Being and Time  

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"Death is the possibility of the absolute impossibility of Dasein" --Being and Time

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Being and Time (German: Sein und Zeit) is a 1927 book by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, in which the author seeks to analyse the concept of Being. This has fundamental importance for philosophy, he thought, because since the time of the Ancient Greeks, philosophy has avoided this question, turning instead to the analysis of particular beings. Heidegger seeks a more fundamental ontology through understanding being itself. He approaches this through seeking understanding of beings to whom the question of being is important, i.e. Dasein, or the human being in the abstract. Although written quickly, and though Heidegger did not complete the project outlined in the introduction, Being and Time remains his most important work.

Being and Time has profoundly influenced 20th-century philosophy, particularly existentialism, hermeneutics, deconstruction, and the enactivist approach to cognition. The book is dedicated to Edmund Husserl "in friendship and admiration".



According to Heidegger's statement in Being and Time, the work was made possible by his study of Husserl's Logical Investigations (1900-1901). Marxist philosopher Lucien Goldmann argues in his posthumously published Lukacs and Heidegger: Towards a New Philosophy (1973) that the concept of reification as employed in Being and Time showed the strong influence of György Lukács' History and Class Consciousness (1923). Heidegger never mentions Lukács in his writing, however, and Laurence Paul Hemming, writing in Heidegger and Marx (2013), finds the suggestion that Lukács influenced Heidegger to be highly unlikely at best.

Being and Time was originally intended to consist of two major parts, each part consisting of three divisions. Heidegger was forced to prepare the book for publication when he had completed only the first two divisions of part one. The remaining divisions planned for Being and Time (particularly the divisions on time and being, Immanuel Kant, and Aristotle) were never published, although in many respects they were addressed in one form or another in Heidegger's other works. In terms of structure, Being and Time remains as it was when it first appeared in print; it consists of the lengthy two-part introduction, followed by Division One, the "Preparatory Fundamental Analysis of Dasein," and Division Two, "Dasein and Temporality."



Heidegger describes his project in the following way: "our aim in the following treatise is to work out the question of the sense of being and to do so concretely." Heidegger claims that traditional ontology has prejudicially overlooked this question, dismissing it as overly general, undefinable, or obvious.

Instead Heidegger proposes to understand being itself, as distinguished from any specific entities (beings). Being, Heidegger claims, is "what determines beings as beings, that in terms of which beings are already understood." Heidegger is seeking to identify the criteria or conditions by which any specific entity can show up at all (see world disclosure).

If we grasp Being, we will clarify the meaning of being, or "sense" of being ("Sinn des Seins"), where by "sense" Heidegger means that "in terms of which something becomes intelligible as something." According to Heidegger, as this sense of being precedes any notions of how or in what manner any particular being or beings exist, it is pre-conceptual, non-propositional, and hence pre-scientific. Thus, in Heidegger's view, fundamental ontology would be an explanation of the understanding preceding any other way of knowing, such as the use of logic, theory, specific ontology or act of reflective thought. At the same time, there is no access to being other than via beings themselves—hence pursuing the question of being inevitably means asking about a being with regard to its being. Heidegger argues that a true understanding of being (Seinsverständnis) can only proceed by referring to particular beings, and that the best method of pursuing being must inevitably, he says, involve a kind of hermeneutic circle, that is (as he explains in his critique of prior work in the field of hermeneutics), it must rely upon repetitive yet progressive acts of interpretation. "The methodological sense of phenomenological description is interpretation."


Thus the question Heidegger asks in the introduction to Being and Time is: what is the being that will give access to the question of the meaning of Being? Heidegger's answer is that it can only be that being for whom the question of Being is important, the being for whom Being matters. As this answer already indicates, the being for whom Being is a question is not a what, but a who. Heidegger calls this being Dasein (an ordinary German word literally meaning "being-there" i.e. existence), and the method pursued in Being and Time consists in the attempt to delimit the characteristics of Dasein, in order thereby to approach the meaning of Being itself through an interpretation of the temporality of Dasein. Dasein is not "man," but is nothing other than "man"—it is this distinction that enables Heidegger to claim that Being and Time is something other than philosophical anthropology.

