Bowes & Bowes, London, 1957
Try if you can
Uncover weedgrown pathways,
Some recondite relation
Of God and man.
IV. The Kantian Heritage
We have been looking, so far, at Heidegger the existentialist. But Heidegger is an ontologist. He has, on his own account, but one theme: the quest for Being. Within this one seeking, Sein und Zeit was only trying, in the words of a disciple, to clear a space in order to face the infinite question of Being with the finite powers of man.  If, then, we are to interpret Heidegger’s work as a whole, or even Sein und Zeit in any relation to what its author intended, we have to face, more directly than we have done so far, the problem of his ontology and what it means. This is a difficult task. I have mentioned earlier the linguistic obstacles to following out Heidegger’s arguments in detail. But there is, for the present writer, still another problem. The later writing, in its main tenor, turns aside, as we said at the outset, from finitude to Being: Being
1 M. Muller, Existenzphilosophie im geistigen Leben der Gegenwart, Hamburg: F. H. Kerle Verlag, 1945, p. 54.
which withholds itself from or gives itself to us, hides or illumines: Being before whose inexhaustible and elusive nature the sharp, harsh contours of my precarious existence are blurred and lost. In the course of this ‘conversion’, the concepts centring in time and finitude which were so vivid and emphatic in Sein und Zeit, and from which its influence flowed, fade into a shadowy background. Now this may be for Heidegger a reasonable change of stress. But if one has felt the power of the earlier formulations, as many have, without really taking to heart the ontological frame in which, admittedly, they were always lodged, it is a very hard change to follow. The one truth, the one convincing contact with reality seems lost, and we find ourselves wandering on what Heidegger calls his ‘thought paths’ in a formless mist.
The best way I have found to deal with this difficulty is to examine, as a transitional work, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, a study published by Heidegger in 1929 in connection with the programme for the projected second part of Sein und Zeit. This book forms a good taking-off place from which to look both ways: back to Sein und Zeit and ahead to the new treatment of Being. It is Heidegger’s most lucid text, restating with comparative clarity the ontological theme of the earlier book. It anticipates also in briefer form the conclusion of the Introduction to Metaphysics. And finally, it is of interest both for what it says about Kant and for what it reveals, indirectly, about Heidegger’s
thought in relation to Kant and the history of philosophy since Kant.
The ‘Kant-book’, as it is usually called, is an analysis of the Critique of Pure Reason in relation to what Heidegger calls the problem of fundamental ontology. He presents three principal theses about the Critique: (1) that its central theme is the finitude of man; (2) that this theme is grounded in Kant’s conception of the nature of our minds as (a) essentially temporal and (b) essentially active or creative; (3) that in preparing the Second Edition Kant turned back from his deepest insight to rely more heavily on the stable, but deadening framework of logic. From this analysis Heidegger proceeds to the enunciation of a programme for fundamental ontology: in effect an apologia for Sein und Zeit, together with a hint of the work that lies ahead.
Heidegger’s interpretation of Kant, like all his historical exegesis, is highly coloured by preoccupation with the needs of his own thought. In fact Professor Löwith cites this book as an arch example of the irresponsible and egocentric use of texts for which Heidegger is rightly notorious.  Yet there is something to be learned from all three theses. The second in particular constitutes, or at any rate implies, an important insight into the structure of the Critique of Pure Reason.
There has been much argument about the role
1. Löwith, op. cit., p. 80.
of space and time in Kant. In the first major division of the Critique, the Aesthetic, where he is considering the purely passive aspect of the mind - the way experience comes to us - Kant finds that space and time are the two media in which appearances appear. He calls them the forms of the outer and inner sense respectively. In the second part of the Critique, the Analytic, he is dealing with the active aspect of mind: that is, with the leading questions which, in all our experience of things, we have always already put to nature and to which, in Kant’s view, we have given definite and unequivocal answers. In other words, experience does not simply come to us, it comes interpreted by our active categorizing. The objective, ordered experience we in fact do have could not be objective, could not be ordered, could not, therefore, be experience, Kant believes, if this were not so. Our minds have laid down laws for nature within which alone we can make sense of our experience - understand, manipulate, even perceive it in an orderly and intelligible way. Now the argument by which Kant proves this most fundamental thesis of his theory of knowledge bears an intimate and unique relation to time. He starts with subjective time: what would now be called, perhaps, a kind of minimal, sensory stream of consciousness - just the flow of one datum after another; and he proves that even this thin, ghostly relic of our full-bodied world presupposes the ordering and unifying activity of mind. The rules for such unification, the formal concepts by which the mind orders
its experience, are what Kant calls categories, such as substance, cause, and so on.
