Notes on das Man

Indeed what is really fascinating about Being and Time is not because it is some kind of treatise on existential heroism, but because it tellingly describes the everyday existential-existentiell reality of what it is to be for us to exist as Dasein. Heidegger’s descriptive-interpretive phenomenology situates the everyday Dasein in das Man while pointing out that by and large, Dasein exists in the mode of “they-self” (Man-selbst). Instead of Dasein being anything like the depiction in popular accounts of existentialism as a battleground between authentic selfhood and the anonymised masses, its being-in-the-world in the unglamorous mode of das Man is the norm. Yet moments of authenticity do break through, when Angst comes into play, unannounced: an unsettling opening up of possibilities in face of the radical finitude of death. 

Why Heidegger in nursing theory?

Are we looking for authenticity when trying to understand being-with? Are nurses using Heidegger to attain a deeper understanding of what they do yearning for, and trying to let happen, authenticity in the being-with of nurse-patient relationship? Pragmatically speaking, Heideggerian phenomenology, in its very quest for authenticity, can contribute to the quality of patient care, hence leading to better health outcomes.

Is care (Sorge), as the temporal structure of being (Sein), meaningful only when being tied in with authenticity, when openness towards being in Dasein is not obscured or obstructed, thus avoiding the ossifying concretion of Dasein as an object merely ready-to-hand without an authentic caring-for (Fürsorge)? These are all real challenges encountered in the situation – “situation” in the Heideggerian sense – of nursing care, noted in nurses’ own reflective practice and in patient (consumer) feedback.

Techne as physis: technology as nature

Nature, as physis, is self-arising; it is not produced by anyone, let alone human beings. Physis is not poiesis. In this fundamental aspect, Heidegger’s understanding of the nature of nature is more akin to the Chinese description of nature as ziran, which literally means “self-arising”. Hence through Heidegger, a hermeneutic bridge is built between physis and ziran, between ancient Greek thought and ancient Chinese thought, while ziran remains in usage in modern Chinese to mean “nature”.

To have time for someone

To have time for someone is to bring him or her into the sphere of one’s own existence, i.e., the being-in-the-world of one’s Dasein. The result is the formation of a Mitdasein between one and the person that one has time for. How is that time opens up an entry into one’s space? Does this show a primordial relation between time and space, what Heidegger elaborates as time-space (Zeit-Raum) in his secret writings from the 1930s, Contributions to Philosophy (not published until 1989, which is 13 years after his death)? 

In contrast, not to have time for someone is to exclude him or her from the being-in-the-world of one’s Dasein – in order to prevent the formation of a Mitdasein with that person. 

Tianxia and the worlding of the world

The classical Chinese concept of tianxia – under heaven – implies dominion of the Chinese imperial order (the emperor as tianzi, the “son of heaven”) and cultural sphere. In this ethnocentric view of the world, those people who live outside the Chinese dominion are considered “barbarians”.

Clearly tianxia is too narrow a concept to describe the whole world, even if is meant to convey the sense of the whole of the “civilised” world. Yet in Chinese culture, another common concept also has an expansive spatial meaning without the cultural and political constrictions of tianxia, namely sihai – the “four seas”.



Universality of existential resonance

How is it that aesthetic appeal on the existential level, in the form of drama, can work with so many people that it transcends gender, cultural and geographical boundaries? To quote American actor and singer Mandy Patinkin, “If [the artists] hit a nerve of universal simplicity, in all of us, in all different countries, that’s the magic moment” (Idato, 2018).

“The magic moment”: we are reminded of Heidegger’s attuned understanding of the temporality of time as Augenblick, the moment – when there is aletheia, the laying bare of the truth of being in full unconcealment.



Michael Idato, Homeland star Mandy Patinkin’s journey from fictional chaos to refugee advocacy, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February 2018 (



Mental health and the abyss of ipseity

Self, or the phenomenon of ipseity, constitutes our consciousness, such that consciousness is in fact understood and experienced as self-consciousness. (Mysticism has a more expansive understanding of consciousness, however, which transcends the determination of historical time.)

It is commonly understood that when one’s experience of self is seriously problematised, mental illness occurs.

This is based on a non-mystical understanding of self, not only by society but by the mental health consumers or patients themselves.

The overall construct of mental illness is based upon an exoteric, not esoteric, interpretation and understanding of consciousness. (Esotericism is built on mystical insights.) This construct is a form of hermeneutics stalled in the phenomenon of what Heidegger calls the “everyday”, which determines a form of Dasein known as das Man – the everyday people.

Mental illness is a profound experience of coming up against a wall built unquestioningly by the everyday people in their everyday activity.

In one aspect, the occurrence of mental illness signifies the oppressive power of das Man in how ipseity is to be experienced and understood. Hence the abyss which opens up in normality, feared and rejected by society as “madness”, actually provides an opening for a deeper experience and understanding of ipseity.

When there is clarity in ipseity, mental illness disappears.