Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics [286-87]

Certainly the relation we have described above between the animal's poverty in world and the world-formation of man has a suspiciously self-evident clarity that actually disappears as soon as we really come to grips with the issue. Nevertheless, we must be aware of this apparent clarity if we are to understand the kind of arguments to which our supposedly most natural considerations always tend so casually to appeal. We identified a relation of difference in degree with respect to the accessibility of beings, a relation of more and less, of lower and higher, a relation of levels of completeness. Yet even a little reflection soon renders it questionable whether in fact poverty is necessarily and intrinsically of lesser significance with respect to richness. The reverse might well be true. In any case this comparison between man and animal, characterized in terms of world-formation and poverty in world respectively, allows no evaluative ranking or assessment with respect to completeness or incompleteness, quite irrespective of the fact that such evaluative ranking is factically premature and unsuitable here. For we immediately find ourselves in the greatest perplexity over the question concerning greater or lesser completeness in each case with respect to the accessibility of beings, as soon as we compare the discriminatory capacity of a falcon's eye with that of the human eye or the canine sense of smell with our own, for example. However ready we are to rank man as a higher being with respect to the animal, such an assessment is deeply questionable, especially when we consider that man can sink lower than any animal. No animal can become depraved in the same way as man. Of course in the last analysis this consideration itself reveals the necessity of speaking of a 'higher' in some sense. But we can already see from all this that the criterion according to which we talk of height and depth in this connection is obscure. May we talk of a 'higher' and a 'lower' at all in the realm of what is essential? Is the essence of man higher than the essence of the animal? All this is questionable even as a question.

This habitual assessment is not merely questionable with regard to the relation between man and animal, and is an assessment which consequently demands careful examination to determine its legitimacy, its limits, and its usefulness. The questionable character of this approach also affects the judgements we make within the animal realm itself. Here too we are accustomed to speaking about higher and lower animals, but it is nevertheless a fundamental mistake to suppose that amoebae or infusoria are more imperfect or incomplete animals than elephants or apes. Every animal and every species of animal as such is just as perfect and complete as any other. Thus it should be clear from everything we have said that from the outset this talk of poverty in world and world-formation must not be taken as a hierarchical evaluation. Certainly we wish to articulate a relation and a distinction here, albeit in another respect. In what respect? That is precisely what we are seeking to discover. But first of all it is necessary to determine the concept of poverty

Martin Heidegger (GA 29/30) The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics