Situation and Limitation: Making Sense of Heidegger on Thrownness

Katherine Withy

I. Thrownness and Situatedness

Human existence is finite—not only because we are each going to die, but also because there are limitations on what we can know and control. We do not determine the shape of reality, but must respond to it and work with it.We do not choose the time, place or culture into which we are born, but must start from this in everything that we do. Most importantly, there are limitations on what we can know or understand—as Kant knew well. I will suggest that there are limitations on our ability to understand ourselves, that these are necessary for us to understand anything at all, and that this finitude is the cash value of Heidegger’s talk of thrownness. I do this by arguing that Heidegger’s concept of ‘thrownness’ does more than name the situated character of our understanding.

Heidegger thinks the human being as the entity that makes sense of things or makes things intelligible.1 We are each cases of Dasein, the entity that understands being. This means, at the very least, that we live in an intelligible world (disclosure), and that we make sense of the entities that we encounter, the lives that we lead, and the entities that we ourselves are (discovery). Making sense of entities may be as explicit and high-order as philosophizing or scientific inquiry, as everyday as figuring out how to be a good friend or what to do when you get home, or as implicit as working out how to walk in those new shoes or get through the revolving door at the bank. According to Heidegger, sense-making has a unified, two-part structure: thrown projection (Heidegger 1962: 148, 199, 223, 285).2 Projection and thrownness are Siamese twins: projection is always thrown, and thrownness is always projective. Initially, we can see that projection and thrownness correspond to two fundamental dimensions of human existence: our freedom and our finitude. To be human is to be both free, spontaneous, transcendent, and limited, constrained or finite. As thrown projection, human existence qua sense-making is free yet constrained, or finitely transcendent.

If we say that we are thrown, we normally mean that we are thrown by something. We are mentally or emotionally knocked off balance or tripped up, as when we are thrown by an unexpected event. Heidegger’s claim that human existence is thrown does not mean that it is constitutionally off-kilter in this way. Rather, the claim is (initially, at least) that we are thrown into something, delivered over to something, given over to something from which we have to start and with which we must deal. (‘Being delivered over to . . .’ is Heidegger’s standard gloss on ‘being thrown’ in SZ (see especially SZ 134–5).) To be thrown is to have a starting-point, somewhere we are located. To say that we are thrown into such a starting-point is not to suggest that this is necessarily sudden or surprising, or that it did not involve choice or deliberate action. The thought is that a starting-point is always something that we already have, and so something that we find ourselves ‘stuck with’ (as Haugeland is wont to put it). A human life is never neutral or undetermined but always has some definite content already. Talking about ‘thrownness’ is a way of talking about the ways in which we are already determined, and the fact that we are delivered over to these as our starting-points.

What exactly are these starting-points? Since these determine and constrain us, this question asks: What is this finitude? Given his interest in finitude, Heidegger says surprisingly little about thrownness.3 What he does say is scattered, dense and enigmatic. It may thus be tempting to approach thrownness starting not with what Heidegger does say, but with the schematic relationship of thrownness to its sister concept, projection. If thrown projection is the structure of making sense of things, then perhaps ‘projection’ names ‘making sense’, and thrownness captures ‘of things’. On this view, projection would be thrown, and so finite, because we always make sense of particular things (and not others) in particular ways (and not others). Our sense-making is always limited by the particular things that are there to be made sense of, and by the particular ways of making sense of them that are available to us. This kind of reading takes thrownness to amount to what I will call ‘situatedness’ (Section II).

There is surely something right about understanding thrownness in terms of situatedness. But I will argue that this reading does not capture all that Heidegger means by ‘thrownness’. Thrownness must be more, and perhaps deeper, than mere situatedness. What do we need to add to situatedness in order to approach thrownness? First, we need to add the sense of passivity implied by the term ‘thrown’, as well as the dimension of the past: our situation is always something that already determines us. Thus Dreyfus and Rubin: ‘Thrownness means that Dasein always finds itself already having some given content and concerns’ (Dreyfus and Rubin 1991: 299). We should also draw out and develop the idea that we are situated in our lives and our particular way of being as Dasein. Thus Blattner: ‘[W]e are ‘subject to’ life, . . . it ‘burdens’ us in the sense that we cannot extricate ourselves from caring about it’ (Blattner 2006: 78); and Carman: ‘I am constantly thrown into taking on responsibility for my being’ (Carman 2003: 289). But do these extensions of situatedness get us all the way to what Heidegger means by ‘thrownness’? How can we be sure?

If we suspect that situatedness is a partial and superficial interpretation of thrownness, then we can take this as a starting-point for building up a full understanding of thrownness—one that captures the depth and scope of the finitude at issue. To do this confidently, we need to be guided by the clues Heidegger provides when he defines ‘thrownness’. Thrownness is introduced in Being and Time’s discussion of moods, which are one of the primary ways in which we encounter our finitude. Heidegger says:

This characteristic of Dasein’s Being—this ‘that it is’—is veiled in its ‘whence’ and ‘whither’, yet disclosed in itself all the more unveiledly; we call it the ‘thrownness’ of this entity into its ‘there’. (SZ 135)

Thrownness is the ‘that it is’, it has a whence and a whither, and these are veiled. I will argue that the notion of situatedness is an incomplete interpretation of thrownness because it grasps only the whither of thrownness.We need to add the ‘that it is’ and the whence, as well as the obscurity of both the whither and the whence. Adding the whence of thrownness, or that from which we are thrown, extends situatedness ‘horizontally’ or widens its scope, and the obscurity of the whence and whither introduces a new dimension of finitude (Section III). Including the fact that we are rather than not extends situatedness ‘vertically’ or deepens it; it shifts our attention to a more basic feature of our existence (Section IV). Finally, when we combine this ‘that it is’ with the idea of the obscurity of the whence and whither, we approach a fundamental finitude in our ability to make sense of things: an inability to make full sense of ourselves as the kind of entity that we are (Section V). These moves reveal the register at which Heidegger’s talk of thrownness is to be understood, indicate an original human finitude, and produce a sketch of the full concept of thrownness. But let me begin with the concept of situatedness that I want to expand.

II. Situatedness

As entities who make sense of things, we are delivered over to the things that we make sense of and to specific ways of making sense of them. We are thrown into particular situations, and this means that we are given over to particular things to make sense of (and not others), and particular ways of doing so (and not others). We are always in some situation that provides the content or material for our sense-making and in doing so limits or constrains it. This situatedness can be specified at different levels or scopes, depending on how broadly we characterize the situation into which we are thrown. Three of these are perhaps most salient: we must make sense of the particular things that confront us, and so are given over to and constrained by what is there; we do this as definite individuals, and so are given over to and constrained by our lives; and we do this from out of our cultural context, and so are given over to and constrained by the tradition in which we live. Sense-making is always situated in a context of particular things, a particular life and a particular culture or tradition. Let me briefly sketch these dimensions of our situatedness.

