Home   Jennings 1   Jennings 2   Jennings 3   Jennings 4

Mary Jennings

'The sign of the times in the mood of the moment': a discussion of Heidegger's concept of Befindlichkeit in Being and Time

In Being and Time Heidegger is concerned with what kind of being human beings are and how they make sense of all the beings they encounter in the world. His concept of Befindlichkeit forms part of his investigation into the structure of being. The latter, he claims, has been misunderstood, if not completely overlooked, in the philosophical tradition.

This misunderstanding is due, he claims, in large part to our thematising or theory-making tendency which overlooks the presupposition or a priori conditions that make such thematising possible. Much of philosophy and science is concerned with what Mulhall, summarising Heidegger's position, calls 'what- being' — what distinguishes one being from another, for example, as opposed to 'that-being'- that which determines an entity of a specific type as an existent being.[1] It is the meaning of Being that has been overlooked Heidegger claims: "All ontology... remains blind and perverted from its ownmost aim, if it has not first adequately clarified the meaning of being."[2]

In Being and Time Heidegger sets out to answer this question of the meaning of being. And the clue to the answer is in the very question posed: the particular kind of being of humans, which he names Dasein, is the kind of being that seeks to enquire about the meaning of being: being is an issue for Dasein, it 'comports' itself towards its being and its "essence... lies in its existence".[3] These elements form part of the fundamental structure of the Being of Dasein that Heidegger seeks to lay bare or articulate in this work.

In understanding its own being Dasein "has a tendency to do so in terms of that entity towards which it comports itself proximally and in a way which is essentially constant — in terms of the world". In the same paragraph he continues, "the way the world is understood is... reflected back ontologically upon the way in which Dasein gets interpreted"[4]. How Dasein interprets the world will impact therefore on how it interprets itself. Heidegger then goes on to show this what 'world' means for Dasein before then going on to lay bare the structure of Dasein in that world, including the structure of Befindlichkeit.

"Worldliness is another name for disclosedness or Dasein's understanding of being", says Dreyfus in his commentary on Being and Time.[5] The world is the background for every form of intentionality or directedness of Dasein towards objects — such as hammers — in its environment that Heidegger describes (the ready-to-hand/availableness; unready-to-hand/unavailableness or the present-to-hand/occurentness). Intentionality presupposes the world which has its own structure that, in turn, makes possible Dasein's comportment towards that world. Here we see that there is no Dasein without 'world'; Dasein is in the world, directed towards the world and interacts with the world for the sake of Dasein. The world is already there in a purely physical sense prior to Dasein, but it shows up, is disclosed, or becomes significant for Dasein. This is part of Dasein's being: "Dasein, in so far as it is, has always submitted itself already to a 'world' which shows up for it, and this submission belongs essentially to its being."[6] This being-in-the-world is so pervasive that it gets passed over, Heidegger claims, but it is an essential part of Dasein's being. We are absorbed in our everyday activities, through the shared practices that we learn in a particular culture or society, organised in a web of relationships that fit together: we make and use hammers for putting nails in pieces of wood that are part of a building that provides shelter for ourselves and others and we do this in the normal course of events without thinking or thematising about it. As Heidegger puts it, "Being-in-the-world ... amounts to a non-thematic circumspective absorption in the references or assignments constitutive for the ready-to-hand of a totality of equipment."[7] Dreyfus summarises the structure of worldliness as "the referential whole and significance — all articulated by the one (his term for the 'they' in other translations).[8]

Other Daseins are implied in this being-in-the-world in the way described; they are part of the 'totality' and in fact it is the they, through the way Dasein is socialised, who show Dasein how to use hammers and nails to build shelters in the particular way it does in the particular culture it lives in. There is no separation then between Dasein's disclosing way of being in its comportment towards the world and the familiar world that is disclosed through this way of being; this is so taken for granted that its actual structure does not get noticed except in certain circumstances when there is a disruption of the normal routine (i.e., when the hammer is too heavy for the work in hand). Then Dasein reflects on this particular object that is not fit for Dasein's particular purpose in order to do something about it, but this mode of reflection or thematising presupposes or is founded on being-in-the-world in an absorbed way as the everyday way of being of Dasein.

Disclosing then, is "this skilful dealing with ways of being of entities in whole situations", as Dreyfus puts it.[9] The notion of Dasein as a being that is in a situation is at the heart of the concept of Befindlichkeit. Frequently translated as state-of-mind, or 'being in a mood', Gendlin, in his paper on Heidegger's concept, says that the German word has three important connotations that are not easily translatable. This three-in-one structure includes "the reflexivity of finding oneself; feeling and being situated, donating how we sense ourselves in situations."[10] In the Irish language, the concept is captured by the phrase, Cen chaoi bhfuil tu, used colloquially in English in the phrase 'what way are you' when inquiring about how someone is faring in a particular situation. Befindlichkeit then implies being-in-the world, with others. As Gendlin says in the paper cited, "a mood is not internal, it is this living in the world. We sense how we find ourselves and we find ourselves in situations".

