Dasein (German pronunciation: [ˈdaːzaɪn]) (sometimes spelled as Da-sein) is a German word that means "being there" or "presence" (German: da "there"; sein "to be"), and is often translated into English with the word "existence". It is a fundamental concept in the existential philosophy of Martin Heidegger. 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 reinterpretationEdit

In German, da sein is the vernacular term for "existence", as in "I am pleased with my existence" (Ich bin mit meinem Dasein zufrieden). The term was used by several philosophers before Heidegger, most notably Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, with the meaning of "determined being" (bestimmtes Sein), The union of Being and Nothing (Quality).[1] It is derived from da-sein, which literally means "being-there"/"there-being"[2]—though Heidegger was adamant that this was an inappropriate translation of Dasein.[3] Dasein for Heidegger can be a way of being involved with and caring for the immediate world in which one lives, 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.[2]

The opposite of this authentic self is everyday and inauthentic Dasein, 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.[4]: 64–81 

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, and so on.

"This entity which each of us is himself…we shall denote by the term 'Dasein'" (Heidegger, trans. 1927/1962, p.27).[5]

"[Dasein is] that entity which in its Being has this very Being as an issue…" (Heidegger, trans. 1927/1962, p.68).[5]

Heidegger sought to use the concept of Dasein to uncover the primal nature of "Being" (Sein), agreeing with Nietzsche and Dilthey[6]: 48  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.[7]: 61  Dasein is revealed by projection into, and engagement with, a personal world[8]: 220 —a never-ending process of involvement with the world as mediated through the projects of the self.[2]

Heidegger considered that language, everyday curiosity, logical systems, and common beliefs obscure Dasein's nature from itself.[9]: 69–70  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.[10]: 81–89  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.[11]

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.”[12] Being and Time stressed the ontological difference between entities and the being of entities: “Being is always the Being of an entity.”[13] 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".[14] Others suggest that Heidegger's early insistence on the ontological priority of Dasein was muted in his post-war writings.[15]: 44 

Origin and inspirationEdit

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 world) expressed in The Book of Tea to describe Zhuangzi's Taoist philosophy, which Imamichi's teacher had offered to Heidegger in 1919, after having followed lessons with him the year before.[16] Parallel concepts are also found in Indian philosophy[17][18] and in Native American philosophies.[19]

Karl Jaspers' Dasein and ExistenzEdit

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.[20]: 47  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 applicationsEdit

Eero Tarasti considered Dasein very important in Existential Semiotics. In Tarasti's view the term Dasein has been given a “broader” meaning, has stopped meaning the condition of an individual being flung into the world, having instead come to signify an “existential phase” with the sociohistoric characteristics from which signs extensively emerge.[21]: 24–30 

From this point of view, transcendence is the desire to surpass realist acceptance of the world as it is and to move towards a political, ethical and planned reality of subjectivity in semiotic relations with the world.

Jacques Lacan turned in the 1950s to Heidegger's Dasein for his characterisation of the psychoanalyst as being-for-death (être-pour-la-mort).[22] 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”.[23][24]: 60 

Alfred Schütz distinguished between direct and indirect social experience, emphasising that in the latter, “My orientation is not toward the existence (Dasein) of a concrete individual Thou. It is not toward any subjective experiences now being constituted in all their uniqueness in another's mind”.[25]: 183 


Theodor W. Adorno criticised Heidegger's concept of Dasein as an idealistic retreat from historical reality.[26]

Richard Rorty considered that with Dasein, Heidegger was creating a conservative myth of being, complicit with the Romantic elements of Nazism.[27]

According to Julian Wolfreys, "There is no direct 'face'-to'face' relation for Heidegger; despite his invaluable critique of ontology, he still reduces the relation between Dasein and Dasein as mediated by the question and problematic of being."[28]: 110–111 