First, we are always situated in a particular ‘here and now’. The range of ‘here’ and ‘now’ can be more or less broad. However we set this range, the point is that there are particular things confronting us that we have to make sense of—a definite set of entities with which we need to deal. Correspondingly, there are things that are not here now, and so things with which we do not have to deal right now. There is always some particular set of things, rather than another, confronting us. We are thrown into a definite corner of the world, and this means that our sense-making is constrained by what is there. Further, the particular things that confront us determine the ways in which we can make sense of them. Making sense of things, for Heidegger, is always a matter of allowing things to make sense to us. We cannot make sense of an entity in any way that we like, but are constrained by and beholden to what it is. Try as you might, you cannot make sense of this paper as a sea creature; it just does not admit of that kind of intelligibility. So we are delivered over to, and determined or constrained by, what is there and what it is.

Second, we are always situated in our particular lives. This is why we find ourselves in certain kinds of local situations or corners of the world, dealing with certain things. People that lead lives quite different from ours do not have to deal with things like academic papers, and may not be able to make good sense of what kind of thing they are. (Learning to do this is part of being initiated into the academic life.) This is the punch line of stories in which an ordinary person becomes president, or of life- and career-swapping reality shows. The particulars of our lives, and especially our membership in certain kinds of communities, mean that we can and have to make sense of certain things and not others, and in certain ways and not others. But my life does not only determine the local situations into which I am thrown, it itself is also a situation into which I am thrown or to which I am delivered over. In having a particular life, I have a definite history, a definite body and gender, a particular set of values and preferences, a specific personality, and so on. Making sense of things always takes place from out of the context of a particular life, and this determines both what there is to make sense of and how I can make sense of it. Further, I am always situated at a particular point in my life. Life is lived in the midst of it, episode by episode, and never all at once. I always have a history of things done and decisions made, as well as a future of goals and projects. I occupy some space at the intersection or in the interplay of these, and I can never skip forward or jump back. This too determines both what there is for me to make sense of and how I make sense of it. This is why the same things can strike me quite differently at different points in my life.

Third, we are always situated in a particular culture or tradition, and this gives us particular ways of making sense of things and means that certain things are and are not available to be made sense of. This is also exploited comically in literature and film, this time in stories that introduce foreigners, aliens or time travellers into the modern world. In our world, we have to make sense of things like traffic, HDTV, obesity and financial markets. These are things that people in different times or cultures do or did not have to make sense of. Our culture and tradition also provide us with particular ways of making sense of things. We do not understand cats as divine representatives, but as mousers or household pets. We do not understand illness in terms of humours, or the body in terms of energy flow, but make sense of each in terms of a chemical-biological medical paradigm. (We may, of course, have an intellectual grasp of alternative ways of understanding things, but this is always ultimately in our own terms and almost certainly never reaches the point at which those things show up to us differently from the get-go). Both the options for making sense of things and the things that are there to be made sense of are constrained by the particular tradition or culture in which we are situated, or into which we are thrown.

These are three broad dimensions of our situatedness, or three ways in which we are thrown, and so three ways in which our sense-making is delivered over to, and constrained by, a situation. We are thrown into dealing with a particular set of entities, into a particular life, and into a particular culture or tradition. To be thrown, on this reading, is for our sense-making to be situated in these kinds of ways. While we can add to or subtract from this sketch, or tease apart the relationships between the different levels, the overall point is that we are always located somewhere and, as located, our sense-making is constrained. We are thus finite in that our sense-making is situated. To be situated is to already have content, and to already have content is for our sense-making to be determinate—determined, and so limited, by particular contexts rather than others.

This constraint is a material constraint, and the finitude of thrownness accordingly a material finitude. ‘Material’ here means at least two things: first, the things that are there are the material for sense-making qua what we make sense of; and second, the ways of making sense of things that are available to us are the material that we use in sense-making—that with which, or in terms of which, we make sense of things. We find the same kind of finitude in the fact that the contents of my pantry constrain what I can cook by providing me with particular, determinate ingredients—and the nature of these ingredients, along with my personal tastes and culinary heritage, determine the ways in which I put the ingredients together. Just as this material constrains my cooking, so too my situatedness constrains my sense-making. That we must make sense of particular things in particular ways means that our sense-making always has a particular content, and so a determinate material to work with. Finally, this finitude is enabling, or constitutive for sense-making. Like cooking, sense-making is not possible without material determination—without particular things to make sense of and particular ways of doing so. Sense-making must be situated and so materially finite.

Is being situated, as this material finitude, what Heidegger means by ‘being thrown’? Is this the finitude of human sense-making? It is certainly part of the story. Heidegger acknowledges this in SZ: ‘In thrownness is revealed that in each case Dasein, as my Dasein and this Dasein, is already in a definite world and alongside a definite range of definite entities within-the-world’ (SZ 221). However, Heidegger unambiguously glosses thrownness in this way only once in SZ. He almost always speaks of thrownness in different terms,4 and this suggests that being thrown is properly something other or more than being thrown into a situation. To show what this is, I will expand this interpretation of thrownness in two directions—first by arguing that being thrown is not just being thrown into something but also being thrown from somewhere, and then by arguing that what we are thrown into is not just a situation understood in this sense. This dual extension will point towards a finitude in our sense-making that is quite different from a material finitude.

III. The Whence (and Whither), as Obscure

The interpretation of thrownness as situatedness seizes on the fact that to be thrown is to be thrown into some situation. But consider the grammar of the term ‘thrownness’ or ‘being thrown’. When a ball is thrown, it is not only thrown to somewhere, it is also thrown from somewhere. So too, the concept of thrownness includes not only that into which we are thrown, but also that from which we are thrown. Accordingly, Heidegger describes our thrownness as having both an into-which, or whither, and a from which, or whence (e.g. SZ 134). I am going to argue that adding the whence of thrownness, or that from which we are thrown, extends the concept of thrownness beyond that of mere situatedness. Further, this whence—along with the whither—is obscure, and this will mean that being thrown involves a finitude that is different from the material finitude of situatedness.

We might worry that the notion of being thrown from somewhere does not mean anything when it is applied to human existence as a sense-making enterprise, but is merely a product of the ordinary grammar of the term. The grammar of ‘being thrown’ requires that a throw be to somewhere and from somewhere because being thrown is paradigmatically a kind of motion: a change of place. A throw occurs through space, and for this reason has both a destination (to-which) and an origin (from-which). Saying that sense-making is thrown cannot mean that it moves through space, because sense-making is not spatial in this way.5 But if this is so, why should we think that it is legitimate to say that we are not only thrown into situations, but thrown into them from somewhere?

