The term ‘fundamental’ is defined as “a central or primary rule or principle on which something is based.” We can infer from this that Heidegger believed the question of Being to be the basis of philosophy, he thought that many philosophers asked whether things existed but ignored trying to ask what it means to exist. In this essay I will explain the three presuppositions made about the question of Being and why these emphasise the significance of the question rather than trivialize it. I will then refer to the formal structure of the question and why it is important to ask what Being actually is before we can ask about anything else in life, and will finally point out that we are the best entities to ask the question as it is our essence; Being only refers to human beings, as any other living thing “merely exists” or is “entirely determined by survival and reproduction” (Wheeler, 2011).
Heidegger first makes the distinction between the being of an entity; a static and structural existence (ontical), and the being in-the-world; a dynamic existence in the world in relation to other things (ontological) (Tietz, 2001, 13). He then points out in ancient Greece the question of Being was a ‘battle of the giants’ – philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato focused greatly on this but Heidegger (1962, 21) argues that the question has long since been trivialized, due to the fact that contemporary philosophers have simply argued that it is an empty concept.
Heidegger argues that the question of Being has been forgotten due to certain presuppositions and preconceptions which lead philosophers to believe that asking the question of Being is a waste of time. (Heidegger, 1962, 22). Firstly, he says people think “Being” is the most universal concept, but Heidegger argues it is the most obscure concept of all, which is why it is so important to try and define it. He claims the universality of Being is not a class or genus, as it transcends any class or genus, the fact it is such a vast concept reinforces how significant it is to try and understand it. He points out “the multiplicity of categories applicable to things” proposed by Aristotle does not make it any more direct and easy to comprehend, if anything it emphasises how much we have to try and understand before we can answer the question of being (Heidegger, 1962, 23). Therefore the universality does not make it the clearest to us at all, if anything it makes it unclear; it is such a transcendent concept that it can take a long time to say we appreciate every aspect.
Secondly, Heidegger claims Being is an undefinable concept, he argued that definitions can only be articulated in terms of class but this is not part of one. (Baiasu, 2014, Lecture 2). Heidegger (1962, 23) argues the definition of Being is not something that can be derived from something higher or represented by something lower, as it is so transcendent to anything we are familiar with. Many might argue that the definition of Being is that of a physical entity, but Being is not an entity and cannot be understood in this way; there is no such character than can be applied in order to make it an entity. Nevertheless, it could also be argued that Being already has a definition as we at least know it does not ‘have the character of an entity’ (Heidegger, 1962, 23), so it must be the other kind of being that we already know.
Heidegger counters this with the point that it is this definition that is the problem, it is the fact that Aristotle has tried to give a definition to this transcendent concept that we are confused and we think we know what Being is and therefore the question does not need to be asked (Tietz, 2005, 14). However, Heidegger (1962, 23) argued that “the indefinability of Being does not eliminate the question of its meaning; it demands we look that question in the face.” Indefinability does not dispense with the question of Being, it forces it upon us,