This commentary is part of The Atlas Society's 1999 online "CyberSeminar" entitled " The Continental Origins of Postmodernism."
In his outstanding review essay , Roger Donway makes several references to things’ identities being “artificial.” By this he seems to mean some combination of unreal (i.e., less than fully existing), arbitrary (i.e., freely chosen by ourselves), and conventional (i.e., unreflectively adopted from society). Without pretending to know which or what combination of these Roger has in mind, I would like to add a point which I think helps illuminate the issue and also shows one of the ways Heidegger is a precursor to postmodernism.
It seems that Heidegger claims that the human world is comprised by two key factors: (1) facticity; (2) projection. “Facticity” refers to the factual world into which we find ourselves “thrown.” This includes physical, cultural, social, and personal facts. For example, a cook in a kitchen is surrounded by foodstuffs and implements, relationships with other workers in the kitchen, conventions of kitchen etiquette, and so forth. “Projection” refers to the practices, projects, and goals which we “project” into the factual world. The cook, for instance, may aim to bake a cake, satisfy standards of excellence, or rise to the position of master chef in the kitchen.
We are trapped in a circle of interpretation from which there is no exit.
Now, facticity and projection are interdependent. To begin with, we must be in a factual world in order to have projects. You can’t aim to bake a cake if there is no flour, no recipe, etc. This much is obvious. But Heidegger also says that facticity depends on projection. What a spatula is to a cook comes into being through the practices and projects in which he employs it; to a noncook a spatula may have a very different meaning. Therefore identity comes into being through projection.
Heidegger apparently pushes this to the limit. There are no properties which exist apart from our projections, no reality except as made intelligible by the goals and practices in terms of which we interpret them. Therefore different projections yield different facticities, and there is no objective ground from which to adjudicate conflicting factual claims. We are trapped in a circle of interpretation from which there is no exit. The world and our understanding of it are hermeneutic--like one big text.
But this doesn’t make identity artificial if that is to mean unreal. The factual world is perfectly real. It also doesn’t mean that facticity exerts no constraints upon projection. The main reason for this is that projection itself is dependent upon facticity. The goals and practices that can make sense (e.g., in a kitchen) are delimited by the factual world into which we are thrown (the implements, foodstuffs, social structures, machines we find in the kitchen). (This is to say that the facticity of the present has developed out of the projections of the past. That’s why Heidegger says that man is a historical being.) Therefore we do not have unlimited freedom to choose any projects whatever. Rather, to live “authentically” means to choose for oneself from the range of available possibilities to build a coherent life.
Roger Donway wrote:
I want to thank David Potts for his admirable delineation of Heidegger’s position regarding entities, identities, and human action. I ask the following questions not to suggest David is wrong but wholly and solely for enlightenment. Even with all my sources around me, I cannot keep straight the entire complex of Heidegger’s ideas.
David says “facticity depends on projection. What a spatula is to a cook comes into being through the practices and projects in which he employs it; to a noncook a spatula may have a very different meaning. Therefore identity comes into being through projection.” While “readiness-to-hand” results from projection, I thought that facticity was something quite different, that it depended on Dasein’s fundamental thrownness, and that thrownness was of its essence not dependent on Dasein’s projects.
But perhaps David is saying that the world into which Dasein is thrown is the result of (others’ prior) projections. David’s use of the plural makes it difficult at some points to say whether his “our” is best read as “my” or “people’s.” (My own essay was also guilty of switching back and forth between the singular and plural in this way.) Inasmuch as David writes: “the facticity of the present has developed out of the projections of the past,” he probably means facticity results from “others’ prior projections.”
But this is not the way I find “facticity” used by the commentators. Jones treats it as an inherent feature of human life. Thus, he writes: “Insistence on the ‘facticity’ of Dasein’s existence is intended to bring out its sheer incomprehensibility; Dasein’s existence is just a brute fact that is incapable of any logical, rational, scientific, or teleological explanations.” Making the facticity of human life the result of others’ prior projections would seem to give us a teleological source of explanation.
