Heidegger, Martin. Introduction to Metaphysics. Translated by Gregory Fried and Richard Polt. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
First published in 1959, An Introduction to Metaphysics was the first book-length work by Heidegger to be published in English, preceding the English translation of Being and Time by three years. It contains the text of a series of classroom lectures by Heidegger on the topic of metaphysics, being and Dasein. Heidegger chose this course as the first of his many lecture manuscripts for publication. It serves as an ideal companion to Being and Time. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt have retranslated the original German text, presenting the reader with an updated, more accurate and accessible translation.
Why are there beings at all instead of nothing? That is the question. Presumably it is no arbitrary question. “Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?” — this is obviously the first of all questions. Of course, it is not the first question in the chronological sense. Individuals as well as peoples ask many questions in the course of their historical passage through time. They explore, investigate, and test many sorts of things before they run into the question “Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?” Many never run into this question at all, if running into the question means not only hearing and reading the interrogative sentence as uttered, but asking the question, that is, taking a stand on it, posing it, compelling oneself into the state of this questioning.
And yet, we are each touched once, maybe even now and then, by the concealed power of this question, without properly grasping what is happening to us. In great despair, for example, when all weight tends to dwindle away from things and the sense of things grows dark, the question looms. Perhaps it strikes only once, like the muffled tolling of a bell that resounds into Dasein and gradually fades away. The question is there in heartfelt joy, for then all things are transformed and surround us as if for the first time, as if it were easier to grasp that they were not, rather than that they are, and are as they are. The question is there in a spell of boredom, when we are equally distant from despair and joy, but when the stubborn ordinariness of beings lays open a wasteland in which it makes no difference to us whether beings are or are not — and then, in a distinctive form, the question resonates once again: Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?
But whether this question is asked explicitly, or whether it merely passes through our Dasein like a fleeting gust of wind, unrecognized as a question, whether it becomes more oppressive or is thrust away by us again and suppressed under some pretext, it certainly is never the first question that we ask.