Home > Book Review, Philosophy > Notes on Heidegger: Dasein.

Notes on Heidegger: Dasein.

In reading some of Heideggers work, we come to see a confusing look at metaphysics, or indeed, the thought prior to metaphysics (as Heidegger might say), there are concepts that we need to look at, to discuss, one of those being “Dasein”. In reading The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, 2006 we get some answers to what Dasein is, and might mean. So, today let us try to analyze this concept, to see what conclusions or thoughts we might be able to come to.

Most readily Dasein means “being-there”, or “existence” (our existence in the world) or as Robert J. Dostal states in his chapter ‘Time and phenomoenology in Husserl and Heidegger’ that Dasein  is “the “there” (Da) where being (Sein) shows itself.” (Dostal, 2006,’Time and phenomoenology in Husserl and Heidegger’,  p. 132) But this does not contextualize the definition for us, Charles B. Guignon (who quotes Heidegger in part) in the Introduction of The Cambridge Companion states Dasein is the:

… “horizon in which something like being in general becomes intelligible”, fundamental ontology must begin by “clarifying the possibility of having any understanding of being at all – an understanding which itself belongs to the constitution of the entity called Dasein” (BT 272). (Guignon, 2006, ‘Introduction’, The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, p, 5)

So, as we see, Dasein to Heidegger was about fundamental ontology, and how he described ontological analysis thus far as “naive and opaque”. His investigation into Dasein is a study of us, insofar as we come to terms with being, it is  about the “being” of entities, and as Heidegger says “the meaning of being” which will pre-contextualize any further questions (say, those posed by Descartes and Kant). Dasein is not about human beings or human nature, nor is it an attempt to give a full account of what it is to be human. But what does this mean? As Gugnon states:

In other words, since what things are (their being) is accessible insofar as they become intelligible to us (insofar as they show up as relevant or as counting in some determinate way), we need a “fundamental ontology” that clarifies meaning (i.e., conditions of intelligibility) of things in general. (Guignon, 2006, ‘Introduction’, The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger,  p, 5)

Heidegger is changing the question of being to a question about what are the conditions for the accessibility or intelligibility of things, it is a background to an account of humans. Dorothea Frede adds to the definition in her chapter entitled ‘The Question of Being: Heidegger’s project’ that Dasein’s “being-there” is meant to signify the “disclosedness” of our location and hence “a natural tendency to form a preontological understanding is the most decisive characteristic of humans for Heidegger.” (Frede, 2006, ‘The Question of Being: Heidegger’s project’, p. 55)

Guignon continues his discussion of Dasein stating three structural elements that make up “the temporal unfolding of human existence”: Dasein is always (1) “thrown”, (2) “discursive” and (3) “understanding”. Let us address each in turn. (1):

Dasein always finds itself “thrown” into a concrete situation and attuned to a cultural and historical context where things already count in determinate ways in relation to a community’s practice. (Guignon, 2006, ‘Introduction’, The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger,  p, 8)

As Guigon states, this shared, and prior intelligibility allows for Dasein’s “facticity”. (2) To Heidegger agency is “discursive” in reaction to our previously mentioned public language, we “interact” with and “articulate” situations in the world “along guidelines of interpretations embodied”  (p. 8) within such. (3) Finally Dasein is “understanding” in a special sense used by Heidegger, to him Dasein always takes a stand in its life insofar as it chooses “vocations, roles, lifestyles, personal relationships, and so on that give content to its life.” (P. 8) Guignon illuminates of Heidegger’s philosophy that because these “familiar skills” require a certain level of “knowhow”, in relation to other practical concerns “taking a stand” is meant to imply that Dasein projects possibilities of meaningfulness on things and themselves. (p. 8) This taken stand, according to Guignon means that Dasein’s existence is also “futural” in the sense that it is on its way to formulating some outcome, even if said outcome is never recognized in one’s mind. Therefore, Guignon states that agency is “characterized as “coming-toward” (zu-kommend) the realization of ones undertakings, that is being-toward the future (zu-kunft).” (p. 8)

