Heidegger’s Notion of “Being”
Heidegger’s Notion of “Being”
Heidegger has established a duality between Being (Sein) and man. There is a “relationship” between Being and man, with Being as prior to and independent of man and representative of that conditioning the entity which allows man to be man. Indeed, there is no “relationship” between Being and man; but man stands in relation to Being, which, as such, is the key to understanding the nature of man and, thereby, the nature of Being. Heidegger’s Being does not have a historical foundation or a historical character. Rather than being based on man’s libertarian and creative practice, it is a givenness independent of man and the world, which means it has a phenomenological character.
According to Heidegger, man can be the “neighbour” and the “shepherd of Being”, but not its creator. It is only through such a relationship of man to Being that Being can be Being, which means that only as the „shepherd of Being“ can man be man. Man, being the „shepherd of Being“, is actually the shepherd of his authentic (tragic) existence and thus the caretaker of the world, which is the house of Being. Indeed, Heidegger’s Being is a form in which man becomes alienated from himself as a social, creative, libertarian, historical and, thus, a visionary being. Man’s need to fulfill his real human potential as a concrete social and visionary being is replaced with the „need“ for an abstract „Being“.
In Heidegger, the truth is not inside, but outside of man. Instead of being guided by humanism and emanating an aura (Benjamin) that illuminates the path leading to the future, man is human only when he is illuminated by the light emanating from Being, a gleaming that is at once above and beside man. Heidegger postulates humanism with a metaphysical nature, which means that it is independent of man. It becomes a mirror in which man can recognize his image. Heidegger’s interpretation of Hölderlin is very indicative of that. Instead of directing his gaze towards another man and the future, man should direct his gaze towards the sky, like early seafarers who navigated only by the stars.
Heidegger: “What is Being? Can we ask of Being what it is? Being remains self-explanatory and unquestioned and, therefore, unthought. Being persists in the long forgotten and fathomless truth.”
The purpose of fundamental ontology is to abolish the very possibility of questioning the nature of Being, because, according to Heidegger, it inevitably amounts to the objectification of Being and thus to the abolishment of the tragic, which is the essence of human existence. By personifying Being, Heidegger indicates that man cannot establish an immediate relation to Being by way of reason, which, by questioning its nature, conceptualizes and thus objectifies Being. In other words, reason makes it impossible for man to experience Being and to dwell in its neighbourhood.
Heidegger abolishes the possibility of an unobjectifying rational relation to Being. His fundamental ontology therefore does not seek to create a mode of thinking that would be able to think of Being without reducing it to an object, but rather seeks to abolish thinking as a mediator between man and Being, which means between man and his existence. „Poetically man dwells“ – Heidegger cites Hölderlin. This is the „long forgotten and fathomless truth where Being persists“. The truth cannot be attained by thinking, but by living a life based on the experience of Being.
Heidegger fell into the trap that he, himself, had set. If Being “remains self-explanatory and unquestioned and therefore unthought”, why does Heidegger mention being as “something”? Moreover, Heidegger declares Being to be a non-conceptual phenomenon and then determines its specific concept, reducing it thereby to an object. The specificity of Being as “something” lies, according to Heidegger, in that we cannot comprehend it, can only experience it. Also, Being has a personal nature and we cannot ask of it “what it is”. Furthermore, “Being remains self-explanatory and unquestioned and therefore unthought”. And, “Being persists in the long forgotten and fathomless truth”.
Just as with theology, naming and personifying produces a „God“, with Heidegger’s philosophy, naming and personifying produces a „Being“. Being, however, does not exist; there is only a notion of „Being“, which is the product of Heidegger’s philosophical (religious) imagination and exists in Heidegger’s philosophical language. Just as the word „God“ denotes the synthesis of a specific and absolutized view of the world, man, ruling order and future, Heidegger’s expression „Being“ denotes a specific and absolutized ideological model of the world, man and future. Being is a givenness that is not thought because the ruling order is a givenness that cannot be questioned. Heidegger’s philosophical relation to Being is actually a theological relation to the ruling order. Instead of turning to the future, man turns towards Being, which is an instrument for deifying the existing world.
Heidegger confronts the mind because it creates concepts that mediate between man and his existence, but Heidegger must name Being, personify it and determine its concept because, without it, man cannot have a notion of Being and relate to it. In other words, it is only through the notion of Being, which is the product of Heidegger’s philosophy, that man can believe that Being exists and to „relate“ to it by experiencing it. By his philosophy, Heidegger personifies and conceptualizes Being, providing the illusion of its existence: „something“ that is an ideological product acquires the dimension of real existence. The peculiar quality of Heidegger’s philosophy is not the ideology it produces, but the way in which it does so.
Heidegger proclaimed the flaw in his thinking to be the flaw in thinking itself. However, it is Heidegger’s philosophy rather than thinking that turns a phenomenon into an object. Heidegger posed the question on the nature of “what” in an objectifying manner. What gives Heidegger’s thinking the objectifying qualify is his phenomenological relation to man and history. Rather than departing from dialectical thinking, according to which “what” has a historical nature, Heidegger departs from the kind of thinking that produces phenomenological abstractions. “What” is an object if it is reduced to a givenness and thus separated from the creative practice of man as a historical being. Indeed, “what” is not that what is, but that what can be. Its essence is not grasped by serving Being, but through a creative practice which can give life to his emancipatory potential. It is only in the context of creating a new world that “what” can overcome objectification and thus the danger of falling into the metaphysical. In that sense, revolution is the most radical form of the abolishment of thinking as the production of objectification.