But concepts in themselves, as Kant had declared at the outset of the Critique, are empty. The activity of abstract thought alone can never give them content, any more than, on the other side, the passive, temporal flow of ‘givens’ could order itself, without such activity, into an intelligible world.
How are these two disparate sides of experience united? How do the empty categories actually make contact with the factual but meaningless flow of sensory data? Here, again, to account for the ordered experience we actually do have, we must presuppose a power of the mind to make it ordered: not, however, a power of abstract thought simply, but of imagination. It is the faculty which Kant calls ‘productive imagination’ that effects this all-important mediation; and it does so, again, in reference to the temporal relations from which the argument began. The inner stream-of-consciousness time is transformed, by imaginative creation, into stable and homogeneous temporal patterns; and by the same act the empty concepts of substance or cause receive imaginative, or better, imaginable content. So by this one, two-sided metamorphosis, imagination creates - or rather has always already created - uniform temporal patterns corresponding to each category, in terms of which our formal legislation for experience becomes applicable to its sensuous content. So the category of substance becomes
permanence, cause becomes uniform temporal succession, and so on.
Now it has seemed to at least one very eminent Kant scholar strange that this whole argument should be grounded in time, not in space and time.  For has not Kant said in the first division of the Critique of Pure Reason that these two are the forms of all our perceptions? When he is analysing the presuppositions of all our experience, which in the main is surely spatio-temporal; when, moreover, he is concerned in particular with the presuppositions of physical science, which has certainly to do with relations in space, why concentrate exclusively on time? This is where Heidegger’s Kant-book has something to say that is all-important for the study of the Critique of Pure Reason. We cannot, Heidegger says, understand the first stage of Kant’s argument, the Aesthetic, until we have read the whole of the succeeding proof and turned back to it again. One may, I think, elaborate on this remark as follows. When Kant is dealing with the passive aspect of mind, as he is at the start, he finds time and space occurring alongside one another as sensuous media. But later, when he is considering the active role of the mind in shaping and creating experience, he moves from subjective awareness, which is temporal, through the imaginative construction of temporal frameworks, such as succession and permanence, to the establishment of a full-blooded objective world in space and time. Thus the work of the productive
1. H. J. Paton, Kant’s Metaphysic of Experience, London, 1936.
imagination, in transforming the empty categories into sensuous patterns, must be limited to time. Space is in fact reintroduced in the next and closing stage of the argument, in reference to ‘the ground of the possibility of the objects of experience’. It is only with objects that space re-enters the picture. The whole dynamic of the argument turns, as Heidegger rightly maintains, on the concept of time, and in particular on the mediating power of imagination in relation to time. Moreover, as Heidegger is also right in maintaining, it is a progressive argument: as Caird, the neo-Hegelian critic, saw it, a dialectical argument. It is too easy, in view of the cumbersome systematic apparatus of the Kantian Critiques, to forget this; and to have reminded us of it, as Heidegger has done in the Kant-book, is a signal service to philosophical scholarship.
In order to acknowledge this service, however, I have gone far afield from Heidegger’s own ontology and even from the mood of his argument on Kant. For despite his genuine insight into the structure of Kant’s greatest work, it must be admitted that the ‘time’ and the ‘creative imagination’ Heidegger finds in the Critique of Pure Reason are in large part grafts from his own thought. It is but too patently his own ‘Zeitlichkeit’, his own ‘Entwurf’, the creativity of the will projecting its own world, that he has read back into Kant. Of the smoothly flowing, scientific time of the critical philosophy he has made an inward, existential temporality; and the productive imagination, which is limited by
Kant to a purely theoretical task, he identifies, in a most unjustifiable way, with the whole of human spontaneity: with the will of the Practical Reason itself. This is at odds, as I hope we shall see shortly, with the whole purpose and scope of Kant’s philosophizing.
