A Review Of Being and Time

Being and Time, by Martin Heidegger, represents an attempt at “fundamental ontology” (34), which is the study of Being. Moreover, Being and Time is an inquiry into the fundamental question of Being via employment of a method known as phenomenology, which involves the reflection upon and interpretation of every day experiences to reveal its underlying meaning and structure. For Heidegger, inquiring into the nature of Being this way is vitally important because the question of Being implicitly subtends all other lines of intellectual inquiry, such as those of the social and physical sciences. This is because those types of sciences are concerned with beings of one kind or another. Humans can conduct these kinds of inquiry only on the assumption that they adequately understand what it is to be. However, in Heidegger’s view, the question of Being has not been posed in any thorough and rigorous way since the time of the Pre-Socratic philosophers. Consequently, from Heidegger’s perspective, since its inception in antiquity, the entire edifice of Western intellectuality, along with the technological world that has grown out of it has been without any real foundation in the reality of human being’s existential condition. That human being’s intellectual way of understanding things is proceeding without any deep comprehension of the true nature of Being. As a result, underneath it all, the world is guided by a lack of any thoughtful understanding of the human existence. In this regard, Heidegger’s inquiry presents an attempt to address this shortcoming by examining Being. 

In reflecting on this question in a phenomenological manner, Heidegger characterizes Being in terms of what he calls “Dasein” (27), or “being-in-the-world” (27). The coinage of Dasein represents an attempt to conceive Being as a fundamental unity of subjective experience and the objective world. According to Heidegger, the external world is inseparable from Dasein. Being-in-the-world means: what humans actually are and what the world actually is, are mutually interdependent. This means that there is no such thing as a world apart from one’s experience of it, any more than one’s experiences are separable from the social and natural world context in which he or she lives.

Martin Heidegger illustrates this idea with an example of hammering. The example illustrates that when an individual is hammering a nail, he or she is not thinking of the hammer, or using the hammer, or looking at the hammer as an object for inquiry when trying to identify it’s properties or traits, nor does the individual take his or her experience in using the hammer and try to break it into its constituent parts and talk about what those might be; rather, said individual just uses the hammer. Said individual just hammers. Moreover, said individual hammers for a purpose. Specifically, said individual is trying to build something (i.e. a chair.). As a result, the activity of said individual has a purpose towards an experience, and said individual is not, theoretically or abstractly, removed from that experience. The only thing said individual can do to separate him or herself from the experience is to stop hammering for a second and look at the hammer as an object; this would separate said individual from the hammer and turn the hammer into a field of visual experience, or an object that is “ready-to-hand” (25) as Heidegger describes. Moreover, when an individual gets to the point where he or she is focused on perception, he or she is doing something that is an essential human activity, but when this occurs, he or she also is already abstracted from something that he or she had to presuppose. Something had to be there to permit the individual to even make the stance in the first place, something that is more primary: the individual’s being-in-the-world. The individual existing amidst things and using things and functioning in the world is prior to the individual stepping back and viewing things and trying to comprehend, categorize, and classify them. To Heidegger, this is one of the fundamental things one discovers when thinking about the being of Dasein. Part of the being of Dasein is being-in-the-world. Part of being-in-the-world is using stuff and doing things. All of this is prior to any kind of theoretical stance of knowing.

Furthermore, one of the implications of Dasein has to do with the nature of truth as it evolves from Heidegger’s phenomenological inquiry. Heidegger describes this notion of truth as a process of discovery. The phenomenological truth of Being appears in much the same way as perceptual truths do. Given that human beings are radically in the world, apprehension of truth is always a function of particular perspectives. Consequently, every truth human beings ever experience also conceals other possible truths. As a result, truth unfolds as an ongoing process of revealing and concealing, rather than in terms of whether propositions do or do not correspond to reality. Surprisingly, then, one of the functions of truth is to conceal things. Because of this, in the later chapters of Being and Time, Heidegger recasts his phenomenological method as hermeneutics, which means in terms of the ongoing circular activity of interpreting everyday experiences to illuminate its meaning. Inevitably, this affects how human beings experience life, which then affects the next arc of interpretation, ad infinitum. This circular, hermeneutic element of Heidegger’s phenomenology sets up the inquiry into being as an infinite project without any definite endpoint.