Heidegger never makes clear what he means by the whence of thrownness—what it is from which we are thrown. But consider that for any situation in which we find ourselves, it makes sense to wonder: How did I get here? Where was I before, such that this is now where I am? (I discuss the equivalence of these, and the significance of this equivalence, below). This is much like asking from where a thrown ball or other object comes—what was its point of origin, and what was its trajectory? But unlike the ball’s origin and trajectory, this whence is not an external, indifferent fact about me. There is an origin and trajectory for my coming-to-be situated only because this is something to which I am open. How I came to be situated in the way that I am may be a matter of my history, my psychology, the decisions I have made, decisions that other people have made, various twists of chance and luck, and/or facts about the world. Which of these counts as the right kind of origin and trajectory depends on how we specify the situation in question. Which of these counts as my origin and trajectory at all depends not on causal relationships, but on whether it figures into my own making sense of myself. The whence of thrownness belongs to sense-making as a reflexive phenomenon: it is a product of sense-making’s making sense of its own being-situated. That is, there is something from which I am thrown, or a story to be told about how I got where I am, only insofar as I have some familiarity with myself as having ‘travelled’ this course. A thrown ball does not have a whence in this sense because a ball cannot make sense of itself. It does not find itself in its situation, and it is not open to its origin and trajectory. But we always have some implicit sense for, or working grasp of, the origin and trajectory of our coming-to-be-situated (even if this self-grasp is deficient—more on this below). What we grasp in this self-grasp is, as thus grasped, the whence of thrownness.

If this is right, then the thought that there is something from which we are thrown is not a grammatical illusion but captures something very significant about human life: we not only find ourselves where we are, as located in some definite situation, but also make sense of this in terms of a trajectory of ‘having-got-therefrom- somewhere-else’. This is part of what it is for us to find ourselves in some situation—part of what it is for sense-making to be thrown. Having a grasp of the origin and trajectory of my coming-to-be-situated may be as simple and as literal as having a sense for how I travelled to my destination. But it also includes, for example, having an implicit, working familiarity with my self-development up to this point in my life: a sense of who I have been and how this feeds into who I am. This openness to the past is part of my competence in being me, and it contributes significantly to the coherence or unity of my life. The point is that we do not start all over again with each of the starting-points into which we are thrown, but always make sense of ourselves as coming into these from somewhere else.

I have called the whence an addition to the concept of situatedness, and it should be clear that the whence is not inconsistent with being situated or even in tension with this idea. It is perfectly possible to speak of being situated in something, and on the basis of something, just as we speak of being thrown into something from somewhere. But it remains the case that the grammar of the term ‘situated’, which takes the preposition ‘in’, primarily orients us towards that into which we are thrown. Interpreting thrownness in terms of situatedness diverts our attention from that from which we are thrown. Recovering this whence, and so the idea that sense-making not only is situated but also reflexively makes sense of its own situatedness, widens the notion of situatedness beyond its usual scope. This move is important because the ‘whence’ of thrownness is the locus for a crucial dimension of our finitude. Heidegger flags this finitude by saying that the whence is obscure to us or in darkness (e.g., SZ 134); it is veiled (e.g., SZ 135). Our thrownness is ‘closed off’ in its ‘whence’ and ‘how’ (SZ 348).

The claim is that there is a finitude in our ability to grasp our origin points and prior trajectories. Once again, Heidegger leaves this to his readers to figure out. Initially, talk of the obscure whence calls to mind those times when we don’t know how we got where we are—as when we are so preoccupied while travelling that we arrive at our destination surprised, lacking a sense of having travelled there. It might also put us in mind of trauma, which renders us unable to make sense of how we came to be who we are or where we are at in life. This is how trauma fragments, disorients and disrupts. In these cases, we are open to the origin and trajectory of our being-situated, and so have the kind of reflexive self-grasp that a ball lacks. We have a whence, but in a deficient way: we cannot get a clear sense of what this whence is. This shows that the whence is sometimes obscure to us. However, Heidegger’s claim is unqualified: the whence is obscure. If this means that the whence is always obscure, then it is false. Even if human life is perpetually traumatic in various ways, such that a deficient grasp of the whence is common, there are surely straightforward cases where we do have an adequate sense for how we got where we are (even if these are mundane cases of moving around in space). If our grasp of the whence is not always deficient, then perhaps the thought is that it is ultimately such.

Imagine: a new acquaintance asks me how I came to be living in this particular city. This question calls me to make my grasp of my whence explicit by telling the story of how I got where I am. I am not always able to do this, but when I do I am giving an explanation of, or reasons for, my being-situated. Perhaps I am living in this city because I was offered, and accepted, employment in the area. Thus I identify the whence of my thrownness into this situation as the job offer: ‘I was offered a job here, so I moved here.’ But this is not necessarily the end of the story, and a particularly chatty person can push further—Why were you offered employment here? Why did you say ‘yes’? Were you looking for employment here? Why do you work in the field in which you do?—and so on. These kinds of questions show that the starting-point that I identified is not entirely original, but opens up on to other dimensions of my situatedness, other aspects of my life and the world I inhabit that go into explaining why I am situated in this way. My new (and now irritating) acquaintance can keep following my trajectory back through further questions about how I came to be situated in these other ways. At some point, s/he will be satisfied, having heard enough to make sense of my situation. The questioning and explaining will stop. But in principle, and in conversations with toddlers and exceedingly curious people, the questioning can continue. It will eventually reach dimensions of my situation that are foundational for me: this is what we do in my culture; this is what I happen to care about; this is what human nature is; this is reality! There is nothing more, or nothing new, to tell my acquaintance—or myself—about how I came to be in these situations. These are the bedrock situations into which I am thrown, for which I cannot give an explanation and for which I cannot grasp the whence. ‘That’s just the way it is; that’s just the situation in which I find myself’.

Now consider an issue that I deferred earlier. It may seem that we need to distinguish (1) the trajectory that I travelled to reach where I am (‘How did I get here?’) from (2) the origin of this (‘From what prior starting-point did I come to this starting-point?’). It looks like the latter is the whence or that from which I am thrown, while the former is the throw of thrownness. I do not want to deny this, but notice that in the case of human life as sense-making, all of our starting-points will be part of, and none can be prior to, some trajectory. At every point, we are already thrown. We never begin our lives, take up a first way of making sense, or encounter entities for the first time. We do not adopt a culture, or enter a world, from any outside position. We are always already in the midst of our lives—always already in mid-air and in motion. Sense-making is always already situated. Since sense-making never precedes its situatedness, its thrownness is importantly unlike that of a ball that is stationary and then thrown. For such an object, we can identify a distinct initial point from which the trajectory of motion begins, and so distinguish the starting-point from the trajectory. For sense-making, this initial point will always be a point on, or segment of, some prior trajectory. While we will almost always treat ourselves as more like the ball—and so take ourselves to have fresh starts, turning-points and new beginnings—it remains the case that any such origin is itself part of a trajectory that points further back. There is no whence outside of the throw.

