The mood of anxiety on Heidegger

Filosofía contemporánea # Modern Philosophy. Empirical psychology. Depression. World. Death. Moral and social meaning

  • Enviado por: Vladimir
  • Idioma: inglés
  • País: España España
  • 10 páginas


The mood of anxiety is a central concept in Heidegger's Dasein explanation in several ways. First of all, if we consider the structure of being and time itself, we can became aware of that is articulated around the question about Being and, of course, about the way it is or it can be questioned. This is the starting point which Heidegger depart from towards Dasein definition, this is, towards the unique being which can formulate such question and, even more, towards the being whose structure is shaped by the questioning itself. At this point, anxiety becomes a fundamental issue as far as it can be regarded as the motive, as the sparkle which make Dasein look for an answer.

Anxiety is closely involved as well to keep floating main Heidegger's Dasein characteristics, such as throwness, care or being-towards-death, as I'll try to show.


If we want to understand the meaning of anxiety, we have to try to point out, at least, the function it has into Dasein ontological structure. All of this drives us unavoidably towards a brief description of Dasein, towards a brief inventory of some of its characteristics that I need to mark the general borders of anxiety concept.

Let us begin with saying that Dasein is the special and unique being which has an idea about what being is, about what being mean -although it is not a conceptualised, clearly defined idea, but a pre-understanding-. This particular being is thrown into the world, into a world “composed” of another beings, some of which have the same skill that Dasein, this is: it's thrown among beings (which classical philosophy would call “objects”) and among other Daseins (which classical terminology would define as subjects or consciousness, or cogitos). This being-in-the-world has to be understood not in the classical way; Dasein is not a new cogito, it is not again the isolated bourgeois consciousness in front of a nature waiting to be tamed. That is exactly what Heideggers is trying to fight against. Thus, the world has to be regarded on one hand has the net of interrelations between things and between things and Dasein; and, on the other hand, as the opened possibilities of Dasein, as the materials to build Dasein future. These two affirmations take us to two specifications: a) beings around Dasein are, at least in the inauthentic way of Dasein life, things-ready-to-hand, which means that they are considered only according to their usefulness (or uselessness), and they even “exist” according to that; b) world, then, is inside the very core of Dasein ontological structure, and it's, as such, just the possibilities of Dasein developments; this means that it exists only as far as it's Dasein world of possibilities, not because Dasein creates the world, but because the world itself is understood by Dasein only in terms of what is useful for it (and that is all the world).

Finally, the last subject I would like to touch in reference to this Dasein description is understanding. Dasein has a pre-understanding of what is being, due to its own ontological structure. This can be noticed in the own questioning about being since it involves a kind of knowledge about what are we looking for.

Thus, to sum up, we would have something like this: Dasein is the ontological structure of man as a being, a being which is characterized for being capable of asking for its own being nature, for having a pre-understanding of what being is and for finding itself already being among other beings which are mainly interpreted by it as beings-ready-to-hand.


In trying to make a concept clearer, sometimes it's a good thing to say what is not that concept, and that is what I'm going to attempt.

If we speak about anxiety we have to speak about mood, since it is one of the main Being and Time contributions to philosophy. Moods, it would be argued by empirical psychology, are just states of mind in which we can find a person in a certain moment. This concrete mood, it would be continued, it's determined or, at least, conditioned by internal and external (but always empirical and calculable) facts which can be found.

Without discrediting this, Heidegger is going to say that behind every psychological mood, beyond every state of mind which is conditioned by facts, by the everydayness, there are ontological moods which they can be reduced to and that can be explained according to. So, Heideggers asserts that the common states of mind has no real entity, while they only do the following: they just scrap the thin covering of everydayness and leave us in front of our ontological mood. Therefore, the empirical cause it's not that important, since it just make use direct our glance towards reality.

Anxiety is the best example (and the source of the description) of a mood, an ontological mood. In it we can find clearly the parallelism between psychological and ontological moods (depression/anxiety) and it is the state which make Dasein awake to its own and authentic existence, as I'll try to show. Depression can be explained as something caused by bad experiences, such as unsuccessful love, academic failures… but the point is that it also can be due to no cause or, at least, to hidden ones (and that is, in my opinion -although I'm not a psychologist- the special characteristic which make it be differenced from any other mental disease). Thus, Heidegger takes advantage of the absence of object of depression to keep on looking for something deeper. And what's what he finds? An ontological mood, an ontological state of mind (and “state of being”, it could be said) that is touched, that is brought into conscience every time we feel that peculiar psychological mood that depression is. This is an ontological mood. It's not just a deeper or stronger feeling, but it is something which is in our ontological structure, in our own way of being a being. And this ontological mood, just as its psychological correspondence, it's defined as well by object absence.


