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Paul Meakin

Heidegger, Dasein and the quest for authentic Being-in-the-world

Heidegger contests that Western thought has previously failed to sufficiently reflect upon the preconditions of their ontological conclusions with regard to the being of beings. He states that:

'Basically, all ontology, no matter how rich and firmly compacted a system of categories it has at its disposal, remains blind and perverted from its ownmost aim, if it has not first adequately clarified the meaning of Being, and conceived this clarification as its fundamental task.'[1]

Therefore, from Heidegger's perspective, a thorough philosophical investigation is required in order to reveal the ontological presuppositions of any ontic knowledge attained in an attempt to reveal and clarify the nature and basic conceptualisations of that particular domain. In his magnum opus Being and Time Heidegger documents his analysis concerning his phenomenological based thesis of 'Being' employing the concept of a temporally finite entity termed 'Dasein' (which translates as 'being there') to represent the human condition. He asserts that; 'Dasein is an entity, which does not just occur among other entities. Rather it is distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it.'[2]

Subsequently, he proposes a fundamental ontology is necessary in which Dasein is considered as an ontological being; in that it is concerned with the nature of its own being, of what it is along with what its existence means. It is holistic in nature and ultimately situated within a world of which it is an intrinsic part, it is involved and engaged in the world and is not to be viewed as a separate entity located in an area of space.[3] 'There is no such thing as side-by-side-ness of an entity called Dasein with another entity called 'world'.'[4] Hence when examining it, it cannot take a detached view of itself as the empirical based scientific paradigm assumes on performing such a task. Separating mind and body creating a subjective realm which relates to an external objective world as the Cartesian model does, is considered a theoretical move by Heidegger with primary being forwarded as more of a basic notion. Dasein represents this fundamental lack of separation; to be human is to be relationally embedded in the everyday world.[5] 'The body and mind participate equally in the act of existence: they are different aspects of Dasein's response to being, different but not apart.'[6] Although human existence is qualitatively different from other objects within the world in that we are self-interpreting and meaning making creatures, it must be emphasised that we are 'thrown' into a world with a mind and body. Consequently, when we live in the world the world lives within us, it is ultimately a constitutive phenomenon; 'being-in-the-world.'[7] 'The compound expression 'Being-in-the-world' indicates in the very way we have coined it, that it stands for a unitary phenomenon. This primary datum must be seen as a whole.'[8]

Thus, Dasein embodies a particular way of existing which is different from other objects located in the world. Objects in the world are determinate possessing distinctive properties, whereas Dasein has no fixed essence, containing no such properties, Dasein constantly projects itself forward into the future — a 'potentiality-for-being'; in effect a myriad of possibilities defined by the way in which an individual chooses to be within the context they find themselves.[9] 'Being towards one's ownmost potentiality-for-being means that in each case Dasein is already ahead of itself in its being. Dasein is always 'beyond itself'.'[10] Furthermore; 'As long as it is, it is projecting. As long as it is, Dasein always has understood itself and always will understand itself in terms of possibilities.'[11]

Because Dasein is in each case essentially its own possibility, it can, in its very Being, 'choose' itself and win itself; it can also lose itself and never win itself; or only 'seem' to do so. But only insofar as it is essentially something which can be authentic — that is, something of its own — can it have lost itself and not yet won itself. As modes of Being, authenticity and inauthenticity... are both grounded in the fact that any Dasein whatsoever is characterised by mineness.[12]

Accordingly, the concept of authenticity derives from the terms 'own' and 'possession'; essentially a self which has explicitly grasped itself. This refers to the capacity or potentiality to being open to its own being.[13] However, also present within this is the propensity to cut the self off from any experiences which are considered threatening, puzzling or uncontrollable, via dispersing itself into the 'Das Man'[14] (which translates as 'they').[15] In this form 'Dasein stands in subservience to the others. It itself is not; the others have taken its being away from it.'[16] Dasein's default mode of being-in-the-world is to exist in this inauthentic state, ultimately characterised by choosing not to choose itself as a being for whom being is an issue. In this inauthentic mode, Dasein flows along passively 'falling' into the superficial world of the 'they-self' in which Daseins' understanding is achieved and embodied through 'everyday idle talk.'[17] Authenticity and individuality is often not achieved because we are lost in others or lost in things. Individuals want to be told what to think and feel or how to respond and act.[18]

