Martin Heidegger’s concept of “Being” is one of the most complex and foundational ideas in 20th-century philosophy. His seminal work, “Being and Time” (“Sein und Zeit,” 1927), attempts to reorient the entire field of ontology, or the study of being, around this concept.
The Question of Being:
Heidegger begins by asserting that the question of Being has been forgotten or overlooked by Western philosophy, which has largely focused on “beings” (entities, things, concepts, etc.) rather than “Being” itself. He aims to reawaken the question of the meaning of Being.
Heidegger introduces the concept of “Dasein,” a term he uses to describe human existence. Unlike other entities, Dasein has the unique characteristic of being concerned with its own Being. Heidegger coins the term “Being-in-the-world” to describe the non-dualistic way that Dasein exists: not as a subject in a world of objects, but as fundamentally intertwined with the world.
Authenticity and Inauthenticity:
Dasein can exist in either an authentic or inauthentic manner. Inauthenticity is characterized by “fallenness,” in which Dasein is absorbed into the societal norms and “they-self,” losing sight of its own individuality and potentiality-for-Being. Authenticity involves a realization of one’s own finitude and individual existence, which Heidegger calls “Being-towards-death.”
Time is crucial to Heidegger’s concept of Being. He argues that the traditional conception of time as a linear progression is derivative of a more primordial sense of temporality that is integral to Dasein’s existence. This authentic temporality is a unity of past, present, and future, and it provides the structure by which Dasein can understand its own Being.
The “Clearing” and Language:
Heidegger later introduces the concept of the “Clearing” (“Lichtung”), where Being comes into presence and is disclosed. Language plays an essential role in this disclosure; it’s not merely a tool for communication but the house of Being. The Clearing is the precondition for anything to appear as it is.
One of Heidegger’s most significant contributions is the introduction of the “ontological difference,” the distinction between Being (“Sein”) and beings (“Seiendes”). Many of the difficulties and ambiguities in philosophy arise from overlooking this basic difference, according to Heidegger.
Being and Technology:
In his later works, Heidegger becomes increasingly concerned with how technology changes our relationship to Being. He critiques the “enframing” (“Gestell”) that technology imposes, which reduces the world and its beings to mere resources for human use. This obscures the more original relationship to Being that Heidegger aims to uncover.
This is a very high-level overview, and each of these concepts involves intricate arguments and subtleties. Heidegger’s ideas have been incredibly influential but also controversial, and they’ve been interpreted in many different ways. For a thorough understanding, there’s no substitute for reading his works, perhaps multiple times, and engaging with secondary literature.