Saturday, 1 January 2022

Heidegger’s ‘Worlds’. The Rise and Fall of Heidegger’s Three-‘Worlds’ Theory (1919-25). Inner Circle Seminar 274 (19 June 2022)


The Rise and Fall of HeideggerThree-‘Worlds’ Theory
A centenary investigation

Anthony Stadlen
conducts by Zoom
Inner Circle Seminar No. 274
Sunday 19 June 2022
10 a.m to 5 p.m.

Martin Heidegger
at the well by his hut above Todtnauberg

Emmy van Deurzen
Ludwig Binswanger

In the 1940s, the psychiatrist Ludwig Binswanger described many idiosyncratic ‘worlds’ of his patients, such as ‘Ellen West’. The ‘swamp world’, the ‘tomb world’, and the ‘aetherial world’ seem to have been good phenomenological descriptions of Ellen’s actual experience. Binswanger also, only for a short time, tentatively proposed a relatively constant interrelated triad of ‘worlds’ supposedly of more general application, though explicitly, as he said, not meant to be exhaustive: ‘Umwelt’ (‘around-world’), ‘Mitwelt’ (‘with-world’), ‘Eigenwelt’ (‘own world’). 
Half a century on, the existential therapist Emmy van Deurzen added a fourth: the ‘Überwelt’ (‘over-world’).
These four ‘worlds’, or dimensions’, have been taught in training institutes, and regarded as an important part of existential therapy, at least in London, for more than thirty years. Trainee therapists say they have found them helpful. But how far do they clarify a clients experience? May they not entail an arbitrary and restrictive conceptualisation? How is it that, for example, personal relationships are assigned in one book to the Eigenwelt’ and in another book by the same author to the Mitwelt’? How could such relationships be confined to one or other such partial world’ or dimensionrather than by their very nature embodying an implicit shared search for wholeness that always already precedes and transcends such fragmentation into worlds?
As it happens, a hundred years ago, from 1919 to 1924, decades before Binswanger and van Deurzen proposed their three- and four-world schemes, Martin Heidegger had already, in five lecture courses (GA58,59,60,61,63) and his essay The Concept of Time (GA64) proposed a triad like Binswanger’s, also with Umwelt’ (‘around-world’) and Mitwelt’ (‘with-world’), but with ‘Selbstwelt’ (‘self-world’) rather than ‘Eigenwelt’ (‘own world’).
But Heidegger, only a few years later, denounced and renounced his own triad of worlds’ as misconceived.
This was in 1925, even before he had published Being and Time (1927), and decades before first Binswanger and then van Deurzen proposed their sets of worlds. Neither of them could have been expected to mention either Heideggers earlier proposal or his subsequent retraction of his three-world’ scheme, as his lectures were only published posthumously towards the end of the twentieth century.
Today we shall explore Heidegger’s reasons for this early turn in his thinking.
Heidegger, like Sigmund Freud, used such colloquial, rough-and-ready, terms as the ‘work-world’, the ‘classical world’, the ‘dream-world’, the ‘wish-world’. Freud, indeed, in his Gesammelte Werke (Collected Works) used ‘Mitwelt’ 9 times, ‘Umwelt’ 20 times, and ‘Unterwelt’ (‘underworld’) 14 times, but in their colloquial sense, without making them components of a formal scheme. Heidegger’s threefold world-scheme was meant to be more systematic.
However, in his 1925 summer term Marburg University lecture course, Prolegomena zur Geschichte des Zeitbegriffs (GA20, S.333) [History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena (1992, p.242)], Heidegger denounced his own threefold system of ‘Umwelt’, ‘Mitwelt’, and ‘Selbstwelt’ as ‘grundfalsch’ (‘fundamentally false’).
He went on to write in Sein und Zeit (1927, S.118) [Being and Time (1962, p.155)]: ‘The world of Dasein is Mitwelt.’
So he retained Mitwelt’, but not as a component of a triadic system. Our Mitwelt, as he now conceived it, is not merely one ‘world’, or one ‘dimension’, among others, of being human. Being-in-the-world-with-others is what being human is.
Furthermore, the early ‘existential’ and ‘phenomenological’ psychiatrists and psychologists, especially the self-styled Wengen Circle’ (Ludwig Binswanger, Viktor Emil von Gebsattel, Eugène Minkowski, Erwin Straus), wrote about ‘the world of the compulsive’, ‘the world of the schizophrenic’, and so on: the ‘worlds’ of those whom psychiatrists traditionally classified as ‘degenerate’, not like ‘us’. Even those ‘existential’ therapists who today discard psychiatric diagnoses often claim that they are helping the client explore ‘the clients world’. This may be helpful if it is a stage on the way to acknowledgement, by therapist and client, of what Heidegger called our ‘being-in-the-world’ [‘in-der-Welt-sein’]: the one world we all share. But this is often unclear.
It was already Josef Breuers and Freud’s revolutionary innovation in the last decade of the nineteenth century to regard their ‘hysterical’ patients, such as ‘Frau Cäcilie M.’, not as ‘degenerates’ who were living in their own world, as many, perhaps most, of their contemporaries supposed, but as sharing with the rest of us the one world in which we live and move and have our being.
In this respect, were not Freud and Heidegger more advanced than many existential therapists today?
Heidegger, as well as the Daseinsanalysts Medard Boss and Gion Condrau, argued explicitly against the supposition that ‘meaning’ and spirituality’ are to be found in a separate, split-off, quasi-schizoid world. On the contrary, they insisted, our one, shared world is always already illumined by meaning and spirit.
It is in any case unclear why, if there were an Überwelt, there would not also be an Unterwelt’ (underworld), as documented from ancient mythology, through Virgil and Dante, to Freud and Jung. Should not such an Unterwelt’ be a fifth Welt in its own right?
And does Heideggers later vision of the Geviert’ (Fourfold’) of earth, sky, mortals and gods, itself questionable, really justify a resuscitation of his long-abandoned three-worlds scheme and its augmentation with an Überwelt’?
And again, why this fetishising by the later Heidegger of four? Why not, for instance, a sevenfold, traditionally implying greater wholeness? But Heideggerians and Daseinsanalysts reverently repeat the reference to the fourfold and do not question it.
We shall explore these enigmas today. We shall try in particular to clarify the logic by which Heidegger came to conceive, and then renounce, his own three-worlds theory.
Your contribution to the discussion will be warmly welcomed.

This will be an online seminar, using Zoom.

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £140, others £175, some bursaries; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250

For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

No comments: