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1 The Early Heidegger on Formal Indication: ‘Properizing’ the Event or Fine-Tuning Phenomenology? “For us here, the task is to see philosophically the genuine situation, without recourse to propheticism…” 1 Much of the scholarship devoted to Heidegger’s early writings has been divided over the following question: Does this early work foreshadow Heidegger’s eventual rejection of phenomenology in favor of a putatively more primordial approach to the ‘sendings’ of Being, or does it reflect a commitment to “the phenomenological method of investigation” (BT, §7) employed in Being and Time? Scholars have sought to answer these questions by analyzing the young Heidegger’s philosophical method, i.e., what he called “formal indication.” 2 Two major approaches have emerged: some argue that formal indication is Heidegger’s first pass at a non-reflective approach to what he would later call the ‘Event of Being’; others contend that the method is Heidegger’s refinement of Husserlian phenomenology. The most developed version of the former claim is found in Theodore Kisiel’s work 3 , while Steven Crowell offers the best defense of the latter thesis. 4 1 Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle: Initiation into Phenomenological Research. Richard Rojcewicz, trans. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001, p. 52 [Henceforth cited as PIA]. 2 Heidegger’s major discussion of formal indication can be found in his WS 1921-1922 lectures [PIA]. However, there are other important discussions of the method in the following: 1) the WS 1921-1922 lectures, Heidegger, Martin. The Phenomenology of Religious Life; trans. Matthias Fritsch and Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004 [Henceforth cited as PRL], 2) the SS 1923 lectures, Heidegger, Martin. Ontology – The Hermeneutics of Facticity. John van Buren, trans. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999, and 3) “Comments on Karl Jasper’s Psychology of Worldviews,” in Pathmarks. William McNeill, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 1-38 [Henceforth cited as ‘CKJ’]. 3 Kisiel, Theodore. The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being & Time . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. [Henceforth cited as GH] 4 Crowell, Steven. Husserl, Heidegger, and the Space of Meaning. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2001 [Henceforth cited as HH].
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The Early Heidegger on Formal Indication:

‘Properizing’ the Event or Fine-Tuning Phenomenology? “For us here, the task is to see philosophically the genuine situation, without recourse to propheticism…”1

Much of the scholarship devoted to Heidegger’s early writings has been divided

over the following question: Does this early work foreshadow Heidegger’s eventual

rejection of phenomenology in favor of a putatively more primordial approach to the

‘sendings’ of Being, or does it reflect a commitment to “the phenomenological method of

investigation” (BT, §7) employed in Being and Time? Scholars have sought to answer

these questions by analyzing the young Heidegger’s philosophical method, i.e., what he

called “formal indication.”2 Two major approaches have emerged: some argue that

formal indication is Heidegger’s first pass at a non-reflective approach to what he would

later call the ‘Event of Being’; others contend that the method is Heidegger’s refinement

of Husserlian phenomenology. The most developed version of the former claim is found

in Theodore Kisiel’s work3, while Steven Crowell offers the best defense of the latter


1 Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle: Initiation into Phenomenological Research. Richard Rojcewicz, trans. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001, p. 52 [Henceforth cited as PIA]. 2 Heidegger’s major discussion of formal indication can be found in his WS 1921-1922 lectures [PIA]. However, there are other important discussions of the method in the following: 1) the WS 1921-1922 lectures, Heidegger, Martin. The Phenomenology of Religious Life; trans. Matthias Fritsch and Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004 [Henceforth cited as PRL], 2) the SS 1923 lectures, Heidegger, Martin. Ontology – The Hermeneutics of Facticity. John van Buren, trans. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999, and 3) “Comments on Karl Jasper’s Psychology of Worldviews,” in Pathmarks. William McNeill, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 1-38 [Henceforth cited as ‘CKJ’]. 3 Kisiel, Theodore. The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being & Time. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. [Henceforth cited as GH] 4 Crowell, Steven. Husserl, Heidegger, and the Space of Meaning. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2001 [Henceforth cited as HH].

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Kisiel and Crowell squared off on this issue at the 2008 Western APA during a

session dedicated to the release of Becoming Heidegger.5 This encounter deserves more

attention than it has received—for it is emblematic of a defining conflict of contemporary

Heidegger studies. Kisiel represents those who see Heidegger as a philosopher who

dedicated his career to the ‘Event of Being’, with the exception of a notable, errant

voyage into the metaphysics of subjectivity. Crowell, on the other hand, represents those

who see Heidegger’s phenomenological investigations as the highpoint of his career and

the Beiträge as, more or less, a wrong turn. The conflict, then, is not just about formal

indication. The future direction Heidegger studies is also at stake.

In what follows, I begin with a review of the main differences between Kisiel and

Crowell’s respective interpretations of formal indication. I then dedicate the rest of the

paper to adducing further considerations in favor of Crowell’s position. Crowell argues

that Heidegger developed formal indication 1) to resolve some apparent problems with

the phenomenological method and 2) to reveal the method’s existential sources.6 My

contribution builds on this argument in two respects: First, I identify an additional

phenomenological problem that Heidegger dealt with using formal indication. Second, I

show that Heidegger’s solution to this problem yields further insights into the

phenomenological method and the existential motives that give rise to it.

I. A Tale of Two Heideggers I.i. Kisiel

5 Heidegger, Martin. Becoming Heidegger. Eds. Thomas Sheehan and Theodore Kisiel. (Evanston; Northwestern University Press, 2007). 6 By the expression ‘existential sources’ I mean to refer to what Heidegger calls the motives endemic to factical life: “factical life experience contains motives of a purely philosophical posture which can be isolated only through a peculiar turning around of philosophical comportment” (PRL, 11).

