1. Introduction
  2. Philosophy as the science of Being
  3. The preparatory and foundational character of fundamental ontology
  4. Intermezzo
  5. The “positive impetus” from modern philosophy
  6. Dasein as the subjectivity of the subject
  7. Fundamental ontology as transcendental philosophy
  8. Dasein as transcendental subjectivity
  9. Conclusion


Our goal is to understand Heidegger’s early thought as an approach to Being through a revision of two modern philosophical themes, specifically subjectivity and transcendental philosophy.  More specifically, we plan to show that Heidegger’s early thought was an attempt to formulate the question of Being in terms of an analysis of the entity that is both “transcendental” and “subjective” in the most authentic sense of the term, namely Dasein.  To be sure, Heidegger abandoned this formulation in his later thought, and for the rest of his life he subjected this early approach to Being to an immanent critique.  But the fact remains, as we plan to show, that during the first part of his career, Martin Heidegger progressively sharpened his philosophical thinking into a transcendental subjective approach to the question of Being– culminating in his published works, Being and Time and On the Essence of Ground.

At first glance, our interpretation might seem incredulous in the extreme, for the majority of the writers on Heidegger claim precisely the opposite.  Most scholars sympathetic to Heidegger’s thought emphasize how his early thought overcame the pre occupations of modern philosophers, especially the “modern” emphasis on subjectivity and transcendental philosophy.  This tendency is especially characteristic of American writers like Kisiel, Dreyfus, and Rorty; but it is also true of many European writers, including Richardson, Taminaux and Marion.  Furthermore, other experts on both continents usually emphasize that Heidegger’s early thought at least weakens the importance of the position of the subject, but they are quick to add that the true demise of subjectivity occurred only in the later Heidegger, where his early thought was submitted to an immanent critique.  In short, the emphasis in most of the literature on Heidegger is his break with modern thinkers, especially regarding their preoccupation with “subjectivity” and “transcendental” thought.  Little, if any, press has been given to the sources of inspiration Heidegger found in the transcendental or subjective tendencies in modern thought.[1]

The credibility of our thesis is even more significantly challenged by the lack of any obvious attempt, in his works before 1930, to develop an explicit transcendental philosophy or a philosophy of subjectivity.  These early works include Being and Time, “On the Essence of Ground” and Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics.  In all three works, transcendental philosophy is scarcely mentioned, except with critical reference to Kant; and the term “subjectivity” is almost always avoided, again, except with critical reference to Kant (or other modern philosophers).  Furthermore, instead of the traditional vocabulary of “subject,” “object,” and “transcendental,” Heidegger used terms like “Dasein,” “worldhood,” and “fundamental-ontological.”  Heidegger’s new terms were not simply a matter of substitution, as though one equivalent terminology was exchanged for another, or one type of solution to a common problem was offered in place of another.  Rather, Heidegger insisted that his new terms expressed a radical shift of philosophical emphasis, meaning his new vocabulary marked an end to the traditional formulation of philosophical problems– no matter how similar to Heidegger’s own concerns those problems might seem.  As a rule, in Heidegger’s early published work, almost all the references to “transcendental philosophy” or “subjectivity” were critical, in the sense that Heidegger wanted to show how the approach taken in Being and Time superseded the limitations inherent in these previous attempts to do philosophy.

Given the weight of the evidence against our interpretation, on what grounds can we maintain that Heidegger’s “transcendental-subjective” formulation of the question of Being was inspired by the modern emphasis on subjectivity and/or transcendental philosophy?  More to the point, on what ground can we maintain that Heidegger’s early thought amounts to a revision of transcendental philosophy, a revision no less centered on subjectivity than the philosophy of Kant or Schelling, but one that assigned a radically different meaning to “subjectivity”?

To attenuate the likely skepticism against our thesis, we propose a “Heideggerian” reading of Heidegger’s early works.  By a “Heideggerian” reading we mean an interpretation based on Heidegger’s own dictum for interpreting philosophers (although our application will be somewhat less literal than Heidegger’s).  In Plato’s Sophist, Heidegger stated this interpretative dictum plainly:  “It is in any case a dubious thing to rely on what an author himself brought to the forefront.  The important thing is rather to give attention to those things he left shrouded in silence.”[2]  In a related essay, Heidegger clarified this dictum by adding: “the ‘doctrine’ of a thinker is that which, within what is said, remains unsaid…” and “…in order to experience and to know for the future what a thinker left unsaid, whatever that might be, we have to consider what he said.”[3]  In this essay, we will follow the spirit– though not the letter– of Heidegger’s advice in order to show that a notion of transcendental subjectivity remains unsaid (actually ‘almost said’) within what Heidegger did say about Dasein, the subject, the world, and about philosophy in general.

“Heideggerian” readings have too often been a masquerade for seriously negligent interpretations of Heidegger– and other philosopher’s for that matter.  These misguided interpretations often reap a grain of truth from one or two passages in Heidegger, then sow from them a field of wheat.   We hope to avoid that kind excess.  Instead, our “Heideggerian” reading will only be an opening engagement, a mere skirmish with the basic aspects of his thought.  In this essay, we will only show that a notion of transcendental subjectivity subtends the Dasein of  Being and Time, without developing how that notion was specifically developed by Heidegger.  In effect, we will only argue here that one can use “transcendental subjectivity” for “Dasein” just as well as one can use “Dasein” for “humanity,” so long as one remains mindful of the unique meaning Heidegger’s analysis gives to those terms (which incidentally asks nothing for more than the same generosity required to accept Heidegger’s use of “Dasein” for “human existence”).  Why accept this substitution, one might ask, especially when Heidegger himself went to such apparent pains to avoid it?  We would argue precisely because Heidegger attempted to avoid it.  Our work is an attempt to illuminate an aspect of his thought that Heidegger himself, for whatever reason, did not place at the forefront– or even discuss openly exactly where his own work relied on it.  Our goal is to not speculate reasons for this silence; nor are these reasons required (or even relevant) to make our case.  Our “Heideggerian” reading is simply a ping to break the silence in the scholarship on Heidegger’s work and in Heidegger’s work itself.  Placing the idea of the transcendental subject at the forefront of his thought will illuminate more clearly Heidegger’s break and continuity with the modern tradition– not just the “radical break” that gets emphasized in much scholarship today, based in no small part on Heidegger’s encouragement.

With his method of reading philosophers, Heidegger did not advocate ignoring what philosophers wrote in favor of what they meant to write, and we don’t intend to do that either.  In fact, Heidegger’s style of reading philosophers requires one to pay more careful attention to the details of a philosophical text, in order to expose through these details what latent thoughts might be at work behind the scenes.  In this respect, we will follow Heidegger’s example very closely, using direct citations from his works in order to set up a specific kind of interpretation, one which in the last analysis requires an interpretative leap on our part.   This leap will not be blind; that is, it will not be without a solid footing or solid ground to land on.  Instead, it will be a reasonable interpretation of what Heidegger did not say in light of what he did.  Heidegger himself read philosophers this way many times, and we will follow that example, except in one important respect– namely, we will not apply this method to the history of philosophy as a whole.

It is well known that Heidegger read previous philosophical works in light of the question raised by his own work– the question of Being– even though in most of the works up to his time, the commitment to that question remained “shrouded in silence.”   For Heidegger, this silence did not diminish the importance of the question, nor did it indicate that the concern for Being was not operative in previous works.  Instead, Heidegger claimed that some interpretation of the meaning of Being underlies all attempts to do philosophy– even if that interpretation remains tacit.  To use a metaphor similar to one he often used, the understanding of Being is like the light required to see; one can focus on many different things, or take in the panorama as a whole; but without illumination in general, one cannot see at all.  This means that for Heidegger, in so far a philosophy claims to be about the nature of entities, it requires a tacit understanding of Being of those entities– and more ‘generally,’ an understanding of Being as such.  Without this, one could not know, or use, or relate to any particular beings at all, much less to beings as a whole.  Heidegger claimed that the understanding of Being is an all pervasive phenomenon, so like a photographer who uses a background to bring out the person in a picture, he read the philosophical tradition against of its ‘relationship’ to Being: how did it rely on the understanding of Being, how did this understanding reveal or conceal the true meaning of Being, etc.   Heidegger’s method usually incensed the scholarly mores of his contemporaries, but he maintained that his interpretations were faithful to the central, “innermost intention” of the philosophical tradition– in other words, they were faithful to the assumption that an understanding of Being must underlie all attempts to do philosophy.  In light of this “projective understanding,” Heidegger’s interpretations may not always have been ‘accurate’ in the usual sense, but his efforts revealed a radical new way to read philosophers.  In this regard, his style can serve as a model for our own efforts to understand his work.

We propose to illuminate Heidegger’s early work in a different way than Heidegger read the tradition as  whole.  Instead of taking Heidegger’s thought as an indication of a tendency within the entire philosophical tradition, we will limit our claims to Heidegger’s own work.  That is, our goal is to understand Heidegger’s effort to formulate the question of Being against the backdrop of “subjectivity” and “transcendental philosophy” (i.e. transcendental subjectivity), but we will not make any broader claims that this same backdrop applies to the rest of the philosophical past.  Of course, this background would apply to Kant, Fichte, or Schelling; and maybe one could even stretch it to include some aspects of Descartes’ thought; but our interpretation of Heidegger does not imply a “hidden question” at work in these philosophers or any others.  Heidegger may well have been right that all philosophy requires an understanding of Being and that some understanding of Being operates in all attempts to philosophize; but we will not be concerned with the philosophical past as a whole, as Heidegger clearly was.  Instead, we will interpret Heidegger’s works and Heidegger’s works alone, and only then after we have seen how his explicit statements almost inevitably lead to our conclusion– Dasein is some form of a transcendental subject.

One can raise a legitimate objection to this way of reading Heidegger, as was often done against Heidegger himself.  For despite his best efforts to renew the philosophical past, Heidegger’s interpretations were sometimes considered “violent” distortions of philosophical works, not insightful reinterpretations.  That is, Heidegger was often accused of distorting the actual positions of philosophers in favor of the hidden and unspoken intentions (allegedly) guiding their work.  In some cases, Heidegger conceded to these objections, and he even modified his claims in a few minor ways; but in all cases, the underlying protest remained the same: if the actual statements of philosophers are not the final court of appeal for interpretations, on what basis can we judge an interpretation “violent” or not?  On what basis can we verify the “innermost intentions” of philosophers if these intentions remain “shrouded in silence”, i.e. if they are not stated explicitly in their works?  How can one avoid the charge of arbitrarily importing an external philosophical concern into another’s philosophical work?

Properly posed, these clandestine objections contain a valid point, and in our case the problem is similar: how can we avoid charges of distorting the meaning of Heidegger’s early works in favor of transcendental subjectivity?  How can we avoid applying the same “violence” of which Heidegger was accused– and sometimes guilty– to Heidegger’s own thought?  And specifically, how will we justify reading out of Heidegger’s published works a transcendental subject– especially one central to his attempt to formulate of the question of Being– when this intention was rarely broached, much less discussed in any detail?

The answer to this question is simple: we do not have to justify our reading of Heidegger by importing hidden intentions into his thought, since Heidegger himself did not leave either his proposed revision of subjectivity or transcendental thought entirely “shrouded in silence.”  Although most writers quietly pass over his explanations, Heidegger’s early works contain many explicit references to a revision of transcendental philosophy, and more specifically, to a revision based on an ontological reinterpretation of the modern “turn to the subject.”  And perhaps what is most surprising is that this evidence is no less direct than Heidegger’s criticisms– so frequently discussed– of modern thinkers.  To be sure, Heidegger did not simply adopt the notions of “transcendental” or “subjectivity” from Kant or Husserl or anybody else.  But judging by the majority of the literature, one would believe that Heidegger never attempted to transform these notions for his own purposes at all.  Or at best, one would mistake Heidegger’s positive references to modern thought as errors that he wisely corrected after 1930.  Neither of these assertions is quite true, and we plan to show the why and where for of their inadequacies in the remainder of this essay.

To introduce this uncharacteristic (and admittedly questionable) approach to Heidegger, we require a straightforward beginning.  That is, we must avoid adding extraneous interpretations to Heidegger’s own words.  As we shall see, Heidegger had plenty to say about the importance of the ‘subject’ and ‘transcendental’ philosophy, so to insure faithfulness to his intentions, we will first focus on the most important related passages in his early works– especially from the lecture courses contemporary to Being and Time.  Although Heidegger’s published works allude to his revision of the notions “transcendental” and “subjectivity,” this revision is usually left implied or expressed much more indirectly than in his lecture courses.  For our purposes, a close examination of these early lecture courses (followed by a few edifying examples from his published works) will confirm the plausibility of our thesis.[4]  This procedure will also provide the necessary textual basis for the more detailed interpretations that follow.  Specifically, these citations will provide the textual basis necessary for interpreting Heidegger’s early thought as an ontology developed within the horizons of two modern philosophical themes– transcendental philosophy and subjectivity.  More specifically, Heidegger’s question of Being began with a fundamental ontology of transcendence that was equivalently a transcendental conception of subjectivity.  The question: “In exactly what respects does Heidegger’s appropriation of these concepts depart from or preserve their historical sense?” will be left unanswered for another time.

In this essay, we will rely largely on the following lecture courses: the History of the Concept of Time (1925), The Basic Problems of Phenomenology (1927), and The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic (1928).  For the most part, we will focus on the second two, but all three courses illuminate Heidegger’s published writings in two respects.  First, they elaborate on several key aspects of Being and Time and “On the Essence of Ground,” including the reasons for the term “Dasein,” the idea and function of a fundamental ontology, and the essential connection between the notions Dasein, transcendence, and world.  Second, these lectures also provide examples and trains of thought that supplement these key notions as they are developed in the published works.  For instance, in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Heidegger gave a condensed account of the subject-object distinction that was the target of the analysis of circumspective concern and Zuhandensein.  This account is a clear, compact summary of the foil he used in Being and Time— by all standards a useful statement for those who wish to understand the intent of so much of his early work.  For reasons like this, Heidegger’s lectures from 1925-1928 are important, and perhaps indispensable, for understanding his thought before the turning in 1930.

Although these three lecture courses are largely independent works (for they were composed with the care equivalent to most author’s standards for published work), all three courses ultimately concerned the same theme– the meaning of Being, or the question of Being.  Each course took a unique approach to formulating that question, which means that the philosophical discussions used to demonstrate the necessity of that question were different in each lecture course.  But all three lectures converged on this common theme– how to think about Being in an appropriate way, or more specifically, how to formulate properly the question of the meaning of Being.

In order to simplify matters, I have chosen five themes from the lecture courses which were elemental to Heidegger’s early approach to Being, but which alone are not necessarily the dominant topic of any one lecture course.  In other words, although no one lecture course was devoted specifically to any one of these themes, all five themes were essential, in the aggregate, to Heidegger’s early thought.  Each theme represents either an aspect of Heidegger’s motive for formulating the question of Being, or an aspect of the way that question was formulated.  Given their importance, clarifying these themes should help establish the ‘general impression’ one will need in order to appreciate the approach to Heidegger taken throughout this essay.  Specifically, a clarification of these themes– substantiated with a few passages from Heidegger’s published work– should help the reader understand Heidegger’s early formulation of the question of Being in the same light in which we understand it.  Furthermore, discussing these five themes will illuminate Heidegger’s published works before 1930, often by introducing material that was not made explicit in those works, but which is essential to appreciating it nonetheless.  The best impression we can hope to cultivate in a reader is how important these lecture courses are for understanding Heidegger.

The five themes to be covered are: philosophy as the science of Being; the foundational nature of fundamental ontology; the “positive impetus” received from modern philosophy; Dasein as the subjectivity of the subject; and fundamental ontology as transcendental philosophy.  Although the last three themes are the most important for our thesis, the first two themes nicely illustrate the value of the lecture courses for interpreting Heidegger’s published works, so we will begin with these.  By examining the first two less controversial themes (since they are similar to those found in Being and Time), we hope to encourage the reader’s faith in the value of lecture courses as a whole– perhaps to the point that one might read Heidegger’s published works as much in light of his lecture courses as the lecture courses in light of his published works.  Immediately following these two preparatory sections, we will turn to the textual evidence related to the next three themes.  By discussing these three themes in detail, we will set up the main point we are trying to make: that Heidegger’s attempt to formulate the question of Being in terms of a fundamental ontology of Dasein was equivalently an attempt to formulate the question of Being in terms of an analysis of transcendental subjectivity– although a transcendental subjectivity in a radically unique form.

After discussing these five themes, our approach to Heidegger’s early thought will take a turn of its own.  For in the first five sections, we will rely directly on Heidegger’s own words to support our argument; in fact, these references will be the crux of the argument, and minimal interpretation will be offered. In the final section, however, we will no longer be able to rely on direct textual evidence.  Instead, we will be forced to make an interpretative leap.  This leap– the crux of our “Heideggerian” reading of Heidegger– will not be a blind leap onto unforeseeable ground; instead, it will follow quite naturally from our previous discussions and will almost inevitably fulfill them.  But it will be a leap nonetheless, since our interpretative construction will force a conclusion that Heidegger himself never outright made.  Specifically, we will show that Heidegger’s early development of the question of the meaning of Being employed a transcendental conception of subjectivity.  And more specifically, we maintain that this conception of transcendental subjectivity was the culminating point of his early thought– a position which Heidegger himself abandoned after 1930, once he “turned” away from the emphasis on the analytic of Dasein toward his emphasis on the truth and disclosedness of Being itself.  This emphasis on transcendental subjectivity is only implied throughout his early work; it is a latent thought that operatives behind the scenes, so to speak.  The goal of our interpretive construction is to bring this implication to light.