This helps us to understand what is happening in my conversation with my new acquaintance, who was pushing me further and further back along the trajectory of my thrownness. Pushing to the limit, s/he is calling me to explain why my world is the way it is and why I make sense of things in the ways that I do. But because I can only make sense of the things that are there, and only in terms of my sense-making framework, I cannot get back behind these to give further grounds or reasons. Dasein ‘never comes back behind its thrownness’ (SZ 284). Sense-making presupposes, and so cannot get underneath, that in which it is situated. That is, to make sense of our being-situated in the ways that we are, we must ultimately appeal to the fact that we are situated in the ways that we are. In tracing our trajectory back, we reach a point where we must either stop or circle back around again. This is why I find that I have nothing more, or nothing new, to say to my acquaintance. I have not provided a full account of why I am in the way that I am, but have instead reached the point where my ability to make sense of my being-situated runs out. At this point, I am trying to fill out a prior trajectory—to fill in the whence of thrownness—but cannot. I am open to this whence, but in a deficient way. Ultimately, then, the whence is obscure. While we do not reach this limit often, it is constitutive for sense-making (as reflexive and situated) that it be finite in this way. So encountering this finitude is a constant and necessary possibility for a sense-maker.

Because this is a constitutive finitude, there is something misleading about the terms ‘obscure’ and ‘veiled’. It is not that we happen to be unable to make sense of that in which we are ultimately situated, as if we could do so were we better sense-makers. Rather, we cannot make sense of this because we are sense-makers, because this is the way that sense-making works: it is always, necessarily, situated in ways of making sense and things to make sense of, and so can never get out from behind these to ground them. This finitude is thus more like the fact that we cannot see our own eyeballs than the fact that we cannot look directly at the sun. The whence is veiled in such a way that it could never be unveiled to a sense-maker. As Heidegger puts it, the fact that that from which we are thrown is ultimately obscure to us or closed off from us ‘is by no means just a kind of ignorance factually subsisting: it is constitutive for Dasein’s facticity’ (SZ 348).6 This means that saying that the whence of thrownness is obscure (that we cannot make sense of it) is the same as saying that the whence is empty (that there is no sense to be made of it).

The whither of thrownness is also obscure in this way. The whither, or to-which of the throw, is that into which we are thrown, or that in which we are situated. As such, it does not add anything new to the concept of situatedness. We might think that this dative adds an element of pressing forward into the future, and so that the to-which of thrownness is that into which we are moving on the basis of our situation. But that into-which we are moving is a possibility taken up (future, projection). The into-which of thrownness—the situation and its material constraint—is what first opens up the determinate range of possibilities, or ways of going on, available to us (past, thrownness).7 That having certain possibilities (rather than others) belongs to being situated is not new. But notice that like the whence, the whither is a reflexive phenomenon—there is somewhere we are situated only insofar as we find ourselves as thus situated. If there is an obscurity in the whither, then this reflexive finitude, like that of the whence, would be additional to the finitude that talk of situatedness captures.

For the whither to be obscure is for us to not be clear on where it is that we are (and so on what options for going on our current situation does and does not give us). We might think of the lost tourist who does not know which part of town he is in, and so does not know where to find the nearest coffee shop or that there is a museum around the corner. We might also think of the recently married (or divorced) person who cannot yet see what it is to be leading his new life and how to move forward in it. In both cases, we find ourselves in a situation, and so have a whither, but we do not fully grasp what the situation is. The whither is opaque; we are open to it in a deficient mode. But as before, these cases show that the whither is sometimes obscure and so cannot be what Heidegger has in mind when he says that the whither is obscure. Perhaps, once again, he means that the whither is ultimately obscure.

Consider what it takes to properly grasp the situation that you are in. A clear view of where you are and how it allows you to go on requires a sense of where it is that you are not and what possibilities are not open to you. That is, if to be situated is to be here rather than there—to be determined in this way rather than that—then transparently finding yourself in a situation involves seeing these alternatives. We get at something like this when we say that you do not understand your own city, country or culture until you spend time in another. To find ourselves ‘here’ (or ‘in this way’) is in part to find ourselves as ‘not there’ (or ‘not in this other way’). This is why I have stressed that, as situated, we are determined in some particular way rather than another. For most of the ways in which we are situated, having some sense for this ‘rather than another’ is not problematic, and to the extent that we have this sense we have a grasp of the whither. But when it comes to the most fundamental ways in which we are situated—say, the basic terms in which we make sense of things, or the ground-level way that things are—we cannot get a sense for what this is rather than. (Thus in science fiction, aliens always resemble Earthly creatures). The reason is that these rock-bottom situations are those that first establish the range of possibilities and alternatives. Precisely by allowing us to make sense of things, these fundamental situations do not allow us to get outside of them so as to get a clear view of them. This is the ultimate obscurity of the whither: we cannot grasp our situation as this if we cannot see that it is ‘rather than that’, and when it comes to the most basic ways in which we are situated, we necessarily cannot see these as ‘rather than that’. The obscurity here is once again a reflexive finitude in sensemaking, a finitude in our self-finding. Like the obscurity of the whence, it is constitutive for sense-making.

The difference between the obscurity of the whence and that of the whither is that the whither is obscure because we cannot get outside of our most fundamental situations to see what they are rather than, while the whence is obscure because we cannot get underneath or behind these to see why we are in them. But both have the same character as reflexive finitudes, and both rely on the same fact: that we cannot stand apart from that in which we are most fundamentally situated, our ground-level material determinations. So this kind of reflexive finitude differs from, but rests on, the material finitude in situatedness. The material finitude in situatedness is the fact that we must make sense of particular things (and not others) in particular ways (and not others). As always thrown into something in particular, sense-making always has some determinate material content. It is because of this that sense-making ultimately cannot make sense of its own whence and whither. That is, because it is always materially constrained, sense-making cannot get behind or underneath its situation to make sense of itself as materially constrained in the ways that it is. This is a finitude in what sense-making can reflexively accomplish in finding itself in some situation. Sense-making is thus finite in its ability to make sense of itself (as situated).

