In order to understand what authentic living entails, one must first grasp Heidegger’s notion of Dasein. If strictly considered linguistically, the word Dasein translates from German into English as existence, being there, or presence, which are all primarily nouns. However, one “cannot define Dasein’s essence by citing a ‘what’ of the kind that pertains to a subject-matter,” as Dasein’s Being encompasses an intangible and dynamic state of existing (Heidegger 32). One must consider Dasein as a verb instead of a noun to best understand it. Moreover, Dasein’s “’Being’ cannot have the character of an entity” or thing; instead, one must recognize its human-specific implications (Heidegger 23). In Being and Time, Heidegger mostly focuses on human beings and their relations to the world; thus, Dasein’s Being excludes all other entities. That is to say, all other beings (including stars, trees, probably animals, etc.) are not describable as Dasein. In order to depict Dasein in an honest way, Heidegger places importance on “the basic state of Dasein’s everydayness,” which he believes will illuminate human Being in a non-romanticized and realistic way uncorrupted by theoretical prejudice (Heidegger 38). Therefore, when examining Dasein, one must focus on the everyday actions of humans. Rather than viewing Dasein as a definable thing that is, one might better understand Dasein as a Being that does. Dasein actively exists in the world, and, Heidegger tells us, takes a stand on who and what it is through that activity.

In addition, one should not view Dasein as a point on a timeline, fully existing only in the present. “Dasein stretches itself along” the temporal dimension of life, and “as long as Dasein factically exists, both the ‘ends’ and their ‘between’ are” (Heidegger 426). In other words, Dasein’s Being acts as a field that projects itself forward to explore and seize or avoid its potential possibilities and retrieves the past in order to appropriately modify its Being. Dasein’s Being “includes inquiring as one of the possibilities of its Being”—these possibilities are made imaginable by its ability to interpret its past and possible futures, and they are made achievable by Dasein’s ability to choose to exist in a certain way (Heidegger 27). Dasein always has the ability to comport itself within the world at the present time with purpose and care. In recognizing Dasein as a Being of possibilities, one must also acknowledge that one possibility does not independently take priority over another; moreover, Dasein should not “be construed in terms of some concrete possible idea of existence” (Heidegger 69). Instead, it is up to each Dasein to uncover the kind of Being it wants to be by interpreting its past and own possibilities, and by interpreting its past and future in terms of each other. Therefore, Dasein is an ever-interpreting Being that must strain meaningful and directional truths out of everyday occurrences.

Because Dasein proves capable of interpretation and choice, Heidegger states it becomes an inauthentic Being when it takes part in idle talk, which transpires when one misrepresents some truth by speaking about trivialities that then appear important and with confidence but when really filled with ignorance. Language serves as a primary form of communication, allowing one to express himself and his ideas. However, when Dasein speaks only to superficially fill space or silence, speech risks reducing “matter[s] of consequence” to trivialities, and making it appear that trivialities are matters of consequence (Heidegger 212). The ultimate goal of such a conversation lies not in truth or understanding of an entity, but instead in what Heidegger calls inauthentic Being-with. In this way, Dasein loses “its primary relationship-of-Being towards the entity talked about, or else has never achieved such a relationship,” directing language from a place of expression to a place of triviality (Heidegger 212). When one speaks just to speak, he proves guilty of idle talk. Idle talk “releases one from the task of genuinely understanding,” as it “is something which anyone can rake up” and which one needs no thought to execute (Heidegger 213). For example, when one Dasein interacts with another, silence (or the thought of it if idle talk stifles any possibility of it) may incline either Dasein to feel uncomfortable. This may lead one to force out of his mouth some topic that he does not actually know anything about, such as a shooting he heard about on the news, in hopes of conversation. Neither Dasein brings up the topic because of some direct relationship with the event or hope of really understanding it; instead, one Dasein shoves inauthentic idle talk out of its mouth simply to say something to the other. In speaking about a matter with which they do not have a real relationship while nevertheless pretending to understand, the conversationalists cover up the truth of the shooting. Thus, Heidegger asserts that idle talk affirms inauthenticity in that it cloaks reality.

Also, Heidegger argues that curiosity leads Dasein to an inauthentic existential state where seeing every part of the world in a superficial way is its only goal. Curiosity, or “the tendency towards a peculiar way of letting the world be encountered to us in perception,” motivates most Daseins and allows them to care about learning and seeing (Heidegger 214). However, curiosity is not always an innocent desire. Instead, one might not explore for the sake of really learning something in a deep or sustained way, but instead just so that he has seen one more place. Curiosity does not involve “observing entities and marveling at them,” or being “amazed to the point of not understanding;” instead, inauthentically curious people just want to be able to say that they are well-versed and well-traveled (Heidegger 217). The incessant desire for the always new hinders the possibility of lingering long enough to really understand something. And idle talk influences curiosity in that society expects one to travel everywhere, resulting in one truly seeing nothing. Today, when walking through an art museum, many people may be found not looking at the art with their eyes, but through the lens of a camera on their phone. Or, they may simply not be looking at all, but might be updating their Facebook statuses so that they can prove their trip actually happened. In living this sort of curious lifestyle, one exists in an inauthentic way.

Due to a Dasein’s tendencies to speak with authority about superficial knowledge, ambiguity floods what one can deem reliable or real. As a result of every person’s ability to talk about something and have an opinion on it without actually understanding it, “it becomes impossible to decide what is disclosed in a genuine understanding, and what is not” (Heidegger 217). As a result of idle talk and curiosity, “[b]eing ‘in on it’ with someone” becomes more important than genuinely understanding (Heidegger 218). The possibility of empty desire for satiation and status through simple or cursory speculation takes away from one’s ability to trust another Dasein when it speaks about something it has experienced. Moreover, the possibility of insincerity and inauthenticity clouds every interaction with ambiguity.

Heidegger explains that Daseins live a fallen lifestyle because they exist in a world where empty inauthenticity might leak into any situation. In existing with and similar to others who place concern not in understanding but in seeming to understand, Dasein has gotten lost “in the publicness of ‘they’” (Heidegger 220). However, if Dasein were to detach itself from the ‘they,’ it would risk falling into groundlessness and solitude—following a crowd does not require nearly as much work as formulating one’s own opinion or making one’s ownmost choices. Therefore, easiness or comfort constantly tempts Dasein into the state of falling. When one lives in easy conformist compliance with the ‘they’ and believes the illusion that he “is leading and sustaining a full and genuine ‘life’,” Dasein finds itself in a state of tranquility (Heidegger 222). Moreover, in this tranquil state, one thinks he or she knows everything, when in reality, “the right question has not even been asked” (Heidegger 222). In blurring and covering the truth by speaking about something without really knowing about it, Dasein further alienates itself from any potential possibilities of an authentic Being. This alienation of self draws Dasein into a certain inauthentic possibility of its Being. As a result, if it ever attempts to be authentic, it will find itself buried and covered with ambiguity and entangled within its inauthentic identity. When it conforms to the masses of the ‘they’ and hides the possibility of being authentic from itself, “Dasein plunges out of itself into itself, into the groundlessness and nullity of inauthentic everydayness” (Heidegger 223). In other words, Dasein is a falling Being. However, even an authentic Being does not fully overcome this falling state; rather, authentic existence “is only a modified way in which such everydayness is seized upon” (Heidegger 224). Thus, though perhaps one can never fully escape a fallen lifestyle, he can challenge himself to question himself and to appropriately modify his Being. In order to be authentic, Dasein must awaken.

