Abdul Rahim Afaki

University of Karachi, Pakistan




This paper reviews Martin Heidegger’s two major writings on hermeneutic phenomenology and time and defines his perspectives on the hermeneutic turn of metaphysics. Heidegger first draws a sharp distinction between what he conceives of hermeneutics and phenomenology, and then underpins to amalgamate them to expound the notion of hermeneutic phenomenology. His argument that he construes in his magnum opus, Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) appears hostile to all attempts made to define the notion of Being throughout the history of Western metaphysics, Heidegger actually asserts that this notion needs to be defined with a new methodology that is of phenomenology. He believes that in defining Being through the phenomenological method one finds it inevitable to conceive of Being qua time. And the overall project of defining Being qua time takes a triadic paradigm of ontical-ontological-hermeneutical approach to the issue concerned.    

This paper focuses the complexity of Heidegger’s notion of hermeneutic phenomenology   in the nexus of the ontical-ontological-hermeneutical triad concerning the conception of sein (Being). Heidegger takes Being as phenomenon, as something that shows itself as it is in itself. Yet Being is always the Being of some entity, it is therefore necessary to choose the most appropriate entity to attain this task. The most appropriate entity in this regard is Dasein, the human self which can take the question of Being as an issue for it. It is the way of Dasein, the ontologico-ontically preferred entity, that Being shows itself as it is in itself, and this indirect showing of Being as it is appeals to the hermeneutic process of making Being aptly known to the human understanding. In order to establish the triadic complex of ontical-ontological-hermeneutical approach to the question of Being and its meaning, I have developed my argument in two parts.

The first part begins with how Heidegger, rejecting all of the traditional presuppositions regarding the concept of Being, restates the question of Being with new metaphysical foundations in the paradigm of hermeneutic phenomenology. In all of the traditional presuppositions, Being is taken to be an object like other entities, which is to say, it shows the what of every object. According to Heidegger, Being is to show “the how” rather “the what” of all entities. In this phenomenological inquiry into the question of Being, Being is not an entity rather it ‘determines entities as entities, that on the basis of which [woraufhin] entities are already understood.’ In this process that which is interrogated (ein Befragtes) is not Being rather entities. Since there is infinite number of entities in the world therefore in order to make the inquiry viable one has to give priority to one specific entity. And this entity is Dasein, the inquirer himself, as for him the question of Being is an issue. Dasein is prior an entity both ontologically and ontically; ontologically, as it is ontologically interrogated in the process of discerning the meaning of Being; and ontically, as it is an entity itself which has the determinate character of existence. Dasein is also ontico-ontologically prior in the sense that on the ground of understanding of its own, the Being of all other entities will be discerned. The most important aspect of this method inquiring into the question of Being it is that Heidegger takes both Being and Dasein as time or temporality. He does not take time as an entity or its character, that is, as something to be concerned with “the what” of the world rather he takes time as something to be concerned with “the how” of the world. This is the same way as he conceives Being.

The second part focuses the complexity of the ontical-ontological-hermeneutical triad of the Heideggerian approach to Being through the method of phenomenology. It describes how the etymological nature of the words phenomenon and logos determine their composite namely phenomenology to be open to the process of interpretation. He takes Being as phenomenon, and since Being as phenomenon is to be discerned through the way of Dasein therefore logos becomes such a discourse that it can make Being show itself to human understanding through the interpretation of Dasein.



I.1.      The Question of Being and the Conception of Phenomenology


Deviating from the traditional approaches toward the concept of Being, Heidegger lays new metaphysical foundation in order to develop his unique version of phenomenology. Owing to the problematic of considering the ‘inquiry into Being’ as ‘unnecessary,’ Heidegger, in the first step of the development of phenomenology, focuses on ‘the necessity for explicitly restating the question of Being.’ In the process of this restating, he rejects three traditional presuppositions attached with the concept of Being namely (i) Being is the most universal concept, (ii) Being is indefinable, and (iii) Being is the most self-evident concept.[1]