The claim is that it belongs to us that we can attempt to make sense of our situation beyond the point at which the sense to be made of it runs out. When we encounter this limit in sense-making, we encounter unintelligibility. We find the whence and/or the whither as obscure. These obscurities capture the ideas that we run up against the finitude of explanation, that we cannot tell a complete story of our lives, that we cannot get outside our own culture, and similar. To this extent, this reflexive finitude is not a new insight—either in general, or in readings of Heidegger. The full significance of it becomes clear only when we combine it with the second move that I want to make. I have extended the concept of being situated ‘horizontally’ by introducing the whence of thrownness, and with it the obscurity of both the whence and the whither. Now I want to extend the picture ‘vertically’ by arguing that thrownness is not only, and not first of all, a thrownness into particular situations like my life and my culture.

IV. Thrownness as the That It Is

Recall that in his definition of thrownness, Heidegger gives us several clues about what thrownness is: it has a whence and a whither, and it is that characteristic of human existence that can be described as ‘that it is’ (SZ 134, 284). Heidegger glosses this latter more fully as the fact that we are and have to be (SZ 134). I will argue that thrownness is accordingly something more original or more basic than the fact that we are always in particular situations.

Let me provide an initial orientation to the idea that we are and have to be by talking about it in terms of that in which we are situated. If to be thrown is to be situated, then the fact that we are means that we are always already something in particular. As situated in the ways that we are, we are (for example) English-speakers, or twenty-first-century Americans. We are men or women, young or old, brown-eyed or blue, in a good mood or a bad one, tired or alert. We are here now, in this place, at this time, with these entities. To be situated in something is to be something—to already be in some particular way and not another. Further, to be situated in something is to have that to be. Our ‘have to be’ does not primarily refer to a necessity, but to what we have available to be, including the possibilities for going on given by our situation. That we are in the twenty-first century means that we have a twenty-first-century kind of way to be, and so that only twenty-first-century possibilities are open to us—from embracing the latest technology and watching the latest reality show, to being twenty-first-century Amish farmers. Even the options for ‘opting out’ are twenty-first-century ways of opting out. A twenty-first-century kind of life is the (only) kind of life that we have available to us to live.

A sense of necessity can be seen to follow from this: insofar as these determinations are what we have been given to be, we must live with them. To say that we must be what we are is not to say that it is predetermined or that it cannot be changed. The necessity is located in the fact that we have to start from where we are, or that into which we are thrown, in everything that we do. At every point, our lives are already determined in various ways—I am already in a twenty-first-century kind of life, or in a particular body, or in this particular room. Things might have been different, but they are always in some way or another. And although we might go on to change our situation (changing our bodies through cosmetic surgery, changing our physical location by leaving the room), we always make these changes from a particular starting-point. That this is, or was, our starting-point can no longer be changed; we are stuck with it. This starting-point or prior determination is what we are and have to be.

If being thrown is being situated, then our that we are and have to be consists in what we are and have to be. This is determined by that into which we are thrown or in which we are situated. That we are means that we are x, y or z (rather than m, n or p). But that we are always something in particular is not all that we mean when we talk about the fact that we are. Heidegger indicates this on those odd occasions when he speaks of the ‘naked’ or ‘pure’ that we are or that I am (SZ 134, 343).8 The fact that I am is ‘naked’ or ‘pure’ when everything that belongs to my situatedness—everything that makes up what I am—is bracketed out. More basic than what I am (the fact that I am x, y or z) is the fact that I am (the kind of thing that could be x, y or z) at all, rather than not. But that we are (rather than not) is not simply a brute fact about us that makes our lives possible without otherwise bearing on them. It is not the bare fact of instantiation or presence, common to all things that are—what Heidegger calls ‘factuality’ (in contrast to our ‘facticity’9) (SZ 56). Consider that the fact that we are is significant to human beings in a way that it is not to a stone or a frog. Although it is not something to which we frequently pay much mind, we are always in some way open to this fact. That I am, or that we are, is constantly illuminated for human beings. This is traditionally discussed under the heading of ‘self-consciousness’, and it is often held to be the distinguishing mark of the human being. It is tied to other unique things about us—not only our awareness of our mortality, but also the philosophy-provoking realization and awe that there is something rather than nothing.

If that I am or that we are is always lit up for us, what is it that is lit up? What is the content of this fact? Notice that I have been using two formulations: that I am, and that we are. These are equivalent, since the fact in question is not about me and the particulars of my life. It is not the fact that I am, rather than someone else (although we can be aware of this too), for that I am is always a matter of what I am and so belongs to my situatedness rather than ‘pure’ or ‘naked’ thrownness. Naked thrownness is instead the fact that I am. This ‘am’ refers to our specific way of being—being Dasein (care), or being a sense-maker. This is of course mine, but it is also ours. Each of us is a case or instance of this way of being. The fact that I am, as a fact about the am, is the fact that there is this ‘being a sense-maker’ rather than not—that there is human existence at all, that there are things like me or us. Although being a case of Dasein is always a first-person phenomenon (which Heidegger calls ‘mineness’), it is in itself anonymous and so indifferent to a singular or plural formulation. At this level of formality, that I am is equivalent to the fact that we are. It is the fact that there is sense-making. This is our most basic starting-point, the most fundamental dimension of our thrownness.

Since being a sense-maker is what we are, sense-making is the way of being that we have been given, and so the only way of being that is available to us, to be. As Heidegger puts it, ‘[t]o this entity it has been delivered over, and as such it can exist solely as the entity which it is’ (SZ 284). Being a sense-maker is also what we must be—or, what is the same, there must be sense-making (SZ 228). Heidegger calls this the ‘burden’ of being thrown (SZ 135, 284). To say that it is a burden to be as we are is not to say that it is difficult or depressing. Once again, this thrownness is not about me per se, and so the burden of having to be a sense-maker is not a personal burden. Rather, it is an essential or existential burden in the sense that we are stuck with it. We are bound to make sense of things because we are bound to sense-making. We cannot not make sense of things. Even if we become Zen Buddhist monks and spend our days meditating on paradoxical koans, we are still making sense of ourselves as monks, our lives as directed towards enlightenment, and the minimal set of entities with which we interact as things that support or hinder our activity in various ways. Even if we choose to end our lives, this remains an act (albeit the final, desperate act) of an entity trying to make things make sense. We are all, always, already in the business of making sense of things. That human life is such a business is the naked fact that we are and have to be.

We might think that ‘being Dasein’ or ‘being a sense-maker’ is not only the am of the fact that I am, but also the most basic ‘what’ of what I am. That is, pure thrownness can be described not only as that we are, but also in terms of what we are. This is correct. ‘Being a sense-maker’ can thus be grasped as something into which we are thrown, or in which we are situated. In fact, this is how Heidegger talks about our thrownness.10 We might say that we are thrown into the ‘human situation’. But that we are thrown into the human situation does not make pure thrownness a dimension of our situatedness, as I have described it. The force of the vocabulary of situatedness is that we are situated in this particular way rather than another. But, for the fact that we are, there is no alternative situation—the only alternative is there not being sense-making at all. (More on this later.) At stake in pure thrownness is not the particularity or material content that situatedness grasps, but the very fact of sense-making. To say that we are thrown into the human situation is to say that the human situation is thrown into being. This is not an aspect of our situatedness because it is not a being situated of human beings in some situation rather than another, but a being situated in being human rather than not.