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As Kisiel tells it, the story of phenomenology reads like a Greek tragedy: the son

(Heidegger) kills the father (Husserl) and burns the ancestral home (phenomenology) to

the ground. Like the Oedipus Cycle, however, the tragic hero is redeemed—for

Heidegger rises from the ashes of phenomenology in the bright apotheosis of the

Beiträge. Kisiel began telling this story in Genesis, where he argues that Being and Time

was built to fail, because it clings to a phenomenological ideal of evidence even though

Heidegger already sensed that this ideal was inimical to the study of his “lifelong topic”,

i.e., the “primal something” (GH 10), or what he would later call the ‘Event of Being’.

Heidegger began to realize this, Kisiel continues, in the face of two well-known

criticisms of phenomenology raised by his neo-Kantian contemporary, Paul Natorp.

Natorp argued that phenomenology was in principle incapable of gaining immediate

intuitive access to experience, because 1) it relies on reflection that stills, reifies and

therefore falsifies the stream of lived experience and 2) its descriptions rely on language,

a system of symbols that must artificially break up – and so is inadequate to capture – the

sensory continuum of phenomenal consciousness. Kisiel argues that Heidegger saw these

criticisms as devastating for the phenomenological goal of clarifying the pretheoretical

sources of meaning; thus, he rejected phenomenology and developed the method of

formal indication—a form of understanding that “follows life in familiar accompaniment

without reflective intrusion” (GH, 376), striving not to capture the primal something in

language but merely to point in its direction.7 For Kisiel, then, Heidegger’s response to

Natorp was not to improve phenomenology but rather to develop an altogether new

7 Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann also argues that Heidegger accepts Natorp’s criticisms and therefore attempts to develop a hermeneutic alternative that rejects the use of reflection in Hermeneutic und Reflexion. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2000.

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method—a philosophy that rejects theoretical reflection and becomes phronesis. But how

could philosophy become phronesis?

Kisiel clarified this point somewhat at the 2008 Western APA. There he argued

that for Heidegger the topic of philosophy – the ‘Event of Being’ – is really nothing other

than “our very own temporally particular situation of being”8; and, he continued,

Heidegger used formal indications as “indexicals” to point out our “temporally particular

situation” in order to direct us “to the proper task of taking over our very own situation”

and to bring about “Dasein’s ultimate actualization” (OP, 4-5). In other words, formal

indications prompt us “to transform ourselves into the ownmost (eigenstes) Da-sein

within ourselves, which in turn draws us more or less directly into the Event of

enownmnet, propriation, properizing, das Er-eignis” (OP, 6). Philosophy becomes

phronesis, then, in the sense that it serves as an exhortation to each of us to become our

ownmost selves in the ‘properizing’ ‘Event of enownment.’ Thus, Kisiel uses formal

indication to forge a link between the early Heidegger’s notion of Dasein’s ownmost

possibility and the theme of enownment in the Beiträge.

As Kisiel tells it, then, Heidegger’s response to Natorp is reminiscent of

Alexander’s solution to the Gordian Knot—instead of untangling its difficulties,

Heidegger simply excises reflection from philosophy altogether. Crowell disagrees; for

the young Heidegger, he contends, philosophy without reflection is no philosophy at all.

I.ii. Crowell

Crowell tones down the Oedipal drama in his telling of the Husserl-Heidegger

narrative. Heidegger may have taken some petulant swipes at Husserl in his letters, but

8 Kisiel, Theodore. “On the Operative Role of Occasion, Situation, and Context in Heidegger’s Works,” p. 4, presented at the Western APA, Pasadena, California, USA in the session devoted to Kisiel and Sheehan, eds., Becoming Heidegger (Evanston; Northwestern University Press, 2007) [Henceforth cited as ‘OP’].

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there is no reason to take these epistolary outbursts as the key to his early writings. Some

ordinary father-son tension notwithstanding, Heidegger inherited the ancestral home and

started making improvements. Thus, Crowell argues that Kisiel exaggerates the

discontinuity between Husserl and Heidegger by construing the latter’s topic in an overly

“metaphysical or mystical” (HH, 120) vein. Properly construed, formal indication is

Heidegger’s attempt to fine-tune Husserl’s phenomenology; in Heidegger’s words, it

belongs to “phenomenological explication itself as a methodical moment” (PRL, 44).

So Crowell objects to the claim that the young Heidegger jettisoned

phenomenology in favor of a non-reflective phronesis. He argues, rather, that Heidegger

agreed with another neo-Kantian contemporary – Heinrich Rickert – that a non-reflective

approach to life was ultimately incoherent. If philosophy merely went along with life

instead of explicitly grasping it in reflection, then there would be no real distinction

between living life and clarifying it (HH, 125). Though the two agreed on this point,

however, Heidegger rejected Rickert’s claim that phenomenology was itself an uncritical

repetition of life.9 In fact, as Crowell shows in HH, Heidegger’s discussion of formal

indication defends phenomenology against the neo-Kantian criticisms of both Rickert and


The young Heidegger responds to these criticisms, Crowell argues, in the context

of clarifying his philosophical topic, which, pace Kisiel, was not the ‘Event of Being’ but

rather the ‘ontological difference’—the difference between entities and the meaning of

9 Heidegger also addresses Rickert’s criticism that in phenomenology “the concept of the immediate still seems to be left largely unclarified and the train of thought of most phenomenologists seems steeped in traditional metaphysical dogmas” in History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena. Translated by Theodore Kisiel. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992, p. 29 [Henceforth HCT].

