Being
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79 Being Martin Heidegger’s 1927 book, Being and Time, is considered by some (including me) to be the most important and influential work of philosophy written in the 20th Century. Yet, as readers of this monumental and monumentally difficult book know to their cost, there is precious little discussion of the ostensive subject matter of the book – the meaning of being. Heidegger keeps nudging the question of being’s meaning into the future, postponing it until it falls over the edge of the published tome. Heidegger focuses rather on trying to define the meaning of the being of that being for whom being is an issue, as he puts it, namely the human being or Dasein. Yet, about five chapters into the First Division of the book, Heidegger momentarily pulls back and expands the focus of his concern. He writes, 80 If we are inquiring about the meaning of being , our investigation does not then become a “deep” one (tiefsinnig), nor does it puzzle out what stands behind being. It asks about being insofar as being enters into the intelligibility of Dasein. The meaning of being can never be contrasted with entities, or with being as the ‘ground’ (‘Grund’) which gives entities support; for a ‘ground’ becomes accessible only as meaning, even if it is itself the abyss of meaninglessness (Abgrund der Sinnlosigkeit). That is, meaning is not deep. It is not a question of looking behind what appears for some hidden meaning which structures appearance. Inquiry into the meaning of being is not deep either. It just sounds deep. It sounds like we are after a ground, something determinate but hidden, something behind the scenes that pulls the strings of the world’s stage. This is what we might call a metaphysical misconstrual of both the meaning of meaning and the possible meaning of the meaning of being. The problem with being-talk is that it sounds as if being has some fantastic agency of its own, or that it is ‘miraculously transcendent’ as Glaucon ironically replies to Socrates as he is about to introduce the 81 three similes for the relation of the soul to the Good at the enigmatic center of the Republic. One can easily be persuaded of the mistaken idea that being is pulling the strings behind the scenes, like some sort of puppet-master and doing amazing things like shaping human action in the world and producing various historical epochs. This is an error. Worse still, it succumbs to the sort of obscurantist temptation that continually seduces readings and readers of Heidegger. Too many readers of Heidegger see being as some kind of rabbit in a hat. There is no rabbit. The point is to learn see the hat without wanting the rabbit. ...