Thus the final section of this essay is both the most important and the most controversial.  In it, we will resolve the elements previously laid out into an interpretation which Heidegger himself probably would have never made.  In the spirit of Heidegger’s own style for reading philosophers, we will overlook this caveat, and instead hold Heidegger to what he left unsaid on the basis of what he said.  The conclusion we draw will probably not convince many readers, and it also leaves unanswered Heidegger’s motive for not drawing it himself.  But despite the controversy and incompleteness, we feel it is an eminently plausible interpretation, one which could be the basis for a new to approach Heidegger’s early thought.  In a later essay, we may attempt to develop just such an approach, but for now, our goal is to justify the possibility of this kind of interpretation.  Specifically, we plan to show that Heidegger’s early emphasis on Dasein can be seen as an approach to the meaning of Being through a radically revised notion of transcendental subjectivity– a notion that places Heidegger well within the mainstream of the modern tradition since Kant, Schelling, and Husserl, obvious differences notwithstanding.[5]

Philosophy as the Science of Being

In Being and Time, Heidegger emphasized the existential dimensions of his thought tosuch an extent that his conception of scientific ontology can be easily overlooked.[6]  Heidegger’s existential emphasis makes sense, however, considering the overall goal in Being and Time.  For in Being and Time, Heidegger did not try to determine the nature of Being in the strict sense of the term– that is, in the sense that Being, as the subject matter of philosophy, had already been circumscribed, leaving unanswered only the question regarding its nature.  Instead, Being and Time was an attempt to formulate the question of Being in the first place; it did not assume apriori that the disclosure of Being to Dasein was already fully intelligible.  In other words, the question of Being was about securing the proper access to Being, not about simply about answering the question: “what is the nature of Being as such.”  This means that Heidegger believed the question “What is the meaning of Being?” required a proper formulation before explicit knowledge of Being was possible, and in so far as a fully developed ontology would require an explicit knowledge of Being, it would have to wait until the question of Being was formulated.  It is little wonder, then, that the project of a scientific ontology was rarely mentioned in Being and Time, since that treatise was not about the science of Being per se, but the attempt to secure the horizon within which ontology– the science of Being as such– could be sufficiently developed in the first place.  For Heidegger, this horizon required a unique analysis of Dasein’s existence– hence the existential emphasis of Being and Time.

This is not to say, however, that Heidegger never referred to the idea of a scientific ontology in Being and Time; nor does it mean that the scientific spirit, i.e. the overarching aim to develop a scientific ontology, was not a primary motive for that work.  But Heidegger’s references to scientific ontology are few and scattered throughout, not highlighted per se, and they tend to be cryptic and get overshadowed by the emphasis on the hermeneutic analysis of Dasein.  As just one example, take for instance Heidegger’s closing remarks in Division I, where he discussed the outcome of the preceding analyses and the subsequent questions raised by them.  Here, Heidegger asked: “What does it signify that Being ‘is,’ where Being is to be distinguished from every entity?  One can ask this can ask this correctly only if the meaning of Being and the full scope of the understanding of Being have in general been clarified.  Only then can one also analyze primordially what belongs to the concept of a science of Being as such, and to its possibilities and its variations.”[7]  In this oblique reference, Heidegger clearly referred a project beyond the scope of fundamental ontology, a project which depended on fundamental ontology as an initial formulation but went beyond this initial formulation of the question of Being to what the formulation was meant to achieve.  Though relatively rare, this passage is typical: in Being and Time, Heidegger rarely even considered the relationship between the science of Being and fundamental ontology, much less discuss it openly.  But this passage, and others, clearly alludes to this relationship, and in so doing it indicates the need for a scientific ontology– a need for which Heidegger was very much aware, as it was the reason for the formulation of the question of Being in the first place.[8]

One might argue that this belated and singular reference to a science of Being does not establish Heidegger’s enduring interest (before 1929) in a scientific conception of ontology.  One might easily dismiss this oblique reference to “the concept of a science of Being as such” as insignificant in light of the overall existential and hermeneutic emphasis in Being and Time.  Furthermore, one might tentatively acknowledge that Heidegger mentioned scientific philosophy here and there throughout Being and Time, but then demand an explanation why he never developed the concept in detail.  Overall, the sharp contrast between the hermeneutic dimension of the existential analytic and the infrequent references to scientific ontology testifies strongly against the claim that Heidegger sought a scientific conception of philosophy at all.  And even the most careful reading of Being and Time will do little to dissuade that skepticism.

And indeed, in light of the largely “hermeneutic” emphasis of the existential analytic, one would be hard pressed to find in Being and Time much of a “scientific” conception of philosophy.  In fact, a common interpretation of Heidegger’s early thought is that his hermeneutic analysis of Dasein demonstrates his indifference to the modern preoccupation with scientific philosophy.  For instance, in Being and Time Heidegger criticized Husserl’s attempt to make philosophy into a “rigorous, presuppositionless” science, as well as Descartes’ attempt to develop philosophy more geometrico.  Thus he was apparently opposed to the very idea of a scientific philosophy.  Furthermore, in the 1930 lecture course called The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, this aversion to scientific philosophy became even more pronounced.  In that work, Heidegger stated: “philosophy as absolute science– a high, unsurpassable ideal.  So it seems.  And yet to even judge philosophy according to the idea of science is the most fateful debasement of its innermost essence.”[9]  In light of this statement in 1930, and in light of the hermeneutic emphasis of Being and Time, one can well argue that Heidegger not only remained indifferent to developing philosophy into a science: he was down right opposed to the attempt in the first place.

This interpretation, however, only accounts for a limited portion of Heidegger’s thought between 1924-1929– the period in which he was most occupied with formulating the question of Being via a fundamental ontology of Dasein.  More specifically, this interpretation may account for the scant discussion of scientific philosophy in Being and Time, but it falls apart in light of the explicit references to scientific philosophy found in two major lecture courses– the History of the Concept of Time (1925) and The Basic Problems of Phenomenology (1927).  In the History of the Concept of Time, Heidegger strongly identified philosophy with a scientific career, and in The Basic Problems, he explicitly stated that philosophy was nothing other than scientific philosophy (and he even developed the scientific method of philosophy in some detail).  Since the first lecture course was delivered the semester before Being and Time appeared, and the second lecture course was delivered the semester after, it is unlikely (to say the least) that Heidegger didn’t mean what he wrote in either one.  It is also likely that the notion of philosophy expressed in these lecture courses informed the notion of philosophy in Being and Time, however latent that notion may appear.  Thus a brief account of Heidegger’s notion of scientific philosophy in both lectures should clarify the diminutive references he made in Being and Time, as well as dispel the mythical opposition between the hermeneutic nature of the question of Being and the scientific concept of philosophy.[10]

In the History of the Concept of Time, Heidegger mostly discussed his predilection for scientific philosophy in section 14, “Exposition of the question of being from the radically understood sense of the phenomenological principle.” Throughout the “Preliminary Part”, however, he had been preparing the way to supplant his predecessor’s deficient conceptions scientific phenomenology with his own ontologically authentic version.  In the “Introduction,” for instance, Heidegger indicated that the lecture course was “externally” an attempt to understand the decline of the authentic sense of scientific research into Being:

“Hence, in the end, the history of the concept of time is more accurately the history of the decline and the history of the distortion of the basic question of scientific research into the being of entities.  It is the history of the incapacity to pose the question of Being in a radically new way and to work out its first fundaments anew…’[11]

In other words, the lecture course was basically an attempt to pose anew the basic question of scientific research, namely, the question of Being, and according to Heidegger, the course would be a “genuine repetition” of the question of being, which he clarified this way:

“the repetition, the retaking of the beginning of our scientific philosophy [means] raising the question of being as such… the most concrete question which a scientific inquiry can ever raise.”[12]

To these rather clear passages, Heidegger also added that this

“scientific way of handling the theme [i.e. Being] is modified in its sense in accordance with the more radical conception of the thematic field.”[13]

And he concluded by noting that

“the question must be articulated, that is, it must be raised as a question for research.”[14]

Heidegger’s choice of words here clearly demonstrates his intent to develop a “scientific” philosophy, though of course it remains to be seen “scientific” in what sense (that is a theme for the course itself).  But whatever that sense, it is unlikely that the terms “science,” “scientific philosophy,” “theme,” and “philosophical research” or “scientific research”– used collectively no less than a dozen times in section 14 alone– mean anything beyond their obvious intentions.  For example, Heidegger often referred to the question of being as a “scientific question,” or to phenomenology as a “scientific inquiry,” or to the question of being as a “thematic field,” or to the thematic field as appropriate for phenomenological “research,” or to phenomenology itself as “the pure methodological concept [that] specifies the how of research.”[15]  Only a willful blindness to this liberal use of scientific intent would lead one to suggest an “anti-” or “non- scientific” conception of philosophy in the lecture course.  Simply put, there does not appear to be any credible alternative reason in the entire lecture course for reading the “basic question of scientific research” or “the beginning of our scientific philosophy” as anything but what it says, namely, a commitment to some notion of scientific philosophy– however indeterminate that notion may be.

Two years later, in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology,  Heidegger discussed his conception of scientific philosophy in much more detail.  For in that work, Heidegger stated in no uncertain terms that his conception of philosophy was scientific, that philosophy should be scientific through and through, and that the primary business of philosophy was to follow through with the historical idea of a scientific philosophy.  For the most part, the clearest remarks on scientific philosophy were made in “Introduction;” but in Sections 20-22, Heidegger also sketched the basic elements of the phenomenological scientific method– presumably the method executed in the analysis of Dasein in Being and Time.  Since our goal is to establish that Heidegger had a scientific conception of philosophy– not demonstrate the way in which this concept was formed– we will forgo the extremely difficult reconstruction of Heidegger’s scientific phenomenological method.[16]  Instead, we will focus our attention on the remarks Heidegger made in the “Introduction,” since these alone should securely establish Heidegger’s dedication to a conception of scientific philosophy.

In the “Introduction,” Heidegger’s discussion was limited to “pure assertions” regarding the justification, method, and subject matter of philosophical science.[17]  For the most part, he contrasted philosophy as a science with philosophy as the formation of a ‘world-view’ (die Weltanschauung), without fully developing the concept of science as such, or showing the ultimate justification for this distinction.  But Heidegger’s discussion was not limited to simply differentiating philosophy from a “world-view:” he also sketched the basic components of philosophy’s scientific method, including the phenomenological reduction, projective construction, and historical destruction.  Heidegger promised a detailed development of these components later in the lecture course, as well as a justification for the distinction between philosophy and “world-view.”  But in the “Introduction, he limited himself to general statements regarding the plan for a scientific philosophy as an ontology, i.e. the “absolute science” of Being.[18]

Although Heidegger’s introductory discussion of scientific philosophy was mostly prefatory, his statements are well worth quoting, since these statement demonstrate his commitment to philosophy as science.  More specifically, they delineate the subject matter of his scientific philosophy, Being, and illustrate the specific role played by the lecture course in grounding the new science.  So instead of strengthening the contrast between the hermeneutic analysis of Dasein and the scientific nature of the knowledge of Being, The Basic Problems dispels it.  In fact, even a careless reading of this work makes any opposition between “hermeneutics” and “science” difficult to maintain, since Heidegger’s remarks show that he considered the idea of science essential to a properly developed idea of philosophy (hermeneutic or not).  As we will show later, Heidegger’s remarks here indicate the essential equivalence he maintained between these two ideas– science and philosophy.

For instance, in The Basic Problems, Heidegger stated that “Being is the proper and sole theme of philosophy,” and he added that philosophy, as “the science of Being,” means “scientific philosophy and nothing else.”[19] [20]  Furthermore, Heidegger added that “a discussion of the basic problems of phenomenology is tantamount to providing fundamental substantiation that philosophy is the science of Being and establishing how this is such.”[21]  In other words, Being was the theme of scientific philosophy, and the lecture course, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, was an attempt both to justify and to clarify the nature of this science.  Judging by these statements, Heidegger’s philosophy was definitely scientific, at least around 1927, but these statements alone do not reveal the depth of Heidegger’s commitment to philosophy as a science.

To emphasize the depth of his commitment to a scientific ideal, Heidegger referred to the venerable historical origin of the idea of scientific philosophy, or better stated, he referred to how the idea of science determined the concept of philosophy in all the great philosophers.  Referring to two previous lecture courses, Heidegger claimed that, historically speaking, the scientific nature of philosophy was implied in the very concept of philosophy itself.  As Heidegger pointed out: “That philosophy is scientific is implied in its very concept.  It can be shown historically that at bottom all the great philosophies since antiquity more or less explicitly took themselves to be, and as such ought to be, ontology.”[22]  Now by this emphasis on historical origins, Heidegger did not mean that his lectures would follow an established method for developing scientific philosophy.  Nor did he mean that philosophy should imitate an historically established scientific philosophy, or worse, model itself after an existing natural or social science.  Rather, with this reference to history (which he had worked out elsewhere), Heidegger merely tried to illustrate the inherently scientific nature of philosophy.  This illustration was not a proof, via logical deduction or induction, which established the existence of such an idea.  In fact, he ultimately chose another ground for developing philosophy as a universal scientific ontology.[23]  Instead, Heidegger probably meant this as an historical justification, one which sanctified through precedence the belief in the idea of scientific philosophy, without that precedence providing the supreme justification for the truth of the idea itself.[24]

So Heidegger had substantial investment in the stock of scientific philosophy, which he made very clear in two lectures courses from 1925 and 1927.  In these two courses, Heidegger claimed that philosophy, as inherently scientific, must differentiate itself from any attempt to form a “world-view;” he also pointed out that philosophy’s intrinsic struggle to establish itself as a science had a venerable historical origin– one deeply rooted in the inception of philosophy itself.  Of course for Heidegger, philosophy would be a unique kind of science; it would be separated from all the other sciences by a difference greater than the distinguishing differences among the individual sciences themselves.  But nevertheless, philosophy was still a science, complete with its own unique method and internal justification. Heidegger even went further that merely asserting the prospective existence of this science and developed as well several key elements of a scientific method, developments which he had only summarily sketched, mostly by implication, in Being and Time.  Even though he hardly mentioned scientific philosophy or scientific ontology in that published work, these two lecture courses show that fundamental ontology was conceived against the background of a broader, scientific mission for philosophy— namely, universal ontology, the absolute science of Being.  This should be compelling enough evidence that Heidegger thought philosophy was scientific, even though he rarely said as much in Being and Time.  At this point, any claim to the contrary should begin with at least equally compelling evidence that he did not conceive fundamental ontology against this broader background of philosophy as a science of Being– and in this counter assertion it just won’t do to rely on a vague idea that philosophy cannot be scientific because Heidegger said somewhere it must also be hermeneutic.  Given Heidegger’s contextualizing of the project of Being and Time through these lecture courses, those who wish to set the hermeneutic analysis of Dasein against the scientific conception of philosophy should at least bear the burden of proof to show how the notion of a scientific philosophy is irreconcilable with the hermeneutic analysis in Being and Time, since for Heidegger, it apparently was not.  To emphasize this point, more needs to be said on the preparatory and propaedeutic nature of “hermeneutic” fundamental ontology itself.

The Preparatory and Foundational Character of Fundamental Ontology

     Understanding the role of fundamental ontology in Heidegger’s early thought can be complicated by his intermingled use of terms like “ontology,” “fundamental ontology,” and “existential analytic.”  Heidegger used all three terms to designate some type of investigation into Being, meaning that the goal of these respective tasks was to reveal the structure of Being, as opposed to the specific characteristics of beings alone.  Sometimes, however, Heidegger used one term as a substitute for another, or coupled one term with another, without warning the reader of the subtle nuances he had in mind.  For example, when he called the existential analytic an “ontological” analytic, or when he used the term “ontology of Dasein” for “fundamental ontology,” Heidegger had in mind a specific relationship to Being.  Despite the similarity between these investigations, he also maintained that each one approached Being in a different way.  In other words, all three projects– ontology, fundamental ontology, and the existential analytic– were interchangeable to some extent, but all three investigations retained specific characteristics and goals.  Some of these characteristics and goals were common to all three investigations, but others differentiated one investigation from the others.  This potentially misleading state of affairs requires some clearing up before the main idea of this thesis can be presented.

Despite any apparent confusion, Heidegger’s hierarchy of terms is quite consistent, and the manner in which these three modes of inquiry are united within their differences obeys a coherent inner logic.  The logic of Heidegger’s differentiation can be clarified by discussing, one by one, how he used each of these terms.  While doing this, we will mainly emphasize the unique role played by fundamental ontology with respect to the other two investigations.  Specifically, we will examine the role that the idea of fundamental ontology plays in justifying and directing the other two modes of investigation– ontology and existential analysis.  For the most part our exposition will based on the lecture courses, but it could easily be shown that the distinctions he made there agree perfectly with similar distinctions made in all of Heidegger’s published works before 1930.

Heidegger’s broadest term, “ontology,” has a relatively straight forward meaning.  As shown in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Heidegger considered philosophy to be the science of Being.  As the science of Being, philosophy sought rigorous, conceptual knowledge of Being, not just loosely formulated statements or poetic aspirations, however insightful these may be.  We have also seen that Heidegger placed a special emphasis on the history of scientific philosophy, and historically, knowledge of Being has been designated “ontological knowledge,” and equally considered, the science of Being has been called “ontology.”  Heidegger adapted both of these terms from the philosophical tradition and used them to designate his own version of the “knowledge” and “science” of Being.  Even though his approach to Being was radically different from previous ontologies, properly qualified, “ontology” meant the same thing for Heidegger as its traditional equivalent– “the science of Being” or “knowledge of Being.”  In short, for Heidegger “philosophy” and “ontology” were equivalent: philosophy aspired to be the science of Being, and “ontology” was the specific term that marked philosophy as the absolute science of Being.[25]

Heidegger was not the first philosopher for whom the science of Being comprised the highest aspiration of philosophy, but he did place a unique tax on this aspiration.  For Heidegger believed that previous philosophy had begun dogmatically; that is, he believed that philosophy had not properly secured its subject matter, Being, nor had it found a manner of questioning appropriate to the question of the meaning of Being.  Thus Heidegger demanded a new prerequisite for philosophy (as scientific ontology), one that clarified its ‘foundations’– or to use a more Heideggerian phrase, one that questioned the ground out of which it grew.  As a prerequisite grounding, this investigation would be more ‘fundamental’ than philosophy itself; it would amount to an investigation into the very possibility of philosophy.  In other words, this preliminary investigation would be more ‘fundamental’ than ontology in that it would establish the conditions on which the possibility of any ontology depended.  Heidegger called this preliminary investigation to philosophy proper fundamental ontology.

Now fundamental ontology has two principle aspects: its ‘fundamental’ or ‘foundational’ aspect, and its ‘ontological’ aspect.  Its ‘ontological’ aspect means that fundamental ontology was ultimately geared towards investigation into Being, while its ‘fundamental’ aspect means that fundamental ontology was a preliminary inquiry into the possibility of ontology in general.  As ontology, then, fundamental ontology required that Being be its object, that is, the subject matter must somehow be Being.  But as “fundamental,” fundamental ontology also required an emphasis on the Being of a very specific subject matter, one that would testify to the “fundamental” or “foundational” nature of the investigation.  In other words, the theme investigated in a fundamental ontology had to be unique; it had to be, in its very Being, a uniquely privileged theme, one different from all other themes by virtue of a differentiating and essential characteristic.  Heidegger called this theme Dasein, “the being that we ourselves are,” and he designated Dasein to be the entity to be investigated in fundamental ontology.  In short, fundamental ontology was the ontological analysis of Dasein.

Heidegger’s choice of the term Dasein was not at all arbitrary on his part.  Instead, Heidegger chose Dasein for an essential reason, namely Dasein’s unique understanding of Being.  By “understanding,” Heidegger did not mean that Dasein explicitly comprehended Being, or that Dasein was necessarily aware of its unique relationship to Being.  Heidegger simply meant that Dasein was open to Being and that this openness to Being was an essential structure of Dasein’s own Being.  This unique openness to Being made the ontology of Dasein the only viable candidate for a fundamental ontology, and it did so for the following reason: Dasein’s understanding of Being was the condition for the possibility of all relationship to Being.  And furthermore, in light of this inherent understanding, the natural philosophical ground for an explicit, conceptually clarified ontology of Being would have to be an analysis of the possibility of this understanding— an analysis that by its very nature would be equivalently an existential analysis of the being of Dasein.[26]  Finally, this investigation would not require a complete analysis of Dasein; it would only take place with respect to Dasein’s understanding of Being.  It would only focus on features of Dasein’s being germane to illumination the basis of this understand that is the existential ground of all ontological knowledge.  For this reason, and in this restricted sense, Heidegger called the analysis of Dasein the existential analytic.

With these definitions and conceptions in place, we are now in a position to understand the relationship between the existential analytic and fundamental ontology.  Specifically, for Heidegger, the term “existential analytic” was a more specified determination of the term “fundamental ontology,” in that  fundamental ontology referred to the particular ontology providing a foundation for ontology in general, while the existential analytic was the specific analysis of Dasein’s ex-sistence in so far as that analysis was necessary to carry out a fundamental ontology in its particulars.  So in as much as Dasein was the ‘object’ of both fundamental ontology and the existential analytic, the two projects can be said to be equivalent: fundamental ontology was the existential analytic of Dasein.  But in so far as an existential analysis of Dasein could be performed irrespective of the idea of grounding ontology in general, i.e. irrespective of a fundamental ontology, the existential analytic and the fundamental ontology of Dasein remained (in an important sense) distinct.  This seemingly mere semantic distinction can best be clarified and justified with reference to the goal of Being and Time.

The main topic of Being and Time was the existential analytic of Dasein, but the analysis of Dasein was not the principle goal of that work.  Instead, the goal was to develop the idea of a fundamental ontology grounded in the analytic of Dasein.  The distinction is both subtle and important.  For the analysis of Dasein was never carried out for its own sake, as if knowledge of the Being of Dasein was the primary goal of philosophy; the analysis of Dasein was a merely a means to an end– that end being a clarification of “the conditions on which the possibility of any ontological investigation begins.”[27]  In this sense, then, the analysis of Dasein was primary, in so far as it provided the justification for any philosophical inquiry into Being; but the analytic of Dasein was equally only preparatory, in so far as the investigation into Dasein’s Being set the stage for the development of ontology as such—a development which for Heidegger was the “sole and proper” theme of philosophy.  This dual quality of the existential analytic allowed Heidegger to claim that “ontology has for its fundamental discipline the analytic of Dasein,” without contradicting the claim on which he also insisted, namely that the ultimate goal of ontology is knowledge of Being as such.[28]

In response to this exposition so far, one might claim that we have exaggerated the differences between ontology, fundamental ontology and the existential analytic; one might reply that these differences, as spelled out here, are quite misleading.   Specfically, one might point out that Heidegger was no “foundationalist,” hence the foundational character of fundamental ontology must be an interpretive fiction, or at best an exaggeration.  One might also claim that Heidegger did not make so strong a distinction between fundamental ontology and ontology in general, one that found the later on the former, and to back this claim, one might refer to the lack of such a strong distinction in Being and Time—that is, one might point to the lack of explicit discussion there of the relationship between fundamental ontology and ontology as such.   But as common as these reservations may be, they can readily be assuaged by reference to the lecture courses that contextualize the project of Being and Time.

For instance, in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Heidegger stated in rather clear terms the preparatory and foundational nature of fundamental ontology.  There he wrote:

“[I]t is requisite that the Dasein be subjected to a preparatory ontological investigation which would provide a foundation for all further inquiry, which includes the question of the Being of beings in general and the Being of different regions of Beings.  We therefore call the preparatory analytic of the Dasein a fundamental ontology.”[29] 

Heidegger further emphasized the preparatory nature of fundamental ontology with this:

“It is preparatory because it alone first leads to the illumination of the meaning of Being and of the horizon for the understanding of Being.”[30] 

Finally, Heidegger underscored the foundational character of fundamental ontology by stating:

“It can only be preparatory because [fundamental ontology] aims only to establish a foundation for radical ontology.”[31]

Two years later, in The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, Heidegger described fundamental ontology in essentially the same way.  In Section 10, “The problem of transcendence and the problem of Being and Time,” Heidegger offered an “external presentation” of the guiding principles of fundamental ontology.  More specifically, he stressed that fundamental ontology was carried out through an analysis of Dasein, but he clarified this with:

“the analysis of the existence of Dasein… proceeds solely with the purpose of a fundamental ontology; the point of departure, execution, limit and mode of concretizing certain phenomena are governed by this purpose.”[32]

And in the Appendix, “Describing the Idea and Function of Fundamental Ontology,” Heidegger added:

“By a fundamental ontology we mean the basic grounding of ontology in general,” and

“fundamental ontology is the whole of founding and developing ontology.”[33]

These two selections confirm our discussion so far in this section and allow us to draw an important conclusion, namely, in Heidegger’s early thought, there are three unified but distinct investigations into Being: ontology, fundamental ontology, and the existential analytic.  Ontology was the broadest of the three, encompassing all the others, for it was the science of Being in general (either Being as such or the Being of a specific region of beings).  Ontology, however, required philosophical justification, which meant that it required a preparatory and foundational investigation.  This foundational investigation was fundamental ontology.  Fundamental ontology, however, was the ontology of a specific entity, namely Dasein.  That is, fundamental ontology was an ontological investigation into Dasein, executed with a narrow and specific purpose in mind– the condition for the possibility of ontology in general.  Heidegger called this carefully restricted investigation of Dasein the existential analytic.  Thus “existential analytic” and “fundamental ontology” were largely equivalent terms, while “ontology” was the more general term, encompassing the other two, but since all three investigations were inquiries into Being, Heidegger’s distinctions between them can sometimes be confused in favor of their common theme.  But the coherence and logic of Heidegger’s differentiation should now be clear.  Ontology was the knowledge of Being as such; fundamental ontology was the foundation for ontology; and the existential analytic was the ontology of Dasein, i.e. the execution of a fundamental ontology with regard to a specific entity that understanding being and thus contains within itself the possibility of all ontology in the first place.[34]


So far we have discussed two themes from the lecture courses: philosophy as ontology, i.e. the science of Being (Heidegger even went so far as to say the absolute science of Being), and the grounding of ontology in a fundamental ontology, i.e. the existential analytic of Dasein.  Heidegger extensively discussed both of these themes in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, and to a lesser extent, but no less significantly, he also discussed them in the History of the Concept of Time and The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic.  Although neither of these themes bears directly on our overall thesis—that Heidegger developed a conception of transcendental subjectivity—our discussion so far has served a dual purpose.  First, Heidegger’s open discussion of these themes in the lecture courses, as opposed to the more cryptic references in Being and Time, will hopefully indicate the significance of these works for illuminating Heidegger’s early published writings.  Second, our purpose has been to pique the reader’s curiosity toward a new, but plausible, interpretation of Heidegger’s early thought.  Hopefully our discussion so far has provided just such a stimulation, thus disposing the reader’s interest favorably toward this new approach to Heidegger, chiefly by dispelling some common misconceptions about what he intended prior to the ‘Turn’ and its consequent de-emphasis on Dasein, a de-emphasis in place of which he a renewed focus on Being itself– or rather, the event of the disclosure of Being as such.

With this possible interest piqued, we turn now to the main focus of this essay: textual evidence for the positive influence of modern thought on Heidegger’s early approach to Being, specifically regarding his turn to the subject and his emphasis on subjectivity within a properly reconceived transcendental philosophy.  Considering the prevailing literature on Heidegger, this textual evidence is necessary before any detailed analysis can be made, since for the most part, the opposite is thought to be the case: Heidegger is typically thought not to have been influenced by modern philosophy, and even that his thought was diametrically opposed to the primary concerns of modern thinkers– especially on the topics of the subject and the transcendental.  The citations in the following sections, however, should go along way toward counterbalancing this (mis)interpretation, for they show that Heidegger was deeply influenced by modern thinkers on precisely these themes.

But first, a note of caution is in order here.  In the sections that follow, our goal is only to show that Heidegger formulated his own versions of the “subject” and the “transcendental”; we are not concerned to show how this is the case.  That is, many details that would clarify how the particular analyses of Dasein concern the subject or are transcendental will not be offered.  Instead, this thesis only represents the initial foray into an uncharted area.  It merely offers the map and should not to be mistaken for seeing the details of the terrain itself.

Keeping this caveat in mind, we can formulate the guiding problem of the next three sections in the following way: one the one hand, Heidegger’s concept of Dasein undermined the ‘modern’ concept of the subject, but on the other hand, this concept (as stated in numerous places) intended to clarify, in an ontologically appropriate way, the modern turn toward subjectivity.  Hence Heidegger appears to both supplant and replace the modern emphasis on subjectivity, and these two tendencies appear to be at odds with one another.  For how can Dasein both undermine the subject and be an ontological clarification of subjectivity?  How can Dasein replace the notion of the subject but at the same time continue the modern priority given to subjectivity?

Provisionally, we can answer that by “subject,” Heidegger meant something radically different from the modern notion of the subject, but within this difference there remains, with all the proper qualifications, a deeper similarity.  More specifically, Heidegger’s rejection of the modern conception of the subject was not a rejection of the subject as such, but a rejection of a particular type of subjectivity, i.e. one common since Descartes and up to Hegel.   Instead of a categorical rejection of the notion “subject,” Heidegger proposed an ontological revision of subjectivity— a revision that he considered essential to philosophy in general and necessary for fundamental ontology in particular.  Provisionally, we may also add that this revision was to be a “transcendental” revision; that is, the ontological rehabilitation of subjectivity would lead to a transcendental-ontological conception of the subject– in other words, it would lead to a transcendental subjectivity.

Although Heidegger never openly characterized his thought as a revision of subjectivity or as a revision of transcendental philosophy in Being and Time, he did discuss this quite explicitly the two lecture courses delivered around the time Being and Time was published.  These lecture courses, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology and The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, were given in the summer of 1927 and the summer of 1928 respectively, and from them, for the sake of presentation, I have grouped Heidegger’s scattered discussions of subjectivity into two heading: the positive impetus received from modern philosophy, and Dasein as the rehabilitated notion of the “subjectivity of the subject.”  Similarly, I have also grouped Heidegger’s discussion of transcendental philosophy into two headings: the project of a transcendental philosophy in general, and Dasein as proposed revision of the traditional conceptions of transcendental subjectivity.  These two divisions are essentially related, for both ultimately culminated in Heidegger’s revised notion of transcendental subjectivity.  In other words, some notion of transcendental subjectivity is the natural conclusion of Heidegger’s account of subjectivity and transcendental philosophy before 1930, even though Heidegger never discussed his early thought in precisely those terms in Being and Time.

The “Positive Impetus” from Modern Philosophy

In The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Heidegger made abundant references to modern philosophers.  Usually these references were captious, but not always.  Heidegger sometimes used the ideas of modern thinkers as foils: while he criticized them for one thing, he would praise them for another.  Perhaps not surprisingly, he reserved his praise for thinkers like Leibniz or Kant instead of those like Hobbes and Mill, but what is surprising– considering what one might expect from an “anti-Cartesian–” is Heidegger reluctant praise of Descartes.[35]  Of all the modern philosophers, Heidegger had a dedicated antipathy for Descartes, especially for the negative role he played in determining the course of philosophical thought, so any admission of Descartes’ philosophical success is bound to be important. And in this case, it seems to be, in that it is indicative of Heidegger’s stated effort to revive the principle emphasis of modern thought, namely, the return to “the subject” and “the subjective.”

In the Basic Problems, Heidegger’s first significant discussion of Descartes occurred in the third main chapter: “The Theses of Modern Ontology.”  For the most part, Heidegger’s discussion was negative and sharply critical.  Specifically, Heidegger reproached Descartes for his self-interpretation of the break he had made with his predecessors.  To this effect Heidegger stated:

“Descartes’ basic ontological concepts [were] drawn directly from Suarez, Duns Scotus, and Aquinas… [therefore] it has been rightly stressed today that modern philosophy since Descartes continues to work with the ancient metaphysical problems and thus, along with everything new, still remains within the tradition.”[36]

To this already sharp criticism, Heidegger added that from an ontological point of view, the philosophical revolution of modern thought was “not a revolution at all.”[37]  Here Heidegger clearly rejected the claim that the modern period marked a radically new beginning for philosophy; instead, he focused on the lack of a radically new ontological beginning in Descartes and the philosophers who followed him.  In this respect, Heidegger’s assessment of the modern tradition is in accord with some of the more progressive interpretations of his day, especially those of Gilson and Koyre,[38] even as it indicates the direction he himself takes from the moderns.

Specifically, while Heidegger was clearly critical of Descartes claim to have initiated a radically new approach to philosophy, Heidegger’s assessment of Descartes’ claim did not remain entirely critical.  Instead, later in the lecture course, Heidegger modified his initial criticism to include a modest recognition of the positive significance of Descartes work. This modification was not a full retraction of his earlier criticism, of course, but Heidegger eventually developed it into a significant reappraisal of his emphasis on the value of modern philosophy.  Later in the lecture, Heidegger rather ungraciously admitted that:

“Although in modern philosophy everything in principle remained as it was, the marking out and accentuating of the subject had to result in shifting the distinction between subject and object in some way to the center and, associated with that, conceiving with greater penetration the peculiar nature of subjectivity.”[39]

Heidegger’s begrudged admission here is (unfortunately) typical of his appraisal of most modern philosophers– in this case, phrases like “had to result,” “in some way,” and “associated with that” indicate a dim appraisal on Heidegger’s part, giving as it does the impression that early modern philosophers moved in the right direction despite a supremely blundered beginning.   But in light of Heidegger’s own accomplishments, perhaps this attitude was somewhat justified: the early modern thinkers themselves were typically unfair judges of their own accomplishments over medieval and ancient thinkers, so judging them by the same standard they judged their own predecessors makes sense.  But in deeper sense, Heidegger was being censorious in bad faith.  For in his later discussions, Heidegger himself emphasized the accomplishments that modern thinkers had made over the ancients, accomplishments very much in line with their own self-assessment.  That is, Heidegger admitted that the modern philosophers had made decisive progress toward the necessary approach for raising all philosophical issues in an essentially new way, and his captious remarks here and elsewhere tend to obscure this positive recognition.  It is maintained here the all too many interpreters of Heidegger have adopted his negative comments without looking more deeply into his own—and far more significant—appreciative (however reluctant) assessment.

