Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Being is a state of existence.

explanatory context

Being (as a verb ‘to be’) is usually regarded as equivalent (in some respects) to existence.


Being is regarded as the core concept of metaphysical enquiry.


Ontological enquiry is concerned with the nature of being.


While being has been of central importance to philosophical enquiry since Plato and Aristotle, it is existentialism and theology that developed the debate about the nature of being, in the late-mid 20th Century.


Existentialists distinguish being from existence in the sense that inanimate objects and non-human animals are beings but only humans have existence (because of their reflective capacity).


The theological position that 'God is being' is internally self-defeating because god (in whatever form) then becomes an abstract concept while also (for most religions) supposedly being an active creator. Externally, of course, the relationship between being and a metaphysical entity is dependent upon belief in the latter.

analytical review

On a website stating its source: Martin Heidegger (1949) ' Existence and Being' from Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre edited by Walter Kaufman, the following quote:

The being that exists is man. Man alone exists. Rocks are, but they do not exist. Trees are, but they do not exist. Horses are, but they do not exist. Angels are, but they do not exist. God is, but he does not exist. The proposition "man alone exists" does not mean by any means that man alone is * real being while all other beings are unreal and mere appearances or human ideas. The proposition "man exists" means: man is that being whose Being is distinguished by the open-standing standing-in in the unconcealedness of Being, from Being, in Being. The existential nature of man is the reason why man can represent beings as such, and why ho can be conscious of them. All consciousness presupposes ecstatically understood existence as the essentia of man - essentia meaning that as which man is present insofar as he is j man. But consciousness does not itself create the openness of beings, nor is it consciousness that makes it possible for man to stand open for beings. Whither and whence and in what free dimension could the intentionality of consciousness move, if instancy were not the essence of man in the first instance? What else could be the meaning if anybody has ever seriously thought about this of the word sein in the [German] words Bewusstsein ["consciousness"; literally: "being conscious"] and Selbstbewusstsein ["self-consciousness"] if it did not designate the existential nature of that which is in tho mode of existence? To be a self is admittedly one feature of the nature of that being which exists; but existence does not consist in being a self, nor can it be defined in such terms. We are faced with the fact that metaphysical thinking understands man's selfhood in terms of substance or - and at bottom this amounts to the same in terms of the subject. It is for this reason that the first way which leads away from metaphysics to the ecstatic existential nature of man must lead through the metaphysical conception of human selfhood (Being and Time, §§63 and 64).

The question concerning existence, however, is always subservient to that question which is nothing less than tho only question of thought. This question, yet to be unfolded, concerns the truth of Being as the concealed ground of all metaphysics. For this reason the treatise which sought to point the way back into the ground of metaphysics did not bear the title "Existence and Time," nor "Consciousness and Time," but Being and Time. Nor can this title be understood as if it were parallel to the customary juxtapositions of Being and Becoming, Being and Seeming, Being and Thinking, or Being and Ought. For in all these cases Being is limited, as if Becoming, Seeming, Thinking, and Ought did not belong to Being, although it is obvious that they are not nothing and thus belong to Being. In Being and Time, Being is not something other than Time: "Time" is called the first name of the truth of Being, and this truth is the presence of Being and thus Being itself. But why "Time" and "Being"?


New World Encyclopedia contributors (2016):

The question of being..., in philosophy, has been a central topic of metaphysics; the study of "being" is called ontology.

Philosophers often suppose a certain sense of being as primary, and from it derive other senses of being as secondary. So, even if they use the same word "is," the meaning of being is different, depending upon what it is that "is": sensible material beings, values and norms, principles, mathematical objects, quality, time, space, God, etc. For Plato the primary kind of being is the immutable world of ideas, while for Aristotle it is the mutable world of substances. In another context, however, Aristotle put one immutable substance, God, as the principle of all being, and Thomas Aquinas, too, conceived God as the primary being, from which all other beings in the world receive their existence. Materialists conceive material or a sensible entity as the primary model of being, while idealists regard thought or spirit as primary. Most philosophers, including Aristotle, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, were aware of these diverse senses of being.

Inquiries into being often contrast it with its reciprocal concept, and the meaning of being varies accordingly. Paired sets include: being and becoming, being and non-being, being and appearance or phenomena, being and existence, being and essence, being and beings, being and thought, and being and ought.

How to approach the question of being is determined by the style of thought, philosophical approach, or methodology. For example, the phenomenological approaches of Husserl and Heidegger locate the question of being on the horizon of human consciousness and existence. Eastern philosophies emphasize the role of "non-being" for our understanding of being.


associated issues


related areas

See also



Heidegger, M., 1949, 'Existence and Being' in Kaufman, W., (Ed.), Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, available at, accessed 31 January 2013, still available unchanged 23 November 2019.

New World Encyclopedia contributors, 2016, 'Being', New World Encyclopedia, last updated 26 May 2016, available at:, accessed 23 November 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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