Being and Time

Being and Time  
Author Martin Heidegger
Original title Sein und Zeit
Translator 1962: John Macquarrie, Edward Robinson
1996: Joan Stambaugh
Country Germany (original)
USA (translations)
Language German (original)
Subject(s) deconstructionism, existentialism, hermeneutics, phenomenology
Publisher 1962: SCM Press
1996: State University of New York Press
2008: Harper Perennial Modern Thought
Publication date 1927
Published in
1962, 2008 (Macquarrie & Robinson)
1996 (Stambaugh)

Being and Time (German: Sein und Zeit, 1927) is a book by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Although written quickly, and despite the fact that Heidegger never completed the project outlined in the introduction, it remains his most important work and has profoundly influenced 20th-century philosophy, particularly existentialism, hermeneutics and deconstruction.


Heidegger's original project

Being and Time was originally intended to consist of two major parts, each part consisting of three divisions.[1] Heidegger was forced to prepare the book for publication when he had completed only the first two divisions of part one. The remaining divisions planned for Being and Time (particularly the divisions on time and being, Kant, and Aristotle) were never published, although in many respects they are addressed in one form or another in Heidegger's other works. In terms of structure, Being and Time remains as it was when it first appeared in print; it consists of the lengthy two-part introduction, followed by Division One, the "Preparatory Fundamental Analysis of Dasein," and Division Two, "Dasein and Temporality."

Introductory summary


On the first page of Being and Time, Heidegger describes the project in the following way: "our aim in the following treatise is to work out the question of the sense of being and to do so concretely."[2] Heidegger claims that traditional ontology has prejudicially overlooked this question, dismissing it as overly general, undefinable, or obvious.[3]

Instead Heidegger proposes to understand being itself, as distinguished from any specific entities (beings).[4] "'Being' is not something like a being."[5] Being, Heidegger claims, is "what determines beings as beings, that in terms of which beings are already understood."[6] Heidegger is seeking to identify the criteria or conditions by which any specific entity can be at all.[7]

If we grasp Being, we will clarify the meaning of being, or "sense" of being ("Sinn des Seins"), where by "sense" Heidegger means that "in terms of which something becomes intelligible as something."[8] According to Heidegger, as this sense of being precedes any notions of how or in what manner any particular being or beings exist, it is pre-conceptual, non-propositional, and hence pre-scientific.[9] Thus, in Heidegger's view, fundamental ontology would be an explanation of the understanding preceding any other way of knowing, such as the use of logic, theory, specific ontology[10] or act of reflective thought. At the same time, there is no access to being other than via beings themselves—hence pursuing the question of being inevitably means asking about a being with regard to its being.[11] Heidegger argues that a true understanding of being can only proceed by referring to particular beings, and that the best method of pursuing being must inevitably, he says, involve a kind of hermeneutic circle, that is (as he explains in his critique of prior work in the field of hermeneutics), it must rely upon repetitive yet progressive acts of interpretation. "The methodological sense of phenomenological description is interpretation."[12]


Thus the question Heidegger asks in the introduction to Being and Time is: what is the being that will give access to the question of the meaning of Being? Heidegger's answer is that it can only be that being for whom the question of Being is important, the being for whom Being matters.[10] As this answer already indicates, the being for whom Being is a question is not a what, but a who. Heidegger calls this being Dasein (an ordinary German word meaning, roughly, "(human) existence" or, more literally, "being-there"), and the method pursued in Being and Time consists in the attempt to delimit the characteristics of Dasein, in order thereby to approach the meaning of Being itself through an interpretation of the temporality of Dasein. Dasein is not "man," but is nothing other than "man"—it is this distinction that enables Heidegger to claim that Being and Time is something other than philosophical anthropology.

Heidegger's account of Dasein passes through a dissection of the experiences of Angst and mortality, and then through an analysis of the structure of "care" as such. From there he raises the problem of "authenticity," that is, the potentiality or otherwise for mortal Dasein to exist fully enough that it might actually understand being. Heidegger is clear throughout the book that nothing makes certain that Dasein is capable of this understanding.


