“Being is time”

That said, the basic idea of Being and Time is extremely simple: being is time. That is, what it means for a human being to be is to exist temporally in the stretch between birth and death. Being is time and time is finite, it comes to an end with our death. Therefore, if we want to understand what it means to be an authentic human being, then it is essential that we constantly project our lives onto the horizon of our death, what Heidegger calls “being-towards-death”.

Many readers have recommended Critchley’s series on Being and Time from The Guardian as a helpful intro for when I eventually teach Heidegger. I’ve never been able to get past this paragraph. It strikes me not as a pedagogically necessary simplification, but as fundamentally misleading. The phrase I’ve highlighted in the title of the post seems especially problematic, but the paragraph as a whole exaggerates the anthropocentric nature of the text and leaves aside the fact, which Heidegger constantly reiterates, that his analysis of Dasein is only a starting point for asking the question of Being in the broadest possible sense — which would also have to embrace the ready-to-hand and present-to-hand, for example. Heidegger did not set out to write a normative account of how to be “an authentic human being,” as far as I can tell.

This stumbling block, combined with the fact that he leads with Heidegger’s Nazism, disinclines me to recommend this piece to my students. Am I being unfair?

10 thoughts on ““Being is time”

  1. This reminds me a little of dreyfus taking a sartrean understanding of dasein as simply consciousness. Also the ‘correlationist’ idea that reduces again to an idea of subjectivity. However agambens reading of heidegger is through a deleuzian lense which shows Heidegger without the subject and closer to an immanence of being. It seems obvious when reading being and time that this is closer to his intent.

  2. Not unfair at all. However, I think assigning Critchley’s piece might be helpful if you want to open up a tangential discussion on how philosophy is often packaged for “lay” consumption, and how that usually involves ignoring nuance and/or including it in a certain narrative that folks find digestible. Hey, then you could tie that back in to Heidegger on the hermeneutic circle!

  3. The statement “being [/i]is[/i] time” is implied in [i]Being and Time[/i] insofar as being is a horizon of meaning, and the most encompassing horizon is existential temporality. This is not necessarily totally anthropocentric; the human being is admitted to the clearing or Dasein but is not identical with it, Dasein [i]is[/i] the human being only insofar as the human being exists within the horizon of existential temporality. This is still ambiguous in BT insofar as “Dasein” is still at times straightforwardly used to refer to human beings, but afterward Dasein (more commonly now “Da-sein”) and temporality are disambiguated. I think [i]Being and Time[/i] is an internally conflicted text, so both Critchley’s statements and your reservations are warranted.

  4. I took a seminar on Heidegger as a sophomore, as my second philosophy class ever. I was in way over my head. I found the secondary literature claiming he was most basically interested in authentic human living very confusing and frustrating. It just didn’t seem like that was anything like what was going on in the text, and yet, given that I knew nothing and they were purported experts, I kept trying to make the text be about this existentialist/hippie search for authenticity.

    Eventually I was rescued by the prof., but I would have preferred to have avoided the whole sidetrack.

  5. Yeah, Heidegger makes it pretty clear in BT that it’s about the “Seinsfrage,” but reading it without the benefit of his later work it was probably easier to not take him at his word (early readers of Heidegger I think were more apt to make it about personal authenticity, especially pre-Letter on Humanism).

  6. My experience was the opposite of Daniel’s. My first reading of B&T led me to the firm position that it was all about existential authenticity, and it took some rather patient/obnoxious classmates and a patient professor to get me out of that.

    Don’t let that happen to your students!

  7. Given what cruth01 says, perhaps it’s more a question of how I want to teach it than whether Critchley is getting it “wrong” — certainly his account does get at the ways in which Heidegger made the biggest initial impact (even if it wasn’t what he intended). I do think that his specific approach doesn’t make much sense unless you take him at his word that it’s oriented toward the question of Being, though I’ll admit that the human-centric approach does seem more likely to “grab” students in general.

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