“The term ‘understanding’ is not confined by Heidegger to analytic or reflective consciousness. It refers primarily to those pre-reflexive ‘moods’ (Stimmungen) of our lived experience – e.g. anguish, guilt, fear, concern, wonder and so on-which Heidegger identifies not simply as psychological emotions but as ontological acts of pre-understanding (Vor-Verständnis). For instance, Heidegger argues that our common experience of anguish, which frequently goes by the name of ‘depression’, is irreducible to the sum of ostensible causes which might be adduced at the level of an empirical psychology. We are not simply depressed because we failed exams, had influenza or crashed a car. These are no more than occasions which disrupt our normal patterns of behavior, leaving us exposed to a fundamental void or nothingness at the heart of our existence. At its deepest level, Heidegger argues that anguish is an ontological ‘mood’ which expresses being-in-the-world as an experience of non-being. Unlike fear, for instance, anguish lacks any identifiable object; it occurs precisely where ‘nothing’ is the matter.
Heidegger sees his phenomenological analysis as a way of bringing the moods of our lived pre-understanding to the level of a reflective self-awareness. For Heidegger we exist before we are objectively aware that we exist. Our existence is pre-understanding-in the sense of a pre-reflective interpretation of the world as a project of possibilities for our existence-before we come to reflectively understand it as such. In short, Daisen’s understanding is existential before it is philosophical; it is lived before it is conceptualized. Moreover, human existence constitutes what Heidegger terms ‘a hermeneutic circle’ to the extent that it implicitly interprets (Greek, hermeneuein) Being in terms of its everyday moods and projects before it raises this interpretation to the level of an explicit philosophical questioning. We already know-however vaguely-what we are looking for when we ask the question of Being. If we did not, the question would be meaningless and we would be unable to recognise what we find” (Kearney 1986:34-35).
1986 Modern movements in European philosophy. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
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