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The question of Being

Martin Heidegger attempts to answer the question of Being by appealing to the terminology and methodology of Dasein, most commonly defined as existence. Dasein is not simply any kind of existence, however, but an existence that is unique from all other existences in that it asks the question of existence while existing in the existence itself. In other words, one must first understand Dasein in order to understand Being because Dasein is a kind of being that is concerned about its very Being.

Contrary to the popular opinion that in order to truly and clearly comprehend any phenomenon, the subject which interrogates must necessarily stand outside of the object of the interrogation, Being cannot be understood from outside of Being. One may then argue that there is no outside of Being, a point to which we shall return later in this paper; therefore, every being is fit to address the the question of Being. Although every being is within Being itself, not every being asks the question of Being; hence Dasein alone can elucidate Being because Dasein is Being for Heidegger.

It is a pure expression of Being and thus chosen to designate Being because its essence lies rather in the fact that is has always to be its Being as its own (54). Logically speaking, if the object of which Dasein interrogates is Being, and it accomplishes this task by interrogating itself, a being in Being, then the object of interrogation, Being, is precisely the subject which performs the act of interrogation, Dasein; it follows that Dasein is nothing but Being itself. Dasein answers the question of Being by disclosing Being through the revealing or unveiling of itself.

In Being and Time, Heidegger articulates the way Dasein unveils itself by drawing a distinction between an existentiell and existential understanding of Dasein. By claiming that Dasein always understands itself in terms of its existence, in terms of its possibility to be itself or not to be itself (54), an existentiell understanding of Dasein is to denote the existence of Dasein as either realizing or ignoring its possibilities for being or not-being; an existential understanding of Dasein differs in that it neither realizes nor ignores its existences but inquires into its existence, the being of Dasein, Being itself.

It is an existential analysis of Dasein that will reveal Dasein, and ultimately Being. An existential analysis of Dasein reveals that Dasein tends to understand its own Being in terms of that being to which it is essentially, continually, and most closely relatedthe world (58). That is to say, Dasein is to be found in its average everdayness because it is concealed in the same way that the meaning of Being is concealed. Heidegger maintains that in using the common word is, we no longer know what we mean.

The subject-object logic which we use every day conceals the true meaning of what existence really is. Therefore, one must apply this reasoning to Dasein and find the essence of Dasein in the average everydayness by stripping away all that is arbitrary and accidental in the world. One unfolds the true form of average everydayness by identifying the world of Dasein, which is the human world, or more precisely, the soul. Heidegger characterizes Being as the totality of beings.

He appeals to Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas to assert the transcendental quality of Being, which requires Being to lie beyond every possible generic determination of a being in its material contentthat are necessary attributes of every something (56). This entails that Being must allow for the coming together of all other beings. Heidegger finds this being in the human soul, the being whose nature it is to meet with all other beings (56). To further determine Dasein as a human-kind of being, one need only to ask the who which asks the question of Being.

Man, or more accurately, the human soul is the essence of average everydayness. In What is Metaphysics, Heidegger locates the uncovering of Dasein in the attunement of anxiety. Through his analysis of anxiety as a state-of-mind that provides the phenomenal basis for explicitly grasping Daseins primordial totality of beings, Being, Heidegger reveals Being through the nothing. This is what is meant by [h]uman existence [Dasein] can relate to beings only if it hold itself out into the nothing (109), and that is why Heidegger defines Dasein to mean being held into the nothing (103).

Anxiety is our experience of the slipping away of beings as a whole, the bringing of the nothing into the foreground, its uncovering. Anxiety is what makes fear possible. Yet, unlike fear, in which that which threatens is other than Dasein, anxiety is characterized by the fact that what threatens is nowhere and nothing. In anxiety, first and foremost, the world as world is disclosed as that which one cannot slip into, as the totality of beings slip away. As the totality of beings slip away from man, anxiety discloses these beings in their full but heretofore concealed strangeness as what is radically other (103).

The importance of nothing is thus manifest. Nothing and Being is shown to be the same. It is the nothing that brings forth Being. This accounts for why Heidegger describes the concealment as characterized by strangeness as opposed to fear or horror. Although Being has been concealed, it is still and has always been present. One finds it strange, but not terrifying, because one has felt its presence all along without being conscious of it. Man feels anxiety as a kind of bewildered calm because the slipping away of beings brings man back the original, concealed Being.

In its tranquility, the attunement of anxiety allows Dasein to compare itself with everything only to realize that there is nothing, and that is Being. Anxiety becomes a way for Dasein to understand itself in an authentic disclosure of itself. Anxiety reveals to Dasein that in the absence of the whole of beings, Dasein slips away from itself only to find its Being. Heideggers belief in the critical role of anxiety in the revelation of Being is evident in anxiety robs us of speech.

Because beings as a whole slip away, so that just the nothing crowds round, in the face of anxiety all utterance of the is falls silence (101). This is harking back to Heideggers original idea that the way we normally and commonly use the word is is what deprives oneself of the understanding of Being. Due to ones own negligence, one finds himself only being able to comprehend Being in the absence of is. By demonstrating how Being is the same as Nothing, Heidegger discloses the importance of the question of Being.

An underlying assumption about Being is that there is something rather than nothing. What happens if the something turns out to be the same as the nothing? This new approach forces us to rethink why the question of Being matters at all. Ultimately, one must turn to the human-kind of being, Dasein, for who else would bother to ask the question in the first place? To even ask the question, Heidegger says that one must already have some idea of what the answer might be. Yet, the answer is not at the level of awareness; the answer lies in our very existence at a pre-reflective level of understanding.

When one asks the question of Being, it brings oneself face to face with ones existence, as a human being, in the world. And, more importantly, it brings us to the question of what matters. This mattering constitutes the framework of meaning from which our world emerges, in space and time, as that which matters to us. Thus, the world is inherently meaningful in that it opens before us in its unconcealment, its uncovering. Coming before the question of Being, one cannot help but confront the awesome mystery of existence.