Heidegger’s Sexless Community: ni homme, ni femme — c’est un Dasein

Jill Drouillard

Université Paris-Sorbonne IV


Birds do it, bees do it…does Dasein do it? This question is less about whether members of Heidegger’s community have sex and more about whether the notion of sexual difference plays a primordial role in the existential make-up of a community. John Haugeland states, “Dasein is neither people nor their being but rather a way of life shared by members of some community.1” What is shared here is an understanding of being that is, in a certain way, chained to a body that is historically contingent.2 Does the fact that bodies are sexed say [Sagen/Zeigen] anything about our way of Being? To answer the opening question, according to Heidegger, Dasein doesn’t do it. That bodies are sexed merits no serious analysis, and the act of having sex, despite its being responsible for the infinite propagation of beings (for whom Being is an issue) is of no ontological significance: Ni homme, ni femme - c’est un Dasein. This phrase is a reformulation of Guenther Anders’ statement, “Ni homme, ni capucin - c’est un Dasein”.3 Neither surrendering to the desires or material concerns of man, nor transcending to the supra-natural world of the divine, Heidegger’s philosophy of Dasein is one of pseudo-concreteness. Dasein is the middleman, forgetful of the milieu4. If ancient metaphysicians forgot the meaning of Being [ϕυσις] by neglecting its duality, Heidegger is equally guilty in overlooking the dynamic unfolding of the dialectic of sex.

Outline of points of discussion

In order to show how a community’s shared understanding of Being is predicated on sexual difference, this paper is divided into two parts. The first part explores what Heidegger says (or does not say) about sex, elaborating on how his mention of sexuality when thinking about genesis, the grund, and transcendence is of ontological significance. The second part presents a preliminary analysis of how sexuality may influence how we navigate our world in a mode of circumspective concern. After first situating the body within Heidegger’s ontological project, I begin to question a particularly feminine way of “bodying forth” [Leiben].

I. What does Heidegger say specifically about sex?

According to most accounts, including Derrida’s influential essay Geschlecht: Différence sexuelle, différence ontologique5, Heidegger makes a marginal reference to sex in a 1928 Marburg lecture Metaphysiche Anfangsgründe der Logik im Ausgang von Leibniz (GA 26), later translated as the Metaphysical Foundations of Logic. However, his first allusion to sexual difference actually appeared in a 1923 Freiburg lecture Gesamtausgabe: Ontologie: Hermeneutik der Faktizität (GA 63), translated as Ontology: the Hermeneutics of Facticity, where he explains why he uses the term “Dasein” instead of “man” in his existential analytic. “Man” carries his own historical baggage, particularly from the biblical tradition where man as fallen is already an “ego-pole” of morality. Yet, in describing the emergence of man in Genesis, he directly poses the problem of sexual inequality.

Heidegger cites the following passages6:

Paul, 1 Cor. 11:7, “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God” [emphasis mine]
CF. 2 Cor. 3:18 and Rom. 8:29, “For those who he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren” [emphasis mine]

And then, he remarks:

Problem: What is woman?” [emphasis mine]

A response is never given.

Some points of discussion: Why pose the problem of woman at all (especially to leave it openended)? St. Augustine, who “provides the first hermeneutics in grand style”7 reckons with the ontological inequality between the sexes, stating man was created for the contemplative life whereas woman finds her origins in corporeality and procreative purpose. That is, she was created for Adam to have a descendent; she was created for her sex. Though, St. Augustine does note that there is no sex in the eyes of God (a woman only has to veil herself on Earth).8 Thus, he asks, in becoming a Christian, does a woman lose her sex? - to which Sylviane Agacinski replies “Il est, semble-t-il, impensable que les hommes perdent le leur.9” It is, it seems, unthinkable that men lose theirs. Perhaps, Simone de Beauvoir was wrong in calling woman “the second sex”, because it is only her that is marked, from the beginning, by sex. Man is neutral. Or, neutrality is a masculine notion.