Finally, this question of the authenticity of individual Dasein cannot be separated from the "historicality" of Dasein. On the one hand, Dasein, as mortal, is "stretched along" between birth and death, and thrown into its world, that is, thrown into its possibilities, possibilities which Dasein is charged with the task of assuming. On the other hand, Dasein's access to this world and these possibilities is always via a history and a tradition—this is the question of "world historicality," and among its consequences is Heidegger's argument that Dasein's potential for authenticity lies in the possibility of choosing a "hero."

Thus, more generally, the outcome of the progression of Heidegger's argument is the thought that the being of Dasein is time. Nevertheless, Heidegger concludes his work with a set of enigmatic questions foreshadowing the necessity of a destruction (that is, a transformation) of the history of philosophy in relation to temporality—these were the questions to be taken up in the never completed continuation of his project:

The existential and ontological constitution of the totality of Dasein is grounded in temporality. Accordingly, a primordial mode of temporalizing of ecstatic temporality itself must make the ecstatic project of being in general possible. How is this mode of temporalizing of temporality to be interpreted? Is there a way leading from primordial time to the meaning of being? Does time itself reveal itself as the horizon of being?[13]

Phenomenology in Heidegger and Husserl

Although Heidegger describes his method in Being and Time as phenomenological, the question of its relation to the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl is complex. The fact that Heidegger believes that ontology includes an irreducible hermeneutic (interpretative) aspect, for example, might be thought to run counter to Husserl's claim that phenomenological description is capable of a form of scientific positivity. On the other hand, however, several aspects of the approach and method of Being and Time seem to relate more directly to Husserl's work.

The central Husserlian concept of the directedness of all thought—intentionality—for example, while scarcely mentioned in Being and Time, has been identified by some with Heidegger's central notion of "Sorge" (Cura, care or concern). But for Heidegger, theoretical knowledge represents only one kind of intentional behaviour, and he asserts that it is grounded in more fundamental modes of behaviour and forms of practical engagement with the surrounding world. Whereas a theoretical understanding of things grasps them according to "presence," for example, this may conceal that our first experience of a being may be in terms of its being "ready-to-hand." Thus, for instance, when someone reaches for a tool such as a hammer, their understanding of what a hammer is is not determined by a theoretical understanding of its presence, but by the fact that it is something we need at the moment we wish to do hammering. Only a later understanding might come to contemplate a hammer as an object. There is thus a sense in which this kind of argument, although very different from Husserlian phenomenology, nevertheless resembles it, to the extent that what is involved is a kind of suspension of the everyday understanding of what it means to experience beings in the world.


The total understanding of being results from an explication of the implicit knowledge of being that inheres in Dasein. Philosophy thus becomes a form of interpretation. But, since there is no external reference point outside being from which to begin this interpretation, the question becomes to know in which way to proceed with this interpretation. This is the problem of the "hermeneutic circle," and the necessity for the interpretation of the meaning of being to proceed in stages: this is why Heidegger's technique in Being and Time is sometimes referred to as hermeneutical phenomenology.

This interpretative aspect of Heidegger's project had a profound influence on the hermeneutic approach of his student Hans-Georg Gadamer.

Destruction of metaphysics

As part of his ontological project, Heidegger undertakes a reinterpretation of previous Western philosophy. He wants to explain why and how theoretical knowledge came to seem like the most fundamental relation to being. This explanation takes the form of a destructuring (Destruktion) of the philosophical tradition, an interpretative strategy that reveals the fundamental experience of being at the base of previous philosophies that had become entrenched and hidden within the theoretical attitude of the metaphysics of presence. This Destruktion is not simply a negative operation but rather a positive transformation, or recovery.

In Being and Time Heidegger briefly undertakes a destructuring of the philosophy of Descartes, but the second volume, which was intended to be a Destruktion of Western philosophy in all its stages, was never written. In later works Heidegger uses this approach to interpret the philosophies of Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, and Plato, among others.