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entities (HH, 120).10 The very choice of this topic attests to Heidegger’s disagreement

with Rickert. Setting his sights on the ontological difference makes reflection

indispensable—for access to this difference presupposes the ability to move from a naïve

encounter with worldly entities to an explicit-reflective grasp of the meaning-structures

that make those entities intelligible. In other words, the ontological difference is a pivot

point between merely living in the world and reflecting on the meaning conditions that

make such life possible (HH, 131).

Crowell argues – again, pace Kisiel – that this account of the ontological

difference has an unambiguous Husserlian lineage—for the move from ontic-factical life

to ontological knowledge of it mirrors Husserl’s account of the transition from the

naturalistic attitude to the transcendental standpoint. It is not, however, a mere repetition

of Husserl’s position; as Crowell explains, Heidegger attempts to develop Husserl’s

account in at least three ways: he identifies 1) what motivates this move 2) what makes it

possible and 3) what makes it necessary:

1. What motivates Dasein’s striving towards self-clarification is its own peculiar self-concern as “an entity…that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it” (BT 12/32). In other words, the ontic fact that Dasein’s existence matters to it gives rise to the philosophical impulse to clarify the meaning of that existence by explicitly reflecting upon it. Philosophy “arises from factical life experience” (PRL, 7) because such experience possesses “a general tendency towards clarification and even demands such clarification” (PIA, 113). As Crowell puts it, “phenomenological method is seen to be a radicalization of a tendency inherent in a truthful life” (HH, 140).

2. What makes the move from naïve life to the explicit reflection on the conditions of that life possible is Dasein’s “understanding of being”—the fact that it “stands originally within a pre-possession…of the factical” (PRL, 4), i.e., it dwells in a meaningful, articulated world in which it always already understands itself. As Heidegger puts it in the summer semester of 1925, our comportments are

10 In HH Crowell argues that this view of the ontological difference – which is largely shared by Husserl and Heidegger – has its clearest point of origin in the thought of Emil Lask who distinguished between empiricism – which looks at entities, that which primarily exists – and transcendental inquiry – which investigates meaning, that which holds or is valid.

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expressed “in a definite articulation by an understanding that I have of them as I simply live in them without regarding them thematically” (HCT, 48). So Dasein is familiar with the structure of its own being even though aspects of it remain opaque, and this original self-understanding provides the material that phenomenological reflection strives to clarify, i.e., the categories of Dasein’s own being which are the pretheoretical sources of meaning. Since phenomenology only clarifies that with which Dasein is always already familiar, Heidegger claims that philosophy never aims “to say what is new” but rather it strives to appropriate “what is old…in its proper sense” (PIA, 145).

3. Finally, what makes the move necessary is the fact that Dasein’s impulse towards self-clarification is also ‘ruinant’, i.e., it is marked by a tendency to fall back on taken-for-granted, facile self-understandings rather than authentically – or self-responsibly – coming to terms with itself. Phenomenology is necessary if one hopes to bring “life back from its downward fall into decadence” (PIA, 62).

This is the meaning of Heidegger’s claim that “Dasein is ontically distinctive in that it is

ontological” (BT 12/32). Built into the very fabric of Dasein’s being are the motive to

pursue ontological knowledge, the possibility of doing so, and the necessity of engaging

in self-responsible reflection if one hopes to attain such knowledge (HH, 150). Since

everything in Dasein’s existence “stands in some implicit interpretation, there then reside

in this life the possibility and factical necessity…of formal indication” (PIA, 100). Thus,

through an immanent development Husserl’s phenomenology, Heidegger reveals three

existential sources of genuine phenomenological inquiry.

As Crowell tells it, this is where Natorp’s criticisms become germane. Heidegger

agrees with Natorp regarding one thing: an objectifying reflection invariably distorts

factic life. For Dasein is not primarily an occurrent object extended in space and time; it

is rather a way of being-in-the-world. Study Dasein as an object, then, and you will never

see it for what it is. So philosophy is “not theoretical science” (PRL, 43). However,

granting the inappropriateness of theoretical reflection to the study of Dasein is a far cry

from dispensing with reflection altogether, which Heidegger never does. Instead, he

develops a form of reflection that is appropriate to Dasein’s being by drawing on two of

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the claims mentioned above, i.e., that 1) Dasein possesses a pretheoretical understanding

of its being and that 2) the motive for phenomenological reflection lies in Dasein’s own

self-concern. These claims enable Heidegger to show that phenomenological reflection

does not reify Dasein’s first-person experience; instead, it clarifies the pretheoretical self-

understanding that Dasein already has by mobilizing and refining its own tendency

towards self-illumination. This allows Heidegger to deal with Natorp’s worries about a)

reflection and b) language.

Reflection. For Heidegger, formal indication need not rely on a reifying reflection,

since Dasein always already possesses a self-understanding and a motive to clarify that

self-understanding. Thus, it only needs to take up this motive and to cultivate its pre-

existing familiarity with the inner differentiation of its own being. So formal indication is

not a theoretical attitude towards oneself as an object; it is rather the intensification of

Dasein’s own mode of self-awareness. As Heidegger puts it in his review of Jaspers’

work, “…we have this (I) ‘am’ in a genuine sense, not through thinking about it in a

theoretical manner, but rather by enacting the ‘am,’ which is a way of being that belongs

to the being of the ‘I’” (‘CKJ’, 25). Prior to any philosophical inquiry, Dasein possesses a

pretheoretical familiarity with its being and a motive to clarify that being, and formal

indication merely cultivates these features of pretheoretical life in order to clarify

Dasein’s everyday self-awareness.

