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Phenomenology and the Formulation of the Question

name of a fragile and ultimately futile stability. And out of this struggle come the glory of creativity and the grandeur of accomplishment, the openness of things in all their bright innocence and dark terror, as well as the tragedy of ultimate defeat. Meaning staves off chaos for a brief stretch of time in the losing battle of life.


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Realizing all this is crucial for understanding the phenomenological turn that underlies Heidegger’s work, and thus the central role played by first-person experience. To continue in that vein:

I begin to see that I “mind” whatever I meet, whether in the sense of caring about something for my own sake (“Yes, I mind if you smoke”) or minding people for their own sake (“I’ll mind the baby while you’re out”). I also “mind” the things in my immediate world of purposeful activity in the sense that I understand and am involved with what they can do and what they are for. I am structurally a matter of minding (Besorgen, Fürsorge), of being concerned about whoever and whatever comes into my ken.13 In my everyday ex-sistence I do not perceive things as objects standing over against me. Rather, I am involved and concerned with them. In fact, structurally I am such concern (Sorge), and this structure cuts across the disastrous mind-body split (νόησις/αἴσϑησις). I am a bodily minding, which is the same as a minding body. I mind people and things as meaningful in different ways. The “object” of minding is the meant. And the meant is always meaningful.

Just as I usually do not thematize the meanings of the things I mind, so too I usually overlook myself as both a priori immersed in meaning and necessary for there to be meaning at all.14 Occasionally I may thematically recognize that I am interpreting this literary text or that historical event—that is, actively figuring out how they fit within certain coordinates of significance. But it would be quite a different occasion, and no doubt rare, for me to ask why it is that on this side of death I cannot not make sense of things. I virtually never ask why there must be meaning at all. Yes, perhaps I do during a second-order “philosophical reflection,” when I ask why there are things at all rather than nothing. Or perhaps in rare, shocking moments when meaning seems to drain out of everything, such that my very ex-sistence is threatened, and I anxiously wonder “what it’s all about.” But ask as I might, the question will always remain aporetic: everything is intelligible except why there is intelligibility at all.



13. On “Selbstsorge” as a tautology: SZ 193.8–11 = 237.26–28. Richardson argues, quite correctly in my opinion, for translating “Sorge” as “concern” rather than “care”: Heidegger, 40, note 35.
14. On ex-sistence as nearest to yet farthest from itself: SZ 15.25–27 = 36.19–22.


Thomas Sheehan - Making Sense of Heidegger