What does it mean to be? What if I asked you what it means to be? What if you were talking to someone who doesn’t speak english very well, and they asked you to explain the terms “be”, and “is”, and “are”, and “being”. What would you say? How would you explain those terms? When we say something “is”, what do we mean?
Perhaps you might say it means to exist. That doesn’t help — what does “exist” mean?
It becomes circular — every word you might think to use to define the idea is a synonym for the idea; you end up having to use a word that has the same meaning as the word you are trying to define.
Here’s an idea: maybe “being” has a dimension of time added to it, a movement across time, a history — whereas “to be” indicates simply something’s facticity in just the present moment. How about that?
Any conceptualization of “being” is wrapped up in our conceptions of time.
Heidegger wants to tell us that “being” and its relationship to time is the foundation to everything we think. Our whole world, all of our institutions, everything we do, everything we think, is wrapped up in these two concepts. This is the first move to everything we are.
Why ask the question what is the meaning of being? Heidegger tells us that we have to, in order to transform our lives. It’s not just one of the intellectual puzzles that philosophers like to spend their time with. Heidegger is interested in transforming, revolutionizing the way we live. Heidegger is trying to outline what it would take for us to transform our lives and our very world, which we must do, Heidegger will tell us. Heidegger goes so far as to say that without grappling with this question of being, we will never transform our life; without confronting the nature of being, we will simply spin in circles, doing the same things, over and over, endlessly — no history, no transformation, no phenomenon will emerge that isn’t a copy or an iteration of a previous event. If you want transformation, novelty, change of life, etc., Heidegger tells us it only comes through understanding the question of being.
According to Heidegger, how we ask and how we answer the question of what it means for something to “be” determines everything. And he means everything. It determines how we relate to ourselves: what it means for me to be me, what it means for us to be human, what it means for us to be a community. Likewise, it determines how we relate to everything else: what am I in respect to other entities in the world, who am I in respect to the rest of the natural world, in respect to the cosmos? Who am I, and how do I fit inside the world? Heidegger suggests that the question concerning the meaning of being, depending on how you ask it and how you answer it, contains inside it the constraining conditions under which we answer those questions. It’s from that space that I figure out who I am and how I relate to the world. And if I want to be different and relate differently, Heidegger says that I have to confront this question concerning the meaning of being. If I don’t, according to Heidegger, what I will be doing is being me and relating to the world in a configuration that was preconfigured and given to me.
1. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1yOpSOCeZEbPTp0qEeWcumeWORe-__m9p/view?usp=sharing – Lecture (47 minutes)
3. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Wv0-Fw8m7S7kqBsMKVJqJ1zxecK5AMk4/view?usp=sharing – Reading, selected excerpts from Being and Time (concentrate on the section “The Twofold Task…”)