This is why Heidegger insists that formal indication is categorial research: it

articulates the inner differentiation – or categorial structure – of life itself: “The

categories are not inventions or a group of logical schemata as such, ‘lattices’; on the

contrary, they are alive in life itself in an original way: alive in order to ‘form’ life on

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themselves” (PIA, 66).11 In other words, the categories are not a hypothetical conceptual

framework that reason deems ‘adequate’ to account for experience. Though they are

transcendental conditions for the possibility of experience, they are also structural

features of that experience. For example, consider Heidegger’s existential category of

‘mineness’. Mineness is a condition for the intelligibility of experience: an experience

would not be intelligible as a human experience if it were not characterized by first-

person ownership—for the concept of an experience that belongs to no one is nonsense.

However, in addition to making experience intelligible, mineness is at the same time a

feature of experience itself that is always accessible from the first-person perspective—I

experience every moment of my existence (tacitly or explicitly) as mine. It is to this kind

of existential category that formal indication gains reflective access in order to grasp

them in their unique mode of evidential fulfillment and to capture the deliverances of this

reflection in language.

Language. That Dasein’s pretheoretical life is not a Heraclitean flux but rather a

categorially structured meaningful whole also undermines Natorp’s second critique.

Language is only too general and brutish to grasp pretheoretical life if we presuppose, as

Natorp clearly does, that life ‘in-itself’ is an undifferentiated sensuous continuum. But

this assumption is unwarranted. Pretheoretical life has its own inner differentiation –

which is what Dasein grasps in its everyday understanding of being – and so it is far from

artificial to suggest that this structure might be grasped in language. Since experience is

11That they understand the categories that make experience intelligible as accessible from the first-person perspective distinguishes the transcendental approach of Husserl and Heidegger form that of the neo-Kantians. Crowell clarifies this point through recourse to a distinction drawn by J.N. Mohanty between Prinzipientheoretisch transcendental philosophy – which attempts to justify categorial frameworks through argument – Evidenztheoretisch transcendental philosophy – which attempts to clarify the meaning structures that make intelligible experience possible through reflection on the field of first-person evidence (HH, 168).

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articulated – in the sense that it has structure – we can articulate that experience – in the

sense of putting it into language.

Doing so, however, is difficult due to the existential source of the necessity of

philosophical reflection, i.e., the fact that Dasein’s tendency towards self-illumination is

itself ‘ruinant’. Ruinance – a conceptual precursor to fallenness – denotes Dasein’s

tendency to understand itself in terms of readymade terms handed down by the onto-

theological tradition. Thus, while Dasein has a motive to clarify its being, this impulse

must always wrestle with the coeval tendency to evade the self-responsible work that

authentic self-clarification requires. Formal indication, then, is the “counter-ruinant”

(PIA, 121), nonobjectifying, reflective method that accentuates life’s own mode of self-

awareness in order to articulate the meaning structures that make everyday experience

possible. It is “the constant struggle of factical, philosophical interpretation against its

own factical ruinance, a struggle that always accompanies the process of the actualization

of philosophizing”, which “arises from motives that have been clarified in the respective

factical situation and that receive direction from factical life” (PIA, 114).

So, according to Crowell, the young Heidegger does not abandon phenomenology

in favor of a non-reflective phronesis. With formal indication, Heidegger does not break

with but rather refines Husserl’s project by tackling a number of its apparent problems

and shedding light on its existential sources. In what remains of this paper I will identify

one more apparent problem with the phenomenological method that Heidegger’s account

of formal indication aims to resolve, i.e., the problem of phenomenological

communication. Moreover, I will show that just as Heidegger’s solution to the problem of

reflection revealed the pretheoretical origin of phenomenological reflection – i.e.,

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Dasein’s self-concern – so does his solution to the problem of communication uncover its

existential sources.

The Problem of Phenomenological Communication

In addition to the problem of reflection, then, the young Heidegger was seriously

exercised by the problem of phenomenological communication, i.e., the question of how

to best communicate the insights of first-person intuition in a way that brings about the

same insights in one’s reader. That Heidegger was so preoccupied with this problem is

one of the great ironies of his legacy—for although he dedicated so much work to saying

what he saw in a manner that would allow his reader to see the same thing for herself,

many view him as the most willful obscurantist of the 20th century. This (mostly) unfair

assessment stems from a failure to appreciate the problem of communication that he

inherited from Husserl.

In the Logical Investigations Husserl argues that the bedrock of ‘authentic

thinking’ is intuitive fulfillment, and the ideal of such fulfillment is an instance of inward

evidence in which a meaning-intention is “saturated with the fullness of exemplary

intuition.”12 This ‘saturation’ is an experience of the ‘primal givenness’ of a thing, a first-

person “experience of the agreement between meaning and what is itself present, meant”

(LI, Part I, Section 51, p. 121). Thus Husserl uses the language of optimal visual

perception to indicate the invariant structure of all forms of fulfilled intuition, claiming

that all experiences of “inner evidence” are a kind of “seeing, a grasping of the self-

given” (ibid.).

12 Husserl, E. (2001). Logical Investigations. New York: Routeledge [Translated by J.N. Findlay], Part I, Section 6, p. 18. [Henceforth cited as LI].

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This is where the problem of communication emerges: since there is no

phenomenological insight without intuition, every phenomenological expression, whether

written or oral, is empty – it refers to “a presumed being, to which no truth corresponds at

all” (LI, Part I, Section 7, p. 107) – until the meaning of that expression is appropriated

from the first-person perspective by the one who utters, reads or hears the expression. So

phenomenological communication is not complete until the inquirer and his reader (or

interlocutor) both achieve first-person access to the matter under discussion. The art of

communication, then, is not merely to say what one sees but to do so in way that allows

the reader to see the same thing for herself. And in phenomenology one is not merely

pointing to something ‘out there’ in the world that is available from the third-person

perspective; rather, one identifies a feature of first-person experience and then attempts to

draw the reader’s attention to that feature of her own subjectivity.

For the young Heidegger, communication – “calling something to the attention of

others” (‘CKJ’, 5) – is intrinsic to the practice of phenomenology. As he writes in Being

and Time, the logos of phenomenology simply means “to make manifest what one is

‘talking about’” (32/56). Thus Heidegger describes authentic discourse in terms

remarkably similar to Husserl’s account: in such discourse “what is said is drawn from

what the talk is about” in such a way that “makes manifest what it is talking about, and

thus makes this accessible to the other party” (32/56). And this is done not through

recourse to empirically verifiable claims, nor to deductive argumentation that terminates

in universally valid judgments, but rather by offering an interpretation whose “intended

binding force…is a living one” (PIA, 125), i.e., an interpretation that puts the other in a

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position to see the bindingness of the claim for herself. His discussion of formal

indication is in part an account of how such communication is accomplished.

Before discussing the details of that account, however, I need to highlight

precisely why Heidegger’s insights into the existential sources of phenomenology made

communication an especially important methodological issue for him. As we’ve already

seen, when Heidegger set his sights on the being of the inquirer, he turned away from any

“naturalistic objectifying regard” (HCT, 117) that would treat the person as a “distinctive

way of being an object for an objective science of consciousness” (HCT, 119), and he

sought to articulate the categories that make up pretheoretical life, which “does not have

an objective character but a character of significance” (PRL, 10). Taking pretheoretical

life as his theme left him with three communicative difficulties:

First of all, if one hopes to elucidate the non-objective texture of pretheoretical

life in a way that brings the other to see it as it is experienced from the first-person

perspective, then one must overcome the limitations of a language whose subject-

predicate structure lends itself to the traditional metaphysical subject-object dichotomy

rather than the self-world interdependence characteristic of lived experience. In factical

life my being as a self is always given to me in a way that is inseparable from the world

in which I find myself; and, likewise, the world is always disclosed in terms of my self-

understanding. The subject-object dichotomy is artificial, then, because the subject of

pretheoretical life only has its being in terms of the world – it is not a point in space-time

standing over against an array of objects but is essentially in-the-world and of it – and the

language one uses must reflect this fact.

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Though this poses a difficulty, even if pretheoretical life doesn’t break up cleanly

into subjects and objects, it is still differentiated and so, as I said earlier, it should in

principle be possible to articulate its inner structure. The attempt to do so in the

traditional idiom of the assertion, however, runs the risk of allowing any concept “drawn

from primordial [or pretheoretical] sources” to degenerate, such that it is “understood in

an empty way”, “becoming a free-floating thesis” (BT, 36/61) that falsifies first-person

experience rather than making it manifest. To avoid such degeneration, Heidegger found

it necessary to use innovative language that eschews the subject-object dichotomy, which

accounts for his claim in Being and Time that the “awkwardness and ‘inelegance’” of his

expressions are due to a lack not only of the “words” but “above all, the ‘grammar’”

appropriate to his task (BT, 38/63).13

The second communicative difficulty Heidegger sets for himself by taking

pretheoretical life as his theme is this: his task is to make the reader explicitly come to

terms with that which she is ordinarily only tacitly aware of. In other words, he has to

render explicit the “non-explicit, non-objective” (PIA, 67) essence of lived experience in

such a way that the reader sees it as the non-explicit and non-objective texture of her

mundane life. Ordinary life functions smoothly because these non-explicit structures are

at work in the background, unnoticed and unobtrusive; thus, in order to make the reader

aware of these structures, Heidegger has to somehow disrupt her everyday self-

understanding—he must evoke a kind of breakdown in her mundane existence.14

The third – and perhaps most difficult – problem with the communication of

claims about pretheoretical experience is the fact that such experience is characterized by

13 It is also useful to think in these terms about Heidegger’s later interest in poetic or ‘poetizing’ language. 14 Only then will she be able to grasp the non-explicit as the non-explicit—to see that “the non-explicit” is “itself a specifically phenomenological character, one that…co-constitutes facticity” (PIA, 67)

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ruinance. Ruinance – from the Latin ruina (PIA, 98) – indicates a kind of ‘collapse’ in

which “Life abandons itself to a certain pressure exerted by its world” (PIA, 76). It is the

tendency to give oneself over to the “seductive” and “pull-like” current of the world in

which one is always absorbed and in terms of which one has a mundane sense of self

(PIA, 78). This is easy to do because “life…exists always in the form of its world, its

surrounding world, its shared world, its own world” (PIA, 76). Everyday life is

characterized by a tendency to understand everything – including ourselves – in terms of

what is easiest or most readily accessible in our particular worldly milieu and to resist

that which is difficult or novel.15 Thus, since phenomenology is an intrinsically

communicative enterprise, it must be counter-ruinant in two senses: i.) the

phenomenologist must not only be vigilant against his own ruinant tendencies in his

striving towards self-clarification but ii.) in communicating his insights he must bear in

mind that the default starting point of his interlocutors is also ruinant.