The positive side of Heidegger’s interpretation of modern thinkers becomes more evident in the last major section of the same chapter, even though his critical emphasis still predominates.  At the beginning of this section, Heidegger admitted that modern philosophers had correctly seen in subjectivity the “guiding clue” for correctly posing philosophical questions, but a few lines later, he quickly added that the moderns had failed to find in that clue the ground for the question of Being in general.   In other words, according to Heidegger, modern philosophers, while correctly turning to subjectivity as the “guiding clue” for ontological investigation, nevertheless had “no success in exhibiting the various modes of the Being of beings… and still less success in subordinating this diversity of Being as a multiplicity of ways of Being to an original idea of Being in general.”[40]  Heidegger strengthened his reprobation with: “there [was] no success, or rather, to speak more precisely, the attempt was not even undertaken at all.”[41]

In these passages, Heidegger again emphasizes the shortcomings of the modern turn toward subjectivity, but now two sides to his appraisal are apparent.  On the one hand, Heidegger praised modern philosophers for distinguishing between the “subjective” and the “objective,” and thus bringing subjectivity to the center of philosophical questions.  But on the other hand, Heidegger criticized modern thinkers for (1) not seeing the essential relationship between subjectivity and the problem of the intelligibility of Being, and for (2) not investigating the concept of Being presupposed in the subject-object distinction.  So despite the critical emphasis of the appraisal, Heidegger recognized a positive contribution inherent in the modern emphasis on the “subjective,” one from which he himself took direction.  In other words, according to Heidegger, this emphasis on the “subjective” steered philosophy in the right direction– toward thematizing that relationship between Dasein and Being– even though a wrong turn in this thematization was taken at the outset, a turn wrong in no small part because the possibility of thematization was not even formulated in a specific way.

Heidegger reiterated this inherently positive dimension of the turn toward subjectivity just a few paragraphs later, in what was one of his most clear and distinct assessments of the positive significance of modern thought.  In these opening paragraphs, Heidegger began by characterizing “the general line of questioning” taken in his thought.  Then, referring specifically to the ontological analysis of Dasein, he stated:

“We are thus repeating afresh that in the active stress upon the subject in philosophy since Descartes there [was] no doubt a genuine impulse toward philosophical inquiry which only sharpen[ed] what the ancients already sought; on the other hand, it is equally necessary not to start simply from the subject alone but to ask whether and how the Being of the subject must be determined as an entrance into the problems of philosophy… Philosophy must perhaps start from the ‘subject’ and return to the ‘subject’ in its ultimate questions, and yet for all that it may not pose its questions in a one-sidedly subjectivistic manner.”[42]

In this passage, Heidegger clearly expresses a significant approbation of modern philosophy, especially regarding the “active stress upon the subject,”  and to some degree, Heidegger even allied the analysis of Dasein with the turn toward the “subject” and “subjectivity.”  The exact nature of this alliance remains to be seen, but for now we can make some a tentative conjecture that will guide our textual arguments from this point forward.

Specifically, it is proposed here that Heidegger considered his ontology of Dasein to be an ontological revision of the modern turn toward subjectivity.  As an ontological revision, the analysis of Dasein would replace the inadequate modern notion of “subjectivity” without discarding the emphasis on subjectivity as such.  Instead of starting with a “one-sidedly subjectivistic” concept of the subject, the analysis of Dasein would “sharpen” the modern emphasis on the subject down to its ultimate ontological roots, roots even the ancient, according to Heidegger, implicitly sought.  In this sense, Heidegger’s notion of Dasein would build on the positive development he credited to the moderns, but it would also avoid the negative consequences of their “one-sidedly subjectivistic” concept of the subject.  In this way, Heidegger sought to secure the “entrance into the problems of philosophy” through the subject—in other words, the question of the Being of the subject, and the question of Being in general ,could be properly raised together for the first time.

Heidegger stated this intention to “repeat afresh the active stress on the subject” more clearly in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology than he ever did in Being and Time, a work in which this stress is only implied by stating, analogously to Descartes, that Dasein is the being the we ourselves are (Descartes famously began his meditations with just such an examination).   In fact, in that lecture course, Heidegger even suggested that his analysis of Dasein had more to do with revising the deficient notions of subjectivity than with rejecting the emphasis on subjectivity as such.  Regarding this necessary revision, Heidegger stated:

“All philosophy, in whatever way it might view the ‘subject’ and place it in the center of philosophical investigation, returns to the soul, mind, consciousness, subject, ego in clarifying the basic ontological phenomena… [and this]… reversion to the ego, to the soul, to consciousness, to mind, and to Dasein is necessary for specific and inherently pertinent reasons.”[43]

And in the last pages of the lecture course, Heidegger clarified with:

“The trend toward the ‘subject’– not always uniformly unequivocal and clear– is based on that fact that philosophical inquiry somehow understood that the basis for every substantial philosophical problem could and had to be procured from an adequate elucidation of the ‘subject’.  For our part, we have seen that an adequate elucidation of Dasein… can alone prepare the ground for meaningfully putting the question about the possible understanding of Being in general.”[44]

Most sympathetic readers of Heidegger interpret the quotes he placed around the term “subject” as an indication that he wanted to dissociate himself completely from the notions of the “subject” or “subjectivity” as such.  But nothing in the context of these statements warrants that interpretation.  Instead, the context clearly shows that Heidegger was dissociating his analysis of Dasein from a deficient understanding of subjectivity: despite this dissociation, Heidegger attempted to preserve the general tendency toward subjectivity initiated in modern thought.  In other words, these passages demonstrate the positive impetus Heidegger received from modern philosophy, and more specifically, they also show that Heidegger explicitly considered his analysis of Dasein to be a retrieval of the modern emphasis on subjectivity.  Our next task will be to strengthen this connection between Dasein and subjectivity by showing that Heidegger equated his analysis of Dasein with a determination of the Being of the subject or, in his words, “the subjectivity of the subject.”

Dasein as the Subjectivity of the Subject

In his Being-in-the-World, Hubert Dreyfus claimed that Heidegger, even in his early thought, developed the concept of Dasein to liberate philosophy from its emphasis on human subjectivity.[45]  In his article “L’Interloque,” Jean-Luc Marion expressed a similar position: “there wouldn’t be any sense in denying that Dasein subverts the subject, even when and especially the subject is understood in terms of the Husserlian transcendental phenomenological subject.”[46]  Vague allusions to Husserl withstanding, both of these claims are typical assessments of Heidegger’s relationship to subjectivity: they try to show that even in his early thought, Heidegger introduced Dasein in order to free philosophy from its deficient emphasis on the subject or subjectivity.

We have seen, however, strong evidence suggesting a contrary understanding of Heidegger’s intent.  To the contrary, the passages cited above show that Heidegger was inspired, in a direct way, by the modern emphasis on subjectivity.   They also suggest that Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein was an ontological revision of subjectivity– not a revision that rejected subjectivity as such, but a rehabilitation that preserved at least some essential elements of subjectivity (though we have yet to see which ones).  In light of these passages, Dreyfus’ and Marion’s assessments (and those like them) appear misguided, to say the least.  However justified they may seem from the perspective of the later Heidegger, or from the perspective that Heidegger was more a clean break with the tradition than he actually was, their interpretations entirely overlook the central role of subjectivity in Heidegger’s early thought—a role, as these citations show, Heidegger himself assigned.

To illustrate this role, and as a response to these misguided evaluations, we can pose the following questions: what if for Heidegger the emphasis on subjectivity was not a defect?  What if Heidegger considered an authentic notion of subjectivity necessary, even liberating for philosophical thought– specifically regarding the development of the question of Being?  What if Heidegger carried out his ontological revision of the subject by developing a notion of the subjectivity of the subject, and what if he went on to formulate the question of Being in terms of this new notion of subjectivity?

We will attempt to answer these questions by finding in Heidegger’s own works explicit references to Dasein as subjectivity.  For despite the progress we have made so far, our discussion of Dasein and subjectivity remains incomplete– or more to the point, the passages we have given so far are not convincing evidence, since these passages only loosely relate Dasein to subjectivity.  A careful examination of The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, however, will strengthen our textual arguments so far, at least as far as Heidegger’s emphasis on subjectivity is concerned.  Passages from this lecture course will show that Heidegger explicitly linked his notions of “Dasein”, “transcendence,” and “worldhood” to the Being of the subject.  More precisely, these passages will show that all three notions were developed within the context of determining the subjectivity of the subject.  Heidegger’s unique emphasis on the “subjectivity of the subject” in The Metaphysical Foundations confirms and elaborates the ontological revision of the ‘modern’ subject that was proposed in The Basic Problems, so in this section we will document that emphasis in detail.

We begin our examination with the notion of the “subjectivity of the subject” itself.  What might Heidegger have meant by the term the “subjectivity of the subject?”  What does the “subjectivity of the subject” signify? The answer to these questions contains the key to understanding Heidegger’s ontological revision of subjectivity, and this key itself is quite simple.

Brought down to the basics, Heidegger meant by the “subjectivity of the subject” the Being or the essence of subject.  The “subject,” like any other entity, has a manner of Being proper to it, and understood in a general way, the Being of any entity– in this case the ‘subject’– can be called the “essence” of the entity, or alternatively ‘what makes the entity be as it is.’  A comparison with a more common example might be helpful.  The Being of a “table” might be called “the essence of the table” or what makes a table be a table (versus being a chair or the floor).  Likewise, the Being of a “tree” might be called “the essence of the tree” or what makes a tree be a tree (versus being a flower or a stone).  Disregarding good grammar, one might also call the Being of the table the “tableness” of the table, or the Being of the tree the “treeness” of the tree.  Along similar lines, the Being of the subject would be called the “subjectness” of the subject– or more eloquently, the “subjectivity” of the subject.  Understood in this way, the misgivings over the awkward term subjectivity of the subject” disappear.  Quite simply, “the subjectivity of the subject” is another designation for the Being of the subject, so to inquire into the subjectivity of the subject means none other than to inquire into the Being of the subject.

In light of this clarification, we can see easily understand Heidegger’s use of that very appropriate term.  Consider, for example, Heidegger’s two sided criticism of modern philosophy.  On the one hand, Heidegger criticized modern philosophers for failing to question the Being of the subject; while on the other hand, Heidegger praised modern philosophers for bringing “subjectivity” to the center of philosophical consideration.  Heidegger’s notion of the “subjectivity of the subject” falls perfectly into line with both aspects of his criticism.  First, in so far as the subjectivity of the subject amounts to the Being of the subject, it addresses the question of its Being that Heidegger claimed the moderns overlooked.  And second, in so far as the subjectivity of the subject concerns the subject— and not another entity– it preserves the emphasis that Heidegger considered essential to philosophy, namely, the emphasis on subjectivity.  In other words, the subjectivity of the subject was the keystone of Heidegger’s ontological revision of ‘subject;’ it accommodated both the positive and negative aspects of his criticisms of modern thought.  In short, Heidegger investigated the subjectivity of the subject, or equivalently the Being of the subject, in order to ontologically justify the preeminence of the subjective for philosophical thought.

Heidegger’s statements in the lecture course, The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, confirm this interpretation in its essential respects.  For in that work, Heidegger positively identified the subjectivity of the subject with Dasein— or the transcendence of Dasein— no less than seven times.[47]  Furthermore, Heidegger claimed that the question of Being itself depended on an adequate delineation of the subjectivity of the subject.  In the paragraphs that follow, we offer a sampling of these passages without developing them in much detail.  For now, our only goal is to introduce our main contention– that Heidegger was a philosopher deeply committed to some notion of subjectivity, so committed, in fact, that this notion guided the very development of his thought before 1930, even if only from behind the scenes of Being and Time.

Heidegger first expressed the importance of the subjectivity of the subject in the section entitled “Intentionality and Transcendence.”  In this section, Heidegger discussed the subjectivity of the subject in light of the subject-object distinction, and more specifically, he claimed that this distinction, taken at face value, obscured the proper approach to “the genuine concept of subjectivity.”[48]  Since this discussion clearly revealed Heidegger’s intention to revise– not reject– the concept of subjectivity, we will sketch it here in its basic details.

The overall theme of Heidegger’s discussion was the relationship between the essence of truth and the essence of ground, but to defray possible misinterpretations, Heidegger considered a “traditional opinion” that distorted the genuine concept of ground, namely, the subject-object distinction.  According to Heidegger, the subject-object distinction relied on two claims, both of which presupposed the “being-present-on-hand” of the subject and the object.  Heidegger stated these two claims in this way: “(1) there is an object on hand with every subject and (2) a subject on hand with every object.”[49] These two claims constitute one possible formulation of the subject-object distinction, and Heidegger examined them both in order to pave the way to his overall theme, the relationship between truth and ground and ground and subjectivity.

The thread of Heidegger’s analysis is difficult to follow, but the exact train of thoughts is not important here.  What is important, however, is the conclusion Heidegger drew from his analysis.  In both cases this conclusion was the same: neither claim had anything essential to say about the “subjectivity” or the “essence” of the subject.  As Heidegger said, regarding the second claim: “this thesis fails to understand the essence of the subject; it takes the subject as something which grasps.  The subject can be what it is, Dasein exists, without grasping beings qua objects.”[50]  And regarding the first claim, Heidegger added: “this claim is also dubious.  It is particularly important to see that the thesis says nothing at all about the subjectivity of the subject.”[51]  In both cases, Heidegger concluded the same thing: that the traditional subject-object distinction was based on a deficient notion of subjectivity, and that it failed to take into proper account the Being of the subject.  On both counts then, it had to be rejected.

This conclusion is startling, in a sense.  For, as commonly thought, was not Heidegger mainly concerned with overcoming the subject-object distinction, and this by totally rejecting the concept of the subjective as such?  And wasn’t Heidegger’s goal to free philosophy from the subject-object distinction that inevitably contaminated any concept of subjectivity?  Dreyfus and Marion certainly believe it was, and this seems to be the general consensus among Heidegger’s interpreters.  But we have claimed that Heidegger was in essence a philosopher of subjectivity, and Heidegger’s own words support our claim in a rather persuasive way.  For in his discussion of the subject, Heidegger rejected the subject-object distinction, not because it relied on the concept of subjectivity, but because it failed to develop the concept of subjectivity in the proper way.  Thus, far from disavowing the concept subjectivity as such, Heidegger’s criticism of the subject-object distinction was based on the need to develop more fully an authentic notion of the subject, which he called the Being or the subjectivity of the subject (Dasein).

Heidegger repeated this stress on the subjective in the next major section of the lecture course, but this time the specific focus was somewhat different.  His discussion still included a criticism of the traditional subject-object distinction, but Heidegger’s chief emphasis now lay on the notion of transcendence.  Specifically, Heidegger claimed that “the problems of transcendence, truth and reason [ground]” must be raised “universally and radically as the problem of being as such.”[52]  To this he added that the starting point for this problem tended to be ontic transcendence, specifically in the form of a subject-object relation.  Regarding this tendency, Heidegger admonished: one may not “start or stop with a subject-object distinction, as if it somehow fell from heaven; but for transcendence, as for the problem of being, it is the subjectivity of the subject which is itself the central question.”[53]  In other words, Heidegger pointed out that the questions of Being and transcendence (ultimately the same question) must be deliberately formulated in terms of the subjectivity of the subject.  In addition, he warned against conflating this subjectivity with an ontologically vague subject-object distinction.  As with the first discussion, Heidegger was concerned with securing the appropriate concept of the subject, not with rejecting the turn to subjectivity as such.  This time, though, his concern led him to establish a closer relationship between subjectivity and transcendence.[54]

Drawing from our citations so far, we can form two conclusions.  First, these passages show that Heidegger criticized the subject-object distinction– and hence “subjectivistic” concepts of subjectivity– for missing the genuine concept of subjectivity.  Second, they show that Heidegger considered the question of the subjectivity of the subject fundamental to the formulation of the question of Being.  In general then, the above passages show that Heidegger placed the concept of subjectivity at the center of his thought: subjectivity was the early Heidegger’s “royal road” to the meaning of Being.  As Heidegger nicely summarized in The Metaphysical Foundations:

“It is already evident from these questions how the problem of the concept of world, as a transcendental concept, is fully intertwined with the problem of the subjectivity of the subject and, at the same time, with the basic ontological inquiry into Being as such.”[55]

This passage strongly supports our claim that Heidegger was in some way a philosopher of the subject.  We still have, however, a more specific goal in mind: we seek to establish a definite connection between Dasein and the subjectivity of the subject.  That is, we seek to show that Heidegger’s ontological revision of subjectivity treated Dasein specifically as the subjectivity of the subject.  The above passages demonstrate Heidegger’s commitment to subjectivity in general, but they mostly only imply that this subjectivity is Dasein.  The closest connection we have seen thus far between Dasein and the subjectivity of the subject was the reference to “transcendence” in the second passage.  Since transcendence ultimately refers to the basic characteristic of Dasein, the conjunction between transcendence and the subjectivity of the subject indicates that Heidegger was referring to Dasein when he discussed the subjectivity of the subject.