As the fact that there is sense-making at all, pure thrownness underlies the fact that sense-making is always as situated. It is prior to, because presupposed by, situatedness. We can put this by saying that while to be situated is to make sense of particular things, in a particular life and on the basis of a particular culture, pure thrownness is the fact that we are entities that encounter (particular) things, lead (particular) lives, and have (particular) cultures, at all. I am the kind of entity that makes sense of particular things in particular ways (situatedness) only because I am first the kind of entity that makes sense of things (pure thrownness). Or again, I lead a particular life only because I am the kind of entity that leads a life. It is only because we are in the way that we are, that we are the kinds of entities who are situated. Pure thrownness is more fundamental, or deeper, than our situatedness.

Recall that I motivated the interpretation of thrownness as situatedness by hypothesizing that since ‘thrown projection’ is the structure of making sense of things, projection must correspond to ‘making sense’ and ‘thrownness’ to ‘of things’. We can now see why this is mistaken: if thrownness is also the fact that there is sense-making rather than not, then thrownness does not merely follow ‘making sense’ as a qualification of or constraint on its objects and operation. Thrownness must characterize the entire phenomenon, ‘making sense of things’. If this is right, then making sense of things can be said to be thrown in two respects, or thrownness can be said to come both ‘before’ and ‘after’ sensemaking. It comes ‘after’ sense-making in that it qualifies sense-making by limiting it to particular situations—a material finitude. It comes ‘before sense-making in that it is the fact that sense-making is rather than not. The second sense of thrownness is ‘deeper’ or more fundamental than the first because what it captures is ontologically prior or more basic. Since ‘situatedness’ expresses only the first sense of thrownness, it is a superficial interpretation of the concept.

But by what warrant can we call this that we are and have to be, ‘thrownness’? What do we get at when we say that making sense of things is thrown into being, or that we are thrown into it? Is this just a way of saying that sense-making is? It is not clear how this thrownness amounts to a finitude in our sense-making. If to be thrown is to be delivered over to something, then it must be that sense-making is delivered over to itself. We need to determine what kind of claim this is and what it is trying to express about sense-making. Minimally, the claim is that there is something that it takes to make sense of things, and that this is something by which sense-making is constrained. Sense-making is determined by its own essence, and so is and has to be what it is. But this is not a finitude that is peculiar to us: only as determined by its essence can anything be (as it is). What is peculiar to us is that we can grasp or try to make sense of our being delivered over to what we are. To do this is to try to make sense of the whence and whither of our thrownness into being. I want to suggest that it is to capture this reflexivity—and its finitude—that Heidegger uses the vocabulary of ‘thrownness’ to talk about the fact of sense-making.

V. The Obscure Whence and Whither of the That It Is

Pure thrownness is the fact that there is and has to be sense-making, rather than not. The whither (into which) of pure thrownness, as the situation in which I find myself, must be ‘being a sense-maker (rather than not)’. The whence of pure thrownness must be the origin and trajectory of coming-to-be a sense-maker. Explicitly formulated, the reflexive question that seeks the whither is, ‘What is it to be a sense-maker (rather than not)?’. The question of the whence is, ‘How does there come to be, or why is there, sense-making at all?’. We can combine these questions, and so seek the whence and whither together: ‘Why is there sense-making at all, rather than not?’. This question does not ask, ‘Why am I (or why are you) situated in this way rather than another?’. We are not trying to grasp the whence and whither of our situation. We are not trying to see where our ways of making sense of things come from (what grounds, for example, the concepts and values of our culture), or why we have to make sense of these particular things and not others. To ask after the whence and whither of the fact that we are is to ask a different kind of question entirely. Consider one (derivative) kind of sense-making: reason-giving. In these terms, the question is: ‘How is it possible to be in the space of reasons, rather than not? What about us makes us responsive to things like reasons, rather than not?’. Of course, Heidegger does not discuss reason-giving, because he is interested in broader and more fundamental kinds of sense-making.11 The point is that the whence and whither of pure thrownness concern what it takes to be responsive to the sense that things make for us, in the manifold ways in which they do. What accounts for the fact that sense-making is and has to be, rather than not? What exactly is it, how is it possible, and why must it be this way? To ask after this whence and whither is to ask after our very openness to intelligibility—to what Heidegger calls ‘being’. In Heidegger’s language, this is a question about how there can be an understanding of being, or about what ‘gives’ being. And since for Heidegger ‘entities’ means ‘intelligible entities’ (entities in their being), this amounts to the question, ‘Why are there entities at all, rather than nothing?’. For Heidegger, this is the first question of philosophizing (Heidegger 2000: 1).

Asking after the whence and whither of pure thrownness seems to be a peculiarly philosophical, and rather highfalutin, endeavour. This is partially correct: when explicitly performed, it is a philosophical or metaphysical questioning. But it is not thereby foreign to or removed from everyday people and everyday life, since philosophizing develops out of ordinary human reflection on being human. The explicit questioning of the whence and whither is possible because we have a pre-reflective, non-thematic openness to the whence and whither of pure thrownness. This openness is part of what it is to be human, and that to which we are open in it is what we attempt to thematize in explicit philosophizing. This is not much different from saying that the question, ‘Why are we here?’ is a fundamental human question. Asking such questions may not be ordinary in the sense of common or frequent, but it is ordinary in the sense that it is always possible for any human being. Trying to understand ourselves in this kind of way belongs to the human condition, whether or not we each formulate such questions—and indeed, whether or not we consider such questions to be mistakes. We are capable of asking such questions because we are sense-makers, and it belongs to being a sense-maker that we try to make sense of our own sense-making. Sense-making has the structural possibility of turning back on itself in this way. In this reflexive act of trying to make sense of itself, sense-making is seeking the whence and whither of its thrownness.

For Heidegger, pure thrownness, and so its whence and whither, is clearly lit up for us only in certain limit-experiences like the mood of Angst. Angst is a mood in which we are opened to what we are, and particularly to our thrownness. It achieves this because it is a rare experience of crisis—one that suspends our ordinary lives and brings into salience what it takes to be us. It is in such moods (whether Angst, boredom, awe or joy) that we are driven to question or to make sense of the fact that we are, and so to engage in philosophizing (in the broadest sense). The effort to identify the whence and whither of pure thrownness is tied up with such experiences, and can only properly be understood from out of them. So anyone who has not experienced such a mood will not be gripped by the questions opened up in it. But rather than attempt to evoke the mood of Angst, let me just gesture towards our openness to the whence and whither of pure thrownness.