In a 1928 lecture, “On the Essence of Ground”, Heidegger discusses how the notion of transcendence is necessary for the constitution of selfhood. He states,

Selfhood is the presupposition for the possibility of being an ‘I’, the latter only ever being disclosed in the ‘you’. Never, however, is selfhood relative to a ‘you’ but rather—because it first makes all this possible—is neutral with respect to being an ‘I’ and being a ‘you’ and above all with respect to such things as sexuality [emphasis mine].10

As Derrida inquires, why the “à plus forte raison11, why the above all, as if we risked mixing the question of sexual difference with the question of being?

In “§10. The problem of transcendence and the problem of Being and Time” in GA 26, Heidegger calls upon the necessity to undergo a preparatory analysis of Dasein. In order to understand Being, we must begin with the being for whom Being is a problem (Dasein). What is the constitution of Dasein that allows for this understanding-of-being?

He outlines twelve guiding principles, but the following will be useful for our discussion:

Principle 1: He reinforces that “man” is not under analysis in his fundamental ontology, but rather neutral Dasein.
Principle 2: “This neutrality also indicates that Dasein is neither of the two sexes. But here sexlessness is not the indifference of an empty void, the weak negativity of an indifferent ontic nothing. In its neutrality Dasein is not the indifferent nobody and everybody, but the primordial positivity and potency of the essence.12
Principle 6: “Dasein harbors the intrinsic possibility for being factically dispersed into bodiliness and thus into sexuality. The metaphysical neutrality of the human being, inmost isolated as Dasein, is not an empty abstraction from the ontic, a neither-not; it is rather the authentic concretion of the origin, the not-yet of factical dispersion [Zerstreutheit]. As factical, Dasein is, among other things, in each case dispered in a body and concomitantly, among other things, in each case disunited [Zweiespältig] in a particular sexuality.13

Points of discussion:

Heidegger’s contention that neutral Dasein is neither of the two sexes is significant. Why is this potency of the essence described as a unitary structure? Why can’t this primordial positivity be dual in origin (like the sexes into which it is dispersed)? We, as sexed entities, capable of perpetual generation, come from two- two sexed bodies.14 Does not Being [ϕνσις/phusis] as both a “coming into presence” and “enduring” evolve in the same way as sexed beings in nature? Heidegger is critical of ancient metaphysicians for privileging an understanding of Being as ousia (as a substance that is present-at-hand). Is our inability to think outside of the one and the many (that Heidegger does in the potency of the origin) indicative of a sort of Parmenidian hangover?

In L’individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information, Gibert Simondon (in his understanding of ontogénèse and transduction) recognizes the role that sexuality plays in the forgotten milieu of ontology. Isn’t Dasein the key to understanding the milieu that forges the ontic/ontological and self/world interaction? Dasein as “potentiality for being” and neutral Dasein as “potency of the origin” can be compared to Simondon’s notion of “résonance interne” (internal resonance or potential energy) in that both notions view existence in terms of possibilities and not as a static state. Likewise, we can compare Heidegger’s neutral Dasein/ factical Dasein to Simondon’s pré-individuelle/ individualité limitée (though this individualized state is referred to as “limitée”, it is not a closed or determined entity; it is metastable). Both neutral Dasein and the pré-individuelle are seen as apeiron [απειρσν], limitless, but for Simondon sexuality is a milieu (though I would argue it is the milieu) that helps us understand the notion of becoming.15 Sexual difference is ontological difference, or sexuality is the mediation between Being and beings.