This aspect of Heidegger's work exerted a profound influence on Jacques Derrida, although there are also important differences between Heidegger's Destruktion and Derrida's deconstruction.



There are two English translations of Being and Time. The groundbreaking translation by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson was published in 1962 by SCM Press; this version was republished in 2008 by Harper Perennial Modern Thought (with a new foreword by Taylor Carman). The retranslation, by Joan Stambaugh, was published in 1996 by the State University of New York Press. The Stambaugh version follows conventions for translating Heideggerian terminology that arose in the years following the Macquarrie and Robinson version. Both versions include the German pagination in the margins, and it is usual to cite this pagination, thus avoiding confusion between the two editions of the text. Both translations are still widely used.


In Spanish, the early translation of José Gaos (El ser y el tiempo) was the only one for many years but fell out of use because Heidegger's neologisms were reworked with too much freedom. The more recent translation by philosopher Jose Eduardo Rivera is used by most scholars. It has the more accurate title, Ser y tiempo.


In Romanian, two translations were made, the first of which is Fiinţă şi Timp translated by Gabriel Liiceanu and Cătălin Cioabă. This version was possible because Gabriel Liiceanu decided to translate the concepts in his mother-tongue rather than finding suitable words; concepts that he understood and assimilated with the help of his spiritual master Constantin Noica (a follower of Heidegger's phenomenology). The second is by Laura Tuşa-Ilea.


In Turkish, two translations were made, the most recent one being "Varlik ve Zaman" translated by Kaan H. Ökten, which appeared in late 2008. The first translation was done in 2004 by Aziz Yardimli, which is now out of print. Kaan H. Ökten's translation of "Sein und Zeit" earned him the Translation of the Year Award, given by the Turkish Writers Association in 2008.

Related work

Being and Time is the towering achievement of Heidegger's early career, but there are other important works from this period:

Although Heidegger never completed the project outlined in Being and Time, later works explicitly addressed the themes and concepts of Being and Time. Most important among the works which do so are the following:


Being and Time influenced many philosophers and writers, among them Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, Alexandre Kojeve, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Giorgio Agamben, Jean-Paul Sartre, Emmanuel Lévinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Alain Badiou, Herbert Marcuse, Jacques Derrida, and Bernard Stiegler. More specifically, several important philosophical works were directly influenced by Being and Time, although in very different ways in each case. Most notable among the works influenced by Being and Time are the following:


  1. Sein und Zeit, pp. 39-40.
  2. "Die konkrete Ausarbeitung der Frage nach dem Sinn von “Sein” ist die Absicht der folgenden Abhandlung." Sein und Zeit, p. 1.
  3. Ibid., pp. 2-4.
  4. In other words, being is distinguished from beings such as physical objects or even, as Heidegger explains in his discussion of the "worldhood of the World," that entire collection of things that constitutes the physical universe. To preserve Heidegger's distinction, translators usually render "Sein" as "being", the gerund of "to be", and "Seiend" (singlular) and "Seiendes" (plural) as the verb-derived noun "a being" and "beings," and occasionally, perhaps preferably, as "an entity" and "entities"."
  5. "'Sein' ist nicht so etwas wie Seiendes." Sein und Zeit, p. 4.
  6. "...das Sein, das, was Seiendes als Seiendes bestimmt, das, woraufhin Seiendes, mag es wie immer erörtert werden, je schon verstanden ist," ibid., p. 6.
  7. In English, using the word "existence" instead of "being" might seem more natural and less confusing, but Heidegger, who stresses the importance of the origins of words, uses his understanding of grammar to assist in his investigation of "being," and he reserves the word "existence" to describe that defining type of being that Dasein (human consciousness) has.
  8. "aus dem her etwas als etwas verständlich wird," Sein und Zeit, p. 151.
  9. Ibid., pp. 8–9.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Ibid., p. 12.
  11. Ibid., p. 7.
  12. "der methodische Sinn der Phänomenologischen Deskription ist Auslegung," ibid., p. 37.
  13. Ibid., p. 437.


Primary literature

Secondary literature