The old way of conceiving was concerned with the genus-species relationship, that is, an entity was supposed to be defined or conceived as a species related to a class or genus to be generalized as such through the process of abstraction. In this regard, in Heidegger’s view, the concept of Being was not taken by the ancient and the medieval ontologists as a generalized or universalized genus to which every entity is related to be defined. Instead, it has been taken as something that transcends the genus-species relationship in the sense that no entity is conceived as species of it, which is to say, it is something transcendental-universal in the sense that ‘[t]he universality of Being ‘transcends’ any universality of genus.’[2] The transcendental-universality of Being is the characteristic which, according to Heidegger, makes it ‘the darkest’ rather than ‘the clearest’ of all concepts, and so it needs to be further discussed to be more clarified. Owing to its ‘supreme universality’ one can deduce that Being is indefinable, that is, one cannot define Being as an entity being ‘derived from higher concepts by definition, nor can it be presented through lower ones.’[3] Heidegger does not accept the indefinability of Being rejecting the method of definition as given in traditional logic. In the face of it, he intends to explore a new method, which may be termed as the phenomenological method, in order to conceive Being appropriately. This is the main purpose of his project of Sein und Zeit (Being and Time). In the process of restructuring the question of Being, the third presupposition concerned with the concept of Being, which Heidegger rejects, is its being self-evident. If one ‘comports’ oneself toward something or even toward oneself or, in other words, if one makes an assertion of something or of oneself after an average intelligibility like “The sky is blue”, “I am handsome” etc., one takes the ‘isness’ for granted. In this taking of ‘isness’ of entities for granted is, in Heidegger’s view, ‘an enigma a priori’ which makes it justifiable to restructure the question of Being (isness) in order to make man free from this enigmatic situation wherein he thinks that he is living in an understanding of Being but ‘the meaning of Being is still veiled in darkness.’[4]

Thanks to the perplexing nature of the concept of Being through the attachment of the three presuppositions as discussed above, Heidegger tends to formulate the question of the meaning of Being as the most fundamental question in a transparent way. Heidegger designs the structure of the question of Being as an ‘inquiry’ which, according to him, ‘is a seeking (Suchen).’ Attaining the transparency of the structure of the question of Being, Heidegger finds three constitutive factors of this inquiry as seeking namely ‘that which is asked about (sein Gefragtes)’, ‘that which is interrogated (ein Befragtes)’, and that which is to be found out by the asking (das Erfragte).’[5] When one inquires into Being, what one seeks, according to Heidegger, ‘is not something entirely unfamiliar’ to one rather an ‘average understanding of Being.’ This average understanding is vague in nature through which one cannot grasp Being at all in the first stance but out of it ‘arise both the explicit question of the meaning of Being and the tendency that leads one towards its conception.’  In this regard, the average understanding is to guide ‘beforehand’ the inquiry into Being as a kind of seeking. In this seeking, what is asked about is Being-‘that which determines entities as entities, that on the basis of which [woraufhin] entities are already understood.’[6] So in the question of the meaning of Being, what is asked about is Being but what is interrogated is not Being rather entities, provided ‘[t]he Being of entities is not itself an entity.’ As the number of entities in the world is infinite, one may find it unlikely to interrogate all of the entities, and so one should limit one’s interrogation to make it viable. Working out the question of Being as a transparent inquiry, one should, in Heidegger’s view, give priority to one particular entity in order that the meaning of Being is to be discerned. This prior entity is the inquirer himself who asks the question as his own mode of Being. Heidegger denotes that entity by the term “Dasein” ‘which each of us is himself and which includes inquiring as one of the possibilities of its Being.’[7] The third constitutive factor of the structure of the question of Being is its meaning, the goal of the inquiry that the Dasein intends to attain as a result of its seeking. That is to say, what is to be found out by the asking lies in what is asked about to be discerned by the Dasein (that which is interrogated) as a goal of the inquiry.

Adhering to the question of Being, Heidegger expounds the priority of Dasein, as a particular entity which is interrogated in order to attain the meaning of Being, over all other entities in three different ways namely ‘ontical,’ ‘ontological’ and ‘the ontico-ontological.’[8] The understanding of the threefold nomenclature of the priority of Dasein over other entities depends on how Heidegger demarcates ontical from ontological. The nature of inquiry will be ontological if one inquires into the question of ‘to be’ or Being or isness, and it will be ontical if one inquires into an entity rather than its Being.[9] Dasein is an entity and it is ontically (i.e. on the ground of being an entity) distinct from other entities ‘by the fact, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it.’ But as we have seen above the nature of inquiry is ontological if one inquires into the issue of Being, which implies that ‘Dasein is ontically distinctive in that it is ontological.’ Here Dasein’s ‘Being-ontological’ means that Dasein takes its Being as an issue for itself, it does not mean that Dasein is to develop a theoretical inquiry which aims at working out a study ‘explicitly devoted to the meaning of entities.’ In this regard, what Heidegger has in his mind ‘in speaking of Dasein’s “Being-ontological” is to be designated as something “pre-ontological” which simply signifies that Dasein is being such a way that it has an understanding of Being.[10]  

The difference between ontical and ontological leads Heidegger further to the distinction between ‘existentiell’ and ‘existential.’  Heidegger defines existence (Existenz) as ‘[t]hat kind of Being towards which Dasein can comport itself in one way or another, and always does comport itself somehow.’ This comporting of Dasein becomes the ground of its understanding of its own, which is to say, ‘Dasein always understands itself in terms of its existence-in terms of a possibility of itself: to be itself or not itself.’ Dasein’s understanding of itself or its self-awareness which it attains that way, and which is its ‘ontical affair,’ is what Heidegger calls ‘existentiell’.[11] Unlike the ontical self-awareness of Dasein, the understanding of the ontological structure of its existence ‘aims at the analysis (Auseinanderlegung) of what constitutes existence.’ This analysis ‘has the character of an understanding which is not existentiell, but rather existential.’ By ‘existentiality’ Heidegger means:

“the state of Being that is constitutive for those entities that exist. But in the idea of such a constitutive state of Being, the idea of Being is already included. And thus even the possibility of carrying through the analytic of Dasein depends on working out beforehand the question about the meaning of Being in general.”[12]     

The essential character of Being, in Heidegger’s view, which belongs to Dasein is ‘Being in a world.’ Owing to the essential character of ‘Being in a world’ of every entity to be investigated, Dasein is to understand Being pertaining ‘with equal primordiality’ both to the understanding of world, and to the understanding of Being of the entities to be investigated within the confinement of the world. So whenever an inquiry or study is to take place relating to a particular type of entities, whether Dasein itself or some other entity, it is grounded upon ‘Dasein’s own ontical structure, in which a pre-ontological understanding of Being is comprised as a definite characteristic’ provided the essentiality of Being is Being in a world. ‘Therefore fundamental ontology, from which alone all other ontologies can take their rise, must be sought in the existential analytic of Dasein.’ To sum up the issue concerning the threefold priority of Dasein and the question of Being, Heidegger says:

“The first priority is an ontical one: Dasein is an entity whose Being has the determinate character of existence. The second priority is an ontological one: Dasein is in itself ‘ontological’, because existence is thus determinative for it. But with equal primordiality Dasein also possesses-as constitutive for its understanding of existence-an understanding of the Being of all entities of a character other than its own. Dasein has therefore a third priority as providing the ontico-ontological condition for the possibility of any ontologies. Thus Dasein has turned out to be, more than any other entity, the one which must first be interrogated ontologically.”[13]

I.2.      Ontical Nearness and Ontological Distance of Dasein

After having established the structure of the question of Being as well as the priority of the question and Dasein, Heidegger now turns to the method of his inquiry in order to attain the meaning of Being. In the first step, Heidegger explains how Dasein is closest to us ontically but farthest ontologically. Dasein is ontically closest to us in the sense that we are ourselves, each of us, what it is. On account of the essentiality of Dasein’s Being in relation to its world, ‘the entity towards which it comports itself proximally and in a way which is essentially constant’, Dasein understands its own Being. When Dasein tends to interpret itself ontologically, it reflects back to its understanding of the world which has already been attained by itself in its own understanding of Being. That is to say, the ontological interpretation of Dasein is attained in terms of its understanding of the world, which makes it get ‘ontologically farthest’, but since it understands the very world in terms of its own understanding of Being therefore pre-ontologically Dasein ‘is surely not a stranger.’ So Dasein is closest to itself ontically, not a stranger pre-ontologically, and farthest ontologically.[14]   

According to Heidegger, there are many ways at Dasein’s disposal through which it can get itself ontologically interpreted, which is to say,

“Dasein’s ways of behaviour, its capacities, powers, possibilities, and vicissitudes, have been studied with varying extent in philosophical psychology, in anthropology, ethics, and ‘political science’, in poetry, biography, and the writing of history, each in a different fashion.”[15]    

Each of such interpretations of Dasein has to be carried through with a primordial existentiality comparable to whatever existentiell primordiality it may have possessed. So in dealing with the question of Being, the first requirement is the existential analytic of Dasein. In this regard, Heidegger turns to Dasein’s ‘average everydayness’ as a plane of its existential analytic, as on that plane ‘it can show itself in itself and from itself [an ihm selbst von ihm selbst her].’ Heidegger also mentions the limits of everydayness as a perspective in which the Being of Dasein is brought out explaining that the bringing out of its Being is to occur ‘in a preparatory fashion’ which cannot provide ‘a complete ontology of Dasein.’[16] That is to say, the existential analytic of Dasein on the plane of its everydayness is a provisional analytic in that ‘[i]t merely brings out the Being’ of Dasein without interpreting its meaning, but it is also ‘a preparatory procedure’ in the sense that it gets Dasein the horizon for the most primordial way of interpreting its Being. After having arrived at that horizon, ‘this preparatory analytic of Dasein will have to be repeated on a higher and authentically ontological basis.’ It shows that the meaning of the Being of Dasein is attained at a relatively higher level which is ontological rather than pre-ontological. The structures of Dasein, which have already been exhibited provisionally on the plane of everydayness, ‘must be interpreted over again’ on ontological basis ‘as modes of temporality’[17]  