We, as “cases of Dasein”16 carry within us the vibrant matter to “throw” (in the sense of Geworfenheit) another Dasein. We, as sexed bodies, are responsible for the throwness (that forms the past) of Dasein. In his notion of ontogénèse (ontogenesis), Simondon calls for an “ontologie génétique” (genetic ontology) where through the process of transduction the pre-individual becomes individualized (or for Heidegger, the potency of the essence becomes disseminated into sexed bodies). Time is the witnessing of this process. Simondon says sexuality is the equal distance between the apeiron of the pre-individual and the concrete individual: “la sexualité est à égale distance entre απειρσν de la nature pré-individuelle et l’individualité limitée.17

Kevin Aho notes, “According to Heidegger, Western philosophy has lapsed into ‘fallenness’ (Verfallenheit) because it continues to interpret the being of humans in terms of ‘presence’ that remains the same through any change in attributes (…) Heidegger suggests traditional, substance-oriented ontology presupposes what is most essential to humans.18” Isn’t the process of sexual reproduction “becoming” (and not being as “presence”) par excellence?

In GA 26, the dispersion into sexed bodies is described as a “multiplication” that is present in every factically individuated Dasein as such (and Heidegger emphasizes not “multiplicity” but “multiplication”).19 Multiplication here makes us think of reproduction, and insofar as factical Dasein is concerned (where sex is the very first trait mentioned upon spatial dissemination) sexual reproduction. Heidegger continues to say,

We are not dealing with the notion of a large primal being in its simplicity becoming ontically split into many individuals, but with the clarification of the intrinsic possibility of multiplication which, as we shall see more precisely, is present in every Dasein and for which embodiment presents an organizing factor.20

Ok, so this dispersion isn’t a kind of asexual reproduction where many individuals are born from the one (emphasis on the one, here). But, what about sexual reproduction? Again, he is talking about an intrinsic possibility of multiplication, present in every individual, a possibility on which the very notion of embodiment is organized. I think Simondon in his genetic ontology is on to something when matter matters (or takes on ontological significance). Recognizing the importance of “two” beings prior to a process of unification, he states, “La sexualité n’est qu’un cas particulier d’un phénomène général, cas où l’élément issu d’un individu ne se multiplie qu’après union avec un élément issu d’un autre individu. Nous remarquons cependant que ce qui se multiplie est l’élément issu de deux individus.21” Likewise raising sexual difference to an ontological level, Elizabeth Grosz in her book Becoming Undone : Darwinian Reflections on life, politics, and art emphasizes, “[w]ithout sexual difference, there could be no life as we know it, no living bodies, no terrestrial movement, no differentiation of species, no differentiation of humans from each other into races and classes (…)22” Essentially, there would be no life to ponder the meaning of Being that is paramount to any undertaking of fundamental ontology. Without the propagation of beings, there is no proliferation of creative intelligence; it is the end of history. An understanding of finitude is essential to Heidegger’s project of fundamental ontology, but how is thanatology possible without a consideration of sex? Jacques Ruffié notes the connection in his work aptly titled Le sexe et la mort23, and Anne O’Byrne recognizes the necessity of thinking natality alongside the notion of finitude in her eponymous text Natality and Finitude. O’Byrne asserts, “If the fact that there are beings rather than no beings gives rise to the first question of metaphysics, then the enigma of my birth now generates the first question of a metaphysics of existence.24” Perhaps then, ontogénèse and not fundamental ontology is the “first level” of the metaphysics of Dasein?25

We now move on to the second part to think about how sex informs our spatial encounters. This first part was essentially about finding “the ground”, the ontological task that is necessary before any epistemology. Finding the ground is what is at stake in the “problem of transcendence”, as the potency of the origin becomes the “principle of reason” responsible for the existence of factical Dasein.

II. What does Heidegger say about the sexed body after its “dissemination in space”?

First, we must remark that space here is not an empty void (objects aren’t really thrown “in” space). Heidegger doesn’t agree with a Newtonian view of time as a receptacle. Though, he doesn’t see time as an a priori form of sensible intuition in the way of Kant either. Heidegger’s notion of space should become clear in undertaking the above question: “What does Heidegger say about the sexed body after its “dissemination in space”?”

