Academic journal article Humanitas

The Ontology of Culture-Way-Markers

Academic journal article Humanitas

The Ontology of Culture-Way-Markers

Article excerpt

This essay works towards a rough explication of the ontic-ontological difference as it emerges in the early chapters of Heidegger's Being and Time. It then goes on to use that difference to open up a possible ontology of culture. If the cultural disciplines are both ontically oriented and cannot "see" the ontic--ontological difference--and Heidegger tells us this in so many words--what alternative version of culture becomes available to an ontologically-oriented investigation that is aware of the difference?

I. Two kinds of being

Among many other things, Division I of Martin Heidegger's Being and Time is a map of the kinds of beings that there are. [1] If we can, for the sake of this investigation, assume the map to be exhaustive, if not a complete fleshing-out of each kind of being, then we should be able to use it to say something about the kind of being that any given being is. And there is no reason why this should not include culture or, indeed, the related kinds of beings we sometimes call "cultures" and "cultural objects." I believe it necessary to begin to say such things about culture, cultures and cultural objects because, while there are countless extant definitions of culture, as well as manifold lay and professional theories and understandings of what culture is and cultures are, I know of no strictly ontological investigation in this field. Here I am using "ontological" in Heidegger's sense--a sense that will be more fully elaborated as we proceed.

Beings that are Da-sein are intrinsically concerned about their being.

At the start of Being and Time, and although things become more complex as that work proceeds, Heidegger makes a primordial distinction between two kinds of beings. He distinguishes between ([alpha]) beings that are Da-sein (or sometimes "like Da-sein") and ([beta]) beings that are not Da-sein (or sometimes "unlike Dasein"). The first kind is made up of all beings that, in their being, are concerned about their being. Da-sein is any being that, in Heidegger's fundamentally non-psychologistic and non-cognitive sense, understands its being, in its very being, as what it is itself. In this respect, Da-sein does not have concrete attributes (as do beings of the second [beta]-kind); instead, "[a]s a being, Da-sein always defines itself in terms of a possibility which it is and somehow understands in its being" (41e/43g). An example would be me, myself: "The being which this being is concerned about in its being is always my own" (40e/42g); but Da-sein can also be thought of as us, ourselves: "the beings that we o urselves are" (43e/46g). Hence the familiar singular-plural distinction does not apply when it comes to the ontological investigation of Da-sein, but neither do the ordinary (empirical, ontic) expressions "'life' and 'human being"' (43e/46g), as we shall see.

Along the same lines, because all knowing and representing are formed, as it were, after the fact, on the ground of my being Da-sein, I do not have, as Da-sein, the status of a "subject" who merely knows or has representations of the brute reality of "objects": "subject and object are not the same as Da-sein and world" (56e/60g). In fact, the comparison is so dangerously misleading that Heidegger's marginal note reads: "Certainly not. So little that even rejecting this by putting them together is already fatal" (56e, note). The appellation "Da-sein" is not subjectivist, cognitive or representationalist, then, but ontological. In fact, among Heidegger's reasons for the use of the term "Da-sein" is the project of warding off what we can call the "representationalist picture" of subject-object relations. To say that a being is Da-sein (literally, there-being) is simply to say that its ontological condition is that it is concerned with its own being. Or it is to say that "Da-sein is a being which is related unde rstandingly in its being towards that being" (49e/53g). This is why it is not right to say that Da-sein is co-terminous with "human being" or "life," and still less with "a human being" or "a life"; it is closer to the point to say that Da-sein is any being of the same ontological kind as, for example, human being. …

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