I.3.      To Be is to Be Temporal

Heidegger equates temporality with the meaning of the Being of Dasein. In this regard, time is attempted to ‘be brought to light-and genuinely conceived-as the horizon for all understanding of Being and for any way of interpreting it.’ In order to make us understand time ‘as the horizon for the understanding of Being’, Heidegger explains how this notion of time or temporality is to be taken as the source from which both the traditional conception of time and the ordinary way of understanding time have sprung. The ordinary way of understanding time is characterized by taking something as temporal which ‘always means simply being [seiend] ‘in time’.’[18] Within this horizon of the ordinary way of its understanding, time has acquired its self-evident function ‘as an ontological- or rather an ontical-criterion for naively discriminating various realms of entities.’ The entities may be taken as ‘temporal’ entities like natural processes and historical happenings as well as ‘non-temporal’ entities like spatial and numerical relationships. Philosophically speaking, the temporal entities are also distinguished from ‘the supra-temporal’ eternal, and the cleavage between the two is attempted to be bridged. Unlike these philosophical underpinnings regarding the various realms of entities where time always remains unquestionable, Heidegger raises the fundamental question-‘how time has come to have this distinctive ontological function, or with what right anything like time functions as such a criterion.’[19]  

Heidegger attempts to conceive Being in terms of time, and his treatment of the question of the meaning of Being enables one ‘to show that the central problematic of all ontology is rooted in the phenomenon of time.’ In order to make Being visible in its ‘temporal’ character, Heidegger suggests to make ‘the various modes and derivatives’ of Being ‘intelligible in their respective modifications and derivations by taking time into consideration.’ In the process of conceiving Being in terms of time, ‘‘temporal’ can no longer mean simply ‘being in time’, ‘[e]ven the ‘non-temporal’ and the ‘supra-temporal’ are ‘temporal’ with regard to their Being.’[20] Heidegger calls this process ‘“Temporal” determinateness’ through ‘which Being and its modes and characteristics have their meaning determined primordially in terms of time’. Being-time relationship, as Heidegger expounds it, can become more transparent if one focuses it in terms of Dasein-time relationship.

In his treatise, Der Begriff der Zeit (The Concept of Time), Heidegger shows how Dasein is to be taken as time or temporality. Drawing from his day’s development of research in the field of physics particularly Einstein’s relativity theory, he focuses ‘the destructive side’ of the notion that ‘[t]here is no absolute time, and no absolute simultaneity either’, i.e., time is nothing, it instead ‘persists merely as a consequence of the events taking place in it.’[21] The fundamental problem with this physicist conception of time it is that it takes time as something measurable leading it to be necessarily ‘uniform’ and ‘homogenous.’               

Out of this uniformity, Heidegger draws the arbitrariness of time in terms of ‘now’. That is to say, time is to be measured in terms of two different ‘now-points’, ‘one is earlier and the other later.’[22] This arbitrariness of now-point shows that if one is to come across an event with a clock, it does not indicate how-much is the duration of the event rather it ‘makes the event explicit…with respect to its unfolding in the now.’[23] He then questions taking the experience of now as experience of I am. So the question of now-I am equality points the Heideggerian inquiry into time ‘in the direction of Dasein…the entity that we each ourselves are, which each of us finds in the fundamental assertion: I am.’[24] Dasein’s determining itself as “I am” is as fundamental as its being-in-the-world (In-der-Welt-sein) or its being-with-others having the same world there with others. This character of Dasein ‘has a distinctive ontological determination’ to be concerned with language. ‘The fundamental way of the Dasein’ to be in the world as having world shared with others is ‘speaking’ a language. ‘It is predominantly in speaking that man’s being-in-the-world takes place.’[25] Dasein’s engagement in the dialogic process with others is not only an involvement in the discourse ‘about its way of dealing with its world’ but it is also a process of ‘self-interpretation of Dasein…which maintains itself in this dialogue.’[26] That is to say, ‘in all speaking about the world there lies Dasein’s speaking out itself about itself’, and ‘so all concernful dealing is a concern for the Being of Dasein.’ The important aspect of Dasein’s being with others in the world is that ‘the Dasein of Others [is] not able to substitute’ rather ‘the sole appropriate way of having Dasein’ is to say: ‘I never am the Other.’[27] Thereby Dasein, owing to the possibility of its own rather than the Other’s death, cognizes ‘the most extreme possibility of itself, which it can seize and appropriate as standing before it.’ Its interpretation with respect to its death is the most certain and authentic self-interpretation of Dasein, as its death is ‘the indeterminate certainty of its ownmost possibility of being at an end.’ Drawing from the concept of death as the most extreme possibility of Dasein, Heidegger extends the delineation of the Dasein-time relationship. Heidegger thinks of having one’s own death as ‘Dasein’s running ahead to its past, to an extreme possibility of itself that stands before it in certainty and utter indeterminacy.[28]  

