Being as the most universal question: its hermeneutic implications

Heidegger wrote Being and time to address the ancient metaphysical prejudice that being (Sein) is “the most universal and the emptiest concept” (Heidegger, 1996, p. 1). His life-long dedication to address the question of being indicates how difficult it is to overcome this Greek misconception that allowed the forgetfulness of the distinction between being (Sein) and beings (Seiende) to hold sway in the history of Western thought. Where this ontological difference is not retrieved from the history of being, the dualistic metaphysics of subject-object divide takes over the structural whole of thinking.

The uniqueness of Heidegger’s contribution to philosophy, or to thinking as such, is his expansion, through the concept of the hermeneutic circle as explicated in Being and time (1927) but already prior to that in Ontology: the hermeneutics of facticity (1923) – of the Western hermeneutic tradition to include the interpretation of Dasein and its existential temporality as the leading path to the question of being. Being, as encountered by Dasein which is itself a self-interpreting being that has understanding of being (Seinsverst√§ndnis) as its essence, is significance: the potentiality for meaning, which differs from the given, in each and every such encounter. Using also phenomenology as passed down to him from Husserl, Heidegger was able to make explicit in his hermeneutic method that understanding of being is the condition for all meaningful interpretations. Understanding of being means that, first and foremost, being (Sein) is capable of being understood by Dasein. Meaning is the existential proximity of being (Sein) to Dasein; hermeneutics is the interplay of nearness and distance in the shifting horizons of interpretation in temporality. Whether in time or in the twinkling of an eye (Augenblick), the opacity of being to consciousness is something that can be overcome; it can be said that meaningfulness becomes the fundamental feature of hope, and the driving force of Dasein‘s comportment to the basic phenomenon of aletheia.

The theme of this hermeneutic investigation is the Dasein which is in each case our own and indeed as hermeneutically interrogated with respect to and on the basis of the character of its being and with the view to developing in it a radical wakefulness for itself (Heidegger, 2008, p. 12).

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