Beyond the Tools of the Trade: Heidegger and the Intelligibility of Everyday Things

Southern Journal of Philosophy 53 (4):450-470 (2015)
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In everyday life, we constantly encounter and deal with useful things without pausing to inquire about the sources of their intelligibility. In Div. I of Being and Time, Heidegger undertakes just such an inquiry. According to a common reading of Heidegger's analysis, the intelligibility of our everyday encounters and dealings with useful things is ultimately constituted by practical self-understandings. In this paper, I argue that while such practical self-understandings may be sufficient to constitute the intelligibility of the tools and equipment specific to many practices, these “tools of the trade” are only a small portion of the things we encounter, use, and deal with on a daily basis. Practical self-understandings cannot similarly account for the intelligibility of the more mundane things—like toothbrushes and sidewalks—used in everyday life. I consider whether an anonymous self-understanding as “one,” “anyone,” or “no one in particular” —das Man—might play this intelligibility-constituting role. In examining this possibility, another type of self-understanding comes to light: cultural identities. I show that the cultural identities into which we are “thrown,” rather than practical identities or das Man, constitute the intelligibility of the abundance of mundane things that fill our everyday lives. Finally, I spell out how this finding bears on our understanding of Heidegger's notion of authenticity
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