Saturday, April 8

Keeping in Time with Heidegger’s Dasein


Heidegger grew up in a conservative, religious rural town and in 1909 spent some time in the Jesuit order before leaving University of Freiburg.

In 1911 he switched subjects to philosophy and began teaching there in 1915.

Heidegger's philosophical interest was initially kindled when he read Brentano and Aristotle. He concluded that the wisdom of Aristotle's demands to consider the different modes of being has been lost in subsequent western philosophy.

Heidegger spent a period teaching at University of Marburg (1923–1928), but then returned to Freiburg to take up the chair vacated by Husserl on his retirement.

He dedicated to Husserl, “in friendship and admiration” Being and Time. 

He is regarded as a leading light of the 20th-century existential movement.

He sets himself in Being and Time to respond to the question ‘What is being’?

My impressions 

His style of writing is labored and introduces many new words to the reader so it’s hardly surprising there are many detractors or that some abandon any effort to comprehend his philosophy. 

But there can be little doubt his work underpinned subsequent existentialism and much of modern day thinking. 

It’s hard to argue any of his premises about being in the world and his work demonstrates a radical departure from previous philosophy to introduce the significance of our everyday existence and the futility of pretending you can view it independently as an outsider. He provides an insightful narrative into the limitations of analytical philosophy and epistemology. 

Heidegger’s status was severely tested on revelations it was found he was a member of the Nazi Party which sullied his image. 

A great deal has been written about this including rebuttals of any anti-Semitic feelings by Heidegger in his responses. All I would want to comment upon is to say I agree with those scholars who suggest it was a mistake on his part, but I note one can find no endorsement of anti-semanticist within “Being and Time”. 

Being in the World 

Heidegger introduce us to “being in the world” which defines  a new way of thinking that invites the reader to desist the propensity to idolize facts- because this is not what it is to philosophize according to Heidegger. He argues against analytical philosophies who are totally reliant on logic and facts as analogous to our reliance today on technology which is divorced from ‘being in the world’ except to the extent its interaction becomes the tools that complement existence.

Therein lies fuzziness in thinking wherein our technological dependence has estranged us from the reality of everyday living. 

It is not as if everyday objects come flying towards us but are in essence are only present or ready to hand as  we have to deal with such occurrences as is our choice in the multiplicity of everyday existence. 

The crux of his philosophy contained in his major work “Being and Time” talks about the reality that we are immersed in the world so it’s impossible to logically pretend you can view as if one is peering in from the outside. 

Science can only look at subjects and objects and their phenomena to form theories and advance empirical studies, but cannot participate in ‘being in the world as he defies it. 

There are various modes of being such as our interactions of things that are present or as envisaged as in ready to hand as he puts it, the only exception is in being until death.

Hammering home our interactions with the world. 

Heidegger initially introduces the concept of Dasein which means “Being There “. 

Heidegger’s philosophy begins with the premise we are out of context with the reality of living and thereafter his narrative talks about Dasein's (meaning us) interactions as in being in the world. That has its origins relate back to our primordial essence. Being in the world is ancient concept and Heidegger goes to great lengths to demonstrate the reality of our existence has been obscured by our minds reliance on technological developments that overlooks the reality of Dasein’s ‘Being in the World’ 

Heidegger introduces the reader to many practical examples and none more so than of the tradesman’s use of his “Hammer”

What Heidegger explains is the propensity to just look at a hammer as an object which he describes as “present to hand” as in being in the world rather than be associated with its related uses involving nails into wood, construction, homes and so forth. The term he uses for this mode of being is “ready to hand”. 

The same principles apply in our interactions with others that are hammered home so to speak by prior conceptions.  

Shining a light on his philosophy 

The aim then of Heidegger’s philosophy is then to encourage a realization of authentic being in the world that is supportive of introspection and meditation in keeping with the essence of our primordial beginnings 

The very act of thinking deeply in itself according to Heidegger is to take a step in the right direction towards an authentic way of being and existence, 

His philosophy invites questions in relation to the idea of being in the world and the nature of creation itself as he posits our essence relates back to a primordial beginning. 


A useful analogy was provided in the Philosophy Now Issue 125 By Andrew Royle 2018. He is a drama therapist, working with the bereaved, in private practice in London


Let us remain with our workman in his workshop, and now imagine that the workman reaches out for a hammer and finds instead an empty space. In now looking for his hammer, the workman starts to notice his workshop, which has been there, surrounding him, all the time. He casts an eye over the shelves, seeing dust; he spies a cracked window; becomes aware of a spider moving across the ceiling; he notices the detritus of uncompleted tasks and worries about deadlines. Heidegger says, in this ‘looking around’, the referential context of Being is ‘lit up’ (p.74). By virtue of the space of the missing hammer it’s as if a light switches on and Dasein sees the world that has been there all along.

