Heidegger on Phenomenology

Phenomenology is a philosophical movement that originated in the early 20th century by Edmund Husserl in his work in Logical Investigations and concerns the study of consciousness and the nature of experience. The term "phenomenology" comes from the Greek word "phainómenon," which roughly means "to show" or "to which appears in the light," and it refers to the ways in which things appear to us in our experience of the world. And "theory" coming from the Greek word "theoria", which roughly means "spectator". And so, the roots of phenomenology deriving from its very definition of phainómenon and its study is the following: 

Phenomena is only what is visible and the Being merely a spectator to what is shown

Defining Phenomenology

Phenomenology is an approach to philosophy that emphasizes the subjective, first-person perspective and the role of consciousness in shaping our understanding of the world. It is concerned with understanding how things appear to us and how we experience and understand the world around us. Phenomenology can be closely associated with the more known philosophy, Existentialism - a philosophy that analyzes the meaning and value of human existence. However, Phenomenology challenges a lot of popular existential arguments by discrediting lenses that reduce the human experience, such as in science and religion.

The phenomenologist believe that our understanding of the world is not based on objective, scientific facts, but rather, it is presented to us by our subjective experiences and the way we interpret and make sense of those experiences. It is argued that our understanding of the world is not fixed or objective, but rather, it is constantly changing and evolving as we encounter new experiences and perspectives.

A Brief Background on Hiedegger

A prominent figure in this philosophical movement would notably be Martin Heidegger. Heidegger (born 1889) was a German philosopher and played a significant role in the 20th century European existential movement. He was a junior colleague to Husserl in the Freiburg faculty, who established the school of phenomenology. It is important to note that Hiedegger was apart of the nazi party, something I thought was a prerequisite for his position in the University of Freiburg, however some journals later found revealed Heidegger's antisemitism and prejudices. These journals are known as his "Black Notebooks" and are dated from 1931 to the 1970s, and was not published until 2014. After the war - during the denazification procedures - due to his association with the nazi party, Heidegger was blacklisted from teaching in any university, however he was reinstated to work at the University of Freiburg again in 1950. 

Although there are better writers to read - better philosophers, better existentialists, better phenomenologists - than Heidegger, I can't help but refer to his works. Being and Time (1927) is definitely something worth reading, for it change my whole perceptive of life, and is probably the first works where I had an "Aha!" moment; like the prisoner in Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Being a student of the father of phenomenology itself, Heidegger surely jumpstarted this philosophy to what is today. Being and Time would be the only piece where I would separate "the art from the artist" (although I find this to be the case a lot more nowadays).

Being and Time

Phenomenology concerns consciousness and the nature of experience. Heidegger's approach to phenomenology was centered on the concept of "being," which he understood as the fundamental nature of reality. He argued that the study of being, or ontology, was the fundamental task of philosophy and that it was necessary to understand being in order to understand the nature of reality.

Heidegger argued that being is not something that can be known or understood through objective, scientific methods, but rather, it can only be experienced and understood through subjective, personal experience. He believed that the traditional methods of philosophy - which focused on the objective study of concepts and ideas - were inadequate for understanding being and that a new approach was needed. He argued that the traditional methods of philosophy were insufficient for understanding being and to, instead, base an approach on the study of experience. Heidegger's approach to phenomenology was characterized by his focus on the experience of being and the importance of subjective, personal experience in understanding the nature of reality. 

Heidegger's main thesis is that the human being is not simply a rational, thinking entity, but a being that is always already situated in the world. In fact, in chapter five of Being and Time, he famously states that we are thrown into existence. He argues that our understanding of the world is not just a matter of gathering information about it, but of actively engaging with it and "being-in-the-world". He calls this mode of being "Dasein," which translates to "being-there". Roughly, Being-in-the-world is our active participation in our world or environment, Dasein is our existence in relation to that world.

Heidegger also introduces the concept of "Being," which he capitalizes to distinguish it from beings, which are the things that exist in the world. Being, not a thing or an object, but the very ground of all existence. He argues that we cannot understand Being by studying it objectively, but only by experiencing it subjectively, through our own individual existence.

In Being and Time, Heidegger evaluates the concept of Being, time, language, subjective truth, death, and how all they all interact to reveal a subjective reality of human experience. Due to the emphasis on lived experience, rather than scientific method, his works gave me an understanding of self. I thought I had a revelation with Descartes, whose works find truth in religion and science, but after reading Being and Time, I realize that Descartes' works is not reality. I cannot make sense of the world through science and the belief of God because it is not my lived experience - nor is it anyone else's. Heidegger's works highlights the importance of human emotion, that what we feel is just apart of life. 

His work in the The Origin of the Work of Art and his emphasis on aestheticism further solidifies the importance of such emotions. 

The Origin of the Work of Art

In his essay, "The Origin of the Work of Art" (1950), Heidegger explores the nature of art and its relation to human existence. According to Heidegger, art is not just a mere product of human creativity or a form of entertainment, but, a fundamental aspect of human existence that reveals the truth about being itself. Art is a way of bringing forth the world and making it meaningful.

Heidegger argues that the work of art is not just an object, but a "thing," a unique entity with its own being. The artwork is not just a representation of something else, but an event that creates a world of its own. He calls this process "worlding," and he believes that it is the essence of art.

In addition, Heidegger believes that different forms of art reveal different aspects of being. For example, he argues that poetry reveals the essential nature of language, while sculpture reveals the essential nature of space. He also suggests that the work of art has a historical dimension, as it reveals the historical and cultural context in which it was created.

The artist truly feels their existence because they do not try to rationalize and rid of their emotions. Instead they endure it and try to express them. 


This is what makes Heidegger's work so compelling; human experience in a lot of European philosophy was understood through the lenses of science or religion, or both. Phenomenology challenges these lenses by establishing the significance of human emotion, that the human experience can not be reduced to the optics of science and religion. The long debated works in existentialism strive to determine the value and meaning of human existence, to answer the age old question, "What is our purpose?" and to have just the smallest grasp in phenomenology helps relief some of the anxieties of everyday life.

In fact, in Being and Time, Heidegger states that Angst (our feelings of anxiousness, our doubts, insecurities, etc.) is a basic and fundamental mood of the human endeavour. Angst occurs while we act as being-in-the-world. In other words, we become anxious as we face our own existence and this anxiousness is an important part of human experience. 

We try so hard to get rid of these anxieties - whether it be taking medicine, going to therapy, or just ignoring it all together. Doing so would be living inauthentically. These anxieties will never go away, so instead of trying to get rid of them, we must embrace these anxieties and learn how to cope with them. It is essential for our being to feel not only our passions, love, lust, and happiness, but also our pains, anger, sadness, and fear. To embrace all these strong emotions is to live.

Like the artist, we must endure these emotions and use methods to confront these feelings. 

Recommended Reads:

The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology by Edmund Husserl (1936)

Being and Time by Martin Heidegger (1927)

The Origin of the Work of Art by Martin Heidegger (1950)

Purchase a copy of my illustrated zine on phenomenology here

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