Heidegger’s fundamental concepts of metaphysics

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Heidegger’s fundamental concepts of metaphysics


Course paper for prof. M. Cavalcante, Södertörn university college, Sweden, 2004.

This paper concerns Heidegger’s exploration of the three theses he puts forward in The fundamental concepts of metaphysics (FCM, all references are to the English translation of Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik, where not otherwise stated); 

1) The stone is worldless

2) The animal is poor in world

3) Man is World-forming.  

The task is to find out how the theses occur in the text, their methodological claims and purpose and the roles they pertain to in the objective of FCM. I will try to answer these questions as good as possible but I am not sure that I fully have appreciated his work and been faithful to its consistency.

The text falls, according to my reading, into four parts; § 1- 15 on metaphysics, § 16 – 38 on attunement, § 39 – 70 on the three theses and § 71 – 76 on metaphysical conclusions from previous parts. The three theses come fairy late in the text, § 42 and for a certain methodological purpose, which I will consider later.  

First Heidegger grounds his lectures on an exploration of metaphysics that finds the being of Man homeless, with an urge to be at home everywhere. This “everywhere”, this “as a whole”, Heidegger labels “world” and it is this term that will lead us towards his exploration and methodology. It seems to me that the two other terms, finitude and individuation, are almost forgotten.   

Concerning world then, Man has found himself “always already departed” from it, or is always already on the way to it but never at, or in, it completely, yet we are never away from it at all, being to close to the world.

Starting from this homesickness, Heidegger puts Man in front of himself in philosophizing, pondering on the ultimate metaphysical and personal aporias there are; death, finitude, loneliness and individuation (Vereinzelung). Man becomes taken by these questions and his ground shakes in bewilderment, angst, fear and insecurity, although any of these are not to be understood in psychological terms. Man is so taken by the philosophical concepts that he finds himself in a kind of conceptual confusion, in doubt and in profound ambiguity. Philosophy attacks his very essence as he himself, Man, “is in the grip of an attack”. If Man is not shaken into pieces he is not philosophizing, only doing scholarly academic studies with no risk. 

Taking the vacillation between knowing if we are really philophizing or not, Heidegger goes further into the confusion and unbearableness that Man finds himself through real philosophizing to the task of awakening to a fundamental attunement in Dasein. He states that an attunement is the “’how’ according to which we find ourselves disposed in such and such a way “. This definition is important since the further explorations will dwell on the various “Hows” of the notions of Being and Beings can be thought as. The ontological question is already at hand in this attunement, but concealed.

The aforementioned fundamental attunement is boredom, a consequence of philosophizing much more profound than having a regular boring time.  Heidegger’s three distinctions of various sorts of boredom do not occupy us here, but the last kind is what leads us further into his exploration of the theses and especially the concept of world.    This last distinction reads; “It is boring for one” and leaves Man being “left empty”, being “held in limbo” and manifests “how things stand concerning him”.  Man is “being delivered over to beings’ telling refusal of themselves as a whole”. In this fundamental attunement we find ourselves faced with the absence, this telling refusal, of any “essential oppressiveness”, which essentially means that the world does not show itself to us in a special meaningful way. 

Stopping here we find that this “as a whole “is the same as what before was considered world.  We just find ourselves alongside it. In § 39 of FCM,  Heidegger launches the question that will guide us from here over to the three theses, namely, “What is world?” and continues in §40 to state that the three original questions (world, finitude, individuation) must be asked in such a fashion that they evoke the Dasein in Man.  Asking about the world is asking about Dasein, i.e. the being of Man.  But already in §42 he views a central problem that will continue through until the end, namely that the world of Man is both a having of world and being a part of world. Man’s existence, Dasein, leaves him in an ambivalent position towards world that Heidegger uses in order to pursue his philosophical project which at this time, 1929, seems to go beyond  his fundamental- ontological work Sein und Zeit towards a less anthropocentric metaphysics. 

And here the three theses are presented as following the path of comparative examination (vergleichende Betrachtung). This method allows him to ask what world is by way of asking what stones, animals and plants are in the world, and how their being is in the world. He pursues this comparison to open up the essence of world, bringing “the worldly character of the world into view for the time as the possible theme of a fundamental problem of metaphysics”.  Worth noting here is that to be able to compare beings is what distinguishes Man from animals and this comparison goes right down to the depth of the ontological difference, Beings/Being.

To sum up what we have said so far: Heidegger asks the metaphysical questions of world, finitude, individuation by way of asking of how Man stands in a fundamental attunement (of being left empty) in front of the world (and its absence of any pressing meaning). In asking how other creatures take part in the world, their accessibility and life in general, Man’s essence will be explored in a negative fashion (not animal), and positive (as alive in contrast to the stone).  The existential ways of being a stone, being alive and being an animal are central. In Heidegger’s words:  “The perspective from which we shall make our comparison, that in respect of which we shall do the comparing, is the specific relation that stone, animal and man in each case has toward world”.

