it as handy, so it only makes sense to talk of Dasein as being alone if it is capable of being with Others when they are present. In other words, aloneness is a deficient mode of Dasein’s Being; ‘The Other can be missing only in and for a Being-with’ (BT 26: 157).
Heidegger sees no conflict between his claim that Dasein’s Being is Being-with and his earlier characterization of Dasein’s Being as in each case mine; rather, the former constitutes a further specification of the latter. That notion of ‘mineness’ encapsulates two main points: first, that the Being of Dasein is an issue for it (that every choice it makes about which existentiell possibilities to realize is a choice about the form that its own life will take), and, second, that each Dasein is an individual, a being to whom personal pronouns can be applied and to whom at least the possibility of genuine or authentic individuality belongs. To go on to claim that the Being of such a being is Being-with does not negate that prior attribution of mineness; for to say that the world is a social world is simply to say that it is a world Dasein encounters as ‘our’ world, and such a world is no less mine because it is also yours. Our world is both mine and yours; intersubjectivity is not the denial of subjectivity but its further specification. And this further specification deepens our understanding of the condition under which each Dasein must develop (or fail to develop) its mineness or individuality. For, if Dasein’s Being is Being-with, an essential facet of that which is an issue for Dasein is its relations to Others; the idea is that, at least in part, Dasein establishes and maintains its relation to itself in and through its relations with Others, and vice versa. The two issues are ontologically inseparable; to determine the one is to determine the other.
This understanding of the relationship between subjectivity and intersubjectivity determines Heidegger’s characterization of Dasein’s average everyday mode of existence. For it entails that Dasein’s capacity to lose or find itself as an individual always determines, and is determined by, the way in which Dasein understands and conducts its relations with Others. And the average everyday form of that understanding focuses upon one’s differences (in appearance, behaviour, lifestyle and opinion) from those with whom one shares the world, regarding them as the main determinant of one’s own sense of self. Our usual sense of who we are, Heidegger claims, is purely a function of our sense of how we differ from others. We understand those differences either as something to be eliminated at all costs, thus taking conformity as our aim; or (perhaps less commonly) as something that must at all costs be emphasized and developed – a strategy which only appears to avoid conformity, since our goal is then to distinguish ourselves from others rather than to distinguish ourselves in some particular, independently valuable way, and so amounts to allowing others to determine (by negation) the way we live. The dictatorship of the Others and the consequent loss of authentic individuality in what Heidegger calls ‘average everyday distantiality’ is therefore visible not just in those who aim to read, see and judge literature and art as everyone reads, sees and judges, but also in those whose aim is to adopt the very opposite of the common view. Cultivating uncommon pleasures, thoughts and reactions is no guarantee of existential individuality.
Dasein, as everyday Being-with-one-another, stands in subjection to Others. It itself is not; its Being has been taken away by the Others. Dasein’s everyday possibilities of Being are for the Others to dispose of as they please. These Others, moreover, are not definite Others. On the contrary, any Other can represent them. . . . One belongs to the Others oneself and enhances their power. The Others whom one thus designates in order to cover up the fact of one’s belonging to them essentially oneself, are those who proximally and for the most part ‘are there’ in everyday Being-with-one-another. The ‘who’ is not this one, not that one, not oneself, not some people, and not the sum of them all. The ‘who’ is the neuter, the ‘they’.
(BT, 27: 164)
In other words, this absence of individuality is not restricted to some definable segment of the human community; on the contrary, since it defines how human beings typically relate to their fellows, it must apply to most if not all of those Others to whom any given Dasein subjects itself. They cannot be any less vulnerable to the temptations of distantiality, and so cannot be regarded as having somehow avoided subjection to those who stand as Others to them. ‘The Others’ thus cannot be thought of as a group of genuinely individual human beings whose shared tastes dictate the tastes of everyone else; and neither do they constitute an intersubjective or supra-individual being, a sort of communal self. The ‘they’ is neither a collection of definite Others nor a single definite Other; it is not a being or set of beings to whom genuine mineness belongs, but a free-floating, impersonal construct, a sort of consensual hallucination to which each of us gives up the capacity for genuine self-relation and the leading of an authentically individual life. Consequently, if a given Dasein’s thoughts and deeds are (determined by) what they think and do, its answerability for its life has been not so much displaced (on to others) as misplaced. It has vanished, projected on to an everyone that is no one by someone who is, without it, also no one, and leaving in its wake a comprehensively neutered world. As Heidegger puts it, ‘everyone is the other and no one is himself. The “they”, which supplies the answer to the question of the “who” of everyday Dasein, is the “nobody” to whom every Dasein has already surrendered itself in Being-among-one-another’ (BT, 27: 165–6).
In short, the average everyday mode of Dasein is inauthentic. Its mineness takes the form of the ‘they’, its Self is a they-self – a mode of relating to itself and to Others in which it and they fail to find themselves and so fail to achieve genuine individuality. And this cultural critique also accounts for the prevalence of ontological misunderstandings in the philosophical tradition. For Heidegger needs to explain how a creature to whom (according to his own analysis) an understanding of Being essentially belongs can have misunderstood its own Being so systematically. But, of course, if Dasein typically loses itself in the ‘they’, it will understand both its world and itself in the terms that ‘they’ make available to it, and so will interpret its own nature in terms of the categories that lie closest to hand in popular culture and everyday life; and they will be as inauthentic as their creators. They will embody the same impulses towards levelling down, the avoidance of the unusual or the difficult, the acceptance of prevailing opinion, and so on. And since philosophical enquiry will typically be the work of those same inauthentic individuals, the philosophical tradition will contain similarly inauthentic ontological categories that are unhesitatingly accepted by its present representatives. Any attempt to retrieve an authentic ontological understanding will accordingly appear to subvert obvious and self-evident truths, to overturn common sense and violate ordinary language.
Two words of warning are in order about this notion of inauthenticity. First, such an inauthentic state is not somehow ontologically awry, as if Dasein were less real as an entity, less itself, when its Self is the they-self. On the contrary, any Being capable of finding itself must also be capable of losing itself. Second, authenticity does not require severing all ties with Others, as if genuine individuality presupposed isolation or even solipsism. Heidegger’s view is rather that Dasein’s Being is Being-with; in other words, just as with Dasein’s worldliness, its inherently social forms of existence are not a limitation upon it but a limit – a further condition of the human way of being. So authentic Being-oneself could not involve detachment from Others; it must rather require a different form of relationship with them – a distinctive form of Being-with.
Unfortunately, Heidegger’s way of stating this last point raises more questions than it answers. For he says that ‘authentic Being-one-self is . . . an existentiell modification of the “they” – of the “they” as an essential existentiale’ (BT, 27: 168). If the they-self is an essential existentiale of Dasein, it is not just a particular existentiell possibility that Dasein commonly tends to actualize, but rather a ‘primordial phenomenon [which] belongs to Dasein’s positive constitution’ (BT, 27: 167), part of its ontological structure. But since submission to the they-self is an inherently inauthentic mode of Dasein’s Being, Heidegger seems to be claiming that Dasein’s Being is somehow inherently inauthentic. In other words, whereas previously he has claimed that Dasein is ontologically capable of living either authentically or inauthentically, and that which it achieves depends upon where, when and how it makes its existentiell choices, now he wants to claim that Dasein’s very nature mires it in an inauthenticity of which such authenticity as it may sometimes achieve is merely an existentiell modification.
It is hard to see what sense might be attached to the idea that authenticity is an existentiell mode of an ontologically inauthentic being; how can Dasein be both authentic and inauthentic at once –authentically inauthentic? More generally, Heidegger’s claim looks like a simple confusion of his own categories, a blurring of the very distinction between ontic and ontological levels of analysis to which he constantly makes reference; and his analysis in this chapter provides no support for the conclusion he wants to draw. For its focus is Dasein’s average everydayness, which is an existentiell state, and so can reveal only that the Self of everyday Dasein is the they-self. If this licenses any ontological conclusion – a conclusion concerning structures of Dasein’s Being regardless of its particular ontic state – it is that Dasein’s Being is always Being-with. It certainly does not license the conclusion that that Being-with must take the inauthentic form of submission to the ‘they’.
Can Heidegger’s seeming waywardness here be justified, or at least accounted for? Two passages provide a clue, the first from the beginning of section 27:
We have shown earlier how in the environment which lies closest to us, the ‘public’ environment already is ready-to-hand and is also a matter of concern. In utilizing means of transport and in making use of information services such as the newspaper, every Other is like the next. This Being-with-one-another dissolves one’s own Dasein completely into the kind of Being of ‘the Others’, in such a way, indeed, that the Others, as distinguishable and explicit, vanish more and more.
(BT, 27: 164)
In one sense, this passage gets us no further forward, since the phenomena it picks out (prevailing arrangements for transport and newspapers) are features of Dasein’s world that one can easily imagine being altered more or less radically; there seem to be no ontological implications here. On the other hand, it plainly links the idea of one Dasein being just like the next with that of the environment that lies closest to it, which is of course the work-world – as if for Heidegger there is something inherently public or impersonal about that world, something that no more acknowledges the individuality of those who inhabit it than a public transportation system acknowledges the individuality of each of its ‘customers’ or a newspaper that of each of its readers. What might this something be?