But here we are not interested in indications of conjunctions, no matter how suggestive or compelling they may be.  We want definitive textual proof that Heidegger considered Dasein, transcendence, and the subjectivity the subject to be equivalent terms– in other words, evidence that Heidegger equated Dasein, the subjectivity of the subject, and transcendence. This evidence must be explicit confirmation that the subjectivity of the subject was essentially the same as the Being of Dasein and/or Dasein’s transcendence.  Nothing less than an explicit statement on Heidegger’s part will secure our claim beyond a reasonable doubt.

Heidegger provides this explicit confirmation in section 11, “The transcendence of Dasein.”  In this section, Heidegger discussed the relationship between transcendence, temporality, and world, and at three different points in his discussion, Heidegger equated subjectivity, transcendence and Dasein.  These three passages are worth quoting in full.

“The problem of transcendence depends on how one defines the subjectivity of the subject, the basic constitution of Dasein… [then] the question becomes whether the essence of subjectivity can be grasped, first and foremost, through a rightly understood transcendence.”[56]

“Transcendence is rather the primordial constitution of the subjectivity of the subject.  The subject transcends qua subject; it would not be a subject if it did not transcend.  To be a subject means to transcend… and this implies that transcendence is not just one possible comportment of Dasein toward other beings, but it is the basic constitution of its Being, on the basis of which Dasein can at all relate to other beings in the first place.”[57]

“There is world only in so far as Dasein exists.  But then is world not something ‘subjective’?  In fact it is!  Only one may not at this point introduce a common, subjectivistic concept of the ‘subject’.  Instead, the task is to see that being-in-the-word [i.e. Dasein] transforms the subjectivity of the subject and the subjective.”[58]

Within the context of these three passages, it should be abundantly clear that Heidegger considered “transcendence,” “Dasein,” and “subjectivity of the subject” to be equivalent terms, that interpretations asserting otherwise simply have not delved broadly enough into this work.   Since this equivalence has significant ramifications for understanding Heidegger’s approach to Being in his early thought, we will now consider them here.

First, Dasein and subjectivity designated the same phenomena for Heidegger in his early thought; specifically, they both designated the first person, ‘subjective’ entity that is required for the giveness of Being.  Heidegger did not, however, simply replace the modern concept of the first person “subject” with “Dasein;” instead, he used the term “Dasein” to establish a genuine concept of subjectivity, one which rooted out and transformed the guiding truth latent in the emphasis on the subject initiated by modern philosophers.  Heidegger called this authentic concept of subjectivity the subjectivity of the subject, or alternatively Dasein.  Thus the investigation into the basic constitution of Dasein was essentially an attempt to ground ontologically a previously indeterminate notion of subjectivity.  This is what we mean when we say that Heidegger’s emphasis on the subject was an attempt to revive ontologically the modern turn toward subjectivity: the ontology of Dasein “sharpened” the emphasis on the subject already established in modern thought, avoided the “one-sidedly subjectivistic” formulation of that emphasis, and secured an authentic notion subjectivity as the proper access to the manifold intelligibility of Being.

Second, based on these selections from The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, we can clarify the fundamental equivalence between the investigation into the subjectivity of subject and the project of a fundamental ontology.  In so far as the Being of Dasein can also be called the subjectivity of the subject, any inquiry into one would simultaneously be an investigation into the other. Thus, since fundamental ontology is an investigation into the Being of Dasein, it is equivalently an investigation into the subjectivity of the subject, and vice versa.  This means the determination of the subjectivity of the subject and the project of a fundamental ontology amount to the same thing– a new, ontologically clarified account of the subject (Dasein), one that grounds the question of Being in the subjectivity of that subject.  Heidegger also called this grounding the existential analytic, which is the analysis of Dasein carried out strictly in terms of its understanding of Being.  For Heidegger, then, Dasein was the authentic concept of subjectivity necessary for the proper formulation of the question of the meaning of Being.  In other words, fundamental ontology not only overturned the deficient concepts of the subject that prevailed up to Heidegger’s own time; it did so by establishing a genuinely ontological notion of subjectivity.  So far from renouncing all reliance on the subject, Being and Time deepened that reliance by revealing the authentic ground from which the genuine notion of subjectivity could be developed.

Fundamental Ontology as Transcendental Philosophy

In the previous sections, we have provided textual evidence for two aspects of Heidegger’s early thought: the positive impetus he received from modern philosophy– that is, the plan for an ontological revision of the subject; and the analysis of Dasein as the of subjectivity of that subject– meaning that the Being of Dasein was equivalently the subjectivity of the subject.  From these two sections, we have been able to conclude that Heidegger formulated the question of Being in terms of an ontological revision of subjectivity.  In other words, we have seen that subjectivity (properly understood) was the ‘royal road’ to understanding the manifold intelligibility of Being.

We have not seen any indication, however, that Heidegger’s revision of subjectivity was in any way transcendental.  That is, we have seen no evidence that Heidegger’s ontological revision of subjectivity was also a transcendental revision, or specifically, that the ontological revision concerned a transcendental concept of subjectivity.  The primary goal of this essay has been to find textual evidence to this effect, so thus far we have fallen short of our goal.  We have yet to show the transcendental dimension to Heidegger’s early thought, and more specifically, we have yet to show that a notion of transcendental subjectivity was relevant to his thought at all.

There are several possible ways to demonstrate the transcendental dimension of Heidegger’s early thought, specifically regarding his (so far alleged) notion of transcendental subjectivity.  The best way would probably be a detailed analysis of what “transcendental” has meant in the history of philosophy, followed by an explanation of how Heidegger used that term– with the appropriate modifications– in his own thought.  This approach would establish how Heidegger used the term “transcendental”– or more precisely, it would show in what way Heidegger asked transcendental questions, or posed transcendental problems, or conceived of a transcendental subjectivity.  Furthermore, it would demonstrate how Heidegger’s approach to Being was a transcendental approach.

Our goal, however, is much simpler.  For now, we only need to document the fact that Heidegger was committed to a “transcendental” philosophy of some sort, without analyzing the nature of that philosophy in much detail.  We only need to establish that Heidegger considered his early thought to be a “transcendental” philosophy, or that the method and/or the subject matter of his early thought was in some way “transcendental,” or that the concept of subjectivity at work in Being and Time was in some way transcendental.   The specific how of these points could, and should, be discussed at another time, since this is a very important aspect of Heidegger’s early thought.  For now, though, we will limit our discussion to the textual evidence that Heidegger considered his early approach to Being to be transcendental in some way; and more specifically, we will try to show that the “transcendental” aspect of this approach referred to the passage to Being as such though an ontologically clarified transcendental subjectivity.

Unlike in his published works before 1930, Heidegger frequently used the term “transcendental” as a positive characteristic of his own thought.  This was especially true in both The Basic Problems of Phenomenology and The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic.  In fact Heidegger used the term “transcendental” as an adjective for key elements of his thought, or of his thought as a whole, at least seventeen times throughout these two lecture courses.  Specifically, Heidegger used the term “transcendental” to characterize philosophy, the world, truth, the understanding of Being, and the difference between Being and beings.[59]  A brief recapitulation of a few of these instances should provide the evidence lacking so far– namely, textual support that Heidegger’s revision of the subject was in some way transcendental, that the ontological analysis of the subject was equivalently a new version of transcendental subjectivity.

We will begin with Heidegger’s introductory remarks in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology.  In the “Introduction,” Heidegger claimed that philosophy was the science of Being, and in the same introduction, he sketched the basic elements of this science (see above, pp. 16-20).  After this sketch, however, Heidegger developed the concept of philosophy in a more fundamental way.  That is, Heidegger showed how philosophy, as the science of Being, differed from all the other sciences, such as physics or biology– and most especially philosophical anthropology.  For this demarcation, Heidegger relied on what he called the ontological difference, which in simplest terms means the distinction between Being and beings.  Since this distinction was central to Heidegger’s concept of philosophy–  especially as the transcendental science of Being– we will briefly discuss it here.  Our goal in this will not just be to show how the ontological difference differentiated philosophy from the other sciences; instead, we will focus on how the ontological difference related to Heidegger’s characterization of philosophy as “transcendental.”

Stated in the most simplistic terms, the ontological difference refers to the distinction between Being and beings; but more specifically, it refers to the priority of Being over beings. That is, Being is prior to beings, in the sense that a disclosure of Being is required in order for Dasein to meaningfully relate to any entities in the first place.  In other words, Being must be understood in order for entities to be used as tools, appreciated as works of art, or exploited as resources in nature, etc.  In general then, Being is prior to beings in the sense that without the disclosure of Being, no meaningful comportment towards entities would be possible at all: strictly speaking, things would not exist for Dasein.[60]  To this effect, Heidegger said that “Being is earlier than beings,”[61] and that Being “ ‘must always already be understood beforehand.’ ”[62]  Stated another way, Heidegger claimed: “I can comport toward beings only if those beings can themselves be encountered in the brightness of the understanding of Being.”[63]

Heidegger’s statements here have a definite temporal sense, but Heidegger did not mean that Being ‘comes before’ beings in a sequence of time, like a cause comes before an effect, or one event follows after another.  Instead of this distinct order in time, Heidegger meant that Being is more ‘general’ than beings; or that Being is more ‘encompassing’ than beings; or that Being is ‘not bound’ by the essence of any one being (or even by the essence of a particular type of beings) but is instead ‘universal’ or ‘common’ to them all.  In short, Being is “that which ‘goes beyond’ ” beings; or Being “holds sway” over beings; or stated more concisely, Being transcends beings.[64]

This phrase, “Being transcends beings,” might still seem to suggest a linear sequence, as though first there are beings, then these beings are surmounted in order to reach Being.  That is, it might seem that Being can only be reached after beings are encountered.  But in fact, Heidegger meant exactly the opposite.  For him, Being is disclosed before beings are ever encountered; Being “goes beyond” beings prior to encountering particular beings.  In other words, Being transcends beings apriori; there must be an apriori disclosure of Being to Dasein in all commerce with actual entities– including Dasein itself.  This is the temporal sense we mentioned earlier, but this does not mean that Being is more ‘encompassing’ or ‘universal’ after the fact of encountering beings.  Instead, it means in essence that Being transcends beings before they are encountered in the first place.  Just what Heidegger meant by this temporal sense that is not quite a linear order in time is too complicated to discuss now;[65] suffice it to say that Being transcends beings apriori, that Being both ‘lies beyond’ and ‘comes before’ entities.  Hence Heidegger could say: “It is only by means of the temporality of the understanding of Being that it can be explained why the ontological determination of Being have the character of apriority.”[66]

Stated in this simplified way, we can begin to see how the ontological difference relates to philosophy as the science of Being, and specifically, how it relates to Being as a transcendental science– a term Heidegger himself used.  In fact, Heidegger used this term right after mentioning the ontological difference in the introduction to The Basic Problems,  where he stated: “We can [also] call the science of Being transcendental science… [and] the scientific concept of metaphysics is identical with the concept of philosophy in general– critically transcendental science of Being, ontology.”[67]

This might seem like a startling admission by Heidegger, for in the introduction to Being and Time— where he sketched his phenomenological method in some detail– he never mentioned that his philosophy was a “scientific concept of metaphysics,” much less a “critical transcendental science of Being.”  In light of this omission, one’s initial reaction to the passage here might be to downplay Heidegger’s use of the term “transcendental” as an unintentional mistake in a lecture course, perhaps a because of temporary lack of rigor.  That is, one might point out: “Even if Heidegger resorted to a term like ‘transcendental,’ he surely didn’t mean it in any traditional sense.”  And to this reaction, one might add: “Since he didn’t mean it in any historical sense, especially in Kant’s or Husserl’s sense, he might just as well have abandoned it altogether, as he did in his later thought.”  In short, one might object to taking Heidegger’s own words here seriously at all, an objection based in no small part on the de-emphasis Heidegger himself have placed on them throughout his published work and in his later thought.

But Heidegger’s rationale for using the term “transcendental” falls squarely into line with his discussion of the ontological difference– so squarely that one can justifiably say that the ontological difference justifies, not contradicts, Heidegger’s alleged ‘lapse’ into transcendental jargon.  Specifically, it explains Heidegger’s use of that term in the following way: if Being lies “before” beings as “that which goes beyond Being,” ontology must “surmount” or “transcend” beings in order to attain the theme of philosophy itself– namely Being.  Thus ontology transcends the domain of beings to get to Being as such, and as the science of “that which transcends” beings, ontology is essentially a transcendental science.[68]  As Heidegger stated: “The possibility of ontology, of philosophy as science, stands or falls with the possibility of a sufficiently clear accomplishment of this differentiation between Being and beings, and accordingly with the possibility of negotiating a passage from the ontical consideration of beings to the ontological thematization of Being.”[69]  So with regard to the ontological difference, Heidegger could call ontology transcendental science precisely because of the distinction between Being and beings, not in spite of it.  And since particular entities must be “transcended” in order to reach Being itself– “the transcendens pure and simple[70]— ontology must be transcendental in another sense.  In other words, philosophy is transcendental for two reasons: initially because Being itself cannot be investigated until beings are transcended; and secondly, because this transcending reaches the “transcendens pure and simple”– a decidedly transcendental theme.  In short, philosophy is a transcendental science because it (1) depends on the ontological difference in its “passage from” beings towards Being, and (2) because Being itself is a transcendental affair.[71]

Still, in spite of this justification for taking the term “transcendental” seriously, one might stick to the objection noted above– that Heidegger’s use of the term “transcendental” was a mistake, and that this error is indicated by its infrequent appearance in the early lectures and Being and Time.  In other words, one might still suggest that Heidegger’s infrequent use of “transcendental” must have been be due to his discomfort with the term; furthermore, his later disregard altogether for the term should indicate that this reluctance eventually grew into his eventual rejection of traditional philosophical terms– especially those relating to “subjectivity” and “transcendental” philosophy.  This objection essentially boils down to the following view: Heidegger initially used traditional philosophical terms with the hopes of overcoming their limitations, but while finishing Being and Time, he realized these limitations were insurmountable and abandoned them in favor of an immanent critique of his own early thought– along with most of the philosophical vocabulary in use since Plato.

There is an almost overwhelming body of evidence to support this account of Heidegger’s thought, not the least of which seems to have been sanctioned by Heidegger himself.  For in his preface to Richardson’s famous study, Heidegger gave an account of his philosophical development essentially along these lines.[72]  Inspired by this self-evaluation, and many others throughout the later works, Heidegger scholars have found in his later thought abundant confirmation that Heidegger’s early work was always “on the way” to the turning that occurred in the 1930’s.[73]  These eminently reasonable interpretations provide even more solid ground for reading into Heidegger’s early philosophy an initial dissatisfaction with traditional thought (especially regarding the “subject” and the “transcendental”), and they have gone along way toward supporting Heidegger’s own account of how his thought developed.  So in light of this previous scholarship, our attempt to place a far reaching  significance in Heidegger’s initial, sporadic use of the term “transcendental” might seem futile at best.

But as we stated at the beginning of this chapter, our goal is a “Heideggerian” reading of Heidegger’s early texts, which means that we will not be deterred in our interpretation by statements Heidegger made in his later period– especially when those statements are retrospective estimations of the real, underlying intentions of his early thought.  Since we too are placing our own bid on those “real intentions,” we will ignore such claims as “thinking failed” to bring out the true accomplishment latent in Being and Time, or that the language of metaphysics was not up to the task of developing the fundamental insight in that work.[74]  As readers of Heidegger today, we should overlook these later dispensations in favor of the intentions Heidegger explicitly stated at the time.  Using these as guidelines, we can then see Heidegger’s early thought in light of the specific projects he set forth– and not in light of the caveats and justifications through which he explained their failure later in life.

Furthermore, anticipating some conclusions that could be drawn later, we offer this: that Heidegger’s autobiographical account of the development of his own thought remains only one possible interpretation among others.  More specifically, we conject that Heidegger’s interpretation was couched in an unnecessary myth of inevitability– especially when it came to explaining why Being and Time was never finished, or how the inconsistencies which emerged from that work required him to abandon his initial approach.[75]  For now, however, we shall return to the topic at hand, namely the textual evidence for Heidegger’s commitment to transcendental thought, and specifically, to the textual evidence for his development of a transcendental subjectivity.

This brief recapitulation of our “Heideggerian reading” has been helpful, though, since it puts our account of Heidegger’s use of the term “transcendental” into proper perspective.  That is, despite his indications to the contrary, before the “turning” Heidegger simply did not consider most traditional philosophical terms to be a liability to overcome.  Instead, Heidegger as often as not saw in traditional terms an occasion to realize great hidden philosophical potential, or as an opportunity to reestablish the fundamental significance of philosophical words– and this was especially true of his interpretation of Kant and the transcendental.

