“We thought we knew what we meant by the expression “Being” but now we are perplexed.” Heidegger quotes from Sophist by Plato;
Despite the strong synonymy of the term Dasein with Martin Heidegger, this fundamental concept in existential philosophy was used by several philosophers before his treatment. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel notably assigned the meaning of “existence” or “presence” to it. However, Heidegger’s interpretation has attracted more relevance, as a way of ones involvement with and caring for the immediate world that frames his life; whilst remaining alive to the contingent element of that involvement, the priority of the world to the self, and the evolutionary nature of the self itself. To Heidegger, the concept of Daseinis purposefully to uncover the primal nature of “Being.” In this sense “Being” is not about any particularity of things, but rather the general characterization of a view of the world that is particular to the concept.
Arguably regarded as the most as the most difficult read for contemporary philosophy, Being and Time by Martin Heidegger is based on the idea of what it means for a human to be is to exist within a stretch between life and death. What actually defines human beings is their capacity to be intrigued by the most enigmatic questions; “why is there something rather than nothing?” thus the task of this book is to reawaken the perplexity and a taste for inquisition.
The question of being is to be accessed through a way that Heidegger describes as “an existential analytics.” This concept however, still raises the question of what sought of thing is human existence. The most obvious answer to human existence then would be dependent on time. Human existence is characterized by time, we are creatures with a past, and living in the present but anticipating a future through a series of possibilities that Heidegger calls “ways to be.” The point here is that human existence is not defined by the what, like one would a piece of furniture, but rather by a “who” reference that is framed by existence in time. This essentially means that to exist will entail a past, a personal and cultural history and to be open to possibilities whose reach are within the individuals will.
This will substantially raise a significant question, if the definition of being in the human construction is reliant on “mineness”, then ones being should naturally not be a matter of indifference to oneself. All other objects not in possession of a being concept are unable to undergo the experience of self-questioning, self-doubt or self-awareness.
According to Heidegger, the expression of authenticity is dependent on two dominant modes; authenticity and inauthenticity. Further, the human being has a choice to make between the dual modality. This choice expressed by the choice to be the author of one’s existence or not taking such a step. But even a choice not to take such authorship, according to Heidegger will not signify a lower being. Regardless of whatever modes between authenticity and inauthenticity, the human being must first confront its indifferent character, before he can make any choices of whether to be authentic or inauthentic.
This approach to philosophy renders it not as some otherworldly speculation on the existence of the external world or not or whether the other creatures with similar physical attributes are actually humans or machines. To Heidegger, philosophy should begin with the description of human beings in their everyday existence; a concept that he calls phenomenology which will ideally seek to derive some common structures from the routine everydayness.
This premise from Heidegger is therefore nothing short of an attempt at destroying the standard or ordinary philosophical construction and in its place, to replace it with something entirely new. This construction is the relational picture between human beings and the world that is vastly expressed in modern philosophy and whose primal source would be traced to Descartes. Roughly, it is the notion that the world is made of two sorts of substances; those that can think like human beings, and those that cant like all inanimate objects (extended things) like stones, wood, and the entire expanse of space and time. The relationship that exist between thinking things and extended things is primordially one of knowledge, therefore the philosophical and scientific task will entail ensuring that the “subject” has access to the world of objects. This kind of relation would be called the epistemological construal between human beings and the world they live in; with the term epistemology meaning “theory of knowledge.” To Heidegger, there is no denial of the significance of knowledge, but rather its primacy in the entire construction.
Now, if his argument is that the human being is really being in the world, then we might conclude that the world itself is a fundamental constitution what it would to be human. This is to mean that an individual is not a free floating self, standing up against a world of objects, but rather an individual is his world. The individual cannot exist in isolation of the world and thus part and parcel to it. Reading this area between the lines would give a glimpse of Heidegger’s thought by viewing Dasein as an experience of openness where one’s being and that of the world are indistinguishable for the most part.
The environment, to Heidegger is full of several handy things whose concert engagement make meaningful sense to human beings. In more specific terms, the bundle of occurrences that are related to make life sensible; the hums from the traffic outside the campus, the books on the desk, the table with the laptop. For the true realization of existence one has to be immersed in this muddle of the environment. This experience is likely to be missed or overlooked by scientific inquiry or any philosophy that is mind based, and which presupposes an inherently dualisticdistinction between mind and reality. What would be required is a phenomenology of ones lived experiences of the world that tries to be realistic to what shows itself foremost in the individual’s experiences. This can be said to be an inversion of the usual distinction between theory and practice. Ideally ones primary interaction with the entire world is not theoretical. Rather, one needs to apprehend the world practically as a world of things whose usefulness and handiness are open to all as inspired by human significance and value. The scientific or theoretical vision of things that we find in thinkers such as Descartes is based on an insight that is concerned with things.