The same kind of criticism holds of Heidegger’s other theses. There is something right, yet something wrong and twisted about each of them. To return to the first thesis: the Critique of Pure Reason, Heidegger says, is, like his own fundamental ontology, concerned primarily with the finitude of man. This is true, of course, in an obvious way, insofar as Kant’s phenomenalism is grounded in an awareness of the restricted nature of our human powers of knowing. But the finitude of man in Kant is the finitude of a created being in a created universe, not the more intensely felt finitude of a being cast strangely into an absurdly given world to face there the terror of his own non-being.
Kant said in his lectures on anthropology that philosophy asks four questions:
1. What can I know?
2. What ought I to do?
3. What may I hope?
4. What is man?
the fourth being a summation of the other three. Heidegger relies heavily on this Kantian formulation, but with a characteristic twist. He points out, truly enough, that for Kant the ‘metaphysics of
metaphysics’ (as Kant himself described his subject in a letter to his friend Herz) was equivalent to the study of man. But that the study of man is the study of finitude, Heidegger proves, further, by a very strange analysis of the first three questions. The three auxiliary verbs können (can), sollen (ought), and dürfen (may), he says, all imply finitude. So they do. Of God, of an Infinite or Archetypal Intellect, as Kant would say, one could not assert that He ought or He may. The case of ‘können may not be so obvious; yet if infinite power is necessarily actual, one could not say either ‘He can’, but only ‘He does’. So far so good. But why three questions? What is the difference between them? To see this we must look not only at ‘können’, ‘sollen’, and ‘dürfen’, but at the three principal verbs, wissen (know), tun (do), hoffen (hope). These Heidegger entirely ignores. Yet what is basic for the critical philosophy is precisely the relation, in our human finitude, between our powers of knowing, our obligation to act and our privilege of hoping. It is in their dependence on Christian hope that knowing and doing, in Kant, are both united and kept apart. Because as creatures we are both flesh and spirit, our knowing is limited by the bonds of sense. Because we are spirit as well as flesh, our doing can rise to rightness and aspire to sanctity. In fact, it is precisely by considering the three questions, and the tension, balance and harmony that unite them, that we can see how finitude in the Kantian Enlightenment differed, because of its religious ground, from
finitude in the century of existentialism and despair.
In the critical philosophy the knowledge of nature has been confined to appearances. We know, not things in themselves, but the way in which they appear to us through the schematizing media of time and space. This knowledge is general, but phenomenal only, and therefore partial. We can know nature neither as a secret substratum nor as a grand totality. In this sense our finitude is apparent in the answer to the question: what can I know? But then alongside the ‘starry heavens above us’ there is Kant’s other object of reverence: the moral law within - the good will, acting out of respect for the law which its own freedom imposes on it. It is this moral self which we know not as appearance merely but as it really is. But we know it only practically, in and through the experience of duty in its struggle against passion and interest - and it is only the moral self that we thus know, not Descartes’ thinking substance with all its medieval faculties intact. Thus, in contrast with earlier cosmologies, matter and mind, though still co-ordinated in one system of reason, are each reduced: one from reality to appearance, the other from the whole substantial self, judging, feeling and willing, to the active will, the moral agency only. And our finitude appears too, though in a different aspect, in the answer to the question: What ought I to do?
Now both the stability and the inner tension of this dual structure are theologically guaranteed.