Heidegger’s tendency to appropriate—not reject—key traditional concepts is especially clear in his comparison of Kant’s notion of “transcendental” with his own.  In characteristic fashion, Heidegger stated:

“…we are not simply taking over unaltered the concept of transcendental in Kant, although we are indeed adopting its original sense and true tendency, perhaps still concealed from Kant.”[76]

“To be sure, this concept of transcendental science does not directly coincide with the Kantian; but we are certainly in a position to explicate by means of a more original concept of transcendence the Kantian idea of the transcendental and of philosophy as transcendental philosophy in their basic tendencies.”[77]

With this comparison to Kant, Heidegger clearly had in mind a revision of transcendental philosophy, or perhaps better stated, he clearly intended to retrieve or revitalize the hidden, authentic meaning of that term.  In other words, he did not reject transcendental thought as such, for Heidegger found in Kant’s transcendental philosophy an undeveloped source of philosophical inspiration– an occasion to revitalize the question of Being in an authentically ontological way.[78]  Thus contrary to the claims characteristic of his later thought, early on Heidegger did not see transcendental philosophy as a liability to be overcome.  In fact, he thought the opposite: he sought to develop the “original sense” latent in transcendental philosophy itself; he used traditional transcendental thought as an authentic source of inspiration for his own work; and he developed this inspiration using revised notions which were meant to overcome a previously “subjectivistic” tendency in transcendental thought.  Emphatically, then, his goal was not to supplant these transcendental concerns wholesale; it was to fulfill an undeveloped philosophical potential using his own ontologically secured notions of Dasein and transcendence.

These ‘introductory’ passages already give a strong indication of Heidegger’s intent to develop a transcendental philosophy, but he again characterized his own philosophy as “transcendental” in the final sections of The Basic Problems, where he explained this goal in a more definitive way.  After discussing the central role of the understanding of Being, transcendence, and the objectification of Being for developing a scientific ontology, Heidegger summarized:

“The objectification of Being can first be accomplished in regard to transcendence.  The science of Being thus constituted we call the science that inquires and interprets in the light of transcendence properly understood: transcendental science.”[79]

Heidegger further explained this transcendental science as:

“…rooted in temporality and thus in Temporality.  Hence time is the primary horizon of transcendental science, of ontology, in short it is the transcendental horizon.”[80]

And he finally characterized his approach to Being through time with:

“Ontology is at bottom Temporal science; therefore philosophy understood in the proper sense… is transcendental philosophy…”[81]

These three characterizations enhance the scope of the prefatory remarks Heidegger made in the “Introduction,” and they also strongly express the central role that the idea of a transcendental philosophy played in his early thought.  Additionally, these passages establish the transcendental dimension of the attempt to understand Being through the horizon of time– the very project attempted in Being and Time., where he said expressly that time provided the “transcendental horizon” for the understanding of Being.  In this sense, Heidegger’s early thought (Being and Time included) was a decidedly transcendental approach to the question of Being.  In other words, Heidegger formulated the question of Being in terms of a newly developed transcendental philosophy.

Let us pause for a moment to review this conclusion, as well as the others we have made so far.  First, Heidegger was positively influenced by the modern emphasis on subjectivity; and more specifically, this influence amounted to an ontological revision of the concept of the subject.  Second, Heidegger sought a “genuine notion” of subject in order to replace the traditional, defunct concept of subjectivity– a subjectivity immured in its own sphere of immanence.  He called this genuine notion of the ‘subject’ the subjectivity of the subject— or equivalently, transcendence and Dasein.  Third, Heidegger considered philosophy itself to be a transcendental science, which included a transcendental horizon (time) and a transcendental method (phenomenological ontology).  In summary then, Heidegger’s ontology of Dasein was a means to formulate the question of Being in transcendental terms: the question of Being was a transcendental question which required the disclosure of a transcendental horizon which could then be developed into a transcendental science– and all of this was to be carried out in conjunction with the ontological authentication of a new subjectivity.

Dasein as Transcendental Subjectivity

So what does this mean for Dasein as transcendental subjectivity?  Heidegger considered his early approach to Being  as a transcendental philosophy—that much is clear from the previous sections.  Furthermore, Heidegger considered an ontological revision of the modern notion of subjectivity essential to the development of this transcendental philosophy—that much is also clear from these sections.  But in all of our citations so far, have we seen that Heidegger ever considered his notion of subjectivity to be transcendental?  Did Heidegger ever draw an explicit connection between the question of Being and a transcendental conception of subjectivity?  Did Heidegger every say that his attempt to formulate the question of Being would require a notion of the transcendental subject?  We have seen that for Heidegger philosophy in general was a transcendental affair, and that this transcendental philosophy required an ontological notion of subjectivity; but we have not seen any explicit evidence that this transcendental philosophy specifically required a transcendental concept of subjectivity.  Is such evidence available in Heidegger’s texts?  Can we find explicit textual evidence to support our main conjecture so far—that Heidegger formulated the question of Being in terms of an analysis of transcendental subjectivity?

Unfortunately, the answer is no: Heidegger (to my knowledge at least) never stated in so many words that his transcendental philosophy required, or even involved, a transcendental determination of the subject.  We have seen that his transcendental philosophy required an ontological revision of subjectivity; we have seen that this subjectivity was equivalently transcendence, Dasein, or the subjectivity of the subject; but we have not seen—nor can we find any passages to this effect– that Dasein, as the subjectivity of the subject, was essentially a transcendental subjectivity.  Any passage we might find would at best amount to a distortion taken out of its proper context, or at worst be an outright fabrication.  In fact, we have reached the point where clear and present confirmation from Heidegger’s texts is no longer possible.  From this point on, our argument requires an interpretive leap that is specifically our own, and not one acknowledged by Heidegger himself.

Does this mean then, that we cannot reasonably demonstrate our main contention?  Does this lack of explicit textual confirmation mean that we cannot show that Heidegger’s fundamental ontological approach to Being was equivalently an ontological revision of transcendental subjectivity?  Admittedly, without direct textual confirmation, our thesis is less patent, but does this mean that it is any less substantial?

The answer is definitely no.  Heidegger may never have said in so many words that “Dasein is transcendental subjectivity,” but this omission does not mean that the train of thoughts he developed insulates him from that position– or that he himself did not have this comparison in mind while writing and lecturing.  So far, we have seen several ways in which Heidegger claimed his thought was both in some sense transcendental and focused on the subjective.  Now we only have to make explicit the implied connection that binds these two notions together.  This is the crux of our “Heideggerian” reading of Heidegger.  By bringing together the elements we have presented so far, we will show that Heidegger’s ontological revision of modern thought inevitably leads to a notion of transcendental subjectivity– a notion no doubt unique to Heidegger’s thought, but for that uniqueness, one no less transcendental or subjective.  In short, we will provide a constructive interpretation that resolves key elements of Heidegger’s early thought into a notion of transcendental subjectivity.  Whether or not Heidegger explicitly stated this resolution in his published texts is not our main priority.[82]

Our interpretation will involve several steps, the first of which was taken by Heidegger himself in the lecture course The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic.  In that course, Heidegger characterized several elements of his early thought as transcendental, and these elements included the “understanding of Being,” “truth,” “freedom” and “world.”  Any one of these characterizations lends a strong believability to our thesis; but the one that stands out most significantly is Heidegger’s conjunction of “transcendental” with “world.”  Since the correlation of “world” with “transcendental” seems to undermine the chief accomplishments Heidegger made in Being and Time, we will use this as a way introduce the larger issue of the relationship between world and transcendental subjectivity.

According to one point of view, Heidegger is thought to have undermined all transcendental accounts of the world, especially in so far as these accounts attempt to prove the existence of the external world.  This is also the general impression that Heidegger himself cultivated in Being and Time; for there, Heidegger chastised Kant, the transcendental philosopher par excellence, for misunderstanding the true issue underlying the “problem” of the external world.  So what could Heidegger have meant by calling his own account of the world transcendental?  How could Heidegger’s conception of the world be “transcendental” when he himself criticized so carefully previous transcendental philosophers on that very issue?

In a justly famous passage in Being and Time, Heidegger criticized Kant for believing that his own attempt to prove the objective reality of the world finally corrected centuries of philosophical scandal– namely, that a correct proof for the existence of the world had not been offered, despite its obvious presence before us.  Now Heidegger did not fault Kant for failing to provide this missing proof; instead, Heidegger stated: “the ‘scandal of philosophy’ was not that this proof has yet to be given, but that such proofs are expected and attempted again and again.”[83]  In other words, for Heidegger, the attempt to prove the reality of the world was itself inherently flawed, and this flaw was more fundamental than any flaw which might exist in any individual proof.  Heidegger did not disagree with the specific reasoning Kant used in his proof; instead, he rejected the whole attempt to prove the existence of the world altogether.

In light of this critical reference to Kant, the reasonable conclusion seems to be that Heidegger rejected the “transcendental” conception of the world as such, or more precisely, that he rejected any attempt to provide a transcendental account for the existence of the world.  This conclusion is so tempting because Kant’s proof for the existence of the world was part and parcel of his notion of transcendental philosophy– specifically the transcendental unity of apperception.  That is, for Kant, the transcendental faculties of the subject insured the objective reality of the empirical world, which means that the existence of the world in which we live ultimately has a transcendental subjective source or justification.  Heidegger’s reply to Kant, then, should be clear: the notion of “being-in-the-world” undermines any transcendental justification for the world because the world is where we always already find ourselves, prior to all sources and justifications; hence it requires no ‘deeper’ transcendental foundation.  Similarly, one could add that any recourse to a transcendental subjectivity that grounds the existence of the world tacitly employs the subject-object distinction, which in turn implies the defunct view of the subject as “immured from a transcendent world”– another error made obsolete by Heidegger’s starting point of being-in-the-world.  In this sense, Heidegger’s being-in-the-world was an explicit rejection of the subject-object distinction, and it seems as much an implicit rejection of transcendental subjectivity.[84]

To a certain extent, this interpretation is definitely true.  As we saw above, Heidegger did reject the subject-object distinction, and this distinction did provide the conceptual foundation for Kant’s transcendental subject.  In a similar manner, we also saw that Heidegger rejected Kant’s account of the reality of the world, essentially for relying on the same subject-object distinction.  In short, we saw that Heidegger rejected Kant’s account of subjectivity and Kant’s account of the world on the grounds that both failed to properly clarify the nature of transcendence.  To paraphrase something Heidegger said, Kant’s dependence on the subject-object distinction left the subject trapped within the confines of its own immanence, unable to “bridge” the “gap” separating itself from transcendent objects.  In fact, according to Heidegger, Kant improperly understood this relationship in the first place as a ‘going across’ between two mutually exclusive realms– the immanent subjective and the transcendent objective.  In this regard, Heidegger’s being-in-the-world certainly implies a rejection of Kant’s transcendental subjectivity, since the later notion relied heavily on the very subject-object distinction Heidegger so stridently criticized.

In a more significant way, however, this interpretation only tells part of the story, especially as it relates to Kant.  As we have seen above, Heidegger refuted the subject-object distinction, but this was not his last word on the fate of subjectivity.  In fact, Heidegger criticized that distinction for covering up the authentic notion of the subject– the subject as transcendence.  It seems unlikely, then, that the notion of “being-in-the-world” is also an implicit rejection of transcendental subjectivity as such.  At best, one could definitely claim that it was a rejection of Kant’s version of transcendental subjectivity– and what we have seen far bears this out.  Heidegger did not completely reject the notion of subjectivity, even though he rejected the subject-object distinction as the basis for any account of subjectivity.  In a similar vein, Heidegger did not reject the notion of transcendental philosophy as such; instead, he rejected the deficient notion of transcendental philosophy inherited from Kant.  In other words, Heidegger emphasized two very important and essentially related points: first, the need to replace the subject-object distinction with a more authentic understanding of subjectivity; and second, the need to replace the de facto forms of transcendental thought to date with his own version of transcendental philosophy.  Thus Heidegger rejected neither transcendental philosophy as such nor the concept of subjectivity as such.  Seeing in the notion being-in-the-world an implicit rejection of either tends to overlook the “original sense and true tendency” Heidegger saw in Kant’s thought– a tendency Heidegger himself tried to develop in his controversial book, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics.[85]

In light of this, we can pose the following questions: does Heidegger’s characterization of “world” as “transcendental” provide a clue to the latent potential he saw in transcendental philosophy?  Does Heidegger’s transcendental conception of the world relate in some way to his ontologically clarified notion of subjectivity, and this in turn to his proposed transcendental philosophy as a whole?  Put another way, we can ask: does Heidegger’s ontological revision of subjectivity also comply[86] a transcendental concept of the world grounded in the Being of Dasein?  Or perhaps better, does Heidegger’s version of transcendental philosophy include a transcendental grounding of the world in subjectivity, and if so, would not this subjectivity also be transcendental?

Provisionally, we can answer “yes” to all these questions.  Substantiating this answer, however, requires some extra-Heideggerian reasoning on our part.  By discussing one more aspect of Heidegger’s early thought, we can resolve our previous points into a very simple argument, the consequences of which will bear heavily on how to read Heidegger’s early work.  To this effect, in the paragraphs that follow, we will discuss in more detail Heidegger’s transcendental concept of the world; then we will show how this transcendental concept simultaneously implies a specific notion of subjectivity– namely, a transcendental subjectivity.  At that point, we will have finally brought together the core of our “Heideggerian reading”– that Heidegger’s own analysis of Dasein was as also an analysis of transcendental subjectivity in a unique sense, even though this fact was not explicitly declared anywhere in his published or unpublished works.

In The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, Heidegger referred to the “world” as a transcendental phenomena (or concept) several times, but the clearest example of this was in the section entitled “the phenomenon of the world,” where Heidegger stated: “world is a transcendental concept in the strictest sense of the term.  For us, ‘transcendental’ has meaning equivalent to ‘fundamental-ontological.’”[87]  This passage is about as unequivocal as they come in German philosophy, yet it is almost always overlooked in the secondary literature on Heidegger.  This omission is odd, for the passage reveals, in the clearest way possible, just how Heidegger meant for us to understand the relationship between fundamental ontology and transcendental philosophy—the genuinely developed transcendental philosophy, that is.  In a nutshell, transcendental philosophy and fundamental ontology are equivalent projects.  This is just one of several explicit statements where “world” is a called transcendental concept, but since it is so significant for our thesis and for our understanding of Heidegger in general, we will focus on it for the moment.

First, this passage clarifies just how Heidegger could so forcefully claim that his philosophy was transcendental,[88] without changing his published emphasis (in Being and Time) on the primarily “fundamental ontological” nature of his thought.  For in this lecture, one year after the publication of Being and Time, Heidegger equated the two terms, meaning that any aspect of his early thought which was “fundamental ontological” was equivalently transcendental, and vice versa.  This equivalence includes, but is not limited to, the fundamental-ontological conception of Dasein and the ontological-existential conception of the world.

Second, this equivalence between “fundamental-ontological” and “transcendental” already validates the central point of our thesis, at least in a provisional way.  For if Dasein is the central concept of fundamental ontology (as it surely is), then it is also the central concept of transcendental philosophy, since by Heidegger’s own admission the two terms are equivalent.  Therefore, in so far as Dasein represents the ontological revision of subjectivity, it also represents the transcendental revision of subjectivity.  At this point, the equivalence between Dasein and the transcendental subject is already strongly suggested by Heidegger’s own terms, but the equivalence can be made even more concrete by showing how Heidegger conjoined the two (if only implicitly) in his train of thoughts.  Specifically, Heidegger considered the concept of the transcendental essential to the notions “Dasein” and “the world”– a connection which we will now explore.

As startling as Heidegger’s use of the term “transcendental” might seem so far, the above example does fully not capture the extent to which he equated fundamental-ontological with transcendental.  For later in that same section, Heidegger explicitly stated that fundamental ontology and transcendental philosophy converge on the topic of the world, specifically as it was developed in Being in Time.  In his own words: “for preparing the following phenomenological clarification of the transcendental concept of the world… we can distinguish four concepts of world (cf. Being and Time, p.64 f).”  He then listed the first three concepts, and regarding the fourth, he said: “anticipating, we can name the fourth the ontological concept of the world.” In the very next paragraph, he clarified this with: “the transcendental concept of the world, in its own way, is evidently related to the other conceptions.  On the other hand, none of the concepts mentioned, from 1 to 3, nor even their sum, exhausts the concept of ‘world’ as a constituent of transcendence.”[89]  The “transcendental concept of the world” can only refer to the fourth concept mentioned, the ontological concept, and this reiterates his earlier claim that “transcendental” and “fundamental ontological” are equivalent terms.  The transcendental clarification of the world is the same as the fundamental-ontological concept of world– in other words, Dasein’s being-in-the-world.

Again, this series of passages is very straightforward: for Heidegger, the ontological conception of the world in Being and Time was equivalently a transcendental concept of the world in the lecture courses.  Heidegger even added that this conception of the world “indicates ontologically the metaphysical essence of Dasein as such with respect to its metaphysical constitution.”[90]  Later in the same section, Heidegger strengthened this equivalence even more, for he explicitly called “transcendental” the same two aspects of the world that he had discussed thoroughly in Being and Time— namely intraworldliness and the for-the-sake-of-which.[91]  In all key respects, these two descriptions were identical, even though one was published for his peers and the other was delivered to his students.  This identity demonstrates the real continuity between the “transcendental” analysis of the world in the lecture courses and the “fundamental-ontological” analysis in Being and Time.  It also further illustrates the extent to which “fundamental-ontological” equivalently meant “transcendental”– especially when it came to characterizing the Being of the world.