The essence is not in the question but in questioning. By posing questions, man establishes a relation to the world, whereby he changes both the world and himself by becoming an authentic creative being. By questioning the world, man indicates that the world is not a givenness and that he is not merely a part of the world, but an authentic creative being, whereas the world is the product of his libertarian and creative practice. The relationship between man and the world is dynamic and has a dialectical and thus a historical character. In the historical process of man’s becoming a creative being, “what” loses its objectifying and acquires a historical dimension. The posing of questions is such a relation to the world that indicates its limits and opens up spaces for a possible future.
Heidegger calls for the abolishment of all that mediates between man and his existence and then, by way of his philosophy, postulates Being, which he proclaims is the unquestionable entity mediating between man and the world. This is the basis for man‘s being a “shepherd of Being”. The indisputable loyalty to Being is the basic presupposition of man’s co-existence with Being. Any doubt in Being or a critical relation to Being are excluded. Man does not have a questioning but an idolizing relation to Being. He does not relate to Being as an emancipated citizen, but as a loyal subject. Man has a religious relation to Being.
Why does man have a need for Being if he is thrown into the world where Being is forgotten? Heidegger, actually, does not address Being; he addresses man. His demand that man be a “shepherd of Being” is meaningful only if man already has a need for Being, and if he is ready and willing to be the “shepherd of Being”. Heidegger does not problematize this question, since it opens the possibility of coming to the conclusion that man, who has a need for Being and who is ready and willing to be the “shepherd of Being”, does not actually need Being. In other words, man is already that which, according to Heidegger, he is only to become as the “shepherd” and the “neighbor” of Being. Ultimately, man’s need for Being conditions man’s relation to Being and thereby the possibility of Being as Being.
In order to be the “shepherd of Being”, man, according to traditional philosophy, must know what Being is and must have a notion of Being. For Heidegger, this is an obsolete way of thinking, preventing man from having a more immediate relation to his existence and thus to Being. According to Heidegger, man’s relation to Being is based on the immediate experience of his tragic existence arising from the fear of death. Because of his fear of death, man acquires a need for Being that enables him to conquer death and experience eternal life. Man’s return to Being is actually man’s return to his immediate existence with a tragic character.
What does the “oblivion of Being” mean? Does it mean that modern man has lost his notion of Being or that he has lost his need for Being? If we have in mind Heidegger’s insistence that man has to become the “neighbor of Being” and that his relation to Being is not based on his thinking of Being, but on its experience, we can conclude that, for Heidegger, the “oblivion of Being” means that modern man has lost his need for Being. Departing from that conclusion, to insist that man should become the “shepherd” and the “neighbor” of Being becomes meaningless. According to Heidegger, in spite of falling into the abyss of nothingness created by the world of technology, man is a mortal being and the fear of death is awakened in him over and over again, creating a need for Being. The experience of the fear of death is the path leading man from the abyss of nothingness to Being.
Heidegger’s abstract Being is a mediator between man and the world, which means a mediator between people. For Heidegger, sociability does not have any importance whatsoever with respect to man’s confrontation with death, since human beings as human beings cannot conquer death and thus abolish their tragic existence. A need for people is therefore replaced with a need for Being. Being becomes the essence of man, who is deprived of authentic sociability.
Trying to determine Heidegger’s Being in a rational way is the same as trying to capture clouds with a fork. The indeterminability of Being represents its primary property. Being manifests its indeterminability when we attempt to determine it. Indeterminability is actually the expression of the elusiveness of Being. Man’s relation to Being is similar to that between a child and a ball: whenever a child tries to catch a ball, it bounces back. Heidegger attempted to establish a relationship between man and Being that will enable man to grasp Being in such a way that it remains elusive. Man cannot determine Being rationally and through his creative practice, however, he can experience Being. This is the starting point for the creation of a new thinking that insists on poetry and involves the overcoming of philosophy as a pure ratio. Instead of the thinking of Being, the dominant feeling should be a closeness with Being. That is why Heidegger insists on a “neighborhood with Being”.
Heidegger attempted philosophically to “resolve” the question of God as the embodiment of values that serves as a bulwark and prevents man from falling into the abyss of nothingness. His fundamental ontology was meant to be the basis for a new way of thinking that turns theology into ontology. God moves from Heaven to the Earth. He is no longer an abstract entity to which man relates by way of a religious dogma and the church, but a being living in man’s neighborhood, illuminating him and filling him with warmth. The experience of the presence of Being and the co-existence with Being, without the mediation of reason based on the objectification of man’s existence that leads to a doubt which is the source of nihilism, is the most important point connecting Heidegger’s philosophy to the philosophy of Kierkegaard.
In the analysis of Hölderlin’s poetry, Heidegger points out the presence of God. Talking about God and Heaven, he creates the impression of a warm certainty that brings calmness into people’s lives. Homelessness and the fear of vanishing are gone… Through science and technology, man has created a false image of himself and has acquired a false sense that he has become the master of life and death – thus creating an inauthentic existential condition. He is “thrown into the world” ruled by nihilism, which is his home only in a technical sense. Heidegger propounds an authentic existence ruled by the fear of death, since it is only on the basis of such fear that man can have a need for God, offering him a possibility to conquer death and ensuring eternal life. The “oblivion of Being” is based on the oblivion of this Earthly temporariness, and it is only relative to this oblivion that a need for Being is possible.
It is no accident that Heidegger cites Hölderlin, whose poetry brings God into people’s homes. The language of poetry connects man with Being. It becomes the language of praying: the way of addressing God is not a calling forth, but appealing to God. The poetical, which corresponds to the ancient poiesis, is the construction of the home of Being, whose roof is the sky as the divine firmament. God has returned to man’s home at this poetical call, whereby man is assured eternal life in God’s world. In his co-existence with Being, man becomes a god-man. Dasein is a deified man.
Translated from Serbian by Vesna Todorović (Petrović)
English translation supervisor Mick Collins
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