God made us as flesh and spirit: as sensuous beings we must, on one side of our nature, perceive reality through the media of time and space, and our active categorizing is confined to the manipulation of things as they appear in these two perceptive forms. On the other side, as free beings, we know the right and our duty to conform to it. And corresponding to these two functions of our minds is a double guarantee, not often explicitly expressed, but on which the stability and unity of Kantian reason entirely depend. On the one hand, the universality and permanence of the categories through which we interpret nature are assured by the fact that God made Adam and all his descendants - or perhaps better Euclid and all his descendants - to think in this way and no other. On the other side, the moral law, though said to be independent, is nevertheless given security through the theological postulates of God and immortality which are invoked in its support: i.e. through the answer to the third question, What may I hope? And it is this question also, bridging the gulf between the first and second, between our sensuous and our spiritual nature, that enables Kant to conceive of the fourth question: What is man? in its totality.
Kant’s four questions, looked at in this way, suggest also the transition from the Kantian situation to our own, and the reason why, in the contemporary situation, Sein und Zeit should have had the influence it did. The third question is no longer a common subject for philosophical discussion; it is hard to grasp even what Kant meant by it. And
the wholeness of the fourth question has suffered accordingly. Philosophy has tended to split into two camps, one rising from an analytical interest in knowledge, Kant’s first question; the other from a primarily moral interest, Kant’s second question. In each case the Kantian inheritance is basic; but in each case the Kantian critique, which implied a limitation of traditional ontology, is narrowed further still. On the theoretical side, the systematic knowledge of appearances, deprived of the twin supports of Euclid and the Book of Genesis, narrows to the scope allowed by contemporary empiricism - to the apprehension of sensory phenomena organized by linguistic usage. Modern analytical philosophy is the Critique of Pure Reason confined in its scope and shaken in its sense of permanence by non-Euclidean geometry and agnosticism. So, for example, when philosophers trained in this tradition prepare to reconsider the possibility of metaphysical thinking, it is to Kant’s criticism that they return as their starting point. But on the other side, the philosophy of practical reason, the stable order of the moral law, becomes, when deprived of its theological supports, the record of the individual struggling to live morally without such support. This is the leit-motjf of existential philosophy. For the existentialist, like Kant, views man as nature and more than nature: but each man, not generically and comfortingly all the sons of Adam or Euclid - each man in his own unique, finite, final situation, for whom the generic is not comfort but betrayal - each man faced with the
task of becoming what he might be in this ‘world he never made’. So we have in our time on the one hand a reversion to Hume, whom Kant thought he had refuted - we have, in other words, the search for objectivity in appearance; and on the other we have the search for actuality and significance in the will. Each extreme, of course, presents itself as a totality. Existentialism offers an interpretation of ‘world’ through the medium of personal existence. And the analytical or empirical school attempts to interpret morals with ‘scientific objectivity’. Yet each has only a fragment of a philosophy to work with. Each is a limiting position which is unable to illuminate further the range and variety of experience which it is the philosopher’s business to illuminate.
I have dealt with two of Heidegger’s three theses about Kant. His third point sheds light also, indirectly, on the same historical situation. There is, he holds, a peculiar tension between the dynamic of Kant’s argument and the rigid logical structure in which it is housed. His principal contention is that Kant faced in the Transcendental Imagination a great unknown which would, one infers, have led him on to Sein und Zeit if he had dared to pursue it, but from which in the Second Edition he had already turned back. This historical thesis is very feebly supported. There is little evidence of such a radical alteration in Kant’s position between the first and second editions; and if he had altered radically his conception of imagination and its role, he would surely have rewritten the section on
imagination, the Schematism, which stands unchanged.  But, again, the tension Heidegger delineates between the spontaneity of mind as making rules for nature and the fixity of the intellectual framework it creates is characteristic precisely of the created mind as Kant believed it functioned. It is not for Kant, but for us who are no longer ‘enlightened’, that the dynamic of the mind creating the meaning of its world brings that mind to dread and despair. The contradiction between this dizzying experience and the validation of a stable logic lies, not in Kant’s own thought, but in the later destiny of the Kantian inheritance. Looking back from our point of reference we may - and from the point of view of Sein und Zeit we must - see an argument that points two ways: to a complex but dead and mechanical logical framework, or to creativity - and the risk of nothingness. For Kant
1. Heidegger’s evidence consists principally in the fact that Kant altered in the second edition the two chief passages in which the Transcendental Imagination had been counted as a separate function of the mind. The second, A 115, Heidegger admits, disappeared with the revision of the Transcendental Deduction as a whole; but it seems to me clear that the first, A 94, which also referred to the three syntheses of the Transcendental Deduction, had to be dropped in connection with the same revision. Heidegger mentions also a third emendation: Kant in his personal copy of the Critique changed the reference to imagination as ‘eine unentbehrliche Funktion der Seele’ to read ‘des Verstandes’. But this may easily have been simply the result of Kant’s dislike of the general and uncritical term ‘soul’. It is striking, as against this, that he left unaltered the passage on the Schematism as ‘a hidden art in the depths of the human soul’. (A 141, B 181) What is definitive, in any case, is that he did not revise the Schematism at all.
