In his analysis and description of human being or presence (Dasein), Heidegger makes use of the phenomenological method. Philosophy thus becomes “phenomenological ontology.” The ontological content of philosophy is Being, and the method that is used to clarify and explicate the meaning of Being is phenomenology. Heidegger was a student of the philosopher Edmund Husserl and, at least in part, took over Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology and its program of a return “to the data themselves.” Adherence to this formula, argues Heidegger, will preclude abstract constructions and formulations, sterile concepts, and the adoption of pseudoquestions that tend to conceal the phenomena or the data rather than reveal them. In the use of the phenomenological method Heidegger seeks to get back to the data of immediate experience and to describe these data as they “show themselves” in their primitive disclosure.
The word “phenomenon” has a Greek etymological root phainomenon, derived from the Greek verb phainesthai, which means “that which shows itself or that which reveals itself.” The original Greek meaning of logos, the second constitutive etymological element in the word “phenomenology,” is discourse, which “opens to sight” or “lets something be seen.” Thus, phenomenology, properly understood as the “logos of the phenomenon,” is the disciplined attempt to open to sight that which shows itself and to let it be seen as it is. In using the phenomenological method, one must therefore discard all preconceived logical and epistemological constructions and seek to examine and describe the phenomena as they show themselves.
The application of the phenomenological method in the analysis of human being, or Dasein, discloses first of all the foundational experience of being-in-the-world. People emerge in a world of going concerns and initially discover themselves in their engagement and involvement in practical and personal projects. Heidegger’s phenomenological and existentialist concept of the world should not be confused with any objective conceptualization of the world as a substance or an abstract continuum of points. It is Heidegger’s persistent argument that René Descartes’s conceptualization of the world as a res extensa (material substance) entailed a phenomenological falsification of the world as a datum of immediate experience. The world is not an extended substance or an objective spatial container into which people are placed. The world, existentially understood, is a field or region of human concern that is never disclosed independent of this concern. There is no world without humanity.
Thus, to say that humanity’s being is a being-in-the-world is to describe human reality in terms of a self-world correlation that underlies all concrete participation and engagement. Humanity is in the world in the sense of being in a profession, being in the army, being in politics, being in love, and the like. The relationship between human beings and the world is not that of a coinherence of substances or objects, but rather the relationship of existential participation and involvement. Dasein is in the world in the sense of “being preoccupied, producing, ordering, fostering, applying, sacrificing, undertaking, following through, inquiring, questioning, observing, talking over, or agreeing.” The phenomenon of “being-in” denotes the intimacy and familiarity of “being-with” as distinct from the objective spatial proximity of “being-besides.”
As the phenomenon of world is falsified when understood as a substance or objectivized entity, so also human being or Dasein is distorted when interpreted as a substantial self or a self-identical subject. Again, the error of Descartes’s isolation of the thinking substance (res cogitans) is disclosed, and the spurious character of the epistemological quandaries that such a view entails is made apparent. The human being is not an isolated epistemological subject who first apprehends his or her own existence and then seeks proof for an objective external world. In his or her primordial experience, the human being already has his or her world given in his or her immediate concerns and preoccupations. The world is constitutive of his or her being. It is in this way that Heidegger’s phenomenology undercuts the subject-object dichotomy, bequeathed by the Cartesian tradition to contemporary epistemological theory, and liberates the self from...