On the Right to Kick a Rock:
The Argumentum ad Lapidem and
Heidegger’s “The Argument against Need”

Richard Polt


“The argument against need” that is countered by Heidegger in his text by that name is likened to Samuel Johnson’s effort to “refute” Berkeleyan idealism by kicking a stone. Heidegger’s position is compared to ideas in Plato, Kant, and Scheler. The Heideggerian correlation or “need” between being and the human cannot be refuted by facts about entities such as stones, but the argumentum ad lapidem does retain a certain right as an experience of resistance.

The stone presses downwards and manifests its heaviness. But while this heaviness weighs down on us, at the same time, it denies us any penetration into it. If we attempt such penetration by smashing the rock, then it shows us its pieces but never anything inward, anything that has been opened up. The stone has instantly withdrawn again into the same dull weight and mass of its fragments. If we try to grasp the stone’s heaviness in another way, by placing it on a pair of scales, then we bring its heaviness into the calculable form of weight. This perhaps very precise determination of the stone is a number, but the heaviness of the weight has escaped us.

– Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art” (GA 5: 33/24–25)

From the public point of view, thinking is just this: petrification into a stumbling block [Stein des Anstoßes]. But even this is of no avail in public, for the public never stumble against the stone. If only they did! But they just rub against it – they and their bad will, which is due to perplexity. Perplexity arises when the essence of the issue at stake [die Sachlichkeit der Sache] is withheld.

– Heidegger, Anmerkungen II (GA 97: 202)

Heidegger’s “The Argument against Need” is one of his many efforts to express the intimate relation between being and “the human, as ecstatic Dasein” (AGB: vii/AAN: 525).1 This text can appropriately be paired with a conversation with Medard Boss (recounted at GA 89: 661–64) on the antiquity of the Alps as a challenge to the position on which Heidegger had already insisted some four decades earlier: being is not given unless Dasein exists (GA 2: 281/SZ 212).

Heidegger’s position may well be a stumbling block for common sense and for natural science, which both insist that beings such as mountains and the planet Earth are, and have long been, without any assistance from us. It may sound as if Heidegger is asserting a Berkeleyan idealism, to which a sensible, commonsensical, and sensory response has always been Samuel Johnson’s argumentum ad lapidem, as recounted by James Boswell:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, “I refute it thus.”

The stone’s resistance to one’s foot, the force of the rebound, feels like undeniable evidence of its independent reality. Is this a rational proof? No, writes Boswell, but it is “a stout exemplification of the first truths … without admitting which, we can no more argue in metaphysicks, than we can argue in mathematicks without axioms.”2

Does Heidegger’s correlation between being and Dasein flout the first truths of metaphysics? Can it be refuted by facts about beings such as rocks? It cannot – but we will find that the argumentum ad lapidem, as an experience of resistance, does retain a certain right as a rejoinder to Heidegger’s way of thinking the origin of the correlation.


The core of the objection that Heidegger calls “the argument against need” is quite simple: we encounter beings that we can determine, through more or less scientific procedures, to have existed long before the human species came on the scene. “Entities thus existed long before there were humans and before the human arrived. Entities [do] not require the human in order to be” (AGB: ii/AAN: 520).3 Thus, the correlation that Heidegger asserts between being and the human is patently false. Entities that preceded humanity expose the belated and dependent status of human understanding, and confront us with a durable, independent mode of being.

In both Being and Time and “The Argument against Need,” Heidegger tries to fend off the outraged misunderstanding that his doctrine contradicts the claims of science and common sense. Yes, real or “present-at-hand” beings are independent of us, and exist in themselves. However, this point cannot be thought or articulated without some understanding of what it means to be – including the meaning of reality, presence-at-hand, independence, and being-in-itself. Although this has the ring of paradox, the meaning of “independence” from Dasein is itself understood through a (negative) reference to Dasein, and as a way of understanding being, it cannot be separated from Dasein.4 No such understanding can occur unless there is some entity, such as the human, who is fit to understand. “When Dasein does not exist, ‘independence’ ‘is’ not either” (GA 2: 281/SZ 212).

For example, the Alps obviously did not need us in order to emerge and endure over tens of millions of years (AGB: v–vi/AAN: 523–24). As John Sallis puts it, “stone comes from a past that has never been present, a past unassimilable to the order of time in which things come and go in the human world.”5 For this very reason, the great rocks themselves have no comprehension of what their own antiquity means (at least, as far as we can tell – although Heidegger might have been intrigued by Aldo Leopold’s suggestion that one can “think like a mountain”6). Stone is worldless, in the Heideggerian sense of “world” as a network of meaningful possibilities and relevant relations within which beings become accessible (GA 2: 115–16/SZ 86). Thus, stone has no opening to anything, including itself (GA 29/30: 290/197). The Alps lack a world because, despite their age, they are not “ecstatically” temporal, as Dasein is. In the terms of Being and Time, because we are faced with our own being as an issue, we project into possibilities, are cast back upon who we have been, and are thrust into the present as an arena where beings matter to us. Thanks to this ecstatic temporality, we inhabit a world within which we understand both our own being and the being of the beings we encounter around us. Thus, being needs us in order to mean anything at all – or, as Heidegger prefers to put it in his later thought, we are appropriated as the shepherds of being (GA 9: 331/252).

Heidegger’s position is far from Berkeley’s. When Berkeley claims that the esse of material things is percipi, he means that they cannot be (that is, they are not present-at-hand) unless they are perceived by some mind.7 In contrast, Heidegger is inquiring into what it means for beings to be, and asserting that meaning is always meaning for Dasein. Dasein is claimed or needed by this meaning. Thus, Heidegger notes the surface similarity between Berkeley’s “esse is percipi” and Parmenides’ to gar auto noein estin te kai einai, but he insists that they are essentially opposed: Parmenides expresses how the meaning of being lays claim to human comprehension, while Berkeley makes subjective representation the standard that beings must meet in order to be (GA 7: 242–43/EGT 82–84; GA 8: 254–55).

The factual claim that independent entities do not need us is correct, but it relies on a prior understanding of the meaning of entities and independence, and this meaning does need us. Heidegger’s “question of being” is concerned with this meaning.8 The meaning of being is the difference it makes that beings are, rather than are not – and this cannot make a difference except to Dasein. (It follows that beings can be without being: that is, independent entities have no need of meaningful interpretation.9)

In using “being” in this sense, Heidegger is following in Husserl’s footsteps. Being and Time makes no mention of Husserl’s phenomenological epoche, which is supposed to bracket the question of the “actual being” of the intentional objects of consciousness.10 Instead, Heidegger takes it as a given that we do encounter actual things; to deny such discovering would be tantamount to “suicide” (GA 2: 303/SZ 229). On this point, he is as commonsensical as Johnson. However, Heidegger is not occupied with “ontic” questions about what may be the case regarding this or that entity, but rather with “ontological” questions about entities’ meaning. In effect, then, he is taking a position similar to Husserl’s. The phenomenologist is not concerned, say, with how much money is in his pocket, but with the essences of money and pockets, or more broadly, with what it means to be an economic value or an article of use.

Of course, Husserlian phenomenology itself stands in a long line of philosophical reflection that distinguishes the perception of particulars from the grasp of their essence. In the Phaedo, Socrates argues:

We say there is such a thing as the equal – I am not talking about the equality of a stick with a stick, or a stone with a stone, or any other such things, but something else apart from all these, equality itself. … Where do we get the knowledge of it? … Are equal sticks and stones equal in the same way as equality is? Or do they fall short of this? … When I recognize that what I am looking at wants to be like some other entity but is incapable of being equal to it, and falls short of it, it is necessary for me to have previously known that which it resembles but to which it is inferior. … Then before we began to see and hear and perceive equal things, we must have received knowledge of equality.11

Equality itself is evident and familiar before the experience of particular things as approximately equal to each other; equality is understood a priori.

Heidegger’s position in “The Argument against Need” echoes this ancient line of thought. Before we inspect and evaluate particular entities, we must already understand a meaning of being in light of which we can recognize the entities as such. The question then inevitably becomes a question about us: how do we receive this meaning of being?

“The Argument against Need” makes the case for this position in language that is unusually legalistic for Heidegger:

What is one invoking as the justificatory basis [Rechtsgrund, ground in law or right] for the truth of the interpretation of being-in-itself that has been brought forward? (AGB: iii/AAN: 521)
Which authority [Instanz, court of justice] decides on what gives itself as being-in-itself? (AGB: vi/AAN: 524)
… the region of scientifically objective representation … has, as such, no authority [Befugnis, warrant, authorization] to decide about the essence and provenance of being-in-itself. (AGB: ix/AAN: 527)
… is not what has just been brought forward [by the argument against need], namely that being-in-itself consists in the independence from our capacity to say something about it, also a saying and even a saying that has arrogated the right [sich angemaßt hat] to conclude something about being-in-itself, without having examined in the slightest on what basis and with what binding authority [Verbindlichkeit] we say such things about being-in-itself? (AGB: x/AAN: 529)
Correctness persists as the sole measure of representation only so long as the latter has become fixed in the delusion that only entities and the representation thereof are the “true”; what is brought forth besides this belongs [according to scientism] in the empty and groundless field of unreal abstraction and has no justificatory force [begründende Kraft] within the realm of scientific argumentation. (AGB: xiii/AAN: 531)

