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Dasein (ˈdaːzaɪn) is a German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 word famously used by Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the "question of Being."...

 in his magnum opus
Magnum opus
Magnum opus , from the Latin meaning "great work", refers to the largest, and perhaps the best, greatest, most popular, or most renowned achievement of a writer, artist, or composer.-Related terms:Sometimes the term magnum opus is used to refer to simply "a great work" rather than "the...

 Being and Time
Being and Time
Being and Time is a book by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Although written quickly, and despite the fact that Heidegger never completed the project outlined in the introduction, it remains his most important work and has profoundly influenced 20th-century philosophy, particularly...

, which generally translates to being
Being , is an English word used for conceptualizing subjective and objective aspects of reality, including those fundamental to the self —related to and somewhat interchangeable with terms like "existence" and "living".In its objective usage —as in "a being," or "[a] human being" —it...

in its ontological and philosophical sense (cf. person
A person is a human being, or an entity that has certain capacities or attributes strongly associated with being human , for example in a particular moral or legal context...

hood, and reality
In philosophy, reality is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. In a wider definition, reality includes everything that is and has been, whether or not it is observable or comprehensible...


Original meaning, and Heidegger's interpretation

The word Dasein has been used by several philosophers before Heidegger, most notably Ludwig Feuerbach, with the meaning of human "existence" or "presence". It is derived from da-sein, which literally means being-there/there-being, though Heidegger was adamant that this was an inappropriate translation of Dasein. In German, Dasein is the vernacular term for existence
In common usage, existence is the world we are aware of through our senses, and that persists independently without them. In academic philosophy the word has a more specialized meaning, being contrasted with essence, which specifies different forms of existence as well as different identity...

, as in I am pleased with my existence (ich bin mit meinem Dasein zufrieden). According to Heidegger, however, it must not be mistaken for a subject, that is something definable in terms of consciousness or a self. Heidegger was adamant about this distinction, which carried on Nietzsche's critique of the subject. Dasein, as a human being that is constituted by its temporality, illuminates and interprets the meaning of Being in Time. Heidegger chose this term as a synonym for "human entity" in order to emphasize the critical importance "Being" has for our understanding and interpretation of the world. Some scholars have been confused on this issue, arguing that for Heidegger "Dasein" denoted some sort of structured awareness or an institutional "way of life" but the textual evidence for this claim is not strong.

This entity which each of us is himself…we shall denote by the term “Dasein.” (BT 27)

[Dasein is] that entity which in its Being has this very Being as an issue…(BT 68)

In the question about the meaning of Being, what is primarily interrogated is those entities which have the character of Dasein. (BT 65)

…it is possible to individualize [the question of the meaning of Being] very precisely for any particular Dasein. (BT 63)

…Dasein is essentially an entity with Being-in, it can explicitly discover those entities which it encounters environmentally, it can know them…(BT 84)

As we can see from these quotations from Heidegger's Being and Time
Being and Time
Being and Time is a book by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Although written quickly, and despite the fact that Heidegger never completed the project outlined in the introduction, it remains his most important work and has profoundly influenced 20th-century philosophy, particularly...

, the replacement of "Dasein" with "awareness" or "way of life" would render the ontological difference between entities and the being of entities incoherent. Establishing this difference is the general motif running through Being and Time.

Heidegger used the concept of Dasein to uncover the primal nature of "Being
Being , is an English word used for conceptualizing subjective and objective aspects of reality, including those fundamental to the self —related to and somewhat interchangeable with terms like "existence" and "living".In its objective usage —as in "a being," or "[a] human being" —it...

" (Sein). Like Nietzsche, Heidegger criticized the notion of substance
Substance theory
Substance theory, or substance attribute theory, is an ontological theory about objecthood, positing that a substance is distinct from its properties. A thing-in-itself is a property-bearer that must be distinguished from the properties it bears....

, arguing that Dasein is always a being engaged in the world. The fundamental mode of Being is not that of a subject or of the objective but of the coherence of Being-in-the-world. This is the ontological basis of Heidegger's work. There can be no Cartesian "abstract agent" - the agent emerges out of his environment.

On Heidegger's account, traditional language, logical systems, and beliefs obscure Dasein's nature from itself. Beings are Dasein even when they are ontologically wrapped up in a tradition which obscures the authentic choice
Bad faith (existentialism)
Bad faith is a philosophical concept used by existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre to describe the phenomenon where a human being under pressure from societal forces adopts false values and disowns their innate freedom to act authentically...

 to live within and transmit this tradition. In this case Dasein still authentically chooses the tradition when it is confronted by a paradox within the tradition and must choose to dismiss the tradition or dismiss the experience of being confronted with choice.

Heidegger attempted to maintain the definition of Dasein as we all are, in our average everydayness. Dasein does not spring into existence upon philosophical exploration of itself. Heidegger intended Dasein as a concept, in order to provide a stepping stone in the questioning of what it means to be. When Dasein contemplates this, what seems (absurdly) circular in ontic
In philosophy, ontic is physical, real or factual existence."Ontic" describes what is there, as opposed to the nature or properties of that being...

 terms, is recursive in ontological sense, because it brings the necessary appearance of time to the center of attention.

