Heidegger: A Very Short Introduction

By Michael Inwood | Go to book overview
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Chapter 4
Dasein

Philosophers often have good reason to place the human being at the centre of their enquiry. An epistemologist who asks 'What can I know?' can be expected to say something about the status of the knower. For a phenomenologist such as Husserl, exploring the relationship between, on the one hand, the 'transcendental' ego, subject, or consciousness and, on the other, its objects, the human being is clearly central. ( Heidegger often criticizes these philosophers for saying too little about the being of the subject.) But if we are concerned about being and beings, the human being seems to have no privileged status. It is surely simply one being among others. Why should we start with any particular entity, and why Dasein in particular? It is true that Aristotle held that the study of being must begin with an exemplary type of being, namely substance, and with the exemplary instance of that type, namely God. But Heidegger rejected the link between ontology and theology that Aristotle thereby established, and he does not suggest, at any rate explicitly, that Dasein is an exemplary or paradigmatic entity. What he does say is that it is Dasein that asks the question 'What is Being?' But, we interject, any question whatsoever is asked by Dasein. Are we to suppose that to answer, say, the question 'What are the mating habits of giraffes?' we need first to explore the being of the human being who asks the question? In a sense we do. For to ask and to set about answering any question we need a preliminary understanding, however vague, of the subject-matter of the question

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