The most significant aspect of Heidegger’s concept of past it is that he conceives it in terms of ‘how’-‘what’ distinction. The past is not a ‘what’, for Heidegger, but a ‘how’ in the sense that ‘the past is not some occurrence, not some incident in my Dasein’ rather ‘it uncovers my Dasein as suddenly no longer there; suddenly I am no longer there alongside such and such things, alongside such and such people, alongside these vanities, these tricks, this chattering.’ This past is…indeed the authentic ‘how’ of my Dasein…to which I can run ahead as mine.’[29] Dasein’s running ahead to ‘the past as authentic ‘how’ also uncovers everydayness in its ‘how’, as this ‘running ahead to the past is Dasein’s running up against its most extreme possibility’, and that’s how ‘[t]his is Dasein’s coming back to its everydayness which it still is.’ Dasein’s maintaining ‘itself in this running ahead’ guarantees the authenticity of its existence as being temporal, as Heidegger owes to the notion of running ahead in order to relate past, present and future together. ‘In running ahead, ‘Dasein is its future, in such a way that in this being futural it comes back to its past and present.’[30] Dasein’s running ahead that way is ‘not in time’ but ‘is time itself’. Dasein’s running ahead is its coming back to everydayness in which ‘Dasein is that Being that one is. And Dasein, accordingly, is the time in which one is with one another: one’s’ time. So ‘[w]hat Dasein says about time it speaks out of everydayness’ which, ‘as that particular temporality which flees in the face of futuricity, can only be understood when confronted with the authentic time of the futural being of the past.’ This is the way past is ‘experienced as authentic historicity…something to which one can return again and again.’[31] Drawing form this repeating character of past as authentic historicity in its ‘how’, Heidegger finds the first principle of hermeneutics. He says:

The possibility of access to history is grounded in the possibility according to which any specific present understands how to be futural. This is the first principle of all hermeneutics. It says something about the Being of Dasein, which is historicity itself.”[32]

The significance of Heidegger’s conception of Being in terms of time is its concern with how- rather than what-nature of temporality that may have compelled him to seek such a method of investigation that too characterizes the how rather than ‘the what of the objects of philosophical research.’ Phenomenology is such a method. He does not borrow the conception of phenomenology as it is from his predecessors instead he develops his own version of it which, on the one hand, ‘comprehensively…determines the principles on which a science is to be conducted’, and on the other hand, it is ‘primordially…rooted in the way we come to terms with the things in themselves.’[33] The uniqueness of Heidegger’s contribution to the development of this conception of phenomenology is the hermeneutic turn he has given to the conception.


Drawing from the etymology of two Greek terms φαινόμενον (phenomenon) and λόγος (logos), Heidegger explores the meaning of the conception of phenomenology. The word φαινόμενον is, according to him, ‘derived from the verb φαίνεσθαι[34] which means ‘to show itself’. So ‘the expression ‘phenomenon’, according to him, ‘signifies that which shows itself in itself, the manifest.’ Now the question is what is that which shows itself in itself? Whether is it an entity[35]or other than that? Heidegger explains this demarcating the ordinary conception of phenomenon from the phenomenological conception of phenomenon. The former is the Kantian sense of phenomenon wherein ‘that which shows itself in itself’ is taken to be ‘those entities which are accessible through the empirical intuition.’[36] Grounding upon the Kantian sense of phenomenon having ordinary signification, Heidegger develops the phenomenological conception of phenomenon. The phenomenon which is ordinarily understood is ‘that which already shows itself in the appearance’ prior to the understanding and its showing itself is unthematic, but it can ‘be brought thematically to show itself; and what thus shows itself in itself (the ‘forms of intuition’) will be the “phenomena” of phenomenology.