For Heidegger, although human beings are fundamentally in the world, human beings are never in the world, neither in an indifferent, nor a neutral manner. Rather, being-in-the-world is always a matter of care, which, for Heidegger, is a basic dimension of Dasein. However, unlike ‘care’ in its usual sense, for Heidegger, care is a very broad idea that includes things like anger, animosity, and hatred. Heidegger further elaborates the meaning of care in terms of three interrelated dimensions, which he calls the “Care Structure” (Section 29). The first dimension of the care structure is “facticity” (174), which basically has to do with the ‘givens’ of human life. Examples of this include: the certain body one inhabits, the certain historical period in which one was born, among others. For Heidegger, one of the most basic elements of facticity is what he calls “thrownness” (174), which refers to human beings having been cast into this world, into this life, seemingly without any say-so in the matter. The second element in Heidegger’s care structure is “fallen-ness” or “being-in-the-world as a whole” (176), which refers to the way people live their lives. The way people live their lives, according to Heidegger, mainly in a mode of inauthenticity, a life lived in accordance to what “Das Man” (164), or ‘the they’, the average anybody, say to do. This occurs when one individual unthinkingly imitates others, or simply obeys them. For instance, one may choose to follow the law simply because ‘the they’ says to, without arriving at this conclusion on his or her own. Basically, fallen-ness has to do with how humans fall from their deeper destinies and potentials in life, mostly by defaulting to the way things have been defined for them by anonymous forces and dynamics, the Das Man. The third and final element of the care structure is what Heidegger calls “existentiality” (177), or authenticity. Moreover authenticity is about what Heidegger calls “Daseins own most potentiality for being” (294). Basically, this is about glimpsing and living towards one’s deepest, most unique potentials in life. Consequently, authenticity refers to a kind of consonance between how one is living and what one could be — between one’s actualities and one’s potentialities. Authenticity revolves around one’s relation to one’s potentiality. It is entirely possible for a person to be intellectually sophisticated, yet still be thoroughly ruled by inauthenticity, still conforming to an obeying the dictates of Das Man. On the other hand, it is equally possible for a mentally handicapped person to be living in the most authentic way imaginable, by virtue of seizing his or her own most potentiality for being.

The second division of Being and Time has to do with continuing to hermeneutic arc in light of the question of temporality. In this division of the book, Heidegger takes up the question of mortality. This is important for Heidegger’s analysis because death is one of the principal boundaries of Dasein’s temporality. In a sense, death is precisely what defines one’s time in life; death is what makes life whole, rather than infinite. At first, it’s difficult to see how Heidegger would be able to gain phenomenological access to human mortality, since no one has completely undergone the death experience in a way to reflect upon it and articulate its meaning. However, Heidegger locates a kind of very personal experience of mortality in the form of anticipating one’s own death — the experience of feeling deaths proximity and reality in a very personal and immediate way. Furthermore, Heidegger interprets the meaning of this experience in light of the ‘Care Structure’ as previously discussed. In terms of facticity, being-towards-death is simply part of Dasein’s thrownness; it is one of the givens. In terms of fallen-ness, for the most part, Dasein constantly tries to avoid this reality in various, inauthentic ways. For example, by tranquilizing oneself via the usage of drugs, by making death socially impolite/awkward to talk about, and relegating it to out-of-the-way places, like hospitals. As Heidegger puts is, “The They doesn’t permit us the courage for anxiety in the face of death” (298). However, in terms of existentiality, it is entirely for Dasein to face the reality of mortality head-on. In fact, it is precisely this possibility that lends authentic existence its compelling force in everyday life. Without realizing how transient the human existence really is, humans could always postpone living authentically to some indefinite point in the future. It turns out, though, that the time to live authentically, to seize the potential inherent in human’s being, to wrench oneself out of the “lostness in the they” (312), as Heidegger puts it, is always now — in the present moment. Especially since the indeterminacy of human mortality means that no other moments are guaranteed. Against the anxiety provoking an unpredictable backdrop of human mortality, the time to be deeply and powerfully alive is always now.