these two directions, both of them essentially, and within well-defined limits, belonged to the created nature of the human intellect. Yet to describe the tension between them as effectively as Heidegger has done is to shed new and important light on the critical philosophy itself, and to illuminate also our relation to it. It is to suggest how and why Kant’s four questions should, in our time, have fallen apart from one another, why there should be in the residue of the Kantian tradition a philosophy of arrogance or a philosophy of despair but not a philosophy of hope. 
This view of the destiny of Kantian criticism, and of the historical role of Sein und Zeit represents, however, from Heidegger’s point of view, a total misconception. What he meant to show in the Kant-book was his own position as heir of Kant, not through a further narrowing of Kant’s scope, but through the restoration of fundamental ontology to its proper status. Kant, he suggests, had been on the track of this, but had turned back from the ‘unknown’ which threatened to overturn the supremacy of logic. Heidegger’s programme is to pursue more unflinchingly this central ontological goal: to come to a conceptual grasp of Being through study of what Kant envisaged only as an ‘unknown root’ of our mental powers: of imagina-
1. For the theistic ground of Kant’s thought, see G. Kruger, Phiosophie und Moral in der Kantischen Kritik, Tubingen, 1931. Kant’s doctrine of time in the Heidegger Festschrzft of 1950.
tion, that is, of human creativity in its finite, temporal nature. It is this programme which Heidegger proceeds to outline in the later sections of the Kant-book.
How, through studying finitude, are we to understand Being? Our search is not for the essentials of human nature, let alone for any principles of ethical or practical bearing. Our search is the quest for Being: ‘die Seinsfrage’. We are surrounded by things, things that are, and we ask what makes them be: that is, we ask about their Being:
In the question, what the things that are are as such, we are asking what it is in general that determines the things that are to be the things that are. We call this the Being of the things that are and the quest for the quest for Being. 
This is Heidegger’s theme: his one theme from first to last. But how is it related to human being and the problem of man’s finitude?
In asking about Being we are looking for the determining principle that makes things be - that is, we must ‘know it, explain it as this and this, conceive it’.  But a concept of Being (Begriff des Seins)
1. Kant und dos Problem d. Met., p. 213.
2. loc. cit.; ‘Dieses Bestimmende soll im Wie seines Bestimmens erkannt, als das und das ausgelegt, d.h. begriffen werden.’
will be possible only if in some inarticulate but essential way we already understand, not only particular things, but the very Being we seek. In fact, without some such initial understanding of the Being that makes things be we could not grasp even the particular things, far less seek a true, conceptual grasp of that Being itself. Therefore, the springboard of the ‘Seinsfrage’ is ‘das Seinsverständnis’ - that understanding of Being which it is characteristic of human being already to possess:
Thus in the question [Greek not reproduced] (what are the things that are) there lies the deeper question: what is the meaning of the Being which is in this question already understood? 
In asking about Being, then, we are seeking to grasp formally and conceptually what ‘as human beings we already and always understand’: ‘The quest for Being as the possibility of the concept of Being arises in its turn from the preconceptual understanding of Being’. 
In other words, to understand Being we must
1. loc. cit.
