To begin our investigation, it’s necessary to say a few words on the metaphysics used. Philosophy is a system of metaphysics, which consists of ontology, phenomenology, teleology, ethical domains such as deontology and consequentialism (etc.), and so on down the line. Taking our ground from Heidegger, ontology is the investigation of Being and is the foundation of philosophy. Ontology is distinct from ontical beings and facts such as a rock or hammer and their physical properties. For Heidegger, Dasein’s mode of Being, that is, humans’ mode of Being, is a phenomenon called Being-in-the-world in which we take care of entities and the environment through readiness-to-hand.
Here are some terms we should become familiar with. Being-in-the-world is a unitary phenomenon characterized by a being who finds itself as being-in a “world”. Heidegger describes “world” as that in which Dasein consists. Being-in is a mode of Being characterized by familiarity or a “dwelling in”. Heidegger thinks that as Dasein, we are already in a mode of being-in; that is, familiar with or dwelling in, a “world”; that is, Dasein’s surrounding environment. This already being familiar with and dwelling in our world through taking care, Heidegger terms a mode of Being called readiness-to-hand. Through this mode of readiness-to-hand – this mode of familiarity with the world – we encounter equipment in our ways of taking care; that is, in our everyday dealings in the world. One encounters a hammer through its utility, and in using the hammer – in the average everyday way of utilizing the hammer – it withdraws from view. The hammer itself goes unnoticed in our unconscious usage of it. This withdrawing of equipment is known as circumspection. Heidegger thinks that for equipment to authentically be equipment, it must withdraw from our noticing in the ready-to-hand mode of Being. In all these cases we’re getting at an investigation of Being, and this is the task of ontology.
In the same manner, existential affairs are matters that occur only for Dasein, such as: love, suffering, forgiveness, intimacy, happiness and unhappiness, unfulfillment, condemnation, connection, anxiety, aloneness, loneliness, and the like. These things are all rooted in ontology; that is, in ways that concern Being. Existential affairs lead directly to ontology, and ontological matters are existential.
For Heidegger, when we use equipment through the ready-to-hand mode of Being, the equipment is most like equipment in our circumspection and through its referral to other equipment. Heidegger thinks that equipment can ontically become “freed” when it’s being used by Dasein in the teleological activity specific to a particular equipment. For example, a hammer is ontically “freed” when one uses it. It’s most itself when it’s being used in its activity of hammering. Equipment can become freed also in an ontological way, where in the workshop, we realize all the possibilities and ways to be involved with the equipment. In example, the hammer is realized that it’s made for hammering, and it can be freed in this way while not being ontically at hand; that is, being used. A hammer is most itself when it is let be in its activity of hammering. Contrastingly, when the hammer is not in use, it’s not realizing or actualizing its full potential as a hammer. It’s as if, while the hammer is left alone in the toolbox, is forlorn and is not realizing or actualizing its full potential as a hammer; it’s as if the hammer is just waiting to break out into its “hammer-ness”. It’s constrained, barred up in itself, unrealized itself.
These two modes of freeing ontically and ontologically we shall transpose to the level of Dasein, where Dasein realizes potentialities for things like relationship and companionship, love, fulfillment, connection, and other existential concerns. In our dealings here, we’re only focused on relationship and companionship. Dasein wants relationship. In the way of not getting it, Dasein is not ontically freed, but it is ontologically freed in its realization of potentiality for relationship. This ontological potentiality for relationship was disclosed to Dasein prior to wanting it. This potentiality gets disclosed to Dasein and then Dasein desires it, and in the realization of the potentiality, Dasein is ontologically freed (has realized the possibility of relationship). It’s still the case, however, that Dasein is not engaged ontically with the activity of being involved with relationship; Dasein has only been freed ontologically in the realization of potentiality for relationship.
In the time of not attaining relationship, while not being ontically freed, the ontological potentiality can be forgotten, concealed, and closed up. In this case, Dasein doesn’t realize its potential for relationship.
In the event that Dasein at least attains companionship, but in a lesser way, where Dasein tries to find companionship with a person that Dasein doesn’t want or is the only person available for companionship, frustration and unfulfillment ensue and can lead to condemnation – a shackling to circumstance within inescapable unfulfillment – hopelessness. In this event, Dasein is still somehow not fully realizing or actualizing its potential for relationship. In fact, no real “relationship” can be had in Dasein’s unfulfillment and condemnation. Dasein can ontically be at hand through the pseudo-companionship, and Dasein can realize its true potentiality for relationship (being ontologically freed) in this event, but Dasein still remains constrained, barred up, and not truly realized or actualized in its authentic potentiality. Here, Dasein can become engaged with hope and wish for the authentic potentiality for relationship.
In both cases of not acquiring relationship at all, and at least attaining companionship but in a way Dasein doesn’t want, leads to an existential aloneness or isolation. In the former case, Dasein is alone and isolated, and the ontological potentiality for relationship can be completely forgotten, concealed, covered up, or outright abandoned. This abandoning, conceding, giving up, or surrendering are modes of being condemned, and are activities of condemnation. This existential aloneness or isolation is brought on through the activity of condemnation. It should also be stated that hope for the authentic possibility of relationship can also become concealed or surrendered. Prior to the complete concealment or forfeiting of potentiality, Dasein can hope and wish to be freed in an authentic ontical and ontological sense, where Dasein is ontically and ontologically at hand with someone whom Dasein desires. In extreme circumstances, in the existential aloneness of Dasein, Dasein can become isolated from itself, marked by a sort of alienation or estrangement to itself. In the latter case of attaining pseudo-companionship, Dasein becomes alone or isolated both to Dasein itself and to the person whom is ontically at hand.
It should be made clear that there is a difference between existential aloneness and loneliness. In existential aloneness, Dasein becomes cut off in its dealings in the world from other Dasein. The ontical and ontological potentiality for connection, companionship, and relationship has been severed. Dasein becomes left to its own devices in its estranged mode of Being. Loneliness still has a glimmer of an ontological potentiality for connection, companionship, or relationship. Loneliness allows the desire for “company” to become set free in its Being; that is, ontologically. When Dasein is existentially alone, in the way of relationship, Dasein doesn’t fully operate as Dasein. Much like the hammer in the toolbox in its inactive mode of Being, Dasein doesn’t fully realize or actualize its potentiality for relationship or companionship. In this way of Being, aloneness is characterized by unfulfillment and condemnation, both being activities of aloneness and isolation. A question arises: how could Dasein be reminded of the ontological potentiality for connection, companionship, or relationship, and how might a remembrance of loneliness set the freeing of relationship in motion, and how might loneliness be remembered if Dasein fundamentally remains alone?