Phenomenology and the Formulation of the Question

overlook the cardinal fact that every time I say “is” I mean “is meaningful as” or “makes sense as.”

Meaning is the barely heard white noise enveloping everything I meet, and the unnoticed gleam that lets everything shimmer with reality. I have—indeed, am—a familiarity with meaning, even though I need not explicitly say to myself that something “is meaningful as” this or that. Yet I do operate with such an implicit understanding in my silent comportment towards everything, whether in theoretical reflection on things or in the practical use of them. Meaningfulness is already self-evident to me prior to all thematic understanding and speech. And this pertains not only to things in my external environment but also to myself. Without this pre-conceptual familiarity with meaning, I could not understand myself, much less anything else. Without it I could not say “I,” “you,” or “it.”

(Of course, I could become a philosopher and doubt that anything in the world has meaning. But then, in spite of myself, I would be making sense of the world and, as Leopold Bloom said, I would meet myself coming around again: “So it returns. Think you’re escaping and run into yourself.”7)

Intelligibility is the name of the world I inhabit as I live into and out of an array of possibilities that I am thematically aware of or not, that I welcome or am indifferent to, that excite or bore me, possibilities that in a sense I myself am in the inevitable process of always having to become myself (cf. Zu-sein).8 But if meaning is to occur, my ex-sistence as the clearing is required. On the one hand, the clearing determines the concrete, existentiel me: it is the reason why I exist at all.9 But, on the other hand, without my ex-sistence there is no clearing: I am its sine qua non. That bondedness, wherein the “two” are one, is the very heart of what we mean by “human.”10 It is the ineluctable if hidden fact that determines my life and that I can never get back behind. That my ontological fate is to be the clearing is evidenced time and again as I talk with others, manage the things of my life, imagine the future, or remember the past: I cannot not make sense of everything I meet because I cannot not be a priori opened up. By our very nature we are both the demand for and the reason for intelligibility, for a meaningfulness that determines us and yet has no reality apart from us. And there is no way out but death. In fact, the whole process of making sense is mortal.

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7. Joyce, Ulysses, Episode 13 (Nausicaa), 377.20–21.
8. SZ 42.4 = 67.9.
9. GA 88: 26.9–11: “das Wesen des Menschen aus der Wesung des Seins als solches.” GA 15: 280.4 = 6.36: “Alles Denken ist ‘umwillen des Seins.’”
10. On the clearing as das Brauchende (and nötigend), and on man as der Gebrauchte, see GA 6, 2: 354.14–17ff. = 244.30–32ff. Also GA 7: 33.10–1 = 32.5–6.