The second passage appears a little earlier:
[W]hen material is put to use, we encounter its producer or ‘supplier’ as one who ‘serves’ well or badly. When for example, we walk along the edge of a field but ‘outside it’, the field shows itself as belonging to such-and-such a person, and decently kept up by him. The book we have used was bought at so-and-so’s shop. . . . The boat anchored at the shore is assigned in its being-in-itself to an acquaintance that undertakes voyages with it; but even if it is a ‘boat which is strange
to us’, it is still indicative of Others.
(BT, 26: 153–4)
At first, this passage seems only to emphasize the multitude of ways in which Dasein’s world reveals the presence of Others; but, reading it with our problem in mind, what might strike us instead is just how those Others appear to Dasein. They appear as producers, suppliers, field-owners and farmers, booksellers and sailors – in short, as bearers of social roles; and they are judged in terms of how well or badly they carry out their roles. Their identity is thus given primarily by their occupation, by the tasks or functions they perform; who they are to us is a matter of what they do and how they do it. But these are defined purely impersonally, by reference to what the relevant task or office requires; given the necessary competence, which individual occupies that office is as irrelevant as are any idiosyncrasies of character and talent that have no bearing on the task at hand. In so far, then, as Others appear in our shared world primarily as functionaries, they appear not as individuals but as essentially interchangeable occupants of impersonally defined roles. Since our appearance to them must take a precisely analogous form, we must understand ourselves to be in exactly the same position.
We can see why this is an ontological rather than an ontic matter if we recall Heidegger’s earlier analysis of the worldhood of the world. It constitutes a widely ramifying web of socially defined
concepts, roles, functions and functional interrelations, within which alone it was possible for human beings to encounter objects. Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein’s Being as Being-with simply underlines the fact that human beings, no less than objects, are part of that same web; after all, their Being is Being-in-the-world. Since the environment closest to them is the work-world, the identity closest to them is their identity as workers, as people performing socially defined and culturally inherited tasks whose nature is given prior to and independently of their own individuality, and which typically will not be significantly marked by their temporary inhabitation of them. Just as the objects with which we deal must be understood primarily in relation to purposes and possibilitiesof- Being embedded in cultural practices, so we must understand ourselves primarily as practitioners – as followers of the norms definitive of proper practice in any given field of endeavour. And Heidegger’s point is that such norms – and so such practices – are necessarily interpersonal, and so in an important sense impersonal. It must be possible for others to occupy exactly the same role, to engage in exactly the same practice; apart from anything else, society and culture could not otherwise be reproduced across generations. But, more importantly, a practice that only one person could engage in simply could not count as a practice at all. Such a thing would be possible only if it were possible for someone to follow a rule that no one else could follow – to follow a rule privately – and as Wittgenstein has argued, that is a contradiction in terms.
For Heidegger, then, since Dasein’s Being is Being-in-the-world, it will always, necessarily, begin from a position in which it must relate to itself as the occupant of a role in a practice, and so must begin by understanding itself in the essentially impersonal terms that such a role provides – terms which have no essential connection with its identity as an individual, but rather define a function or set of functions that anyone might perform. Such roles do not, as it were, pick out a particular person, even if they do require particular skills or aptitudes; they specify not what you or I must do in order to occupy them, but rather what one must do – what must be done. The role-occupant thus specified is an idealization or construct, an abstract or average human being rather than anyone in particular: it is, in other words, a species of the they-self. In this sense, and this sense alone, is the ‘they’ an essential existentiale of Dasein.
But, of course, just because such roles are defined in entirely impersonal terms, the individual who occupies them need not always relate to them purely impersonally. A social role can be a vital element in an individual’s self-understanding (as a vocation, for example); but, although the role can be appropriated authentically in such ways, its essential nature does not ensure or even encourage such appropriations. Heidegger does not deny the possibility of authentic existence to beings who must begin from such a selfunderstanding. He simply claims that the position from which they must begin necessarily involves a self-interpretation from which they must break away if they are to achieve authentic existence, and that any such authentically individual existence, since it must be lived in the world, must be a modification rather than a transcendence of the role-centred nature of any such life. Authenticity is a matter of the way in which one relates to one’s roles, not a rejection of any and all roles. In short, Dasein is never necessarily lost to itself, but it must always begin by finding itself; authenticity is always an achievement:
The Self of everyday Dasein is the they-self, which we distinguish from the authentic Self – that is, from the Self which has been taken hold of in its own way. As they-self, the particular Dasein has been dispersed into the ‘they’, and must first find itself. . . . If Dasein discovers the world in its own way and brings it close, if it discloses to itself its own authentic Being, then this discovery of the ‘world’ and this disclosure of Dasein are always accomplished as a clearing-away of concealments and obscurities, as a breaking up of the disguises with which Dasein bars its own way.
(BT, 27: 167)