Online Problem #63

The Forgetfulness of Being

The analytic of Dasein [being-there, human being], which is proceeding toward the phenomenon of care, is to prepare the way for the problematic of fundamental ontology--the question of the memory of Being in general.
- Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (1927, John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson translation, 1962)

What is the meaning of Being?

Heidegger says we have forgotten what it is to attend to Being, for we have lost our amazement at Being, our wonder. Being is a wonder, something wonderful, and yet we do not feel that wonder any more. Modern man does not understand the question of Being. But what this question of Being mean?

It does not mean "Why does this thing exist?" For Being is not a thing. To ask "Why are there snowstorms?" is to ask a question that can be answered by meterological scientists. To ask "What is television?" is to ask for an explanation involving electronics. But the question about Being is this: "Why is there anything at all, rather than nothing?" It is an expression of wonder.

Heidegger in his book Being and Time, wants to make us feel that wonder concretely. Trees, desks, planets, people, buildings, bridges, snowstorms--all these are beings. But Being itself lies under all these things, and is their source. The human being is an aspect of Being, but is not all of Being. And yet perhaps we can approach Being through its expression or presence in human being.

But in our time we find we can only think of and understand beings, The absence, to us, of the wonder of Being has left us forsaken and uninvolved with Being. Whatever is not a being, not a thing, is thought of as nothing. But this nothing is Being itself!

What? Heidegger is-asserting that we have come to think that every--thing is all there is, and that what is not any-- thing is... nothing. But Being itself, the source of all beings, is not itself a thing, a being. So Being is what we have come to think of as nothing.

Heidegger asks: "How did it come about that with Being it really is nothing and that the Nothing really is not?"

Heidegger gives us a profound and challenging question: "Why is there anything, rather than simply nothing?" This is not a scientific question,not an inventory question. It is an ontological question about Being itself. Can it be answered, or have we forgotten what it means?


Edwards, Paul. "My Death," Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 3, p. 416-419.

Grene, Marjorie. "Martin Heidegger," Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 3, p. 459-465.

Heidegger, Martin. Basic Writings, New York, Harper and Row, Publishers, 1977.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time, John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson translation, New York, 1962