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hegel, G.W.F. 'Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften I, Frankfurt am Main 2003, § 89 note, p.194: "Die Einheit des Seins und des Nichts, in der die Unmittelbarkeit dieser Bestimmungen und damit in ihrer Beziehung ihr Widerspruch verschwunden ist, - eine Einheit, in der sie nur Momente Sind" (The union of Being and Nothing, in which the immediateness of these determinations and so in their relation their contradiction is disappeared, - a union in which they are just aspects).
  2. ^ a b c J. Childers/G. Hentzi eds., The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (1995) p. 70
  3. ^ Dreyfus, H. L., Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990).
  4. ^ Collins, J.; Selina, H.; & Appignanesi, R. (1998). Heidegger for Beginners (Duxford, Cambridge: Icon Books), pp. 64–81.
  5. ^ a b Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and Time, Translated by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson. London: S.C.M. Press.
  6. ^ Collins, J.; Selina, H.; & Appignanesi, R. (1998). Heidegger for Beginners (Duxford, Cambridge: Icon Books), p. 48.
  7. ^ Collins, J.; Selina, H.; & Appignanesi, R. (1998). Heidegger for Beginners (Duxford, Cambridge: Icon Books), p. 61.
  8. ^ H. Phillipse, Heidegger's Philosophy of Being (1999) p. 220.
  9. ^ Collins, J.; Selina, H.; & Appignanesi, R. (1998). Heidegger for Beginners (Duxford, Cambridge: Icon Books), pp. 69–70.
  10. ^ Collins, J.; Selina, H.; & Appignanesi, R. (1998). Heidegger for Beginners (Duxford, Cambridge: Icon Books), pp. 81–89.
  11. ^ Roudinesco, E., Jacques Lacan: An Outline of a Life and History of a System of Thought (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999), p. 96.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ See John Haugeland's article "Reading Brandom Reading Heidegger"
  15. ^ H. Phillipse, Heidegger's Philosophy of Being (1999) p. 44.
  16. ^ Tomonubu Imamichi, In Search of Wisdom. One Philosopher's Journey, Tokyo, International House of Japan, 2004 (quoted by Anne Fagot-Largeault at her lesson Archived February 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine at the College of France of 7 December 2006).
  17. ^ Parkes, Graham (editor) (1987). Heidegger and Asian Thought. University of Hawaii Press.
  18. ^ Correya, Bosco (2018). Heideggerian Seinsdenken and Advaita Vedata (sic) of Sankara.
  19. ^ Elgin, Duane (2009). The Living Universe: Where Are We? Who Are We? Where Are We Going?. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. "The third miracle is that living things exist that know they exist. As human beings conscious of ourselves, we represent the third miracle." (p. 35).
  20. ^ Dimech, P., The Authority of the Saints: Drawing on the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2017), p. 47.
  21. ^ Tarasti, Eero (2000). Existential Semiotics. Advances in Semiotics. Indiana University Press. pp. 24–30. ISBN 9780253337221.
  22. ^ Roudinesco, É., Jacques Lacan (1999) p. 249-50
  23. ^ Jacques Lacan, Ecrits (1997) p. 70
  24. ^ Pettigrew, D., & Raffoul, F., eds., Disseminating Lacan (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996), p. 60.
  25. ^ Schütz, A., The Phenomenology of the Social World (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1967), p. 183. Nader El-Bizri uses the existential analytic of Dasein in an interpretation of the conception of the 'soul' (nafs) in Avicenna's psychology that moves away from subjectivity towards what El-Bizri refers to as 'field-of-being' and 'soul-field'; see: N. El-Bizri, The Phenomenological Quest Between Avicenna and Heidegger (Albany: SUNY Press, 2014), 2nd print of the 2000 edition by Global Publications of the State University of New York, Binghamton, cf. p. 149.
  26. ^ Jameson, Fredric (2005). Michael Hardt; Kathi Weeks (eds.). The Jameson Reader. Blackwell Publishers. p. 75. ISBN 9780631202691. OCLC 864874128.
  27. ^ Collins, Jeff; Selina, Howard; Appignanesi, Richard (1998). Heidegger for Beginners. pp. 170, 110. ISBN 1840460032. OCLC 722818057.
  28. ^ Wolfreys, J., ed., Introducing Criticism in the 21st Century, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), pp. 110–111.

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