In Being and Time, Heidegger introduces a distinction between two ways of perceiving the world: the present-at-world, and the ready to hand. The present-at-hand concept refers to the apprehension of a world made of objects that is based on theory, whilst the ready-to-hand connotes a practical relation to things that are of use to human beings. Heidegger asserts that practice actually preceded theory and that the ready-to-hand was prior to the present-at-hand. Most philosophy after Descartes conceive the world theoretically, and therefore like Descartes seeks to plant doubt about existence of an external world and even the realism of the individuals that inhabit it. There lies the problem.
There are some important similarities that can be drawn between Heidegger and Kant. From Kant’s objectivity is a function of the organizing activity of conceptualizing implicit in experiencing, judging, etc. The structure of the subject’s mental activity effects the object through its characterization of reasoning might be regarded as comparable to that of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and the superficial resemblance may also catch the attention of an astute reader. Both treatise begin by an analysis of some given phenomena. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason employs objective experience and how the human being understands the world. This is in contrast to the flights of reason unhindered by objective experience, and the analysis of the metaphysical problems (God, Freedom, and the Soul, and a great many related issues). Heidegger on his part begins by an analysis of Dasein and the uses the same analysis to turn back to philosophy and it his history in entirety, especially the works of Descartes, Kant, and Aristotle.
One of the most significant statement in Being and Time is “we are ourselves the entities to be analyzed.” This chapter that introduces this concept locates the uniqueness of Dasein to be analyzed. Heidegger in this regard seeks to differentiate his analysis from the other accounts that make up Western philosophy by attempting to demonstrate that these accounts have been dominated by specific images of personhood.
Nietzsche in The Dawn write, “How did reason come to the world? As is fitting, in an irrational manner, by accident. One will have to guess the riddle.” Yet the expected answer to the statement is never simple. How can we rationalize an “irrational” history, being the result of an accident itself, and still proclaim its legitimacy? Yet in the absence of legitimacy, can reason coherently make a claim against its own legitimacy?
Heidegger’s treatment of Circularity
Circularity connotes a format of reasoning or thinking that is paradoxical or circular. This is a logical fallacy in which the adducer of a point of reasoning begins with that which he or she will be hoping to clarify when his or her argument is concluded. For this kind of argument, the main components must be logically valid because if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. But this makes the argument useless because the conclusion forms one of the foundational premises. The circularity of the logic is useless in proving a conclusion because if the conclusion is in doubt, then the premise leading to it will also be doubtful. A simple interpretation would be that concept A is true because concept B is true, and vice versa. However, in most philosophical reasoning that are based on circularity, it may be difficult to predict because it will entail a longer chain of propositions.
In advancing argument, Heidegger poses the most concise of formulation of the question which apparently turns out to be the problematic: “what is Being?” The formulation of this seems to be a demonstration that the question can only be asked by having a presumptive answer. This is where the question of the meaning of being adopts a circular form. This hypothetical entity that stands in relation to the meaning of Being, is Dasein. Heidegger sets off his preparatory analysis of the question with an examination this human being, whose Being is a core issue. The examining question of the meaning of must commence with an analytical treatment of the being with an ability to ask questions, further this question is “the radicalization of an essential tendency –of-being which belongs to Dasein itself.”
This basically means that only Dasein can be able to pose the question of the meaning of Being; and the particular way of Being for Dasein; and the question itself must address the Being of that being that asks the question. In “What is Metaphysics” Heidegger writes that every question of a metaphysical nature can be asked in such a manner that the poser is equally present alongside the question. In other words, the question about the meaning of Being can only be asked by a being that is a resident of the world; a particular being which ‘is’ always already in a determinate manner-a way which ideally involves mastering an understanding of its Being. Thus explicitly asking the question of Being is one mode of the way of Being of the being which seeks the answers to the question.
Timely, the understanding which Dasein perpetually has is designated by the phrase ‘pre-ontological’ and hence the understanding sought by the posed question of the meaning of Being is ideally “ontological.” In this way, Dasein is ontically ‘closest’ to itself and still ontologically farthest. Dasein is here ontically ‘closest’ to itself because ontically is itself and it is ontologically farthest from itself, because it’s hardest interpretive duty is to interpret itself; there is no clearing beyond Dasein in which Dasein can appear to itself.