After noting the dependence of identity on projections, David Potts goes on to say: “Heidegger apparently pushes this to the limit. There are no properties which exist apart from our projections, no reality except as made intelligible by the goals and practices in terms of which we interpret them.” This makes it difficult for me to understand what the commentators call “the present-to-hand.” The words in German are ‘Vorhandenheit” and “Vorhandensein.” Inwood says that Heidegger uses Vorhandenheit “for a particular mode of being, for things that we find neutrally reposing in themselves. Typically, what is vorhanden is a natural entity rather than an artefact. But one can regard artefacts as simply vorhanden, especially if they are broken or useless, and natural entities can be other than vorhanden if we make use of them.”
In short, I used the (completely un-Heideggerian) term “artificial” in large part because of the commentators’ characterizations of facticity and presence-to-hand. As the terms were interpreted, they suggested to me a distinction between that which is given to man and that which he creates.
David L. Potts wrote:
Roger Donway asked some penetrating questions about my interpretation of Heidegger as claiming that all our understanding of anything, including the most prosaic facts of the world, is hermeneutic. I have spent some time thinking about Roger’s questions and examining such of his citations as were available to me plus more besides. What follows is a sort of “report” of what I found.
Most of Roger’s questions have to do with Heidegger’s notion of facticity. In my earlier piece I meant “facticity” and “projection” to indicate two of the three fundamental aspects of “Dasein” (i.e., man, considered as the entity that cares about its Being). (The third aspect, “fallenness,” was irrelevant to my argument.) Here is how Guignon (1993b 8) explains facticity: “Dasein always finds itself ‘thrown’ into a concrete situation and attuned to a cultural and historical context where things already count in determinate ways in relation to a community’s practices. This prior thrownness into the medium of shared intelligibility, disclosed in our moods, makes up Dasein’s ‘facticity.’” That is, the facts of facticity are not atomistic; we are, as part of our essence, embedded in a “concrete situation.”
Note also from the above that facticity is a world (on this point see also Grene [1965 459-460] and Hoy [1993 179-180]). It is a “cultural and historical context” we find ourselves already in. It is not some kind of unformed matter. I think Jones misinterprets when he says that facticity is the element of incomprehensibility in human existence (1975 307). Our thrownness is a fact without explanation, it is true, as Heidegger says in the passage Jones cites, but Heidegger seems to be speaking not of what thrownness is, nor of which things are thrown, but of one’s being thrown (and therefore existing) as opposed to not being thrown.
Moving on, "as a projection, Dasein finds itself ‘thrown’ into a world” (Hoy 1993 179, emphasis added). This raises the ambiguity of “Dasein” mentioned by Roger: does “Dasein” here mean an individual person or does it mean the human species? I think primarily (but not exclusively) the latter. Our cultural and linguistic practices (such as the practices that prevail in the kitchen example of my previous post) are projections, but they are established mainly by our forebears, not ourselves. In any event practices, as Guignon says above, are that in relation to which “things already count” in facticity.
Finally, Roger raises the question of the “present-at-hand,” i.e., things that just occur, as opposed to the “ready-to-hand,” which are tools and other things determined by their functional roles in our projects. How can anything be present-at-hand if all of facticity is determined by our projections? I think Heidegger believes the "given" is all ready-to-hand. But for certain limited purposes, such as in scientific models, we can treat them as present-at-hand. He seeks thus to overturn conventional ontology that sees the present-at-hand as the primary mode of existence. For support of this interpretation, see Guignon (1993b 10-11) and Jones (1975 297-299).
Grene, Marjorie. 1965. "Heidegger, Martin." In Edwards (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Guignon, Charles (Ed.). 1993a. The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger.
Guignon, Charles. 1993b. “Introduction.” In Guignon (1993a).
Hoy, David Couzens. 1993. “Heidegger and the Hermeneutic Turn.” In Guignon (1993a).
Jones, W. B. (1975). The Twentieth Century to Wittgenstein and Sartre.