'If Dasein discovers the world in its own way and brings it close, if it discloses to itself its own authentic being, then this discovery of the 'world' and this disclosure of Dasein are always accomplished as a clearing-away of concealments and obscurities, as a breaking up of the disguises with which Dasein bars its own way.'[19]

So, in order to attain authentic being an epiphany or enlightening experience is necessary via which Dasein can be liberated from falling and its lostness in the they-self, as a result it faces up to the ultimate conditions of existence, (essentially the nothingness at the root of its being) and takes responsibility for its being-the-world. The world is never encountered in a neutral mode, so to facilitate how Dasein engages with its environment Heidegger posits moods as primordial forms of attunement or orientations to the world which precede cognitions and behaviour.[20]

'A mood assails us. It comes neither from 'outside' nor from 'inside', but arises out of Being-in-the-world, as a way of such Being... Having a mood is not related to the psychical in the first instance, and is not in itself an inner condition which then reaches forth in an enigmatic way and puts its mark on Things and persons.'[21]

Therefore, with regards to being-in-the-world, Dasein and the world cannot be separated and are always in relationship; attunement refers to an individual's relatedness to the world via which Dasein bases and forms its being. However, not all moods can be considered equal with many e.g. love, happiness, boredom actually restricting or limiting ones' awareness, maintaining the illusion of 'Das man' and thus failing to provide existential insights into Dasein's fundamental nature of being-in-the-world.[22]

Significantly, as a result of the 'throwness' and freedom associated with the nature of existence in the world, a perpetual state of existential angst will be present within Dasein's being-in-the-world. In order to accomplish a comprehensive phenomenological analysis of Dasein Heidegger proposes that anxiety or angst is the mood capable of revealing its structural makeup in its entirety; anxiety exposes the unstable and indefinite reality of existence.[23]

'Anxiety confronts Dasein with the knowledge that it is thrown into a world — always already delivered over to situations of choice and action which matter to it but which itself did not fully choose or determine. It confronts Dasein with the determining and yet sheerly contingent fact of its own worldly existence.'[24]

Whereas in the modern social arena anxiety is considered as a psychological disorder to be treated or managed, conversely via adopting Heidegger's perspective, anxiety can be considered as a natural and inevitable aspect of Dasein's being and existence and hence should be viewed as a positive reaction to being-in-the-world. This in turn can then be utilised as a reliable source of information necessary in the quest for establishing a more authentic way of living; it is through anxiety that we become aware of the nature of Dasein's being-in-the-world. In essence, anxiety illuminates and exposes the paradoxical nature of existence; the constant tension between the freedom of possibility and the facticity of our being-in-the-world that we cannot change including the threat of finitude and non-being.[25]

'Anxiety thus takes away from Dasein the possibility of understanding itself, as it falls, in terms of the 'world' and the way things have been publically interpreted. Anxiety throws Dasein back upon that which it is anxious about — its authentic potentiality-for-being-in-the-world. Anxiety individualises Dasein for its ownmost Being-in-the-world, which as something that understands, projects itself essentially upon possibilities.'[26]

An important distinction to be made here is that anxiety is not to be confused with fear: At the heart of fear is presence, whereas conversely, anxiety is foundered upon absence. Both can be considered responses to a threat, however, fear is viewed as more of a response to a specific threat, whereas anxiety is in essence objectless and more generalised inducing a crisis of meaning.[27][28]

'What is the difference phenomenally between that in the face of which anxiety is anxious and that in the face of which fear is afraid? That in the face of which one has anxiety is not an entity within-the-world... That in the face of which one has anxiety is characterised by the fact that what threatens is nowhere.'[29]

