The primary philosophical problem for Martin Heidegger is the problem of Being. His major philosophical treatise, Being and Time, constitutes an attempt at a formulation of the basic questions and forms of analysis that are to lead to a clarification of the meaning and structures of Being. The form of analysis that peculiarly characterizes Being and Time is what Heidegger calls Daseinsanalytik (analysis of human being). This form of analysis is adopted because it is believed that humankind is the portal to the deeper levels of reality and that only through a disciplined analysis and description of human being can the path be opened for an apprehension of Being itself.

Phenomenological Ontology

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...

(The entire section is 1874 words.)

Features of Dasein

The peculiar task of Heidegger’s phenomenological ontology is that of a delineation of the constitutive features of Dasein, who has been defined as Concern. The three foundational features of Dasein, all of which have attached to them a temporal significance, are factuality, existentiality, and fallenness.

The factuality of Dasein characterizes humanity’s naked “thereness”—humanity’s abandonment or “thrownness.” As human beings disclose themselves in the various concerns of their being-in-the-world, they find that they have been thrown into a world without consultation and abandoned to the chance factors that have already constituted them. They discover themselves as already brought into being, a fact among facts, part of a going concern, involved in situations that they have not created and in which they must remain as long as they are. In Heidegger’s analysis of factuality, people can anticipate the significance of temporality as the final ontological meaning of concern. Factuality expresses primarily the directionality of pastness. Dasein reveals himself as already being-in-the-world. Dasein is already begun and has a past through which he has been defined and shaped. His factuality is his destiny.

The second constitutive structure of Dasein is existentiality. This structure points to humanity’s disclosure of itself as a project and a possibility. Humanity is...

(The entire section is 589 words.)


A phenomenological description that seeks to penetrate to the immediate experience of being-in-the-world will need to give disciplined attention to the phenomenon of anxiety. Anxiety is described by Heidegger as a ground-determinant of the human situation. Anxiety is the basic mood that discloses the threatening character of the world by confronting the human beings with their irremovable finitude. Anxiety, first of all, should not be confused with fear. Fear has a definite object that can be specified within the region of either the environmental world or the communal world. A utensil, an object, or a person constitutes the source of fear. However, the source of anxiety remains indeterminate. That which threatens cannot be...

(The entire section is 370 words.)


As anxiety discloses humanity’s finitude, so also it discloses its indelible transitoriness—its “being-unto-death.” The death that is examined in Heidegger’s phenomenological analysis is not the death of the “death-bed” (that is, death understood as the biological termination of empirical reality). Such a view of death is an objectivized view that can be understood only by the one observing, never by the one who has to die. The being-unto-death of which Heidegger speaks is an experience of death that interpenetrates one’s subjectivity. It is a death that one understands and appropriates in one’s existential concerns. It is a mode of existence that Dasein takes over as soon as he is.

Death is a...

(The entire section is 356 words.)

Conscience and Guilt

Conscience and guilt play a dominant role in Heidegger’s Daseinsanalytik. Conscience is defined as the “call of concern” which summons us to an awareness of our existential guilt. The human being as such is guilty. Guilt is an inevitable and irreducible determinant of human being. The guilt that is under discussion in Being and Time is quite clearly not a moral quality that a person may or may not possess. It is a determinant of one’s finite existence as such.

The concept of guilt in Heidegger’s analysis is a transmoral concept. The moral view of guilt is rooted in an ontology of on-handness, wherein guilt is externalized and defined as a “thing” or an on-hand reality. The common...

(The entire section is 350 words.)

Resolution and Time

One would not be too far amiss in saying that the crowning phenomenological concept in Heidegger’s Daseinsanalytik is resolution. Anxiety has disclosed nothingness and finitude and has revealed a world without supports. The existential reality of death has made human beings aware of their ephemeral or transitory being. Conscience has summoned Dasein to an acknowledgment of his inevitable guilt. However, people must drive beyond these discontinuities of existence and affirm their being. They do this through resolution. Resolution thus becomes a sine qua non for authentic existence.

This resolution is given its final meaning in Heidegger’s seminal interpretation of the character of human...

(The entire section is 750 words.)


(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Additional Reading

Beistegui, Miguel de. Heidegger and the Political. New York: Routledge, 1998. A comprehensive look at Heidegger’s political and social views.

Bernstein, Michael André. Five Portraits: Modernity and the Imagination in Twentieth-Century German Writing. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2000. A study of five modernist poets, including Heidegger, whose elitism—according to Bernstein—limited his moral reasoning.

Biemel, Walter. Martin Heidegger: An Illustrated Study. Translated by J. L. Mehta. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976. Biemel, a...

(The entire section is 942 words.)