Essentially nothing. He never provides a thorough analysis of the problem of the body until 37 years after Sein und Zeit in the Zollikon Seminars (though he mentions Dasein’s embodiment sparsely in, for example, the Davos debate/ Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik).

Sein und Zeit: “(…) bodiliness hides a whole problematic of its own, though we will not deal with it here.26

Zollikon Seminar (1965): The problem of the body is a problem of method. We cannot distinguish psyche from soma, nor can we objectify ourselves for analysis (to be measured). Interestingly, Simondon says sexuality couldn’t exist without a psychosomatic distinction (we cannot speak of sex outside of the couple, nor can we speak of mind without the body).

So, how should we understand the body?

Heidegger states the French are wrong to reproach him for his negligence of the body. In fact, the French do not understand the complexity of the body insofar as they only have one word for it “corps”.27 Heidegger distinguishes between two understandings of the body Körper and Leib. While Körper stops at the skin, Leib takes into account our spatiality and ecstatic opening that allows us to encounter entities and others. Leib “says” something about our way of Being (where to say [Sagen] means to show [Zeigen]). It appears that in distinguishing Körper from Leib, the former is only concerned with ontic entanglements (corporeal limits) whereas the latter is ontologically significant. However, in GA 26, the body that is dispersed into sexuality is defined as Leiblichkeit, the kind of body that is revelatory of Being.

An understanding of spatiality turns out to be dependent upon the ontological occurrence of the “lived body” that is Leib (and again, sex is the first trait mentioned upon spatial dissemination in a body). Spatiality is experienced as a “bodying forth”:

* « bodying forth » [Leiben] = spatial encounter where an entity appears to me because of my concern for it (care as the Being of Dasein). Being born on the basis of a nullity, we choose our existential make-up and are thus, in part, responsible for the things that matter to us (“in part” because of the influence of “the they”)

Stephan Käufer gives an example of how our choice to become a parent influences how we navigate the world in a mode of circumspective concern:

“Traffic dangers and pedestrian crosswalks, for example, are especially salient to me insofar as I exist for the sake of parenting. (…) Being a parent is not a property I have. From Heidegger’s existential vantage point it is not a biological or social fact about me. Rather, being a parent is my existential make-up, constituted by deploying my parental know-how and experiencing the world as soliciting me accordingly.28

Being a parent is not a property I have, but is sex? We are already sexed at the moment of our throwness.

Points of discussion: How does this sexed projection influence the way that entities appear to us (insofar as they appear according to our concern for them)? Guenther Anders says a fundamental problem with Heidegger is his unwillingness to call Sorge (care) by its proper name: hunger.29 The material necessities that Dasein (as finite) is hungry for are never discussed in their concretion. Furthermore, temporality remains a vague concept insofar as Heidegger never defines time as the lapse between “want” and “satisfaction” (fulfilling your hunger by closing the distance between you and the object of your desire). Thus, what was experienced as a spatial interaction (the receiving and perceiving of an entity) now becomes part of what sustains us. Anders states: “Now want, by insisting on having its ‘object’, insists on annihilating the distance. The living being is after its prey, in order to have it, to consume it, and thus to continue living.30” In appeasing our hunger, we appeal to and appease our condition of finitude. What happens when the hunger of Dasein is meant to be suppressed? In “Hunger as Ideology”, Susan Bordo provides a phenomenological account of female embodiment where women are deprived of their appetite (and are literally supposed to take up less space).31 Women in the West learn at a young age that slenderness is something that should matter to them (whereas Käufer speaks of traffic signs, Bordo speaks of advertisements). Women are not supposed to desire, but to be the object of one’s desire. Women are not supposed to have needs, but to cater to the needs of others.