It must also be stressed that inauthenticity is not necessarily considered to be a negative or dysfunctional mode of being-in-the-world, even though it may act as a barrier to one's' continual reflection regarding potentiality-for-being. 'The inauthenticity of Dasein does not signify a 'lesser' being or 'lower' degree of being.'[30] In fact, immersion into the 'they-self' is actually considered to be inevitable and unavoidable to some degree, as in actuality one does share many common aspects of humanity. How an individual functions within the social world they are thrown into involves a multitude of behavioural norms and cultural expectations.[31]

'The self of everyday Dasein is the 'they-self', which we distinguish from the authentic self — that is, from the self which has been taken hold of in its own way... As they-self the particular Dasein has been dispersed into the 'they', and must first find itself.'[32]

Therefore, although the existential experiences of anxiety, isolation and meaninglessness are assuaged via following the crowd, it is evident that one needs to realise that being-in-the-world is heavily influenced and indeed constructed around their viewpoints and demands. Heidegger suggests that attunement based upon anxiety will result in Dasein's inauthentic existence being disrupted, and hence an individual no longer feeling comfortable with its place and ultimately their being-in-the-world. As a consequence, the idle talk of the they-self which once gave existence its motivation and meaning is no longer satisfactory; effectively Dasein is brought face to face with itself and its own potentiality-for-being-in-the-world.[33]

The most extreme experience of anxiety posited by Heidegger is death angst, and hence the fundamental philosophical issue in need of exploration in order for an individual to achieve authentic being-in-the-world is one's death. Heidegger believed that 'in Dasein there is undeniably a constant 'lack of totality' which finds an end with death.'[34] Within the everyday falling mode of existence, Dasein consistently overlooks the existential significance of this phenomenon, the everyday faceless collective and public world once again provide interpretations through idle talk in which one is convinced to view death apathetically, as a far off future event and not of immediate concern; in effect inauthentic being-towards-death views death as a remote occurrence, posing little threat to one's being-in-the-world in the present.

However, this represents a false sense of security, as stated, a vital component required for an individual to embark upon the path to authentic living, is actually the experience of anxiety encountered within their life. Via this realisation an individual's awareness can be increased, and as a result releases one from the false worldview promoted by 'them'. In reality, death is always a genuine possibility in the present and via allowing Das man to tranquillize our death awareness, Dasein will ultimately be denied totality of its own existence, and as a result be alienated from its own unified being. Dasein must incorporate the insight gained via the experience of anxiety and cultivate it to actively engage with the responsibility of its own death, recognising this as the most integral aspect concerning its authentic comportment.[35]

'The indefiniteness of the threat of death undermines our connections with the public world, for it demonstrates, as nothing else can, the fragility and unreliability of this world. None of the meanings, the connections, the narratives given to us by our social world can protect us from death.'[36]

The paradox presented regarding the concept of death is that Dasein is ontological in nature endeavouring to understand itself fully and in its entirety. However, Dasein exists in a state of flux, forever projecting itself upon future possibilities available to it; effectively the 'not-yet'. 'It is essential to the basic constitution of Dasein that there is constantly something to be settled.'[37] Therefore, as long as Dasein exists it has not-yet reached its end, the only time it reaches a state of total completion is through cessation, which then equates to Dasein not 'being there' thus incapable of relating to or comprehending itself as a whole. Here the phenomenological approach emphasises Dasein's capacity to allow phenomena to disclose themselves as they are in themselves through its encounters with them. However, although Dasein can experience the phenomenon of death via death of another, this still does not grant access to the nature of Dasein's being-in-the-world in its wholeness; this can only be achieved through my relation to my own death. Therefore, authentic being-towards-death attempts to reveal Dasein's potentiality-for-being via disclosing itself to itself for phenomenological analysis.[38]

'Thus death reveals itself as that possibility which is one's ownmost, which is non-relational, and which is not to be outstripped. As such, death is something distinctively impending.'[39]

