Being and Time Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Martin Heidegger exerted a strong influence on philosophy, theology, and politics. His most important works include Was ist Metaphysik? (1929; What Is Metaphysics?, 1949), a political treatise Vom Wesen der Wahrheit (1943; The Truth from One Being), and his collected essays, entitled Wegmarken (1967; Pathmarks, 1968). A complete edition of his works, published in 1975, consists of seventy volumes.

Heidegger’s Being and Time is a conception of philosophy based on Franz Brentano’s Von der mannigfachen Bedeutung des Seienden nach Aristoteles (1862; On the Manifold Meaning of Being According to Aristotle). The premise from which Heidegger analyzes the world around him, metaphysics, is a philosophy concerned with the study of the ultimate causes and the underlying nature of things. Being and Time is based on Aristotle’s study of philosophy, which he wrote after his studies related to physics. The entire text provides a linguistic study of language meaning and usage, in the course of which Heidegger creates new words and assigns new meaning to existing words. His goal is to interpret the meaning of existence concretely in accordance with the way people live and with what influences them.

Being and Time is divided into two major parts. In the first part, Heidegger seeks to define the temporality of existence. In the second, he explores the idea of time as the transcendental limit for questioning the meaning of being.

Heidegger sees words as a metaphorical pathway that proceeds without people knowing where it came from or where it is going. In his view, the manner of questioning is an integral part of seeking answers. Depending on how questions are asked about a tree—for example, What is that over there in the distance? and What is that which we call a tree?—each question evokes different answers even though both concern the same object. The essence of existence focuses on asking the correct questions. It is not enough merely to ask What?; one must also ask How?

Since no two human beings are totally alike and all humans question their existence individually, people learn to function in the world by communicating. Communication involves formulating meaningful questions and listening in order to formulate more questions. Heidegger labels thoughts that are “self-evident” (selbstaugenscheinlich) as false-consciousness because those who stop asking questions acquire false notions.

Heidegger believes that language gives meaning to life. Humans are created by language, since humans are defined by consciousness. The bond between human beings and nature is broken by consciousness. Since animals and plants are part of each other in nature, consciousness and language are the alienation of nature. Speech and language produce dance, poetry, painting, and music, which are the foundation for culture within human society. Culture distances people from nature.

The experience of living suffices to enable people to understand the complex language of philosophers as well as the simple language of their contemporaries. Heidegger defines dialogue as “co-responding.” According to Heidegger, it is irrelevant to know philosophy as long as people are in a dialogue with their own existence. In order to “co-respond,” people should not answer, for when there are answers people stop listening. Philosophy is tuned co-respondence, in which vibrations from one thinker harmonize with the thinking of others. Heidegger is the...

(The entire section is 1463 words.)