Simon Critchley, The Guardian, Monday 29th June, 2009.
As I already tried to show, Heidegger seeks to reawaken perplexity about the question of being, the basic issue of metaphysics. In Being and Time, he pursues this question through an analysis of the human being or what he calls Dasein. The being of Dasein is existence, understood as average everyday existence or our life in the world, discussed in the last entry. But how might we give some more content to this rather formal idea of existence?
Heidegger gives us a strong clue in Division 1, Chapter 5 of Being and Time, which is a long, difficult, but immensely rewarding chapter and where things really begin to get interesting. The central claim of this chapter - which is deepened in the remainder of Being and Time - is that Dasein is thrown projection (Dasein ist geworfener Entwurf). Let me try and unravel this thought.
Heidegger tends to advance his investigation in concept clusters. One cluster contains three concepts: state of mind, mood and thrownness. State of mind is a rather questionable rendering of Befindlichkeit, which William Richardson nicely translates as 'already-having-found-oneself-there-ness'. OK, it's not particularly elegant, but the thought is the human being is always already found or disclosed somewhere, namely in the 'there' of its being-in-the-world. This 'there' is the Da of Dasein.
Furthermore, I am always found in a mood, a Stimmung. This is mood is the strong Aristotelian sense of pathos, a passion of the soul or an affect, something befalls us and in which we find ourselves. The passions are not, for Heidegger, psychological colouring for an essentially rational agent. They are rather the fundamental ways in which we are attuned to the world. Indeed, musicologically, Stimmung is linked to tuning and pitch: one is attuned to the world firstly and mostly through moods. One of the compelling aspects of Heidegger's work is his attempt to provide a phenomenology of moods, of the affects that make up our everyday life in the world.
This is another way of approaching his central insight: that we cannot exist independently of our relation to the world; and this relationship is a matter of mood and appetite, not rational contemplation.
Such moods disclose the human being as thrown into the 'there' of my being-in-the-world. As Jim Morrisson intoned many decades ago, 'Into this world we're thrown'. Thrownness (Geworfenheit) is the simple awareness that we always find ourselves somewhere, namely delivered over to a world with which we are fascinated, a world we share with others.
We are always caught up in our everyday life in the world, in the throw of various moods, whether fear, boredom, excitement or – as we will see in the next entry – anxiety.
But, Heidegger insists, Dasein is not just thrown into the world. Because it – we – are capable of understanding, we can also throw off our thrown condition. Understanding is, for Heidegger, a conception of activity. It is always understanding how to do something or how to operate something. Understanding is the possession of an ability (etwas können) and the authentic human is characterised by the ability or potentiality to be (Seinkönnen).
So, the human being is not just a being defined by being thrown into the world. It is also one who can throw off that thrown condition in a movement where it seizes hold of its possibilities, where it acts in a concrete situation. This movement is what Heidegger calls projection (Entwurf) and it is the very experience of what Heidegger will call, later in Being and Time, freedom. Freedom is not an abstract philosophical concept. It is the experience of the human being demonstrating its potential through acting in the world. To act in such a way is to be authentic.