If being thrown into human existence arises as an issue for us in our lives, it likely does so in the thought that being human is not up to us. We did not choose to be. This is often the stuff of teenage angst, expressed perhaps by protesting, ‘I didn’t ask to be born!’ As Heidegger puts it, rhetorically and in italics, ‘[h]as Dasein as itself ever decided freely whether it wants to come into ‘‘Dasein’’ or not, and will it ever be able to make such a decision?’ (SZ 228). We did not choose to be instances or cases of human being, and so did not choose to be in the human situation. This was thrust upon us, without our consent. If this is what is at stake in pure thrownness, then the finitude at issue is a lack of control. First, there was no moment of choice: we came into being ‘not of our own accord’, did not ‘lead’ ourselves to our existence, did not ‘lay our own basis’, do not have ‘power’ over the ground of our being (SZ 284). Second, we were not given alternatives: perhaps there is some other way of being that we might have taken up, which we now cannot. The former concerns the whence of pure thrownness, and the latter the whither. Let me explain.

In saying that we did not choose to be, we are attempting to make sense of the fact that we are. Facts about us can be categorized as ‘things that we choose for ourselves’ or ‘things that we do not choose’. This is a fundamental distinction in human life. Making a choice is one way in which we come to be situated in the ways that we are. Talk about choice, then, is a way of getting at the whence of thrownness, or that from which we are thrown. Similarly, talk of the alternatives between which we choose is a way of grasping what it is that our situation is rather than—where it is that we are not, if we are here; what other situations we have forgone by coming into this one. This is a way of making sense of the whither of thrownness, or that into which we are thrown. The problem is that talk of choice and alternatives applies only to situatedness, and as I have argued, the fact that we are is not a dimension of our situatedness. But the failure of this vocabulary is illuminating.

First, to make sense of the whither of pure thrownness in terms of alternatives not chosen is to imply that we are thrown into the human way of being as opposed to some other way of being. But it does not make sense to say that we are Dasein or sense-makers rather than frogs or stones. The reason is that there is no independent or prior ‘I’ or ‘we’ that could be a frog or a stone instead of a sense-maker. If there is an ‘I’ or ‘we’, then there is already a human being, already a sense-maker. Thus there is strictly no ‘subject’ of the throw into the human situation, and so no alternative destination for this throw. Put differently, we cannot in this way think ourselves outside of ‘being a sense-maker’. The only alternative here is the absence of alternatives: ‘rather than not’. It follows that an appeal to alternatives fails to illuminate the whither of pure thrownness. The whither shows up to us as obscure.

We find a similar—and similarly revealing—problem in using the concept of choice to grasp the whence of pure thrownness. This concept assumes that something was denied to us that might have been offered; it assumes that it is coherent or intelligible to think that we could have chosen to be or not to be—that this could have been in our power. Yet anything that can choose already is, and in fact is already human. So if the human situation can be chosen or not, then it has already been chosen. We are already in it. Grasping pure thrownness in terms of choice is thus incoherent. The problem is that what we are thrown into here is ‘being a chooser’. We cannot understand how we first come to be choosers by appealing to an exercise of our capacity of choice, just as we cannot explain why our culture has the concepts that it does by appealing to those concepts (the obscure whence of situatedness). We cannot in this way get behind being a sense-maker to say how it arises. The whence of pure thrownness shows up to us as obscure.

Why, then, do we speak this way?We must mean something else by our talk of ‘choice’, and I think that this is Heidegger’s point. We turn to talk of choice, and other vocabularies appropriate to situatedness, in order to make sense of pure thrownness because we do not have any other way to fill out the pure whence and whither. This suggests that these are necessarily obscure to us. Thus when Heidegger points out that we do not choose to come into human existence, the context makes clear that what is at stake in this is not choice per se, but our inability to see why there is, or how there ‘comes to be’, sense-making. The passage goes on: ‘‘‘[i]n itself’’ it is quite incomprehensible why entities are to be uncovered, why truth and Dasein must be’ (SZ 228). Since ‘uncovered’, ‘truth’ and ‘Dasein’ all point to our sense-making character, the claim is that we cannot adequately grasp the fact that sense-making is and has to be. The whence and whither of this thrownness are obscure to us. This finitude is marked by our persistence in using the concepts of choice (and other concepts appropriate to situatedness), despite the fact that they fail at this register. Further, I suggest that Heidegger’s way of marking this finitude is to use the vocabulary of thrownness to talk about the fact that we are. We are open to the fact that sense-making is, and open in such a way that we are able to wonder about what it is (whither) and how it came to be (whence). But this whence and whither are obscure to us, just as they are in the case of our situatedness.

What would it take to grasp the pure whence and whither? What kind of phenomenon is sense-making, what kind of vocabulary is appropriate to it, and what kind of explanation would serve to account for the fact that it is? Determining exactly what kind of phenomenon sense-making is is no small task, and Heidegger struggles to do this throughout his career. His attempts to win an appropriate vocabulary for it are notoriously difficult to understand and either neologistic or poetic. But he does try to make clear that making sense of things is not a natural, psychological or social phenomenon (although it may have manifestations or substrata that are) (cf. SZ §10). This is because sense (i.e., meaning, intelligibility) is not a natural, psychological or social phenomenon. This is not to deny that the natural and social sciences have important things to say about what it is to be us, or that they illuminate phenomena closely related to sense-making. But they do not provide ways of making sense of sense-making itself. To try to grasp the fact of sense-making in causal or social terms is to make a category mistake.

This suggests, in the direction of the third part of the question, that when we try to explain how sense-making comes to be, we are seeking an origin and trajectory of a very specific kind—not one that is temporally or even logically prior, but one that is ontologically prior. That is, the origin from which sense-making ‘comes to be’ is not prior on a timeline or in a conceptual order, but has a certain a priority. It is a transcendental condition. The trajectory at issue is accordingly ‘coming to be’ in the sense of ‘being made possible’. Put simply, what fills out the whence of pure thrownness is a special sort of origin: a transcendental ground. We make sense of the fact of sense-making by identifying the a priori conditions of possibility of being a sense-maker. This amounts to spelling out what it takes for there to be sense-making—and that means, for Heidegger, the most basic terms in which sense-making itself makes sense.