We are not isolated subjects relating to isolated objects but rather beings in situations. Dasein, we can say, is not just 'being-in', but 'being-its-there' in a spatial 'clearing' or situation as outlined by Dreyfus.[11] Spatiality implies the individual Dasein in a particular place or situation, the world, as well as the 'they' or other people who share our everyday practices. Dasein is open to situations because, as we have seen, its being is an issue for it; this tendency Heidegger defines as care and in care, he says, "is grounded the full disclosedness of the 'there'.[12] This is why Dreyfus translates Befindlichkeit as 'affectedness' in an attempt to show this aspect of 'being an issue for it'. 'Mood' is one of the ways that Dasein shows its affectedness — mood is what Heidegger calls 'the attunement of affectedness' (para 137).

Befindlichkeit, or affectedness, along with the interrelated concepts of understanding and falling constitute how situations are structured for Dasein. Gendlin points out the non-linear, temporal structure inherent in the concept when he says, " it has a special power. It brings the being-here before itself, it finds itself... A special time relation is generated here. By going back to retrieve oneself, one goes forward authentically" [from where we are][13]. Past, present and future are all involved 'at the same time'.

Taking affectedness and its moods, Dreyfus says that these "cannot be properly described as fleeting private feeling projected upon the world, but must be understood as specifications of a dimension of existence, i.e. of affectedness as a way of being in the world".[14] But if moods are not subjective states, neither can they be reduced to some kind of observed objective behaviour; they do not influence simply what we do, but how things show up or are disclosed for us; they cannot be divorced from the situation we are in. Furthermore, Dreyfus points out, I can only have the sort of moods one can have in my particular culture; moods depend on the norms of the one. In describing how cultures have long standing sensibilities where in one culture "things show up as occasions for celebrating the sacred, while in another everything shows up as a threat to survival", [15] I am reminded of a trip to India and visiting the temple of the Jain sect while a liturgical celebration was in progress. Jainism is a religion that is unfamiliar to me. But it was clear that from the whole mood that could be sensed as I entered the place that a ritual of deep significance was going on. I did not need to be familiar with the belief system or theology of the sect to understand that this was a ritual of deep significance to those who were participating; that sense of significance was 'in the air' and deserved respect from all those present, including the visitors. Perhaps that was why it was shocking to me to see some tourists interrupt the ritual by walking right through the crowd circling the centrepiece, talking and taking photographs — how could they have not registered the mood, I wondered, when it was permeating the whole scene.

A mood, Heidegger says, "makes manifest 'how one is and how one is faring'. In this 'how one is' having a mood brings Being to its "there" -to its situation in the world. This does not mean, he goes on, that how one is in one's moods is necessarily disclosed in the sense of "to be known as this sort of thing"; on the contrary it simply means that we are always in a mood (not in negative sense of 'moody' however) and that, "Dasein, for the most part evades the Being which is disclosed in the mood." [16] This pervasiveness of mood shows the 'thrownness' of Dasein. In mood, Dasein is "disclosed to itself prior to all cognitions and volition and beyond their range of disclosure."[17]

Moods then provide the background against which specific events affect us; they are the background for intentionality which is an 'originary transcendence' — the latter conveying the sense of already-thereness of the world we are already in, not one constituted by a separate consciousness. A particular mood, such as fear, or boredom, colours how events or situations show up for us; such moods also 'close off' other possibilities. In a mood of boredom, everything seems boring, no matter how riveting it might be in other situations as any teenager will tell you. We encounter things 'as' something — as interesting, intriguing, disgusting. They matter to us. Mood then is, as Dreyfus puts it, "a reflection from the world, rather than introspection, [and] is the way we find ourselves."[18] They open up the world in a particular way; they are not subjective feelings which come from myself as an isolated subject: they come from my interaction in the situation I am in the particular culture I am in which is regulated by the norms of the 'they' or 'one'.

It is this realisation that, as Dreyfus, says, " in order to make sense of itself, [Dasein] must already dwell in the meanings given by the one"[19] that creates the mood Heidegger refers to as anxiety. Dasein, whose being is an issue for it and to whom the situation it finds itself in matters, is dependent not on itself for its meaning, but on the public norm at any one time. In itself, this is not necessarily a cause for 'anxiety' in a negative sense as one might think, but what anxiety does, Heidegger says, is "to bring Dasein face to face with its world as world, and thus bring it face to face with itself as being-in-the world."[20] It thus brings Dasein back from being immersed irrevocably — or 'fallen' in the 'they' world. This 'falling' is the third facet of Dasein's structure.

