For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Being-in-the-world: A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time, División I

by Dreyfus, Hubert L (1991)


Being-in-the-World is a guide to one of the most influential philosophical works ofthis century: Division I of Part One of Being and Time, where Martin Heidegger works out an originaland powerful account of being-in-the-world which he then uses to ground a profound critique oftraditional ontology and epistemology. Hubert Dreyfus's commentary opens the way for a newappreciation of this difficult philosopher, revealing a rigorous and illuminating vocabulary that isindispensable for talking about the phenomenon of world.The publication of Being and Time in 1927turned the academic world on its head. Since then it has become a touchstone for philosophers asdiverse as Marcuse, Sartre, Foucault, and Derrida who seek an alternative to the rationalist Cartesian tradition of western philosophy. But Heidegger's text is notoriously dense, and hislanguage seems to consist of unnecessarily barbaric neologisms; to the neophyte and even to thoseschooled in Heidegger thought, the result is often incomprehensible.Dreyfus's approach to thisdaunting book is straightforward and pragmatic. He explains the text by frequent examples drawn fromeveryday life, and he skillfully relates Heidegger's ideas to the questions about being and mindthat have preoccupied a generation of cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind.Hubert L.Dreyfus is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.

Key Passage

If Heidegger's carpenter sees that it is lunch time, it is logically possible for him to eat rocks, and physically possible for him to eat acorns. He could also arbitrarily choose not to eat at all and go fishing. However, given his cultural background, his current mood of, let's say, professional seriousness ("By way of having a mood, Dasein 'sees' possibilities, in terms of which it is" (188) [148]), and his current involvement in his work, only a certain range of possibilities, say knackwurst or bratwurst, are actually available to him. Or, to take a  case closer to home, if a student's paper is not ready on time, he can work all night or get an extension or get drunk or leave town, etc., but he cannot commit hara-kiri. For one thing, the idea would never occur to an American student; it is not something it makes sense for him to do. Moreover, given our world of equipment and norms, even if he plunged a  knife into his guts with exactly the right motion, it still would not be hara-kiri. The range of possibilities that Dasein "knows" without reflection, sets up the room for maneuver in the current situation. This is the commonsense background of circumspection-"the circumspec-tion of concern is understanding as common sense" (187) [147]. Thus the existential possibilities open in any specific situation can be viewed as a subset of the general possibilities making up significance. They reveal what in a specific situation it makes sense to do. (p.190)


Heidegger, Skill, Technology, Space, Dasein



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