So Heidegger considered the world to be a transcendental phenomenon.  This may initially come as a surprise, since Heidegger never (to my knowledge) directly stated this in Being and Time.  But this omission should not be too disconcerting, though, for Heidegger did discuss the relationship between transcendental philosophy and his own work one year later, in a long essay entitled “On the Essence of Ground.”  In that work, Heidegger made several more explicit statements regarding the transcendental conception of the world, including the following:

“World co-constitutes the unitary structure of transcendence; as belonging to this structure, the concept of world may be called transcendental.”[92]

In this brief but rich passage, Heidegger made two important points.  First, he explained exactly how he meant the term “transcendental,” namely, as an adjective for something belonging to the structure of transcendence (in this regard, he reiterated his use of that term in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology.)  And second, he indicated an essential relationship between the world and the “authentic sense” of the subjective.  That is, in so far as transcendence designates “the essence of the subject” or “the fundamental structure of subjectivity,” Heidegger’s claim that ‘world’ co-constitutes transcendence implied that world also co-constitutes subjectivity.  In other words, world and subject are correlative phenomenon; world and subjectivity are equiprimordial: both phenomena require and imply each other.[93] Although it might appear that Heidegger’s criticisms of the transcendental account of the world implied a rejection of transcendental grounding as such, the opposite proves to be the case.  In so far as “world” is part and parcel of the structure of transcendence, it is transcendentally grounded in transcendence— that is, world is transcendental.  So instead of rejecting the notion of a transcendental grounding, Heidegger considered the world, as a transcendental phenomenon, to be grounded essentially in his own ontologically authentic version of subjectivity.  This correlation between world and subject is extremely significant for Heidegger’s thought, so we will consider it more here.

Simplistically put, the correlation between world and subject means this: the world cannot be imagined without implicating a subject for whom it exists, and the subject cannot be thought of without it existing in some world.  Each phenomenon implies the other, so the degree to which one is analyzed, so too must the other be considered.  In a limited sense– for the sake of scientific research, for example– one can limit the scope of investigation to either the characteristics of subjectivity (or traits of specific subjects) or to specific features of the world (or entities within in); but in so far as one considers the essence of one, the essence of the other is implied.  In short, one might be able to think of the world or subject in isolation, but the two cannot but exist together: where there is no subject, there is no world– and vice versa.

This correlation applies to Heidegger’s thought in the following way: his revision of the concept of the world had as an exact parallel a corresponding revision of the meaning of subjectivity.  In other words, Heidegger’s revision of the concept “world” was equally a revision of subjectivity; and more specifically, the relationship between subjectivity and world was reformulated to include a grounding of world in the Being of DaseinWorld became an aspect of the subjectivity of the subject, so long as this subjectivity is understood in a genuine ontological sense– the sense provided by the notion of Dasein as ecstatic transcendence.  Heidegger alluded to this grounding in Being and Time[94], but for more explicit statements, consider the following passages:

“[T]he principle problem whose discussion led us to the phenomenon of the world is, after all, to determine exactly what and how the subject is– what belongs to the subjectivity of the subject… In the end it is precisely the phenomenon of the world that forces us to a more radical formulation of the subject concept.”[95]

“We have tried to make clear that world is nothing that occurs in the realm of the extant but belongs to the ‘subject,’ is something subjective in the well understood sense, so that the mode of Being of the Dasein is at the same time determined by way of the phenomena of the world.”[96]

“In the end, the concept of world must be conceived in such a way that world is indeed subjective, i.e. belongs to Dasein, but precisely on this account does not fall into the inner sphere of a ‘subjective’ subject. [Instead] the task is to gain, through an illumination of transcendence, one possibility for determining what is meant by ‘subject’ and ‘subjective.’ “[97]

Again, one might interpret Heidegger’s qualifications and quotation marks as a warning not to equate his concept of the subject with a traditional “subjectivistic” concept of the subject, and this interpretation would definitely be correct.  But, one would be wrong to conclude as well that Heidegger disavowed the notions of the “subject” and “subjectivity” altogether.  That is, one would be wrong to suppose that Heidegger rejected the priority of the subjective instead of revising its essential meaning to include an ontological justification for its emphasis and priority.  Heidegger’s own words should be a warning against this one-sided interpretation: “Only with the aid of a radical interpretation of the subject can an un-genuine subjectivism be avoided, and equally a blind realism, which would like to be more realistic than the things themselves are because it misconstrues the phenomenon of the world.”[98]

The three passages just cited support Heidegger’s warning, and they clearly show that Heidegger considered the world and the subject to be strict correlates.  Furthermore, they also show that for Heidegger, the world was something subjective, that ‘the world’ belonged to the province of the subject.  If this sounds like an idealism– and hence not true of Heidegger, for Heidegger was certainly no idealist– then again, Heidegger’s own words provide the best response.  For Heidegger pointed out that the “anxiety that prevails today in the face of idealism is anxiety in the face of philosophy itself,” and he added that philosophy must ask “what this idealism really is searching for.”[99]  To be sure, Heidegger did not want to “equate philosophy straightway with idealism,” but he did want to leave open the possibility that a reformed idealism would pose the problems of philosophy in a fundamental way.[100]  In other words, in The Basic Problems Heidegger reiterated the preference for idealism that he indicated throughout Being and Time— which leaves open the question regarding the nature of this preferred idealism, but indicates its significance nonetheless.[101] So instead of rejecting the emphasis on subjectivity because of idealism, Heidegger called for an ontological reformulation of “idealism” which would justify the emphasis on subjectivity in the first place.

Now that the transcendental nature of the world and the essential correlation between world and subjectivity have been established, we are in a position to see how these two themes come together into our “Heideggerian” reading of Heidegger.  For based on what we have discussed so far, Heidegger’s tacit reliance on a transcendental notion of subjectivity can be made explicit.  Our goal is to make this implicit reliance explicit in one of three ways.

In the first case, Heidegger’s commitment to a notion of transcendental subjectivity is necessary because of a simple a logical argument.  For example, Heidegger both claimed that “world” is an aspect of “subjectivity” and that the “world” is a “transcendental” phenomenon.  From this it follows that the “subjective” is also a “transcendental” phenomenon, which is another way of saying “transcendental subjectivity.”  In a more basic logical form, the syllogism would look like this: if subjective is world, and the world is transcendental, then the subject is transcendental.  The reasoning here is very simple: modus ponnens dictates that the “subjective” must be “transcendental” if both are predicates of “world.”  To illustrate this with the classic example: “If all men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man,” then “Socrates is mortal.”  In Heidegger’s case, the subject cannot not be transcendental any more than Socrates can live forever despite his mortality.

The second way we can show that a notion of transcendental subjectivity is implied in Heidegger’s thought is to evaluate the claims he did make in light of the principles that any transcendental philosophy must follow.  That is, there are certain principles which belong to the concept of transcendental philosophy as such, without being limited to the specific concepts that are characteristic of one historical transcendental philosophy.  In so far as Heidegger admitted to these principles and used them in his own thought, he was obligated to follow them consistently throughout.

One such principle is the priority of the transcendental over the empirical; or stated another way, the priority of the conditions of the possibility of phenomenon over any particular phenomena itself; or stated still another way, the priority of the ontological over the ontic.  Kant, for example, claimed that transcendental knowledge (or knowledge of transcendental conditions) clarifies the origin of empirical knowledge and justifies its validity, but he added that the relationship could not work the other way around– that is, that knowledge of empirical matters cannot explain or justify their antecedent transcendental conditions.  To state the same principle in a more general way, the transcendental grounds the empirical; the transcendental makes the empirical possible; and the transcendental provides the necessary conditions for the empirical to be experienced as such.

Now Heidegger was not concerned with the conditions for the possibility of objective knowledge, so he did not invoke the difference between “transcendental” and “empirical” in  terms of the transcendental conditions for empirical knowledge.  But Heidegger still relied on a similar distinction in his own thought– namely, the distinction between the “ontic” and the “ontological,” or correlatively, the distinction between the “existentiell” and the “existentiale.” Heidegger’s distinction between the ontic and the ontological was not identical to Kant’s or Husserl’s transcendental distinctions, but it had at least one thing in common with both: just as the transcendental took precedence over the empirical, for Heidegger, the ontological– which concerns Being– took precedence over the ontic– which concerns particular beings.  In other words, for Heidegger the ontological takes priority over the ontic; the ontological makes the ontic intelligible in the first place.[102]

This emphasis of the ontological over the ontic is fundamental to all of Heidegger’s phenomenological descriptions of Dasein, but it is especially clear in his discussion of care, the Being of Dasein.  To this effect, Heidegger stated: “the transcendental ‘generality’ of the phenomenon of care and of all fundamental existentialia is… broad enough to present a basis on which every interpretation which is ontical… must move…”[103] This passage is typical of Heidegger’s early thought, so we won’t multiply it with other examples.  The basic point, however, should be evident: for Heidegger, ontological investigations took priority over ontic investigations, even though he also claimed that the priority of ontological inquiry itself ultimately rested on an ontic foundation.[104] For now, we will not explore this complex and infrequently discussed issue.

So how does this priority of the ontological over the ontic relate to the “transcendental” in Heidegger’s early thought?  How does the priority of the ontological over the ontic– or equivalently, the “transcendental” over the “empirical”– reveal Heidegger’s commitment to some notion of transcendental subjectivity, even though that commitment was not explicitly stated as such?

Based on our discussion so far, this distinction applies to Heidegger’s thought in the following way: the ontologically revised notion of the subject must also be (in some way) transcendental because the transcendental phenomenon “world” cannot be appropriately grounded in an ontic concept of subjectivity.  If an ontological investigation is necessary to determine the Being of Dasein; and if that ontological investigation shows that world, as belonging to that Being, is a transcendental phenomenon; then Dasein itself must be transcendental in some way– for the transcendental concept of the world cannot belong to the being of a non-transcendental entity.  In other words, in order for the transcendental phenomena of the world to be grounded in the Being of the subject, the subject must be transcendental in some sense.  Without the subject also being transcendental, there could be no correlation between the subject and the world at a transcendental-ontological level– as Heidegger emphatically maintained there was.  In short, a non-transcendental notion of subjectivity cannot ground a transcendental phenomenon: this is simply not possible in any transcendental philosophy, no matter how ontologically revised that philosophy may be.[105]

This “traditional” reasoning can also be applied to Heidegger’s early thought by considering the specific way he carried out his transcendental project.  That is, even though Heidegger proposed a new version of transcendental philosophy, he simultaneously relied on a modus operand fundamental to the old ones– namely, the search for apriori conditions, the antecedent “conditions for the possibility of.”[106]  In other words, despite his claim that philosophy has an ontic foundation, he nevertheless relied on the priority of the ontological to determine the “conditions for the possibility” of (ontic) phenomena.  Heidegger certainly renamed this search for apriori conditions (to fundamental ontology) and changed its application significantly (to Dasein’s transcendence); but to some degree, he remained faithful to the distinction that opens the field of any transcendental investigation– the distinction between phenomena that ground and phenomena that are grounded.  For Heidegger, this amounted to the difference between the ontic and the ontological, and he relied on it even though he also suggested that the distinction itself would be undermined once his ontological investigations were complete.

This last point is significant, since it reveals a possible ambiguity in the approach taken toward Heidegger in this essay.  On the one hand, one can claim that Heidegger’s revision of ‘traditional’ transcendental notions implies none of their traditional limits; while on the other hand, one can insist that some of the limits must remain in place.  In other words, one can claim that being aware of the limits of traditional terms is enough to justify them after the fact of using them; or one can claim that Heidegger should not be granted this caveat any more than any other thinker who failed to clarify the ontological foundations of his or her work (incidentally, this was Heidegger’s favorite criticism of other philosophers).  As is probably clear by now, our eggs rest with the latter: even Heidegger’s revised transcendental philosophy commits him to at least one feature of any transcendental thought– a transcendental subjectivity that grounds non-transcendental phenomena.  Since Heidegger never explained how a transcendental philosophy can seek apriori conditions without this subjectivity, the traditional need for the transcendental subject applies to his thought with all its weight.  The simple fact that Heidegger used a transcendental distinction to open his investigation into “the conditions for the possibility of” phenomena is enough to demand that he deliver an actual— not promised– justification for its use.  Since no such justification to the contrary exists, his claim that the world is both a transcendental phenomenon and an apriori existentiale of Dasein can only be justified by inserting the transcendental subject where he himself should have placed it. [107]

Now one might argue that such simple logical formulations and appeals to historical precedence are not appropriate measures for understanding a thinker of Heidegger’s stature.[108] As Heidegger himself said on many occasions, thinking is not bound by the laws of logic, nor does the true historical engagement with a philosopher resort to the mere logical analysis of his ideas or the comparison of those ideas with another thinker’s.  So one might say that it is incumbent on us to show further how Heidegger himself could have conjoined the “subject” to the “transcendental,” without resorting to a logical analysis or relying on a theoretical precedent established by a previous transcendental philosopher.  One might argue that we must add to these merely logical or historical arguments something more appropriate to Heidegger’s thinking, which means something more respectful of the difficult question he posed, and the manner in which he posed it.

Unfortunately, the only response I have to this demand is even more to the contrary to the spirit of Heidegger’s thinking, and this response constitutes our third way to indicate the transcendental subject in Heidegger’s early thought: the appeal to common sense.

Kant rightly called the appeal to common sense “one of the subtile discoveries of modern times, by means of which the most superficial ranter can safely enter the lists with the most thorough thinker and safely hold his own;”[109] but he added that this appeal has its place in philosophical argument.  Specifically, Kant said that the appeal to common sense “must be shown in action by well-considered and reasonable thoughts and words, not by appealing to it as an oracle when no justification for one’s position can be advanced.”[110]

In the spirit of Kant, then, we would point out that our justification has already been advanced and that our “well-considered” thoughts so far demand one conclusion– Dasein is some form of transcendental subjectivity.  Heidegger certainly never called Dasein a “transcendental entity” per se, much less a “transcendental subject”; but after the citations we have seen throughout this essay, can one reasonably deny that this must be the case?  In light of its central position in a transcendental philosophy that transcendentally grounds the (transcendental) phenomenon of the world, can Dasein not be transcendental subjectivity?  At this point, I am content to let the force of common sense speak for itself, since no further argument will convince anyone.

Since we cannot argue for our thesis any further, what can we say in conclusion?  Does common sense compel us to say anything further?  In a sense, it does.  It seems to me that the following rhetorical question is unavoidable, since to date no one (to my knowledge) has offered a satisfactory answer.  Given the statements that Heidegger himself made, what right minded reader would insist that an ontological revision of subjectivity is not also transcendental when: (1) “ontological” and “transcendental” are equivalent terms; (2) the world, a transcendental phenomenon, is an aspect of the Being of the subject (i.e. Dasein);[111] and (3) the ontological analysis of the subject is the essential precondition for the fundamental question of transcendental science, which itself is developed within a transcendental horizon, the ultimate goal of which is knowledge of the transcendens pure and simple?[112]  Based on these three points, it seems eminently reasonable to conclude that Dasein is an ontologically clarified transcendental subjectivity– in other words, the culmination of the modern emphasis on the subject, not its rejection.  In order to make the best sense of the explicit statements Heidegger made about both the subject and the transcendental, Dasein must implicitly be some form of transcendental subjectivity.  Heidegger may have called this transcendental subjectivity “ex-static temporal transcendence,” but the obvious lack of either word makes this transcending temporal Dasein no less “subjective” or “transcendental.”  One can (and should) simply argue that historical terms are not fixed, that Heidegger could (and did) freely alter them to suit his own needs.  In fact, according to a “Heideggerian reading” of his early thought, the infrequent use of the terms “transcendental” and “subjective” should not preclude that he did just that, that some new meaning for them was operative in his thought.  Perhaps in the last analysis we can only demonstrate this implicit use by falling back on the appeal to common sense, but at least the burden of proof seems has shifted.  For now the burden seems to rest on those who would claim that Dasein, whose very being holds a transcendental determination of the world, is not transcendental– even though Dasein is the source of the transcendental horizon through which the transcendens pure and simple is accessible in a transcendental science of Being as such.  I would not wish this task on anyone, but we leave it up to those interpreters to show just how our final appeal to ‘common sense’ fails.


Our interpretation has been quintessentially “Heideggerian.”  This means it has been based on liberal citations from Heidegger’s own works, but that it departs from the letter of those works in order to discover an aspect of his thought that he himself left undisclosed.  In the spirit of Heidegger’s own dictum for reading philosophers, we have relied on what Heidegger himself said in order to bring to light an aspect of his thought that remained unsaid.  In this respect, we have performed a very Heideggerian reading; and consistent with that reading, we have reached a very ‘un-Heideggerian’ conclusion.  Specifically, we have shown that Heidegger’s notion of Dasein was also a notion of transcendental subjectivity, even though we have not determined what the specific nature of this transcendental subjectivity might be.[113]

Given the controversial nature of this ‘un-Heideggerian’ conclusion, our interpretation is Heideggerian in another, altogether deeper sense.  For like Heidegger’s best work on other philosophers, we too have reached a conclusion that raises another question as much as it settles a previous one.  That is, our conclusion is more thought provoking than it is settling.  In fact, our interpretation has brought us to what might be the fundamental problem of Heidegger’s early thought—namely, the nature of the transcendental subject, or stated more precisely, the question: how does one conceive of the (transcendental) subject as the (transcendental) ground of access to Being—without reducing that subject either to an entity within the world or to an entity entirely independent of the world?  To put the matter another way, how does one overcome the transcendental paradox, while simultaneously preserving the implicit truth (if any) within transcendental idealism?  Heidegger explicitly addressed this problem in his 1927 letter to Husserl[114], and it seems to be a central issue most of his own work from 1923 to 1930.  Furthermore, by his own admission, this is essentially the problem that guided the development of Being and Time, even though the main goal of that work was much broader, encompassing as it did re-raising the question of the meaning of Being in its broadest possible context.[115]   Understanding this problem in its proper respect would amount to showing how Heidegger’s implicit reliance on some notion of the transcendental subject, which he called Dasein’s temporal transcendence, was essential to his early formulation of the question of Being.  This task, as important as it is, has not been the goal of this essay.  Instead, our goal has been much simpler: to lay the textual justification for just such an interpretation in the future.  The progress we have made so far calls for this deeper look into Heidegger’s thought, so like many of Heidegger’s own interpretations of philosophers, our “Heideggerian” interpretation of Heidegger leaves us at the brink of deeper question: what is the nature of the transcendental subject in Heidegger, and how does this concept of subjectivity determine access to Being through the analytic of Dasein as presented in Being and Time?  Why was for Heidegger the path taken in Being and Time and the supporting lecture courses both a necessary path toward—a “faulty interpretation”—of a genuine ontological problem, and how does he subject that path to an immanent critique in his attempt to re-conceive that origin after the so-called “Turning”?   Does this re-conception avoid that aporias and paradoxes endemic to any transcendental philosophy where the ontic (or empirical) both founds the ontological (the transcendental), and derives its ultimate meaning from that ontic/ontological foundation—what Husserl called, in another but related context, the “supreme paradox of phenomenology”?  No attempt to answer these questions has been offered here, only textual justification that they are in fact the paramount questions of Heidegger’s early though, at least as he conceived it prior to the mid-1930’s.  As it stands now, the burden of proof should be shifted to Heideggerian partisans, for them to show how their favored contra- modernity and subjectivity philosopher does not in fact re-capitulate the ‘modern’ themes of a scientific philosophy grounded in an appropriately clarified notion of transcendental subjectivity, when in fact he said six ways to Sunday that that is precisely what he intended to do, and consistently in execution did do.   The details of that execution are left for a later work.


[1]  There are definite exceptions, such as Sherover’s book on Heidegger and Kant.  Also, Orevenget and Raffoul have recently presented works along these same lines.

[2]  Plato’s Sophist, p.

[3]  “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth” in Pathmarks, p. 155.

[4]  Some might argue that as posthumously published texts (true for two of them), these lecture courses do not constitute an essential aspect of Heidegger’s early thought, as does Being and Time or “On the Essence of Ground.” c.f. Blattner, Heidegger’s Temporal Idealism.   This argument is ridiculous, for one simple reason: Being and Time  itself is a work published incomplete and under academic duress.  To suggest (as the above argument does) that Heidegger published one version of his thought to secure tenure, then lectured on a less faithful version of his thought once he got tenure…well, res ipse loquitur.  I cannot imagine why anyone would take it seriously, unless it’s simply the reluctance to read the works now available, after having put so much work into other works when they were not.

[5]  In a sense, then, our point now apparently amounts to little more than the claim that Heidegger could have used the words “transcendental subjectivity,” but didn’t.  Of course, we would like to make a stronger claim, namely that Heidegger didn’t use these terms but still retained essential aspects of those concepts.  Hence the disclaimers that the ‘how’ of Heidegger’s tie to the modern tradition must wait: our point now is that the real details of Heidegger’s departure from or retrieval of the notions ‘transcendental’ and ‘subjective’ cannot be sufficiently examined until his ambiguous position regarding them are brought to light.  That, above all else, is the goal of the essay.

[6]   Hubert Dreyfus commits just this common error throughout his commentary, Being-in-the-world.

[7]BT 272; Heidegger’s emphasis.

[8]  See also BT 31, where Heidegger discusses the important of ontological research.

[9]   The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, p. 2.

[10]  The hermeneutic method of the existential analytic (or equivalently fundamental ontology) applied, strictly speaking, to the analysis of Dasein; it did not necessarily to the explicit conceptual knowledge of Being, knowledge for which the analytic of Dasein was preparatory.  Again, the goal in Being and Time was to formulate the question of Being– not provide explicit conceptual knowledge of Being.  So one should not oppose scientific ontology to hermeneutic phenomenological ontology without first showing why the method one uses to reach a goal is necessarily the same as the method one employs once a goal is achieved.  There is no reason apriori that the means to clarify the possibility of scientific ontology cannot be a hermeneutic analysis of an entity; meaning that there is no apriori opposition between scientific ontology and the hermeneutic means to it.

[11] HCT p.6.

[12] HCT 136-7; I have taken some liberties by merging two different passages.  This sentiment is taken up in modified form in the Introduction to BT, p.31.

[13] HCT 139.

[14] HCT 143.

[15] HCT 135-143.

[16] In the “Introduction,” Heidegger briefly discussed the three components of phenomenological method: reduction, construction, and destruction.  In sections 20-22, Heidegger elaborated on the method of “projective construction” and its role in the scientific conception of philosophy.  A comparison between this method, the “preliminary conception of phenomenology,” and the hermeneutic analysis of Dasein is an extremely important topic, but one beyond what we hope to accomplish here.

[17] BP 12. Meaning that Heidegger reserved justification for a later time.

[18] BP 10,11, 320-4, 328.

[19]BP 11.

[20] BP 11 and 13.

[21] BP 11.

[22] BP 12, emphasis added.

[23] “Let us rather in the whole of the present course try to establish philosophy on its own basis, so far as it is a work of human freedom.  Philosophy must legitimate by its own resources its claim to be universal ontology.” BP 12.

[24] See also KPM 168: the question of Being in Being and Time must be understood as an historical “retrieval.”

[25]  Above cite.

[26]  BT 244: “The question of the meaning of Being is possible at all only if something like an understanding of Being is.  An understanding of Being belongs to the kind of Being of the being which we call Dasein.  The more appropriately and primordially we have succeeded in explicating this being, the surer we are to attain our goal in the further course of working out the problem of fundamental ontology.”

[27]  BT 62.

[28]  BP 19.  The distinction can also be put this way: the existential analytic yields knowledge of the Being of Dasein, while the ultimate goal of philosophy is knowledge of Being as such.  For the early Heidegger, however, knowledge of Being as such can only be gained through a prior knowledge of Dasein’s disclosive power of Being.  Thus the existential analytic can be distinct from ontology as such, even though it is necessary or the development of ontology.

[29]  BP 224; Heidegger’s emphasis.

[30]  Ibid.

[31]  Ibid.

[32]  MFL 136.

[33]  MFL 154, 158.

[34] This distinction between fundamental ontology and ontology explains how Heidegger could so strongly emphasize the existential-hermeneutic method in Being and Time in light of his overall scientific aims.  For in so far as fundamental ontology and ontology as such are different, they can very well employ different methods.  Furthermore, in so far as fundamental ontology is a prerequisite for philosophy in general, it is safe to say that the hermeneutic emphasis in Being and Time takes place against the broader background of scientific concerns.  Thus there is absolutely no contradiction in fundamental ontology being primarily hermeneutic and ontology being primarily scientific; the method of the former is a means to the later, which reverses the usual priority given to hermeneutics in Heidegger’s thought.

[35] Cf. Hubert Dreyfus’ Being-in-the-world. Incidentally, on the back cover of the Indiana University Press paperback edition of The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Dreyfus perfectly expressed the typically exclusive emphasis that we are trying to offset with this essay.

[36]  BP 124.

[37]  Ibid.

[38]  Etienne Gilson, Etudes sur la role de la pense medievale dans la formation du systeme cartesien (Paris, 1930) and Alexandre Koyre, Essai sur l’idee de dieu sur les preuves de son existence chez Descartes (Paris, 1922).

[39]  BP 124.

[40]  BP 154.

[41]  Ibid.

[42]  BP 155. I have altered the tense to fit the quote here.  Emphasis is added.

[43]  BP 73.

[44]  BP 312.

[45]  Cf. Being-in-the-world, Chapters 1 and 2.

[46]  “L’Interloque” p. 237 from  Who Comes After the Subject, eds. Cadava, Conner and Nancy; (Routledge 1991).  In the article, Marion eventually discusses a strain of subjectivity remaining in Heidegger (but in a different way than our emphasis). That inconsistency, however, does not change the meaning of what he says here, which we find typical of many Heidegger interpreters.

[47]  MFL 129 (x2), 153, 161, 165, 182, 195.

[48]  MFL 129.

[49]  MFL 128.

[50]  MFL 129.

[51]  Ibid.

[52]  MFL 153.

[53]  Ibid. (my emphasis).

[54]  In the final analysis, the problem of transcendence is the essential problem addressed in the analytic of Dasein, thus strengthening the connection drawn immediately following between subjectivity and Dasein.

[55]  MFL 182.

[56]  MFL 165.

[57]  MFL 182.

[58]  MFL 192.

[59] MFL 164, 182, 170, 185, 194, 215, 217 (x3), 218; BP 17 (x2), 19, 323 (x2), 324. We will discuss several of these references in this section.

[60] “In all comportment toward beings… an understanding of Being is already involved.  For a being can be encountered by us as a being only in the light of the understanding of Being.”  BP 275.

[61]  BP 20.

[62]  BP 324. For Heidegger, the understanding of Being has the same meaning as the disclosure of Being to Dasein.

[63]  BP 281.

[64] see Basic Questions of Philosophy, trans. R. Rojcewicz and Andre Schuwer, (Indiana), 1994 for “holds sway”, a translation of das Seyn west.

[65] Heidegger discussed it at some length in The Basic Problems, pp. 324 ff.

[66] BP 325.

[67] Ibid.

[68] BP 17.

[69] BP 227, my italics.

[70] BT 62.

[71] The last part of this claim rests on the assumption that “transcendental” is a proper adjective for the “transcendens,” which seems born out by Heidegger’s discussion in The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, section 11.

[72]  Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought, William Richardson, with preface by Martin Heidegger, (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff) 1974.

[73]  See especially Sallis’ insightful article, “Into the Clearing”, from Heidegger: The Man and the Thinker, ed. Thomas Sheehan.

[74] “Letter on ‘Humanism,’” from Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell (Harper Collins) 1993.

[75] This is does not imply that the focus of Heidegger’s later thought was not incipient in his early analysis of Dasein, as Sallis has demonstrated nicely in his article “Into the Clearing”.  Our point is that this continuation is not the only possible path Heidegger could have taken.  More precisely, we reject the claim that this path was the one Heidegger “truly had in mind all along,” even if this path is consonant with specific elements of his early thought.

[76]  BP 17.

[77]  BP 323.

[78]  Hence the Kant-book of 1929, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics.

[79]  Ibid.

[80]  Ibid.

[81]  BP 324.

[82] Heidegger may have had perfectly valid reasons for avoiding the term “transcendental subjectivity,” but the validity of those reasons, or their absence altogether, does not directly relate to the point we are trying to make. If I had to speculate, I would suggest that Heidegger avoided the term to prevent confusion between his own thought and Husserl’s, whose phenomenology he was trying to supplant– but that is merely a conjecture.

[83]  BT 249.

[84] I owe this example, and the specific formulation “immured from a transcendent world” to comments made by Richard Rojcewicz.

[85] Specifically noteworthy here is Heidegger’s emphasis on finite transcendence in the last sections of this work.  For Heidegger, the authentic way to interpret Kant was to show how Kant’s underdeveloped concepts, once thought through, could converge on the question of finite transcendence, i.e. fundamental ontology.

[86] Meaning “to imply in conjunction with,” or “imply jointly.”

[87] MFL 170, my emphasis.

[88] c.f. BP cited above.

[89] MFL 180, BT 91.  The reference to BT is in the original.

[90] MFL 180.

[91] MFL 185: Intraworldliness is the “transcendental condition for the possibility of extant things being able to emerge as they are;” and MFL 194: the for-the-sake-of-which is the “transcendental form of organization” for bringing the world into a phenomenal whole.

[92] “On the Essence of Ground,” p. 109, Heidegger’s emphasis.  Also see p. 111 of the same essay: “In order to orient us concerning this transcendental phenomenon of world…”

[93] “On the Essence of Ground” p. 108.  For Heidegger’s use of “equiprimordial,” see BT, section 28.  See also the above section, “Dasein as the Subjectivity of the Subject” for the relationship between transcendence and subjectivity.

[94] BT 418.

[95]  BP 167-8.

[96]  BP 174, my emphasis.

[97]  “On the Essence of Ground”, from Pathmarks, p. 122.

[98]  BP 175.

[99] BP 167 (Heidegger’s concern with “foul fiends” is omitted here.)

[100] Ibid.

[101] A few examples of Heidegger’s preference for some form of “idealism” can be found in BT pp. 251, 255, 269, 364.

[102] Heidegger claimed, of course, that the ontological ultimately has an ontic foundation.  Nevertheless, throughout Being and Time and the early lecture courses, the emphasis is on the ontological and existential: the analysis of Dasein is an ontological-existential analysis because only such an investigation can elucidate the Being of Dasein– even if the reasons for choosing that entity are ultimately ontic.  Also see note 103 below.

[103] BT 244.

[104] Any attempt to do so leads, following Gurwitsch, to a “transcendental paradox.”  Stated briefly, the “transcendental paradox” refers to the aporia inherent in any attempt to ground the constitution of the world as such in any entity that is itself also in the world– “world” here taken as constituted or not.  Husserl was very aware of the aporia presented by this paradox (see section ^55 ff. of The Crisis).  To my knowledge, no satisfactory attempt to resolve this paradox within a transcendental philosophy exists today.

[105] This underlying issue here is somewhat more complicated than we have let on.  In fact, it might be the fundamental ‘problem’ of Heidegger’s early thought. In a nutshell, the problem seems to be this: how can one understand the priority of the ontological (transcendental) in light of its ultimately ontic foundation?  Heidegger himself seems undecided on this issue.  On the one hand, he pointed out that the ontological investigation of Dasein ultimately has an ontic foundation (BT 34; BP 19); but on the other hand, he stated that: “ontology is grounded in the ontic, and yet the transcendental problem is developed out of what is thus grounded, and the transcendental also first clarifies the function of the ontic.” (MFL 164, italics added).  Heidegger’s circular reasoning here (vicious and all) indicates that he himself was not sure how to address this fundamental issue.  Therefore, in this essay we feel justified in emphasizing one aspect of this dilemma– the priority of the ontological/transcendental over the ontic– without reconciling the inconsistency itself.  It could also be noted that this circularity of founding and founded parallels the circularity of constituted and constituting in the transcendental paradox mentioned in the previous note.

[106] For just a few of many examples, see BT 117, 410, 417 and BP 282, 291, 292, 318.

[107] One might still claim that Heidegger so extensively reworked the traditional notions of subjectivity and transcendental philosophy that the opposite also applies: namely, that Heidegger’s Dasein makes these traditional notions obsolete, instead of being bound in any way to them.  This is a fine idea, but it seems to me that the burden of proof now lies with those who make that claim to show why, despite Heidegger’s stated intentions, subjectivity and transcendental are not reworked.  Such a project would take a non-ironic Heideggerian reading more violent than any Heidegger proposed on others, but it could, conceivably, be done.  However, to back up such a claim, one would have to show where and how Heidegger reworked these notions without tacitly employing the fundamental distinctions that characterize them.  In short, since we have given ample evidence from Heidegger’s own works that he drew from the tradition just as surely as he surpassed it, the onus is now on Heidegger’s partisans to show in what way he overcame these notions without tacitly employing their genuine ontological basis in that “overcoming.” For as Heidegger noted of these “faulty interpretations,” in the end they “must be made, so that Dasein may reach the true path by correcting them” (BP 322).  It is merely asserted here that Heidegger sought said true path to correct them, and that his Dasein, subjectivity, and transcendental are both its destination and therefore origin.

[108] I am referring to “thinker” in the sense that Heidegger developed in his later thought.

[109] Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, p. 7, trans. Lewis White Beck (Macmillan) 1988.

[110] Ibid.

[111] The worldhood is an existentiale of Dasein, BT p. 92, et al.

[112] BP 227.

[113] It out to be clear by now that the basis of this Heideggerian reading may not be quite so Heideggerian after all, in that unlike a true Heideggerian reading, where one finds conceptual commitments that could not be acknolwedged by the thinker in question because of his historicity in historical disclosures of Being, our “Heideggerian” reading is more like a forced intellectual honesty where what Heidegger ‘appeared’ to say in one place is clarified by explicit statement made in other places, statements that are largely, if not exclusively ignored, probably out of partisan agenda’s and their craving for novelty and easy answers.  So it takes from a Heideggerian reading a thorough scholarship and omits the history of Being as the backdrop, so it remains Heideggerian in spirit if not in letter of execution.

[114] Husserliana IX, pp. 237-301 and 600-603.

[115] Ibid.  In the letter, Heidegger related his own formulation of the problem to Husserl’s, specifically with reference to the goals of Being and Time.  As far as I can tell, his best answer is to claim that the very nature of factical Dasein contains the most “wondrous possibility” of transcendental constitution.  One can only wonder, however, what this claim really solves.

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