Published Humanitas, Volume XII, No. 2, 1999

This essay works towards a rough explication of the ontic-ontological difference as it emerges in the early chapters of Heidegger’s Being and Time. It then goes on to use that difference to open up a possible ontology of culture. If the cultural disciplines are both ontically oriented and cannot “see” the ontic–ontological difference—and Heidegger tells us this in so many words—what alternative version of culture becomes available to an ontologically-oriented investigation that is aware of the difference?

I. Two kinds of being

Among many other things, Division I of Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time is a map of the kinds of beings that there are. If we can, for the sake of this investigation, assume the map to be exhaustive, if not a complete fleshing-out of each kind of being, then we should be able to use it to say something about the kind of being that any given being is. And there is no reason why this should not include culture or, indeed, the related kinds of beings we sometimes call “cultures” and “cultural objects.” I believe it necessary to begin to say such things about culture, cultures and cultural objects because, while there are countless extant definitions of culture, as well as manifold lay and professional theories and understandings of what culture is and cultures are, I know of no strictly ontological investigation in this field. Here I am using “ontological” in Heidegger’s sense—a sense that will be more fully elaborated as we proceed.

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