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Dasein (German pronunciation: [ˈdaːzaɪn]) is a German word which means "being there" or "presence" (German: da "there"; sein "being") often translated in English with the word "existence". It is a fundamental concept in the existential philosophy of Martin Heidegger particularly in his magnum opus Being and Time. Heidegger uses the expression Dasein to refer to the experience of being that is peculiar to human beings. Thus it is a form of being that is aware of and must confront such issues as personhood, mortality and the dilemma or paradox of living in relationship with other humans while being ultimately alone with oneself.

Heidegger's re-interpretation

In German, Dasein is the vernacular term for "existence", as in "I am pleased with my existence" (Ich bin mit meinem Dasein zufrieden). The term Dasein has been used by several philosophers before Heidegger, most notably Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, with the meaning of human "existence" or "presence". It is derived from da-sein, which literally means being-there/there-being[1] – though Heidegger was adamant that this was an inappropriate translation of Dasein.[citation needed]

Dasein for Heidegger was a way of being involved with and caring for the immediate world in which one lived, while always remaining aware of the contingent element of that involvement, of the priority of the world to the self, and of the evolving nature of the self itself.[1]

Its opposite was the forfeiture of one's individual meaning, destiny and lifespan, in favour of an (escapist) immersion in the public everyday world – the anonymous, identical world of the They and the Them.[2]

In harmony with Nietzsche's critique of the subject, as something definable in terms of consciousness, Heidegger distinguished Dasein from everyday consciousness in order to emphasize the critical importance "Being" has for our understanding and interpretation of the world.

"This entity which each of us is himself…we shall denote by the term “Dasein”" (Heidegger, trans. 1927/1962, p.27).[3]

"[Dasein is] that entity which in its Being has this very Being as an issue…" (Heidegger, trans. 1927/1962, p.68).[3]

Heidegger sought to use the concept of Dasein to uncover the primal nature of "Being" (Sein), agreeing with Nietzsche and Dilthey[4] that Dasein is always a being engaged in the world: neither a subject, nor the objective world alone, but the coherence of Being-in-the-world. This ontological basis of Heidegger's work thus opposes the Cartesian "abstract agent" in favour of practical engagement with one's environment.[5] Dasein is revealed by projection into, and engagement with, a personal world[6] – a never-ending process of involvement with the world as mediated through the projects of the self.[1]

Heidegger considered that language, everyday curiosity, logical systems, and common beliefs obscure Dasein's nature from itself.[7] Authentic choice means turning away from the collective world of Them, to face Dasein, one's individuality, one's own limited life-span, one's own being.[8] Heidegger thus intended the concept of Dasein to provide a stepping stone in the questioning of what it means to be – to have one's own being, one's own death, one's own truth.[9]

Heidegger also saw the question of Dasein as extending beyond the realms disclosed by positive science or in the history of metaphysics. “Scientific research is not the only manner of Being which this entity can have, nor is it the one which lies closest. Moreover, Dasein itself has a special distinctiveness as compared with other entities;[...] it is ontically distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it.”[10] Being and Time stressed the ontological difference between entities and the being of entities: “Being is always the Being of an entity.”[11] Establishing this difference is the general motif running through Being and Time.

Some scholars disagree with this interpretation, however, arguing that for Heidegger "Dasein" denoted a structured awareness or an institutional "way of life".[12] Others suggest that Heidegger's early insistence on the ontological priority of Dasein was muted in his post-war writings.[13]

Origin and inspiration

Some have argued for an origin of Dasein in Chinese philosophy and Japanese philosophy: according to Tomonobu Imamichi, Heidegger's concept of Dasein was inspired — although Heidegger remained silent on this — by Okakura Kakuzo's concept of das-in-der-Welt-sein (being-in-the-worldness, worldliness) expressed in The Book of Tea to describe Zhuangzi's philosophy, which Imamichi's teacher had offered to Heidegger in 1919, after having followed lessons with him the year before.[14]

Karl Jaspers' Dasein and Existenz

For Karl Jaspers, the term "Dasein" meant existence in its most minimal sense, the realm of objectivity and science, in opposition to what Jaspers called "Existenz", the realm of authentic being. Due to the drastically different use of the term "Dasein" between the two philosophers, there is often some confusion in students who begin with either Heidegger or Jaspers and subsequently study the other.

In Philosophy (3 vols, 1932), Jaspers gave his view of the history of philosophy and introduced his major themes. Beginning with modern science and empiricism, Jaspers points out that as we question reality, we confront borders that an empirical (or scientific) method can simply not transcend. At this point, the individual faces a choice: sink into despair and resignation, or take a leap of faith toward what Jaspers calls "Transcendence". In making this leap, individuals confront their own limitless freedom, which Jaspers calls Existenz, and can finally experience authentic existence.

Other applications

Eero Tarasti considered Dasein very important in Existential Semiotics.[15]

Jacques Lacan turned in the 1950s to Heidegger's Dasein for his characterisation of the psychoanalyst as being-for-death: (etre-pour-la-mort).[16] Similarly, he saw the analysand as searching for authentic speech, as opposed to “the subject who loses his meaning in the objectifications of discourse...[which] will give him the wherewithal to forget his own existence and his own death”.[17]

Alfred Schutz distinguished between direct and indirect social experience, emphasising that in the latter “My orientation is not towards the existence (Dasein) of a concrete individual Thou. It is not towards any subjective experiences now being constituted in all their uniqueness in another's mind”,[18]


Theodor W. Adorno criticised Heidegger's concept of Dasein as an idealistic retreat from historical reality.[19]

Richard Rorty considered that with Dasein, Heidegger was creating a conservative myth of being, complicit with the Romantic elements of National Socialism.[20]

See also

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  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 J. Childers/G. Hentzi eds., The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (1995) p. 70
  2. J. Collins/H. Selina, Heidegger for Beginners (1998) p. 64-81
  3. 3.0 3.1 Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time: Translated by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson. London: S.C.M. Press.
  4. J. Collins/H. Selina, Heidegger for Beginners (1998) p. 48
  5. J. Collins/H. Selina, Heidegger for Beginners (1998) p. 61
  6. H. Phillipse, Heidegger's Philosophy of Being (1999) p. 220
  7. J. Collins/H. Selina, Heidegger for Beginners (1998) p. 69-70
  8. J. Collins/H. Selina, Heidegger for Beginners (1998) p. 81-9
  9. E. Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan (2005) p. 96
  10. Heidegger, Martin. "The Ontological Priority of the Question of Being." Being and Time / Translated by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson. London: S.C.M., 1962. 32
  11. Heidegger, Martin. "The Ontological Priority of the Question of Being." Being and Time / Translated by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson. London: S.C.M., 1962. 29.
  12. See John Haugeland's article "Reading Brandom Reading Heidegger"
  13. H. Phillipse, Heidegger's Philosophy of Being (1999) p. 44
  14. Tomonubu Imamichi, In Search of Wisdom. One Philosopher's Journey, Tokyo, International House of Japan, 2004 (quoted by fr (Anne Fagot-Largeault) at her lesson at the College of France of 7 December 2006) Archived February 6, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
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  16. E. Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan (1999) p. 249-50
  17. Jacques Lacan, Ecrits (1997) p. 70
  18. Alfred Schutz, The Phenomenology of the Social World (1997) p. 183
  19. M. Hardt/K. Weeks eds., The Jameson Reader (2005) p. 75
  20. J. Collins/H. Selina, Heidegger for Beginners (1998) p. 170 and p. 110

External links