In the first few pages of Being and Time Heidegger writes:

such an inquiry [into foundations]... still needs a guideline... it remains naive and opaque if... it leaves the meaning of being in general undiscussed (p12 SUNY Press).

I could agree scientists have to be concerned with foundations ("in biology... mechanism and vitalism"). And even that these are given by "preliminary research... interpreting these beings in terms of the basic constitution of their being... [As with e.g. Kant] working out what belongs to any nature whatsoever".

But, is it true that to decide upon a foundation we need an explicit study into what we mean by 'being'? Isn't that the entire issue at hand that he is trying to argue for: that "the meaning of Being" is an essential question (so he's begging the question).

I don't see how citing the crises of the sciences helps him! Has Being and Time helped mathematicians or scientists define their field? Are biologists at a loss because they haven't agreed on "the meaning of being"?

It seems unlikely to me, though I could see it may be of relevance in the philosophy of science, and philosophy of mind especially.

Has this question been addressed in the huge literature on Heidegger (or foundations), at all?

  • just feels like he's saying "even scientists don't know" and we're meant to be impressed that it's not just philosophers. i mean...
    – user38026
    Apr 27, 2019 at 3:35
  • 1
    That's what Heidegger held, "is it true" has no answer SE can give. Heidegger is well-known for his anti-scientific stance and "degeneration of logic into logistics" in mathematics, but even he revised his position in late years away from Husserlian foundationalism, which is still prominent in Sein und Zeit.
    – Conifold
    Apr 27, 2019 at 5:05
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    i don't see why it is in principle unanswerable by SE rather than as yet unanswerable? @Conifold
    – user38026
    Apr 27, 2019 at 5:24
  • Then why ask it this way, haven't we been over this multiple times? What would hypothetical answerer say? No, it's false because I believe in science? Or, yes, Heidegger is right and science lost its way? You've been doing better for a while, but now it's back to forum discussions. You may have a lot of good thoughts from reading Heidegger, but not all of them can be profitably shared here.
    – Conifold
    Apr 27, 2019 at 5:29
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    Actually, it was, but yes/no depends on the author, and that is not how you asked, is it. See Husserl and the History of Classical Foundationalism by Philipse, p.12.
    – Conifold
    Apr 27, 2019 at 7:42

2 Answers 2


The short answer is that as a continental philosopher, Heidegger wanted to look at hidden assumptions built into Western philosophy. Unlike the logical positivists who attempted to formalize scientific inquiry by restructuring it's metaphysics to disallow much subjective philosophical discourse as meaningless (ethics? Meaningless!), Heidegger looked to show how subjective experience had progressed so that the linguistic and theoretical attitudes of science concealed intersubjective fact.

Anywhere where positivist science fails (which presumes a privileged observer capable of knowing the universe with absolute accuracy and certainty) points to where objectivity is really intersubjectivity in disguise. Pertinent to this is quantum physics and eventually the Copenhagen interpretation which shows the limit of objectivity whereby wave function collapse is dependent on the subjective observer.

Some modern analytic philosophies that arise from embodied cognition and cognitive science affirm this argument and reject objectivism entirely. See Philosophy in the Flesh by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.


From the WP article:

Thus the question Heidegger asks in the introduction to Being and Time is: what is the being that will give access to the question of the meaning of Being? Heidegger's answer is that it can only be that being for whom the question of Being is important, the being for whom Being matters.[11] As this answer already indicates, the being for whom Being is a question is not a what, but a who. Heidegger calls this being Dasein (an ordinary German word literally meaning "being-there," i.e., existence), and the method pursued in Being and Time consists in the attempt to delimit the characteristics of Dasein, in order thereby to approach the meaning of Being itself through an interpretation of the temporality of Dasein. Dasein is not "man," but is nothing other than "man"...

and later:

As part of his ontological project, Heidegger undertakes a reinterpretation of previous Western philosophy. He wants to explain why and how theoretical knowledge came to seem like the most fundamental relation to being. This explanation takes the form of a destructuring (Destruktion) of the philosophical tradition, an interpretative strategy that reveals the fundamental experience of being at the base of previous philosophies that had become entrenched and hidden within the theoretical attitude of the metaphysics of presence.

  • 1
    still a bit confused. do scientists use 'existence', do their theories say that electrons "exist"?
    – user38026
    Sep 25, 2019 at 23:55
  • Scientists use one of many scientific methods each of which is built on an ontology, which is the presumption of what exists. Yes, scientists (who are largely physicalists) would say that electrons are real (they exist), and then reason from that assumption (which itself is built on the theory of E&M). From quantum theory electrons exist as a wave-particle duality as disturbance of fields. Phenomenologists point out that in the quantum theory, things don't exist until an observer measures; no objectivity reality. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpretations_of_quantum_mechanics
    – J D
    Sep 26, 2019 at 2:28
  • forgetting about 'real', can we believe in all the theoretical claims of a scientific theory and not believe that its entities "exist"
    – user38026
    Sep 26, 2019 at 2:51
  • You can, but by contradiction. Think about the claim "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!". A person can believe in this normative statement, but it is based on the presumption Medicare isn't run by the government. Likewise, consider a person who says "Take antibiotics to cure infections!" and then claim "There are no bacteria. Germ theory is hogwash". The first is affirmed by germ theory (it is a consequent of facts about bacteria and antibiotics at a biomolecular level), but the second rejects an essential element of the ontology. No MD would be awarded for this contradiction.
    – J D
    Sep 26, 2019 at 14:06
  • @another_name People aren't constrained by the rules of logic, because of the way the brain works.
    – J D
    Sep 26, 2019 at 14:06

This answer does not consider the question in terms of Heidegger, but more generally in terms of a philosophy of science or naturalism. Hence it is only partial.

If one thinks of science as a process of finding predictable patterns in objective data then this process has abstracted away subjectivity to look at a smaller, more manageable part of reality. As long as science stays there and recognizes the abstraction it has made, then it does not need to analyse Being, but if it claims that this abstraction is all of reality and what it abstracted away might be reducible to what it studies, then it has made a naive metaphysical commitment which needs to be challenged.

Some ways of challenging this would be the following:

  1. Alvin Plantinga's Evolutonary Argument Against Naturalism challenges a scientistic metaphysics that claims that naturalism is all there is. This position was earlier presented by C. S. Lewis in Miracles and Richard Taylor in Metaphysics. The belief in naturalism as all there is and evolution as the way we got where we are raises the question why our reasoning abilities are so accurate. Since they are accurate it is unlikely that naturalism is all there is.

  2. Gabriel Marcel in The Mystery of Being distinguishes between problems and mysteries. Problems are in the objective world of science where solutions can be found for them. Mysteries involve our subjectivity. By abstracting away our subjectivity we are able to look at reality as problems to be solved. This does not eliminate the need for a perspective that does not perform this abstraction but stays with the mystery of being.

  3. Michael Polanyi makes a distinction between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. Science would by contained within the explicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge would contain Popper's World Three since that world contains problems, theories and arguments. Polanyi's reminder is that this explicit knowing is rooted in tacit knowing, not the other way around. See "The Logic of Tacit Inference", Philosophy, 1966.

Objective science doesn't need to analyze being as long as it recognizes that its objectivity is not all there is. Anyone from any metaphysical persuasion can participate in these external knowledge problems of science because it is objective.

However, if those with a metaphysics claiming science is all there dominate science research, then science needs to step back enough to realize that science, naturalism, external knowledge is not all there is. Science has abstracted away perhaps the most interesting part of reality to achieve its technological usefulness.

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