Existence and Self-Understanding in Being and Time

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 56 (1):97-110 (1996)
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Early in Being and Time Heidegger announces that the primary concept by means of which he aims to understand Dasein is the concept to which he gives the name ‘existence.’ But what is existence? Existence is, roughly, that feature of Dasein that its self-understanding is constitutive of its being what or who it is. In an important sense, this concept embodies Heidegger’s existentialism. At the center of existentialism lies the claim that humans are given their content neither by an ahistorical, transcultural essence, nor by nature. Rather, Dasein itself determines this content in its act of self-understanding. Kierkegaard expressed this in his famous formulation that “The self is that which relates itself to itself;” Ortega in his catchy phrase, “Man has no nature;” and Sartre in his notorious proposition, “Existence comes before essence.” All of these dicta articulate the same idea.



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William Blattner
Georgetown University

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