At this juncture, Heidegger's philosophy of being-towards-death presents a criterion essential to gaining a full understanding of the phenomenon at hand; ownmost, non-relational and not to be outstripped. Ultimately, when I confront my own death, it is I and I alone who will die my death, no one can do it for me (ownmost), neither can my experience of death be shared by anyone as it is unique to me hence it is non-relational and finally, it cannot be outstripped in the fact that it that is an impending and inevitable given of one's existence.[40] For Dasein to confront life as its ownmost possibility which is non-relational and cannot be outstripped, is for it to acknowledge that there is no moment of its existence in which its being is not an issue; consequently this calls attention to the fact that life is something for which Dasein is solely responsible for.[41]

Essentially, Dasein is its possibilities, it's not-yets, and ultimately death is one of these future possibilities, in fact a certain one. Therefore, dying is not to be understood in the sense of an ending, more importantly is the attitude one adopts towards it in life; death is a way to be not a way to end. Heidegger's account of authentic being-in-the-world is principally one of 'freedom-towards-death', this shift in focus allows an individual to understand death from an existential perspective through which death is viewed as an inevitable and impending possibility for Dasein, not just an actuality on the distant horizon. 'We shall point to temporality as the meaning of the being of that entity which we call 'Dasein'.'[42]

Hence, an authentic relationship to death needs to be cultivated throughout ones' present existence, one in which the individual acknowledges the temporal finiteness of being-in-the-world along with the inevitably of their death, and as a consequence adopts to affirm their mortality in life immediately. Authentic being-towards-death is not a case of morbidly brooding over death or indeed dreading the occurrence of the event, rather it enables an individual to comport themselves towards one's ownmost potentiality-of-being.[43] In effect, death provides us with an existential awareness through which 'Dasein finds itself face to face with the 'nothing' of the possible impossibility of its existence. Being-towards-death is essentially anxiety.'[44] Once I die, I will no longer have my possibilities; all my choices will have been made, and the story of my life will be complete.

In the quest for authentic being-in-the-world it is via the experience of anxiety that Dasein is afforded the ability to phenomenologically examine and furthermore access its true nature concerning being-in-the-world. Crucially, Dasein's existence is temporally finite in that death is the ultimate horizon and backdrop via which Dasein can realise its totality. Through cultivating a complete awareness and understanding regarding the anxiety which surrounds the throwness, finiteness and nothingness of existence, Dasein can in turn endeavour to intentionally choose its path and achieve freedom-towards-death; ultimately realising an authentic existence of being-in-the-world.


Birch, T. (1996) Heidegger on Death. http://www.gis.net/~tbirch/heidweb.htm (Accessed 07/10/2012)

Bracken, P. (2003) Trauma: Culture, Meaning & Philosophy. London: Whurr Publishers Ltd.

Cohn, H. (2002) Heidegger and the Roots of Existential Therapy. London: Continuum.

Collins, J., & Selina, H. (1999) Introducing Heidegger. New York: Totem Books.

Cox, G. (2009) How to be an Existentialist. London: Continuum.

Heidegger, M. (1927b) Being and Time. In Van Deurzen, E., & Kenward, R. (2011) Dictionary of Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling. London: Sage

Heidegger, M. (1962) Being and Time. Trans. Macquarrie, J., & Robinson, E. Oxford: Blackwell.

Heidegger, M. (1978) Being and Time. In Howard, A. (2000) Philosophy for Counselling & Psychotherapy. New York: Palgrave.

Howard, A. (2000) Philosophy for Counselling & Psychotherapy. New York: Palgrave.

Magrini, J. (2006) Anxiety in Heidegger's Being and Time: The Harbinger of Authenticity. Philosophy Scholarship. Paper 15.http://dc.cod.edu/philosophypub/15 (Accessed 28/09/2012)

Macann, C. (1993) Four Phenomenological Philosophers. London: Routledge.

Mulhall, S. (2008) Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Heidegger and Being and Time 2nd edn. Oxon: Routledge.

