Heidegger’s Existential Philosophy

Philo of Man


Heidegger’s Existential Philosophy



Heidegger (Photo credit: Free Wikimedia Common)

Heidegger’s (new conception of) philosophy, according to Werner Marx, aims ultimately to attain a “second beginning” at this late stage (20th century) of human development. Thus, for Werner Marx, Heidegger’s effort must be seen as composing anew toward the “Essence of Being” and, at one with that, as articulating anew the “Essence of Man”.

Why the “second beginning” of philosophy and the task of composing anew toward the “Essence of Being” and the “Essence of Man”?

In Heidegger’s existential philosophy, this question has long been stalemated and yet the question of Being (i.e., the Essence of Being and the Essence of Man) remains the original question, the “first” question concerning the meaning of our own Being vis-à-vis the meaning of Being. This implies for Heidegger not only a “going back” (remembering) to the original question and appropriating what this serious question itself had revealed to human beings (Dasein), but also a “going back” to those thinkers who first raised the question concerning the Being of beings―the pre-Socratics.

The pre-Socratics were the first to raise the question concerning the Essence of Being and of Man; thus, they were referred to as the “first philosophers”. With this they were said to have set the “first beginning” of philosophy. We must note, however, that the term “pre-Socratics” does not refer only to the set of philosophers from Thales to the sophists (e.g., Protagoras, Gorgias, and Thracymachus), but also to the Philomythoi (the lovers of myth, like Hesiod and Homer), as Aristotle would call them. Thus, in this context, philosophy could be said to have begun with the Philomythoi and the pre-Socratics.


Philomythoi (e.g., Homer and Hesiod)


– the Philomythoi addressed the question concerning Being through their mythical songs. According to Werner Marx, through their mythical songs, the great and terrifying powers that formed and ruled the cosmos came to light and shone forth―in the brilliance of the beautiful and the terror of the numinous.


– in and through the simplicity and immediacy of their speech (saying and singing), a whole meaningful order arose out of the darkness that had shrouded all-that-is (Being).


– the Philomythoi in awe and wonder felt themselves as servants, instrument, and voices of the powers about which they sang




– the pre-Socratics addressed, on the other hand, addressed the question concerning Being through thinking, that is, the thinking of and toward that which enables, empowers, and forms all-that-is, of and toward the logos of the cosmos. This kind of thinking was simple, immediate, and poetic (i.e., creative).


– these thinkers too felt themselves as servants, instruments, and voices, particularly of that power they deserved most, of Nous, the light-giving Reason.


– blessed with the gift of Nous, they were gifted for noesis, the capacity to apprehend intuitively and thereby to bring the meaning of Reason into the fullness of its light. AND through these elucidations, the cosmos became more lucid.

According to Werner Marx, the pre-Socratics did not try to elucidate the various meanings of al the many “particular beings”. Instead, they tried most of all to conceive, which then mean to “mirror”, the phenomenal elementary powers―the elements of water, fire, air, and earth―and to let emerge that which held all these elements together and empowered them: namely, physis, the natureness in all these nature.

For the pre-Socratics, physis is the great unifying mother and is conceived as Eon or “to einai”, Being or “to be”, for the way physis unfolds itself was seen as the way Being unfolds itself, the way Being allows the physei onta, the natural beings, to “be” or “not be”. Physis makes beings alight into the light of their presence and then pass again into darkness of their past; in other words, the moment Being reveals itself, it automatically withdraws itself.

In their “philosophizing poems”, the pre-Socratics elucidated poetically a certain “Essence of Being” by differentiating Being from Non-Being, by differentiating Being or identifying it with Becoming, by setting Being-in-Truth against Being-in-Sham. And at one with the Essence of Being, the Essence of Man was poetically composed as that natural being that can think the Essence of Being.

First major point: Heidegger, according to Werner Marx, aims ultimately to attain a “second beginning” and this means composing anew toward the “Essence of Being” and the “Essence of Man”.

“It is therefore not surprising to find in analyzing the writings of Heidegger that his new conception of philosophy seems to demand that the self-understanding of the philosopher be changed to the kind of self-understanding which the pre-Socratics had, that is, that the new philosopher feel himself again as intermediary, instrument, and voice and the style of philosophizing again become simple, immediate, and poetic like the singing and thinking of the pre-Socratics. And finally,

Heidegger―as the first thinkers did―now sees the foremost task or subject matter of philosophy not as the explanation of the meaning of “particular beings”, but as the elucidation, articulation, and poetic composition of a new Essence of Being, and thereby of a new Essence of Man.


 Heidegger’s brand of Metaphysics

Heidegger rejects the whole enterprise of “metaphysics” in the traditional sense of this word where it indicates something eternal, infinite, and perfect. Heidegger’s metaphysics is a “finite metaphysics of finiteness”.

