In what respect is Being and Time incomplete?

As I near the end of my class on Being and Time, I am of course confronted with the fact that the book is “incomplete” — a fact that my students periodically bring up, as if anticipating that after all their hard work, they will simply be left hanging. It is the case that the actual ending of the existing published text is anti-climactic: “Is there a way which leads from primordial time to the meaning of Being? Does time itself manifest itself as the horizon of Being?”

Yet let’s imagine that he hadn’t sketched out the “full” outline in the introduction, and let’s imagine that he’d followed those concluding questions with a remark saying that these are the questions that he would address in some future sequel rather than in what was going to be supposedly “the same” book. In that case, I don’t think the existing published text called Being and Time would jump out as us as “unfinished.” (Sorry for all the scarequotes, but I’ve been immersed in Heidegger all semester.)

Division One in particular seems relatively autonomous. Though the analysis of anxiety is a strangely foreign body in the text, and though the question of authenticity remains outstanding, the Division as a whole seems to make a cogent argument against reductionism and to deliver some genuine ontological “payoff” in the concluding sections on reality and truth. Division Two, though it initially seems a bit more disjointed, does follow up on the question of authenticity and uses it to get at the problem of temporality — and thereby back to the everyday. Throughout, he makes his characteristic move of accounting for how the limited “common sense” position on various metaphysical questions arises out of the constitution of Dasein as Heidegger describes it, and he does a great deal of analysis of other philosophers’ positions (Descartes on space, Kant on everything from handedness to the meaning of selfhood, Hegel on time, etc.).

So in short, he has an ontologically-oriented analysis of Dasein, leading to temporality, with plenty of “destruction” of the philosophical tradition along the way. Essentially everything that we could reasonably expect after reading the introduction (prior to section 8) is present in the text as it stands. It doesn’t completely accomplish everything Heidegger hopes to accomplish, but no single work of any author ever does that. Certainly the book at least puts us in a much better position to at least pose the question of the meaning of Being — it’s a concrete and decisive step forward in Heidegger’s research.

We also have the historical fact that Heidegger did indeed work through basically all the “content” that we would expect from the “remainder” of Being and Time in Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics and the seminar Basic Concepts of Phenomenology. If Heidegger had been tormented by the sense that he had left a fragmentary torso of a book dangling in the wind, he could have finished it. The fact that he did not do so seems to me to indicate that it was complete enough for the man himself, so maybe we shouldn’t make a big deal about it being “incomplete.”

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12 Responses to “In what respect is Being and Time incomplete?”

  1. E S Says:

    The last sentence has always struck me. While he makes it clear that time is the horizon of the question of being, isn’t the point that the meaning of being is inextricable from its question? If Being and Time gives an ontology of the question, it seems as if in his following works this link between finitude and Being is more explicit. It’s interesting that the aim of B&T that he gives is the meaning of being in general. I don’t remember seeing this formulation in his later writings.

  2. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    I remember Bill Blattner having a convincing take on this in the end parts of “Heidegger’s Temporal Idealism”. He argues that one of the structural tasks division two was supposed to accomplish (the grounding of “objective” time in dasein’s temporality iirc?) fails, and that realizing this is why Heidegger doesn’t continue the project: the Kant book is material intended for division three, but now devoid of its archetectonic role – it’s just a Kant book now, and not part of the original project of SuZ.

    I think there’s a broad consensus that division one can stand on its own, in any case. That’s part of why Dreyfus’s commentary covered it by itself, for example.

  3. Richard Beck Says:

    Being and Time is incomplete because Heidgger found himself being drawn closer and closer to Kant’s concept of God as an organizing principle. I think that scared him. How could a philosophy that centers itself “im das welt” ultimately need a God that can only be known morally but not in reality. Like Einstein’s theories; provable but not in reality. Kant proved God is not real and at the same time proved he was needed. Sartre’s Being and Nothingness ends incomplete also with Sartre stating that he has no place else to go except to create an ethics and stops because he knows where it is going to lead him; right back to the categorical imperative, universal law, and that monstrosity that hovers over us saying, “Thou shalt not do that.”

  4. eric d meyer Says:

    This is, of course, an enormously complicated question and would provoke decades of argument in a Heidegger conference. But, sticking my neck out here, I’d say: Sorry, students. But Heidegger never finished “Being & Time” because he decided that in certain fundamental respects the “thinking of Being” as “Dasein” in “Being & Time” was actually “wrong.” And he says so, in no uncertain terms, in the much later sequel to “Sein & Zeit”, “Zur Sache des Denkens,” translated by Joan Stambaugh as “Of Time & Being.”

    Why was the “thinking of Being” as “Dasein” in S&Z wrong? The short answer would be that the thinking of Being (das Sein) as Dasein ignored the ontological difference between Dasein and Being (das Sein), which prevents Dasein’s pre-understanding of Being (das Sein) from escaping the hermeneutic circle & dictates that the thinking of “Being & Time” is “metaphysical,” in the negative sense Heidegger gives that word. Which means that the thinking of “Being” (das Sein) in S&Z is still circumscribed within the Aristotelian thinking of “the being-ness of beings” (das Seiende des Seienden) and doesn’t actually “think” “being itself” (das Sein selbst).

    Which then also means that the thinking of the difference between Dasein & the “being-ness” (das Seiende) of “beings” (die Seienden) is really only the thinking of an “ontic” difference and not of what Heidegger will subsequently call “the ontological difference,” which is “the differenc between ‘beings’ or ‘beingness’ (das Seiende, die Seienden) and “Being itself” (das Sein selbst). This may be difficult for students to “think” in English because we lack terminology to distinguish between small-b “being” (das Seiende) and Big-B “Being” (das Sein). But it’s the same as the difference in Greek between Aristotle’s “to” & “ta onta” and Parmenides’ “to einai,” if that helps….

    Anyway, in “Of Time and Being,” Martin Heidegger even questions whether the whole “thinking of Being” which he’s engaged in since “Being & Time” isn’t fundamentally “metaphysical” and therefore “wrong.” Because it still subscribes, in some sense, to the Western metaphysical thinking of “Being” as a metaphysical substance or metaphysical presence in the Platonic & Aristotelian senses. Instead, Martin Heidegger starts thinking about what “it is” that “gives Being” (in the German sense of the “Es gibt.. das Sein). or what “lets” “Being” “come to presence” as Being” (the Anwesenlassen of das Sein). And that “something” (which is of course not a “being” or a “thing,” since “being” is not a “being” or a “thing”) is what Martin Heidegger calls “das Ereignis…”

    But, see, all this doesn’t mean students don’t have to read “Being & Time,” because Martin Heidegger’s “thinking of Being” further evolved after “Being & Time,” It just means that Martin Heidegger’s thought continued to change & evolve throughout his career. And “Being & Time” is the prerequisite for “Of Time & Being”…

    Wish I had time to say more! But maybe that’s a start…

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I’m not asking why Heidegger didn’t write the rest of the sections he promised. I’m asking whether it makes sense to view what we have as “incomplete,” aside from the fact that the intro promises more sections than actually appeared.

  6. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Also, Eric, why do you so often write out Heidegger’s full name? It’s very strange.

  7. Matthew Lyons Says:

    I read Eric’s comment with a Ricky Henderson voice and replaced “Martin Heidegger” with “Ricky Henderson.”

  8. eric d Says:

    I don’t know who Ricky Henderson is, nor does it strike me as particularly strange to refer to other humans by their full names. For example: Kotsko apparently teaches Heidegger’s “Being & Time” without having studied or read the later Heidergger texts, like “On Time & Being,” which specifically answers the question why Heidegger never finished “Being & Time” (twice). Sorry I don’t have the specific references with me at the mopment, bvut I re-read parts of On Time & Being last night & located them, if you’re interested. But it’s always nice to get scholarly, intelligent comments from well-informed academics with highly paid positions etc.. Unfortunately, I had to study Martin Heidegger’s work without the benefit of learned scholars, academic conferences, seminar presentations etc. And without a a scholarly tenure track position with funding etc. I just read the texts…

    Does this comment respond to your responses in the suitable style & tone inwhich they were meant?

  9. eric d Says:

    PS: I also add that I don’t have internet in my office. In fact, I don’t have an office. I try ot find time to make comments on public library computers which time me out after 1 hour or 15 minutes. So if my style & tone doesn’t conform to high academic standards, please forgive me…

  10. eric d Says:

    PPS: Here’s the passages from “On Time & Being”:
    …”one tries in vain to interpret this occurence [of Being in history] in terms of what was said in Being and Time about the historicity of man (Dasein) (not of Being). By contrast, the only possible way to anticipate the later thought on the destiny of Being from the perspective of Being and Time is to think through what was presented in being and Time about the dismantling of the ontological doctrine of the Being of beings” (9) which is considered, by the later Heidegger, as “metaphysical” and as obscuring or preventing the thinking of Being itself. In other words, Martin Heidegger finds something fundamentally flawed in attempting to think “Being itself” from the Post-Cartesian subjectivist position of Dasein or Da-Sein, which is why the term, Dasein, itself is increasingly absent from Heidegger’s texts after Being & TIme and esp. after “Overcoming Metaphysics.” (On the changes in MH’s thinking of “ontic” and “ontological differeence” after B&T, see Jean-Luc Marion’s Reduction & Givenness”.)

    Furher, “[t]he attempt in ‘Being and Time,’ section 70, to derive human spatality from temporality is untenable” (23), Martin Heidegger asserts, because while in Being & Time, temporality is thought as the ek-stasis of Dasein’s being-in-the-world which “throws” Dasein outside of itself into the Mitsein of “being-with” other “being(s)-in-the-world,” Martin Heidegger later suspects that that thinking depends upon thinking temporality as either a “metaphysical agency” that acts upon Dasein’s being-in-the-world; or as a “metaphysical presence/present” that establishes the co-temporality of “beings” with each other in “the Being of beings.” And both of these ways of thinking temporality or time are, by the later thinking, essentially “metaphysical” and therefore “untenable.”

    What’s the matter with “Being & Time” that Martin Heidegger didn’t finish it? The problem is: “Being” & “Time”! Both of which are thought “metaphysically” (i.e. “wrongly”) in “Being and Time.” And Heidegger realized this while the work was till in progress. But he needed something to publish to get tenure at Freiburg & “Being & Time” was his current Husserlian work. So he published it like it is, & its no doubt an important work. But it’s worth looking up his later comments, on it, which help to explain why it wasn’t finished.

    And that’s what I’ve found out. For what it’s worth…

  11. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Again, I understand that the question of the relationship between Being and Time and Heidegger’s later work is complex. My question is just whether Being and Time, as it currently stands, is a more or less coherent work of philosophy that stands on its own. My contention is that the answer is yes.

    I apologize if my remark about your style was inappropriate.

  12. eric d Says:

    And my contention would be that Martin Heidegger was in fact “tormented” (or maybe just bugged!) by the fact that “Being & Time did reach a”metaphysical” dead end. I think in the process of writing “Being & Time,” “Heidegger” (sans “Martin,” if you want) found out that there were serious problems with approaching the question(s) of “Being” & “time” from an essentially Husserlian “phenomenological” perspective which committed him to certain “metaphysical” assumptions about the connection between Dasein or Da-Sein (human “being-in-the-world”) and “Being” (das Sein). Which were predicated upon the thinking (which he got, I think, from Hiusserl) about transcendental (Cartesian) subjectivity and about “time as the horizon of being.” After “Being & Time,” Master Heidegger mostly abandons thinking “Dasein” or “Da-Sein” as a fundamental structure of human being-in-the-world, with its characteristic modes & feelings (anxiety, boredom, etc.), because it still drags along the “metaphysical” baggage of Cartesian/Kantian/Hegelian or Husserlian “subjectivity.” And as Derrida says, Dasein or Da-Sein, although not a “human” “subjectivity,” is “still” a “human” “subjectivity;” (with all those scare quotes) and occupies the position of “the subject” in “Being & Time.” And Martin Heidegger finds it impossible to really “think” “Being” & “Time” from that “metaphysical,” “subjectivist” position.

    Jean-Luc Marion has an exhaustingly complicated chapter on Monsieur Heidegger’s re-thinking of the ontico-onotological difference (that is, the difference between Dasein & das Sein or between das Seiende and das Sein etc.) during the writing of “Being & Time” in “Reduction & Givenness” which is nonetheless worth checking out. And, besides that, after “Being & Time,” I don’t think Herr Heidegger uses the term, “time,” in the same sense, either. Because the thinking of “time” gets caught up in the thinking of “Being”/”being” as “metaphysical presence” (“the presencing of presence,” “the presencing of the present” etc.) (Greek: parousia); just as the thinking of “Being”/”being” gets caught up in the thinking of “Being”/”being” as “metaphysical substance.” (Greek: ousia). And all this can be written off to “the vulgar concept of time” and “the vulgar concept of being” inherited by “Western metaphysics” from Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Which Heidegger spends his whole life trying (unsuccessfully?) to get out of…

    In short, I’d still argue that after “Being & Time,” both “Being” and “time” appear to M. Heidegger as virtually “metaphysical” problems, which are then treated in the “metaphysics” texts (What is Metaphysics”, “Intro. to Metaphysics” etc.) and “deconstructed” or “overcome” in “Overcoming Metaphysics.” And finally disposed of (maybe) in “On Time and Being” by the thinking of “what gives…” “Being” and “time” as das Ereignis. And that, I think, is why Martin Heidegger never finished “Being & Time.” But I, too, admit the issue is incredibly complex & I’m certainly willing to listen to different positions, esp. intelligently argued ones. Or, heck, even off-the-wall ones! that at least touch on the difficulty of the question.

    But I’m also willing to agree with you that the text, as it stands, can be read either as a “completed” work; or as an incomplete, fragmentary text. And, either way, as important text well worth reading by undergraduate students & professional scholars alike. Or, heck, even by jokers like me, who just happened to get excited about “Heidegger”! And read all the “Heidegger” they could get their hands on! And write a book about it! Or whatever…

    Enough? Or too much…


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