The fact that these interlocutors tend to be philosophers – whose very charge is to

uproot prejudice – doesn’t mitigate this at all. Philosophers, like everyone else, tend

towards the easy. They get by on the official terminology of the day, they take traditional

norms as self-evident starting points, they assume that some foundational starting point

has already won the day, or they simply say what they know the members of their group

want to hear—in sum, the ruinant philosopher readily takes a matter under discussion to

be understood without having seen it for himself. The phenomenologist has to root out

15 This tendency – under the heading of “processing fluency” – is a major topic in contemporary psychological research. In a nutshell, researchers have found that the easier it is to process something, the more likely people are to judge that thing to be true, morally right, beautiful, admirable and so on. Correlatively, as things become more difficult to process, the less likely people are to ascribe these positive attributes to them. For a summary of this research see Alter, Adam L. and Oppenheimer, Daniel M. “Uniting the Tribes of Fluency to Form a Metacognitive Nation” Pers Soc Psychol Rev 2009; 13; 219.

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this tendency in himself and combat it in the other. Heidegger’s discussion of formal

indication is his endeavor to do both.

SK To deal with these communicative difficulties Heidegger found some inspiration

in Kierkegaard. Though many commentators have explored Kierkegaard’s influence on

the content of Heidegger’s work, few have discussed the methodological impact of this

influence. Heidegger mentions this influence in two of his most in depth discussions of

formal indication. In his review of Jaspers’ work, he writes, “Concerning Kierkegaard,

we should point out that such a heightened consciousness of methodological rigor as his

has rarely been achieved in philosophy or theology” (‘CKJ’, 27). And in PIA, Heidegger

refers to the following passage as the work’s ‘motto’: “philosophy, as abstract, floats in

the indeterminateness of the metaphysical. Instead of admitting this to itself and then

pointing people (individuals) to the ethical, the religious, and the existential, philosophy

has given rise to the pretence that humans could, as is said prosaically, speculate

themselves out of their own skin and into pure appearance” (PIA, 137).16 Like

Kierkegaard, Heidegger wants to bring his reader face to face with her existence rather

than serving up free-floating speculation that allows her to avoid it.

Kierkegaard’s interest in method, of course, is always subordinated to his project

as a Christian writer—that is, his primary interest is to bring his readers face to face with

a fundamental religious decision. And Kierkegaard thinks that speculative writing is

worthless for this project because “Christianity pertains to existence, to existing” and

16 S. Kierkegaard, Einübung im Christentum [Exercises in Christianity] (Diederichs IX, 1912), p. 70, n. 1.

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“existence and existing are the very opposite of speculation.”17 Existence and speculation

are opposites because the former is a first-person and the latter a third-person affair.

Since Christianity pertains to existence – that is, it is primarily a matter of striving to be a

Christian – the third-person perspective cannot get a purchase on its core concern. The

task of Christian writing, then, is to call the reader not to understand Christianity but to

become a Christian. With this goal in mind, Kierkegaard developed the method of

“indirect communication” – a way of writing that strives to meet the reader on the level

of existence, to invite her to consider faith strictly from within the constraints of that

existence, and to present her with the task of faith—not to understand Christianity but to

become a Christian. To learn something from this method, then, is to move beyond the

repetition of third-personal descriptions to a repetition of a first-person appropriation of

the matter at hand. Kierkegaard sums up the essence of his method with the following


“To stop a man in the street and to stand still in order to speak with him is not as difficult as having to say something to a passerby in passing, without standing still oneself or delaying the other, without wanting to induce him to go the same way, but just urging him to go his own way—and such is the relation between an existing person and an existing person…” (CUP, 277) Heidegger – for the most part – had no interest in the religious dimension of

Kierkegaard’s project. However, in his approach to phenomenological communication,

he did benefit from Kierkegaard’s insight that it is impossible to “approach the problem

of existence directly” (‘CKJ’, 24)—that one cannot simply report one’s findings but

rather one must strive to put the other in a condition to appropriate those findings for

17 Kierkegaard, Soren. Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical fragments. trans. and ed. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, p. 380. Henceforth referred to as CUP.

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herself. “For,” as Heidegger puts it in PIA, “with regard to ‘what is at issue,’…even if I

had been given the greatest capacity for research, I could not carry out for someone else

the disclosure of ‘what is at issue’” (144).18 Thus, like Kierkegaard, Heidegger claims

that the “essential characteristic” of the proper method “is expressed precisely in the

‘how’ of our persisting in it” (‘CKJ’, 4). The reader must be “relentlessly compelled to

engage in reflection” (‘CKJ’, 36) until she achieves the appropriate point of access on the

matter independently.

Heidegger’s Method

Heidegger’s strategy for dealing with the problem of communication is reminiscent of

Kierkegaard: he does not present a category – or a phenomenological concept – as a

content to be grasped immediately but rather he presents it as a task to be accomplished

by the reader. A formally indicative concept, he writes, “is essentially a task and cannot

simply hand over…easy knowledge” (PIA, 50). Easy knowledge is precisely what the

ruinant interlocutor wants, a content that can be taken up immediately without further

ado; instead, Heidegger presents her with a challenge, an empty indication that she has to

fill out herself—“a peculiarly constituted task of actualization” (PIA 26). The account

“occasions a pre-‘turning’ to the object” by offering “a bond that is indeterminate as to

content but determinate as to the way of actualization” (PIA, 17)—it is nothing more than

18 It is worth noting that in PRL Heidegger also finds these impulses towards indirect communication in Paul’s letters and Augustine’s Confessions. For example, of Paul he writes, “It is noticeable how little Paul alleges [vorgibt] theoretically or dogmatically; even in the letter to the Romans. The situation is not of the sort of theoretical proof. The dogma as detached content of doctrine in an objective, epistemological emphasis could never have been guiding for Christian religiosity. On the contrary, the genesis of dogma can only be understood from out of the enactment of Christian life experience” (PIA, 79). His reading of Augustine follows a similar trajectory: in his Confessions Augustine does not try to communicate some propositional content but rather attempts to characterize his own striving for continency against an intrinsic tendency towards self-dispersion in order to serve as a kind of exemplar for his reader.

