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“being is time. That is, what it means for a human being to be is to exist temporally in the stretch between birth and death. Being is time and time is finite, it comes to an end with our death. Therefore, if we want to understand what it means to be an authentic human being, then it is essential that we constantly project our lives onto the horizon of our death, what Heidegger calls ‘being-towards-death’.”
Being and Time, “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’ is not something like a being.”Being, Heidegger claims, is “what determines beings as beings, that in terms of which beings are already understood.“
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 ontologyor 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 Timeconsists 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 Daseinto 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 thatDasein’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?
Sein und Zeit, p. 437.