Anxiety, as I had said before, is an ontological mood in which the object that Dasein is worried about doesn't exist. This could be misunderstood as whether the object was hidden or disappeared, so I have to add: there's no object at all, because the one which make Dasein be worried is, precisely, nothing, or more exactly: nothingness. Which is behind depression, behind that no-object worry, is the realizing of the fact that there is no object at all, and not even subject. Why? Because Dasein, through anxiety, can have a look on beings and verify that there's nothing beyond them that grants their existence; they are, then, a pure nothingness. The question is: why they are something, they are beings, instead or being nothingness? Thus, we finally arrive to the real knot: there's nothing that supports being existence, so my existence cannot be supported by any of them, ergo, why is not me, why is not Dasein nothingness instead of Being?

Dasein is able now to regard itself as a nothingness thrown among nothingness. So this homeless feeling about Dasein throwness among things, about finding itself already being, has to be added to nothingness anxiety.


We have said that realizing beings nothingness Dasein become conscious of its own nothingness, since there's no being, no entity that can support Dasein Being. But we can say more about this ontological anxiety involved in that revelation: it's not only the discovery of external “objects” groundlessness (which, nevertheless, would be itself a legitimate source of anxiety), since we know that, according to Heidegger, beings and the total relationship net between them and between them and Dasein itself -this is, the world- are a piece of Dasein ontological structure. That is so, as we said, because beings are understood by Dasein as being-at-hand, as being as far as they are useful things, and the world itself constitutes a part of Dasein too. But, even more important than that (and this is the point) is that being-ready-to-hand and the world are the open future possibilities of Dasein. World is world only as far as it's Dasein's world of possibilities, so what is falling down into nothingness is Dasein's future, Dasein's development possibilities. So, in proper words, anxiety phenomenon take place always inside of Dasein, which is, in this sense, the only real being in the world.

Thereby, following anxiety path, Dasein is now in front of its own nothingness and groundless. Will it stagnate in its own emptiness? According to Heidegger, this is the starting point for Dasein real existence. After this “falling” is when we are speaking truthfully about Dasein. Heidegger word for this is authenticity and has, as it can be supposed, an opposite term, what Heiddegger named inauthenticity, an inauthentic life. Inauthentic life is what we can call “normal life”, or even alienated life. It involves concrete attitudes towards things and to other Daseins, which are well defined by readiness-to-hand, this is, the instrumental attitude towards things and, a fact which is more important, towards other Daseins, which would became “instrumentalised” (we can find links between these topic and Marx's alienation, Marcuse's instrumental rationality…). It involves too to be lost, in a certain way, among the tasks, the everydayness. This is a lost of Dasein itself, a forgetting of itself: the question of being is forgotten here and man mortality too.

That's why anxiety is not an end but a beginning, not a tragedy, but the shock Dasein need to awake. But, to awake to what? To authentic life. Anxiety removes beings-to-hand worth, so common task, instrumental thinking worth is removed too. Thus, Dasein realizes that it cannot come true dealing with beings. Inauthentic life is devalued. This means (and here is impossible not to face the social involvements of the matter) that common man, the man who is among others just doing the same that others, with no own thinking (this is the same that saying “with no thinking at all”), carried away by the crowd, is placed in front of the problem of being as his own problem, not just as a scientist in front of an interesting riddle.

It is well worth noting that the “they”, Das Man don't take seriously their existence. They just allow themselves to live, within a kind of stunned state. And they resist to face their ontological isolation.

Thus, to sum up, we can say that anxiety plunge Dasein into a state of worry about its own nothingness. Then, it realizes that nobody supports its life, and far from it the social values assumed with no previous reflection, this is, the prejudices. So, from now on, it has to take care of its own life. That is the genuine way of being of Dasein: to be the being which take care of itself, which know that there is nothing apart from it that can decide instead of it (Sartre would say later that we are condemned to be free). To achieve that, Dasein has to understand itself as a thrown project, as something that is waiting for be, this is, waiting for its possibilities to be developed.

Therefore, anxiety is a kind of treatment against everyday consciousness.


But one of the things that Dasein has to take over and that has more implications is death.

The first thing that needs to be said is that taking care of death illustrates what to care means. This is so because death has a special property in relation to Dasein: Dasein can observe other's death as events, from a scientific point of view, but never can contemplate its own death or even the idea of its own death in the same way. This lead us to consider a common characteristic of Dasein and Death as concepts: both of them are general concepts but absolutely individual, too. This is, both of them imply in their definition a large number of entities -as large as the number of entities of the human kind- but that definition only take place properly in each unique and never repeated Dasein. Dasein is, therefore, the being which, in each case, takes is own being seriously as a problem. In the same way, we could say that Dasein is the being which take seriously its own death, since death is inalienable: everyone has to face -at least- and to understand his/her own death (if he/she take it seriously).

Dasein, then, can understand itself authentically as a finite being, as a “being-towards-death”. It knows which is the end, it knows that its entire life is aiming to death, to nothingness. But precisely because of this, because it knows it fixed end, it can realize that no other of its possibilities are determined; through its finiteness it arrive to its open possibilities.


I realize that I'm leaving aside quite a lot of anxiety involvements and links to Dasein, such as existential time or being-towards-other-Daseins, but I haven't considered them close enough to the aim wanted.

Anyway, as a conclusion, I would like to speak about the moral and social meaning which can be tracked on Heidegger's statements about the being.

The first that can be said, from a very personal point of view, is that Heidegger's Dasein seems to be the repetition of that famous Kant's calling on his society: “Sapere aude!” Dare to know! Dare to think in your own, without the baby-walkers of tradition (of Single Thought, today). Something like that is what Heidegger is demanding from his age society, more exactly from every man: to keep themselves away from the stream of thought and behaviour ruling in technical Western Society. Heidegger's word more frequently used for this state of his contemporary world is decadence or fall, which, both, insert an incontrovertible moral shade.

The parallelism between Dasein and contemporary society is quite clear. On the one hand, Dasein is, in its everydayness, in a false life, taking care only of the beings-ready-to-hand, the common task; and forgetting the question about its own being, ignoring the nothingness around it; this is, not truthfully living. The state of grace is recovered through anxiety.

For human kind, the story is similar: now we are plunged in a deep decadence, represented on the mass-men, the main stream of thought that carry them on and on the technological way of knowledge. The state of grace is placed by Heidegger in the ancient Greeks, in their first approaching to world, man and being knowledge, this is: ancient Greeks philosophy. According to Heidegger, this first attempt was based on a kind of phenomenological premises: they just attended to the things themselves, as it's said n the phenomenological adage. But the later philosophy didn't do the same and built its concepts on Greeks concepts, loosing their real worth. So now philosophy should retrace its steps and go back to elucidate its concepts (through etymology) if it wants to rescue Western Society from falseness and, eventually, self-destruction.

The theoretical solution is, then, a task for philosophy. But if we consider Dasein's turning to authenticity as the practical side of the transformation, we can find in that solution much more of common-places of Modern Philosophy that we could expect. We are facing again the isolated bourgeois consciousness, alone in a hostile environment, which only, which only answer for it is looking for certainly in itself. The indubitable cogito ergo sum is now supplanted by “I dead ergo I am”, the “inalienableness” of my death is the new security of contemporary man.

That's why I'm not very fond of search for easy parallelisms between Heidegger's main ideas and Nazism ideology (if that pile of flagrant contradictions deserve such a name). He connection between Nazism and Contemporary Philosophy doesn't need Heidegger as a link, because the premises and the explanation of Second World War and Nazism phenomenon are, from my point of view, in Enlightenment Philosophy and the ideologies which sprung up under its influence. More exactly, what arose during Nazism was the consequence of the conscientious emptying out of bourgeois philosophy, which left and prepared the individual to accept submissively the lurching of the new economy system and, as an indirect consequence, Hitler's new order (and Mussolini's, and Franco's, and Stalin's and, even, the new technocracies').

Anyway, all of it is just to denote that Heidegger's biography can help us on understanding his thought, but his well known links with Nazism shouldn't lead us to believe that his entire thinking was at Hitler's service, since it would make impossible to us to understand great thinkers such as Marx -which links with active communist militancy is obvious-, Spinoza -main defender of the incipient Democratic Regime in Holland-, or even Isaiah Berlin -a British civil servant- and Georgy Lùckacs -enganged with U.S.S.R. government an with Hungarian Revolution in certain moments of his life-.

Although we can track for quite a lot of this in Heidegger's whole conception of world and man involved in being and time, speaking personally.

Here we can already perceive some of the presuppositions that support Heidegger's conception of being: I mean the critique against the technical way of knowledge widespread in Western society.

It reminds us unequivocally Plato's Cavern Myth: the philosopher taking charge of making men views to aim from the shadows to the real things, the universal and eternal Ideas.

This side of the problem make me remind immediately Niezsche's God Murder. Dasein as an ontological description (this cannot be forgotten, although I would like to say that it cannot be denied that it has implications in other philosophical fields, such as moral and even politics) is now towards nothingness and with no one's help, like man kind, like society, which after God Death is in a very similar situation: the chain which went from social level to God, passing for economic, cultural and, above all -in Nietzsche view-, moral level, got broken and not because of the weakest link (or maybe yes). And we can say so of the individual: one's moral pattern, one's all behaviour has no more the backing of God, so one is forced to look for new ones in his/her own, or to look for another supporting as good as the recently deceased, or to live with no other support apart from him/herself (Heidegger's idea goes further on this last way; Nietszche solution would be between the individual search and social search -the search of new common moral values, but emerging from the new “Super Man”).

It make us think in one of the most widespread and important aims which every age philosophers has always attempt to achieve: the dissolution of the separation between subject and object, betweens the World of Ideas and de World of Facts, between mind and body, between theory and praxis… And that is, in my opinions, one of Heidegger's purposes as well, placing nothingness as the essence of existence (which is very similar to say that existence has no essence apart from itself). Anyway, Heidegger didn't cover this journey until the end, as Sartre would do later.