Being and Time, written by Martin Heidegger (1889 –1976) as Sein und Zeit in 1927

Sein und Zeit was Martin Heidegger’s first major philosophical work and is considered to be his most important contribution to philosophy – in fact it is generally regarded (by Continental Philosophy) as the single most important philosophical work of the 20th Century. Sein und Zeit was first published in the spring of 1927 in the phenomenological journal Jahrbuch fur Phanomenologie und phanomenologische Forschung Vol. VIII and simultaneously as a separate volume. The first major translation of Sein und Zeit into English was introduced by Macquarie and Robinson in 1962, as Being and Time. Joan Stambaugh introduced a new translation in 1996. This 1996 translation is generally considered to be clearer, reconciling problems in the 1962 translation raised by over 30 years of English Heideggerian scholarship. The text is difficult with very dense writing loaded with an extensive technical vocabulary. Reading the text in English poses an even greater problem because much of the vocabulary loses its original etymological and idiomatic meaning in the translation. For example, “Da-sein” the term used by Heidegger for human existence literally means in German “being-there.” This term is loaded with meaning because it points to the existential structure of being-in-the-world given in Being and Time by Heidegger. Idiomatically the German word “dasein” is a common term used to refer to mankind in general. This, too, is a crucial meaning for Heidegger who begins his analysis of Da-sein in its “average-everydayness.” Thus the cleverness which he links Da-sein to its existential structures, such as being-towards-death and being-in-a-world is partially lost.

The purpose of Being and Time, according to Heidegger, is to create an ontology of Da-sein, so that Da-sein can once again raise the “question of being.” In fact Heidegger claimed that the retrieval of “the being question” was his sole aim as a philosopher. In Being and Time, Heidegger argues that the investigations into being, once alive in the inquiries of the Pre-Socratic philosophers, were veiled by the ontologies of Plato and Aristotle. We have become dependent on these ancient ontologies, causing caused being to be treated as something irrelevant, not to be inquired about at all. Heidegger therefore calls the history of metaphysics, the history of “the forgetting of being.” Modern Western Philosophy, beginning with Rene Descartes pushed the question out of reach even further, treating the world as a conglomeration of mutually isolated subjects and objects - treating beings as “objectively present” entities (this is the primary way in which science treats beings). Philosophy, from Descartes to Kant and Hegel never separated itself from this prejudiced view of being. Heidegger claims that the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is the last metaphysics, for in it metaphysics has played itself out, leaving philosophy in need of direction. Heidegger’s project in Being and Time thus claims to be revolutionary.

Heidegger tries to explain how Da-sein might authentically experience being, by being “resolute” in its “being-towards-death.” When Da-sein realizes it is finite and has limited possibilities, it must go forth and seize them liberating itself from “entanglement” in “the they” (das Man). In doing this Heidegger lays forth “existential” structures common to all Da-sein in their experience of “being-in-the-world.”

Surprisingly Heidegger wrote Being and Time in great haste. At the time he and many others were seeking appointment to the professorship at the University of Freiburg. The publishing of Being and Time was perhaps what finally allowed Heidegger to gain appointment as Edmund Husserl's successor at Freiburg. Heidegger himself never completed Being and Time, finishing only the first two divisions of a proposed four division set. Heidegger abandoned the Da-sein analytic in favor of finding a more effective way to “raise the question of being.” Heidegger embarked upon examinations of how being was “revealed” to the great figures of western philosophy. Volumes on Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche were produced during this period. He then abandoned this project, and moved to poetry and art as the key ways to raise this being question. Heidegger’s Poetry, Language, Thought, one of his last major works reflects this pursuit.

Heidegger dedicated the first edition of Being and Time to his teacher Edmund Husserl, “the father of phenomenology,” who he would later succeed at Freiburg. This dedication was later removed by Heidegger. This could have been because of Husserl’s disapproval of Heidegger’s method of phenomenology and of Being and Time, which started with a phenomenology of Da-sein, not of “consciousness” as Husserl advocated. Heidegger would classify such a starting point as a continuation of treating beings as “objective presence,” in the Cartesian tradition. However, there are some who say that Heidegger removed the dedication because Husserl was Jewish and Heidegger was involved with the Nazis.