Some preliminary questions:

If care is the Being of Dasein, how do men and women care differently? I’m less interested here in an ethics of care (i.e. Gilligan) or relational autonomy (i.e. Stoljar, MacKenzie) and more concerned about how sex influences how objects appear to us. How is space sexed? That our communal spaces have been constructed by male architects, for example, is not negligible, and women have remarked a sense of exclusion from these spaces. How are our aesthetic sensibilities sexed? If temporality is best understood as that lapse between “want” and “satisfaction” and women are oftentimes deprived of this “want”, can we speak of a temporality specific to females? Can sex limit certain possible ways of being authentic [Eigentlich]? Insofar as sexual procreation may be a form of reckoning with our finitude, and female32 bodies undergo the unique experience of menopause, does this carnal knowledge foreclose a way of being historical? Or, can sex augment certain ways of being authentic? For example, in Dasein Gets Pregnant33, Lanei Rodemeyer criticizes Heidegger for his individualized notion of authentic Dasein, suggesting that the moment of vision, experienced as the Augenblick, occurs as an intimate relation with the other. She posits that the pregnant woman may represent the ultimate Augenblick, not only in her blurring the lines between the self and other, but in the way that labor may be seen as an ecstatic moment where the past, present, and future collide as a primordial experience of time. She muses, wouldn’t that change the history of philosophy?


1 Haugeland, John. Dasein Disclosed, edited by Joseph Rouse, Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2013, p. 160.

2 Cassirer, Ernst et Martin Heidegger, Débat sur la kantisme et la philosophie (Davos, mars 1929) et Autres textes de 1929-1931, présentés par Pierre Aubenque, trad. de l’allemand par P. Aubenque, J.M. Fataud, et P. Quillet, Editions Beauchesne, 1972, p. 44 : « enchainé dans un corps (…)toujours historique (geschichtlich) et, en un sens dernier, contingente ».

3 Anders, Guenther. “Pseudo-concreteness of Heidegger’s Philosophy”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 8 (3), 1948, p. 349.

4 Here, milieu not only means middle but makes reference to Gibert Simondon’s philosophy of ontogénèse where sexuality is described as such.

5 Derrida, Jacques. « Geschlecht : différence sexuelle, différence ontologique », Cahier de l’Herne consacré à Heidegger et dirigé par Michel Haar, Paris, 1983.

6 Heidegger, Martin. Ontology: The Hermeneutics of Facticity, trans. John van Buren, Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 2008, p. 18.

7 Ibid. p. 9.

8 Saint Augustin. « La Trinité, Livre XII, 10. » trad. par Sophie Dupuy-Trudelle dans Philosophie, Catéchèse, Polémique, OEuvres III, ed. publiée sous la direction de Lucien Jerphagnon, Paris : Gallimard, 2002.

9 Agacinski, Sylviane. Femmes entre sexe et genre, Paris: Seuil, 2012, p. 76.

10 Heidegger, Martin. “On the Essence of Ground” in Pathmarks edited by William McNeill, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998, p. 122.

11 Derrida, Jacques. « Geschlecht : différence sexuelle, différence ontologique », op. cit..

12 Heidegger, Martin. The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1984, p. 136-137.

13 Ibid. p. 137.

14 Perhaps it is more accurate to say “at least two” as Stephen Seely does in “Does Life Have (A) Sex? Thinking Ontology and Sexual Difference with Irigaray and Simondon in Feminist Philosophies of Life, Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press, 2016. In this text, Seely situates Irigaray’s ontology of sexual difference alongside Simondon’s theory of individuation in order to think sexuate becoming as inherent to life without being binaristic or anthropomorphic.

15 “Il existe des dynamismes psychosomatiques innés qui constituent une médiation entre le naturel (phase pré-individuelle) et l’individué. Telle est la sexualité (…); la sexualité est à égale distance entre απειρον de la nature pré-individuelle et l’individualité limitée, déterminée.” Simondon, Gilbert, L’individuation à la lumiere des notions de forme et d’information, Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2017, p. 299.