Solomon, R. (1988) Continental Philosophy since 1750. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Van Deurzen, E., & Arnold-Baker, C. (2005) Existential Perspectives on Human Issues. New York: Palgrave

Van Deurzen, E., & Kenward, R. (2011) Dictionary of Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling. London: Sage

Zorn, D. (n.d) Heidegger's Philosophy of Death. Akademia; Vol 2 No.2. http://www.yorku.ca/zorn/files/Phil_of_death.pdf (Accessed 08/10/2012)


1. Heidegger, M. (1962) Being and Time, p31.Trans. Macquarrie, J., & Robinson, E. Oxford: Blackwell.

2. Heidegger, M. (1962) Op Cit,p32

3. Solomon, R. (1988) Continental Philosophy since 1750. Oxford: Oxford Universirt Press.

4. Heidegger, M. (1978) Being and Time. In Howard, A. (2000) Philosophy for Counselling & Psychotherapy, p329. New York: Palgrave.

5. Bracken, P. (2003) Trauma: Culture, Meaning & Philosophy. London: Whurr Publishers Ltd.

6. Cohn,H. (2002) Heidegger and the Roots of Existential Therapy. P53. London: Continuum.

7. Van Deurzen, E., & Kenward, R. (2011) Dictionary of Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling. London: Sage.

8. Heidegger, M. (1978) Op Cit, p333.

9. Mulhall, S. (2008) Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Heidegger and Being and Time 2nd edn. Oxon:Routledge.

10. Heidegger, M. (1978) Being and Time. Op Cit, p329.

11. Heidegger, M. (1962) Op Cit ,p185.

12. Heidegger, M. (1962) Op Cit, p68.

13. As Cohn (2002) points out, the terms 'authenic' & 'inauthentic' in no way refer to a genuine self or a false self, but simply represent different aspects of human being.

14. A similar concept can be found in Nietzsche when he refers to individuals who follow the crowd or 'Herd'.

15. Cohn, H. (2002) Op Cit.

16. Heidegger, M. (1927b) Being and Time. In Van Deurzen, E., & Kenward, R. (2011) Dictionary of Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling, p199. London: Sage.

17. Magrini, J. (2006) Anxiety in Heidegger's Being and Time: The Harbinger of Authenticity. Philosophy Scholarship. Paper 15.

18. Howard, A. (2000) Philosophy for Counselling & Psychotherapy. New York: Palgrave.

19. Heidegger, M. (1962) Op Cit,p167.

20. Magrini, J. (2006) Op Cit.

21. Heidegger, M. (1962) Op Cit,p176.

22. Magrini, J. (2006) Op Cit.

23. Mulhall, S. (2008) Op Cit.

24. Mullhall, S. (2008) Op Cit, p111.

25. Bracken,P. (2003) Op Cit.

26. Heidegger, M. (1962) Op Cit,p232.

27. Mulhall, S. (2008) Op Cit.

28. Magrini, J. (2006) Op Cit.

29. Heidegger, M. (1962) Op Cit,p231.

30. Heidegger, M. (1927b) Being and Time. In Van Deurzen, E., & Kenward, R. (2011) Dictionary of Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling, p12. London: Sage.

31. Mulhall, S. (2008) Op Cit

32. Heidegger, M. (1962) Op Cit,p167.

33. Magrini, J. (2006) Op Cit.

34. Heidegger, M. (1978) Being and Time. In Howard, A. (2000) Philosophy for Counselling & Psychotherapy, p336. New York: Palgrave.

35. Mullhall, S. (2008) Op Cit.

36. Bracken, P. (2003) Op Cit. p139.

37. Heidegger, M. (1962) Op Cit,p236.

38. Mulhall, S. (2008) Op Cit.

39. Heidegger, M. (1962) Op Cit,p294.

40. Zorn, D. (n.d) Heidegger's Philosophy of Death. Akademia; Vol 2 No.2.

41. Mulhall, S. (2008) Op Cit.

42. Heidegger, M. (1962) Op Cit,p38.

43. Birch, T. (1996) Heidegger on Death.

44. Heidegger, M. (1978) Being and Time. In Howard, A. (2000) Philosophy for Counselling & Psychotherapy, p337. New York: Palgrave.