My students and I agree — Heidegger’s use of the term “understanding” (Verstehen) in sec. 31 of Being and Time seems very counter-intuitive. His “interpretation” (auslegung) seems to be closer to what we would commonly designate as “understanding,” insofar as it involves something like reflection. By contrast, “understanding” seems to be almost reducible to action, given that “understanding” has the structure of projection (entwerfen). This connection to action is reinforced by the implicit contrast between state-of-mind (Befindlichkeit), which is a more passive condition of “finding oneself” in a given mood and which is associated with Dasein’s “thrownness” (Geworfenheit). Having been thrown (state-of-mind), Dasein then has no choice but to throw itself (understanding).
This makes me wonder if Heidegger is leaning harder on the etymology of Verstehen than he explicitly lets on. The English translation “understanding” (which seems essentially unavoidable) does bring us the connection with “standing” that makes “understanding” a kind of Being-in — but what I wonder about is the ver-. I find ver- to be the German prefix that is most difficult to get a handle on, particularly insofar as it sometimes has a negative or privative meaning but also sometimes serves as an intensifier. Perhaps the common usage of would lean more heavily on the latter, insofar as “understanding” something means dwelling upon it in a more intense way than usual. But if Heidegger’s Verstehen is associated primarily with the kind of projecting or throwing of oneself that responds to a situation of thrownness, perhaps the ver- is meant to carry its negative connotation — Dasein finds itself in a situation in which it can’t just stand still, in which there is no secure place to stand.
If Dasein is always already in a state of Verstehen, then that would mean that its ground is always being cut out from under it, that part of the possibility of its Being that it has to be requires Dasein to constantly de-stand — it is always forced out of what it factually (tatsachlich) “is” into its factical possibilities. Or perhaps we can even hear the ambivalence of the prefix, insofar as Dasein’s “ground” is precisely the perpetually ungrounding possibility that weirdly serves as something like an “essence” for Dasein. Dasein very emphatically stands in a place where it cannot merely stand.