In order to further understand the concept of phenomenon as Heidegger expounds it, one should go through the discussion concerning the distinguishing of phenomenon both from semblance and appearance. Depending upon the various modes of reaching at it, there are many possibilities for an entity to show itself from itself. One of such possibilities is semblance in which something shows ‘itself as something which in itself it is not.’[37] It is also a sense in which the Greeks used to refer to the term φαινόμενον. In case of phenomenon as semblance, some entity looks like something which it is not in itself. But one should not confuse this sense with the notion of ‘appearance’, as Heidegger conceives it as different both from phenomenon and semblance. The appearance of something is much like ‘the symptoms of a disease’. The symptom of a disease, in its appearing, does show the disease rather than itself. In this showing, the disease is one which does not show itself in itself rather it always needs the symptom to show itself, and this is what Heidegger considers ‘the announcing-itself by something which does not show itself.’ ‘Appearing is’, therefore, ‘a not-showing-itself.’[38] Now one can differentiate between the three notions namely phenomenon, semblance and appearance. Phenomenon is the showing itself in itself, semblance is the showing itself as something which it is not, whereas appearance is simply a not-showing-itself rather the announcing-itself by something else. In the next step of the development of his argument, Heidegger complements the notion of phenomenon with that of logos in order that the concept of phenomenology may take shape as a notion different from that already expounded by his predecessors.

Three Greek terms namely λόγος, άπόφανσις and λεγόμενον are the key words to understand the Heideggerian conception of logos. Overlooking the various interpretations of the word λόγος, like “reason”, “judgment”, “concept”, “definition”, “ground”, or “relationship” etc., Heidegger focuses ‘the basic signification of λόγος’, which according to him is “discourse.”[39] Referring to Aristotle’s explication of the term λόγος, he relates it to another Greek word, άποφαίνεσθαι. Discourse as άπόφανσις ‘lets something be seen’, which is to say, it makes manifest what is being said by someone, ‘and thus makes this accessible to the other party.’ Appealing to the various interpretations of λόγος like reason, ground and relationship, Heidegger further expounds it in relation to another Greek word, λεγόμενον. Λόγος, as letting something be seen, lets entities be perceived showing its signification as reason (Vernunft).[40] Moreover, λόγος is not only to let something be seen but it is also used with the signification of ‘λεγόμενον (that which is exhibited, as such)’ which, ‘as present-at-hand, already lies at the bottom [zum Grunde] of any procedure of addressing oneself to it or discussing it.’ So ‘λόγος qua λεγόμενον means the ground.’ Finally, λόγος acquires the signification of relationship when λόγος as λεγόμενον signifies ‘that which, as something to which one addresses oneself, becomes visible in its relation to something in its relatedness.’[41]

The composite words like sociology, biology, theology etc. show that when the term “logos” is attached with some word representing some specific thing, it makes that thing an object of study and so the composite words are to represent certain fields of study. That is to say, sociology is a discipline in which we study about society as in case of biology and theology we study about life and God respectively. These disciplines designate the object of their study and the subject-matter regarding the same. Instead of the how- they focus the what-nature of their study. Phenomenology, according to Heidegger, is not such a composite word to represent such a field of study. It is not the science of phenomenon in the sense that one can attempt, under the heading of phenomenology, to study phenomenon as its definite subject-matter. Instead phenomenology is an investigation of the how-nature of things, namely it is an ‘exhibiting’ of things as they are it themselves. For Heidegger it is a science which:

“…merely informs us of the “how” with which what is to be treated in this science gets exhibited and handled. To have a science ‘of’ phenomena means to grasp its objects in such a way that everything about them which is up for discussion must be treated by exhibiting it directly and demonstrating it directly….The signification of “phenomenon”, as conceived both formally and in the ordinary manner, is such that any exhibiting of an entity as it shows itself in itself, may be called “phenomenology” with formal justification.”[42]