2. Kant und das Problem d. Met., p. 216: …
understand our understanding of Being. But this understanding is, for Heidegger, the very deepest root of our finitude. All my handling of things, all my speaking expresses an understanding of Being:
In every enunciation of a sentence, for example, ‘today is a holiday’, we understand the ‘is’ and therewith something like Being. 
Yet this understanding is by no means a clear conceptual grasp of Being. What is more, through it I betray, not, as would seem at first sight, my power over the things around me: but, conversely, my dependence on them. For I am not master of the things which, and through which, I understand. They confront me, and before them my power of understanding becomes a need. To fulfil this need is essential to me - that is the sort of being (Seiendes) I am. Yet in fulfilling it, dependent though I am on the things to which it is directed, I project myself toward them, become myself through them, and so at the same time, Heidegger says, let them be (sein lassen).  So, on the one hand, my Being as human being, as personal existence (Existenz) is ‘as mode of Being in itself finitude,
1. Kant und das Problem d. Met., p. 217.
2. ibid., p. 218: …
and as such possible only on the ground of the understanding of Being’;  and conversely, ‘something like Being can and must be found only where finitude has taken on the mode of personal existence’. 
So, we see, the quest for Being and the quest for human being are one and the same. The primary task of metaphysics necessarily becomes the task of understanding the being who asks about Being. This is the programme of a ‘fundamental ontology’, which must move from Being to finitude as the ground of human being, and to time as the ground of this ground. This programme Heidegger proceeds to sketch in an apologia for Sein und Zeit, emphasizing its purely ontological theme.
First, ‘Alltaglichkeit’, everyday existence, is, when ‘looked at exclusively from the point of view of fundamental ontology’,  ‘the mode of Being... which is in its essence designed to hold down human being and its understanding of Being, i.e. its original finitude, in forgetfulness’.  Thus, Heidegger protests:
1. Kant und dat Problem d. Met., p. 219: …
2. loc. cit., …
3. ibid., p. 224-5.
4. ibid., p. 224.
The existential analysis of everyday existence is not meant to describe how we handle a knife and fork. It is meant to show that and how the transcendence of human being - Being-in-the-world - lies at the basis of all dealings with the things that are, a dealing which seems to take it for granted that there are only the things that are. With this transcendence there occurs, although hidden and for the most part indeterminate, the projection of the Being of the things that are as such, in such a way that this Being is revealed in the first instance and for the most part as unanalysed and yet as intelligible on the whole. Thus the difference between Being and the things that are, as such, remains hidden. Man himself appears as one thing that is among the rest of the things.
The unique disposition of dread, also, which forms the bridge from forfeiture to authentic ex-
1. Kant und dat Problem d. Met., p. 225.
istence, is a purely ontological concept, taking human being from the forgetfulness of Being to the confrontation with Nothing which alone can wrest it from its distracted state.  The analysis of authentic existence, likewise, in terms of time, is seen to be purely ontological. It is not because, as finite, we are ‘temporal’ beings, that Sein und Zeit is Sein und Zeit - but because all the way back to the Greeks ‘every battle for Being moves from the beginning in the horizon of time’.  The evidence for this is that the Greek [not reproduced] the really real, was the [not reproduced], the eternal, the forever real. And ‘forever’, Heidegger points out, is a temporal qualification. Being is that which is permanent, that which is always there. It is defined by what Heidegger calls ‘constancy in presence’. For this reason, and for this reason only, Heidegger insists, time was the basic concept of Sein und Zeit. Thus the ontological analysis of human being is, for Heidegger, a repetition (Wiederholung) in the existential sense, that is, an inner reliving of the traditional problem of metaphysics. Conscience, guilt, death, historicity, all appear in this framework, and subject to this aim. For if the central problem, ultimately, is the quest for Being, the direct approach to it must be preceded by the metaphysic of human being. The ‘transcendence’ of human being, the whole struc-
1. Kant und dat Problem d. Met., p. 228: …
2. ibid., p. 230: …
ture of Being-in-the-world must be raised out of its oblivion to explicit self-understanding, before the Being in which its Being is rooted can itself be explicitly sought for or conceived. But the aim, the method and the meaning of the whole enquiry, at every step and in every sentence, are directly and entirely ontological, from the beginning to the end. A single question, a single historical dilemma is expressed in everything Heidegger has written and is still writing. He concludes the Kant-book with a question which in his most recent works he still continues to ask:
Will the quest for Being, questionable as it is, press forth again in its elementary weight and scope?
