I'm originally studied in natural science, so when I read philosophy I tend to put a lot of it into a scientific context, which usually supersedes whatever I'm reading and effectively stamps it out.

That said, I've heard that Heidegger's 'Being and Time' is incredibly influential, and so without actually reading the source work I'd like to know what valuable thought came out of this work?

  • Since you're coming from a natural science background you might find Heidegger's Zolikon Lectures elucidating. Perhaps because the audience for the lectures was coming from a more traditional psychoanalytic and natural science background Heidegger engages with them along those terms. This isn't to say that he's particularly sympathetic, but the context/dialogue might be interesting for you.
    – moorej
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 6:11

1 Answer 1


This is going to be a somewhat difficult question to answer as people will have differing opinions on Heidegger. I'd say there's three main things people get from Heidegger, all of which are somewhat related.

(1) There's a famous passage about Zuhandenheit (being at hand) and Vorhandenheit (ready to hand) which expresses that we spend most of our time using things and less time thinking about things. The cash-out values are complex but one is that we only care about certain types of questions when things are going wrong.

(2) The other perhaps larger outcome that can be seen in this passage but also in quite a few other places is that Heidegger could be said to be the father of philosophical hermeneutics. The idea here is that we know things against a background. In Heidegger's case "world" or "the four fold" depending on the text that we stake out to give meaning to the things we do "driving this into earth." In simpler terms, he doesn't think there's a single bedrock reality that describes things "scientifically."

(3) Heidegger's main protagonist is "Da-Sein" which relates to both of these as the human being as he exists and finds himself in the world. Da-Sein is often distracted by "beings" that prevent him from thinking about the key questions (for Heidegger, this is the obtusely worded question of being). What Da-Sein is is ultimately a being that is already in time (Heidegger calls this Geworfenheit "thrownness"). Long story short, we're going to die and we need to stop distracting ourselves from this fact.

There may be some other things people get from Heidegger but I would say the top two are the biggest hits that non Heidegger scholars would know. The third one seems similar to Sartre and the existentialists but Heidegger rejects that label.

Another confusing feature in studying Heidegger is that he uses "metaphysics" and "ontology" in ways that differ from many of his predecessors. For many philosohpers, the terms are roughly synonymous. For Heidegger, "metaphysics" refers to the tradition of philosophical inquiry up until him and the confusion of beings with Being (i.e., a focus on the former rather the latter). Conversely, "ontology" is a term which he uses in complicated ways. When it refers to the project of understanding BEING through his modified phenomenological method, it is good. When it refers to the work others did before, it becomes "ontic" and is generally insufficient. Fundamental ontology is looking at THE QUESTION...

  • 1
    A lot of this is inaccurate. Especially what you've said at the end - ontology is not "bad" for Heidegger. He calls Being and Time fundamental ontology. He contrasts it with the tradition of philosophy which he refers to as metaphysics. Metaphysics refers to the extent of the philosophical tradition during which the question of being remained implicit, not explicitly posed. That being said, metaphysics is necessary, it is not "bad" either. Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 3:07
  • @JonathanBasile I've corrected the last paragraph in light of your comment. It's been years since I studied Heidegger in graduate school. You are indeed correct regarding some of the subtleties of how he uses ontology/metaphysics. But I think you're granting the author too much of an ability to tell us his project. I'd be interested to know which other parts you are claiming are inaccurate in light of your "A lot of this is inaccurate."
    – virmaior
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 3:36
  • To further refine what you've said - metaphysics would not include the presocratics - Heidegger usually presents it as having begun with Plato. Your description of "ontic" ontology is not reminiscent to me of anything Heidegger wrote. do you have a passage in mind? What we are discussing here, is how Heidegger defines his own project and how he uses his own terminology, so it's appropriate to let him "tell us his project" as you say. As for other problems, first I would say I think the project of reducing a thinker (in this case, one who has written over a hundred books) to a few points... Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 3:52
  • Is futile and doomed to superficiality, but fault for that lies more with the questioner than with you. 1)the distinction between zuhandenheit and vorhandenheit is a distinction of ways of being, not of how we spend our time. At the very least we should take away from this that our primary relation to things is non-conceptual. 3) beings may distract us when we are falling, but they are also our only form of access to being. the question of being is not obtusely worded - it is: what is the meaning of being? We are not "in" time the way a stone is in a field, time is the meaning of our being... Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 4:01
  • and thrownness is not the only temporal component of Dasein.There is nothing similar about Heidegger's thought and Sartre's, if Heidegger is understood rigorously. Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 4:03

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