So to say that the whence and whither of pure thrownness are obscure is to say that the reflexive questions of the essence and transcendental ground of sensemaking are ones which human beings are constitutionally bound to ask, but also ones which we necessarily cannot answer. It must be part of being a sense-maker that we are unable to make sense of what it is, and what it takes, to be a sensemaker. This, of course, in some ultimate sense—there is still much that we can say on this topic, as Heidegger does in his own transcendental philosophizing. But the claim is that, as with identifying the whence and whither of situatedness, we will eventually reach a point beyond which there is nothing more or new to say, and that we will not have thereby reached any final ground or original condition of possibility. We will be left facing the ultimate unintelligibility of sense-making to itself.

Heidegger appears to mention the obscurity of the pure whence and whither several times in SZ. He says, first, that ‘[t]hat it is factically [is . . .] obscure and hidden as regards the ‘why’ of it’ (SZ 276). We do not and cannot fully understand why sense-making is and has to be as it is. Also: ‘Even if Dasein is ‘‘assured’’ in its belief about its ‘‘whither’’, or if, in rational enlightenment, it supposes itself to know about its ‘‘whence’’, all this counts for nothing’ because ‘the that-it-is of its ‘‘there’’ [. . .] stares it in the face with the inexorability of an enigma’ (SZ 136). Despite whatever we may have discovered about what it takes to be us and how we come to be, we still cannot explain what it is and what it takes to be a sensemaker. This must remain enigmatic.

It remains to be determined why this must be so. If it is so, then sense-making will be finite in a very particular way. As Heidegger says, ‘[b]eing delivered over to Dasein in this way’—that is, I take it, being delivered over to sense-making itself—‘is the index of an intrinsic finitude’ (Heidegger 1995: 281). The finitude lies in the fact that sense-making cannot make sense of its own essence and ground, that it cannot grasp its own that it is and has to be. This is not the material finitude that belongs to being situated (see Section II), or the reflexive, material finitude that belongs to asking after the whence and whither of situatedness (see Section III). It is a finitude that is independent of the situatedness of sense-making, and so one which is non-material. It belongs to sense-making solely by virtue of its reflexive operation. It is thus a reflexive, non-material finitude that is part of the very structure of making sense of things. This is the most fundamental finitude of the bunch because it is built into the operation of sense-making in a unique way. Presumably, this ‘broader’ and ‘deeper’ finitude will underlie the other kinds of finitude—including the fact that sense-making is situated (and so materially constrained) in certain ways rather than others, and situated at all rather than not.

My suggestion is that, although thrownness covers a variety of kinds of finitude, it is this finitude that Heidegger is primarily seeking to capture with the term ‘thrownness’. If this is right, then to say that projection is thrown is not first of all to say that we make sense of things, but to say that making sense of things is in a way and on a ground that is ultimately opaque to it. To be thrown is not first of all to be in a world and amidst things, but to be necessarily self-obscure.12


1 In speaking of ‘sense-making’, I follow John Haugeland: ‘When taken with sufficient generality, a pretty good colloquial paraphrase for ‘disclosing the being of’ is making sense of’ (Haugeland 2000: 48). However, I use the term in a broader sense than Haugeland does.

2 Hereafter, SZ (Sein und Zeit). Page references are to the German (Niemeyer) editions, the pagination of which is included in the margins of the English translations.

3 Commentators follow suit. Most discuss thrownness only in passing; explicit considerations of it, and clear statements about it, are rare.

4 See note 10.

5 Heidegger does, however, think of thrownness as having ‘the character of throwing and of movement’ (SZ 179). I take this metaphor of ‘movement’ to express the dative structure of being thrown into something from somewhere, and so the fact that to be thrown is to have a whence and whither.

6 In the vocabulary of guilt: ‘This nullity, moreover, is thus not something which emerges in Dasein occasionally, attaching itself to it as an obscure quality which Dasein might eliminate if it made sufficient progress’ (SZ 285).

7 It is because the whither gives us determinate ways of going on that thrownness ‘does not lie behind it as some event which has happened to Dasein’ (SZ 284), and is ‘not something which follows along after Dasein, but something which already goes ahead of it’ (SZ 20). Put differently, ‘Dasein remains in the throw’ (SZ 179).

8 Heidegger does not regularly use this vocabulary of ‘pure’ thrownness, although the passages I cite in note 10 are good evidence that he usually thinks thrownness at this register.

9 Facticity is intimately tied to thrownness, and especially to the determinateness of being situated. Since Heidegger says so little about facticity in SZ, I believe that this concept requires a separate investigation.

10 Heidegger almost always specifies that into which we are thrown as some version of ‘being a sense-maker’, saying that we are thrown into, or delivered over to: our own being (SZ 42, 189), ourselves (in our being) (SZ 144, 192, 383), the entity that we are (SZ 284), the there (SZ 135, 148, 284, 297), existence (SZ 276), our ability to be (SZ 383), projection (SZ 145), or being-guilty (SZ 291). (And since we are the kinds of entities that are thrown, we are even delivered over to, or thrown into, our thrownness (SZ 148, 396)). This not only shows that being a sense-maker is something into which we are thrown, but also confirms my thesis that thrownness must be understood at this register.

11 We do make sense of actions and beliefs by giving reasons, and we make sense of events and states of affairs by giving causal accounts. But we also make sense of events in our lives by responding appropriately to them, we make sense of who we are by being ourselves, we make sense of physical entities by subsuming them under natural laws, and we make sense of tools by using them. This is not an exhaustive list, but it indicates the size of the domain.

12 Early versions of this paper were presented to the Philosophy Department at Georgetown University and (informally) to the Philosophy Department at The University of Chicago. I thank the audience at each for their comments, questions and suggestions. I am especially grateful to William Blattner, John Haugeland, Jonathan Lear, Nate Zuckerman and several anonymous referees for their extensive feedback on various versions of this paper. In addition, I must acknowledge—but could never discharge—the enormous debt of gratitude that I owe to the late John Haugeland.


Blattner, W. (1989) Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’: A Reader’s Guide. New York: Continuum.

Carman, T. (2003), Heidegger’s Analytic: Interpretation, Discourse, and Authenticity in ‘Being and Time’. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Dreyfus, H. and Rubin, J. (1991) ‘Appendix: Kierkegaard, Division II, and Later Heidegger’, in H, Dreyfus Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’, Division I. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Haugeland, J. (2000) ‘Truth and Finitude: Heidegger's Transcendental Existentialism’, in M. Wrathall and J. Malpas (eds), Heidegger, Authenticity, and Modernity: Essays in Honor of Hubert L. Dreyfus, vol. 1. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Heidegger, M. (1962), Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson. New York: Harper & Row.

—— (1995), The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude. trans. W. McNeill and N. Walker. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

—— (2000), Introduction to Metaphysics. trans. G. Fried and R. Polt. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Katherine Withy - Situation and Limitation: Making Sense of Heidegger on Thrownness
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