What Is Dasein According To Martin Heidegger?

It is a very important concept of the existentialist philosophy of the 20th century in Europe.


Martin Heidegger was one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, especially influential in the field of metaphysics as well as in currents such as hermeneutics or poststructuralism. His philosophy has been fruitful also in fields such as psychiatry, sociology or religious studies.

Controversial due to its relationship with the National Socialist regime, its philosophy is marked by the question of being. In his first original contributions to philosophy (which revolve around his best-known and most important work, Ser y Tiempo , published in 1927), this question about being is framed in an existential analysis of the human being, which is the entity in which which, unlike things, is given this question by being.

Heidegger, however, conceives the human being in an essential relationship with things and with the world, under the name of Dasein, his best-known concept, which also supposes a theory of more original knowledge alternative to that of scientific objectivity (although not in necessary conflict with her). What was Heidegger’s conception of the human being, radically linked to the world and its knowledge? Ç

From Neo-Kantianism to Being and Time

Heidegger begins his philosophical production in the early years of the 20th century dominated, in Germany, by neo-Kantianism and the emergence of hermeneutics. Neo-Kantianism sought, after the metaphysical abstractions of German idealism, a return to Kantian language and problems in questions of theory of knowledge. He investigated, for example, the question of knowledge and truth, which for neo-Kantians occurred in pure, universal and objective categories, especially in the field of science.

Faced with this conception, Edmund Husserl (1859 – 1938), begins to elaborate his phenomenology, which tries to explain, with the will of rigorous science, how things are given to consciousness. But it does not reduce this analysis to a foundation of science, but deals with how things present themselves in everyday life.

For Husserl, things do not present as a phenomenal manifestation of an unknowable thing in itself, as in the Kantians, but are intuited by consciousness as a phenomenon that shows its own essence. Questions such as truth or knowledge no longer require so much a foundation of mathematics or natural sciences as a rigorous analysis of consciousness. It is this perspective that Heidegger will deepen, going beyond the limits of phenomenology itself.

Heidegger observes, in his questioning of being, that the categories of knowledge, which for neo-Kantians occur in a transcendental, objective and pure structure, identical for all people, actually occur in individual, existential and temporal life, that is to say, in the life of consciousness. How do these two seemingly contradictory realms converge in consciousness?

Deepening Husserl’s intuition, he performs in Being and Time an existential analysis of the human being as he asks himself about being. That is, an analysis of Dasein. Let’s look at it in a little more detail.

Dasein and world

According to Heidegger, the question of being has arisen throughout the history of philosophy under the prejudice of presence. That is, from Parmenides to the philosophers of the 20th century, being has been understood as something that is given as present in its entirety, as objective and complete. The paradigm of this way of thinking is found in the idea of ​​God as being omnipresent. With his existential analysis of Dasein, Heidegger intends to inaugurate a new way of understanding being and metaphysics.

To begin his analysis, as we have seen, Heidegger stops wondering about being from the theoretical point of view of science and goes on to an analysis of consciousness in its everyday life. It thus seeks to analyze the question of being in the most general way possible, without privileging any specific way of facing reality.

What Heidegger now observes is that, in the face of the conception of being as an objective presence already given, when approaching the analysis from the general point of view that he proposes in his analysis, being appears as a possibility. Contrary to what happens with things, the human being, being a Dasein, is possibility rather than reality. It is insofar as it can be. Dasein is like that, in its most fundamental form a project.

Furthermore, this power of being as a project always exists in a context of things and people. The human being does not exist in a pure and isolated way but from the first moment in which he tries to understand and self-determine he is already in relationship.

It is here that we can clearly see the meaning of the word Dasein: to be or to be here. It is about the human being as inserted in a context of things and people, a world, which precedes him and which conditions his existence, his transcending himself as a project.

Philosophy linked to meanings

The being of things is not thus being present, but belonging to a totality of meanings that is the world. Things mean one another and this meaning depends in turn on the projecting of Dasein. That is, Dasein with its project founds the world in which individual things occur.

We see that Dasein is not a clean slate, but that from the first moment in which it tries to understand itself in its project, it already has a pre-understanding of the world provided by its context. This is the structure of the circle of understanding, or hermeneutical circle, according to which knowledge always starts from a presupposition about the things that guides its question. To know is to delve into these questions.

Therefore, being occurs in a process of knowledge that never ends and is never fully present. This in turn is the existential structure of Dasein, of the human being as a being in the world that exists in constant transcendence of itself. Dasein, being time, is always a power being, and is never complete.

This pre-understanding is not only theoretical, but also includes an affective dispositionality. Things always appear accompanied by feelings such as joy or boredom, these affective dispositions being part of the knowledge process. We see here the consequences of the passage of objective knowledge through the universal and objective structures to the Heideggerian point of view that bases knowledge on the temporal, existential and daily structure of consciousness.

Cure and be for death

We are left to see two essential elements of Dasein: the cure and the possibility of death.

For Heidegger, the truth of knowledge occurs in the cure, which is taking responsibility for things. This means that in an existence carried out through a determined project, things will be presented in a more authentic way.

The German philosopher also assures that Dasein is a being for death. Death is, in effect, that possibility that we know for sure will be realized, but that we never experience as realized. As such an impossibility of all possibility, allows the possibilities to be such: if we did not die, time would have no meaning, we should not choose between possibilities and we could not exist as a project, since it would be possible to realize all possibilities.

Bibliographic references:

  • Vattimo, G. (1986). Introduction to Heidegger. Gedisa: Barcelona
  • Heidegger, M. (2003). Being and Time. Trotta: Madrid

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