What Heidegger calls metaphysics, therefore, is bound up with the structure of man’s finite existence in the world. And so Heidegger proposes to understand man’s being in particular and Being in general with the horizon of Time. Thus, the idea of going beyond Time and coming back to Time (i.e., Transcendence) is a misunderstanding of Heidegger. Transcendence for Heidegger is Transcendence within immanence, that is to say, Transcendence within Time.

Second major point: For Heidegger, therefore, man (Dasein) transcends itself, but not toward a perfect Being (like God of Kierkegaard and Jaspers). Man transcends itself toward its own world, and nothing else.

Key Concepts in Heidegger’s Existential Philosophy

1) Facticity and Deliverance

The basic idea here is that man (Dasein) is simply thrown into the world. So man “is”, is “here and now” just as the rest of all things (ontic) in the universe. In other words, man is a being among a multitude of beings, that is to say, man is a being-with-other-in-the-world (mitsein). For this reason,

Heidegger claims that man is not a substance, a thinking thing (as Descartes would have us believe), because man is simply constituted by this factuality (facticity). In other words, man’s way of being, his way of thinking, his mood in general, is according to Heidegger simply articulations of such factuality.

It must be noted that according to Werner Marx, the claim that man is not a substance is the main feature of the early Heidegger. In fact, Werner Marx contends that most of Heidegger’s effort should be interpreted in the light of Heidegger’s critique of Descartes. For Werner Marx, Heidegger demonstrated that the Essence of Man is not merely that of a self-proved center of mind or consciousness, is not a thinking “thing” or “substance”, and is not separated by a Cartesian gulf from a non-conscious reality.

As a thrown being, Dasein is not simply extant (vorhanden or present-at-hand) like a stone, nor Dasein is determined by an alien purpose (zuhanden or ready-to-hand) like a hammer which is what it is as something “to hammer with” and which only man can handle. In distinction from these two other ways of being, the merely extant and the functional being, man (Dasein) has the privilege of being in such a way that he is thrust upon himself, and yet owns his own existence. And unlike all other beings, man is so constituted that through most of his actions, he stands in some awareness of his being, of “that and how he is”. THUS: almost all of man’s act is an act in some awareness of the Essence of Being. Man is so constituted that he is OPEN not only for his own Being (the character and meanings of his own existing) but also for the Being of other human and non-human “particular being”.

This kind of Being or rather “to be”, which is peculiar to human Dasein, that is, being responsible to one’s own being, without, however, being responsible for being-there, is what Heidegger calls “existence”.

Third major point: In this way, “existence” therefore is understood by Heidegger as man’s way or manner of being-there, of being a human being among other beings in the world.

2) Overtness and World:

The idea that man is open to the Essence of Being (i.e., his own Being and the Being of other beings) gives way to the concept of OVERTNESS as one of the conditions of “possibility”.

So, how does man make himself open to the Essence of Being?

Answer: in and through its basic existing ways (i.e., existential or existential givens), namely, understanding, mood, and speech.

In and through these existential, man discloses of illuminates itself. And through these existential, OVERTNESS is brought into the fore.

Note: Overtness can be referred to as “consciousness”, but Heidegger avoids using the term not only because of its Cartesian implications, but because it prevents us from realizing that each individual lucidity or overtness is part and parcel of a wide and general overtness, of an elementary sort of Truth of aletheia.


Note: Essence of Being is the same with Truth of Being, so the unconcealment of Being is also referred to as the unconcealment of Truth


Heidegger:    this “overtness” is an a priori condition for any so-called subject-object

relationships. THUS: for Heidegger, no subject could refer itself to an object, no act of experiential knowledge about an object could take place, and no statement or judgment could be arrived at about an object, if such prior statement of manifestness had not come about, embracing both subject and object.

In addition to OVERTNESS, Heidegger introduced the concept of WORLD as another important condition of “possibility”.

For Heidegger, WORLD refers to that which constitute the unity of significances, the context of meanings in which man moves. Thus, “world” for Heidegger is not a blind mass of things (or the totality of nature), but an existential structure that defines or constitutes man’s way of Being.

Man refers to this context of intersubjective meanings…because he is always already within and amidst “beings” (ontic) and moves around in them with ease and familiarity. Thus, again, Being is always within the horizon of Time.

In and through the WORLD, man projects and charts his own course for pragmatic reasons, but does so within this context of meanings and always guided by it.

In this sense, man is determined by WORLD and therefore, on this ground alone, it is quite wrong to assert that Heidegger has conceived of a man as “sovereign” or a self-creator, in the way Sartre does.

Fourth major point: the two notions of “overtness” and “world” constitute man as an entity that stands in an intimate and immediate awareness of Being in its character and meanings. Only when “overtness” and “world” occur can all-that-is (Essence of Being) and particular beings (ontic) be encountered as “be-ings”. It is only through “overtness” and “world” therefore that the “unconcealment of Being” becomes possible.

3) The Problem of Authenticity/Inauthenticity

Through “overtness” and “world”, man can gain a high degree of lucidity and thereby experience his true Being, that of others and of his things.

However, man in his everyday life FAILS to realize that his mood, understanding and speech are “necessary ways of Being”.