In Being and Time, Heidegger opens by positing that the potentialities of Dasein's Being extend beyond the realms disclosed by positive science or in the history of metaphysics
Metaphysics of presence
The concept of the metaphysics of presence is an important consideration within the area of deconstruction. The deconstructive interpretation holds that the entire history of Western philosophy and its language and traditions has emphasized the desire for immediate access to meaning, and thus built...

. "Scientific research is not the only manner of Being which this entity can have, nor is it the one which lies closest. Moreover, Dasein itself has a special distinctiveness as compared with other entities [...]" What distinguishes Dasein from other existent entities is that "[...] in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it." Dasein's very nature poses a philosophical (or ontological) problem for it. Thus, we see Heidegger, being Dasein, attempt to tackle this innate dilemma in his philosophical works.

Origin and inspiration

Some have argued for an origin of Dasein in Chinese philosophy
Chinese philosophy
Chinese philosophy is philosophy written in the Chinese tradition of thought. The majority of traditional Chinese philosophy originates in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States era, during a period known as the "Hundred Schools of Thought", which was characterized by significant intellectual and...

 and Japanese philosophy
Japanese philosophy
Japanese Philosophy has historically been a fusion of both indigenous Shinto and the continental religions, such as Buddhism and Confucianism. Formerly heavily influenced by both Chinese philosophy and Indian philosophy, as with Mitogaku and Zen, much modern Japanese philosophy is now also...

: according to Tomonobu Imamichi, Heidegger's concept of Dasein was inspired — although Heidegger remained silent on this — by Okakura Kakuzo
Okakura Kakuzo
was a Japanese scholar who contributed to the development of arts in Japan. Outside of Japan, he is chiefly remembered today as the author of The Book of Tea.-Biography:...

's concept of das-in-der-Welt-sein (being-in-the-worldness, worldliness) expressed in The Book of Tea
The Book of Tea
The Book of Tea The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzō , is a long essay linking the role of tea to the aesthetic and cultural aspects of Japanese life....

to describe Zhuangzi
Zhuangzi was an influential Chinese philosopher who lived around the 4th century BCE during the Warring States Period, a period corresponding to the philosophical summit of Chinese thought — the Hundred Schools of Thought, and is credited with writing—in part or in whole—a work known by his name,...

's philosophy, which Imamichi's teacher had offered to Heidegger in 1919, after having followed lessons with him the year before.

Karl Jaspers' Dasein and Existenz

For Karl Jaspers
Karl Jaspers
Karl Theodor Jaspers was a German psychiatrist and philosopher who had a strong influence on modern theology, psychiatry and philosophy. After being trained in and practicing psychiatry, Jaspers turned to philosophical inquiry and attempted to discover an innovative philosophical system...

, the term "Dasein" meant existence in its most minimal sense, the realm of objectivity and science, in opposition to what Jaspers called "Existenz", the realm of authentic
Authenticity (philosophy)
Authenticity is a technical term in existentialist philosophy, and is also used in the philosophy of art and psychology. In philosophy, the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures and influences which are very...

 being. Due to the drastically different use of the term "Dasein" between the two philosophers, there is often some confusion in students who begin with either Heidegger or Jaspers and subsequently study the other.

In Philosophy (3 vols, 1932), Jaspers gave his view of the history of philosophy and introduced his major themes. Beginning with modern science and empiricism, Jaspers points out that as we question reality, we confront borders that an empirical (or scientific) method can simply not transcend. At this point, the individual faces a choice: sink into despair and resignation, or take a leap of faith
Leap of faith
A leap of faith, in its most commonly used meaning, is the act of believing in or accepting something intangible or unprovable, or without empirical evidence...

 toward what Jaspers calls Transcendence. In making this leap, individuals confront their own limitless freedom, which Jaspers calls Existenz, and can finally experience authentic existence.

But if Existenz is a subjective state of being, how can it be evaluated and analyzed by the individual? Jaspers suggests social interactions offer guidelines that individuals either adopt or reject. In other words, Existenz is a solitary state derived from the values of society. As with Sartre’s idea of “mirrors” (“Hell is other people!”), Jaspers writes of the self as “reflection in someone else’s authentic self.” Unless we know what others think and expect of us, we cannot decide who we are or want to be.

Jaspers, therefore, presents a view in which all people depend upon society for self-definition, even if the act of definition is a rejection of society’s values. No one is truly apart from society. In the extreme, a hermit defines his or her self as a complete rejection of social structures, but there is no “hermit” without a society from which to seek shelter. As a result, individuals experience a constant sensation of conflict: a desire to define the self freely while requiring society for that definition.

Other applications

The term Dasein is much exploited in Existential Semiotics by Eero Tarasti
Eero Tarasti
Eero Tarasti is a Finnish musicologist and semiotician, currently serving as Professor of Musicology at the University of Helsinki....