Ontology, which is a pursuit to obtain a ‘concept’ of being, is basically an extension of the pre-ontology. Each being an ‘understanding of Being’ the former being a thematization of the latter. The relatedness being backwards or forward, will be involved in the question of the meaning of Being is that between Dasein’s Being and the asking of the question of Being explicitly. To ask the question of what it means ‘to be’ is thus to be in a certain way.
Kant’s position is ideally correct because he resists the reduction of the ‘I’ itself to substance, but still considers the ‘I’ as subject, and the ontological concept which characterizes not only the selfhood of ‘I’ qua self, but also the selfsameness and steadiness of something that remains present-at-hand always. The ‘I’ for Kant remains related to empirical representation without which it would fall to nothingness. But for Heidegger, saying ‘I’ Dasein expresses itself as Being-in-the-world, within the horizon in which the Being the being of other entities should fall. The ontological meaning of care, the primordial unity of its structure would reveal itself as a temporality in that it is grounded in the future thus ‘ahead-of-its time.
The ‘answering’ of the question is the way that Dasein will be able to understand its very own being; ‘asking the question’ is essentially a mode of giving an interpretation that ‘takes up’ pre-ontological understanding and keeps it open for re-visitation. To ask the question about the meaning of Being is essentially to ask the question as a being who is assigned ‘is’ and for which therefore the queried problem is already somehow answered. Only on the basis of being in some certain manner that the question can be asked; and by extension questioning is a way of Being for the being who seeks the answers to the question. This also describes the relatedness backward or forward that lies between Dasein and the question of the meaning of Being.
The question is not an inquest regarding only the existence of particular beings, but it rather seeks to realize what it means for any beings to be considered so at all. On the other hand it might be suggested that there lies some significance within or some particular understanding that is involved in the recognition, the fact that something ‘is’, aside from or over and above’ the particular recognition of something as specific something or other.
Being-in-the world for Heidegger is a unitary phenomenon which defines the basic what would be called self and what would be referred to as the public world. This means that what were really are will be determined by our environment, the tools that we are possessed, the opportunities available, and the facilities offered.
The being of the everyday world in which individuals derive their existence as agents has to be construed in terms of what one does, the choices that one makes and the way that he or she uses things in order to bring his or her projects to fruition. This therefore means that there can be no ultimate ground underlying this unity of being-in-the-world. Being in this context is to be understood as the express absence of ground.
Heidegger’s Being and Time is largely an announcement of his rejection of the traditional ontology. From the outset, he states his intent albeit negatively, by stating that his intention is not to refute answers traditionally advanced to answer the question of who is a Being. He does not try to engage the standing tradition in his pursuit of disputing its inadequacy. Instead he seeks to ask the question of Being in a new way and to demonstrate indirectly that the traditional answers that we get for the question are as a matter of fact inadequate. In time, he hopes to positively to attain results from his new question, but even if he ultimately fails to, the radicalism and power of his new question will be enough positive demonstration of the shortcomings of the traditional points of view.
The fatality that could be read from Heidegger’s assumption here is that he assumes in advance, that because his question is properly posed, the answer to this new questioning of what it means to be a Being must necessarily be different and incompatible with traditional ontology based on the traditional ontology.
The question of being in this sense must be circular, for the reason that one who ‘is’ will ask about the Being in any other thing which ‘is.’ Our pre-understanding of Being does not get adequate recognition by the traditional. When this significant fact is forgotten, the question of Being cannot be asked properly because of the unquestioned pre-understanding of Being. There is therefore no escape for the mandatory circularity of the question because the concept’s premise already has us in a circle. The form of questioning of Being must take a circular form. We must enter the circularity of the question in an attempt to unravel the pre-understanding of Being, thus the question of Being takes its circularity from the structure of the priori of Being.
Descartes, Rene. Meditations On First Philosophy. London: Pearson, 2006.
Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time, trans. by Joan Stambaugh. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010.
Hoffman, Benjamin K. Reflexivity and Social Phenomenology. Florida: University of North Florida, 2011.
Husserl, Edmund. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. New York: Northwestern University Press, 2006.
Schalow, Frank. The Unique Role of Logic in the Development of. Heidegger's Dialogue with Kant. New Orleans: University of New Orleans, 2007.
Thanassas, Panagiotis. "From circular facticity to hermeneutic tidings: On Heidegger's contributions to hermeneutics." Journal of philosophical research (2011): 23-28.