This is due to the fact that man’s thrownness into the world implies deliverance or “fallenness”, and, as already mentioned, deliverance means forgetting and, thus, being lost in the world (Das Man or they). It is now the world that prescribe the path for man and man succumbed (surrendered) his creative abilities to worldly things. This results in INAUTHENTIC existence.

In order for man (Dasein) to be authentic, therefore, it has to own its existence again, that it has to regain its existence that is lost in the “they”. But this implies that Dasein has to gain somehow full awareness of the significance of what it means “to be”, of what it means to be a self with others and objects in the world.

If inauthenticity is understood as the fallenness of Dasein into the “world”, and if authenticity means full awareness of what it means to be a self with others and objects in the world, then this implies a “becoming” or the realization of Dasein’s possibilities.  In Heidegger’s existential philosophy, such realization of Dasein’s possibilities occurs through the experience of angst which mobilizes other key categories, such as, death, conscience, and decidedness.  Heidegger understands angst as the authentic sensibility that discloses Dasein’s finite existence in the world. This disclosure allows Dasein to understand itself as a finite being thrown toward its own-most possibility, which is death.  Through death, understood as the paradoxical possibility of no-longer-being-able-to-be-there, Dasein is thrown back onto its own resources.  This movement then discloses Dasein as an individual self thrown into the world, whose task in the world is to exist as itself, that is to say, to be authentic.  For Heidegger, therefore, death is the ultimate basis of authenticity.

The categories of conscience and decidedness answer the question concerning the possibility of authentic existence. Conscience is the inner voice within Dasein itself that calls Dasein to “come back to itself and seize the authentic possibility of truly being itself”.  Conscience appears to be an “ought” on the part of Dasein to own his existence again.  Once Dasein heeds the call of conscience, decidedness ensues.  Authenticity, therefore, as the full awareness of the significance of what it means to be a self also means an “awareness of one’s own-most possibilities and the firm resolve to realize them in the future.”  Authenticity is thus tied to one’s possibilities and to possible future ways of being.  This makes manifest the “temporal” axis of existential phenomenology─Dasein is in the present, indebted to the past, and oriented toward the future (death).  The threefold structure of care turns out to be also the structure of existence: the human being is a being in time.

However, authenticity requires a kind of mood, understanding, and speech that are attuned to the Essence of Being and this is possible in the “thinking of the philosopher”.

Man as Dasein and as thinker will realize that his thinking is a way of Being, that the Essence of Being unfolds in it, and that he is therefore a necessary instrument, that he is needed for the articulation of the Essence of Being.

Heidegger, however, believes that Aristotle and the philosophers after Aristotle failed to think about the Essence of Being. Aristotle and his followers had only articulated the meaning of “particular beings”.

Because of this, Heidegger believes, philosophers hitherto could not realize themselves as Dasein, as AUTHNTIC HUMAN BEINGS.

Fifth major point: This is the NEW TASK OF PHILOSOPHY, according to Heidegger.

But what is the character of this new philosophizing?

Heidegger calls this andenken, which means a thinking “toward and of”, and in this sense a “remembering” kind of thinking―remembering because the moment Being reveals itself, it automatically withdraws itself.

But toward what and of what? In other words, what is the subject matter of this kind of thinking?

Heidegger: It should think toward and of the Essence of Being and of the Essence of man. As Heidegger formulates it:

“Being commands and directs the thinker”, or “Being claims the thinking of the thinker so that it thereby may conceal itself in its truth”.

This is what Heidegger calls “essential or meditative thinking” as opposed to “calculative or scientific thinking”.


Note: Essential thinking is not simply thinking of the “unthought” or the “unseen”, because thinking of the unthought/unseen can become a kind of calculative thinking. Essential thinking is thinking about the Essence of Being (the Essence of Man) and at the same time attuning oneself to what Being unconceals/discloses itself in the process of thinking.


Does Heidegger’s “remembering” kind of thinking obey an “inner law” or logos?

No. It does not stand under the rule of the “logos” of thought because of thinking follows an “inner law” like Hegel’s, it loses the immediate and simple experience of Being.

Where can thinking find the Essence of Being?

It finds it in the “second way of Being”, that is, in speech (or language). As Heidegger claims, language is the house of Being.


Note: “Thinking”, that is, essential thinking, is the “first way of Being”.

Sixth major point: Heidegger did not pretend to have solved the problem of Being.

Toward the end of his magnum opus Being and Time, Heidegger says explicitly that its only purpose is to rekindle the question of Being and to bring into motion what has become stalemated.

It must be noted that Heidegger concludes this work not with ready-made answers, but with a series of open questions.


Jeffry Ocay
Philosophy Department
Silliman University

For students who are new to philosophy, this article may help: http://philonotes.com/index.php/2017/12/16/what-is-philosophy/.

2 thoughts on “Heidegger’s Existential Philosophy”

  1. You really have understood the key concepts in Heidegger. Nice one. I will recommend this to my students. Thanks for your generosity.

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