Why does Heidegger use legal language here? In part, because he is sketching a disputation, a sort of contest between argumentative adversaries that is usually underdeveloped in his texts. But the vocabulary is also reminiscent of Kant’s distinctive approach to the problem of the a priori. Kant asks by what right, with what legitimacy, we apply pure concepts and principles to experience in advance. The Transcendental Deduction in the Critique of Pure Reason addresses this issue of law or right (quid juris: A84/B116) by trying to establish that these concepts and principles belong among the conditions of possibility of experience itself, thus providing their “justificatory basis” and a “warrant” for their use within experience (A85/B117; cf. GA 3: 85).

To be sure, Heidegger is not a Kantian, despite his various appropriative readings of Kant. For one thing, Kant’s concept of being as objectivity depends too much on subjectivity (AGB: ix/AAN: 527). Heidegger also rejects the idea of a transcendental deduction of “the words of thinking” (GA 78: 130). Nevertheless, there is a question of legitimacy here that echoes Kant’s broad concerns: science, according to Heidegger, employs concepts such as being-in-itself whose employment science itself cannot justify. While the sciences exercise an appropriate authority over certain ontic issues or matters of fact (quid facti), scientific data cannot themselves authorize the employment of the concepts in terms of which they are framed. The quid juris is to be investigated, for Kant, by exploring the requirements of subjectivity; for Heidegger, by appreciating how Dasein is required by “need.”


We must look more closely now at “need” (Brauch) – a “word of thinking” that sets “The Argument against Need” apart from Being and Time, where Heidegger traces ontological understanding back to the temporality of Dasein as a transcendental horizon. The word Brauch is closely related to brauchen (to need) and gebrauchen (to use). Elsewhere Heidegger writes of Gebrauchtsein, which can mean both “being needed” and “being used” (GA 89: 7, 83). Brauch normally refers to norms, and may best be rendered as “usage” (as in the English translation of “Anaximander’s Saying” at GA 5: 366/276). For Heidegger, however, Brauch indicates the relation between Dasein and the granting of a meaning of being – a relation that is neither simply need nor simply use, in which we are neither simply active nor simply passive. Heidegger’s Brauch has nothing to do with neediness or utility in their ordinary senses.12 We could say that we are required by the granting of being: it summons us, singles us out, demands our care, and awaits our contribution. This is how it makes us its own, makes itself our own, and brings us into our own – hence the word Ereignis, often rendered as “event of appropriation.”13

Brauch is Heidegger’s counterpart to the Greek to khreōn, “the necessary” or “the needful,” which derives from khraomai: to use, to treat, to be in the habit, to need, to yearn.14 In his 1942 reading of Anaximander, whose sole surviving fragment speaks of what takes place kata to khreōn, Heidegger proposes to interpret to khreōn as the “allotment [Zumessung] of presencing itself” (GA 78: 126). More fully, to khreōn as der Brauch indicates

the pure requirement [Anspruch] in the not-letting-up of letting [Nicht-Ablassen vom Lassen], pure letting as the retaining that grants [gewährendes Einbehalten], which takes nothing into its possession but just retains in order to let – to let presence go into its essence, the essence of pure compelling. (GA 78: 135)

Another attempt to convey Brauch in this text runs: “The conjoined [gefügte] presence essences in a way befitting need [west füglich dem Brauch]. Need is the fittingness [Fug] which, conjoining presence, enjoins [verfügt] what is present as such” (GA 78: 163; cf. GA 5: 368/277).15

In these difficult, barely translatable thoughts, Heidegger is trying to refresh the worn-out concept of “necessity” by experiencing the necessitation that takes place in the granting of a meaning of being. Again, this is a happening that requires the human. This requirement seems like a defect “only if we think the essence of being in a way that is too impoverished” (GA 98: 258).

Now, what meaning of being in particular is granted to us? For Anaximander and other early Greek thinkers, being is presencing (Anwesung) – emerging and enduring. Presence, in Heidegger’s story, then goes through a series of transformations and restrictions, taking various forms such as substantiality, objectivity, and standing reserve. But presencing is not the only possible meaning of being. If we retrieve an appreciation for the event of granting, which the Greeks did not think as such, we may prepare for a different gift.