According to Heidegger, Being authentic necessitates facing up to one’s own temporality—no one can escape death, and confronting the fact of the inevitability of one’s death forces one to embrace existence. Only once one aquaints himself with “the finitude of [his] existence,” or with the possibility of no more possibilities, can Dasein be snatched “back from the endless multiplicity of possibilities, which [include]… those of comfortableness, shirking, and taking things lightly” (Heidegger 435). One does not have an infinite amount of time to complete an important task or to create and leave behind something beautiful. Temporality allows for things to matter, if only one allows his finitude to awaken him and make him aware. In its essence, “care is grounded in temporality” (Heidegger 434). Also, because only Dasein can determine what matters to it, Dasein must be the one who ultimately chooses the kind of future it is to obtain. In that no one else can die for it, death “lays claim to an individual Dasein” (Heidegger 308). Since my death is my own, death individualizes, and really facing up to my own death can extricate me from my entanglement in the inauthenticity of the “they.” Living authentically and realizing one’s own temporality proves impossible when attached to the mass of the ‘they;’ thus, Dasein alone must harbor the power to make a change in his own life. Dasein must not only know that it will die individually, but that knowledge can bring it to consider how to live as an individual.

When Dasein frees itself from the “they,” the call of one’s conscience becomes an authentic way of knowing what it ought to be doing. According to Heidegger, “conscience summons Dasein’s Self from its lostness in the ‘they’” (Heidegger 319). One will never experience an erroneous calling; however, he might misunderstand it if he has not properly detached himself from the ‘they.’ Therefore, in order to authentically understand the calling of one’s conscience, it becomes imperative that one first accepts oneself as an individual. Once this occurs, one may feel anxious about the potential possibility of nothingness; concurrently, one may derive a “conscience [that] manifests itself as the call of care” in order to combat this uncanny feeling of “lostness” that presents itself as anxiety (Heidegger 322). To authentically recognize one’s own conscience, one must first recognize its fallen state and feel guilty about it. He should not feel guilt in the sense that his Being lacks something that must be filled; instead, he should feel “guilty in the way in which [he] is” (Heidegger 333). After recognizing his fallen state and feeling guilty, he may want to peel himself away from the ‘they’ and care enough to listen to his conscience in an untainted state. Once this happens, Dasein “has chosen itself” (Heidegger 334). When Dasein listens to its call of conscience without wondering what others will think of it or if others will judge it, instead “allowing understanding [to arise] out of one’s own Self,” “the less the meaning of the call gets perverted… by what is fitting or accepted” (Heidegger 186, 325). For example, if a woman going to college feels passionately about cooking, but she takes only science classes that will help her become a nurse because her mother would rather her daughter be in the medical field, inauthenticity would flood her Being. In adopting another’s desires or preferences as her own, she loses sight of her own possibilities. Rather than considering her parent’s opinions, she would be acting with more authenticity if she were to do something she really cares about, like taking cooking classes so that she could become a chef. People must listen to the call of their conscience that necessarily needs to originate from within.

Heidegger also asserts that being authentic requires resolute commitment to the Self; however, what one commits oneself to and how one executes it can be subject to modification. The “reticent projection upon one’s ownmost Being-guilty, in which one is ready for anxiety,” constitutes resoluteness. As a result of Being-guilty and authentically fleeing anxiety by listening to one’s call of conscience, what one cares about reveals itself—one must loyally commit to whatever is revealed about the existence of the Dasein’s Self in order to be authentic. Notably, resoluteness neither implies a detachment from the world, nor does it “isolate [Dasein] so that it becomes a free-floating ‘I’…, as authentic disclosedness is nothing else than Being-in-the-World” (Heidegger 344). Instead, resoluteness involves one existing in such a way where he or she does not disguise himself or herself from others when interacting with them. However, because Dasein can be right or sure about some things, it also can be wrong or unsure about some things, too. One “cannot become rigid” in one’s resolute commitment, but must keep it “held open and free for the factical possibility” (Heidegger 354). Moreover, if Dasein finds itself peeling off another layer of disguise from something that he or she previously held to be an absolute truth, Dasein must be willing to modify his or her commitments.

