I'm reading Being and Time and have got to the passage where Heidegger says

[...] we are to destroy the traditional content of ancient ontology until we arrive at those primordial experiences in which we achieved our first ways of determining the nature of Being - the ways that have guided us ever since.

This sounds like we a quest for, and you'll have to excuse my vagueness here, the "first instance" of Dasein. One of Heidegger's students, Hans Jonas, discusses something that sounds similar in Phenomenon of Life

Jonas talks about man's ability to form images and how this relates to man's ability to form an image of himself. He claims that this ability is a defining characteristic of humanity and cites cave paintings, such as those a Altamira, as the first evidence of humanity as distinct from the rest of life.

Jonas' conception of "life" and Heidegger's "Being" are supported by very different arguments, but Jonas' claim that "life can only be known by life" and Heidegger's description of Dasein where it is "being in such a way that one has an understanding of Being" seem to share the same character. In summary, they both talk about something similar

MH) Being that can enquire into the nature of Being
HJ) Life that can view itself abstractly

The two ideas are obviously related genealogically, but this does not mean they mark out the same thing. Life and Being seem to be different things in general, but is Jonas' humanity, and Heidegger's Dasein the same? If so, does Dasein begin with the making of images?

  • Can you specify the source of the Heidegger quote (chapter/section)?
    – jeroenk
    Apr 4, 2014 at 7:15
  • 1
    Yup, its page 22, section 6 (the task of destroying the history of ontology)
    – Lucas
    Apr 4, 2014 at 10:00

2 Answers 2


I cannot comment on Jonas either. But what does Heidegger say in the comment? As far as I can tell, the quote is a translation of this original German text:

"[Diese Aufgabe verstehen wir als die am Leitfaden der Seinsfrage sich vollziehende] Destruktion des überlieferten Bestandes der antiken Ontologie auf die ursprünglichen Erfahrungen, in denen die ersten und fortan leitenden Bestimmungen des Seins gewonnen wurden." (SuZ 2006, p. 22)

For Heidegger, (philosophical) 'tradition' starts with the Greeks: ancient ontology is the ontology of the ancient Greeks (he mentions 'The greek ontology and its history' just before this quote). This ontology is supposed to be founded in their experience of the world. This ('primordal') experience has guided the first (Greek) way of determining Being and the further history of philosophy (Middle Ages, Enlightenment, modern philosohopy).

So, he is referring to a much later period in human history than the cave paintings.

Furthermore, 'Dasein' refers to the way the world, others and Dasein itself are revealed to Dasein: in images, but also in signs, knowing your way around things, emotions and moods etc. He questions the 'ocular' focus of western philosophy, i.e. taking seeing and pictures as leading examples in thinking. Rather he argues the various ways of revealedness of the world are equiprimordial. In Sein und Zeit, not images but understanding and especially moods are more important than images.

  • I think your last paragraph could be better worded on two points. The first sentence is ambiguous in relation to the referent of 'Dasein'. Dasein does not refer to things other than Dasein. It is for Dasein that these things are. The last sentence is also strange as your description of moving from images to understanding is more like Hegel than Heidegger. While Heidegger opposes picture thinking, it's not because he wants to replace it with understanding (in any normal sense of that word), he wants to replace it with not being confused by the images and instead accessing Being itself directly.
    – virmaior
    Apr 4, 2014 at 14:57
  • Jonas' image making is not just making pictures, the example is because image making is most obvious employed in the making of pictures. It's also not "picture thinking" as I understand the term, its being able to see something simultaneously something and not something (this is probably too concise). It's being able to say, that's a pipe, but also I know its just a picture of a pipe. It's being able to represent something without copying it. It's abstraction to defining features. "Picture thinking" is usually contrasted with "word thinking", image making would apply equally to both.
    – Lucas
    Apr 4, 2014 at 15:10

I don't know anything about Heidegger's student, Hans Jonas, so I cannot comment on that part of what you are asking, but I can do my best to explain the passage from Heidegger. I take the passage you reference to refer not to the origin of Dasein itself but to Dasein's thought before it has been corrupted by ontology. A mantra for understanding Heidegger is that we need to move from thinking about beings back to thinking about Being.

For Heidegger, the study of beings -- the idea that we should look around and figure out what exists in the world and understand our place in it through this -- is a form of self-deception. He calls into "ontology." For him, we should instead do "metaphysics" which involves keeping our thoughts on Being. (looked at from the standpoint of analytic philosophy, this sounds like gibberish -- but it's not quite gibberish).

What Heidegger wants to do is focus not on the nature of perception but on the nature of the consciousness that do so. For him, this will mean that we discover we are a consciousness that happens in space and time (with time being the most important part) and that ultimately will die. Keeping "Being" in mind means keeping in mind the way that consciousness generates being through its activities and ultimately that the deepest reality for this being (Dasein) is that it will die. The move to "ontology" makes it so that the self avoids this by thinking about objects and the world -- losing track of the sense in which all of this depends on its activity.

  • Part of what I am asking is if Dasein's thought at the origin of Dasein itself and "Dasein's thought before it has been corrupted by ontology" describe the same way of being. So I am questioning whether the two things you contrast in your second sentence are mutually exclusive (in fact, I think they might be the same).
    – Lucas
    Apr 4, 2014 at 3:00
  • I don't quite understand what you mean by "origin of Dasein" itself. Dasein isn't a species. It's each human lived experience. Dasein can be confused in its thinking if it distracted by beings. What it is is Dasein so there's not really an "origin".
    – virmaior
    Apr 4, 2014 at 3:06
  • By origin I mean that there was lived human experience in the past, but at some point in the past there were no humans. The "primordial experiences" without traditional ontological content are potentially (but need not be) the experiences of the earliest men.
    – Lucas
    Apr 4, 2014 at 3:54
  • I think you need to unlink the two senses of origin when speaking about Dasein. Heidegger in his mythology might believe there was time before the times where Dasein encountered Being before beings. But you need to keep in mind that the most real experience of being is to be always conscious of your mortality (i.e. running from an angry rhino because you are going to die). But the quote you supplied as I read it is referring not to the advent of early man per se but to a process that happens in each Dasein involving lack of Eigentlichkeit.
    – virmaior
    Apr 4, 2014 at 4:20
  • The formulation of your answer about consciousness is misleading. Heidegger rejects the notion of (self)-consciousness as fundamental, this is only part of Dasein. The term itself should be thought from the concept of Dasein, rather than vice versa.
    – jeroenk
    Apr 4, 2014 at 10:50

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