1 Kant und dat Problem d. Met., p. 236.
Or have we already grown too much the dupes of organisation, of business, and of speed, to be able to be the friends of the essential, simple and steadfast - in which friendship alone we can achieve that turning to what is, as such, from which the question of the concept of Being - the basic question of philosophy - springs? Or for this too do we first need a reminder? And so let Aristotle speak: [Greek not repro (Metaphysics Z 1, 1028 b.)
I have been following in some detail the Kant-book’s account of its author’s basic programme, since it is, as I said at the start, by far the simplest and clearest account he has given. At the same time it seems to me at some crucial junctures demonstrably sophistical; and it may be well to mark these points before we go on to see how the programme has since developed.
First, and in general, there is a certain unreality (here and in Sein und Zeit) in talk about the analysis of human being as ontology. Either Sein und Zeit has illuminated what we in fact are, or it has illuminated nothing. If it is, admittedly, not a book of etiquette, neither is it in any but a quixotic sense metaphysics. Insofar as it makes sense it is what Sartre quite correctly calls philosophical anthropology: that is, reflection on the most essential nature of man. Man is, certainly, and man thinks about Being, certainly; but to think about man is not to think about Being as such.
This of course Heidegger denies. Other philosophies have become anthropologies: that is part of the illness of our time.  But his work is something else. Anthropological, psychological, ethical, epistemological analyses: all these are what he calls ontic, existentiell. His method and his matter are not of this kind. But let us ask once again, what can really be meant by the contrary of ‘ontic’ and ‘existentiell’. Only, I should think, a priori. What is ontic is based on what is, on experience. The ontological, from which proper ‘existential’ concepts spring, must then be independent of, prior to, particular factual existence: a priori. But what, in all honesty, can a writer mean when he talks about an a priori account of human being? Kant’s a priori is entirely intelligible, because it is discovered by asking what we must presuppose in order to account for the experience we do in fact have; and it is valid only to the limits of such experience. But Heidegger professes no such self-limiting method. This is simply human being analysed - where, how, for what?
It may be said that ‘ontology’ in Sein und Zeit in fact means phenomenology. Certainly Heidegger was at the time of writing that work still very much under the influence of his master Husserl, whom he has since denounced. And he did at the start of Sein und Zeit describe it as a phenomenological analysis of human being. But whether or no he was successful in attempting to follow Husserl’s method, the fact remains that phenomenology, according to
1. Vorträge und Aufsätze, p. 86.
his own account, is simply the method of dealing with the subject matter of ontology. The work is ontology. To that we must return.
What, then, is the ontology undertaken in Sein und Zeit? I can find no adequate answer. The concepts of world and forfeiture, of dread and resolve and finitude, all these are valid and fruitful concepts, just precisely because of and to the extent of their ontic import, because they bear on and illuminate our experience of men, of what they are and have been and will still be. One might say, perhaps, that if these concepts prove universally valid they become a priori: men would no longer be men if they ceased dying, dreading death, fleeing that dread in business and gossip. In the same way every universal statement, if accepted as universal, takes on a priori character. It becomes a presupposition of experience, rather than a generalization from it. But all such distinctions - a priori/a posteriori or ontological/ontic - are, where they are meaningful, distinctions of degree. There are indeed more and less general truths, more and less fundamental beliefs; but there are no truths, no beliefs, entirely unfounded in our living and thinking experience and entirely without bearing on it. If we can ever attain true universality - a kind of almost a priori - in our account of human nature, it must be by the simple method that Hobbes prescribed:
He that is to govern a whole nation, must read in himself, not this, or that particular man; but
man-kind: which though it is hard to do, harder than to learn any language, or Science; yet when I shall have set down my own reading orderly, and perspicuously, the pains left another, will be only to consider, if he also find not the same in himself. For this kind of doctrine admitteth no other demonstration. 
