Heidegger’s Dasein and Tillich’s Ultimate Concern: A Discussion

An edited transcript from a recent discussion on Heidegger and Tillich:

Today, we’re gonna be talking about Heidegger, his concept of Being (dasein) and the Ultimate Concern of Tillich. These are important thinkers in the development of existentialism, especially the German branch, and would further our knowledge on these concepts.

Essentially, just for some background knowledge, Heidegger was a German philosopher who lived in the 20th century. He also allegedly had an affair with Hannah Arendt, another influential philosopher, who was also his student, and, of course, there was a bit of dodgy stuff going on there. Now that we’ve talked a bit about who Heidegger was, as a person, we can move on, it doesn’t really matter too much to understanding his texts, unlike Dostoevsky’s whose background is deeply insightful.

With this in mind, let’s talk about Heidegger’s being and, of course, if you have any questions, just raise your hand and let me know and I’ll happily answer them.

Heidegger’s being so essentially, this is what we’re trying to talk about today, the concept of Dasein, sein—being, da—there. This is the fundamental concept of Heidegger’s existentialism — the discussion about the meaning of life, what is the purpose? What does it mean to be human? And with Heidegger, of course, this ties in with phenomenology, phenomenology being the discussion of experience, what does it mean to experience something?

When I’m touching this ball, it’s not just a physical ball being a circle there’s phenomenological significance to this. The same goes with suffering, there’s more to suffering than just the pain stimuli, the chemicals firing off in your brain, we find meaning in suffering, we experience suffering, suffering interacts at a higher level, perhaps, and that’s phenomenology.

And, as a result, “being there” is a core concept in his existentialism. In order “to be” as humans, we must be there, we must exist in the world. And as a result, all the time he talks about being it’s always “being in the world”. Do you have any questions there about being?

Question 1:

How may this interact with the Cartesian cogito?

I think therefore I am is a statement primarily targeted to our knowledge of the truth. But what Heidegger is discussing here perhaps is that question is insignificant when it comes into consideration with the question of being of what is actually in the world both as a phenomenological pursuit, and as a pursuit about meaning. For example, what is there in this room is some humans— homosapiens. But what is actually there in the room is the beings in the world, that is people with significance. Alicia is not only just a random person, but she has existential significance. She has her culture, she has her societal constructs. She means different things to different people who interact with her, that is her being. And in the same way, when we ask ourselves what is there in the room or what is there in the world, we’re talking both on the level of the physical plane, but also this discussion of what is there qua “being in the world.” That’s how things are being interacting with each other.  

Note how it’s objective in the sense that it’s out there, and it doesn’t depend on humans, we, as humans, have the role as humans to interact with and develop Being, the idea of humans being “shepards of being”. This is perhaps the difference between existentiell and existentiale to Heidegger. Existentiell pertains to the subjective experience of humans in relationship to dasein, existentiale refers to an element of being Dasein.

To illustrate this, we can turn to Kierkegaard’s discussion of the crowd. On one hand, you could say the crowd as truth or crowd as untruth. The crowd is truth in the sense that perhaps what the society views as true is dependent on those who are interacting with that which is true in the world. For example, back in the old days, they will see what is true is that the road was flat. The crowd dictates what is true. Now this is round, the crowd dictates what is true to the crowd is truth. However, another way to say is that the crowd is, by definition, untruth. It is to say that the crowd itself cannot judge fully what we experience, every one of our interaction with being is different. And precisely because it is different, then no matter how you try to follow the crowd, it will never represent fully what you experienced, it will never fully represent exactly how one person is meant to find the truth, or uncover being in his own way. We all have different paths. Of course, Kierkegaard is a Christian, to say we all have different paths to salvation, or at least this idea of being one with God, a freedom in God, perhaps. And as a result, since everyone has an independent way, it is impossible to say, well, let’s just follow the crowd. Because even if the crowd is correct, as in the leader of the crowd is correct, it doesn’t follow that everyone else in the crowd is correct as well.

Now that we have covered a bit of Heidegger, let us talk about Tillich, a German philosopher who is deeply interested in Heidegger. He basically said, we all need courage to be in the world. It’s not just being in the world. To carry the burden is to first have courage to take up one’s cross, to accept the burden on ourselves. And in some sense, he says, well, we are all philosophers, we are all religious, because in order to live is to penetrate and wrestle with the question of being. To live is to ask a question of philosophy. Why are we here? Why are you doing what you’re doing? There is no way to escape this questioning. To live is to ask it!

Of course, this depends on what you mean by religious and to understand religious you need to understand the ultimate concern. The ultimate concern to Tillich is what is the most important thing in your life. And in that sense, he says, that everyone is religious precisely because everyone is trying to answer the ultimate concern of their lives. This, to the theist, could be “well, my ultimate concern is God, and God is dictating my beliefs in the world,” to an atheist, their ultimate concern to could be to disprove God that disproving god is their ultimate goal in their life. They’ll be religious, it is that which dictates all of our lives. And we all have something which dictates all of our lives, whether we like it or not somewhere deeper down in your own thinking, there will always be something which dictates or kind of acts as the highest kind of concern, or the highest kind of standard of morals and values in your life.


How would this tie into materialistic thinking? How about someone wanting to retire comfortably?

Yes. And in that situation, you can say, well, maybe money is what’s ultimate concern, maybe money is that which dictates their life, in the highest possible way, to earn enough money for retirement. And of course, then that ties into the idea of preliminary concerns. This preliminary concern will always be that which is dictated from your ultimate concerns and decision making.

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