Anxiety also brings Dasein face-to-face with its own death. But, when Dasein can live with this fact, and instead of fleeing anxiety through being lost in distractions and in the 'banality' of the 'they', then there is the possibility of 'authentic' action in the world even if are actions are the ones which the world defines. Authentic action is not therefore what one might describe as simply 'doing one's own thing' in some capricious way; it is still circumscribed by the possibilities available, but when these are taken in a 'resolute' manner, then Dasein has the possibility of an authentic life even if this is only grounded in the passing norms of a particular culture that Dasein finds itself in.

It is what Heidegger calls our 'understanding' that throws out these possibilities; it gives us the know-how, the 'coping skills' as Dreyfus calls them; the capacity to project ourselves in appropriate ways in situations that matter to us or affect us. It show us which actions are doable or appropriate, it opens us these kinds of possibilities with the room to manoeuvre in the situations we are in. As Mulhall points out, "understanding always has only a relative autonomy... the freedom to actualise a given existential possibility is and must be shaped by the concrete situation and the cultural backgrounds (and their respective prevailing moods) within which the decision is taken and these factors are largely beyond the control of the individual concerned."[21] It is only when our everyday activities are disrupted that we engage in 'interpretation' — albeit from within our particular shared practices — about events or objects that then become a matter of our explicit concern.

Heidegger's laying bare of some of the essential structures of Dasein (there are others, such as language, which are not dealt with in this paper) shows how difficult it is to effect change within a particular culture. The room for manoeuvre is tight given the pervasiveness of the norms of the 'they', the absorption of Dasein in everyday activities and the reliance on the mood of anxiety to bring Dasein back to itself and the opening of new possibilities that this might allow. But, as we have also seen Heidegger's concept of Befindlichkeit offers us the possibility that when we are aware of our moods, they offer the possibility of bringing us 'back to ourselves' and it is from this position that change can happen. It is interesting to find out if French people were aware of what seemed to me like a very evident 'sullen' mood hung around the metro and backstreets of Paris on a recent holiday trip there before the riots erupted a short time later. Perhaps any such awareness might have led people to anticipate what might happen, or at least ask some more searching questions about what such a mood might mean before it showed itself in more sinister ways.

Select Bibliography

Carman, Taylor, Authenticity, Barnard College US, 2004 Cavalier, R Introduction to Heidegger's Work, Carnegie Mellon University, 2004 Dreyfus, H Commentary on Being and Time MIT Press Cambridge, 1991 Gendlin, E, Befindhichkeit: Heidegger and the Philosophy of Psychology, Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry Vol Xvi Nos 1,2,3, 1978-1979 Heidegger, Martin, Being and Time (Trans: Macquarrie & Robinson) Blackwell, Oxford, 1962 Kearney, R. Modern Movements in European Philosophy, Manchester University Press 1986 Kenny, A (Ed), The Oxford History of Western Philosophy Oxford, 2000 Moran, Dermot, Introduction to Phenomenology, Routledge, 2000 Mulhall, Stephen, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Heidegger and Being and Time, Routledge, London 1996 Prauss, Gerold Knowing and Doing in Heidegger's Being and Time (Trans: Steiner and Turner) Humanity Books, New York 1999 Scruton, R, A Short History of Modern Philosophy Routledge, 2002


1. Mulhall, S Heidegger and Being and Time, Routledge, London 1996

2. Heidegger, Martin, Being and Time para 11 p 31

3. Ibid para 41-42 p 67

4. Ibid para15 p 36

5. Dreyfus, H Commentary on Being and Time MIT Press Cambridge, 1991 p 89

6. Heidegger, Martin, Being and Time (Trans: Macquarrie & Robinson) Blackwell, Oxford, 1962 para 87 p120-121

7. Ibid para 76 p 107

8. Dreyfus, H Commentary on Being and Time MIT Press Cambridge, 1991 p 163

9. Ibid p106

10. Gendlin, E, Befindhichkeit: Heidegger and the Philosophy of Psychology, Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry Vol Xvi Nos 1,2,3, 1978-1979

11. Dreyfus, H Commentary on Being and Time MIT Press Cambridge, 1991 p 163-164

12. Heidegger opus cit para 350 p 401-402

13. Gendlin, opus cit

14. Dreyfus, opus cit p 172

15. Ibid p 172

16. Heidegger opus cit para 134 p 173-174

17. Ibid para 136 p 173

18. Dreyfus, opus cit p 174

19. Ibid p 177

20. Heidegger, opus cit para 188 p 233

21. Mulhall, opus cit p 84