Heidegger’s Definition of Philosophy: A Critical Look Into It

Heidegger’s definition of philosophy may begin at the question, Was ist das – die Philosophie? (What is Philosophy?) is not a simple question that seeks out historical tradition and definitions of philosophy, nor a question to ask directly about knowledge this philosophy leads to itself.

It is, thus, my understanding of what German philosopher Martin Heidegger says so in his philosophical essay, Was ist das – die Philosophie?

Heidegger poses this question to probe a path that leads to a more fitting definition or meaning of “What is Philosophy?” He posits that the answer to the question, “What is Philosophy?” is encapsulated within the Aristotelian definition of Philosophy leading to an emphasis on the Being of beings. It means that his question directs concerns on the ontological and phenomenological aspects of the existence of being and its involvement in the existence of other beings and its inseparable impact as a whole.

Heidegger’s definition of philosophy as a direction

Heidegger's definition of philosophy

For Heidegger, the definition of philosophy shall set a clear path that directs to the “what-ness” of the Being of beings. He argues that by seeking out explanations about the ontological concerns of the Being itself, philosophizing would be as worthwhile as what philosophy is intended to lead the way. That is, possibly outlining a direction in exploring and making sensible explanations about impact and interactions among the beings and the society as a whole.

Simply put, Heidegger attempts to reconstruct the sphere of philosophizing back in Ancient times from being traditional-historical to a clearer, more objective thinking that emphasizes what and how existence coexists with existence itself and with the beings that exist along with it while making sense out of it the significance and impact of interactions resulted from it.

Heidegger’s definition of philosophy as a limited philosophy

Although Heidegger is uneven to make clear his idea about the Being of beings, and different interpretations about it would result in different points of view, the gist of his idea on making sense of where shall philosophizing go marks a pivotal breakthrough in the field of philosophy in modern times. Such an idea would put a stance in all walks of philosophy in a way that it leads a direction or pathway on which philosophizing supposedly be founded.

As Heidegger’s idea is as relevant as it seems to be and as helpful as it should be in the general fields of philosophy, it, however, possibly draws a limited perspective about things and forces humans have been decade-long struggling to find even a bit of a substantial explanation. Same with most of the others’ philosophies, though useful in some sense and utilities of man, handfuls of weak arguments marred their respective philosophies. Yet, this also proves that man while still having a life to live needs to fulfill his ultimate purpose.


While it is generally believed that existence speaks of no existence of itself unless otherwise, one would simply commit to a dauntless belief in faith and dogma. But to Martin Heidegger, existence is not simply knowing or exploring the ontological aspects. He rather assertively emphasizes the phenomenological side of what-ness in the Being of beings. In other words, he simply put forward his definition of philosophy on the exploration of inquiry into personal experience and understanding of activities of man into a possible deeper inquiry.

Heidegger views existence itself as an activity on purpose. His inquiry into the definition of philosophy anchors on the significance of sense experience that makes an impact on one’s life. His assertion to shift the behavior of philosophizing from Ancient traditional-historical to ontological-phenomenological inquiry somehow weakens the holistic perspective on looking at existence itself as the ultimate subject of discourse. Hence, Heidegger is viewed as an existentialist philosopher.

Hence, his Being and Time would not make sense at all when viewed under the concept of time as time is irrational, timeless, nonexistent, and infinite as opposed to his claim that it is finite and synonymous with death. A concept that most existentialists nakedly wronged to understand life and existence.

Heidegger, Martin. What is that – Philosophy? Translated by Eva T.H. Brann. Annapolis, Maryland: St. John’s College, 1991.
Wheeler, Michael, “Martin Heidegger“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2020/entries/heidegger/

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