By considering first, and foremost, the middle thesis, “Animal is poor in World”; the relations towards both stones (not alive) and Man (rational animal) are compared. The undertaking is about ζοον λγον εχηον,  a living (non-rational) animal, in contrast to man who is both living animal and rational which makes the relation into “neither/nor problematic”, just like man both being in and having a world.  Man can never be a composite of animal and reason.

Heidegger goes on to contrast his philosophical questioning with that of zoology, which does not delve into the metaphysical circle of the essence of animality, i.e. life, although biology tries to find autonomy for this concept against the tyranny of physics and chemistry. Heidegger wants to liberate science from mechanistic concepts of life and find a metaphysical interpretation of life that also might be of use to all researchers and workers, “to perform the incalculable task of preparing Dasein for that readiness on basis of which such natural originality thrives”. In this critique of technical- instrumental interpretations of animals as organisms, creatures with organs similar to equipments, Heidegger relies more on Aristotle’s notion of animality as a being with an internal teleology. The animal is driven by πραξισ (praxis) with εντελεχηεια , (entelechy) and not understood as von Uexküll’s Naturfaktor. 

Methodologically the three theses are compared in various ways that show their relations to world. Being able to transpose oneself into stone, animal and other men is one way.  It is the last two that become interesting in so far as they give insights into worlds other than ourselves, which stones never do.  Humanity transposed into animality does not represent a nonsensical endeavor, “in principle a possibility for man”, but humans always find themselves being- with- others (Mitsein) so that question is ruled out, even if man is totally alone.    

The questions of animality and life are still unanswered at this point and the second thesis is pursued further from §50 – 63 in relation to contemporary biological, embryological and zoological research.  The process need not concern us here but the thesis “Animal is poor in world” becomes much more complicated.  Animals have and do not have a world, which is to say that they are driven and captivated into a world that they behave within as in a specific encircling ring. Man in contrast comport himself in a world of beings that manifest themselves as such. An animal has access to beings, yet not being as such, i.e. their essences. 

To be able to see that essence, Man has λογοσ ( logos) rationality, to help him distinguish between various kinds of being, and this reason is also what differentiates him from all other beings.  This leads us to consider Man’s place in the world as twofold; being in the world and asking questions about the world, yet still there. Animals can never get outside their captivity and are absorbed in their ring. Heidegger tries to contrast animals to men using the concept of “being open (Offensein)”.  Man’s being open is a being held toward X, whereas animals’ being open as taken by X.  Man’s openness is a letting oneself be bound, a free holding of oneself. This holding is not at all like animals’ instinctual drives; rather it is a freely chosen “tuning into beings, relating oneself in comporting oneself”.

 λογοσ differ here from conventional translations of logos as rationality, speech, reason, language etc. in Heidegger’s emphasis on its groundness in being, as making the world happen, open up world to Man. “For discourse speaks, knowingly or not, from out of and into the prior forming of the whole” as McNeill puts it. This opening up of world, of Dasein in Man, makes it impossible to compare man to animal in a simple fashion. Since the world itself opens up with Man, and “lets the essence of the world light up “, an abyss distinguishes him from animals, leaving Man in the fate of a protoethical event, a criterion of all criteria

 In contemporary discussions Heidegger’s critique of humanism has been looked upon as not critical enough. His view is seen as a neo-humanism that puts forward that Man, as rational animal, is still in the concept of too much animality. His attack is divided towards science as much as against romanticism (e.g. Rilke). Man is lowered to animals, and science helps this development.  “Heidegger shares the classical humanist’s dogmatic and idealizing tendency to conceive humanity by way of essential contrast to animality”.  Derrida spoke early of a “magnetic attraction” between Daseins- Analyse and the metaphysics of traditional humanism and continues later his critique of Heidegger’s anthropocentric or even humanist teleology.


In the end of FCM, Heidegger turns back in a dual approach to the discussion of awakening a fundamental attunement of our Dasein and to the problem of world by way of a comparative examination of the second thesis. Then the thesis gave way to how reason (λογοσ) and world-formation hand together in a negative analysis towards the animal, in this lacking being held towards, completion and the unveiling of being of beings. The awakening of attunement and the analysis of λογοσ, in reference to the three theses on world serve but one purpose: “To prepare our entering into the occurrence of the prevailing of world”

This conclusion seems to me farfetched but I do not have the space here to expand on it. His alternative to metaphysics weighs heavily in the last paragraphs and is not, easily fitted into discussions of attunement, stones, plants, animals and Man. The concept of world is taken as a leading red thread which helps but I feel still that too much is hung onto the long rope. 

Referenser finns  på mina Philosophy Papers 



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