Photograph of Heidegger

Photo Courtesy of Prospect Magazine

Because Dasein inescapably exists in the world, authentic resoluteness implies that one must do something that connects oneself to that world, consequently connecting it to other Daseins—Being-with is an unavoidable characteristic of Dasein. Dasein undoubtedly is a social being that inherently craves and depends upon a connection with others because “knowing oneself is grounded in Being-with” (Heidegger 161). Because Dasein lives in the same world as other Daseins, their fields of existence will inevitably overlap. As a result of Dasein’s existence in the world alongside the other people that inhabit it, “Being-with is one relationship in which [Dasein] already is” (Heidegger 162). When one Dasein “helps the Other become transparent to himself,” Dasein does not need to be fearful of involving itself with the ‘they;’ on the contrary, in this way, Dasein exhibits authentic Being-with (Heidegger 159). In addition, one must not conceal oneself in order to genuinely exist with others. In being authentically resolute, “a primordial truth of existence” becomes visible to both the other Dasein and to itself (Heidegger 354). Moreover, if two people authentically throw themselves into some kind of work with vigor and passion, they may become “authentically bound together…which frees the Other in his freedom for himself” (Heidegger 159). If a Dasein stays careful not to fall into the ‘they’ and remains true to itself, it becomes a plausible candidate for authentic Being-with.

In Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, Franny Glass, one of the story’s main characters, speaks in a bitingly critical tone towards her blatantly inauthentic boyfriend, Lane Coutell, and about all the other phony or inauthentic people she encounters. Franny proves to be an aspiring authentic being in that she recognizes the inauthenticity of the ‘they,’ of those who “look like everybody else, and talk and dress and act like everybody else,” a group she currently feels includes almost every person (Salinger 24). Franny addresses those who inauthentically conform and lead ambiguous lives with disgust. She becomes angry and upset with those who “sounded too campusy and phony, or that smelled too high heaven of ego” and it completely drains her to speak or think about them (Salinger 144). She becomes “pale as hell” when she does, and even faints after not being able to connect with her phony boyfriend (Salinger 26). What is more, Franny proves authentic in her attempts to not become lost in the conformity of the ‘they’ by saying a certain prayer in order to “purify her whole outlook and get an absolutely new conception of what everything’s about” (Salinger 37). By spending most of her days reciting a prayer so that she may reveal truth, Franny shows resolute commitment in straining to authentically discover the world. She claims that “knowledge for the sake of knowledge… is the worst of all,” for the same reasons Heidegger claims that curiosity is inauthentic: people do not really care about the internal benefits of learning, but instead they care about being able to say they know about something (Salinger 145). Though being authentic requires much effort and the awareness of inauthenticity proves distressing, the search for truth takes priority in Franny’s life.

On the contrary, Lane displays inauthenticity, from getting upset when Franny orders a chicken sandwich at a fancy restaurant, to being the kind of Dasein who “couldn’t let a controversy drop until it had been resolved in his favor” (Salinger 17). In expecting a certain behavior out of Franny and fearing the judgment that might come if she ordered a simple chicken sandwich, he exposes that his priority is others’ judgments. Also, as Lane is unable to end an argument without being right, he shows resistance to modification and that he cares less about truth and more about a certain view of himself or position in society.

Later in the story when Zooey Glass, Franny’s brother, is introduced, he exhibits authenticity in his awareness. In telling Franny that he is “in love with Yorick’s skull” and that he “wants an honorable goddam skull when he’s dead,” Zooey authentically realizes his death as a possibility (Salinger 197). In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet holds up Yorick’s skull and reminisces on how memorably exceptional Yorick was when alive. Therefore, in stating that he is in love with Yorick’s skull, Zooey shows that he not only authentically acknowledges his own temporality, but also that he realizes he must fervidly do something that grows from his call of conscience in order to become a certain kind of Dasein. One cannot become a skull held up and remembered by thoughtlessly doing something normal or typical. Rather, as Zooey explains, you have to authentically “earn it—… if you’re an actress, you’re supposed to act” (Salinger 197). After expressing his love for Yorick’s skull, Zooey then goes on to tell his sister that “an artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s” (Salinger 198). Zooey makes clear that beautiful art can only arise from authenticity within the Self and from resolute commitment to one’s conscience.