Going further Guignon states that “being” or even “personal identity” is defined by the aforementioned stands we take in acting day-to-day circumstances, to use Heidegger’s terminology this is Dasein’s “being-to-be” which is realized by various “possibilities” (interactions, traits, roles etc). When Heidegger says that my being – who I am – is nothing other than what unfolds in the course of my interactions with the world over the course of my life, in that “the ‘essence’ of Dasein lies in its existence” (p. 8) he is saying there is no underlying substrate or essence (be it mental, or otherwise) that needs to explain this phenomena. Agency becomes possible, according to Heidegger due to the unfolding of our life against the backdrop of a “shared, meaningful world.” (p. 8) To Heidegger the world is constitutive of Dasein, it is not external to the world, but rather, as Dostal states, “self and world are unity.” (p. 134)

Frede, who we visited briefly earlier, states that temporality is the transcendental condition to Dasein having a universe of “meaningful beings”, and goes further to state that the very meaning of being “as it is constituted by our understanding is thus grounded in the temporal structure that underlies our understanding.” (p. 65) This temporal structure was to be the basis for a further investigation beyond Dasein itself that Heidegger never got to. Dostal states that because we are temporal beings “our ability to encounter things as such and such is also temporal” (p. 134) therefore Dasein is “thoroughly” temporal and hence Dasein’s understanding is also temporal. “In this way time comes to serve “as the transcendental horizon” (Zeitluckkeit)” (BT 63).

This short analysis does not obviously conclude all their is to talk of in regards to Dasein, all we have done here is very briefly looked at some of the analysis presented in the Cambridge Companion, hopefully it can help us all to start to make sense of Heidegger’s work.


Dostal R,J. (2006). ‘Time and phenomoenology in Husserl and Heidegger’, in C, B Guignon (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, New York, New York. Cambridge University Press. Pp. p. 132, 134.

Frede, D. (2006). ‘The Question of Being: Heidegger’s project’, in C, B Guignon (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, New York, New York. Cambridge University Press. Pp. 55, 65.

Guignon, C,B. (2006). ‘Introduction’, in C, B Guignon (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, New York, New York. Cambridge University Press. Pp. 5, 8.

Categories: Book Review, Philosophy
  1. jessicalle
    September 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Hey, thanks for the link back! Que interestane informacion.

  2. Sam
    September 25, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Good to see you grappling with Heidegger Rob, he is certainly challenging. Might I suggest that you read the original (in translation of course), rather than the Cambridge Companion. Cambridge does not provide a particularly good analysis of Heidegger’s ideas as it is deeply steeped in the analytic tradition, and tends to misappropriate and misrepresent his arguments. Generally it is best always to read the original – you would be amazed at the mistakes made by even very reputable commentators in many cases.
    Also: explain the concepts in your own words – write out your own explanation of each of Heidegger’s passages without using his terminology, and without quoting other sources. This is by far the best way to fully engage with difficult philosophy. I promise you that if you can not explain Heidegger without using his terms and idiosyncrasies, you haven’t understood him 🙂

    Excellent to see someone so driven to pursue ideas and complex thought though – if only more people would take the time. Please keep it up and set the example!

    P.S. it helps a lot with Heidegger if you understand some Husserlian phenomenology – Dermot Moran’s Introduction is excellent, lucid and very thorough. Definitely hit it up.

    • September 26, 2012 at 6:17 am

      Thanks so much for your thoughts, Sam. I agree, I should be reading the original work (and am), I’m just trying to put together some study notes for upcoming exams, and assignments. I did not realise the Cambridge authors would be so influenced byt he analytic tradition, I certainly did obviously perceive that.

      I definitely need to learn to explain Heidegger in my own words, but I’m still learning to understand them in his.Thanks so much for the kind words and recommendations!

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