The Metaphysics of Da-sein

A Guide to the Philosophy of Martin Heidegger

Heidegger deliberately eschewed the term ‘consciousness’ (a strategy for which I have developed the utmost sympathy of late), and even coined his own word to describe human beings; Da-sein, literally: there-being. In Being and Time, ‘Da-sein’ didn’t really go beyond a synonym for human being, although the idea was to emphasise human being; specifically denoting the way our mode of being is considerably different from that of other objects, and even other living beings. In Heidegger’s post-B&T work, however, Da-sein gets a fuller treatment, where it is revealed as the ground, or site, for the opening up of Being.

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Demystifying Heidegger’s Beyng

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German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) spent his entire philosophical career circling one idea: Beyng. (Since Heidegger used the word ‘being’ in a number of different contexts with different meanings, I have decided to follow him in using the archaic form of the word, which he temporarily adopted in the 30s, to clearly indicate the difference). Despite having written a daunting number of books and articles, and delivered countless speeches and lectures about beyng, exactly what he meant by the word is still shrouded in mystery, and often considered to be something absolutely mysterious. Rather than actually explaining beyng, although I will give a crude, partial outline of it, this article will argue that while beyng is mysterious in the sense that it cannot be articulated, summed up, or concluded like a theory or research project in any other discipline, it is not mysterious in any absolute sense, such that we can only vaguely gesture towards something that captured the reflection of beyng for just a moment.

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Sartre’s In-itself-for-itself and Buddhism

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Sartre’s Ontology

Sartre, in the opening chapter of his very challenging read, Being and Nothingness, cleaves existence neatly in two; what he calls being-for-itself and being-in-itself.

The in-itself is being. I don’t recall Sartre ever explicitly describing it as physical matter, but that is basically what it amounts to. The in-itself is characterised by three features: 1) it is in-itself, 2) it is what it is, and 3) it is. Respectively, these mean: 1) the in-itself is independent; i.e. it doesn’t depend on anything else to exist, 2) it doesn’t refer to itself; i.e. it isn’t self-reflexive, and 3) it is neither possible nor necessary. It isn’t necessary because it didn’t have to be, but neither is it possible because inert, non-conscious matter has no possibilities.

The for-itself, on the other hand, is consciousness. What does this mean? Consciousness is precisely not being. It is an empty, ‘massless’[1] perspective on, or relation to, being. The for-itself cannot be grasped because it is not a being, it’s not a thing, it is precisely no-thing… which is not the same as saying it is an illusion or that it doesn’t exist at all. If you find this scientifically implausible, I challenge you to describe consciousness in a way that preserves what conscious clearly is, all while staying within the confines of naturalistic materialism.

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