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Short description: Existence, concept from Heidegger's philosophy

Dasein (German pronunciation: [ˈdaːzaɪn]) (sometimes spelled as Da-sein) is the German word for 'existence'.[1] 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 particular 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 reinterpretation

In German, Dasein is the vernacular term for "existence". 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 the 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

Dasein and Nazism

Heidegger used the concept of Dasein to discuss Nazi ideology, and to advocate support for Hitler. In relation to blood and soil rhetoric, Heidegger stated

There is much talk nowadays of blood and soil as frequently invoked powers. Literati, whom one comes across even today, have already seized hold of them. Blood and soil are certainly powerful and necessary, but they are not a sufficient condition for the Dasein of a people.[16]

Heidegger invoked the notion of Dasein in supporting the German election of November 1933, in which the electorate was presented with a single Nazi-approved list of candidates:

The German people has been summoned by the Führer to vote; the Führer, however, is asking nothing from the people; rather, he is giving the people the possibility of making, directly, the highest free decision of all: whether it – the entire people – wants its own existence (Dasein), or whether it does not want it. [...] On November 12, the German people as a whole will choose its future, and this future is bound to the Führer. [...] There are not separate foreign and domestic policies. There is only one will to the full existence (Dasein) of the State. The Führer has awakened this will in the entire people and has welded it into a single resolve.[17]

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 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.[18] Parallel concepts are also found in Indian philosophy[19]:30[20] and in Native American philosophies.[21]

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.[22]: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 people question reality, they 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. 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.[23]: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).[24] Similarly, he saw the analyst 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”.[25][26]: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”.[27]:183

Aleksandr Dugin uses Dasein as the foundation for the Fourth Political Theory, emphasizing Dasein and its role in Russian society. He puts this in opposition to Western (more specifically American) society, which is far too individualistic with an inauthentic view of individuality.[28]


Theodor W. Adorno criticised Heidegger's concept of Dasein as an idealistic retreat from historical reality.[29]

Richard Rorty considered that with Dasein, Heidegger was creating a conservative myth of being, complicit with the Romantic elements of Nazism.[30]

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."[31]:110–111

See also


  1. Dasein literally means "being there" or "presence" (German: da "there"; sein "to be")
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 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. 5.0 5.1 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. Philipse, Herman (2021-05-11) (in en). Heidegger's Philosophy of Being: A Critical Interpretation. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-2295-9. 
  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. Philipse, Herman (2021-05-11) (in en). Heidegger's Philosophy of Being: A Critical Interpretation. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-2295-9. 
  16. Sein und Wahrheit, GA II/36/37, Freiburger Vorlesungen Sommersemester 1933 und Wintersemester 1933–34, Klostermann, Frankfurt/M. 2001, p.263.
  17. Martin Heidegger, "German Men and Women!", a speech delivered on 10 November 1933 at Freiburg university; printed in the Freiburger Studentenzeitung, November 10, 1933. English translation in R. Wolin, ed., The Heidegger Controversy (MIT Press, 1993), chapter 2.
  18. Tomonobu Imamichi (2004). In Search of Wisdom: One Philosopher's Journey. LTCB international library selection. 15. International House of Japan. ISBN 9784120029868. 
  19. Mehta, J. L. (1992). "Heidegger and Vedānta: reflections on a questionable theme". in Parkes, Graham. Heidegger and Asian Thought (First Indian ed.). Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 15–46. ISBN 81-208-0802-9. 
  20. Correya, Bosco (2018). Heideggerian Seinsdenken and Advaita Vedata (sic) of Sankara .
  21. Elgin, Duane (2009) (in en). The Living Universe: Where Are We? Who Are We? Where Are We Going?. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-60509-904-0. "The third miracle is that living things exist that know they exist. As human beings conscious of ourselves, we represent the third miracle." 
  22. Dimech, Pauline (2017-05-18) (in en). The Authority of the Saints: Drawing on the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 978-1-5326-0403-4. 
  23. Tarasti, Eero (2000). Existential Semiotics. Advances in Semiotics. Indiana University Press. pp. 24–30. ISBN 978-0-253-33722-1. 
  24. Roudinesco, É., Jacques Lacan (1999) p. 249-50
  25. Jacques Lacan, Ecrits (1997) p. 70
  26. Pettigrew, David; Raffoul, François (1996-01-01) (in en). Disseminating Lacan. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-2785-9. 
  27. Schutz, Alfred (1967) (in en). The Phenomenology of the Social World. Northwestern University Press. ISBN 978-0-8101-0390-0. 
  28. Dugin, Alexander (2012). The Fourth Political Theory. Arktos Media. pp. 1–50. 
  29. Jameson, Fredric (2005). The Jameson Reader. Blackwell Publishers. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-631-20269-1. OCLC 864874128. 
  30. Collins, Jeff; Selina, Howard; Appignanesi, Richard (1998). Heidegger for Beginners. Icon Books. pp. 170, 110. ISBN 1-84046-003-2. OCLC 722818057. 
  31. Wolfreys, Julian (2015-03-08) (in en). Introducing Criticism in the 21st Century. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-9531-7. 

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