Here I must register my only significant disagreement with Keiling and Moore’s translation of “The Argument against Need”: their rendering of Anwesen as “essencing” in several passages (AGB: vii, viii, xv, xvi/ AAN: 525, 526, 533, 534). “Essencing” should be reserved for Wesung, and “presencing” for Anwesung. The distinction is clear in these passages of the Contributions to Philosophy:

Der erste Anfang denkt das Seyn als Anwesenheit aus der Anwesung, die das erste Aufleuchten einer Wesung des Seyns darstellt.
The first inception thinks beyng as presence on the basis of presencing, which constitutes the first lighting up of one essencing of beyng. (GA 65: 31/26 tm)
…jetzt das Wesen des Seyns nicht mehr nur die Anwesenheit besagt, sondern die volle Wesung des zeit-räumlichen Ab-grundes und somit der Wahrheit.
…now the essence of beyng no longer means only presence, but means the full essencing of the temporal-spatial abyssal ground, and thus of truth. (GA 65: 32/27–28 tm)
Wesung, ohne als solche begriffen zu werden, ist Anwesung.
Essencing, not grasped as such, is presencing. (GA 65: 189/148 tm)

Presencing is to be surpassed in the “other inception” for which Heidegger is preparing.

Admittedly, “The Argument against Need” is some thirty years later than the Contributions, and, as in many late texts, it is not always clear that Heidegger is seeking an alternative to presence. He writes, flatly, “‘being,’ which is said everywhere and always, bespeaks nothing other than ‘presence’” (AGB: x/AAN: 528). While it would require another study to make a thorough case, I propose that such claims can always be relativized to the destiny of the West, and that they are compatible with a longing for a new, more encompassing understanding of being. In this same text, for example, Heidegger speaks of “twisting out of the Western destiny of being” (AGB: vi/AAN: 524), which ends in the “nihilism” of standing reserve as the end stage of presence (AGB: vii/AAN: 525).


Heidegger shows that the argument against need fails when it appeals to scientific facts, which always presuppose an understanding of being that is not established by science. In both his early and his late thought, he rightly resists the argumentum ad lapidem in its scientistic form. No matter how correctly science may describe entities that precede us and are independent of us, science has to work with some understanding of what it means to be independent – and any question about meaning is, as Heidegger insists, a question about us. We – ecstatic Dasein – are exposed to the sense of things, and sense does not happen unless beings such as we are exposed to it.

In Being and Time, Heidegger describes this condition of exposure to meaning apart from the question of how it arises. In his middle period, he turns to that question and meditates on the enigmatic, self-concealing “event of grounding the there” (Ereignis der Dagründung, GA 65: 183, 247) that originates meaning along with ecstatic temporality.16 In late texts, such as “The Argument against Need,” we find fewer indications of eventfulness. Ereignis seems to have lost its character as a sharp and sudden “shock” (Stoß: GA 65: 242, 463), and is treated as a vague a priori – “the inception of earliness … in which humans have always already been” (AGB: vi/AAN: 524).17

In all of these phases, Heidegger shows a certain reluctance to delve into the sensory and sensual conditions of sense, as many critics have observed. Going beyond his justified aversion to reducing meaning to facts, he tends to follow Socrates’ lead in the Phaedo and appeal to an origin that transcends all beings, including our bodies.18 This “mysticism”19 runs the risk – again I repeat a common complaint – of becoming obfuscation.

Ontic science cannot replace philosophical ontology, but the argument against need does not require science; an untutored encounter with the Alps immediately convinces us of their independence from us (AGB: iv–v/AAN: 522–23). What about this primordial, embodied experience of independent entities? Does it, too, presuppose the destiny of the West? Must it, too, relinquish its authority and defer to philosophy’s non-ontic insight? Is thinking the only court of appeal here? Or do we then run the risk of an obscurantism no more illuminating than the Platonic myth of recollection or the Kantian appeal to the requirements of subjectivity?

We must recognize, more than Heidegger does, the constitutive role of the body in permitting beings to show up for us. Although our understanding of being does owe much to culture and history, bodily experience is indispensable. Meaning is not simply given in a mysterious, non-ontic donation, but is formed through sensation, desire, and act. It develops through powerful experiences of fulfillment and denial, through pleasure and pain in the broadest sense.

In other words: Facts about rocks do nothing to undermine Heidegger’s point that fact-finding presupposes a meaning of being, which is not given except to Dasein – the entity who has an understanding of being. But how does this giving take place? Surely in large part through corporeal interaction – say, kicking a rock. Such interaction forms our understanding of being before we develop scientific concepts, methods, and factual findings.

For a statement of this position that is contemporaneous with Being and Time and in dialogue with Heidegger, we can consider Max Scheler’s interpretation of reality as resistance to drive, most fully expressed in his Cognition and Work (1926). Scheler draws on phenomenology, pragmatism, Dilthey, and experimental psychology to formulate his version of the argumentum ad lapidem. He argues that, prior to any conceptual characterization of beings, sheer existence or reality is manifest as “resistant to the original arising spontaneity.”20 Reality as resistance does not presuppose a system of significance: it “need not be ‘imagined’ or ‘disclosed’ in some sphere of being that is … ‘given in advance’ of any empirical content of experience, as idealism … falsely maintain[s].”21 Resistance arises before all this, as an experience of opposition.

This opposition is not merely a sensation of pressure or pain; it is “the inhibition of the will,” a “stoppage of one’s own activity.”22 The “will” involved here is not an explicit project that I consciously adopt, but a vital impulse, and the pushback against this impulse lies at the root of reflective awareness: “Becoming conscious, or the coming into relation of the ego, is … always originally the consequence of our suffering due to … resistance.”23

Scheler does not claim that our entire, mature understanding of being is determined by experiences of resistance; in fact, he objects to pragmatism (as he understands it) as a general epistemology because it is possible for philosophy to rise above “the fight with nature” and contemplate “the kingdom of essences.” However, he gives pragmatism credit for seeing that cognition begins with work, or “the impetus of activity.”24 The “first stirrings” of spontaneity encounter resistance well before higher intellectual acts have the opportunity to rise above practical life.25

In response, Heidegger praises Scheler’s investigation into “the specific function of corporeality in the structure of the reality of the world” (GA 20: 303/221). But he objects that “the experience of resistance – that is, the discovery of what resists one’s striving – is possible ontologically only on the basis of the disclosedness of the world” (GA 2: 279/SZ 210 em). Drive and will are modifications of a more primordial “care,” “‘consciousness of reality’ is itself a way of being-in-the-world” (GA 2: 279/SZ 211 em), and “resistance … can only be understood in terms of meaningfulness” (GA 20: 304/221). Thus, our multifaceted engagement in a sphere of significance, including the significance of “real” things, cannot be reduced to experiences of striving and strain. Striving requires a projected possibility, which arises only within a disclosed, meaningful world. Furthermore, striving or willing is just “a particular kind of access” (GA 20: 305/222), not the only way to project a possibility. (For example, I may relax on a mountaintop and admire the view.)

In his lectures of Summer Semester 1925, Heidegger offers three main arguments to support his position. (1) First, the goal of striving must be already be disclosed by care:

…something can be encountered in its resistivity as a resistance only as something which I do not succeed in getting through when I live in a wanting-to-getthrough, which means in being out toward something, which means that something is already primarily present for caring and concern. (GA 20: 304/221)

(2) Secondly, a mere clash of material forces cannot generate a meaningful world:

If resistance were the authentic being of entities, then the relationship of being of two entities with the greatest resistance between them, and so the intense pressure of one entity against another, would involve bringing something like a world into presence. … The pressure and counterpressure, thrust and counterthrust, of material things never allow something like a world in the sense of worldhood to come into being. (GA 20: 304/221–22)

(3) Finally, any interpretation of an animal’s environment depends on a prior understanding of the full, human world. Interpretations of lifedrives must begin with the richness of human experience, in comparison to which animality is a privation (GA 2: 257/SZ 194). (Heidegger was to carry out such an interpretation a few years later in GA 29/30.)

[Scheler’s] method of clarifying by analogy from primitive life forms … is wrong in principle. It is only when we have apprehended the objectivity of the world which is accessible to us, that is to say, our relationship of being toward the world, that we can perhaps also determine the worldhood of the animal by certain modified ways of considering it. The reverse procedure does not work, inasmuch as we are always compelled to speak on the basis of the analogy in analyzing the environing world of the animals. (GA 20: 305/222)

In short, a meaningful world is primary and cannot be built up from physical or biological phenomena.

Before his untimely death in 1928, Scheler had the opportunity to study Being and Time and formulate a rejoinder to Heidegger, which is unfortunately marred by some misunderstandings. Scheler admits he can make little sense of Heidegger’s notion of worldhood, and prefers to use “world” to mean “the unity of a real sphere,” i.e., the totality of present-at-hand entities.26 He interprets Heidegger’s claim that being requires Dasein as a solipsism – the position that “without ‘me,’ there is nothing.”27 This is the ontic interpretation that Heidegger is at pains to avoid. Scheler also views “care” as a historically and psychologically peculiar emotion, although he grudgingly entertains Heidegger’s formalized, abstract notion of care as a possible characterization of the human way of being in general.28

Scheler does agree with Heidegger on several points – above all, the fact that reality is not primordially given by thinking or cognition,29 or simply by physical interactions.30 For Heidegger, it is given by care and being-in-the-world. But Scheler reaffirms that it is given by “resistance [and] the cancellation of resistance,”31 which generate both a unified world and reflective selfhood.32

How should we resolve the disagreement between Scheler and Heidegger? Does the phenomenon of resistance presuppose meaning (Heidegger), or does meaning arise through resistance (Scheler)? It seems to me that both can be right. In the order of the evolution of the human species, as well as in the development of a child, bodily effort and resistance come before a full-fledged world, in which we pursue ways of existing by adopting possibilities in a cultural and historical context. Without a wealth of bodily experiences, including resistance, the human world could not have emerged in the first place, and could not be sustained. However, once we do inhabit such a world, our efforts and the resistance they meet inevitably have meaning in the context of a culture and history, and we are also able to engage in a wide variety of pursuits besides struggle – a point that Scheler is happy to grant.

Scheler could have responded effectively to the three criticisms from GA 20 that I summed up above.

As regards (1), Being and Time describes full-fledged worldhood without considering how the world comes to be, so it ignores the question of how bodily drives initially form a world. To my knowledge, Heidegger attempts a phenomenology of infancy only in two pages of his 1928–29 lecture course, and these thoughts seem compatible with Scheler’s approach.

In the first moment of a child’s Dasein on earth there is crying; there is a floundering movement into the world, into space, without any goal, and yet directed toward something. … the reaction of the child … has the character of shock, of fright. … Fright is a sensitivity to disturbance … being upset, being affected by something, where what one is affected by is still concealed. … Some entity is already revealed to the child, although no behavior toward this entity, no turn toward it ensues. … The twilight condition in which such an incipient Dasein exists does not mean that there is no relation to beings yet, but just that this relation has no definite goal yet. Its being among beings is, to some extent, still clouded over. (GA 27: 125–26)

Heidegger’s main, and plausible, point is that a newborn is already in a world, in a rudimentary way. But clearly this form of existence must be made possible by the child’s body, including primal impulses and sensations. The experience of being disturbed and upset can easily be interpreted as “resistance.” Our understanding of being thus begins with corporeal needs, not with a mysterious Brauch that transcends all beings.

Argument (2) is a straw man: Scheler does not think of resistance as a mere material collision, but as thwarted desire. He agrees with Heidegger that our sense of reality cannot be explained if we consider our bodies merely qua physical objects rather than qua living things.

As for (3), one can grant that the human world is richer than the animal world, that we remain human when we study nonhuman animals, and that we must stay on the lookout for misconceptions about ourselves that we anthropomorphically transfer onto animals. Nevertheless, we can gain insights into animal behavior that at least suggest a process by which distinctive human experience emerged – a process that is far more intelligible than Heidegger’s enigmatic event of appropriation.

Bodily experiences such as resistance do not, of course, disappear once a fully human world is in place, and they are not reducible to the meanings that are assigned to them in that world. They are not confined to the accepted sense that “reality” currently has for us – so we are affected by more than what we recognize as being. Our experiences also often clash with the established meaning of our world, which is precisely how they enrich and transform it. Sticks and stones are not equality itself or being itself, but they can still break our bones, and that is not irrelevant to the meaning of being.

Several readers of Heidegger have recently emphasized this point. Lawrence Hatab’s study of language, which pays far more attention than Heidegger did to the concrete genealogy of meaning, describes the “contraventions” that resist and develop significance.33 Likewise, Lee Braver’s “transgressive realism”

emphasizes the way reality unsettles us. We can never settle down with a single way of understanding the world because it can always unexpectedly breach these. Such experiences do not get squeezed into our mental structures but instead violate them, cracking and reshaping our categories. This violation is the sign of their externality …. These aporetic experiences enter our awareness, not through the pathways prepared by our minds but in spite of them, transgressing our anticipatory processes.34

I have spoken in similar terms of experiences of “excess” that challenge established meaning.35 In these “traumas” or “emergencies,” the sense of the world as well as the sense of our own being comes into question and is refreshed.

