Philosophers and their Animals No.2: Martin Heidegger

Next up in the series of philosophers and their animals in 500(ish) words or less . . .

Via the work of biologist Hans Driesch and ethologist Jakob von Uexküll, Heidegger argues in the second part of The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics that nonhuman animals are excluded from the worlding of world as a necessary result of their “captivation [Benommenheit],” which confines them instead within an environment (239). In other words, as far as Heidegger’s animal is concerned, there can be neither anything beyond, nor any differentiation within, the “disinhibiting ring” which marks the absolute limit of her environmental capture. As a result of this essential undifferentiated absorption [Eingenommenheit], an animal can therefore never “have” her own captivation, that is, she can never apprehend her own capture within a set. Because of this, concludes Heidegger, she is therefore “poor-in-world [weltarm].”

More importantly for Heidegger, however, is that this conclusion concerning the way of animals provides the scenery against which we might thenceforth disclose the essence of the human: “In the end our … analysis of captivation as the essence of animality provides as it were a suitable background against which the essence of humanity can now be set off” (282). It would seem then, that the analysis of “the animal’s” way of being is undertaken solely in order that the proper essence of “the human” can be subsequently disclosed through the negation of its negation, that is, through the dialectical disclosing of the essence of world.

The condition of possibility of world for Heidegger, as that which is withheld from nonhuman animals, is the “having” of captivation as such, that is, the apprehension of the undisconcealedness of Being as undisconcealedness (i.e., of the withdrawal of Being). In other words, the human “is” only in this having of “the ‘as’-structure [die ‘als’-Struktur],” which is the condition of the logos. This is because it is only in having the “as” that the human is given to apprehend being as beings—the wonder that beings are which is the worlding of world—and thus, beyond the captivation of the disinhibiting ring, to perceive itself as an individuated being. This apprehension of ontological difference is, moreover, nothing less than the apprehension of finitude, of the possibility of impossibility, and thus at once the condition of the Dasein’s existential projection of its ownmost being-toward-death [eigenst Sein zum Tode].

We can thus see how, in negating the ringed animal as without the revelation of relation and thus poor-in-world, Heidegger is thus free to posit the properly Dasein as that which “is” nearest to Being, and thus reserve for it alone the possibility of authentic existence. It is here then, with the capacity to apprehend something as something, that Heidegger draws the abyssal line between the human-Dasein and the animal, one which permits neither the possibility of a human animal nor that of a nonhuman Dasein.

In my essay “Animals in Looking-Glass World” from which this summary is extracted (available at, I argue–against the dialectical reading–that Heidegger’s existential analytic does break with the traditional metaphysical configurations of the human-animal relation. However, insofar as nonhuman animals are unthinkingly reinscribed as essentially undying, his philosophy nonetheless remains ultimately enclosed within a “metaphysical anthropocentrism” (in Matthew Calarco’s phrase) which, alongside traditional metaphysics, underwrites the industrialised holocaust of animals under the sign of Gestell.

Coming up, Derrida and his animals (early).


About Richard Iveson

Postdoctoral Research Fellow I have a PhD from Goldsmiths College, University of London; my teaching and research interests include animal studies; Continental philosophy; posthumanism; cultural studies; biotechnology and cyberculture; post-Marxism. Books; Being and Not Being: On Posthuman Temporarily (London & Washington: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), forthcoming. Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter with Animals ( London: Pavement Books, 2014). View all posts by Richard Iveson

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