Heidegger’s Erfahrung: The Feeling of Existence


The desire for the inner feeling of existence was central to Heidegger’s later philosophy. During the 1930s in works like the Contributions to Philosophy, he began to search for the direct experience, rather than the mere knowledge, of existential power. I characterize such feelings as post-Lutheran. Luther taught his followers to feel the presence of an existentially creative God within themselves. Such feelings, as evidence of one’s salvation, became endemic. After the Enlightenment and despite the rise of secularism, the desire for the inner feeling of existence remained within portions of German culture. Heidegger rejected the idea of God as the foundation of existence, which he called an ontotheology, but he retained the desire to experience the coming-to-be of existence as an inner activity. In the Contributions, Heidegger repeatedly describes Being or “Seyn” as the “trembling” or “oscillation” between existence and nothingness. He tells us that nothingness always remains central to Being, which is what distinguishes Being from mere beings. The latter belong only to what has come-to-be; what Heidegger wanted to experience, not intellectually but as an inner feeling, was the power of coming-to-be. In short, Heidegger sought the inner experience of coming into being from nothingness.



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