16 The term “case of Dasein” is borrowed from John Haugeland. Speaking about “cases of Dasein” allows us to speak of Jemeinigkeit (mineness) without reducing Dasein to the human individual; it captures “that which is mine” in tandem with “that which is passed down to me”. As Haugeland asserts, “Dasein is the overall phenomenon, consisting entirely of its individual ‘occurences,’ and yet prerequisite for any of them being what it is. English lacks a convincing word for this relation, so I will settle for saying that a person is a case of Dasein.”

17 Simondon, Gilbert, L’individuation à la lumiere des notions de forme et d’information, op. cit., p. 299.

18 Aho, Kevin. “Metontology and the Body-Problem in Being and Time”, Auslegung, Vol. 28, No.1, 2006, p.3.

19 Heidegger, Martin. The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, op. cit., p. 137.

20 Ibid. p. 138.

21 “Sexuality is only one particular case of a general phenomenon, case where an element derived from an individual only multiplies after uniting with an element coming from another individual. We remark, however, that that which multiples is the element coming from the two individuals.” Translated by author.

22 Grosz, Elizabeth. Becoming undone: Darwinian reflections on life, politics, and art, Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2011, p. 101.

23 Ruffié, Jacques. Le sexe et la mort, Paris: Odile Jacob, 1986.

24 O’Byrne, Anne. Natality and Finitude, Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana Univ. Press, 2010, p. 11-12.

25 “The metaphysics of Dasein, guided by the question of ground- laying, should unveil the ontological constitution of [Dasein] in such a way that it proves to be that which makes possible [the existentiell] Fundamental ontology is only the first level of the metaphysics of Dasein [emphasis mine] (Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, 173).” Aho quoting Heidegger in “Metontology and the Body-Problem in Being and Time”, op. cit., p. 15.

26 Heidegger, Martin, Being and Time, translated by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson, Oxford: Blackwell, 1962, p. 109.

27 Heidegger, Martin. Zollikon Seminars, Protocols-Conversations-Letters, ed. Medard Boss, trad. Franz Mayr & Richard Askay, Chicago: Northwestern Univ. Press, 2001, p. 89.

28 Käufer, Stephan. “Jaspers, Limit-Situations, and the Methodological Function of Authenticity” dans Heidegger, Authenticity and the Self: Themes from Division Two of Being and Time ed. Denis McManus, London & New York: Routledge, 2015, p. 102.

29 Anders also makes explicit mention to Heidegger’s omission of sex in a footnote: “It is, of course, far more than coincidence that ‘hunger’ is not Heidegger’s sole omission. All want is wanting; thus sex, too. It would be worthwhile to examine which features of ‘Dasein’ Heidegger admitted as fit for ontological society, which criteria he chose for the omissions of a philosophy are its earmarks.” Anders, Guenther. “Pseudo-concreteness of Heidegger’s Philosophy”, op. cit., p. 346.

30 Anders, Guenther. “Pseudo-concreteness of Heidegger’s Philosophy”, op. cit., p. 347.

31 Bordo, Susan. “Hunger as Ideology” in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2003.

32 By associating female bodies with an experience of menopause, I do not wish to essentialize the female body in terms of her reproductive capacities. What it means to be “female” is a thorny topic, and I couldn’t possibly address all the problems involved with a politics of identity that emerge here in a single footnote. I will say, however, that while what it means to be female is not dependent on any biological determinism, that doesn’t mean that cultural understandings of the biological workings of sex does not inform how we communicate “female” as an intelligible unifying signifier. Suffice it to say that all identities are intersubjective.

33 Rodemeyer does not wish to claim that the pregnant subject is metaphysically privileged. She does, however, seek to highlight that any supposition of a neutral Dasein is untenable. Rodemeyer, Lanei. “Dasein Gets Pregnant” in Philosophy Today, Vol. 42, 1998.

Jill Drouillard - Heidegger’s Sexless Community
From The Heidegger Circle 2018 Proceedings.
Original PDF.