The important point is that this light is not switched on ‘out there’ in the world; rather, Dasein switches on a light for him/herself, in the doing, in his/her interaction with the world. Generally, the world is categorized and created for the workman in the context of his particular concerns: he ‘sees’ a missed deadline in a half-finished barrel, or he ‘hears’ his boss’s rebuke through the space of the missing hammer. The empty space becomes a disclosing ground for Dasein to conjure and create the world. In doing this, Heidegger describes Dasein as a ‘ Lumen Naturale’ (a natural light), which lights up its Being-in-the-world “in such a way as to be its [own] there” (p.129).


In a similar way to Dasein’s entangled relationship with the world, so too is Dasein entangled with other people. For Heidegger, we do not exist as isolated individuals; just as we are committed to Being-in-the-world, so too are we committed to Being-with-others. For Heidegger, it is impossible for an “isolated I without other to be given” (p.115). This is because, whatever I am – a son, father, husband, or bereaved, etc – necessarily refers to and infers the existence of others – a parent, child, wife, or a deceased loved one. So at the same time that I claim my existence, my ‘mineness’, I also necessarily declare the incontrovertible existence of others.

Let us not underestimate the profound significance of Heidegger’s move here, which is a direct refutation of René Descartes’ solitary introspection some three hundred years earlier, reversing Descartes’ sceptical starting point for philosophy. Descartes asks, How can I be sure that the world and other people actually exist? He replies to himself that whilst I may doubt the world and others, whilst doubting, I am at least thinking – I cannot doubt that. “I think therefore I am” writes Descartes famously. Yet from a Heideggerian perspective, it is a contradiction-in-terms to say “I doubt the existence of others”, since the very positing of ‘I’ necessarily refers to (in Heideggerian terms, has relevance to) a ‘you’ or an ‘other’. Just as Heidegger’s workman claims his existence as a workman in relevance with the world of his workshop, so too does each Dasein claim its I-hood from the world of others that it is necessarily with and which is relevant to it: the I necessarily posits the not-I, because Dasein comes to understand itself from the world of things and of other people. In this way, ‘other’ is intimately predicated by and entangled with Dasein. Heidegger therefore states that “Dasein is essentially a Being-with” (p.170).

Summarizing Heidegger’s metaphysics   

The idea of metaphysics which suggests certain things lie outside of physics began in ancient Greece with the first formal works produced by Aristotle. But prior to his work the pre Socratic Greeks had talked about being in the world involving different modes of being which became the inspiration for Heidegger's “Being and Time”. 

Heidegger’s challenge in thinking is to re-examine ‘being’.  To reiterate, he introduces the term Dasein as in being in the world  that entails reference back to ourselves in respect to our primordial structure that he suggests underpin “being in the world” which then forms the basis  for authentic existence. 

Heidegger is not a critique of science, but rather alerts us to the dangers of total reliance on a scientific way of thinking that does not entail any references to 'being in the world'. 

Existential References  

Anxiety, nothingness and authentic being, 

In a reference back to Kierkegaard idea of dread Heidegger relates the feeling of dread or anxiety to a state where all such entities sink away into a “nothing and nowhere, “ 

Existence then to Heidegger’s thinking is a state hovering between nowhere and home where everydayness disappears and so one can face the potential of authentic being. 

Returning to the influence of Kierkegaard it is the initial process generated by anxiety that provides the tipping point that enables progress to be made due to the process began as a. consequence of anxiety (dread, angst), as the non-trivial precursor to the potential to realizing authentic being.

Expression of being and Conclusion

Heidegger attaches positive states of being as in ascribing it as analogous to “light” and associated with “the joyful”, entailing one coming home so to speak to something much greater than humanity- e.g. a transcendent being relating back to our  primordial beginnings.    

The nature of human 'Being' in terms of its presence or our existence references 'Dasein' to signify ‘being there’ so to speak. This is the crux of his narrative in 'Being and Time'.


Heidegger’s concerns about technology are:  (1) technology is just a way of understanding the world; (2) It is not a human activity nor does it employ human thinking except that of the developers specific instruction and (3) is apt to risk us seeing the world only through technological thinking.

How do you feel about the veracity or otherwise of such claims?  

Are there enhanced possibilities of living a more authentic existence that can be gained from an understanding of his philosophy?  

Or is it too vague and lacking in practicality? To be authentic in terms of good conscience, care and to be truthful?    

Do we see increasing inability to focus with young people becoming over reliant on technology?   

Do you think, properly managed, it can only enhance our understanding of ourselves?

Are there any parallels in his philosophy in respect to other eastern religions as in relating to “being in the world” linked to a primordial beginning?  

Both Heidegger and Nietzsche were on similar missions but from different perspectives given their concern that the world was heading into a period of nihilism.

Do you think there is any risk we are heading in that direction presently?  

No comments: