In Being and Time, Heidegger inquires into the meaning of human existence. What is unique about his approach to the question is his method: phenomenology. Like Husserl, Heidegger is interested in finding the basic structures of human experience.
Unlike Husserl, however, the structures of human experience for Heidegger are not logical structures; rather, they are ontological structures. Husserl’s phenomenological reduction, according to Heidegger:
…leads phenomenological vision from the natural attitude of the human being whose life is involved in the world of things and persons back to the transcendental life of consciousness in which objects are constituted as correlates of consciousness (BP, 21).
Heidegger’s phenomenological reduction does not reduce to a particular being but rather to Being itself.
For us, phenomenological reduction means leading phenomenological vision back from the apprehension of a being, whatever may be the character of that apprehension, to the understanding of the Being of this being (projecting upon the way it is unconcealed) (BP, 21).
In using the world “unconcealment,” Heidegger hints at the Greek word for truth, aletheia, which he defines in a unique way as “unconcealment” or “unhiddenness.” Aletheia, for Heidegger, brings something that was there but unnoticed to logos (articulation).
The ‘Being-true’ of the logos as alethenein means that in legein asapophainesthai the entities of which one is talking must be taken out of ther hiddenness; one must let them be seen as something unhidden (alethes); that is, they must be discovered (S&Z, 33/56-57).
By Being Heidegger means the basis upon which we encounter and understand beings already [Cf. S&Z, 6 (25) Here, Heidegger defines Being as “that which determines entities as entities, that on the basis of which [woraufhin] entities are understood, however we may discuss them in detail.”].The difference between Being and beings is called the ontological difference. Heidegger thinks the philosophical tradition, since Plato and Aristotle, have missed the difference between beings and Being by attempting to ground the meaning of beings in some other being. Terminologically, Heidegger contrasts the terms “ontical” and “ontological” to characterize the ontological difference. “Ontical” refers to entities while “ontological” refers to their Being, the former deals with entities qua entities, while the latter deals with the intelligibility of entities. “Ontological inquiry is indeed more primordial, as over and against the ontical inquiry of the positive sciences”(S&Z, 11/31).
Husserl, in his Cartesian Meditations (e.g.), attempts to ground our recognition of the Other as ‘another me’ through working out a logical structure from the transcendental ego. Heidegger takes the opposite approach in method. He begins with the givenness of the Other and unpacks the way in which we already understand the Other, unpacking the meanings, already there in the understanding, of what it means for the Other to be. He does not try to logically explain the way in which we ‘infer’ the existence of other minds; rather, he takes a descriptive approach to what it means to “be-with” someone. Through this description, certain structures of existence are uncovered.
Heidegger distances himself from traditional interpretations of what it means to be a human being. Kant and Husserl both assume the existence of the subject and logically work out a transcendental argument. For both, the ego and its experiences are what is first “given.” The goal of phenomenology and transcendental philosophy is to explain, logically, how the gap between the two is bridged. Heidegger, however, does not want to assume the subject as his starting point.
One of our first tasks will be to prove that if we posit an “I” or subject as that which is proximately given, we shall completely miss the phenomenal content of Dasein (46/72).
The reason is because such notions as man, soul, consciousness, and subject already posit something ontically about Dasein, and “are never used without a notable failure to see the need for inquiring about the Being of entities thus designated” (ibid.)
Using the word “Dasein” serves to move us away from familiar notions of what it is to be a human being. Accounts of human nature such as “zoon logon echon,” “rational animal,” “the image of god,” “featherless biped,” or even “zoon politikon” all interpret the Being of Dasein as a certain kind entity within the world or an entity with a certain ontical quality. But for the question of the Being of Dasein to be answered, Dasein’s Being cannot merely be pinned upon some other entity. When we say that Dasein is distinguished by the fact that it has language, reason, was created in the image of God, is a certain biological facticity, or exists in communities, we skip over the meaning of this entity. Consequently, in missing the meaning of this entity, the Being of Dasein remains “covered up.”
Heidegger is obviously not saying that we do not have language, reason, or consciousness; nor is he saying that we are not created in the image of God, have a certain biological facticity, or living in communities. Heidegger sees, however, all of these features as things which reveal the Being of Dasein, but in a way which (when they are taken as primordial attributes) covers up this Being in the revealing.
Dasein must be interpreted and understood in terms of its Being. Being is the way in which Dasein’s understanding of itself and its world operates. “So we are not being terminologically arbitrary when we avoid these terms- or such expressions as ‘life’ or ‘man’- in designating these entities which we are ourselves” (ibid.)
Dasein is not a “way of being” of human beings. Dasein, itself, is the entity which we are. Dasein is not what Being is, but Dasein does have anunderstanding of what Being is.
For us, in contrast, the word “Dasein” does not designate, as it does for Kant, the way of being of natural things. It does not designate a way of being at all, but rather a specific being which we ourselves are, the human Dasein. We are at every moment a Dasein. This being, the Dasein, like every other being, has a specific way of being (BP, 21).
This understanding, however, is not articulated. It is a pre-ontologicalunderstanding of Being. Therefore, one must be careful with notions of Dasein as “self-interpreting.” Such notions make it seem as if there is first Dasein, who is in a continuous process of trying to figure out what kind of thing he is. Such interpretations place human beings as beings which are fundamentally concerned with knowing themselves, figuring themselves out, trying to find “their place in the world,” and so on. For Heidegger, however, Dasein is not as much “self-interpreting” but “self-interpreted.” While the way in which Dasein has already been interpreted can be “modified,” such existential modifications can only be made on the basis of an already existing interpretation. Also, for Heidegger, there is something more fundamental to the Being of Dasein than self-interpretation, which includes self-interpretation as one of its manifestations. What is fundamental to human beings is that we care about things.
The specific way of being Dasein has is care. For Heidegger, Dasein’s understanding of itself and its world is ontologically rooted in care. Things have meaning because they matter to us. Accordingly, the Being of Others is rooted in solicitude. The Being of equipment is rooted in concern. Concern and solicitude are both modes of caring, and care reveals the Being of the things of our care. Although the Being of Dasein is not revealed as care until the sixth chapter of the first division, we have chosen care as our starting point. We will show how Heidegger’s analysis of being-in-the-world and being-with show themselves under the aspect of care.
Everything: entities, world, and Dasein itself, are of equal importance to understanding Dasein and its understanding. Magda King points this out:
It is true that he may turn his attention specifically now to Dasein’s self, now to the world, and so on, but since these are in advance seen as articulations of a single understanding of being, the highlighting of one does not plunge the other two into darkness but brings them simultaneously to greater clarity” (26).
This single understanding of Being is generalized into “care.” Accordingly, when we use care as our way of unlocking Heidegger’s analysis, we do so because care is everywhere in the text. Everything and everyone we encounter present themselves under the aspect of care.
Heidegger, Martin. Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlang, 2006.
Being and Time. Trans. Macqurrie, John; Robinson, Edward. New York: Harper & Row P, 2008.
The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Trans. Hofstadter, Albert. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1988.
King, Magda. A Guide to Heidegger’s Being and Time. Albany: State U of New York P, 2001.