Heidegger does recognize that the meaning of being given to us through philosophy and tradition – being as presence – is not all-embracing, that there are dimensions of experience it cannot capture. Otherwise, how would we be able to suspect its limitations? He sometimes gestures toward the importance of our concrete, bodily immersion in what is, whose power and significance are not exhausted by our interpretations of it. In describing “earth” as what sustains and precedes the meaningful “world,” he observes that ascertaining how much a stone weighs is no substitute for feeling its heft. This feeling does not penetrate the stone and reveal its meaning – but it is an essential experience nonetheless (GA 5: 33/24–25). We may also cite his undeveloped notion of “metontology” (GA 26: 199–202/156–58), his concept of “bodying forth” (Leiben, GA 89: 783–84/ZS 86–88), or his texts on “pain” (which, in Trakl’s line, “has turned the threshold to stone”: GA 12: 23–25/PLT 201–2) – as ethereal and ultimately inadequate as Heidegger’s conception of suffering may be.36

Despite these efforts, Heidegger remains primarily in the realm of words and ideas, particularly in his late thinking. He develops intricate and thought-provoking paths into meaning, but does not pay much attention to how we find ourselves corporeally engaged in an environment, an experience that precedes our concepts. Whether or not we interpret this engagement primarily in terms of resistance – which may be an overly narrow approach – philosophy ought to attend to bodily experience, which Heidegger explores less well than thinkers such as Scheler, Dewey, or Merleau-Ponty.

Thanks to our bodily engagement, we experience that an entity is before we can begin to characterize what it means for it to be. As Scheler writes, “We grasp the being-real of an undetermined something … before we sensibly perceive and think its being-thus.”37 Or as Bethany Henning puts it in her reading of Dewey, “We are allured, vexed, curious, repelled, charmed, or frightened by something even before we set about the business of defining the object, individual, or event as a this or a that.”38

This all means that a version of Johnson’s argumentum ad lapidem is still a healthy reaction to the “mystical” trend in Heidegger’s thinking. This “argument” is not a sophisticated scientific appeal to the age of the Earth, but an earthy, embodied, and emotional response. After we have mused sufficiently on Heidegger’s convincing answer to the scientistic argument against need, we have a right – in fact, a need – to set down his text, walk out into the open air, and give a rock a good kick.39


1 Martin Heidegger, “Das Argument gegen den Brauch (für das Ansichsein des Seienden),” ed. Dietmar Koch and Michael Ruppert, with emendations and notes by Tobias Keiling and Ian Alexander Moore, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30, no. 3 (2022): i–xvi (= AGB), and Martin Heidegger, “The Argument against Need (For the Being-in-Itself of Entities),” trans. Tobias Keiling and Ian Alexander Moore, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30, no. 3 (2022): 519–34 (=AAN).

2 James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL. D., vol. 1 (London: Henry Baldwin, 1791), 257. For a helpful discussion see Douglas Lane Patey, “Johnson’s Refutation of Berkeley: Kicking the Stone Again,” Journal of the History of Ideas 47, no. 1 Jan.–Mar. 1986): 139–45. Boswell’s point about “first truths” is akin to Wittgenstein’s thought that “the existence of the earth is … part of the whole picture which forms the starting-point of belief for me”: Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, trans. Denis Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 28e.

3 A more recent and elaborate version of the argument against need is Quentin Meillassoux’s appeal to “ancestral” beings or “the arche-fossil” as evidence against phenomenological “correlationism”: After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008), 10–34.

4 The point has affinities to one of Heidegger’s favorite tropes, the appeal to “deficient modes.” For example, solitude is a deficient mode of being with others (GA 2: 161/SZ 120). See Richard Polt, “Heidegger’s Productive Logic,” in Heidegger On Logic, ed. Filippo Casati and Daniel Dahlstrom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022), 64–70.

5 John Sallis, Stone (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 26.

6 Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 123.

7 “For as to what is said of the Absolute Existence of unthinking Things without any relation to their being perceiv’d, that is to me perfectly Unintelligible. Their Esse is Percipi, nor is it possible they shou’d have any Existence, out of the Minds or thinking Things which perceive them”: George Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, Part i (Dublin: Aaron Rhames, 1710), 44.

8 For a vigorous argument that Heidegger’s word Sein refers to meaningfulness, see Thomas Sheehan, Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift (London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2015), 3–28.

9 On “beingless” beings, see Mark A. Wrathall, “The Question of Ontological Dependency,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30, no. 3 (2022): 556–58.

10 Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philososophy, First Book: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, trans. F. Kersten (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1983), 215.

11 Plato, Phaedo, in Platonis Opera, ed. John Burnet, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1903), 74a–75b, my translation.

12 “Need [Brauch], without any neediness [Bedürfen], free of all utility [Nutzen], in itself takes [us] into appropriating” (GA 97: 416).

13 At one point in his notes Heidegger simply writes, “Das Ereignis ist der Brauch” (GA 73.2: 1189). The thoughts in this volume frequently return to the word Brauch.

14 H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940), s.v. χράομαι.

15 On Fug, cf. GA 40: 169/178. In both GA 40 and GA 78, Fug is Heidegger’s rendering of dikē.

16 Richard Polt, Time and Trauma: Thinking Through Heidegger in the Thirties (London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2019), 23–37.

17 On Heidegger’s uses of the word Ereignis, see Richard Polt, “Ereignis,” in A Companion to Heidegger, ed. Hubert L. Dreyfus and Mark Wrathall (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005). I do not think eventfulness disappears without a trace in Heidegger’s late texts; for instance, in “The Argument against Need” he speaks of “the time which first grants time-space to the ordinary time,” and wonders “where and how” this granting is appropriated or takes place (ereignet wird) (AGB: vi/AAN: 524). In the late 1940s he writes that Ereignis names something other than a sudden, conspicuous, public event; “it does name suddenness, but it is the suddenness of the appropriating of expropriation into stillness. Ereignis can no longer be subordinated to a higher kind of movement [Be-wegung]. It is waying [Wegen] itself, the waying of need [Brauch]” (GA 97: 412).

18 For a partial defense of Heidegger on this point see Kevin A. Aho, Heidegger’s Neglect of the Body (Albany: suny, 2009). Heidegger’s speculative realist critics can be far more anticorporeal than he is. Meillassoux opens After Finitude (pgs. 1–3) with the sophism that since fire itself feels no pain, the pain we feel on contact with fire shows us nothing about fire itself, which is disclosed only by mathematics.

19 “Mysticism” is a label of convenience that cannot begin to capture Heidegger’s deep engagement with the mystical tradition. See e.g. Ian Alexander Moore, Eckhart, Heidegger, and the Imperative of Releasement (Albany: SUNY, 2019).

20 Max Scheler, Cognition and Work: A Study Concerning the Value and Limits of the Pragmatic Motifs in the Cognition of the World, trans. Zachary Davis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2021), 168.

21 Ibid., 169 tm.

22 Ibid., 170.

23 Ibid., 175.

24 Ibid., 167.

25 Ibid., 169.

26 Max Scheler, “Reality and Resistance: On Being and Time, Section 43,” in Thomas Sheehan, ed., Heidegger: The Man and the Thinker (Chicago: Precedent, 1981), 138.

27 Ibid., 140.

28 Ibid., 143.

29 Ibid., 139.

30 Ibid., 135.

31 Ibid., 139.

32 Ibid., 138. For a more thorough overview of the points of difference between the two philosophers, see Daniel O. Dahlstrom, “Scheler’s Critique of Heidegger’s Fundamental Ontology,” in Stephen Schneck, ed., Max Scheler’s Acting Persons: New Perspectives (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002).

33 Lawrence J. Hatab, Proto-phenomenology and the Nature of Language: Dwelling in Speech I (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 25–28.

34 Lee Braver, “On Not Settling the Issue of Realism,” Speculations: A Journal of Speculative Realism 4 (2013): 12 em.

35 Polt, Time and Trauma, 209–12. Compare Jean-Luc Marion, In Excess: Studies of Saturated Phenomena (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), and Sallis, Stone, 9: “In [the] presence [of a mountain peak] one senses, above all, excess. Excess – not as an experienced content, to be expressed then in general in the word, but rather as an exceeding of every content circumscribable in and by experience, of every presence determined by the living present of experience.”

36 Ian Alexander Moore, “Pain is Beyng Itself: Heidegger’s Algontology,” Gatherings: The Heidegger Circle Annual 12 (2022): 1–38.

37 Scheler, Cognition and Work, 177.

38 Bethany Henning, Dewey and the Aesthetic Unconscious: The Vital Depths of Experience (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2022), 65.

39 I thank Lee Braver, Ian Alexander Moore, and Thomas Sheehan for their comments on this paper.

Richard Polt - On the Right to Kick a Rock: The Argumentum ad Lapidem and Heidegger’s “The Argument against Need”
Original version in Gatherings 13 (2023).