The theme of phenomenology is Being, ‘its meaning, its modification and derivatives.’ So regarding its subject-matter, ‘phenomenology is the science of the Being of entities-ontology.’[43] In that sense phenomenology is a highly generalized discipline as it takes Being as its subject-matter, and Being, in its showing-itself, is neither a semblance nor an appearance. It is rather “phenomenon” of phenomenology qua ontology. In order to explicitly cognize ontology, one has to ‘necessarily’ focus, according to Heidegger, ‘a fundamental ontology.’[44] As Being is always ‘the Being of some entity’ the fundamental ontology takes ‘as its theme that entity which is ontologico-ontically distinctive, Dasein.’ Here Heidegger complementarily attaches the notion of έρμηνεύειν (hermeneun) with the concept of phenomenology. Dasein as an ontologico-ontically distinctive entity has itself ‘the basic structures of Being’, but in order to make those structures ‘known to Dasein’s understanding of Being’, it needs to interpret. The interpretation is extended ‘by uncovering the meaning of Being and the basic structures of Dasein in general’ in order that one ‘may exhibit the horizon for any further ontological study of those entities which do not have the character of Dasein.’ Heidegger also incorporates the concept of transcendence in the notion of hermeneutic-phenomenology. Being, not being a ‘class or genus of entities’, ‘pertains to every entity.’[45] Owing to this universality of Being, it lies along with its structures ‘beyond every entity and every possible character which an entity may possess.’ In that sense of being beyond all, ‘Being is the transcendens.’  Further, ‘[e]very disclosure of Being as the transcendens is transcendental knowledge.’[46] That’s how Heidegger conceives philosophy as a ‘universal phenomenological ontology’ whose primary step is ‘the hermeneutic of Dasein.’ He says:

“Ontology and phenomenology are not two distinct philosophical disciplines among others. These terms characterize philosophy itself with regard to its object and its way of treating that object. Philosophy is universal phenomenological ontology, and takes its departure from the hermeneutic of Dasein, which, as an analytic of existence, has made fast the guiding-line for all philosophical inquiry at the point where it arises and to which it returns.”[47]  

At this point, a brief look at Heidegger’s notion of interpretation in relation to understanding will be of use in order to aptly grasp his concept of phenomenological hermeneutics or hermeneutic phenomenology. He does not grasp understanding as one of the modes of cognition, instead, understanding is for him a ‘mode of Being.’ Understanding is a mode through which the Being of Dasein ‘discloses in itself what its Being is capable of’ in the entirety of Being-in-the-world as an essential basic state of its Being.[48] That is to say, understanding is the intelligibility of the whole mode of Being-in-the-world in which the Being of Dasein not only understands itself but the world as well. Understanding is the disclosure of possibilities of Being of Dasein in the world to guarantee ‘the full disclosedness of Being-in-the-world throughout all the constitutive items which are essential to it.’[49] Here arises the notion of interpretation, as expounded by Heidegger, as directly related to the development of understanding. Understanding is a projection of the Being of Dasein upon possibilities whereby understanding develops itself. This development of understanding is called interpretation (Austegung) by Heidegger. So interpretation is not, as traditionally conceived, an additional account of something which has already been understood rather it is ‘the working out of possibilities projected in understanding.’Having the fore-structure of understanding in background interpretation is to work out something as something-in-itself in a web of relations established in the totality of world.[50] This sort of interpretation is worked out at three levels namely (1) fore-having (Vorhabe), (2) fore-sight (Vorsicht) and (3) fore-conception (Vorgriff). The Vorhabe is the level of the appropriation of understanding in which the interpretation is grounded in ‘something we have in advance’, the grasp of totality of involvements in the whole situation. After this phase of appropriation if something is still unveiled then there arises one more ‘act of appropriation’ called Vorsicht. In this level, we see in advance the appropriate way in which things can appear ‘under the guidance of a point of view which fixes that with regard to which what is understood is to be interpreted’. Whatever is held in our Vorhabe and Vorsicht ‘becomes conceptualizable through the interpretation’ in the third level of appropriation called Vorgriff (fore-conception). In this level, ‘the way in which entity we are interpreting is conceived in advance’. So interpretation ‘is never a presuppositionless apprehending of something [as something] presented to us’, rather it is always ‘founded essentially upon fore-having, fore-sight and fore-conception.’[51]  

This understanding-interpretation relationship having the notion of being-in-the-world in background is circular in the sense that all interpretations require the fore-structure of understanding and again all understanding is developed or projected through interpretation. This is what Heidegger calls the ‘circle of understanding’ denying any possibility of its being vicious. According to him, every being as being-in-the-world has a ‘circular structure’ ontologically, if being is itself an issue for it. The circle of understanding or hermeneutic circle ‘is not an orbit in which any random kind of knowledge may move; it is the expression of the existential fore-structure of Dasein itself.’[52] That is to say, it involves ‘the structure of meaning’ as the circular relationship between understanding and interpretation which is rooted in ‘the existential constitution of Dasein’ as being-in-the-world. That is why Heidegger denies any possibility of reducing this hermeneutical circle to