Thus, according to Heidegger, one can only live an authentic life if, starting this very moment, he or she lives with a readiness for anxiety – which necessarily entails a readiness for death. This is because anxiety, for Heidegger, pulls the individual out of falling into the das man’s way of being. Anxiety has the tendency to flee from its inauthentic self, but for the most part, embracing anxiety is too difficult of a task for the majority of human beings to accomplish. Most individuals find it easier to just go along with das man and not actually embrace what reality is. An interesting result of this is, the monotony of the every-man’s existence is nothing more than a subtle expression of the anxiety he or she feels from being-in-the-world when, ironically, that anxiety is the very thing he or she is trying to escape from via participating in the monotony of the das man’s every-day-life. Pretending that the anxiety is not there, or just simply choosing to not think about the anxiety, does not rid oneself of the anxiety that he or she is feeling; it just suppresses it. On page 222 of Being and Time, Heidegger talks about this phenomenon as a sort of “tranquilizing” oneself in order to cope with the realization of the world as such. Thus, the inauthentic mode of living for Heidegger is: comporting oneself as the any one, as das man, which includes fleeing from oneself, from ones’ possibilities – which, really, is an attempt to flee from the anxiety one cannot help but feel after comprehending the reality of the world. Furthermore, the authentic mode of living, for Heidegger, is the opposite. An authentic mode of existence would include an individual realizing the world as such, which in turn, reveals the responsibility for one’s own self. Thus, authenticity is a kind of accordance between how one is living and what one could possibly be — between one’s actualities and one’s possibilities. The possibilities one can achieve in life are largely due to the time and place in which one lives.

As a result, it is impossible for any individual that is living in 2016 to be a knight – akin to the concept of a knight from the middle ages. This is simply because it is 2016, not the middle ages. A pedant may attempt to counter this by pointing out that if an individual were to comport him or herself, in all accords, in the manner of a knight, then this individual is a knight. This is because, if, by definition, a knight is someone who does X, and someone does X, then it logically follows that this person is a knight.

A possible response Heidegger would give to this objection is that being a knight involves much more than adhering to the dictionaries definition of a knight – that being a knight, or anything for that matter, is not mechanistic; authentic being is restricted to the environment in which one lives – by the accepted interpretation (by society) of the roles an individual can inhabit. Simply put, one cannot be a knight in 2016 just by fulfilling the requirements of a knight, as defined by the dictionary, because the agreed upon notion of a knight necessarily dictates one must have existed in the middle ages to truly be what everyone holds a knight to be. Being is not something that can be boiled down mechanistically and duplicated on a machine; rather, there are a variety of social and hermeneutic variables at play.

In conclusion, in Being and Time, Martin Heidegger attempts to define being via defining is. Heidegger thought that throughout the history of philosophy, philosophers have traditionally related metaphysics to the study of beings – as to what a person is, what an object is, what an idea is, what God is, among others – but no one has stopped to ask what the meaning of being is. Heidegger thought that by doing metaphysics in this way, by trying to define what a person is, what an object is, or what God is, human beings had never stopped to ask themselves what the meaning of being is. The question of being, to Heidegger, can basically be summed up as: what is is? As: what is meant when people say something is X? According to Heidegger, human beings have a pre-ontological understanding of what is is, but no one is ever able to fully articulate this understanding. As a result, humans pervert and/or make false assumptions about other inquiries when making theoretical assertions, such as assuming a distinction between subject and object. This has been prevalent throughout the history of philosophy. For instance, for Plato, it was the idea. For medieval philosophers, it was substance. In modern philosophy, it was the subject, or objectivity. For Nietzsche, it was the will to power. All of these are standing-in for Being. They are stand-ins because Being, with a capital B, is not substance, the subject, nor objectivity, nor the will to power. Rather, these are all just one-way humans think of beings, which is actually the being of beings. This notion of being is not Being with a capital B. It is a stand-in for it; it is the being of an entity. This flawed understanding of Being, which dates back to antiquity, is the root of all of the intellectual shortcomings of the human race.

Work Cited

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. New York: Harper, 1962. Print.


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