Heidegger and the Meaning of Being

Why the question of ‘Being’ has been forgotten?
The answer formulated by Heidegger has three major aspects. The overall perspective is that there are prejudices that promote the idea that a questioning of being is not needed. These prejudices are rooted in ancient ontology (Heidegger 1996, 2). These prejudices are presented by Heidegger in three sections: universality, indefinability, and self evidence. Heidegger’s description and critique of every one of these goes like this.
1) The prejudice that because ‘Being’ is the most universal concept it is always contained in everything we apprehend in beings. About this, Heidegger says that the universality of being is not that of a genus, but it surpasses the genus. ‘Being’ is transcendes. This transcendental universal has its unity and this has to be seen as distinct from the manifold of the highest generic concepts. 2) The prejudice that ‘Being’ is indefinable. Heidegger agrees with this if we see the definition as being achieved through proximate genus and the specific difference (Heidegger 1996, 2). We cannot understand ‘Being’ as a being, that is ‘Being’ cannot be derived from higher concepts by way of definitions and cannot be represented by lower ones. Heidegger says that the manner of definition of traditional logic cannot be applied to being. But this does not mean that we should dispense with the question of its meaning (Heidegger 1996, 3) The prejudice that ‘Being’ is a self-evident concept. The fact that ‘Being’ is used in all knowing and predicating, does not mean that this average comprehensibility is something that is understood. This points to an enigma that is already there in every relation and being. This a priori enigma makes some of the meaning of ‘Being’ to be seen by us, without being fully understood.

The primacy of the question of ‘being’ over all our questions

Heidegger asks about the purpose of the question of ‘being’ and suggests, at the beginning of his argument, that it can be the most basic and at the same time the most concrete question (Heidegger 1996, 7). The domain of the being is the field where particular areas of knowledge are exposed and delimited (Heidegger 1996, 7). But what is the basic constitution of each area of knowledge? (Heidegger 1996, 8). Heidegger points to the fundamental concepts that underly all objects of knowledge (Heidegger 1996, 8). These have to be interpreted in terms of the basic constitution of being (Heidegger 1996, 9). These foundations lead us into a particular area of being and disclose the available structures for scientific inquiry (Heidegger 1996, 9).
The question of being points to an a priori condition, to a condition of the possibility of the ontologies that precedes the ontic sciences (Heidegger 1996, 9). Ontology needs that the meaning of being to be clarified; this is a fundamental task (Heidegger 1996, 9), it has to be a priority. The sciences have this being’s kind of being, which is defined by Heidegger as Da-sein (Heidegger 1996, 10). Da-sein itself is distinctly different for other beings (Heidegger 1996, 10). The distinction between Da-sein and other beings is that in its being this being is concerned about its very being (Heidegger 1996, 10). This being discloses to itself with and through its being (Heidegger 1996, 10). Da-sein always relates to existence, and understand itself in terms of existence. Da-sein has to be its being as its own, it is the pure expression of being (Heidegger 1996, 10). The question of existence is an ‘ontic’ affair of Da-sein (Heidegger 1996, 10).
When Heidegger asks what constitutes existence, he says that there is a coherence of structures, and this is to be called existentiality (Heidegger 1996, 11). Da-sein is defined by existence, and for understanding Da-sein we need a previous glimpse of existentiality (Heidegger 1996, 11).
Sciences and disciplines are ways of being of Da-sein (Heidegger 1996, 11). To be in the world belongs essentially to Da-sein (Heidegger 1996, 11). Da-sein has priority over all other beings in that it is defined in its by existence, on the basis of its determination as existence Da-sein is in itself ontological, and it is the ontic-ontologial condition of the possibility of all ontologies (Heidegger 1996, 11).

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Translated by Joan Stambaugh. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

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