“the level of a vicious circle, or even of a circle which is merely tolerated. In the circle is hidden a positive possibility of the most primordial kind of meaning. To be sure, we genuinely can hold of this possibility only when, in our interpretation, we have understood that our first, last and constant task is never to allow any fore-having, fore-sight and fore-conception to be presented to us by fancies and popular conceptions, but rather to make the scientific theme secure by working and then fore-structures in terms of the things themselves.”[53]



Heidegger’s hermeneutic phenomenology is ‘simple’ in the sense that it deals with Being as phenomenon but at the same time complex, as it amalgamates Being with understanding and interpretation. Overlooking the complex nature of Heidegger’s philosophy, if one takes hermeneutic phenomenology as phenomenology of Being with a concern of interpretation, one may simply find it contradictory. Phenomenology is concerned with the cognition of reality as it shows itself to human intuition. If one cognizes reality phenomenologically, then it will be irrelevant to interpret the same, as one has already cognized reality as it is. If one needs to interpret reality after even having cognized it as it is, then it means that the cognition was lacking something which is to be compensated through interpretation. In any case, both phenomenological experience and interpretation cannot be put together to be complementary to each other. But one can avoid this problem of complementarity between phenomenology and hermeneutics if one takes it as the complex structure of hermeneutic phenomenology as Heidegger expounds it. Phenomenology is ontology whose theme is Being, its meaning and modification etc. But Being is always the Being of some entity, and it is to be shown not by itself rather by some entity. The most prior of entities, ontically, ontologically and ontico-ontologically, is Dasein. Without an entity like Dasein, Being remains implicit and so it is interpreted to be explicitly understood by the help of Dasein. That’s how interpretation becomes complementary to phenomenological description in the triadic structure of Dasein being ontologico-ontically prior in phenomenological research and hermeneutically explicit in understanding.



[1] Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), trans. J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson (New York: Blackwell, 1962), pp. 22-24

[2] Ibid., p. 22

[3] Ibid., p. 23

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p. 24

[6] Ibid., pp. 25-26

[7] Ibid., p. 27

[8] Ibid., p. 34

[9] For the analysis of Heidegger’s nomenclature of these two types of inquiry one should go through Michael Gelven’s interpretation. Gelven not only shows how ontical is different from ontological but on the basis of this difference also explains the difference between some other Heideggerian terms as follows:

“Object of Inquiry                                      Being (Sein)                   Entity (Das Seiende)                               

Type of inquiry                           ontological                                 ontic

Terms of inquiry                         existentials                                 categories

Status of occurrence in inquiry       factical                                       factual

Type of self-awareness in inquiry    existential                                  existentiell”


See Michael Gelven, A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time: A Section-by-Section Interpretation  (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1970), p. 19

[10] Martin Heidegger (1962), p. 32

[11] Ibid., p. 33

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., p. 34

[14] Ibid., p. 37

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., p. 38

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., p. 39

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., p. 40

[21] According to Heidegger, Aristotle has already seen time the way Einstein conceives it. He cites from Aristotle’s Physics IV, ch. 11, 219a stating time as something ‘within which events take place.’ See Martin Heidegger, Der Begriff der Zeit (The Concept of Time), trans. William McNeill (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), p.3E, also see translator’s note 5, p. 24

[22] Ibid., p. 4E

[23] Ibid., p. 5E

[24] Ibid., p. 6E

[25] Ibid., p. 8E

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid., p. 11E

[28] Ibid., p. 12E

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid., p. 13E

[31] Ibid., p. 19E

[32] Ibid., p. 20E

[33] Martin Heidegger (1962), p. 50

[34] It is not only this to which Heidegger refers to explore the most appropriate meaning of the term φαινόμενον rather there are certain other etymological options as well to reach at the same meaning of the term. These options include φαίνω (to bring to the light of day, to put in the light), the source word of which is φα like φως which means ‘the light’ or ‘that which is bright’ or ‘that wherein something can become manifest, visible in itself’. See Martin Heidegger (1962), p. 51

[35] The Greeks at times identified φαινόμενον with τά όντα (entities). See Ibid.


[36] Ibid., p. 54

[37] Ibid., p. 51

[38] Ibid., p. 52

[39] Ibid., p. 55

[40] Ibid., p. 58

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid., p. 59

[43] Ibid., p. 60

[44] Ibid., p. 61

[45] Ibid., p. 62

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid., p. 184

[49] Ibid., p. 187

[50] Ibid., pp. 188-193

[51] Ibid., pp. 191-2

[52] Ibid., p. 195

[53] Ibid.

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