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a “direction of sense” (PIA, 25), a call to the reader to take up the task of self-responsible

seeing with respect to the matter at hand.

Of course Heidegger doesn’t think this is enough to fend off the “tempting and facile

attitudinal decline” characteristic of the ruinant reader (PIA, 26). To fend off such a

decline, formal indication must accomplish the following three things: it must a) secure

itself against theoretical ruinance, b) uproot the ruinance of everydayness, and thereby c)

compel the reader to make a self-responsible interpretation.

Securing Against Theoretical Ruinance. Formal indication offers “a preliminary

securing” against theoretical ruinance by indicating that the appropriate relation to the

matter at hand is not “originally theoretical” (PRL, 44) but rather an intensification of

one’s everyday mode of self-awareness (which is clearly not theoretical). This is done by

explicitly rejecting the theoretical attitude at the outset – by refusing all “autonomous,

blind, dogmatic attempts to fix the categorial sense” (PIA, 105) – and by eschewing the

language of theory throughout the account. By providing a sustained critical attack on the

inappropriateness of the theoretical attitude to everyday life and by philosophizing

without recourse to theoretical language, Heidegger signals to the reader that a non-

objectifying attitude must be taken to the matter at hand.

Uprooting Everyday Ruinance. Since he refuses to rely on the language of theory,

Heidegger must turn elsewhere for his formally indicative concepts. And though he is

infamous for his neologisms, readers familiar with his prose know that he draws most of

his central concepts – e.g., world, idle talk, death, guilt, conscience – from the language

of everyday life. Though this tactic helps him fend off the theoretical attitude, it still

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seems problematic—for everyday life is itself ruinant and therefore shot through with

facile – and utterly distorting – self-interpretations.

As it turns out, however, everyday language is a key part of Heidegger’s

method—for it gets the reader to explore her own ruinant self-understanding and thereby

brings her into a confrontation with factical life. No theoretical term can do this, because

terms like ‘cogito’ and ‘sense data’ are more apt to refer us to the history of philosophy

than existence. But terms like death, guilt, and conscience bring you immediately into the

orbit of the life you actually live, calling to mind the concerns most central to who you

are. They are evocative in a way that points you in the right direction, i.e., towards

factical life itself and not some artificial conceptual stand-in for that life.

However, even as Heidegger uses these terms to draw the reader in and to appeal

to her affective dimension, he does not simply give her over to their ruinant meanings.

Instead, he insists that they are not being used in their ordinary sense but rather that they

must be grasped in terms of a phenomenological approach to human existence. His initial

use of an everyday term only gives the reader a “direction of sense” (PIA, 65), a “bond”

that “points out the only way of arriving at what is proper, namely, by exhausting and

fulfilling what is improperly indicated” (PIA, 26). Thus, though he begins with a term

loaded with ruinant meanings, he gradually takes these meanings away, leaving the

reader only with a formal sense of the term that points her in the direction of factical life


Compelling the Self-Responsible Interpretation. As I’ve already discussed, in

everyday life Dasein’s tendency towards self-illumination is compromised by the

countervailing tendency of ruinance—Dasein at once craves illumination and obscurity,

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striving after the former and giving in to the latter. So to compel his reader to make a

self-responsible interpretation, Heidegger must take both of these tendencies into

account: he must simultaneously draw out her tendency toward self-illumination while he

eliminates the ruinant interpretations that she ordinarily falls back on to avoid

authentically coming to terms with herself.

To do this, Heidegger does what I just described above: he first rules out

theoretical ruinance and then he selects an everyday term that is charged with existential

significance. This term piques the reader’s interest – because it matters to her – and at the

same time it makes her feel safe – because it is a term that she knows all too well. So,

initially, she feels no need to strive anxiously towards self-illumination, because everyone

knows exactly what words like world, death and guilt mean.

However, bit-by-bit, Heidegger chips away at her complacent sense that she

already knows what these things mean, and as each tranquilizing readymade self-

interpretation is taken away, her anxiety – the self-concern that is the basis of her

tendency towards self-illumination – increases. The less she has to hold onto, the more

anxious she becomes, the less she has to fall back on, the more responsibility she must

take. The goal, then, is to get the reader in a condition in which she no longer has a

ruinant self-interpretation to cling to, leaving her with nothing but her tendency towards

self-illumination and bare factical life. In doing so, one brings her anxious self-concern to

such a pitch that it actually evokes a break with her everyday self-understanding and

forces her to come to terms with it anew. This is what Heidegger is getting at when he

claims, “Categories can be understood only insofar as factical life itself is compelled to

interpretation” (PIA, 66). By taking away all ruinant self-interpretations, the

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phenomenologist brings the reader’s self-concern to the point that she is compelled to

make a self-responsible interpretation regarding the element of factical life under


This strategy comes to terms with the various communicative difficulties discussed

above. By warding off all theoretical approaches to factical life and relying on the

language of everydayness, Heidegger manages to eschew language and attitudes oriented

towards the metaphysics of subjectivity. Moreover, he manages to get his reader to come

face-to-face with the structures of her pretheoretical life – even though she is ordinarily

only tacitly aware of these structures – by so disrupting her everyday self-understanding

that she is compelled to come to terms with them. Finally, the entire strategy from start to

finish is designed to enhance the reader’s feeling of self-responsibility and to take away

her ruinant strategies designed to cope with the anxiety associated with that self-


