Heidegger is responding to the Cartesian tradition, in particular, to his former teacher Husserl, by substituting ontological questions for epistemological ones. The latter inquiry concerned, principally, the relationship between subject and object, between knower and known, and in the process, assigned a primary position to the knower in relation to the known. Heidegger upsets this structure by inquiring into the nature of our being–what he will come to call Dasein. Our being, he argues, is co-constructed/ is made intelligible in and through the world. Heidegger’s question is about the “is,” that is, about the being of Being. He counters formal, representationalist models by calling for a hermeneutic phenomenology that eviscerates the viewpoint that experience is basically a relation between a self-contained knower with an inner mental content and an outside world. Like Bourdieu (who would follow Heidegger), the latter argues that it is in fact our socialization into the world, into everyday and ordinary skills and practices that provides us with the background necessary to understand objects, to understand ourselves as subject. Yet more, contra Kant (and later, Habermas), he argues that these practices only work so long as they are in the background. In other words, so long as they are not explicit.
In some ways, Heidegger is comparable to Wittgenstein. Here is, however, where they differ: whereas Wittgenstein thinks that the practices that produce us as human subjects are an insoluble tangle, Heidegger believes that this commonsense background has an elaborate structure, and it’s the task of the analytic/ the philosopher to lay it out.
Dasein. —being is an intelligibility that is correlative with our everyday background practices (10). Dasein is not a conscious, transcendental, meaning-giving subject (13). Therefore, the term “being there” is used instead of “consciousness.” Dasein is more basic than mental states, intentionality and deliberation. Dasein operates similar to the term “human being”: just as human being can refer to a way of being that’s characteristic of all people, or it can refer to a specific person–“a human way of being, which he calles ‘being-there’ or Dasein” (14). In the latter half, Heidegger becomes more interested in a human being, a Dasein.
He is interested in Dasein’s way of being. “Human beings, it will turn out, are special kinds of beings in that their way of being embodies an understanding of what it si to be” (15). Dasein’s activity–its way of being–manifests itself in how it comports itself towards itself. “That kind of being being towards which Dasein can comport itself in one way or another, and always does comport itself somehow, we call ‘existence'” (H 32). Existence is not equal to simply being materially real (like stones, for example). “Only self-interpreting being exist…Yet he is clear that to be a conscious subject or self is neither necessary nor sufficient for human existence, rather the reverse…” (15). It is the existential nature of man that’s the reason why man can represent beings as such. Thus, cultures exist as human beings exist. The practices of the latter contain an interpretation of what it means to be a culture. Or language. “Language is not identical with the sum total of all the words printed in a dictionary; instead…language is as Dasein is…it exists” (BP, 208, cited 15).
Existential –“understanding is a worked-out understanding of the ontological structures of existence, that is, of what it is to be Dasein” (20).
Existentiell —“understanding is an individual’s understanding of his or her own way to be, that is, of what he or she is” (20).
We cannot jump out of our network of beliefs and contemplate them from an outside view (as Husserl attempted to do, and the concept that underlies’ Habermas’ critical rationality). That makes no sense, according to Heidegger: we cannot be clear about the being that we take for granted. In fact, there really are no representationalist, mental beliefs to get clear about; there are only skills and practices. Thus human beings don’t have an a priori specific nature: either essentially rational beings or essentially sexual beings or whatever: “to be human is not to be essentially any of them. Human being is essentially self-interpreting” (23). Heidegger wants to describe the structure of this self-interpreting way of being.
So, to reiterate: Homo sapiens have factual characteristics. Man, however, is the result of a cultural interpretation (25).
What we are investigating: not consciousness, but Dasein. The understanding of being is not mental and our understanding of being is “covered up” (33). Two kinds of covered-up: undiscovered (the unknown unknown) and buried again (was discovered, but lost/buried again). Dasein attempts to pass off the phenomena that has covered over the original phenomenon as the truth itself. Thus, Being is always only accessible to us through being.
Heidegger’s work is a hermeneutic phenomenology: understanding being through everyday, common practices and discourses. Examples: Charles Taylor; Clifford Geertz.