Heidegger’s chief and almost obsessive concern throughout the near entirety of his work is ‘Being’ or Ontology, that is, Being at its most basic and fundamental. In this way, the question “What ‘is’ Dasein?” expresses this concern perfectly. Steven Earnshaw (2006) explains that “it is the word ‘is’ that should command our attention, it is the ‘isness’ which is everything and which needs to be thought about” (p. 59). Earnshaw (2006) goes on to say that “the ‘is’ is the precondition for everything, for all ‘entities’, it is Being itself” (p. 59). It seems that the mere single syllabic word ‘is’, in all of its subtle simplicity not only contains the full totality of Being but, is, in fact, that very totality. Earnshaw (2006) goes on to say that “if Being is the ‘isness’ of everything then it is in a way both everything and nothing – it is all-pervasive, since ‘is’ must be the condition of the universe” (p. 59). The very essence of existence itself, the wonder and astonishment of its ‘throwness’, is identically one with the brute facticity of ‘is’.
In this regard, Heidegger seems to be offering what could be understood as a Field Theory of Being, as his proposal finds an analogous similarity to Einstein’s Field Theory of Matter (Barrett, 1990, p. 217). Just as Einstein theorized matter as a field or region rather than as a bounded body in the way Newton had proposed, Heidegger similarly suggests that “My Being is not something that takes place inside my skin (or inside an immaterial substance inside that skin); my Being…is spread over a field or region which is the world of its care and concern” (Barrett, 1990, p. 217). Here, then, in the sheer vagueness of the all-encompassing nature of Being, Heidegger distinguishes varying modes of Being and that mode of Being that is most particularly characterized by humanity is Dasein (Earnshaw, 2006, p. 60).
Dasein translates literally to mean ‘there-being’, though it is most often written as ‘being-there’ (Earnshaw, 2006, p. 60). This mode of Being conveys a deep sense of present awareness, that is, a mode of Being in which Being is presented as being self-recognizably present to itself (Earnshaw, 2006, p. 60). Dasein is that mode of Being that is fully aware of itself as Being. It is for this reason that humans most distinctively and uniquely display the character of Dasein, no other mode of Being expressed within any other entity has this capacity. Earnshaw (2006) explains that “humans are aware of themselves as ‘existing’ and ask themselves what it is to exist” (p. 60). It is only within the human species that Being can come to know itself as being Being. Through the human race Being is presently aware of its ‘isness’. This is yet another reason why the question, “What is Dasein?”, is an aptly fitting exemplar of the Hedieggarian method. With Dasein “Being is a question for Dasein itself; it asks itself…’What is Being?'” (Earnshaw, 2006, p. 60). “Dasein,” as Earnshaw (2006) goes on to state, “is a manner of Being which questions Being” (p. 60). It seems, then, that built within the very question of “What is Dasein?” and within the very act of asking the question, Dasein is most purely expressed, most accurately exemplified, and most precisely defined.
Barrett, W. (1990). Irrational man: A study in existential philosophy. New York, NY: Anchor Books.
Earnshaw, S. (2006). Existentialism: A guide for the perplexed. New York, NY: MJF Books.