Also, Zooey manifests authentic Being-with in helping Franny become more self-aware. Although Franny accurately detects inauthenticity, she unjustifiably directs her anger that fills her towards the phony people instead of towards phony actions. Zooey does not criticize his sister in a malicious way; rather, he sheds light on her everyday actions that may have become hidden from Franny in their everydayness. In recognizing the misdirection of her anger, Zooey states to Franny, “I mean you don’t just despise what they represent—you despise them. It’s too damn personal” (Salinger 161). He explains to her that it is unfair to hate a whole person rather than merely the person’s actions. Zooey tells her, “you tell me about it as though [this guy’s] hair was a goddam personal enemy of yours. That is not right—and you know it” (Salinger 161). In helping Franny become translucent to herself, Zooey reveals Franny’s mistakes to her in an authentic way. Additionally, he tells her that though a “mob of ignorant oafs with diplomas” exists, that in rare occurrences, “a great and modest scholar” who is “no faculty charm boy” and whose words always seem “to have a little bit of real wisdom in it—and sometimes, a lot of it,” exist, too (Salinger 160). By directing her mind towards the awareness of authenticity in others and helping Franny see herself more clearly, Zooey demonstrates how to authentically Be-with another.

Through living authentic lifestyles, Franny and Zooey are able to open their eyes wide and take off any kind of inauthentic blinders. In comparison, any other kind of living leads to blindness. Although Dasein might be driven to madness when looking through authentic eyes and from seeing itself surrounded by an alarmingly high number of conformists, it all becomes worth it when one is able to recognize an authentic action, which does exist. To be able to stop and say “God damn it,… there are nice things in the world—and I mean nice things,” and to truly mean it, makes putting up with all of the ugly things consistently worth it (Salinger 151). Only in knowing “the expression ‘wise man’” is being misused when “used in reference to some nice old poopy elder statesman” (as Franny does) can Daesin even be able to open its ears and hear the correct usage of the word wise (Salinger 146). Knowing what is not authentic allows one to be able to know what is authentic. Also, it becomes possible for one to create awe-inspiring things when living authentically, and to leave behind an authentically beautiful part of oneself through the form of art. When one influences another authentic being to feel something, one acts in a way that transcends what any kind of typical language could ever grasp. In living authentically, Franny and Zooey truly live.

Although being authentic might prove arduous and draining, it is the only way that Dasein can transcend superficiality and feel anything sublime or horrifying. An authentic interaction might leave Dasein with a real kind of smile on its face and an overwhelming feeling of bliss, or it might leave it with a terrible nasty feeling in the pit of its stomach. Truth can be ugly, or it can be inexplicably beautiful; regardless of which kind it is, it will always allow for one to feel alive and awake in a way an inauthentic person could not even fathom. To conform and follow the masses is to become dead before dying. Some may claim to prefer the tranquility of numbness to feeling; however, when Dasein does not wish to feel or search for truth, it subsequently only grazes the outside layers of the world. In numbly living, a person can never reach or know the core of truth, or even recognize it when one sees it. As previously stated, Dasein fundamentally craves Being-with in order to know itself and Others. Therefore, if Dasein does not attempt to peel off the layers masking truth, then it could never authentically disclose or recognize authenticity. Consequently, the connection an inauthentic Dasein feels with another Dasein proves hollow. Idle talk and the acceptance of superficial curiosity leads to emptiness. Striving for authenticity then becomes essential for satisfying fullness and provides an escape from meaninglessness.

If one is to ever create or be something beautiful, he or she must live through passion. As Franny explains, if one ever wants to be a great poet, he or she is “supposed to leave something beautiful after [he gets] off the page” (Salinger 19). Beauty, which connotes magnificence and exquisiteness, could never be something common, since what is common could not ever be something extraordinary. Anything beautiful requires passion to be expressed. If one ever wants to know what it is like to marvel at something or to truly see it in its essence, one must place aside his inauthentic tendencies and give priority to the process of uncovering. Therefore, in order to perceive a world where truth, beauty, and vitality exist, one must necessarily live an authentic life. An empty life can only be filled through the perceptions of an authentically awake eye.


Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated, 1962. Print

Salinger, Jerome. Franny and Zooey. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1961. Print.

Christina Muehlbauer is currently a junior at Virginia Tech studying Philosophy and Biology. Upon graduation, she hopes to attend veterinary school.