Heidegger's account of Dasein passes through a dissection of the experiences of Angst and mortality, and then through an analysis of the structure of "care" as such. From there he raises the problem of "authenticity," that is, the potentiality or otherwise for mortal Dasein to exist fully enough that it might actually understand being. Heidegger is clear throughout the book that nothing makes certain that Dasein is capable of this understanding.


Finally, this question of the authenticity of individual Dasein cannot be separated from the "historicality" of Dasein. On the one hand, Dasein, as mortal, is "stretched along" between birth and death, and thrown into its world, that is, thrown into its possibilities, possibilities which Dasein is charged with the task of assuming. On the other hand, Dasein's access to this world and these possibilities is always via a history and a tradition—this is the question of "world historicality," and among its consequences is Heidegger's argument that Dasein's potential for authenticity lies in the possibility of choosing a "hero."

Thus, more generally, the outcome of the progression of Heidegger's argument is the thought that the being of Dasein is time. Nevertheless, Heidegger concludes his work with a set of enigmatic questions foreshadowing the necessity of a destruction (that is, a transformation) of the history of philosophy in relation to temporality—these were the questions to be taken up in the never completed continuation of his project:

The existential and ontological constitution of the totality of Dasein is grounded in temporality. Accordingly, a primordial mode of temporalizing of ecstatic temporality itself must make the ecstatic project of being in general possible. How is this mode of temporalizing of temporality to be interpreted? Is there a way leading from primordial time to the meaning of being? Does time itself reveal itself as the horizon of being?

Phenomenology in Heidegger and Husserl

Although Heidegger describes his method in Being and Time as phenomenological, the question of its relation to the phenomenology of Husserl is complex. The fact that Heidegger believes that ontology includes an irreducible hermeneutic (interpretative) aspect, for example, might be thought to run counter to Husserl's claim that phenomenological description is capable of a form of scientific positivity. On the other hand, however, several aspects of the approach and method of Being and Time seem to relate more directly to Husserl's work.

The central Husserlian concept of the directedness of all thought—intentionality—for example, while scarcely mentioned in Being and Time, has been identified by some with Heidegger's central notion of Sorge (Cura, care or concern). However, for Heidegger, theoretical knowledge represents only one kind of intentional behaviour, and he asserts that it is grounded in more fundamental modes of behaviour and forms of practical engagement with the surrounding world. Whereas a theoretical understanding of things grasps them according to "presence," for example, this may conceal that our first experience of a being may be in terms of its being "ready-to-hand." Thus, for instance, when someone reaches for a tool such as a hammer, their understanding of what a hammer is is not determined by a theoretical understanding of its presence, but by the fact that it is something we need at the moment we wish to do hammering. Only a later understanding might come to contemplate a hammer as an object.


The total understanding of being results from an explication of the implicit knowledge of being that inheres in Dasein. Philosophy thus becomes a form of interpretation, but since there is no external reference point outside being from which to begin this interpretation, the question becomes to know in which way to proceed with this interpretation. This is the problem of the "hermeneutic circle," and the necessity for the interpretation of the meaning of being to proceed in stages: this is why Heidegger's technique in Being and Time is sometimes referred to as hermeneutical phenomenology.

Destruction of metaphysics

As part of his ontological project, Heidegger undertakes a reinterpretation of previous Western philosophy. He wants to explain why and how theoretical knowledge came to seem like the most fundamental relation to being. This explanation takes the form of a destructuring (Destruktion) of the philosophical tradition, an interpretative strategy that reveals the fundamental experience of being at the base of previous philosophies that had become entrenched and hidden within the theoretical attitude of the metaphysics of presence. This use of the word Destruktion is meant to signify not a negative operation but rather a positive transformation or recovery.

In Being and Time Heidegger briefly undertakes a destructuring of the philosophy of René Descartes, but the second volume, which was intended to be a Destruktion of Western philosophy in all its stages, was never written. In later works Heidegger uses this approach to interpret the philosophies of Aristotle, Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Plato, among others.

Related work

Being and Time is the major achievement of Heidegger's early career, but he produced other important works from this period:

  • The publication in 1992 of the early lecture course, Platon: Sophistes (Plato's Sophist, 1924), made clear the way in which Heidegger's reading of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics was crucial to the formulation of the thought expressed in Being and Time.
  • The lecture course, Prolegomena zur Geschichte des Zeitbegriffs (History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena, 1925), was something like an early version of Being and Time.
  • The lecture courses immediately following the publication of Being and Time, such as Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, 1927), and Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik (Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, 1929), elaborated some elements of the destruction of metaphysics which Heidegger intended to pursue in the unwritten second part of Being and Time.

Although Heidegger did not complete the project outlined in Being and Time, later works explicitly addressed the themes and concepts of Being and Time. Most important among the works which do so are the following:

  • Heidegger's inaugural lecture upon his return to Freiburg, "Was ist Metaphysik?" ("What Is Metaphysics?", 1929), was an important and influential clarification of what Heidegger meant by being, non-being, and nothingness.
  • Einführung in die Metaphysik (An Introduction to Metaphysics), a lecture course delivered in 1935, is identified by Heidegger, in his preface to the seventh German edition of Being and Time, as relevant to the concerns which the second half of the book would have addressed.
  • Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis) (Contributions to Philosophy [From Enowning], composed 1936–38, published 1989), a sustained attempt at reckoning with the legacy of Being and Time.
  • Zeit und Sein ("Time and Being"), a lecture delivered at the University of Freiburg on January 31, 1962. This was Heidegger's most direct confrontation with Being and Time. It was followed by a seminar on the lecture, which took place at Todtnauberg on September 11–13, 1962, a summary of which was written by Alfred Guzzoni.Template:Refn Both the lecture and the summary of the seminar are included in Zur Sache des Denkens (1969; translated as On Time and Being [New York: Harper & Row, 1972]).

Influence and reception

Being and Time is, according to the philosopher Helmut R. Wagner, the "most influential version of existential philosophy." The work influenced many philosophers and writers, among them Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, Alexandre Kojève, Giorgio Agamben, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Herbert Marcuse, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote Being and Nothingness (1943) under the influence of Heidegger; the critic George Steiner describes Sartre's existentialism as "a version and variant of the idiom and propositions" in Being and Time. Merleau-Ponty argued in Phenomenology of Perception (1945) that, "the whole of Sein und Zeit springs from an indication given by Husserl and amounts to no more than an explicit account of the 'natürlicher Weltbegriff' or the 'Lebenswelt' which Husserl, towards the end of his life, identified as the central theme of phenomenology". Other philosophical works influenced by Being and Time include Hans-Georg Gadamer's Truth and Method (1960), Emmanuel Levinas's Totality and Infinity (1961), Gilles Deleuze's Difference and Repetition (1968), Alain Badiou's Being and Event (1988), and Bernard Stiegler's Technics and Time, 1 (1994).

Heidegger influenced psychoanalysis through Jacques Lacan, whose Rome Discourse generally links together the subject, language, and speech on a basis of a reading of psychoanalysis that is undeniably hermeneutical phenomenological, a methodology first introduced in Being and Time. A decade later Lacan would criticize that method in Seminar XI where he sought to "radically suspend Heidegger's question of the meaning of being"—a question Heidegger explicitly raises on the first page of Being and Time and one which forms the exploratory basis of his book. Stephen Houlgate compares Heidegger's achievements in Being and Time to those of Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and Hegel in The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) and Science of Logic (1812-1816).

The philosopher Simon Critchley calls Being and Time Heidegger's magnum opus, and writes that it is impossible to understand developments in continental philosophy after Heidegger without understanding the work. According to Critchley, while the work is difficult for many reasons, Heidegger's basic idea that "being is time" is "extremely simple". Heidegger has become common background for the political movement concerned with protection of the environment, and his narrative of the history of Being frequently appears when capitalism, consumerism and technology are thoughtfully opposed. The integral theorist Michael E. Zimmerman writes that, "Because he criticized technological modernity’s domineering attitude toward nature, and because he envisioned a postmodern era in which people would “let things be,” Heidegger has sometimes been read as an intellectual forerunner of today’s “deep ecology” movement.

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