The Existential Sources of Phenomenology Just as Heidegger’s discussion of the problem of reflection sheds light on the

existential sources of phenomenology, so does his account of phenomenological

communication. As I mentioned above, it is clear from the very meaning of the term that

phenomenology is an intrinsically communicative enterprise. Its practice always involves

a logos, an account that attempts to make the theme of its reflection manifest. As

Heidegger puts it, phenomenology always involves calling something to the attention of

others, encouraging the other to see something for herself. This suggests that although

Dasein’s tendency towards self-illumination is an essential motive for phenomenological

discourse, it is not a sufficient one. A tendency towards self-illumination might be all it

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takes to motivate a certain kind of meditation or an attempt to comes to terms with

oneself, but it would not compel one to engage in phenomenological discourse, i.e., in the

endeavor to get others to see what you have seen. Another motive is required to break

philosophy out of its solipsistic bubble.

Heidegger never explicitly makes this claim, but it seems to me that the logic of

his position and his emphasis on the intrinsically communicative nature of

phenomenology indicates an ethical motive that lies at its basis. Now this, of course,

places us in the terrain where Heidegger’s critics tend to gather – usually under the

banner of Levinas – to accuse Heidegger of having overlooked the ethical origin of the

self. Dasein’s self-concern, these critics argue, is not an intrinsic tendency towards self-

illumination at all; rather, Dasein experiences the meaning of its own being as

questionable in the first place only because it has always already been called into

question by the other. This seems true enough to me, but it’s not something I want to take

a stance on here. For it also seems plausible that Dasein’s self-concern could be intrinsic

to its own way of being – a function of being characterized by care – and that the call of

the other therefore does not engender but merely galvanizes a pre-existing self-concern.

However, I would like to take a stance on a related point: even if an anxious self-concern

is antecedent to the other’s call, that self-concern is not enough to motivate me to engage

in phenomenological discourse. Rather, the impulse to engage the other in such discourse

– i.e., discourse that discloses what one has seen and challenges the other to see it self-

responsibly for herself – must have an ethical origin, because an individual could in

principle satisfy a tendency towards self-illumination without ever engaging in such

discourse. Going outside myself in communication presupposes a motive beyond

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myself—a claim that the other has made on me to make myself known, to given an

account of myself. What makes this motive ethical is the fact this it is a response to the

other’s challenge to my right to frame the world as I see it – a challenge that compels me

to go beyond myself, putting my hard won insight at stake before the other’s judgment.

But even with the motives of Dasein’s self-concern and the ethical claim that the

other makes on me, we still do not have an adequate account of the existential motives of

phenomenological communication. Self-concern furnishes me with a philosophical

impulse and the claim of the other motivates me to engage in philosophical discourse, but

these motives prescribe no specific method for doing so. In other words, phenomenology

is not the only means of communication available to the philosopher. In fact, the method

of communication most commonly evoked by the other’s claim is not the sort that strives

for non-interference by encouraging the other to see something self-responsibly for

herself. Instead, the preferred method is most often argument, and “An argument,” as

Feyerabend famously put it, “is not a confession, it is an instrument designed to make an

opponent change his mind.”19 It doesn’t permit the reader to “infer what the author

thinks is true” but only “what the author regards as effective persuasion” (ibid). In

phenomenological discourse, however, what the reader encounters is precisely what the

author thinks is true – it is what he claims to have seen for himself – and it is given to the

reader in such a way that she might see the same thing for herself. It presupposes the

intention to be truthful, and so it is closer to confession than persuasion—it merely

strives to make something manifest without obscuring any essential details. What other

motive do we need to understand the existential sources of this type of communication?

19 Feyerabend, Paul K. Science in a Free Society (London, 1978), p. 156.

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This final motive is a desire for authentic community—i.e., a desire to share the

project of self-illumination with another. This desire places the other two motives in

concert in such a way that calls for phenomenological discourse. The desire for authentic

community first arises from my recognition of the fact that my drive towards self-

illumination will be best fulfilled with the help of others who will no doubt see many

things more clearly than I can. Moreover, my recognition of this fact – the fact that I need

the other to satisfy my own tendency towards self-illumination – places me in a condition

of ethical reciprocity vis-à-vis the other such that I am motivated to furnish not just any

claim but a truthful one. In other words, since I recognize my own dependence on the

other’s truthfulness to fulfill my own tendency towards self-illumination, I am compelled

to speak truthfully myself on the pain of losing those upon whom I depend. Speaking

truthfully and respecting the other’s right to decide for herself – as all phenomenological

communication requires – is the only way to put myself in a position to expect the other

to return the favor. This condition being reciprocal, her failure to do so runs precisely the

same risks.

Thus, I contend that Heidegger’s discussion of formal indication yields insights into

three existential sources of phenomenological inquiry: 1) the tendency towards self-

illumination discussed by Crowell in HH, 2) the other’s demand that I give an account of

myself and 3) a desire to share the project of self-illumination with another. In simpler

terms, one might say that the origins of phenomenology are self-concern, the ethical

encounter, and a desire for friendship. If we call this final motive friendship though, we

must note that we use the term in a Kierkegaardian sense: It is not “the chummy

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inwardness with which two bosom friends walk arm in arm with each other but is the

separation in which each person for himself is existing in what is true” (CUP, 249).