Apart, moreover, from my general objection, that the analysis of human being cannot properly be called ‘ontology’, I find myself unable at several particular points to accept Heidegger’s reasoning. For one thing, there is the relation between finitude and Being via the ‘Seinsverstandnis’. This seems to me doubly fallacious. First, our understanding of Being, which appears a great power in us, is turned into a want or a need. Now it is of course in fact the case that we depend on the Being we seek to understand; we did not make any of the natural things around us, including ourselves - we have to try to understand them. Such, if you will, is our finitude. But in Sein und Zeit, Verstehen, understanding, was equated with ‘Entwurf’, the projection of what lies ahead through our creative self-appropriation of an apparently alien world. It was our strength rather than our weakness. It seems in fact to be both. The odd thing is that when Heidegger moves between these two aspects of understanding he does it by a kind of trick, not by relating them within a full conception of understanding, in terms of
1 Hobbes, Leviathan, Introduction.
which they would both make sense. The reason for this, I believe, is - to put it in traditional language - that he lacks any theory of universals. He offers us no conception of the nature of generally valid concepts in reliance on which we could rationally anticipate and so far shape the future, nor in deviation from which we could judge our knowledge to be ignorance, our wealth a want. In short, Heidegger, ontologist or no, lacks the very concept which is basic, in some form or other, to every great ontology. Without this, every account of understanding is a trick.
But if the link from Understanding to Being is shaky, the step in the opposite direction is truly a plunge into the abyss. Not only, Heidegger says, is our understanding the mark of our finitude, but only where finitude is, can Being be. Only our finitude lets Being be. Surely the sophistry of this is too patent for comment. True, we find Being, we find it in the mould and fashion of our own projection, we shape, as Kant has taught us, our way of finding it. But it is a plunge into the most wildly irresponsible idealism to say that therefore we ‘let it be’, that something like Being can be only ‘where finitude has taken on existence’. The statement is verbally clear, even eloquent, but as far as meaning goes, it is mystification pure and simple.
Finally, there is once more a double fallacy in Heidegger’s closing argument on time and Being. First there is his usual sleight of hand with ground and consequent. Sein und Zeit dealt with time, he
says, not because we happen to be temporal creatures, marked by birth and death and a lifespan stretching between, but because it is in the nature of Being itself that every battle for it must take place in the horizon of time. This again, I submit, is pure mystification. If we were not in fact temporal creatures, temporal conscious creatures, facing and failing to face our dissolution, if we had not all somewhere in us the Ivan Ilyitch whom Tolstoi painted, if in short ‘we found not the same in ourselves’, Sein und Zeit would be not seventy or eighty or ninety but one hundred per cent nonsense. It is not one hundred per cent nonsense precisely because we are conscious time-bound beings and because Heidegger once understood and expressed something about us that is true.
Such ground-consequent reversal, however, is so common a device in Heidegger as to be almost a convention. The other side of the closing argument is more startling. Every battle for Being, we are told, has been fought from the beginning in the horizon of time. Witness: what? The fact that the Greeks called the really real, the eternal, that which always is. One hardly knows how to comment on this. For surely it is the contrast with time, with change, with becoming, that demands a concept of Being as stable, as unchanging, as ‘forever’. One can understand, though one may not like it, the need to conceive of time, in itself so elusive and unintelligible, as the image of eternity. But to conceive of eternity as a mode of time is in itself most strange, and stranger
still, as Heidegger takes it, as an interpretation of Greek thought. In fact, when one considers that the formula he gives for Being is the formula he is later to elaborate in the Introduction to Metaphysics, and that the whole nexus of concepts centring in finitude is hence-forward as good as lost from view, one can only guess that this whole argument is an excuse of Heidegger to himself for leaving the theme of ‘Zeitlichkeit’ behind in order to turn, as he tries to do, to Being itself.
Let us proceed, then, at last, to see how he fares in this attempt.