Terminology in Section 7 of Being and Time

Section 7 of Being and Time is especially loaded with difficult terms, and to help you sort them out, I provide here an account of some of them.

Phenomenon, Semblance, and Appearance

Phenomenon: this is, of course, the "master term" for the entire section. MH defines it as "that which shows itself, the manifest" (p. 51). [You may notice that there's an extra, middle term in the German. More literally translated, the German reads: "that which shows itself, the self-showing, the manifest."] Basically, a phenomenon is anything that we experience, anything that we encounter or "take in" in the course of going about our business in the world.

Although something we see might be the first example of a phenomenon we come up with, it will be important to MH that phenomena are not limited to objects of perception, or even cognition more broadly. MH will devote a lot of attention to the way we "take in" or "encounter" things in pre-cognitive experience. He likes examples such this: as you come into the classroom, you may gently push the door aside without even realizing you're doing that, without even noticing the door. Still, you "took the door in" in your practical navigation of the environment, as is evidenced by the way you dealt with it intelligently, even if unawares. The door will count as a phenomenon, for it "showed itself" to your practical activity, even if not to your subjective, mental experience.

Semblance: A semblance is what "shows itself as something which it is not" (p. 51). So for example, if Cindy comes to the party dressed as Carol, she seems to be Carol, but isn't. She dissembles. Semblance is illusion and distortion.

Appearance: Something appears, in MH's language, when it does not show itself, but rather "announces" itself by way of something else that does show itself. That is, as MH says, appearance involves a "reference-relation" (p. 54): X appears by way of Y, if Y shows itself and in so doing refers to or indicates X, which does not show itself. The best example MH gives is a symptom of a disease. The pock marks show themselves and in so doing indicate the occurrence of a disease. Similarly, the wind shows itself and is so doing indicates the occurrence of a change in barometric pressure (some kind of a front, I suppose – I'm not too good on weather).

Note that appearance is not semblance. First, the pock marks do not dissemble; they do not show themselves as the disease. Instead, the pock marks show themselves as just what they are, pock marks. They refer to or indicate the disease. Second, the disease does not dissemble either; it does not show itself at all. Appearance is neither illusion nor distortion.

Mere appearance: MH further defines "mere appearance" as a special form of the appearance relation. If X does not show itself, but instead "emanates" or produces Y, which does show itself and which indicates the occurrence of X; and if X cannot ever in principle show itself; and if further Y bears no intelligible relation to the true nature of X; then we have a case of mere appearance. The symptoms of a disease bear an intelligible relation to the disease – the disease explains the symptoms. The wind bears an intelligible relation to the change in barometric pressure – again, the pressure explains the wind. On a certain old-fashioned way of reading Kant, what Kant calls "things in themselves" or "noumena" cause what he calls "appearances" or "phenomena," but since the things in themselves are neither spatial nor temporal, they are not anything like the appearances. Further we cannot experience things in themselves. Thus, the things in themselves "merely appear" by way of what Kant calls "appearances."

Just when you thought you got it: MH uses the term "appearance" to pick out not just the X that announces itself by way of the phenomenon Y, but also the "activity," as it were, in which X is engaged. That is, appearance" picks out both what appears and the business of appearing. Watch for this in the text and don't let it get you confused.

The Several Concepts of the Phenomenon

The formal concept of the phenomenon: MH uses this term to pick out the concept of the phenomenon, "when we leave indefinite which entities we consider as 'phenomena'" (p. 54). That is, the formal concept of the phenomenon abstracts away from or remains entirely neutral about which things are phenomena and which things aren't. So again, the formal concept of the phenomenon is a generic concept, covering all more specific concepts of types of phenomena. This becomes clearer by contrasting the formal concept of the phenomenon with:

The ordinary concept of the phenomenon: that which "is accessible through the empirical 'intuition' in, let's say, Kant's sense" (p. 54). That is, something is a phenomenon in the ordinary sense, if we experience it by means of the five senses. We may speak of "visual phenomena" or "auditory phenomena" in this sense.

The phenomenological concept of the phenomenon: MH argues that there is a distinctive sort of phenomenon, something that "is necessarily the theme whenever we exhibit something explicitly" (p. 59). Recall that last class I explained how in order to experience anything at all, we must have a "pre-understanding" of its being. Everything we encounter, we understand in terms of our implicit, practical mastery of its being. This means that being, as it were, pervades every phenomenon and makes it possible as a phenomenon. What I mean by saying that being "makes every phenomenon possible as a phenomenon" is simply that, e.g., a cat could not be manifest for us, if we did not have some kind of understanding of its being. The cat might be there (be "present-at-hand;" remember: we can't say "exist," since MH has reserved that for Dasein), but it could not show itself to us. Thus, being makes all phenomena possible as phenomena; it is necessarily pre-understood, whenever anything shows itself to us. It is, in MH's words, the "meaning and ground" of phenomena.

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